The OA and the Metaphysics of Trauma



If you pressed me for an adjective for these times I'd have to go with "bleak." The Obama era opened with so many promises and ended almost exactly as they began, with a nation bogged down in war abroad and dangerously polarized politically and economically at home. The Trump Administration and its discontents are only exacerbating the process.

With huge swathes of the country written off as obsolete by the decision makers on the coasts, any sense of national unity has terminally eroded. For the moment, the disposessesd have been kept pacified with entertainment and opiates but there's a growing sense that the American experiment is nearing its completion. 

This is why you have the richest of the rich planning their escape to hold-outs in New Zealand and other remote locations, exactly as Roman knights and aristocrats did when central authority began to collapse in the Western Empire. Not a sign of rude health, that.

Everywhere you look you're confronted with trend-lines pointing towards a number of crisis points; social, political, economic. We have all the technology in the world yet, for the moment at least, the future is starting to look a bit bleak

SPOILER ALERT

The Netflix series The OA is certainly bleak. So much so that it makes bleakness into its own kind of poetry. The camera's eye is relentlessly documentary and dispassionate and there's very little musical score to relieve the sometimes unbearable tension. Cold, washed-out colors dominate the photography. This isn't Hollywood you're looking at here.

And as such it's not necessarily an easy series to watch. A lot of viewers didn't make it through.

Its central themes are death, trauma and captivity. The zeitgeist is captured in the person of a maverick scientist whose quest makes him into a monster, a callous, obsessive Dr. Frankenstein whose inability for basic human compassion drives him to murder, over and again.


The story is fairly simple and for some viewers, a bit repetitious. A young woman named Prairie is saved from jumping off a bridge and is brought to a hospital. It's discovered that she was the adopted daughter of an elderly couple and she's been missing for several years. Her back is mottled with strange scars. 

And even though she was blind since childhood she can now see.

Brought back home to a dismally anonymous, semi-finished housing tract she brings a group of misfits into her orbit with her otherworldly charisma: a drug-dealing thug and his sidekick, an honor student from a troubled home,  a transgender boy in the midst of transition and an emotionally-fragile high school teacher. 

Prairie begins telling them her story, which starts in Russia: she was the daughter of an oligarch who fell afoul of the Mob. To get at their parents the Mob arranges the deaths of her and other rich children on the way to school. In death Prairie is confronted by a woman, who is apparently her guardian angel. The woman returns Prairie to life but takes her sight.

When her father dies Prairie ends up in America in the care of a shady adoption racket. There her adoptive parents (played by Alice Krige of Star Trek: First Contact/The 4400 fame and Scott Wilson, best known today for The Walking Dead) discover her. But they soon find out she's extremely troubled, given to weird, visionary episodes during sleep. She's then heavily medicated.

When Prairie reaches adulthood she begins to entertain fantasies that her birth father is still alive and travels to New York to meet him. But instead she's found by Hap, an anestheisologist obsessed with near-death experiences who can tell Prairie had an NDE when he hears her play violin in a subway.

Hap seduces Prairie into coming home with him so they can study her condition but instead she's taken prisoner in his basement. There she meets his other prisoners, all middle American archetypes. She bonds with Homer, a young football player who died and was resuscitated after sustaining a fatal injury during a game.


As Prairie tells it, Hap subjects his prisoners to brutal experiments in which they are repeatedly killed and medically resuscitated. During one of the experiments Prairie meets the woman from her childhood vision again and is told she has a great mission to carry out. Along the way, Hap takes Homer to Cuba to seduce a female musician whom Hap wants to abduct.

Desperate to fill long hours of captivity, Hap's prisoners begin acting out complex ritual dances, believing that they can cross into other dimensions by following an exact sequence of movements. The dances seem to have palpable effects, as we see in two memorable scenes.

As she tells her story, Prairie's circle is increasingly drawn into her world, forming a kind of cult around her. The stories have a hypnotic, transformative effect on them, changing their lives and redirecting them from potentially self-destructive paths. But crisis is always looming in the background and everything ends up blowing up in the end, leading to a shocking denouement.

