On the Shelf (Sort of) – Our Gods Wear Spandex

One of the books I didn’t get a chance to read over the break was Christopher Knowles’ new book Our Gods Wear Spandex, a study linking figures from myth and occultism with the heroes of yesterday and today’s comic books. (In the interests of disclosure, Knowles’ book and The Necronomicon Files are both published by Weiser.) Nonetheless, I’ve followed the controversy that followed this article, and I went over some of the arguments therein on topics on which I’m knowledgeable – mainly Lovecraft and the occult. Given even that exposure, I have some serious qualms about this book.

Knowles’ work purports to be an exploration of various motifs and mythological figures whose tales are retold in our modern media. In many ways, the book succeeds in doing this, though I think many who are familiar with myth and legend will find it overly obvious at times. Nonetheless, Knowles can’t quit while he’s ahead, insisting that links exist between the work of particular creators and very specific ideas from occultism, without pausing to consider whether there’s any proof of this.

A good example is his exploration of Superman, the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Knowles notes that the two had previously created a figure named Doctor Occult, who seems to have reflected Superman in many respects. On the CBR forums, he went beyond this to insist that strips such as this show Siegel’s deep occult interests, when it’s more charitable to say they prove that he might have read Dracula at some point.

But Knowles just keeps going. How about Lex Luthor?

His first name is a pet version of Alexander (Crowley’s Christian name), and his own surname may even be a sly reference to the historical Martin Luther (a notorious anti-Semite).

Given that Superman is seen by many as an allegory for Judaism, this might be possible, though the Luthor/Luther connection seems far-fetched. But what about this Superman cover?

One particularly interesting Superman cover (#74) pictures Luthor looking exactly like Aleister Crowley in his prime, shooting a ray that turns Superman and Lois Lane into stone. There is an inexplicable checkerboard floor that recalls a Masonic (or perhaps an OTO) lodge, and the ray emits from a device that resembles a giant mechanical phallus – perhaps an unconscious nod to Crowley’s bisexuality and obsession with the Biblical story of Lot.

Come on! For that level of detail to be hidden, Siegel would practically have had to be living with Aleister Crowley, and there’s no proof that he had that level of interest. Barring that, we must accept that sometimes a phallic-looking petrification ray cannon is just a phallic-looking petrification ray cannon.

My other concern is the entry on H. P. Lovecraft, which contains some breathtaking errors. We’ll get into that next time.

Published in: on January 12, 2008 at 4:45 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, clearly I have to read this. Though based on what you’ve provided so far, the average person browsing the graphic novels section could make similar connections and suppositions, provided s/he had what used to be the classical Western education (lit, mythology, etc.). Can an explicatinon of certain manga be far behind?

    On the bright side, there’s almost nothing quite so much fun as a good message-board/newsgroup scrap. Makes one positively nostalgic.

  2. There are problems with the occult history in general, and yes, he does reach, but I found it an intriguing introduction nonetheless. My review is here.

  3. […] the Shelf (Sort of) – Our Gods Wear Spandex, Part 2 After my first post on Our Gods Wear Spandex, Plutonica provided a link to her own review of the book, referring to it as an “interesting […]

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    On the Shelf (Sort of) – Our Gods Wear Spandex | Papers Falling from an Attic Window

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