Tag Archives: Green Lantern Corps

The 36 Stratagems as Portrayed in Comic Books

00 Hugh Fox & Bruce Lee

Introduction

I first heard of The 36 Stratagems when I was working on a comic book story with Bruce Lee in 1974.  The story was eventually published in The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #14 (see cover above).  Bruce Lee envisioned a story that revolved around stratagem three of the 36 Statagems “Kill with a Borrowed Knife” that entails using the strength of another to defeat your enemies.  Bruce knew me from my cinema work in which I played the role of an evil psychologist turning nice Hong Kong girls, among others, into killing machines or worse in the The Evil Dr. Fox series produced by Shaw Brothers Studios.  We had tried again and again to make a “Bruce Lee vs. Dr. Fox” movie in Hong Kong without success.

The comic book was definitely a plan B.  There was a metafictional aspect to our comic book collaboration since Bruce Lee would more or less be playing himself in the comic book story.  I had played heavies in various B films in Hong Kong before the success of the mad psychologist Dr. Fox series.  In hindsight, I realize that using my actual last name as that of the character in that series was probably not a good idea.  I actually was a professor working as an English teacher in a Hong Kong university language center. I did some acting on the side to earn extra money and because acting was also a lot of fun.  I would like to take this opportunity to separate fact from fiction.

The real Dr. Fox cannot do the incredible kung fu stunts that are seen in my movies. I do have some knowledge of martial arts but I am more a theoretician than a practicioner:

Fox Martial Arts Taxonomy

The real Dr. Fox knows absolutely nothing about brainwashing.  If you want to learn English then give me a call but if you want to brainwash your ex-girlfriend to fall in love with you again then I am the wrong person for that task.  Metaschizophrenia, the Bureau of Intelligence Synthesis and corrective reality are all fictions and not real!

A stratagem is often used as a synonym for the word “strategy” and this is an incorrect use of the term.  A stratagem is more correctly defined as a ruse.  However, I think the term ruse is simplistic when applied to the term stratagem.  Based on the historical usage of the word, I would describe a stratagem as a ruse used for military and/or political purposes.  Also, a stratagem is a ruse that has been used for purposes other than mere monetary gain unlike a confidence trick.  For example, the Spanish prisoner con is basically the same as “7) Create Something Out of Nothing. – Turn something that is not substantial into reality” stratagem in the list of stratagems below at an operational level but the contextual historical background is totally different.  Operational similarities aside, the contextual background of the ruse given to the potential user is important for easy applicability.  A con man may have trouble understanding an operation given in a military context.  A military officer might have trouble applying a con explained within a monetary context to a military situation.  One of the recurring plot lines of modern fiction is having cons that are generally used for criminal purposes for government goals as is the case in the popular franchise Mission Impossible.  However, translating operations to a different context may not be as easy as the mentioned franchise suggests.

I would also like to contrast a stratagem with a ruse of war.  For example moving landmarks to confuse the enemy is clearly a ruse of war but I would not call it a stratagem.  Historically, a stratagem has a larger goal than the mere temporary confusion of the enemy.  Perhaps a stratagem is a ruse of war with strategic rather than tactical intent.  I would define a stratagem as a ruse of war with strategic intent.  In short:

1) A con is a ruse for monetary gain.

2) A ruse of war is a ruse for tactical military gain.

3) A stratagem is a ruse for strategic military and/or political gain.

I would like to apply this system of ruse classification to a particular historical example that would have been difficult to classify prior to this article.

In Operation Bernhard, the Nazis counterfeited British pounds in order to destabilize the British economy.  Was Operation Bernhard a con, ruse of war or a stratagem?  Certainly Operation Bernhard was a ruse.  I would argue that Operation Bernhard was not a con since the objective was political and not monetary.  If the goal was to supply Nazi agents with local money in Britain then it would be a ruse of war.  Since the goal was strategic then I would say Operation Bernhard was a stratagem and specifically: “2) Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao. – Attack their Achilles heel” in the list below.

Feudal Chinese military strategists suggested the study of stratagems as part of basic military education.  The 36 Stratagems is an essay that explains stratagems in detail.  This essay shows how the 36 stratagems have been portrayed in comic books.  The author of this essay doubts the comic book writers were aware of the Chinese text on this subject but learned about the stratagems indirectly and used them largely for plot purposes rather than edification.  An essay of how the 36 stratagems have been used in comic books provides an interesting extension of literary criticism and how theories other than literary theory can help us understand modern media such as comic books.

The 36 stratagems are traditionally broken into six categories with six stratagems per category.  I find the categories are largely useless and create logical confusion.  The rationale for the six categories probably has more to do with Taoist aesthetics than any operational logic.  For example, #31, the honey trap is under the category six of “Desperate Stratagems” but this stratagem could just as easily be classified under category two, “Enemy dealing stratagems”.  For the purposes of utility, the categories have been deleted and a simple 1-36 list has been used instead. 

The Original 36 Stratagems – Contemporary Maxims

1) Cross the sea by deceiving the sky.  Act in the open, but hide your true intentions.

1 36 Stratagems Cross the sea under camouflage

This is the use of a series of false alarms so that when you actually attack then you will have the element of surprise.  Supervillains don’t use this stratagem very much since every time they move then they get caught because of the dictates of a media were the good guys always win.  However in World’s Finest #88, the Joker and Lex Luthor commit a series of crimes that are actually Mechano-Men stunts and not crimes.

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In his first appearance in Action Comics V1, #51, the Prankster gives money to banks in apparent bank robberies until he decides to start robbing banks instead when the guard of the banks is let down.

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The con version of this stratagem is a Kansas City Shuffle.

2) Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao.  Attack their Achilles heel.

2 36 Stratagems Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao Surround one state to save another

Lex Luthor has used Green Kryptonite to attack Superman at least a hundred times.  At this point the idiom Kryptonite to signify an Achilles heel is probably better known than the original antecedent idiom.  This only works if the bad guys know the fatal weakness of the super hero.  There can be an irony to the Achilles heel of a superhero as a plot device.  For example, Daredevil is more vulnerable to sonic attack due to his enhanced hearing but this has been kept secret by Daredevil.

The Achilles heel of most superheroes is their loved ones. The Injustice: Gods Among Us explores a universe in which the Joker has killed Lois Lane, Superman’s unborn son and most of Metropolis.   In the comic book, not the video game, that is ongoing, Superman seems to be on the path of creating a dictatorship.  In the comic book, the US government attempts but fails to keep Superman’s adopted family, Jonathan and Martha Kent in a Mirror Master dimension but this attempt fails.  Superman emerges angrier than ever due to this attempt by the US government.

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The problem of the loved ones Achilles heel is that once you used up loved ones then your enemy is enraged and stronger than ever.  This seems to apply to real life to some extent.

Iron Man had his armor hijacked by a Hypersonic Scan Transmitter in the Demon in a Bottle story line.  Justin Hammer used the hijacked armor to kill an Ambassador while Iron Man was in the armor and effectively framing Iron Man for murder.

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Overall, super villains are constantly looking for the weakness of their favorite super hero and will attack such a weakness without mercy.

Green Lantern has a green Power ring that is one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe but the Power ring has an Achilles heel and that is that the Power ring is unable to affect objects colored yellow.  Sinestro had a yellow Power ring which in turn was ineffective with objects colored green!  This is cute use of the Achilles heel plot device but does seem a little too much in a modern context.  The Earth 2 Green Lantern, Alan Scott,  has a Power ring unable to affect wooden objects.  Green Lanterns have a weapon of incredible power so the only way a fight with bank robbers could not be totally one sided and interesting was to introduce a ridiculous Achilles heel.