 At the same time she's contacted by a journalist who wants to tell her story and by an FBI psychologist, whose motives are somewhat opaque. Later he will act as the linchpin as it becomes increasingly evident that Prairie's captivity may have in fact been part of a much larger conspiracy. 

And this is where the series will burn itself into your brain. We are asked finally if Prairie's stories are real or are in fact the product of a gifted but damaged psyche who's been subjected to an unimaginable ordeal. Was her captivity in fact even more traumatic and damaging than her stories will say? Are her stories, compelling as they are, elaborate constructions meant to shield herself from an even more terrifying reality? 

It's a question often asked when people claim experience with alien abduction, MKULTRA testing or other socially unacceptable traumas, isn't it?

But the season's climax doesn't let you off the hook that easily. We see inarguable evidence that Prairie is not just a delusional victim of an ordeal we're finally asked to guess at, but is in fact a prophet. One whose mission it is to avert a harrowing outcome for her small circle of followers and the larger community they represent.

In many important ways, The OA is an arty, indie, more than slightly pretentious companion piece to Stranger Things. 

Both deal with suburban monotony broken up by the arrival of a female character possessing otherworldly powers. In both series that character brings a group of misfits into her orbit, as well as an authority figure. In both series we see horrific human experiments undertaken and in both series the subjects of them cross over into other realities. 

But The OA is as elitist as Stranger Things is populist, as cold as the other is warm. It's not perfect by any means; it bogs down to a crawl in some spots and dials up the cringe-meter in others. 

But it goes a little deeper into the esoteric than Stranger Things does, taking issues like the mutability of reality by the horns and leavening the dough with some seemingly well-studied metaphysics. Nothing seems sloppy or dashed-off; on the contrary it can feel almost too meticulous in spots. The symbolism gets a little bit on-the-nose more than once.

The OA is worth sticking with, especially given the formulaic inter-changeability of so many series these days. (I actually dropped the series during the Christmas season and picked it up again after the New Year and I'm glad I did). It's like nothing else out there.

In the end it leaves you asking questions about the transformative nature of trauma and the grueling reality of captivity and the need it creates to construct alternate perceptions of reality in order to cope. And other questions as well.

Like why do some trauma and/or NDE experiencers emerge with heightened or changed abilities and perceptions? Why have mad scientists like those in MKULTRA believed that controlled trauma could lead to enhanced psychic abilities? Does that somehow justify their abuses, if not just in their own minds? Are NDEs tricks the brain plays on the dying or objective experiences? Does the paranormal work the way we want it to or does it follow its own inscrutable logic?

I can only assume that these are questions the series will address in its second season. It will if it's smart.

Bobby Beausoleil once said that Charles Manson's ability to seduce weaker minds into his alternate reality was the by-product of solitary confinement and the need it created to construct narratives to endure the crushing isolation. He had a lot of time to practice the powers of persuasion.

I'm not sure if the producers of The OA were aware of that fact but it certainly carries through in the story. It's an interesting comparison to make; are cult leaders themselves all damaged personalities who need the adoration of others to plug in the holes? 

The obvious answer is yes. But some cults also have had positive (and sometimes ecstatic) transformative effects on their followers, something we're not usually allowed to admit.

No, The OA is not perfect, not by any means. I'm not sure it's exactly entertaining, even. But the way it chooses to address complex metaphysics, and at the same time ask uncomfortable questions, makes it important.



Hazy Cosmic Jive: Bowie and the Starmen, Part Three


And your prayers they break the sky in two
Believing the strangest things, loving the alien
You pray til the break of dawn
Believing the strangest things, loving the alien
And you'll believe you're loving the alien
Believing the strangest things, loving the alien


OK, this is where things get a little strange. A little more synchy.


In part one we looked at the established history of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (more or less) and Bowie's superhero-oriented project that directly anticipated it. We also looked at the influences that fed into Bowie's seminal creation, not the least of which was Bowie's lifelong obsession with UFOs and extraterrestrials. 



We dug a little deeper in part two, unearthing a heretofore unacknowledged precedent for the Ziggy character-- stories about an interdimensional space savior who is channeled through an aspiring rock star named Jones  (I mean, come on)-- that appeared in several seminal comic books, all released at the very same time that David Bowie was struggling to find the right hook to achieve the mainstream success that had eluded him so since the mid-60s.

