Metal weapons and (The Way of All Flesh)

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“We were put into this world not for pleasure but duty, and pleasure had in it something more or less sinful in its very essence.”

-Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

To “go the way of all flesh,” in English, means to die; the phrase originates from a misquote of the Bible, which twice has characters on their deathbeds–Joshua and David–refer to themselves as being about to “go the way of all the Earth.” The distinction matters; the former is a statement that all living things must die, the latter a statement that all material things must come to an end. Both are true, but one is rather broader than the other.

It’s October 19, 1996. The top song is still the Macarena, which stubbornly refuses to go the way of all the Earth. Donna Lewis and Celine Dion have the number two and three spots respectively; Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre and No Mercy also chart. At the box office, crime drama Sleepers opens at No. 1; proving that the music charts by no means have a monopoly on horrifying earworms, That Thing You Do is at No. 5. Also charting are The Long Kiss Goodnight and Independence Day.

As the title implies, this episode is the story of a death: John Corben dies and is reborn as the decidedly non-fleshy supervillain Metallo. It is, in its own way, a tragic villain story in the B:TAS vein; I say “tragic” rather than “sympathetic” because it is more of a structural feature than an emotional thread. Corben has always been cold and callous; described as a terrorist, he is really more of a mercenary, hiring out his services as a skilled murderer and destroyer to whomever can afford him. In the first episode, that meant working for Luthor to help terrorists steal his own experimental military technology, but “The Way of All Flesh” establishes that he has had a long career of fighting wherever and whenever. Like all mercenaries, he is, in essence, a hitman on a larger scale.

It is not just his career that makes Corben unsympathetic; his attitude of smug superiority (played to perfection by Malcolm McDowell) contributes, as does his obvious disregard for anyone and everyone around him. His discovery that the loss of most of his senses extends to being unable to feel a touch would be quite sad, for example, if not for the fact that he discovers this while forcibly kissing a struggling Lois Lane. It is difficult to feel sorry for a villain whose biggest complaint is that he can’t enjoy sexual assault anymore.

But structurally, this is tragedy. Corben’s flaw was always that he is unfeeling, in the sense of being utterly callous. He has never cared about the emotions or well-being of others, which is why he became a mercenary in the first place. It’s how he came to Luthor’s attention, and thus how he was chosen to be dosed with a rare virus, to be the frame on which Luthor would build his new anti-Superman weapon. Everything about Metallo is crafted to oppose Superman, from his nigh-invulnerable metallic chassis to strength–nearly as much as Superman’s, according to this episode–to his kryptonite heart. No thought was given to the man within; Corben has fallen afoul of someone as callous as himself and even more powerful.

The result is a Corben who is literally unfeeling, unable to experience taste, smell, or touch. (That he can see and hear without difficulty is perhaps unsurprising; cameras and microphones are fairly standard technology, after all, while the huge number and variety of pressure, temperature, and chemical sensors needed to mimic the other senses would be difficult if not impossible to implement on a human-sized and -shaped frame.) He can no longer experience physical pain, but can also no longer experience physical pleasure, either.

This ties the episode to Butler’s novel of the same name, a scathing satire of Victorian society and mores. Much as Butler’s narrator describes the Victorians as treating all pleasure as a sinful distraction from the only thing that matters, duty, so does Luthor see Corben’s loss as a feature, something that makes him a better weapon against Superman: in Luthor’s words, ” The only hunger you should have is for power… the only thirst, for revenge.”

Corben, over the course of the episode, comes to accept these words. He strips himself of his artificial skin, becoming completely the robotic-looking Metallo. Corben’s body has already gone the way of all flesh; all that remains is the metallic, drawn from the Earth, and a kryptonite heart originating far beyond the Earth. Corben is dead; only Metallo remains.

In creating him, however, Luthor has set up his own tragedy. First, he has created an enemy: all that remains to Metallo is indeed the hunger for power and the thirst for revenge, but he desires power over and revenge on both Superman and Luthor. Second, Luthor’s obsession with creating a weapon to destroy Superman will lead to his encounters with Brainiac, and in turn his desperate quest to reunite with Brainiac. This quest will inevitably lead him to Apokolips, self-sacrifice, and the end of the DCAU.

That is perhaps the biggest difference between the phrase and its original: “the way of all flesh” is a declaration of despair in the face of mortality. “The way of all the Earth” is a declaration of hope: for all that Luthor declares himself untouchable at the end of this episode, shielded by structures of social power far beyond anything Superman can wield, the apocalypse will come. Those structures will end. Luthor will fall. Sooner or later, the Luthors of the world–fictional or otherwise–will go the way of all the Earth.


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MLPFIM S7E3-4 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episodes, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching MLP there starting at 1:00 p.m. EST. This is one hour before the usual time.

Afterwards, I’ll update this post with the chatlog.

ETA: Chatlog after the cut!