Mon-El is a Daxamite.  Daxamites are about as powerful as a race as Superman who is a Kryptonian.  However, the Achilles heel of Daxamites is a vulnerability to even small traces of lead.  Presumably this plot device prevents the Daxamites from taking over the DC universe.  In a similar manner, the Martian Manhunter is more or less as powerful as Superman but is vulnerable to fire!  DC first used Kryptonite to allow interesting plots with a being as powerful as Superman and then continued this practice with Green Lantern, Mon-El, and the Martian Manhunter.  This use of a very fine tuned Achilles heel is a hallmark of the DC Silver age and seems forced nowadays.

3) Kill with a borrowed knife.  Attack using the strength of another person.

3 36 Stratagems Kill with a borrowed knife

In Avengers, Vol1, #1, Loki tries to trick the Hulk into fighting Thor but instead ends up creating the Avengers.  Loki bailed out the Cobra and Mr. Hyde and doubled their powers and aimed them at Thor’s Achilles heel, the current love of his life Jane Foster.  Loki has created super villains to fight Thor including the Absorbing Man.  Loki tricked the Silver Surfer into fighting Thor (Silver Surfer, V1, #4).  Loki in Acts of Vengeance attacked the Avengers by creating a team of super villains who in turn used even other super villains to attack the Avengers.  Loki’s true goal was to hurt his half-brother Thor.

Daredevil used HYDRA to destroy the Kingpin’s organization in the Last Rites story arc (Daredevil #297-300).  The Kingpin nearly destroyed Daredevil in the Born Again story line earlier via a series of stratagems so there is a plot symmetry in Daredevil striking back against the Kingpin using a stratagem.

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Darkseid has supplied advanced weaponry to Intergang in order fight Earth’s superheroes and to track down the Anti-Life Equation.  Darkseid also created an incarnation of the Secret Society of Supervillains and kept his involvement secret from the supervillains for an extended period of time.  Darkseid knew many supervillains are interested in loot rather than the larger strategic goals he had.

Justin Hammer supplied advanced technology to Iron Man’s adversaries in exchange for fifty percent of the loot the supervillains stole.  Justin Hammer also used stratagem #2 to attack Iron Man.

The Silver age Lex Luthor joins with Brainiac in the Crisis of Infinite Earths to form an army of supervillains.  The Modern age Luthor creates the Parasite, Bizzaro and the cyborg Metallo.  The Infinite Crisis Luthor creates the Society of Supervillains.

4) Relax and wait for the adversary to tire himself out.  Exercise patience and wear them down

4 36 Stratagems Wait at ease for the enemy

Doctor Octopus unsuccessfully tried to wear Spider-Man down using the newly formed Sinister Six who attacked Spider-Man one by one in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.  Doctor Octopus hoped that the exhausted Spider-Man would be defeated when he attacked Spider-Man last.

In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman uses this stratagem to fight Superman.  Batman attacks Superman with an otherworldly Batmobile, followed by cruise missiles and finally has Green Arrow shoot Kryptonite tipped arrows to weaken Superman sufficiently so that Batman with his exoskeleton can give Superman a beating before Batman appears to die of a self-induced heart attack.

5) Loot a burning house.  Hit them when they are down.

5 36 Stratagems Loot a burning house

Attack the enemy when they have internal difficulties.  The Kingpin literally blew up Daredevil’s house after framing him for bribery, destroying him financially and overall attacking him as Matt in the Born Again story arc.  The Kingpin muses that a destroyed Daredevil might serve him!  The Born Again story line also illustrates stratagem #2 and the use of interlocking stratagems, stratagem #35.

Norman Osborn looted Tony Stark’s armory and created the Iron Patriot armor from the loot.

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Comic books need fights and fights between super heroes like Thor and the Hulk are always popular.  You see a lot of “temporary misunderstandings” between super heroes but after the mandatory six to ten panel fight, the misunderstanding is patched up and the heroes unite to fight the supervillain that created the conflict in the first place.

6) Make a feint to the east while attacking in the West. Fake to the right; attack to the left.

6 36 Stratagems Make a feint to the east while attacking in the west

Ozymandias was defeated by the Comedian during their first fight due to a feint.  The Prankster in the Modern Age acts as distraction-for-hire for Superman for a fee while criminals commit crimes.  Batman has been known to “miss” with his Batarang because he is actually going for a ricochet shot.  Daredevil does the same thing as Batman but with his Billy Club not a Batarang.

7) Create something out of nothing. Turn something that is not substantial into reality.

7 36 Stratagems Create something out of nothing

Vaporware is the modern equivalent of this stratagem.  The Prankster copyrights the English language and then charges fees for use of the alphabet!  Ozymandias tricks the world with a fake alien in order to unite the world in a war against the aliens and stop WW III from happening.

8) Secretly utilize the Chen Cang passage.  Pretend to advance down one path while taking another hidden path.  Pretend to care about an issue and later give it up to get what you really want.

8 36 Stratagems Pretend to advance along one path while secretly getting along by a hidden path

This stratagem is a more specific version of “(6) Make a Feint to the East While Attacking in the West. – Fake to the right; attack to the left”.  The difference is that beyond misinformation there is the use of physical baits such as a decoy.  Iron Man, Loki and Dr. Strange all have the ability to make mirror images of their own image in order to confuse the enemy.  If you try to touch the mirror copy then your hand will go through the copy and the copy cannot interact with the enemy so the illusion only creates temporary confusion. This is a type of illusion whether the origin is holographic science in the case of Iron Man or magic in the case of Dr. Strange and Loki.  This power is used in an irregular manner with the characters mentioned.

Mirror Master uses the power in a more consistent manner in order to flee from the Flash who has super speed.  The Mirror Master will often make multiple holograms of himself that flee in different directions.  Flash is fast enough to chase all the holograms so this rarely works but this doesn’t stop the Mirror Master from using this trick again and again.

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A slightly different version of this stratagem is the use of robotic copies.  When dealing with Doctor Doom, you never know if you are dealing with Doctor Doom or a robotic copy of Doctor Doom.  While you are dealing with the Doctor Doom robot, the real Doctor Doom can be watching from afar and coming up with some other counter plan.  Robots that are created by Doctor Doom that are exact replicas of Doctor Doom are called Doombots.

S.H.I.E.L.D makes extensive use of Life Model Decoys (LMDs).  Nick Fury LMDs serve a similar function for Nick Fury as Doombots for Doctor Doom. In the case of Doombots and LMDs the problem of controlling the robots has been a plot device.  Your robotic copy can try to supplant the original!  Max Fury is an LMD that has played a prominent role in the Marvel Universe.

Tony Stark (Iron Man’s secret identity) is probably the second greatest user of LMDs after Nick Fury.  Tony Stark was paralyzed and used the Neuromimetic Telepresence Unit 150 (NTU-150) to act as a remote controlled version of Iron Man.

In the film X-Men: The Last Stand, Magneto has Multiple Man  make multiple copies of himself and the copies act as a decoy while the real Brotherhood escapes.

9) Watch the fire burning from across the river.  Allow them to fight your other enemy while you rest and observe. Later, defeat the exhausted survivor.

9 36 Stratagems Watch the fire burning from the other side of the river

Ultra Boy, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, used covert means to trick Mordru into attacking Glorith in order to stop Glorith from taking over the universe (Legion of Super-Heroes Annual V4 #1.

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10) Conceal a dagger in a smile.  Befriend them to get their guard down, then attack their weakest point.

10 36 Stratagems Conceal a dagger in a smile

The Batman has some very charming enemies.  The Joker often smiles and even laughs as he kills his victims.  The Joker also likes to make his victims smile while they die as well with his patented Joker venom.  The Riddler is another smooth talking rogue that is an enemy of Batman.  Ra’s al Ghul treats Batman as a worthy opponent and calls Batman detective out of respect.