And timing, as they say, is everything.


I also think that, given the nature of the Captain Marvel storyline, Bowie could be forgiven if he saw it all as a message expressly intended for him, sent from some unknown, possibly extraterrestrial, source. 


And in light of the superhuman output that followed that revelation, who are we to argue?


Remember too that Bowie himself later appeared as a thinly-veiled character in a strangely similar narrative, namely Philip K Dick's VALIS.


But first a word about the unlikely source of this potential epiphany, since people may be wondering.


The crossover between comics and pop music is so common today we take it for granted (My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way is now an editor at DC Comics) but was a bit less so in the 1970s. 

Even so, Bowie's Glam rivals KISS and Alice Cooper both starred in their own Marvel comics, as did Bowie's idols The Beatles. And as we saw Bowie's then-wife Angela- a self-admitted Marvel Comics fan- was having meetings with Stan Lee to develop Marvel properties, as well as a Ziggy Stardust cartoon. 

So we have a very well-attested and direct connection here. This is not just wild Internet speculation.

And Bowie himself listed three comic books in his well-publicized Top 100 books list so he was obviously a fan too. And I think that fandom had a powerful effect- at least a unconscious one- on him until the day he died.


Now, Captain Marvel defined the trippy "Cosmic" era of 70s comics, an post-hippie update on both the Golden Age Captain Marvel and Superman, an alien savior whose adventures reflected the hallucinogenic adventures of his writers and artists (one creator told me he and his fellow artists used to drop acid and wander the streets of Manhattan at night on vision quests).

But Captain Marvel is noteworthy for another reason: he died.


Of cancer.

With interest in cosmic characters waning and management looking for an attention-grabbing hook to launch its graphic novel series, Marvel had writer/artist Jim Starlin revisit the character in 1982 for a death narrative, which were becoming all the rage for the publisher (the deaths of the X-Men's Phoenix/Jean Grey and of Elektra in Daredevil were huge sellers).

The story went that Captain Marvel contracted cancer while exposed to a deadly nerve gas (back in Captain Marvel #34). As the end nears the major heroes of the Marvel Universe travel to his outer space sanctuary to be at his side. It's a bit more involved than that but you get the idea.*

For the occasion, Starlin swiped from Michelangelo's take on the Pietà for the vaguely sacrilegious cover art.


And apropos of absolutely nothing, Bowie posed himself in post-postmodern rendering of the Pietà for his 1999 album '...hours.'

And as we saw last year the artwork for this album was rife with eerie foreshadowings of Bowie's own death by cancer (liver cancer, in this case; note the dead Bowie's hand is over his liver).  

Is there a connection?

Try this: David Bowie died on January 10th. Captain Marvel "died" January 12th, when The Death of Captain Marvel was released.



A collected version of the space hero's 1982 Death story, along with related adventures, was published in trade paperback in 2002, the same year Bowie released Heathen. 

Is that significant for any reason? Synchronistically, yes: Bowie covered a "song" by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy on it, the outsider artist from whence he lifted Ziggy's surname.

One more sync: Heathen also featured the enigmatic lyric, "Down in space, it's always 1982." 

But look again: what do you see emblazoned on the book cover behind the reimagining of the Pietà?

A black star.


Which brings us back to Bowie's final testament and second-to-last video. What do you see emblazoned on the cover of the Bible-like book Bowie waves around throughout the clip?

A black star.  

Interesting coincidence, particularly given the biblical connections to both. (Incidentally, the black star cancer connection is to breast cancer, which obviously doesn't apply to either of these cases).

This is interesting, too: in the song (and video) Bowie first drops the term 'Blackstar' after the bridge, when the song veers from a jittery skip to a jazzy stroll. The lyrics go something like this:

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar**



As fate would have it "somebody else" took Captain Marvel's place after he died as well. And what pictogram do we happen to see emblazoned on her tunic there? 

Well, well; wouldn't you know it? A black star. 

How do those lyrics go again, now?

Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar


Yeah, that's one hell of a coincidence there.º Is all this intentional or conscious? It doesn't have to be. 

