(Soundtrack: Starlings–Too Many Dogs.)
So. Is God a decadent aesthete with no neck who subsists upon the immoral syllabub of our pain? That’s what “Red Jack” is selling in Doom Patrol #23-24. There’s a long-standing tradition in superhero comics of introducing “omnipotent” figures and then demolishing their divine pretensions with Quaker theological jujitsu–no person or entity can truthfully claim to be God, because “God is love” (John 4:8), and love doesn’t make any claims. “The House that Jack Built” is the Galactus story all over again, only better, because it is stripped of the misplaced awe that mars Jack Kirby’s vision of the planet-eating solipsist. If God actually existed as an individuated personality, he/she/it would be indistinguishable from Marilyn Manson. There’s nothing noble about the “egotistical sublime”. Interesting? Sure. But worthy of our respect? No way man. That’s what I take away from this story–and that’s why, contra Jess Nevins from yesterday’s comments, I’m going to stick with my characterization of Morrison as one of our greatest moralists (Animal Man as a mere provocation? I just don’t see it that way!)
Red Jack is certainly not your garden variety solipsist. He’s got a big house that spans the dimensions, and he does have some pretty amazing powers. For one thing, he can keep you alive forever, provided that you replenish his own fountain of youth with your tears. Oh yeah, and that “lifeline” he offers is a sharp pin through your midsection, so don’t worry about the cying part, that’ll come naturally. This is Christian prostration as method acting.
Crazy Jane’s decision to release the butterflies from their ritualized torment signifies the end of Red Jack’s “Godhood”. Implicit in all of this is that we need “God” to give meaning to our suffering. If you just face the fact that suffering has no meaning, then you don’t need “God” anymore. Nor do you need anything like the Buddhist concept of the “wheel of life”. “God is love”–that is all you need to know. The superheroic bar brawl between Robotman, Rebis, and Red Jack is pure maya. There’s nothing going on there–it’s mere posturing, on both sides. But we’re a long way from nihilism here, nor is Morrison advocating “blessed extinguishedness”. The locus of meaning is offstage, that’s all–it’s the fact that Crazy Jane cares about the butterflies.
“No…no…don’t leave me…you’ll die…” Red Jack pleads, “with me…you live forever…this isn’t happening…it can’t. No pain…no pain anywhere…light fails…music falters… I need pain…oh the dark comes on in waves…I thought I was part of the grand story…the story that would at last give meaning to this senseless trajectory…the loop and spin of being…instead I have learned a horrible truth of existence…some stories have/no/meaning…oh bugger…”
This is not meant to be some kind of epiphany. Red Jack dies as he had lived. To the last, he confuses “stories” with “power relationships”. It’s not that there isn’t any more pain in the room with him (remember, he’s in the company of a brain encased in a metal tomb, a woman whose multiple personality disorder was triggered by horrific abuse, and a mummified trinity), it’s just that he’s no longer attuned to it, because he didn’t cause it. Red Jack would rather die than admit that he isn’t in charge. The butterflies have not been released from the wheel of life, they’ve been set free from an S&M binary, that’s all.
“You d-d-don’t really think he was…God?” Cliff asks.
Rebis utters the perfect epitaph in reply: “Couldn’t care less.”
Next time, I want to talk about Richard Case’s deceptively brilliant artwork.
Good Day friends!