Ra’s al Ghul has a daugher, Talia al Ghul, does more than smile for Batman and has given Batman a son!  Talia seemingly becomes an ally of Luthor and runs LexCorp while Luthor is President but secretly sells LexCorp to Wayne Enterprises in order to ruin Lex Luthor.  However, Talia is a ruthless criminal that will fight Batman.

Ozymandias is very genial even as he battles Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre.

11) Sacrifice a plum tree to save a peach tree. Let the plum tree wither in place of the peach tree.  Trade up! Take a small loss for a large gain.

 11 36 Stratagems Sacrifice the plum for the peach Ready to make sacrifice for the ultimate gain

Super villains are more than willing to sacrifice henchmen for any sort of advantage or just kill them for fun.  Probably the worst super villain boss is the Joker who gets a kick out of shooting, electrocuting and poisoning henchmen left and right.

12) Take away a goat in passing.  Take advantage of every small opportunity.

12 36 Stratagems Lead away a goat in passing Picking up something in the sly

The Taskmaster is an interesting super villain who decided a lot of small opportunities with small risk is a better idea than the big score.  The Taskmaster runs a school for henchmen.  In general, super villains do not think small and do pass up small opportunities.  The biggest opportunity that super villains pass up is licensing their technology.  If the technology is stolen then this makes sense but in the case of criminal masterminds like The Mad Thinker and Egghead, you have to wonder why they don’t focus on being a the next Bill Gates rather than wasting their time on crime.

13) Beat the grass to startle the snake.  Stir things up before beginning to negotiate for your true interests.

13 36 Stratagems Beat the grass to startle the snake

Ok, this is the application of stratagems to a type of genre that generally relies on fist fights for plot development.  No one said this task would be easy.  I am going to revise this as distraction as a tactic or even super power in a comic book.  Deadpool has officially been classified as a character with the super power of distraction by a major super villain, Taskmaster.  Spider-Man consistently keeps up a line of personal to funny chatter while fighting that unnerves opponents.

14) Raise a corpse from the dead.  Revive a dead proposal by presenting it again or in a new way.

 14 36 Stratagems Raise a corpse from the dead

This stratagem means take something from the past and giving it new relevance.  I guess the Chinese knew endless reboots of everything from Spider-Man to Iron Man were going to be part of the future!  This may be number #14 in the list of stratagems but in comic terms this stratagems is number #1!

Comic books love updating old weapons!  The Atomic Knights use medieval armor after WW III!  Hawkman likes to use archaic weaponry.  Green Arrow and Hawkeye use trick arrows.  Batman uses Batarangs, boomerangs and shurikens, in his utility beltCaptain Boomerang and Boomerang use trick boomerangs.  Whiplash uses a technologically enhanced whip.  Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth. Comic book heroes and villains delight in taking and old weapon and adding new technology to the weapon so a trick version of the weapon is created.

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15) Lure the tiger out of the mountain.  Seek a neutral location. Negotiate after leading them away from a position of strength.

15 36 Stratagems Lure the tiger out of the mountain

Super heroes don’t really rely on forts and mazes to take care of their enemies.  Batman has the Batcave and Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. However, the last thing super heroes want is supervillains visiting their lairs.  Incredibly the opposite happens and super heroes wander into the stronghold of villains all the time.  At least once every three years, the Fantastic Four visits Latveria the stronghold of Doctor Doom.  This is not just a lair but a whole country that Doctor Doom controls so probably visiting Doctor Doom in Latveria is not a good idea but that doesn’t seem to deter the Fantastic Four in the least.

Doctor Doom may have a nation on his side but Luthor tops that big time by having a whole planet on his side!  In the Silver age, In Superman Vol 1, #164, Luthor challenged Superman to a fight on Lexor.  Lexor is a planet that has a red sun so Superman has no powers on Lexor!  Also, on Lexor, Luthor is a hero and Superman is considered a villain!  In Superman, Vol 1, #168, Luthor even manages to find some ancient technology that allows him to temporarily gain super powers on Lexor!  Lexor is an extreme example but supervillains are often luring the super heroes into their lairs in order to have them fall into some death trap or another.  This is especially the case with Batman.

Arcade is an assassin for hire that uses custom built amusement parks filled with deadly traps named Murderworlds in order to kill superheroes.  Arcade has a sporting side and does deliberately leave a small chance for escape from his deathtraps.  Arcade at one time or another has tried to kill Adam X , Angel, Apex, Avengers Academy, Chase Stein, Colossus, Courtney Ross , Darkhawk, Dazzler, Deadpool , Doctor Doom, , Excalibur , Gambit , Green Goblin, Hazmat, Hercules, Human Torch , Iceman, Impossible Man., Iron Man, Johnny Blaze, Juston Seyfert and his Sentinel, Kid Briton, Meggan, Mettle, Micronauts, Nara, Nico Minoru, Nightcrawler Northstar,, Red Raven III, Reptil, Shadowcat, Shatterstar, Spider-Man, The Thing, Wolverine, X-23 , X-Factor, X-Force , X-Men  and the Young Allies.

Deathtraps are a comic book cliché and part of the cliché is the supervillain’s monologue that allows the super hero time to escape.  Why doesn’t the supervillain just shoot the captured super hero?  The answer is that the super hero needs to escape for plot purposes.

16) Let the adversary off in order to snare him.  Do not arouse their spirit to fight back.

16 36 Stratagems Let the enemy off in order to snare him

In Silver Surfer Vol 1, #5, there is a Tales of the Watcher back story, titled “Run Roco Run”.  Roco ends up serving a life sentence in Jupiter but is hypnotized into believing he has escaped and therefore no longer tries to escape!  This story is a retelling of “Run, Rocky, Run!” drawn by Bob Forgione in Tales to Astonish (Marvel, 1959 series) #26 (December 1961).

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17) Toss out a brick to attract a piece of jade.  Trade something of minor value for something of major value.

17 36 Stratagems Toss out a glazed tile to draw a jade Cast a brick to attract a gem

In Irredeemable, the Hornet gives the Vespan aliens a list of other habitable planets that they can conquer in exchange for leaving Earth alone and imprisoning Plutonian, a super hero gone bad.  Hornet is ironically a Batman type super hero without super powers but via this stratagem turns an alien invasion around and defeats the Superman type hero Plutonian.  With the right stratagem, the weakest member of the team physically can be the most important team member in terms of results.

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18) To catch bandits, nab their ringleader first.  Convince the leader and the rest will follow.

18 36 Stratagems To catch rebels, nab their king first

Supervillains do love to kidnap the President of the US.  Occasionally, supervillains take over the UN in order to blackmail the whole world and not just the US.  Overall, the comic book world of super heroes and supervillains is very egalitarian and chaotic.  For example, Superman isn’t really the leader of the super heroes but kind of a moral guide.  Reed Richards is supposed to be the leader of the Fantastic Four but he definitely has to run things by the other members especially his wife the Invisible Woman.  The Avengers has a rotating leadership but Captain America generally acts as an informal leader on the battlefield at the tactical level.  The X-Men do have a real leader, Professor X and occasionally Professor X is targeted as a leader.

There is no real leadership structure for the supervillain side either.  Norman Osborn did create the Cabal which led to the Dark Reign storyline.  The Cabal did effectively control most of the supervillains in the Marvel Universe and Hawkeye did try to assassinate Osborn (Dark Reign: The List – Avengers) and hoped that this would bring the Cabal down but failed.  Lex Luthor became the President of the US and during that period could call on an army of supervillains in order to take out Superman and Batman but that didn’t last long.  Leadership for both the bad guys and good guys in comic books is a network lacking central nodes that can be removed to take down the whole system.