In fact, it's one hell of a lot more interesting to me if it's not.



In that light, note that Bowie is wearing a eye-mask in the "Blackstar" video. It doesn't look like Captain Marvel's mask, but still; He's wearing an eye-mask in the video.


"Blackstar" also features a dead NASA astronaut who was stranded on a primitive alien planet orbiting what looks to be a black sun. For many this is seen as a symbol of Major Tom, the protagonist of "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes." That could certainly be true, but the symbolism goes quite a bit deeper:
The association between Saturn and the Black Sun as an alchemical and occult symbol is traditional. In alchemy, the Black Sun represents the nigredo stage of the alchemical operation, the stage of calcination or blackening of the first matter by burning. 
As Bowie certainly knew the identification of the color black with Saturn is almost universal throughout occult and esoteric teaching:
Saturn: Put on black clothes, namely the cloth used to wrap a corpse and a black cape in the mode of a doctor and black shoes. --Picatrix, Book III, Chapter  7 
Note that a woman- with a prehensile tail- carries the skull of what to her is an alien astronaut like a icon. This too ties us directly to Saturn iconography:
In Vedic texts, Saturn is described as riding a crow and carrying a skull. Finally, another of the epithets of Saturn in ancient astrology is "Great Lord Dark Sun" and "Son of the Sun." In these symbols, the Black Sun is conflated with Saturn himself.
Well, that's all terrific and all, but how does any of this tie into our overall narrative?


In his 1967 origin story, Captain Marvel was depicted as an alien astronaut stranded on a primitive planet (ours, to be specific). He took on a secret identity as a rocket scientist and had several encounters with NASA.


And his original jumpsuit was emblazoned with a giant ringed planet, a pictogram most commonly identified with Saturn.


NOTE: In an interesting sync, Captain Marvel was doomed to drift in space (anti-matter space, in this instance) in a comic released the very same month Bowie recorded "Space Oddity," which had Major Tom doomed to float aimlessly in space when his capsule's instruments malfunction. Surely a "coincidence", but one the mystical Bowie may well have seen as a portent.


Bowie's final video ("Lazarus"), released three days before his death, had him wearing the eye-mask again, while hovering over a hospital bed (look carefully). On closer inspection, the mask reminds of a kid's improvised superhero mask, something he might make by poking two holes in a random strip of fabric. 

Or more accurately it reminds me of an artsy take on a kid's improvised superhero mask.


And coincidence or no, it really reminded me of the splash page in which Captain Marvel lies on his death bed. I wonder if it did for Bowie as well. 


HERE'S THE DEAL

So you wanna know what I really think? 

I think those Captain Marvel comics (which Angie may well have turned hin onto) burrowed deep into that man's subconscious. Very, very deep, indeed. I think this process actually started back in the 50s when the Golden Age Captain Marvel reincarnated in Britain as Marvelman. 

How could those stories not effect a young suburban boy, lost in a deep world of fantasy with his schizophrenic half-brother, whose stated primary ambition was to become superhuman (or "a mortal with the potential of a superman?").

How could this flying saucer-spotter not believe those alien savior stories were some kind of message for him, when their co-star was a young singer-songwriter named Jones?

I admit these connections might seem completely out of left field-- if not flat-out straight out of the stadium-- to many fans and critics. Believe me, I'm a bit stunned myself. 


This entire series started, like so many others here, by a strange connection that caught my attention; that Bowie's first Glam project- the admittedly superhero-inspired Hype- inspired the singer to dye his hair silver. 


For some reason something bugged me about that. Or maybe something was implanted about that.


Sometimes the tiniest details can unravel mysteries you never knew existed in the first place. Several themes gestated in my unconscious- superheroes, aliens, rock 'n' roll, channeling- until a few accidental discoveries made it clear to me that Bowie, who at the time was at the risk of falling into the commercial black hole of One-Hit-Wonderdom, found inspiration in the humblest of sources and used it to reinvent both himself and pop music.


History shows that far greater inspiration has come from far stranger places. 


UPDATE: Just in case you're having trouble with this entire concept, you should know that Elvis Presley idolized Captain Marvel, Jr, going so far as to base his look and attitude on the character.



