Demo #6
by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
Published by AiT-PlanetLar
Review by Marshall O'Keeffe

Sir Henry : "Only through kindness and forgiveness can one 'even the score.' "
Jack: "But that's not 'getting even'! "
Sir Henry: "No. But its 'getting free.' "
Midnight at the Casa Luna by Meatball Fulton

Hatred is far worse than any ordinary enemy. Of course, ordinary enemies harm us: that is why we call them enemies. But the harm they do is not just in order to make us unhappy; it is also meant to be of some "help" to themselves or their friends. Hatred, the inner enemy, however, has no other function but to destroy our positive actions and make us unhappy. That is why Shantideva calls it "My foe, whose sole intention is to bring me sorrow." From the moment it first appears, it exists for the sole purpose of harming us. So we should confront it with all the means we have, maintain a peaceful state of mind, and avoid getting upset. -- Dalai Lama XIV

Revenge is for children and the emotionally retarded. -- Frank Herbert (Mrs.)

"God wants crusade, God wants jihad....
What God wants, God gets. (God help us all!)"

--- Roger Waters, Amused to Death

Demo #6, "What You Wish For" is a story about stopping the wheel of karma.

This comic has a lot to say about anger, and the importance of not being destroyed by it.

Nothing could be more timely for a world enmeshed in the circular, wheeling Karma of Anger, Violence, Fear and Loathing.

Karma is one of the most misunderstood phenomena in the West. For most it equates with a kind of poetic justice as exemplified in the saying "what goes around comes around". This is however closer to folk ideas of "justice" and "equity", two metaphysical concepts that have no counterparts in the world of space-time, except insofar as they are expressed by sentient beings.

This is an important point: any justice or equity that you may experience in this universe didn't just happen. Justice and equity are human concepts which need humans in order to be expressed. This is one of the glories of human beings, in my opinion.

Karma is an impersonal, inexorable working out of events that are the consequences of specific types of activities under specific conditions. Don't worry about what these conditions are with an idea of avoiding them, since for 99% of us 99% of the time these conditions are inescapable and ineradicable, as well as being undetectable.

Karma is also quite without justice, poetic or otherwise. Its toils are inexorably intertwined with the activities of life, and we can but tease out a strand or two to get a feeling for the entire net.

Here are a few, but by no means the only, strands which we can follow a short way, as an example. Remember, there is no "justice" here, only causation:

The karma generated by the white moneyed slaveholder and plantation owner who prospered and died happily in 1859 e.v., and by the American Baron of Industry of the 1920's e.v. who created massive poverty during the Depression in order to enrich himself and his descendents, is reaped by Americans today in the form of a slow motion class war euphemistically called a "crime rate'' along with a "drug war" in which Americans of color are the prime enemies of the criminal justice system. And so it goes.

Science and scholarship began demonstrating that most of the Bible was not only much younger than advertised ( e.g. the "synoptic" gospels apparently not being written until after c.200 e.v.) but also wildly innaccurate whenever it made any statements about astronomy, physics, History, et c. This created Karma, in the fear and distress that Christians showed the moment their scriptures were read with the eyes open.

Refutation attempts (karmically determined, of course!) have since appeared, like "Creationism", an attempt to use 3000+ year old myths as a "scientific" basis for Geology.

Appeals to metaphor and so forth ("When the scripture says one thing it really means another!") are also made in an attempt to rescue an archaic system of gnostic astro-mythological images for modern consumption.

Since Christians were forbidden (at least in the U.S.) to kill people just because they don't believe in Christianity, they often became secretly ashamed of their religion when non-Christians laughed at it, or [worse!] ignored it. Killing those who scoffed had always made them feel better about it before, but the sight of non-Christians flaunting their freedom from religion was very disturbing, especially when Old Nobodaddy didn't strike anyone down with thunderbolts.