19) Remove the fire from under the cauldron.  Eliminate the source of their strength.

19 36 Stratagems Take away the fire from under the cauldron

The source of power for some super heroes is certain environmental conditions.  If you can’t find any Kryptonite then you can always remove the yellow sun which is the source of Superman’s powers.  Lex Luthor does this to Superman twice in Superman Vol 1, #164 and #168.  In World’s Finest, Vol 1, #163, the villain Jemphis turns the yellow sun of his planet into a red sun via atomic explosions activated by a button on his person.

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DC has Aquaman who will lose his strength and die if he is out of water for extended periods of time.  So of course super villains are always trying to dry dock Aquaman!  Marvel has Namor the Submariner and has a similar weakness to Aquaman but while Namor’s strength will diminish out of water, Namor will not die out of water.

Green Lantern has a Power ring that is one of the most powerful weapons in the DC universe.  However, the power ring needs to be recharged every 24 hours from a battery that looks like an old style lantern.  Hide the lantern and you can take out the Green Lantern.  Problems with the lantern are a central plot device in Green Lantern V1, #9, #20, #32, #74, and #116.  If you want to take down the whole Green Lantern Corps then take out the Central Power Battery which charges all the other lanterns.  When Hal Jordan went mad temporarily, he destroyed the Central Power Battery and effectively destroyed the Green Lantern Corps.

The best article on the internet about comic book weapons at:

DC vs. Marvel: Weapons

20) Muddle the water to catch the fish.  Do something surprising or unexpected to unnerve them, and then take advantage of that situation.

20 36 Stratagems Fish in troubled waters

The Joker does crazy stunts that keep Batman and other supervillains off balance.  Deadpool is a Marvel supervillain that does similar stunts.  Crazy gives supervillains an advantage in the comic book world.

21) The cicada sheds its shells.  When you are in trouble, secretly escape.

21 36 Stratagems The cicada sheds its skin

The idea is to escape but leave the lights on so the enemy still thinks you are home.  In the Young Justice TV series, most of the Justice League and all of the heavy hitters have to appear before an off planet court.  In episode #33 titled “Depths”, Young Justice impersonates the Justice League at a Mars satellite launch in order to fool any super villains that might be watching into thinking the Justice League is still on Earth.

22) Fasten the door to catch a thief.  Completely destroy them by leaving no way for escape.

22 36 Stratagems Bolt the door to catch the thief

Prisons are largely ineffective in comic books since jailed supervillains do not make good reading.  Arkham Asylum seems to be a place where the Joker rests between bouts with Batman rather than a place of incarceration.  An extreme solution to problem of bad guys breaking out of jail in the DC universe was explored in the Salvation Run miniseries.  The DC supervillains are imprisoned on a distant planet. The same off planet imprisonment solution was applied to the Hulk but failed spectacularly in the World War Hulk story arc.  Over in the Marvel universe, Iron Man decides enough is enough and with Reed Richards creates a prison in the in the Negative Zone labeled Project 42.

23) Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighboring state. Build strategic alliances with others that will give you the upper hand.

23 36 Stratagems Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbor

In the TV series, Young Justice, The Light is a group of supervillains that ally themselves with the Reach, aliens, that they plan to betray after they destroy the Justice League and Young Justice i.e. superheroes on Earth.

In Irredeemable, the Hornet makes a deal with Vespan aliens to take out, a super hero gone bad, named Plutonian.  Hornet also gives the Vespan a list of other habitable planets that they can conquer in exchange for leaving Earth alone and imprisoning Plutonian.

24) Borrow a safe passage to conquer the Kingdom of Guo. Attack Hu by a Borrowed Path.  Temporarily join forces with a friend against a common enemy.

24 36 Stratagems Borrow a route to conquer Guo Borrow the right of way to attach the neighbor

Spider-Man has had any number of temporary team ups with any number of superheroes in Marvel Team-Up for plot purposes but generally the rationale if any is offered is stratagem 24.  Batman basically does the same thing over at DC albeit not as consistently as Spider-Man in The Brave and the Bold comic book series starting in issue #50, volume 1, and more notably in the TV series Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  In general, Super heroes are better team players and friends than super villains.

Supervillains are always trying to betray their partner.  Marvel had a title named Super-Villain Team-Up and actually generally ended up being the supervillain betrayal of their team member.  The Secret Society of Supervillains has always been much more unstable than their counterpart the Justice League.  Norman Osborn was very briefly able to unite the Marvel supervillains via the Cabal but that system soon broke down in part due to psychic sabotage of Osborn’s sanity by Loki, a fellow Cabal member.   Any favor done by one supervillain to another super villain must be treated with suspicion.  For example, in Superman, Vol 1, #167, Luthor increases Brainiac’s intelligence from a 10th level to a 12th level but puts in some hardware in Brainiac’s computer brain that allowed Luthor to control Brainiac!

25) Steal the dragon and replace with the phoenix. Steal the beams and pillars and replace them with rotten timber.  Sabotage, incapacitate, or destroy them by removing their key support.

24 36 Stratagems Borrow a route to conquer Guo Borrow the right of way to attach the neighbor

If you take the saying literally which is not necessarily correct then Catwoman has been known to leave a fake jewel in the place of a real jewel she has stolen so the owner doesn’t know they have been robbed.  Supervillains love to blow things up.  That is kind of what comic book supervillains do and there are too many examples to list here.

26) Point at the mulberry tree but curse the locust tree.  Convey your intentions and opinions indirectly.

26 36 Stratagems Point at the mulberry only to curse the locust

The Riddler literally talks in riddles.  The Etrigan the Demon talks in rhyme and his true message is difficult to understand.  These are not so much examples of ruses but aspects of the characters of the villains presumably created to make them more interesting.

27) Feign madness, but keep your balance. Pretend to be a pig in order to eat the tiger.  Play Dumb, then surprise them. Let them underestimate you.

27 36 Stratagems Feigning foolishness

Superheroes often have secret identities.  Clark Kent is the secret identity of Superman and in order to fool Lois Lane, among others, Clark will play the part of the bumbling idiot.  Bruce Wayne is the secret identity of Batman.  The role of Bruce Wayne is played in such a way as to convince others that Bruce Wayne cannot possibly be Batman.  Bruce Wayne often feigns drunkenness in particular.  Bruce Wayne has been known to use models who don’t speak English as alibis.  Tony Stark is the secret identity of Iron Man but is not feigning drunkenness but actually has a drinking problem and is probably a sex addict problem as well.

My last name is fox and I am going to translate this stratagem as the idioms “clever as a fox” or “crazy like a fox”.  Batman’s enemy, the Joker is probably actually crazy rather than pretending to be crazy but do not underestimate the Joker!  Batman has a lot of enemies that appear crazy but are actually pretty effective as super villains.  Two-Face has some sort of personality disorder that causes him to flip a coin during crucial moments in the struggle with Batman.  The Riddler has a compulsion to leave a riddle about his crime before doing the crime.  Announcing your crime however cryptically is probably not a good characteristic of a criminal.  The list Batman enemies that suffer from criminal insanity just goes on and on and about half his enemies are housed in the Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane and actually belong there rather than faking madness.  What we learn from Batman is that being nuts might actually give you an advantage in martial situations.  The Batman nutcase situation differs from this stratagem in that his opponents are really crazy rather than feigning craziness.

28) Remove the ladder after your ascent. Lure the enemy onto the roof, then take away the ladder. Cross the river and destroy the bridge.  Lead them into a trap, then cut off their escape.

