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2006-04-18 2:35 p.m.

kingdom come


Yes, so. I’ve decided to call the new English teacher Autumn. She is turning out to be just what I always wanted in a Japanese teacher of English. She uses tons of English in class, she makes the kids speak to each other in English a lot, and she employs lots of games to make it all go down easier. She treats me like an equal and asks me to plan parts of the lessons and everything. She’s great.

The problem is that, as implied, she makes me do stuff. She likes to do lessons that require a lot of preparation, and guess who gets to do the grunt work for it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for earning my keep. Eighteen months ago I would have been ecstatic about this development. But I have to admit that I was kind of hoping I could just coast out my last few months here. Oh well.

It’s already caused some difficulty. She’s realizing that I’ve done jack shit at the middle school in two years, which makes her wonder if I’m reliable and helps her sense that I’m not exactly overjoyed to suddenly have work to do. Fortunately for her I am reliable, and I’ll do what she wants… It’s for the children!

We’re supposedly getting a student (English) teacher soon, a 21 year old female originally from Takashima who is going to school in Hiroshima. So hopefully she can help out with the manual labor. I find myself hoping that she’s not cute, though. I’m really not in the mood for such a distraction at this point.

The new music teacher is a super sweetheart, though not nearly as cute as her predecessor. She lives next door to me, in Sophie’s old place. I think she’s married or something, anyway.

Battle continues to rage with the brother-in-law… Well, actually things are starting to calm down, I think. He got accepted to JET for next year, incidentally.

I still haven’t heard whether someone will replace me on the Rock after I leave. I think Bigger City has decided how many of us they’re going to employ next year, but either they haven’t decided how to divvy them up or else they’re just not telling me. (Nearly every JET in the region is going home this summer. Weird.)

This weekend I was at a friend’s place, and he had some superhero comic books. Alex Ross ones. Turned out, they were actually really good. I borrowed Kingdom Come and, well, wow. I always hated Justice League cartoons. Even as a child, I just instinctively knew that there’s no way that’s how something like that would work out in anything even remotely resembling reality. Even if everyone involved had the best of intentions and only wanted to do good… No one with superhero powers is going to be real keen on taking orders. And there’s no way the normal humans are going to be happy letting these self-righteous crusaders, who gained power just because they won the freak accident lottery, just take over making all the decisions about potential threats, or that the superheroes are going to be particularly interested in what mere humans have to say about it.

The thing about Kingdom Come, though, is that is how something like the Justice League would probably work out in something resembling reality. It was so well done, and made me realize how much potential there is for psychological drama in superhero stories and the dynamics involved when the gods walk among mortals. The old superhero stories were so flat, with their puritanical morality and easy, reassuring division between good and evil. Not only is it boring, it’s downright dishonest. You may say, “ah c’mon, man, it’s just a story.” But I take these things seriously, and so do many others, whether they realize it or not. I don’t want “just a story.” I don’t want simple escapism. Yes, I want to get away from it all sometimes and I like using stories and fantasy to do it, but I want a souvenir that will be useful to me when I get back to reality. I want fantasy that will teach me how to deal with reality. The old superhero stories don’t do that. They merely encourage thinking in terms of “we are good and therefore right, thus anyone who disagrees with us is evil.” That is counterproductive thinking. But Kingdom Come, man, is something else. That kind of moral ambiguity, where everyone is trying hard to do the right thing but somehow they all end up fighting against each other anyway… that is how it IS, man.

Of course my favorite is Batman. He’s always been the one with the moral universe closest to mine. He’s always been the one who would understand why I picked the name I did for this diary. (Adam West-style incarnations aside.) But beyond that, he’s one of the few who dares suggest that you don’t need superpowers to make a superhuman difference in this world. (Though I can’t imagine he gets much sleep...)