(Of course, some sects of Christianity actually have rejected violence and coercion, but these kinds of Christians were usually persecuted to extinction by the other kind, as in the case of the Albigensians, or driven to exile when not oppressed or executed at home, as in the case of the Quakers. (These are certainly relatively benign forms of Christianity, yes. But even the Quakers gave us Richard Nixon.) Keep in mind, too, that the relatively benign and for the most part harmless forms of mainstream Christianity in the U.S. are so precisely to the extent to which they move away from their Christian origins.The intolerant fundamentalist bigots ARE closer to the fundamentals of Christianity, and they are correct in their criticisms of the Roman and Greek churches, so far as that goes. It is the Pagan ethics of tolerance and humanism that corrupted the early church and made it (eventually) much less brutal and repressive. The horror that was visited upon Europe for centuries as Christianity was imposed upon its people makes the genocidal ambitions of modern despots pale by comparison. The European peoples resisted heroically and never wholly surrendered to this alien and invading "faith", although in the end everyone was forced to conform outwardly.

Inside the hearts of the people, though, it was a different matter. The seed was there, hidden deep in the desert sands of the spiritual wasteland that Christianity had made of Europe. It only needed watering. Then, as in any occupied land, a counter-revolution was begun, one which we are still fighting today. This Pagan counter-revolution (which at the time was as culturally important as America's Counter-cultural revolutions of the 60's and 70's; indeed the latter is to a great extent a continuation of the former!) was exemplified by the Troubadour ethic of Love and Humanity. This was the water for the seed, water from a secret, subterranean stream which flowed, invisibly, beneath the desert. In this new yet really ancient philosophy compassion and kindness for living people is more important than trying to live as if the body were best punished and the natural sexual and emotional responses twisted and perverted, and as if life were an unimportant preparation for some eternal, oriental "heaven" in which the despot-god YAWEH (who it seems was modeled on and copied from the "living gods'' who ruled the Levant and the Near East when the Hebrew scriptures were composed, the monarchs of Egypt and Persia, et c. Yaweh is Sennacharib writ large.) would be worshipped with ass-kissing and boot-licking throughout eternity. THAT sure sounds like a fun afterlife! I'll take the western Tir-na-nog, thanks, and you can keep your eastern garden and its despot-god!)

Of course, some of the more old-fashioned Christians still take up the slack when their god fails to punish non-believers. Through the use of Terrorism they try to force other people to live (or die) according to their Christianity, often using terror-tactics such as bombing Planned Parenthood clinics and shooting people. They like to SAY that their god did it through themselves, but deep down they know that these are not the acts of their god, YAHVEH, but rather the acts of people who cannot stand the shame and fear caused by the sight of those not enslaved to their superstition. It is psychos who are bombing and shooting doctors, nurses and policemen, not the Christian god.

Christian terrorism does not stop there, unfortunately. State sponsored terror is now the most recent threat as powerful Christian governmental authorities, like the Bush Jr. Administration, seek for ways to "prove " and ultimately ENFORCE PROOF that Christianity's mythological images are "true", by ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Even if they need to use nuclear war to force Jesus' return. This is a way of "getting even" and punishing a world that does not believe in whatever weird brand of extreme cult Christianity these people use to justify their actions.

"Enforced Proof" (as I call it) is the very frightening agenda of these very wealthy and powerful fundamentalist Christians (as represented of late by the current, unelected "President", George Bush Jr.) , who have manipulated Palestinian politics to cause historical events which they believe will "fulfill prophecy" and result in the justification of all the things that they believe. They continue to do so to this very day, as recent revelations have shown. Mostly to satisfy their feelings of resentment: "That'll show 'em! Now they are sorry! This will punish them properly for not believing the same things as we do!"

Nietszche was right about Christianity, at least about the Christianity of the White House: it is the religion of ressentiment par excellence.

Nietszche also said that there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.

Israel now has in excess of 200 nuclear weapons as part of this Weird and Twisted Extreme Radical Right Christian campaign to make myths come true, literally true in the real world.The danger posed to us all by this group of madmen and madwomen is of course obvious to anyone not sunk in the superstition under which they operate.