28 36 Stratagems Remove the ladder after the ascent

Luring Batman into death traps is a Batman cliché at this point.  The Batman TV series used a death trap cliffhanger in a formulaic manner that became boring over time.  The nemesis of Austin Powers, Dr. Evil has a pathological need to use death traps.  The son of Dr. Evil, Scott Evil states the reason he never kills Austin Power is “Because you never kill him when you have the chance and you’re a big dope”.

29) Decorate the tree with fake blossoms. Flowers bloom in the tree.  Reframe deceitfully.  Expand the pie with objects of little value.

29 36 Stratagems Putting fake blossoms on the tree

When Doctor Doom was a young and fun loving gypsy, he sold luxury goods that appeared to be of great value to the local nobility using sorcery.  When the luxury goods disintegrated then the local Baron was not happy (Annual Fantastic Four #2 )!

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30) Turn yourself into a hot from being a guest. Host and guest switch roles.  Turn your defensive and passive position into an offensive and active one.

30 36 Stratagems Host and guest reversed

This is a bit of a stretch but super hero sidekicks start out as the guest of the super hero and then often become super heroes in their own right.  However, the original super hero almost never retires.  Robin can become Nightwing but Batman isn’t going anywhere!  The best article ever written on the topic of comic book sidekicks at:

DC vs. Marvel: Sidekicks

31) Use a Beauty to ensnare a man. The honey trap. Beauty Trap.  Provide alluring distractions.

31 36 Stratagems Beauty trap stratagem

Obadiah Stane used Indries Momji as a honey trap to destroy Iron Man.  Indries Momji causes Stark to fall in love with her and breaks his heart in order to cause him to resume his alcoholic ways leaving Stark Industries and its Iron Man technology easy prey for Stane (The Invincible Iron Man V1 #167).

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Loki used Lorelei in “For the Love of Thor” story line to manipulate Thor.  In the 1978 graphic novel by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby titled the Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, Galactus created a golden clone, Ardina, of his true love Shalla-Bal, with Silver Surfer powers in order to successfully force the Silver Surfer to become his herald again.

32) Open the gate of an undefended city.  Deliberately displaying your weakness can conceal your vulnerability.

32 36 Stratagems Empty city stratagem

In The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Batman muses how he has a bright yellow target on his chest so the bad guys will aim at his chest where he has a bullet proof vest rather than his difficult to armor head (Batman-The Dark Knight Book #1).

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33) Use adversary’s spies to sow discord in your adversary’s camp.  Provide inaccurate information to mislead them, especially through informal channels.

33 36 Stratagems Sow discord in the enemy's camp

In Fantastic Four #2, Reed Richards and the rest of the Fantastic Four pretend to be Skrull spies and trick the Skrull captain with pictures from Journey into Mystery and Strange Tales into believing Earth is defended by monsters (Fantastic Four V1 #2 ).

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34) Inflict pain on one’s self in order to infiltrate the adversary’s camp and win the confidence of the enemy.  Appear to take some hits. Feign weakness while arming yourself.

34 36 Stratagems Inflict injury on oneself to win the enemy's trust

In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman pretends to die of a self induced heart attack in order to fake his death and get off the radar.  This is the third instance of the use of a stratagem in The Dark Knight Returns and perhaps this is one of the reasons among many this work is a masterpiece in the world of comic books (Batman-The Dark Knight Book #4 ).

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n researching this stratagem I found out there is a lot more self-inflicted pain in comic books than I would have imagined!  Captain Carnage pretended to be a super villain in order to get beaten up presumably for masochistic reasons in the Watchmen universe.  Etrigan the Demon also presumably has masochistic tendencies.  Penance has a superpower that requires pain on his part to work!  When the flesh of Penance is raked with one of the 612 internal bolts in his suit, he can project explosive blasts from his body!  OMG!  Who comes up with these characters?  Odin sacrificed his right eye to gain wisdom from Mimir as how to stop Ragnarök (Twilight of the Gods) in Thor #274 (August 1978).

35) Lead your adversary to chain together their warships. Stratagem on stratagems.  Devise a set of interlocking stratagems to defeat them.

35 36 Stratagems Interlocking stratagems

The Kingpin discovered Daredevil’s secret identity (Matt Murdock) in the born Born Again story arc.  The Kingpin then launched several lines of attack at the same time.  The Kingpin uses his influence to have the IRS freeze Murdock’s accounts.  The Kingpin also has the bank foreclose on his apartment.  Finally the Kingpin coerces police lieutenant Nicholas Manolis to testify that he saw Murdock pay a witness to perjure himself.  The Kingpin overreaches himself when he blows up Daredevil’s house.  At that moment Daredevil realizes the Kingpin is behind the attacks on Matt Murdock and must know his secret identity.

36) Retreat is the best option.  If all else fails, run away. 

 36 36 Stratagems When retreat is the best option

Old Man Logan decides that when faced with a world that the super villains have taken over then it’s time to retreat to a little patch of land rather than get killed. Old Man Logan does eventually get around to fighting another day and killing all the villains!   Supervillains run away from super heroes all the time but the reverse is rarely true.  Even allowing supervillains the option of retreat is considered an unacceptable stratagem for super heroes.  In Thunderstrike Vol 1, #2, the hero Thunderstrike allows the Juggernaut to just go away rather than having the city get destroyed in a fight and is later admonished by Captain America (Thunderstrike #4 ).

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Conclusion 

What is surprising upon the analysis of stratagems in comic books is how rarely stratagems are used by supervillains.  If I was a supervillain fighting the likes of Superman and Thor then I would use every trick in the book.  Even the criminal masterminds like Luthor, the Kingpin and Loki do not use stratagems all that much.  My theory is that comic books are still largely a visual medium and it’s hard to “draw” a stratagem.  A fist fight is more interesting visually than a stratagem.  Also, the comic book writers may have a limited knowledge of stratagems.  A systematic comparison of cons, ruses of war and stratagems might yield interesting and synergic results conceptually which in turn would have practical value in competitive situations.

Document at:

Hugh Fox III - Blood

You can also download my autobiography of my struggle with a bipolar condition on  Am I Kitsune on my Google Drive.

WereVerse Universe Baby!

WereVerse Universe at Google Drive Link

Alan Moore’s Novel Use of Point of View

“Superman/Swamp Thing: The Jungle Line, 2000 AD, a Mister Mxyzptlk, A Small Killing, A1#1, Abby Arcane, Alan Moore, Anthony Lilliman, antiheros, “Pog”, Big Numbers, daughter of Miracleman, Dazzle Comics, DC Comics Presents #85, Delia Surredige, deus ex machina, Dr. Manhattan, E.T., Eric Finch, Ethan Crane, Evey, Ghost Dance, Great Britain, Hallucinogenic POV, hippie, Intelligent ethically ambiguous POV, Kryptonian fungus, Larkhill, LSD, Marvelman, metafictional, Milo, Miracleman, Miracleman #13, Miracleman #14, Miracleman #16, narrative. Alien POV, Norsefire, Omniman, peyote, Pog comic strip, Pogo, point of view, POV, Qys, rebooted. Supreme #53, Skizz, Story within a story POV, Stream of consciousness POV, superhero universe reboots, Supreme, Survivor guilt, Swamp Thing, Swamp Thing v2, Szazs, Tales of the Black Freighter, the Comedian, The Green, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Punisher, V is for Vendetta, V is for Vendetta #5, v2, Vertigo, Walt Kelly, Warpsmiths. Qys, Watchmen, Watchmen #12, Watchmen #4, Watchmen #9, Wolverine, WW III

Alan Moore is one of the top comic book writers of all time.  Alan Moore uses many specialized techniques to entertain the reader including superhero universe reboots but another technique he uses to make his stories especially engrossing is the novel use of point of view (POV) in his narrative.  Moore uses alien POV, hallucinogenic POV, intelligent ethically ambiguous POV, stream of consciousness POV, and a story within a story POV in order to make his fiction more interesting.

