Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Cult of David Bowie —Superstar, supervillain, supernatural


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For those who know little or nothing about David Bowie, but have seen images of him as Aladdin Sane or Helloween Jack, it might seem strange that such a queer figure had achieved so much popularity and influence.

His outfits put to shame those of Marilyn Manson and whoever goes for that kind of alien and androgynous look these days. Now, imagine that in the context of Nixon, Heath, and a young Elizabeth II. That’s Bowie, one of the great forerunners of scandalous looks, and he pulled his success out of that kind character and authenticity.

«Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
Ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)
Don't tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange)
Where's your shame
You've left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can't trace time.»

All of these different people are David Bowie.
Vía Living is Easy with Ees Closed.

One of the most interesting aspects of Bowie’s stage presence, especially after the pass of time, is that he wasn’t really about any particular character he used to perform, but about his talent to conceive them and create music through them.  Before Ziggy Stardust and A-ladd-in-Sane, there was Major Tom, and after them, there were many others, like Halloween Jack, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth, Pierrot, and many others before his epic conclusion as Lazarus.

«And she's hooked to the silver screen,
but the film is a saddening bore,
for she's lived it ten times or more.»

Bowie started to impact fiction right away. In 1976, four years after his Starman song, Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg created the bronze age Starman for DC Comics. Although his alter ego is Mikaal Tomas, he is essentially a superhero version of Ziggy Stardust. His debut issue, 1st Issue Special #12, was barely released before The Man Who Fell to Earth, which stars Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien on a mission to take water to his home planet.

In the 80s Frank Miller started a trend to use the Thin White Duke persona as an influence on the Joker. Grant Morrison followed it in recent years.

Before all that, when he was only David Robert "Davy" Jones —that’s his actual name—, he tried to learn Buddhism. He didn’t continue through that path, but maybe that’s how he learned to reincarnate. And like one’s soul in Buddhist tradition, there is something that remains through all of his artistic personas: his soul as an emotional, authentic, and reflexive performer; his true character. Never mind how different they might be, or how odd they might look, all his characters are magnetic and command respect.

«But the film is a saddening bore,
cause I wrote it ten times or more,»

Marvel Comics' Jareth, the Goblin King, DC Comics' Lucifer Morningstar,
and The Venture Bros. Sovereign, all modeled after David Bowie.

Maybe, that’s the reason Jim Henson sought him to play Jareth, the Goblin King, in Labyrinth (1986). The same year the movie was released, Marvel Comics adapted it to comics, and that was, perhaps, Bowie’s first incursion outside of media that requires performing; the point in which he started to become a myth. His likeness and personality were used two times after that without his involvement to create supervillains.

The first time was in 1989, when the legendary Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline) modeled Lucifer Morningstar, the devil in the DC Universe, after him. If Superman or Wonder Woman ever visit Hell, they might end up facing him. The character debuted in Sandman, as an antagonist of the main character, but went on to have his own series.

Something similar happened in Adult Swim’s humorous animated series, The Venture Bros. (2004—present). There, besides being a musician, still using his Thin White Duke appearance, he seems to be a shapeshifter, an acquaintance of every important supervillain, and their secret leader, the Sovereign —which totally explains the cover of Diamond Dogs.

In 2015, Gaiman returned to Bowie as inspiration in "The Return of the Thin White Duke", a fan fiction short story that provides an origin story for the title character, with wonderful art by Yoshitaka Amano. It is part of Trigger Warning, but Gaiman posted it at his site. 

Save the Goblin King, Bowie never played the rest of the characters in the posters of artist Butcher Billy, which are very popular on Internet. Does it matter? Clearly, we can imagine him rocking every role.
All David Bowie Pop Culture posters, by Billy Butcher.A compilation of images created by Butcher Billy.

«Sailors, fighting in the dance hall.
Oh man! Look at those cavemen go.
It's the freakiest show.»

Related articles

This is just part of the original article, posted at Voz Abierta. The full version has a bit about his last songs, the No Plan video, and a top 10 of his videos. However, I did the original version in Spanish as "Un año sin David Bowie".

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