Monday, December 24, 2007

Where's the Council of Nicea when you need them?

During this season, lots of people talk about the Bible more than usual (without, you know, actually reading it). And, with the Final Crisis (whatever it may be) looming, it's also a time when lots of people are wondering what will remain in DC continuity.

So I thought I'd save time by talking about both at the same time.

The Bible, you may already know, wasn't all written at the same time, was written by lots of different people, and has been subject to periodic reboots and continuity debates (sometime with almost as much fervor as those concerning comic books). In fact, it wasn't originally "The Bible singular", but "ta biblia", the books plural (in Greek). Only later, in medieval times, did it start being referred to as a Latin singular biblia. In other words, the Bible is a Showcase Edition, not a graphic novel.

Back in the early days of Christianity, it was kind of like the Silver Age, and people wrote whatever crazy colorful crap crossed their minds ("Last night, I had a revelation/ imaginary story /elseworlds!") and didn't worry much about how it all fit together. Along came a new Editor in Chief, Emperor Constantine (who was kind of like Dan Didio, only with an even bigger nose) who decided that Dogmatic Christian continuity needed a housecleaning and ordered a big writers/editors conference called the Council of Nicea (with the superstars of the day, Geoff Johns/Eusebius of Caesarea, Mark Waid/Athanasius of Alexandria, and Grant Morrison/Eustathius of Antioch).

A lot of books didn't make the cut , and for many of the same reasons stories get cut of out comic book continuity. Sometimes, it's because they were because those books were written as infracontinuity. Infracontinuity is what I call stories that are not really designed to move the main character's storyline forward, but rather, fill the storyline in, e.g., by telling stories about the character's past or beginnings (ponecontinuity), or by expanding on the details of previous told stories (microcontinuity).

One of the types of infracontinuity that usually annoys me is that which zooms in on a supporting, or even throwaway, character to become a centerpiece of their own story or mythology. This a particular bane of fanfic; why, there've probably been more stories written about Kevin Riley than Sherlock Holmes. Maybe there's a real term for it I don't know, but I (rather meanly) call it "servocontinuity", because the plot "slave" becomes the plot master. Virtually all of Sandman after Gaiman left is servocontinuity (I mean, really; Merv Pumpkinhead the Mini-series?!)

The Book of Enoch is very much in this tradition. Enoch (a seventh gen begat-ee of Adam) did next to nothing in the mainstream Bible, but somebody wrote him his own book anyway (kind of like Michael Reaves' Shadow Hunter). If Enoch were Jimmy Olsen, then the Book of Enoch is Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (with the visit to heaven part being written by Jack Kirby). The Nicean Council wisely decided not to include it because it was too wacky and would have interrupted the overall flow of the Bible's big story; judging by Countdown, Dan Didio & Co. would have re-written the Bible around it.

The Gospel of Mary is, of course, Supergirl. Neither of them made it during the Nicean Council of 1986. I mean, you know; she's a girl. We can't have her around on any sort of equal footing with boys. Let's brand her inaccurately as a prostitute or an incompetent who has to be hidden away in an orphanage as a 'secret weapon'. Then, if she still won't stay dead/in her place, we'll let Peter David and Jeff Loeb ruin her.

One of DC's most troublesome ponecontinuities is the Adventures of Superboy, or, as it was marketed outside of the U.S. to the early Christians, The Infancy Gospels of Thomas. Ah, the wacky Silver Age hijinx of the Infancy Gospels...

Jesus uses his superbreath to make the clay ravens fly away. The people of Smallville are afraid that Jesus will wish them into the cornfield. Jesus flies back through the time barrier to prove that he didn't kill Zeno Luthor. Jesus uses his heat vision to weld a child's foot back onto his leg. When Pete gets bitten by a snake on a camping trip, Jesus uses his superbreath to blow the poison out and zaps the snake with his heat vision. Oh, and when Jesus went to visit S.T.A.R. labs in Jerusalem and fooled his parents by leaving a Jesus-robot at home in his place...! What a scamp.

But, both Superboy's and Jesus's childhood adventures don't gibe very easily with the idea of their adult versions coming out later and making a splash. So, those, too, did not make the cut.

The Gospel of Nicodemus, with its story of Jesus's descent into Hell is, I suppose, The Death of Superman, and yet another example of the superior discretion and discipline of the Council of Nicea compared to the DC editorial board.

If Kingdom Come is (quite intentionally) DC's Revelation of John, then Peter's Apocalypse is The Kingdom; less dramatic, less wacky, more clinical and detailed rather than conceptual and evocative.

Leptogenesis? Hm. I guess that would be COIE/52, where the story of Krona and the Tower of Babel explains the creation of the multiverse, and the Chosen Characters realize they need to separate themselves out from the unclean Marvelish versions of themselves. And like, 52, it was a weekly! I suspect the reason it didn't make the cut is because of those crazy-stupid stories about angels "commingling" with humans, producing Giants That Walked The Earth. I mean, nobody wants the New Guardians and Millennium in continuity.

Really, it all poses interesting questions about what criteria you use to determine what becomes canon, whether the story is the Greatest One Ever Told or the Greatest One Ever Told. I have a pretty good idea what criteria the Niceans used. DC? I'm not quite sure... .

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You win, Scipio. You win everything with this post.

Just a reminder that our familiar Saint Nicholas was in fact a Turkish bishop who attended the Council of Nicea, and was reputed to have broken someone's jaw in the course of theological debate. Hence Saint Nicholas's famous greeting at the start of the Council: "I came here to eat candy canes and kick ass, and I'm all out of candy canes".
And I thought I was the only person who had an interest in the Apocrypha and comic books, and I never even thought to make the connection.

