Monday, May 31, 2010

Magic in the DC Universe

Originally Posted at Dante's Heart ( on October 31, 2008.

On a completely off topic note: I love Halloween. No holiday is better! I hope everyone has a great Halloween.

So, on topic: Magic and fantasy are so deeply seeped into the DC universe that I would think more people would know of the connection. I guess with the science fiction aspects of "Superman" and "The Flash" so evident, who would think about the characters dripping with magic of old?

Neil Gaiman's "The Book of Magic" introduces a new character while calling upon famous magical characters. Timothy Hunter is your average kid (British, but average). Actually, he's a bit whiny and childish, which works well. He is also skeptical and unsure of what he is seeing. He is us, but cooler since he has the possibility to use magic. Of course he knows none of this; if he did I think the story would be quite useless. The "Trenchcoat Brigade" is a group of four wise sages sent to keep Timothy on track. They are familiar names in the DC universe: The Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult, Mister E, and John Constantine (a way cooler comic book character than the movie made him). The Phantom Stranger guides Tim through the magic of the past. Merlin and Jason Blood (a man later bonded to a demon) meet him in their own time. The use of mythical history is brilliantly employed -- from the Big Bang expertly blended with Christianity's fall of Lucifer to the witch trials; Egyptian and Greek mythology are wound together into a cohesive human history. Constantine, snarky and a product of our time, shows Tim current magic.

The plot begins to pick up a bit, as the importance of Tim is uncovered. His four guardians are described nicely through tarot cards, which help Tim to understand that he "isn't in Kansas anymore." Here current DC magicians make an appearance: Jason Blood, Zatanna, and Tala. For someone entrenched in the DC mythos, this section is great for a different view on the characters. If you aren't all into the DC universe, then this section is just a bit of the story moving along. Doctor Occult takes Tim to Fairyland, where Queen Titania of Shakespeare fame plays a large role. The use of faerie laws is applied, causing Tim to be almost trapped. Finally, Mr. E takes Tim into the future. It is a jumble that connects the entire story through chaos. There is a nice side bit, if you know Gaiman's “Endless.” If not, it isn't too hard to figure out what is going on, for the story concludes its’ end as it began; a nice circle.

It's a great read if you know the DC world, and I think a good read if you don't (Of course I can only guess about that).

I give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Happy Halloween
J.R. West

Thursday, May 20, 2010

International Year of Astronomy

Originally Posted at Dante's Heart ( on October 27, 2008.

This January (2009) is the beginning of the International Year of Astronomy (from here on out referred to as IYA because I am lazy). It is amazing to me how few people have heard about IYA. Within the Astrophysics community it is slowly getting talked about. However, I have heard no giant reference in the greater world. It is a disappointment really. Astronomy is part of the soul of humanity. I can think of no ancient or modern culture that has not spent considerable time looking at the sky.

The IYA is a joint project, with at least 129 different countries participating in an effort to increase knowledge about astronomy. It includes a 356 day astronomy pod cast, along with other more sporadic pod casts for various levels of science comprehension. I've heard a sample of the standard layman pod cast... it was hilarious. There are eleven corner stone projects at the heart of the year long event, and even a Second Life island has been dedicated to IYA. Furthermore, a big push is being made to increase knowledge affordably around the world, along with a global movement towards dark skies around the planet.

It seems like such a big deal to me, yet it is mostly being ignored. The Greeks, the Mayans, and many Native American tribes named the constellations and attached stories to them. This tradition oral story telling based on the stars spanned both cultures and time. In addition, the Incas Aztecs and Mayans are known for there insanely accurate calendars based on the movements of stars and planets, the Mayans even predicted many of the comets it took modern astronomers years to "discover." Werewolves are dependent on the moon's phases, and though vampires have problems with starlight from the sun they revel under the dim dots in the night sky. Science fiction writers have a field day with new science. And the movie "Event Horizon" placed hell on the other side of a black hole. Children look up at the night sky with wonder, and long lovers spin poetry of eyes shining like stars. Imagine if the next love poem compared you to the cosmic microwave background: "beautiful in the nearly hidden complexity, giving birth to the stars that shine in your lovers eyes." Or imagine cursing someone, "You're as volatile as a Red Super Giant Star, I'm just waiting for you to supernova."

Astronomy is poetry, so I urge you all look up information on IYA.

J.R West