Alien POV

Doctor Manhattan is Superman type character in the series Watchmen.  Doctor Manhattan has the ability to see the past, present and the future at the same time.  This is power 256 in my Superpower List (250+).  Doctor Manhattan may have been human at one point but due to an accident became a being that is growing distant from humanity.  Ozymandias on Doctor Manhattan, “If there’s one thing in this cosmos that that man isn’t capable of doing it’s having a political bias. Believe me… you have to meet him to understand. I mean, which do you prefer, red ants or black ants?” Doctor Manhattan can also make multiple versions of himself and does this for practical purposes but also because this is a point of view that he finds interesting.  Doctor Manhattan can perceive subatomic particles that exist for nanoseconds.  Doctor Manhattan has developed a nihilistic view of reality due to his superhuman perceptions that is shared by very few human beings but The Comedian is one of them (see Figure 1 below).

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Figure 1- Watchmen #4 (of 12) – Page 20

Doctor Manhattan is so removed from the human POV that he almost does not intervene to save the world from WW III (see Figure 2)!below

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Figure 2 – Watchmen #9 (of 12) – Page 11

And true love does not change his mind but instead he has some sort of eureka experience related to human individuality relative to probability (see Figure 3 below) and this insight causes him to try to stop WW III.

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Figure 3 – Watchmen #9 (of 12) – Page 28

The Swamp Thing discovers in Swamp Thing, v2, #21, the first issue of this character that Alan Moore wrote, that he is actually a plant not a human and this knowledge causes him to change how he views  humanity and temporarily flip out and commit his first murder.  Alan Moore decides to turn a superhero that was a man with plant features into a plant period with a plant POV!  This story is aptly titled “The Anatomy Lesson” and is a POV driven plot (see Figure 4 below).

4 Swamp Thing V2 #21 - Page 13

Figure 4 – Swamp Thing V2 #21 – Page 13

Alan Moore decided a superhero even more removed from humanity would be more interesting.  The Swamp Thing can also perceive and move through “The Green” which is some sort of dimension that contains the consciousness of all plant life.  As a plant and later an elemental, the Swamp Thing sees the human struggle between good and evil in a larger transhuman context.  Humans are one of many species and the welfare of humans at the expense of the environment is not acceptable.

In a two issue story arc, the story is told from the POV of an alien that happens to be an Earthling!  In “Mysteries in Space”, Swamp Thing, v2, #57 and “Exiles” Swamp Thing, v2, #58, Adam Strange is the hero of planet Rann.  The inhabitants are more advanced than Earthlings and have difficulty doing “primitive” things like fighting and procreating.  Adam Strange has slowly become aware that the Rannians see him as an ape-man errand boy and the statute erected in his honor as the hero of Rann is a façade to flatter him into doing their bidding.  There is plenty of action in the story but Adam Strange’s internal dialogue about he is perceived in the Rannians is actually more interesting.  In the end his relatively, to Earthlings, Rannian girlfriend, Alanna Strange, is found to be pregnant and this is the first pregnancy in quite some time on Rann.  The Earthling “alien” has done the “job” he was probably recruited and manipulated for in the first place (see Figure 5 below)!

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Figure 5 – Swamp Thing V2 #58 – Page 23

Another story of Swamp Thing tells the story totally from the point of view of an alien!  In “Loving the Alien”, Swamp Thing, v2, #60, an alien that is a planet made of biomechanical material is telling the story of her courtship of the Swamp Thing.  I guess alien biomechanical planets have a hard time finding suitable mates and all prior attempts at failed and often caused the death of the potential mate.  Swamp Thing tried to escape but she used a “chronofracture” which reverses time to get a second chance at catching the Swamp Thing and she has her way with him.  She transfers all the information biological and otherwise into her reproductive system and voila little baby aliens that want to hear the story of their mothers courtship and mom wonders if dad would love his children if he had gotten to know them (see Figure 6 below)!

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Figure 6 – Swamp Thing V2 #60 – Page 19

Miracleman is another Superman type character radically rebooted by Alan Moore who reflects on his superhuman condition has changed how he views the world.  Even his “father” who is a genius by human standards cannot understand the perspective of Miracleman in the opinion of Miracleman (see Figure 7 below).

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Figure 7 – Miracleman 07 #1440 – Page 16

Miracleman’s perceptions evolve and he recognizes his superhuman condition probably distances him from humanity and he sees this as a negative (see Figure 8 below).

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Figure 8 – Miracleman 16 #1440 – Page 29

The Miracleman’s universe includes two alien empires including the Qys and the Warpsmiths. The Qys can change bodies the way we change clothes and this radically changes their sense of self.  This ability changes the aesthetic of the Qys so radically that they are ruled by what to a human would seem like a giant monster (see Figure 9 below).

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Figure 9 – Miracleman 13 #1440 – Page 5

The Warpsmiths have the power of teleportation and with this power also perceive time very differently than humans.  There are hints that this power changes how they perceive the universe and their role in the universe (See Figure 10 below).

10-A1 Ghost Dance Warpsmiths

Figure 10 – A1 Ghost Dance Warpsmiths

For Alan Moore, superpowers are not just tools for fighting crime but create sensibilities that change POV radically.  The daughter of Miracleman realizes that Miracleman’s perspective is too human for her growth and development as a superhuman and leaves her father to go live with the Qys despite being a newborn (see Figure 11 below).

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Figure 11 – Miracleman 14 #1440 – Page 7

Skizz is a character that Alan Moore created for 2000 AD.  Skizz resembles an E.T. the movie sort of alien and one biker actually refers to Skizz as being like E.T. in the movie.  Skizz is an interpreter and not very formidable physically and we get to see Earth from the point of view of an alien that finds us barbaric (see Figure 12 below).

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Figure 12 – Skizz – Page 14

More than any other comic book that I am familiar with, the story of Skizz revolves around the POV of an alien rather than relying on action for plot delivery.

In Swamp Thing v2, #32, “Pog”,  Alan Moore treats us to an alien that in a manner similar to Skizz provides an alien point of view in which we are seen as barbarian but even more than that a savage planet.  On the planet of Pog, even different species of animals coexist but in our planet a cartoonish crocodile will be eaten real crocodiles (see Figure 13 below).

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Figure 13 – Swamp Thing V2 #32 – Page 17

There is a metafictional aspect to Pog since Moore is comparing two types of comic book universe not just aliens and Earthlings.  The comic strip Pogo universe of Walt Kelly is being compared with the grittier Vertigo universe that Swamp Thing inhabits.

In Swamp Thing v2, #61, “All Flesh is Grass”, Swamp Thing meets a Green Lantern (Medphyll) on his alien home world in which plant life is sentient.  The title “All Flesh is Grass” is from the Bible and refers to the transitory nature of existence.  The story is told from the POV of Medphyll and the reader is treated to a description of an alien world of sentient plants and the art, religion and plant based architecture of the planet are described in detail.  The Green Lantern oath reflects the plant POV of the ring bearer:

“In forest dark or glade beferned,
No blade of grass shall go unturned.
Let those that have the daylight spurned,
Tread not where this green lamp has burned.”

The Swamp Thing is the horror from the stars in this story and we are reminded that what is a hero or a monster is a matter of perspective.  The Swamp Thing inhabits the form of Medphyll’s deceased and beloved teacher Jothra and the Swamp Thing and the reader are given a tour of this very interesting planet (See figure 14 below).