By backing and upholding the Israeli occupation of Palestine in defiance of world opinion and UN mandate, American extreme radical Apocalyptic Christian interests (along with the Israeli Government lobbyists in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives--but to be fair, they are more likely to be taking advantage of the situation for the sake of their own national interest than actively fostering it, and who can blame them? If these crazy maniacs want to hand out cash and weapons and turn a blind eye to nuclear proliferation because of some goyish superstition, then why not grab what you can while you can? The American people will have to wise up someday...then the gravy train'll be over for Israel, America will keep all that money here at home for roads and schools and hospitals, spending it on American children, not Israeli bombs and tanks. Then Israel might have to face and solve her problems with Palestine, instead of throwing guns and money into an occupation that solves nothing and that has left 30% of Israeli children living below the poverty line...) created Karma.

For decades Palestinians picked shell fragments from the rubble of their homes, and bullets from their husbands, wives and children, and saw "made in and paid for by USA" written on them. And so we have the inevitability of "blowback", as the CIA calls things like the Sept. 11th Terror attacks, destroying the world trade center in New York, brutally killing people who were only trying to go about their daily lives. Most of the victims probably had no idea that they were the focus of such revenge, much less the reasons for it. The American Media after all do not encourage much awareness of these issues amongst Americans.

The policies which put American bullets into Palestinians were not of the doing of the victims in the World Trade Centre, indeed many of the victims would probably have opposed this policy if it had been brought to their attention.

But Karma is blind and knows naught of justice nor fairness.

So Karma continued to roll onward inexorably, with the inevitable invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. (Watch out Iran! The scuttlebutt at State sez, you're next! Also [surprise!] Pakistan, believe it or not...). It hasn't stopped yet.

There is no justice here, no "getting even", only the blind working out of action, reaction, reaction. American History is full of Karma, and the strands are so interpenetrated that no part of it can be said to be seperate.

For Example, Hitler helped create the American Empire by his opposition to it. The U.S. Empire became increasingly like the 3d Reich which it had fought, for you become that which you fight. The German Reich's SS/SD and Army, Navy and Air Force Intelligence officers were recruited by the U.S. intelligence agencies (mostly after the war, with a few notable exceptions) to continue the good work "for our side."

The result was Pinochet and Peron: Nazism imported to our hemisphere, with the CIA seal of approval for the torture camps and death squads (with some cocaine imports on the side, to help fund the good work that was too good to let Congress in on, like Iran, El Salvador, et cetera...this is Ronald Reagan's true legacy, the man who betrayed his country and made a deal with terrorists to gain the Presidency and then became the leader in cocaine importation into the U.S. as well as the man running a "drug war" to jack up the price of the coke his CIA was selling! Talk about supply side economics! This is his legacy, as historians a hundred years from now will be free to remember it. But The Old Traitor is dead. The monster is dead. Go and see! He ca'n't hurt anyone anymore).

Why is anyone surprised that Iraq and Afghanistan (where, now that the U.S. is in control, has once more become the leading heroin producer for the world. No different from Laotian poppy fields, when the CIA was the among country's biggest heroin importers. You really think they've stopped doing this stuff? Look at those smiling MPs and their prisoners again...) would be treated differently than Peru, Chile, or El Salvadore? The only difference is that there were photos and films of American activity this time, not just accounts by "blatant foreigners" and different, or "brown", people, who of course WOULD claim that Americans were using torture. If Digital cameras hadn't been invented, we would still be thinking that American troops were the untarnished good guys. As if Viet-nam never happened.

Instead America finally got to see the face that up to now only America's victims had seen.

The U.S. trained, advised and sponsored death squads of the troops of U.S. client-states that caused no great public and government outcry during the Reagan era generates the karma that tarnishes our own troops today. The step from using the "foreign" troops of our client-states to using our own troops was not so great.

