Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Silver Star, Heroes and the Collective Unconscious

This past July, Image Comics released a gorgeous hardcover volume of Jack Kirby's 1983 mini-series Silver Star. Though not one of Kirby's more celebrated works (his drafting skills were beginning to wane by this point), to me it's one of his more fascinating creations. It's also rife with unsettlingly specific 9/11 signifiers that strain the definition of "coincidence." Even more than The Lone Gunmen, this series is my 'Exhibit A' in the precognitive potential of the dreaming/creative mind. And I'm kind of wondering if the writers on Heroes haven't scanned an issue or two.

Kirby was a man who one co-worker described as being "hermetically sealed in his own imagination." I'd counter that only by saying that I believe that Kirby instead was in deep communion with the Collective Unconscious. Kirby even claimed that his characters existed inside his head and he merely projected their stories onto paper. And though many comic fans loathe his 80's work, it was on titles like Captain Victory that his imaginative powers were totally unleashed. Part of this sprang from his animation work, where he was paid to produce nothing but ideas and concepts. For better or worse, nothing was holding him back, and I think owning his characters inspired him further. Which is exactly why that stuff continues to fascinate me.

Semiotically, "Silver Star" has a double meaning. The first is a military medal, and the second is the A∴A∴ or Argentum Astrum, meaning "Silver Star." The A∴A∴ was Aleister Crowley's first secret society formed after leaving the Golden Dawn. Scifi fanboy Grady McMutry (not the "creation evangelist" Grady McMurtry) was a member of this order.

Tell me if you've heard this one before: the basic theme behind Silver Star is that a new race of super-powered beings is emerging, engineered to survive a nuclear holocaust. Pregnant women were given pre-natal implants that changed the DNA of their babies but the experiments were done anonymously. The new beings are unaware of their counterparts and in some ways unaware of their powers until they manifest themselves. And some of these people use their powers to make money.

Kind of sounds like the network pitch for Heroes, no?

One of the new humans is Norma Richmond, a blonde sasspot who acts as a stuntwoman for a TV production company. The first we see of Norma, she is intentionally crashing a car for a TV show.

Which seems to be echoed in Heroes, both the TV show and the graphic novel, when blonde sasspot Claire (played by the scintillating Hayden Panittiere) intentionally crashes her ex-boyfriend Brody's car on account of that he, uh, murdered her a couple nights previously. Norma survives the crash by changing her molecular structure, Claire has a souped-up version of Wolverine's healing powers. Six of one...

Norma is saved again by Silver Star, who like Heroes' Hiro, can psychically teleport. You see, Norma, like the other Homo Geneticusii, is being hunted down and killed by Darius Drumm, a religious fanatic who sees himself as the "Lord's Avenging Angel" and wants to be the only superhero in town. Perhaps here is our model for Heroes' Sylar, who is doing something similar on that show. Some folks have accused Heroes of knocking off Alan Moore's Watchmen, but Kirby was there before Moore and no one said boo, so maseltov to Heroes is what I say.

Drumm gives us some frightening contemporary portents. Drumm was born the son of a super-rich Fundamentalist preacher, who led the "Foundation for Self Denial." His followers dressed in monk's robes, eschewed all worldly comfort and pleasure and gave all of their money to Drumm's father, who used the wealth to buy into the Oil racket. Drumm kills his father, leaves but later returns and takes over the Foundation. Drumm leads his followers to an underground cavern where they ready themselves for an apocalyptic holy war. Need I remind you that one of the translations of Al Qaeda is "Foundation?"

While promoting Our Gods Wear Spandex, interviewers often asked me what brought about the most recent revival of superheroes. I replied that 9/11 unleashed the sort of fears that hero fantasies address. I mentioned at least once that the sort of devastation you saw on 9/11 plays itself out on a regular basis in the comics. Apocalyptic devastation is the lifeblood of today's post-Kingdom Come superhero comics.

In the back of my mind I was probably thinking about the climax of Silver Star, when Darius Drumm becomes the Angel of Death and sets about destroying a city. I was probably linking it to the picture of 9/11 above. I've flipped the photo, but you see the remarkable visual parallels, particularly in the buildings. Kirby had been a foot soldier in Patton's army in the Big One, and understood the raw terror of war better than most.