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He even had purple skin and orange hair! (Feeding Time)

 

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It’s September 21, 1996. The top song is still the Macarena and Donna Lewis’s earwormy “I Love You Always Forever” is still at No. 2. Throw in Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” at 4 and you can understand why I refused to listen to popular music in high school. At the box office, revenge comedy The First Wives Club opens at number one.

In the news,  yesterday Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős died; one of the most prolific mathematicians in history, he collaborated with scientists and scholars in a dizzying array of fields, but is probably best known as the namesake of the  Erdős number, the academic-papers equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  On the 24th, U.S. President Bill Clinton will sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; as of February 2017, it has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, and is still missing approval from eight nations before it can go into effect (including the U.S.)

In S:TAS, we have the first DCAU appearance of Parasite, a rather uninspiringly named villain with energy-draining powers. This episode serves as an excellent example of the primary difference between Batman: The Animated Series and S:TAS, and indeed between the DCAU incarnations of Batman and Superman: Batman lurks in the shadows, and is often a peripheral figure in his own show, while Superman stands out in the light, and is usually the central figure of his show.

Thus Rudy Jones, who seems tailor-made as a “sympathetic villain” of the type B:TAS did so well: a down-on his luck janitor who agrees to help a criminal rob STAR Labs in exchange for help paying off his gambling debts. Unfortunately, the toxic waste he was helping the criminal steal spills while they’re escaping from Superman, transforming Jones into the Parasite, a hulking purple monster that needs to feed on the life force of others to survive.

Parasite could be a tragic figure, forced to hurt people to live, wracked with guilt, but that would require the episode to focus on his internality. Instead, he shows no sign of anything other than pleasure in his newfound power, and the episode’s primary focus is on Superman’s efforts to escape imprisonment and stop him.

The episode’s sympathies thus lie entirely with Superman, whom Parasite chains up in the STAR Labs basement so that he can periodically drain Superman’s energy, keeping him helpless while Parasite steals his powers of flight and superstrength to commit robberies. Superman thus spends much of the episode helpless and immobile, a victim in need of rescue, which comes in the form of Jimmy Olson.

Ironically, Superman’s first few episodes depict him as being far more vulnerable than Batman. Part of that is simply that we are seeing Superman at the beginning of his career, while Batman was already well-established by the time of “On Leather Wings.” But part of it is that Batman is human, and can be killed by a gunshot or a knifewound, and therefore there is a degree of dramatic tension even if his opponents almost never land a blow: we in the audience know that Batman won’t be seriously harmed, but Batman doesn’t, and we can empathize with him. Superman, on the other hand, is virtually invulnerable, and so the early episodes have emphasized the ways in which he is vulnerable, to teach him–and thereby us–that his opponents are dangerous.

Between his vulnerability and focus, Superman comes across very quickly as a more sympathetic, human figure than Batman did initially. Even in their respective secret identities, Clark Kent feels more natural and authentic than the very performative Bruce Wayne, who by comparison is almost Byronic in his confluence of tragedy and privilege. It is almost unthinkable for Bruce Wayne or Batman to be saved from peril by one of Bruce Wayne’s friends; who would that even be? Harvey Dent, perhaps, but only very early on, before he became Two-Face; Alfred is more family than friend; everyone else is linked to Batman rather than Wayne. By contrast, Lois yanked Clark Kent out of the path of fire of Toyman’s toy airplanes two episodes ago–an event important enough to be immortalized in the opening credits of every episode of the series–and then saved Superman from the kryptonite last episode. This episode, Jimmy Olson helped loose Superman from his chains.

The correct answer to “who’s the mask, the superhero or the secret identity?” is that the question is built on false assumptions. Both and neither are the “real” person, because that’s how fragmentation of identity works. But it’s understandable why people think Bruce Wayne is a mask worn by Batman, while Superman is a mask worn by Clark Kent. Wayne has Alfred and no one else, and seems to do nothing but go to charity galas and product demos, while Batman has Alfred, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, Catwoman, Leslie Thompkins, and more. Superman is alone at this stage, but Clark has the Kents, Lana, Lois, and Jimmy, and a career. The truth behind the error is that Clark Kent has a life outside of being Superman; without Batman, Bruce Wayne is nothing.


Current status of the Patreon:

  • Latest Near-Apocalypse article ($2+/mo patrons can view): Imaginary Story: Superman Adventures #1-5
  • Latest video ($5+/mo patrons can view): Vlog Review: Gravity Falls S2E11
  • Latest Milestone: $100/mo: Monthly bonus vlogs!
  • Next Milestone: $110/mo ($9 away!): One-time goal! Jed Plays Undertale Episode 2, in which I do a blind let’s play of the next ~40 minutes of Undertale.

MLPFIM S7E1-2 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episodes, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching MLP there starting at 1:00 p.m. EST. This is one hour before the usual time.

Afterwards, I’ll update this post with the chatlog.

ETA: Chatlog below the cut!

Continue reading