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Figure 14 – Swamp Thing V2 #61 – Page 18

Aliens like Dr. Manhattan, the Swamp Thing, Miracleman, Skizz and Pog view the world in a radically different way that in turn change how they think.  Super powers do not just let the character smash mountains but change how the characters perceive mountains and this is actually often more interesting.

Alan Moore wrote three stories about the Green Lantern Corps for DC Comics.  In the story “In Blackest Story”, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #3 (1987), the Green Lantern Katma Tui has a very difficult time explaining the whole concept of the bright light of Green Lanterns fighting darkness because the alien, Rot Lop Fan,  Katman Tui is talking to cannot see and has no concept of light (see Figure 15 below).

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Figure 15 – “In Blackest Night” Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #3

In “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”, Green Lantern, v2, #188, the bad guy cannot find the Green Lantern until he realizes the Green Lantern Mogo is not an inhabitant of the planet but the planet itself (see Figure 16 below)!

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Figure 16 – “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize”, Green Lantern #188, v2 – Page 6

In “Tygers”, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 (1986), a hyper rational Green Lantern, Abin Sur, fails to understand how a demon of the Empire of Tears, Qull of the Five Inversions,  can use his perceptual abilities that combine clairvoyance, cunning and an understanding of mortal psychological weaknesses in order to create a death trap with words alone.  Abin Sur feels protected by his scientific world view but in fact the supremely evil POV of the demon allows the demon to murder Abin Sur even though the demon is imprisoned and should be helpless (see Figure 17 below).

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Figure 17 – “Tygers”, Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2 – Page 12

In all three Green Lantern Corps stories, there are two aliens that have such radically different states of being that their POV makes mutual understanding difficult.  The Green Lantern Corps are aliens.  Moore realized the rich potential in exploring the alien side of the Green Lantern Corps rather than treating them like Earth based super humans that happen to look funny due to a third eye or some other cosmetic difference between the alien and us.  The Green Lantern Corps stories are even more POV centric than the other superhero stories mentioned previously.

Alan Moore develops the Alien POV idea even further in the Omega Men series.  The Omega Men are a team of extraterrestrial superheroes in a solar system other than that of Earth called the Vegan system.  Alan Moore did two back stories for the series that take place in the Vegan system but do not involve the Omega Men directly.  In “Brief Lives”, Omega Men #26, the Spider Guild, giant intelligent spiders, try to conquer giant aliens in the planet Ogyptu that live for millennia and move, think and perceive the world at a glacial pace, literally.  The entire invasion by the Spider Guild over a thirty year period is barely perceived by the giants.  The invasion fails because the POV of the giants is so radically different than that of the Spider Guild that the invasion cannot even be perceived and therefore cannot be successful (see figure 18 below).

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Figure 18 – “Brief Lives”, Omega Men #26 – Page 27

In “A Man’s World”, Omega Men #27, a female xenobiologist, or possibly an anthropologist since she mentions the rules of inter-system anthropology, studies a tribe called the Culacaons that reproduce minus women.  The female alien named Leelyo pays the ultimate price for not understanding the POV of the males in the tribe.  After probably three rereads, the reader figures out that the males of the Culacaons stab giant snails and plant their babies into the giant snails. The reader can infer that the Culcaon male stabs
poor Leelyo and probably deposits the children in her body after stabbing with
her with his Gamugha stick. Apparently, the male tribesman sees the female alien not as a fellow humanoid but as more similar to the giant snails and deserving similar treatment.  From the POV of the male Culacaon Leelyo is more like the giant snails than like him!  This story is widely dismissed as a very poor story.  However, if you reread the story then the horrible truth of the story becomes apparent and the true meaning of the title, “A Man’s World” becomes horrifyingly apparent (see Figure 19 below)!

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Figure 19 – “A Mans World”, Omega Men #27 – Page 24

Hallucinogenic POV

Swamp Thing was radically changed during his tenure under Alan Moore.  The Alan Moore Swamp Thing has tubers growing from his body that more or less has the same effects as peyote.  In “Rite of Spring”, Swamp Thing v2, #34, the Swamp Thing gives his girlfriend Abby Arcane a tuber in order to educate her about his perception of the Earth via The Green (see Figure 20 below).

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Figure 20 – Swamp Thing V2 #34 – Page 12

In “The Return of the Good Gumbo”, Swamp Thing v2, #64, the Swamp Thing again gives his soon to be wife Abby Arcane a tuber to eat since nothing says love like hallucinogenic tubers.  Abby is literally eating a part of her lover and has hallucinations that help her understand how the Swamp Thing perceives the world and they also have really good sex (see Figure 21 below)!

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Figure 21 – Swamp Thing V2 #64 – Page 14

In “Windfall”, Swamp Thing v2, # 43 a hippie named Chester found a tuber lying around the swamp and brought it to Baton Rouge.  Pieces of the tuber end up in a woman named Sandy painfully dying of cancer and she hallucinates a luminous body free of pain and is transported to a radiant heaven like garden in which she dies in the arms of her husband (see Figure 22 below).

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Figure 22 – Swamp Thing V2 #43 – Page 19

A sleazy drug pusher named Milo has a really bad trip and hallucinates some of the very ugly and evil villains the Swamp Thing has encountered.  The tubers as parts of the Swamp Thing apparently contain the memories of the Swamp Thing at some level (see Figure 23 below).

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Figure 23 – Swamp Thing V2 #43 – Page 18

When Chester finds out what happened to Sandy and Milo he theorizes that the tubers bring out what is in your as a person.  Good people have good trips.  Bad people have bad trips.  Chester ponders whether or not to take what is left of the tuber and decides not to.

In V is for Vendetta, the lead detective, Eric Finch takes LSD at the shut down concentration camp Larkhill.  The psychedelic imagery used is disturbing and unnerves the reader.  Finch hallucinates the naked torsos of a man and a woman perched on barbed wire (see Figure 24 below).

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Figure 24 – V For Vendetta #9 – Page 4

Finch hallucinates wearing the striped garb of a prisoner.  Finch has a hallucination about a crowd of black people, presumably killed at the camp and they are friendly towards him but ultimately move away from him and disappear into a wall.  Finch is then transported in to his middle class house but this is also a hallucination.  Finally, Finch takes off all his clothes and experiences freedom from social constraints in the center of Stonehenge.  Stonehenge may or may not be a hallucination.  Eric Finch is using the LSD experience to help him understand how V thinks and to some extent succeeds.  V is an anarchist and Finch does develop an understanding of freedom that helps him in turn understand V.

In DC Comics Presents #85: “Superman/Swamp Thing: The Jungle Line”. Superman is hallucinating due to an infection by a Kryptonian fungus and has flash backs about Krypton that reveal a great deal to the reader about how Superman handles his Kryptonian heritage.  Swamp Thing is perceived as an enemy due to the hallucinations and is almost destroyed.  Some of the more interesting hallucinations Superman has are talking with his empty Clark Kent clothes and the empty suit explains to Superman that he is dying and furthermore that he is nothing special.  Superman seems to suffer from Survivor guilt which manifests in his hallucinations (see Figure 25 below).

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Figure 25 – DC Comics Presents #85 – Page 13

Swamp Thing can enter the hallucinatory world of Superman because this world is in part generated by a “plant”, strictly speaking a fungus is not a plant, and the Swamp Thing takes Superman into “The Green” which breaks contact with the scarlet jungle of the fungus Superman was dying in.  In this plant dimension the Swamp Thing soothes Superman so he can sleep and this allows Superman to recover.

Alan Moore returns to the use of a hallucinogenic plant as a central plot device a third time in “For the Man Who Has Everything”, Superman Annual #11.  This is of course the second time Moore has Superman hallucinating due to a “plant” (see figure 26 below).