In Elvis and Gladys Elaine Dundy highlights Elvis' interest in the comic book hero, Capt. Marvel Jr., and demonstrates the interesting similarity in Elvis' haircut compared to that of the comic book character and that his TCB logo (with a Marvel-esque lightning bolt insignia) also shows inspiration from Captain Marvel Jr. In addition, some of Elvis' stage outfits (with a half-cape similar to those worn by the Marvels). 
Elvis Presley was a big fan of Captain Marvel Jr. and his collection of Captain Marvel Jr. comic books still sits in the attic of Graceland. Captain Marvel Jr. is a fictional character, a superhero derived from the Fawcett Comics character Captain Marvel, later purchased by DC Comics. 
Elvis was Bowie's idol, role model and labelmate on RCA Records.

And also sang a song called "Black Star."




UPDATE II: Where might have Bowie's iconic thunderbolt logo come from? We know Elvis' thunderbolt was a tribute to Captain Marvel Jr. Well, during the recording of Aladdin Sane the first issue of Shazam was released, featuring the original Captain Marvel.


Note Bowie's thunderbolt uses the Marvel Captain's red and blue color scheme. Stealing some of Elvis's thunder, perhaps.




POSTSCRIPT A: "Memory of a Free Festival"

Bowie actually wrote of an alien "Captain" shortly after Captain Marvel #17 was released in July 1969. 


The song in question was his pivotal "Memory of a Free Festival" (released in the US on Space Oddity).

We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size/ We talked with tall Venusians passing through/ And Peter tried to climb aboard but the Captain shook his head...
From the Wiki: 
Biographer David Buckley described "Memory of a Free Festival" as "a sort of trippy retake of the Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil' but with a smiley lyric". The track was written as a homage to the Free Festival, organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab, which was held at Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham on 16 August 1969. 
The festival was a month after the release of Captain Marvel #17, so it's entirely possible the Captain in question here could be our Captain. He started off his career at Marvel as a UFO pilot, after all.

What's more the Kree- the race from which Captain Marvel sprang- bear a strong resemblance to the Venusians of classic Contactee lore.

Bowie was almost certainly gobbling up a whole host of influences, but don't forget he was also married to serious Marvel Comics fan at the time.

"Memory" is the first Bowie track to feature future Spiders from Mars Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey, so we also have a strong Synchronistic connection to Ziggy here as well.

The rainbow connection-- Bowie's silver-haired superhero in The Hype was called "Rainbow Man" according to some reports, even though he was garbed entirely in silver-- leads us to another Captain Marvel connection, if not a somewhat oblique one. 

As his adventures grew increasingly trippy and psychedelic, the silver-haired Captain encountered a rainbow wall (Captain Marvel, vol 1 #15), shortly before encountering aspiring rock star Rick Jones.  


Not entirely direct evidence there, but perhaps evidence of a kind of an overall unconscious gestalt on Bowie's part.



POSTSCRIPT B: LEPER MESSIAHS


Bowie claimed that his original inspiration for Ziggy Stardust came from a rock star-turned- acid casualty who believed himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Strangely enough, Captain Marvel has returned to the Marvel Universe in reincarnated form on a number of occasions, and has been presented as a distinctly Jesus Christ-like figure.

Like he actually defeats Death. That kind of Jesus figure. From an alternate-reality time series, Universe X (2000)
With the death of Death, Mar-Vell used the remaining items he collected to create a new realm called Paradise. This realm was for those in the Realm of the Dead that admitted that they were truly dead. Those admitted to this realm would be given a portion of the Cosmic Cube to consume, and they were granted with the power to create a reality that was for each person their ideal paradise. 
For those of you who might not grasp the significance of this, defeating Death is a power the Bible reserves for Jesus Christ alone: 
And which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. -- 2 Timothy 1:10

Captain Marvel returned again in 2007 (well, kind of) and a messianic cult was formed around him, the Hala Brotherhood. Then in 2011 he was resurrected once again for the Secret Avengers series:
Some time later, Kree mystics resurrect Mar-Vell using a piece of the M'Kraan Crystal and a portion of the Phoenix Force. Controlling his mind, they use Captain Marvel against the Avengers. The Vision frees Mar-Vell, who sacrifices himself to save the Kree from the Phoenix Force, which threatens Hala when it seeks to reclaim its missing energy. 