Development-wise, though, the best character in Kingdom Come was definitely Wonder Woman. What they did with her was just awesome. Interesting, though, that the ambassador to the modern world for a race of ancient Greco-Roman immortals would go around promoting peace wearing little more than her American flag underwear. I’m sure that would go over well at the UN. At this point it’s just traditional for her to dress that way, but it’s a strong reminder of how stupid traditional superhero comics are…

Kingdom Come is painfully relevant to the modern world. As my friend pointed out, the situation that the Justice League finds itself in in that book (first published in 1996) is eerily similar to the situation that modern America is in. Americans want to do good. We want to be a force for justice and freedom and peace. I think even George Bush wants that. But if you aren’t extremely careful in how you go about doing good, you’re likely to cause more problems than you solve. The risk of that happening only increases the more power you have at your disposal.

Not only is the story great, but the artwork is just spectacular. Kingdom Come is good stuff, and I’d recommend it to all of you.

Though it might help to review the origin stories of the major players in the DC universe first. Actually, Alex Ross can help out there, too. I read Peace on Earth (Superman), War on Crime (Batman), Spirit of Truth (Wonder Woman), and Power of Hope (Shazam) there, too, and they were all really good, and beautifully illustrated. They’re much more positive in tone than Kingdom Come- you might even call them “uplifting”- but they still involve superheroes engaging a world with a messy morality and complex problems that won’t be solved by using force.

There are good comic books out there, people. There are even good superhero comic books out there. I’m inspired to read more… Maybe I’ll start with V for Vendetta or The Dark Knight Returns… (Haven’t seen that V for Vendetta yet, by the way, though I think it is in Japanese theaters now.)

News Nook

Wired gave an ecstatic review of the new Kingdom Hearts game. “Mickey Mouse, in particular, has become Episode II-style Yoda: a tiny, blade-wielding badass who busts out sick kung fu moves at opportune moments.” Interesting. People are also working on games that will allow your actual pet hamster to hunt you through a virtual maze.

From CNN, the GOP’s To-Do List, which seems to include constitutional amendments to ban flag burning and gay marriage, as well as criminal penalties for anyone who helps a minor cross state lines to get a legal abortion. On a related note, here’s another article (and a related collection of polling data) on the rise of theocratic tendencies in the Republican Party, which is even more stomach turning. Tom DeLay and Co. apparently still believe he’s on a mission from God. While we’re at it, here’s an amazingly thorough and well researched article on women’s health and the Bush administration, from, of all places, Glamour. I should stop defining my political views as “I dunno, just not Republican,” but stuff like this makes it pretty hard.

Here’s an interesting editorial, whose thesis statement is “there is no such thing as Christian politics.” “Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.” It then goes on to talk about how pointless and arrogant it is for either Republicans or Democrats to claim that Jesus is on one side or the other. It is a very good point, but it is also a little late in the game to be pointing out that Christianity was not intended to be political movement... Someone shoulda told Constantine. (Or Paul.)

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful." -Seneca the Younger

I imagine you’ve heard the talk about nuking Iran... What is the proper response for an American citizen if Bush adds “force protection” with Iran to “preemptive war” with Iraq and “retaliatory war” with Afghanistan? How does he think the Muslim world is going to respond? This article presents a very thorough presentation of the situation and how different scenarios are likely to play out. It’s not encouraging. “The bottom line is that Iran cannot become a nuclear-weapons state. The problem is that the Iranians realize that only by becoming a nuclear state can they defend themselves against the U.S. Something bad is going to happen.” It’s funny that you’ve got these two sides, both of whom think Armageddon is imminent, both of whom think they’ve been chosen by God to bring it about, both of whom are disgustingly certain that God is on their side… Throw the Israelis into the middle of it and you’ve got, if not Armageddon, a pretty good imitation of it.

The good news is that Bush’s approval ratings are lower than ever. People are starting to realize that this crusade is never going to work, just like all the crusades before it. Fool me once. With any luck the midterm elections will get us a Congress that will finally do some damage control, and with a little more luck we’ll get someone a little less crazy in 2008.

Ugh. I don’t think I ever intended this to become a political commentary blog. But I write what I’m thinking and this is what I’m thinking…

everybody’s waiting for judgment day,