26-Annual Superman V1 #11 - Page 12

Figure 26 – Annual Superman V1 #11 – Page 12

A large alien plant called the Black Mercy has Superman trapped in a coherent hallucinated world on the planet Krypton and this is supposed to be his deepest desire.  This is the Krypton that would have happened if Krypton had not blown up.  Superman has never been Superman and has a Kryptonian brother and a niece.  This alternate world is supposed to be what the person really wants but soon turns ugly due to Kryptonian xenophobia and presumably this is the unconscious of Superman trying to free himself from the grip of the Black Mercy.  Batman also ends up with the plant on his chest and in his hallucination he is in a world in which his parents were not killed.  Finally, the bad guy, Mongul, ends up with the plant on his chest due to Robin.  Mongol has a hallucination of a world of endless conquest and Superman’s head on a pike.

In all the stories examined, the person hallucinating does gain insight that is often helpful.  The hallucinations are not always pleasant but generally reveal truths rather than being random and meaningless.

Intelligent Ethically Ambiguous POV

Generally in comic books the hero is simplistically good and the villain is simplistically bad.  Alan Moore departs from this practice and presents antiheros.  Comic books have any number of muscular tough guy antiheros like The Punisher and Wolverine but generally ruthless intelligent characters are invariably super villains.  Alan Moore uses intelligent antiheroes that present a compelling argument for ruthless action.

Ozymandias is a major character in Moore series Watchmen.  Ozymandias is considered the smartest man in the world. This very intelligence forces him to see the world differently than his fellow superheroes that are not as intelligent.  Ozymandias is at the upper limits of human intelligence but probably does not possess super intelligence.  The only Watchmen superhero to really agree with the actions of Ozymandias to save the world is Dr. Manhattan who probably possesses out and out super intelligence.  Ozymandias manages to save the world from WW III but kills millions in New York do accomplish this task.  The reader is allowed to share the triumph of Ozymandias directly and the background picture of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot is intentional (See Figure 27 below).

27-Watchmen #12 (of 12) - Page 20

Figure 27 – Watchmen #12 (of 12) – Page 20

V in V is for Vendetta is an antihero and is a powerful fighter but what makes him really dangerous is his super intelligence.  V uses strategy to take apart the fascist party Norsefire that rules Great Britain.  V commits various acts that may be considered unethical.  V kills a Bishop, Anthony Lilliman.   However, the bishop is also a pedophile so that’s probably ok.  V kills a doctor, Delia Surredige.  Dr. Surredige has clearly repented for her sins in the concentration camp V was in.  Killing a woman is generally not done by heroes.  Killing someone who has reformed is also not generally done by comic book characters.  V also kills the hired help of Norsefire that happens to be in the way.  V doesn’t do comic book things like use stun guns, non lethal Karate chops, or shoot their pistols out of the hands of henchmen.  Generally V throws knives into the hearts of the henchmen.  Killing the hired help is something the Punisher and Wolverine also do so this is not new ground for a comic book antihero.  V does imprison and torture Evey, a girl he had saved previously, and even used as a side kick.   Evey is clearly an innocent.  V tortures her to set her free by toughening her up!  V does provide the reader with a very eloquent defense of his actions (See Figure 28 below).

28-V For Vendetta #5 - Page 9

Figure 28 – V For Vendetta #5 – Page 9

V and Ozymandias are intelligent men that employ ruthless means to accomplish noble ends and we are privy to their thought processes which generally is the POV of a super villain like Doctor Doom not a hero and this use of POV forces the reader to go beyond the simple structures of good and evil normally associated with comic books even comic books with antiheros.

Stream of Consciousness POV

Comic book writers did not employ stream of consciousness in early comic books.  The use of stream of consciousness is a narrative technique that is employed more and more in comic books in the present.  Alan Moore makes extreme use of an interior monologue in all of his comic books.  Rorschach’s internal monologue is used extensively in Watchmen.  However, Alan Moore pushes the comic book envelope of stream of consciousness in A Small Killing.

Alan Moore has used a stream of consciousness POV exclusively in A Small Killing and the narrative the use of images from the inner world of the protagonist.  There is very little action in A Small Killing and we follow the protagonist as he is haunted by a ghost like child that is presumably a hallucination of himself as a child.  However, there is a hint that the child might be an actual ghost rather than a hallucination (see Figure 29 below).

29 Alan Moore - A Small Killing - Page 11

Figure 29 – A Small Killing – Page 11

Incredibly I didn’t care about the nature of the child because the protagonist is an unlikeable whiner and I am sad that the “ghost” child did not succeed in killing the protagonist.  A slow read that is POV technique driven to the point that reading pleasure is sacrificed for art.  The favorite device for exploring stream of consciousness for Moore seems to be via the use of hallucinogens by the characters in his stories which is already discussed in detail in the prior section of this essay.

Story within a Story POV

Alan Moore often employs the metafictional device of a story within a story in order to give his narrative added depth and complexity.  In Watchmen, one of the children is reading a comic book about pirates called the Tales of the Black Freighter and the bleakness of the story makes the already “real” story of the Watchmen even more nihilistic and acts a plot juxtaposition device.

Miracleman was programmed in a reality that resembled a superhero comic book.  The adventures of the Miracleman family in this virtual reality can in turn be self contained stories.  There was a Marvelman comic book published in Great Britain in the fifties and from the perspective of the Moore series, those adventures took place in a virtual reality which explains the lack of “reality” in those adventures.  Miracleman is also a comic book fan and comic books are part of the narrative but this device was exploited more by other writers after Moore such as Neil Gaiman in Miracleman: Apocrypha.

Alan Moore’s Supreme has many metafictional layers but I will stick to the story within a story elements.  In the Supreme comic book, Moore’s Supreme has the secret identity of Ethan Crane who works Dazzle Comics on a character named Omniman that is being rebooted.  In reality, Supreme is a Superman character that is being rebooted by Alan Moore.  The comic book within a comic book is a parallel story! Eventually Supreme even has a fight with his own comic book creation in Supreme #53.  Supreme becomes a character in a comic book that fights Omniman (see Figure 30 below) but of course there is a “logical” explanation and a Szazs, a Mister Mxyzptlk,  clone, is the cause.

30-Supreme #53 - Page 6

Figure 30 – Supreme #53 – Page 6

In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore creates an entire universe made up of fictional characters from novels.  This is not exactly a story within a story device but is a metafictional device.  Basically Moore’s League invention is a pastiche of prior stories!

Conclusion

Alan Moore uses certain novel POV techniques with different characters in different comic book series in order to consistently make his stories more interesting.  There is a synergistic effect created by using so many POV techniques within a single narrative.  The combination of POV techniques causes the reader to feel transported to an unnerving and alien reality and upon reflection the cause of this feeling is hard to pin point but I would argue the POV techniques are a major cause.  POV drives plot in many instances.  How the character perceives reality not only explains the behavior of the character but often acts as the deus ex machina of an Alan Moore story.  The character must behave a certain way because of their perceptions.

Alan Moore uses caption boxes instead of thought bubbles to show the thoughts of the character.  This allows for lot more information to be expressed.  Alan Moore uses a lot of caption boxes relative to speech bubbles compared to other writers and this shows that POV is more important to Alan Moore than other writers.

Many of Alan Moore’s comic books have been made into movies including some discussed here (Watchmen, V is for Vendetta).  The art and text attempting to show the POV of Dr. Manhattan is one of the high points of this series that was not really explored in the movie and this lack of the comic book POV devices made the movie less interesting in many ways than the comic book series the film was derived from.

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You can also download my autobiography of my struggle with a bipolar condition on  Am I Kitsune on my Google Drive.

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