POSTSCRIPT C: "Stars"



In 2012, Marvel introduced yet another new Captain Marvel. This version was longtime Captain Marvel co-star Carol Danvers (formerly known as Ms. Marvel) given a somewhat more androgynous makeover (more so now than then). Note that her costume is a loose adaptation of the red/blue/gold Captain Marvel's outfit.



Not long afterwards, David Bowie reemerged from a nine year retirement with The Next Day, one of the singles for which was "Stars."

Coincidentally, the Bowie rock star part (complete with heterochromic eyes) is played by a young, blonde, somewhat androgynous woman. Note mock-turtle collars on both.



† Also included is Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi

* After some time apart Captain Marvel and Rick Jones- who by now can exist independently- catch up atop a New York City apartment building. Sadly it's not a happy reunion since the Captain has come to tell Rick he's dying of cancer.

Bowie lived in a penthouse- which is to say the top of an apartment building- on Lafayette St ("Fayette Factor" alert) in New York City when he learned he was dying of cancer.  

º Black women are important to the Captain Marvel saga. Just as a black woman took Mar-Vell's place for a time, Rick Jones met his new singing partner Dandy in the very same issue in which Captain Marvel (vol 1, #34) was retconned to contract cancer. 

There were strong hints that Rick and Dandy were also romantically linked, but the relationship may have been a bit too daring for 70s comics.

** This character self-identifying as a "Blackstar" rules out the theories that the song is about cancer. At least for me.










Hazy Cosmic Jive: Bowie and the Starmen, Part Two


"I always had a repulsive sort of need to be something more than human. I felt very very puny as a human. I thought. 'Fuck that. I want to be a Superman.'" -- David Bowie


In part one we looked at David Bowie's seminal creation Ziggy Stardust and the history behind it. Or at least the history as it's known. 

We saw how Ziggy- and indeed, Glam itself- traced directly back to a short-lived project called The Hype, which featured Bowie and Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, as well as Bowie producer Tony Visconti on bass.

The Hype's conceit was that they were superheroes-turned-rock stars, and each musician took on a separate identity. 

Bowie appeared all in silver, going so far as to dye his hair silver. That's an important clue in parsing out the mysteries behind Ziggy and in many important ways, behind Bowie's later career and his esoteric ambitions as well.

We also saw how Bowie credited 50s rock star-turned-acid casualty Vince Taylor as inspiration for Ziggy, largely due to his rather LSD-typical messianic delusions. Bowie would embroider Taylor's story over different interviews, adding bits about UFOs and Atlantis, but never with much enthusiasm. So I think we can leave Taylor's influence at "rock star turned messiah turned burn-out."

But there are several missing pieces to the Ziggy puzzle, pieces which Bowie never bothered to fill in, preferring to maintain an air of mystery around his creation.

Or is it that he didn't quite want to own up to exactly where he was really was pilfering his ideas from in the self-serious 70s? He had an reputation to maintain, after all. Being a rock star was louche enough in the circles he longed to travel in.

So let's read Bowie's explanation of the Ziggy concept, relayed to William S. Burroughs in Rolling Stone, again:
Ziggy is advised in a dream by the Infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes "Starman," which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the Infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. 
Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village. They don't have a care in the world and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is traveling from universe to universe. 
Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world. 
What does that all sound like to you? I'll tell you what it sounds like to me: a Silver Age Marvel Comic ("the Infinites?"). It sounds one hell of a lot like a Silver Age Marvel Comic. Oh, like something written by Roy Thomas, say.

Like a Marvel Comic about an extraterrestrial savior who travels through an anti-matter dimension and merges with an aspiring folk-rocker in order to save the world from destruction, granting that singer amazing alien powers in the bargain. 

But do such comics actually exist? And did they exist prior to the creation of Ziggy Stardust?

Oh yes, they did indeed.

And one of them depicted a starman (as identified by the giant star on his chest) literally waiting in the sky…

A brief bit of background. Well, as brief as I can make it.