Certainly this comparision could be made to any extended work of literature that the hands of multiple authors had touched, although oddly it seems for things like comics, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. there is a demand by fans that EVERYTHING MUST FIT or continuity WILL BE A MESS! Funny how the Council of Nicea was able to make compromises on a work that guided RELIGIONS, while fanboys can't compromise on Superman's current origin...

This is why I want to marry you.

Keith Giffen is Santa Claus? Who knew?
Wait, so the Bible isn't the perfect word of Grant Morrison?
Much applause. Great comparison. To be fair to DC Editorial, since the Final Crisis has yet to pass, we're not quite at the Nicea level. The Final Bible is yet to come.

We've gotten rid of gnostics (the multiverse) or something, but that's it. Oh wait, they're back.
Thanks, Will! You're my second choice, then, right after Andy Armano of Miami Beach.
As usual, a well thought out and well executed post, Scipio. I think I just learned more about the bible and DC continuity in one post than I have in my entire lifetime.
A supporting bit of info (Golden Age?):

In Hebrew, the Bible is referred to as the TaNaKh, which is an acronym of Torah (5 books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). This goes hand in hand with talking about the Bible in the plural...

As always, you knock it out of the park, Scip: keep them coming, and we'll keep benefiting.
Long time reader, first time commenter:

Thats awesome.
Awesome post.

"judging by Countdown, Dan Didio & Co. would have re-written the Bible around it."
Nice one ;)
Great post. Though I must say that I freakin' *love* the Gospel of Nicodemus. Jesus descends to Hell to kick Satan's ass? How can I lose?

And where does the book of Tobit fit in? There's enough insane there to make Bob Kanigher blush...
I feel strangely proud and relieved that I had to click the "Kevin Reilly" link in order to appreciate the reference. I'm not quite the freak I thought I was....

And, for the record, a Bible based on the adventures of Jesus' wacky young photojournalist sidekick is one I'd might actually take a glance at on occasion. Especially if it featured giant monkeys and frequent crossdressing sequences.
A great read.

I offer you a standing ovation, infinite rounds of applause, abundant roses tossed upon the stage.

That was great. Seriously great.

You sir, do good work, and we are lucky to read it.
I also would like to marry you, Scipo, though I fear I am the wrong gender.

Great post.
"Jesus' wacky young photojournalist sidekick is one I'd might actually take a glance at on occasion"

Ah; Zaccheus Olsen.
The book of Tobit?


A guy who buries corpses for fun is blinded by bird droppings and attacked by a giant fish, then finds happiness with a woman whose seven previous husbands were abducted by a gay demon, and after their marriage they leave their city, which is to be completely obliterated by God.

Sounds like Vertigo to me.
Hey, just a few minutes ago, I was watching a thing on the History Channel about apocryphal texts, and one of the historians said, and I quote: "There was no Golden Age of Jesus". So that offically puts Jesus in the Silver Age, exactly as you foretold.
Heh, that's funny; I guess that makes him the Martian Manhunter!

Did you watch Banned from the Bible reruns this weekend? and was spurred on to write this great post?

or was it, in the word's of Mortal Weisinger, "a fabulous coincidence?"
"Heh, that's funny; I guess that makes him the Martian Manhunter!"

The Hebrew Hamshunner?
Truly you are blessed with wisdom, scipio, to perceive the (now glaringly apparent) similarity between the infancy Gospels and Superbaby. Both are creatures with godlike power, mixed with a bizarre unpredictability that sometimes spells trouble for bystanders or the hapless foll who accidentally bumps into one of them. Man, the ancients really thought that baby Jesus being like the kid in the twilight zone episode "It's a Good Life" was admirable, I guess. "it's good that you cursed that kid who looked at you funny and he died, Baby Jesus! Reaaaallll gooood.... (Oh God please don't kill me Baby Jesus here's a cake.)"

There are no coincidences!
Scip, you are brilliant. I could kiss you for this post!

The Book of Mary seems especially fun to read. It sounds like Peter was a real jerk to her.
"The Book of Mary seems especially fun to read. It sounds like Peter was a real jerk to her."

Oh you terrible person, you're crossing my mental wires and making me think of Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker. Now whenever I contemplate the conception of Jesus, all I can imagine is Mary saying to God, "Face it, Tiger ... you just hit the jackpot!" Any minute now, ninja nuns are going to appear and rap my knuckles with a ruler.
"One of the types of infracontinuity that usually annoys me is that which zooms in on a supporting, or even throwaway, character to become a centerpiece of their own story or mythology. This a particular bane of fanfic;"

Really? Why is this particularly annoying? I've always felt that to be the least offensive type of fanfic (as opposed to people cramming lead characters into their obsessions/fetishes then getting upset when the legitimate creators do something not in accordance with their fixations), and, were I a popular author/creator this would probably be the type of fanfic I would have the least problems with.
As fanfic, it makes sense. You don't feel you have "the right" to push the main story further (particularly since, if it's at odds with where the storyline actually does go, your work seems painfully faux).

But when you are the actual writer tasked with writing, say, Superman, writing stories about Jor-El's distant ancestors and how one of them was once a reporter just like Clark, well, it just seems like you aren't able to carry the main storyline further.

One of things I admire about the recent Sinestro War is that it's author said, "I am taking the Green Lantern Corps OVER THERE in a new direction," building new myths, not simply rearranging old ones.
awesome. I love this post.
So I'm like the only person here who first read the title of the post and thought about Fabian Nicieza?
Gosh, there is so much effective material here!
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