The destruction you see in
Silver Star is, again, a main plot point in Heroes- where a super-being is overwhelmed by his power and becomes an angel of death.

Pencil images from Twomorrow's Silver Star: The Graphite Edition

Using computer graphics, Heroes can picture devastation on a wider scale, but can't capture the raw power of fear that Kirby understood so well. Kirby's image of the Angel of Death flying towards the doomed city, turning the landscape to desert, would be a masterpiece had it been a painting. You see an echo of it -visually and thematically- in Tim Sale's painting of whoever it is that's supposed to blow up New York.

Another disturbing precognition- the rubble left in the Angel of Death's wake is a dreaming-mind vision of Ground Zero.

The Foundation is as offended by Norma's immodest attire as by her powers

So we have urban destruction from the skies, now linked to a "Foundation" of robe-wearing, cave-dwelling, armed Fundamentalists -financed by oil money, I might add- not in a primetime TV show, but in an obscure old comic book from 1983 that perhaps 10,000 people read. I'm willing to bet none of them were in intelligence or national security work.

As tempting as it is to believe that precognitive events in art are all planted by CIA spooks or men in black for arcane or ritual purposes, I think the truth is far stranger. And more compelling.

The cover of the final issue of
Silver Star seems like a symbolist rendering of the 9/11 attacks- a robed Angel of Death, his fiery breath like a beard, laying waste to the West's towering acheivements. The vaunted hero is tiny in comparison and helpless and the Wrath of God comes down upon him. It's like a political cartoon about 9/11 from some radical Middle Eastern tabloid.

The climax of Silver Star is very much different to the original treatment Kirby wrote. In that, Drumm unleashes the "Fireangel," a dragon that destroys a microcosmic planet or something?- I'm not sure, Kirby's writing could be very strange. The religious fanaticism of Drumm was also greatly amped up from the treatment to the comic. So what happened in between that so changed the tone and thrust of the Silver Star story?

Well, given comic book production schedules, it's hard to say. But in a comic dated a month before
Silver Star#6, Jack Kirby drew a story featuring a terrorist hijacking, two towers, and a jet slamming into a skyscraper...

To be continued...


  1. An amazing article Chris. Looking forward to part two. No doubt about Silver Star informing Heroes. Love your presentation on the Collective Unconscious. Very well put.

  2. Thanks, guys- again, high praise considering the source. But boy, the dreaming mind is not all sunshine and roses.

    I had an incredibly vivid nightmare last night about being trapped in New York while another 9/11-type event happened- this time it was a missile. Woke up with my heart pounding. I forgot how incredibly traumatizing that event was for me.

  3. Great stuff, Chris.

    I hadn't heard of Silver Star until you mentioned it to me the other day (I'm not that well-versed in 80s Kirby). Now I have to pick that up.

    Excited for part two!

  4. Hey, hey...No references to any underground comic artists from the 60's-70's era, excluding the overreported on Robert Crumb ? Like, say, Mobius, for instance ? And many others of merit but presently severely under-celebrated and underreported. Jung was no angel, ya know. See the Richard Noll books on the pre-WWII Jung cult. Also that woman that cracked it open both for Freud and Jung, that they both had affairs with. She ended up in a concentration camp while these punks we're cultivating their future fame prospects in the world psych./analysis communities. I notice, too, that the lilt of emphasis on your site is towards the superhero, kickass flava. Perhaps, compensatory for some grievous sense of lack in REAL life ? Now why does this sound ever so familiar ? Some vague sense of resonance from, say, about 60-70 years ago ? Could just be my "imagination," though.

  5. I'm a big fan of Crumb and Moebius. I'll get around to both of them.

    As to comics, most of the contemporary stuff I'm interested in leans towards Vertigo, Hellboy, things in that vein. I'm working on a piece about Army@Love, Rick Veitch's latest.

  6. This stuff is just too amazing Chris!
    Sometimes one can almost feel a sinkhole open beneath one's feet when investigating this stuff.
    This series in particular is just jaw-dropping!
    I also believe that either Kirby was in direct contact with the Dreaming Mind--OR--
    we live in some bizarre combo of a Gnostic cosmos and Simulated /Digital Reality.

    thanks so much for your hard work!