Superman had one major rival in the so-called Golden Age of Comics (the joke in fandom goes that the real "golden age of comics" is 11): Fawcett Publishing's Captain Marvel. 

Whereas Superman was an alien, Captain Marvel gained his powers from a pantheon of ancient gods and heroes, Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. 

Hence the magickal incantation, "Shazam!"

DC Comics, or National Comics as they were known then, didn't appreciate the competition and took Fawcett to court. The basis for their suit was that Captain Marvel's powers and appearance were too similar to Superman's. But it was falling sales that did Captain Marvel in. Fawcett cut their losses and dumped the Captain and his cohort in the early 50s. 



However, Captain Marvel was so popular in Britain that his UK publisher created a new character, gave him a red, blue and gold jumpsuit and called "Marvelman." He began life in 1953 and continued his adventures until 1963. In other words, the period between David Bowie's sixth and sixteen birthdays. 

Which is to say, Bowie's Golden Age of Comics. 

In any event the name fell out of copyright and in steps Marvel Comics, who snap up the copyright and create their own Captain Marvel. The first incarnation of the character was a dud, but he got a makeover with issue #17 (released July 1969) and became a definitive character of the Bronze Age of Comics.


Starman, waiting in the sky

And with his slim frame and form-fitting red, blue and gold jumpsuit with yellow accents, the new-model Captain Marvel couldn't help but conjure up comparisons to Marvelman, even if Green Lantern seemed to be the obvious visual model for the new costume.

Marvel's Captain Marvel was an alien, part of a race known as the Kree (connected to Jack Kirby's pre-Chariots of the Gods ancient astronaut cosmology) and had been exiled to the Negative Zone, the anti-matter universe introduced in Fantastic Four #51 (1966). 

Through a convoluted sequence of events he becomes linked to Rick Jones, Marvel's all-purpose sidekick (he was formerly teamed with the Hulk and then Captain America) and whenever peril draws near, the two change places in the Negative Zone via the Nega-bands, which are essentially magical gold bracelets.

Note Captain Marvel's mask shape and Marvelman's gold disc

And what's more, an epic storyline ("The Kree-Skrull War") featuring Captain Marvel and Rick Jones and a host of superbeings and aliens-- one of Marvel's most important multi-story arcs and the biggest event in comics fandom at the time-- wrapped itself up in a comic that hit the stands in December 1971, just as David and Angela Bowie were rolling into Manhattan for an extended stopover to promote the newly-released Hunky Dory. 

And, oh yeah, from 1967 to 1973, Captain Marvel had silver hair. 

Now, let's take a look at "Starman." The one and only single off Ziggy Stardust during its initial release, Bowie's first hit in three years, written and recorded late in the process (early '72). The turning point in Bowie's career when he performed it on his star-making turn on Top of the Pops. 



In a red, blue and gold jumpsuit.

With gold bracelets.

Let's look at those lyrics again for a moment:

Then the loud sound did seem to fade
/Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase
/That weren't no D.J. that was hazy cosmic jive/There's a starman waiting in the sky
/He'd like to come and meet us
/But he thinks he'd blow our minds

And let's look at Captain Marvel #17…

In this story Rick Jones is lured into a cave filled with alien artifacts by the "Supreme Intelligence" of the alien Kree. The lure is an image of his friend Captain America, who then does a "fade-out" on Rick. 

And what appears, literally on a wave of phase?



The starman, Captain Marvel, who apparently doesn't want to blow anyone's mind. The starman who Rick Jones then channels in our plane by slamming the Nega-bands together (yeah, I know).

What message does Bowie's Starman bring?
He told me/Let the children lose it/Let the children use it/Let all the children boogie...
What does Rick Jones decide to do immediately after channeling (see issue #18) this alien starman? 



Become an aspiring rock star (or "boogie"). 

Yeah, I think we'd better dig into Bowie's Ziggy rap to William S. Burroughs again.
"Ziggy is advised in a dream by the Infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes "Starman," which is the first news of hope that the people have heard."
We saw how in Captain Marvel #17 how Rick Jones is lured through hallucinations (rather than a dream) instilled by the "Supreme Intelligence" to channel the alien Captain Marvel. Immediately after, he decides to become a rock star.
"So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the Infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth."
Captain Marvel is trying to come save the earth but is trapped in the Negative Zone.