In Afghanistan U.S. Special Forces were involved in mass executions of Taliban and suspected Taliban prisoners, to "punish" them for the September 11th terror attacks. After the US troops fought and beat Saddam's troops (Saddam was no more at the frontlines than Bush Jr. was), they immediately re-set up his torture chambers to continue the work "for our side", and recruiting former Soviet, Bulgarian and South Afrikan torturers...er, ah, interrogators. More Karma.

Afghani prisoners were packed into transport containers so tightly that hundreds died of suffocation. When the doors wre opened at the Interogation center, the body fluids, vomit and blood and ....just poured out onto the ground.

Of course, no one believes the Arab media or the Red Crescent about US troops committing war crimes, because of course they lie. They aren't even WHITE, for Christ's sake, how can you trust their stories? And the ICRC, well, they ARE from Europe, they are not on our side.

Those photos, though...

And more anger, hatred, fear and loathing: And a young man with no connection to these attrocities is beheaded. It is the same old story, inescapable for humans who are bound to the wheel of karma. It doesn't look like things are going to get better too quickly...

This is certainly a good time for a comic like "What You Wish For", a comic which teaches that only way to get free is to give up the idea of "getting even". True freedom, true happiness only comes when we let go of the negative energy that others try to instil into us through their hate and fear, and instead let them keep all of it.

Brian Wood here is concentrating on what he does best, writing, leaving the art to the talented Becky Cloonan. Her style is excellent for this tale, and I for one would like to see it in colour.

The story is much more mature than I expect'd from Wood, whose work (from what I've seen of it) has been entertaining but not overly thoughtful. In view of stuff like the action-adventure new left-cyberpunk "channel zero" or the Pulp Fiction-style fantasy-action-adventure of "the Couriers" I expected this to become yet another action-adventure romp around of the wheel of karma: our hero is hurt, but he'll "get even".

This is a bit more subtle story than that, however.

Wood is very good at creating sympathy for his protagonists & is otherwise quite skilled at the techniques of writing an entertaining story, but here he is going a step further. This is not just well written, it is thoughtful and...well, mature is the word that keeps coming back to mind. I haven't been following Wood's work with any regularity, but now I shall certainly check out the rest of the Demo series, and report on my findings...

I wonder how much Becky Cloonan, listed as co-writer, influenced the storyline?*

I can almost see Wood taking the story to the "Carrie" like moment of righteous revenge, and then Cloonan stepping in with with her feminine wisdom and a Celtic smile and, with a wave of her pen, dispelling the cloak of maya that was there all along, hiding the truth from us...

Whatever, it worked well, and has only re-confirmed my good opinion of Wood's writing (and given me good opinions about Cloonan's writing as well!). Cloonan's artwork also was very effective, making a powerful contribution to the story in itself.

The mythological image of the "mutant" or "superbeing", which has been renewed and redefined by creators like Alan Moore and Barry Windsor-Smith, is here further defined in a collective process that is helping to shape our ideas of the "overman" for the 21st century e.v., a process involving the writers and artists who are ready to move in a new direction.

To take on a subject such as anger, and to bring to it such insight, gives me hope that comics as a medium will eventually rise to the eminence that I know it can rise to, if creative, intelligent people are given the chance to explore ideas rather than pander to market "forces."

What can Demo #6 teach us, then?

That we can learn about anger by being angry, but that we must go past it in order to no longer be bound by it. If we do not finally learn to reject anger, then we ultimately learn nothing. We remain asleep.

Looking within, we find that anger is ultimately based on delusion and fear experienced in a sleep filled with nightmares.

Demo #6 is, in its own way, an attempt to disturb that sleep and dispell (that is de-spell) the enchantment (which is one translation of the word maya) that covers our eyes with cobwebs of delusion. Grade: 4/5

-- Marshall R. O'Keeffe

* I just looked in the back of the book (something I seldom do) and according to Wood, Cloonan provided the story's "kernel." Hmmm.

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