And here's where we get our smoking gun. 
 "They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village." 
From Captain Marvel #20, released March 1970 (the same month as The Hype's debut): Here we see Rick Jones, playing his music where? 



Greenwich Village. 

Next? 
"They just happened to stumble into our universe by black-hole jumping. Their whole life is traveling from universe to universe." 

After Rick's gig he is contacted by Captain Marvel, who is trapped in another universe and wants to come to ours.  Next?
"Now Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starman. He takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples."

Rick Jones, musical novice, takes his disciples to incredible spiritual heights, apparently with the cosmic power still remaining in his body. Moving on...
"When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world."

And since he is trapped in the anti-matter based Negative Zone, Captain Marvel needs to take the young rock singer's atoms to exist in our world.

Do I need to remind you Bowie's real surname was Jones?

Oh, I know what you're thinking. This is all crazytalk. 

I mean, why would a comic book about a young rock singer channeling the power of a alien superman possibly appeal to David Bowie, right? Especially a young rock singer surnamed Jones? I mean, it's preposterous!

And anyway there's no possible connection between Bowie and Captain Marvel or else someone would have discovered it already. This is all blue-sky conjecture. 

I mean, where's the connection between David Bowie and comic book superheroes, anyway? 

Oh. Wait. 


In 1975, the then-wife of rockstar David Bowie, Angela, got the television rights for Black Widow and Daredevil from Stan Lee in hopes of using it as a star-vehicle for Angela’s own on-screen ambitions. Angela Bowie enlisted actor Ben Carruthers (The Dirty Dozen, Shadows) to play Daredevil, and the duo did several black-and-white stills dressed up in their parts.  
Bowie enlisted her husband’s Ziggy Stardust era costume designer Natasha Kornikoff to design the outfits, adding face paint to Daredevil’s ensemble but leaving Black Widow’s look relatively untouched. 
Oh. That connection. 

Angela, in her own words:
“I’ve always been a Marvel fan. As a kid I would pick up a two-foot stack of comics and read them in the back of my dad’s car on long journeys across the States. That’s how I used to make friends – I’d meet up with other kids and we’d swap comics. 
I loved the outrageous costumes but I also loved the stories. What adults don’t always understand is that to a kid, a comic book is like a movie. My Marvel comics took my imagination to other places – other galaxies."
Other galaxies. You don't say. 

One thing people may not realize is how influential Angela was in Bowie's glam phase, and how involved she was in the design and concept of his Ziggy-era stage presentations. 
"David and I both thought that rock music was boring, so we started talking about how we could make it more interesting. We said, ‘Look, you don’t have to wear denims and a beer-stained T-shirt and just bang out your hit singles. If you’ve got good music, let’s make it look good, too. Let’s give it colour and light – let’s make it theatrical.’ So that’s what we did, and people called it glam rock."

It's worth noting that he moved away from the cartoonish of Glam at the same time he and Angie drifted apart as a couple, and would favor much starker and more austere outfits and stage shows as the 70s wore on. But during the Glam years, Angie had big plans for the Ziggy character. 
"Then I found myself back in the US promoting David’s live show. I was having a meeting about doing a cartoon version of Ziggy Stardust and I got invited to lunch with Marvel comics legend Stan Lee – the guy who helped create all those great characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man. 
“We got talking about one of the female Marvel characters, Black Widow. Everybody round the table started getting really excited about it, and suddenly there I was paying Stan Lee one dollar for the movie rights.Back in London I set to work with Natasha Korniloff, who designed some of the costumes for Ziggy Stardust, and the photographer Terry O’Neill. 
With Terry’s help, I pushed and pushed the project, but what I didn’t realise in all my youthful enthusiasm was that the special-effects business wasn’t quite advanced enough to make the film that I wanted to make….But I’m still a Marvel fan and I’ve seen all the films. "
Well. 

Not such a crazy theory after all, don't you think?

But hold on tight, because the story is about to get a lot weirder.





TO BE CONTINUED


Sync Log:  This story went up 45 mins before I posted here.