History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Red God

WARNING: SPOILERS!

It’s Game of Thrones time!

Forgive my excitement but I’m something of a fan.

Last season I kicked off this entire website with a massive blog series on the history behind the show.  It was an in depth look at everything from the dragons to the Free Cities and how many parts of the show and books borrow so much influence from actual history.

For season 6 we’re going to take a more measured approach and release one article a week until the end of the season.  This will be more of a reactionary series talking about the historical parallels between things that show up in each episode.

So, without much ado, let’s talk about the Red God R’hllor.

In the show and books there is a god of fire named R’hllor.  He goes by several names such as “The Lord of Light”, “The Heart of Fire”, and “The God of Flame and Shadow”.

He’s a fairly popular god in the eastern continent of Essos and while he isn’t that popular in Westeros his servants have played a pretty big role in politics in that region.

The faith itself is monotheistic, worshiping only one singular divine being, and has a fascination with fire, which can be a good thing when dealing with something like the extreme cold but over the course of the show it’s been shown that the Red God is somewhat…demanding when it comes to sacrifice.

They also have a dualistic view of the world, believing in a single “good” god being opposed by a singe “evil” god, and believe that the world will be saved when a messianic figure named “Azor Ahai” will return to beat back the darkness and bring light to the world.

As for the servants of the Red God, they are known as Red Priests.  These servants of the Red God are often pledged to his service by They can be male or female and have been seen throughout the show preaching,

fighting,

and attempting to convert kings.

They also appear to wield some pretty potent magic

and are a faith that is slowly spreading its influence across the world.

With the blog last year we talked about the similarities between the religion of Westeros and religious history in early Europe.  The Old Gods of Westeros are similar to old Celtic pagan beliefs while the Faith of the Seven bears a striking resemblance to Christianity.

The religion of the Red God is a bit trickier than the other two.  On one hand their fascination with fire and belief in a single divine being bears a striking resemblance to Zoroastrianism, which is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions.

 

The Zoroastrians believe in the existence of a single god named Ahura Mazda, who is the sole creator of the world and the representation of all that is good.  It’s also worth mentioning that fire plays in important role in worship.

The thing is that while the faith of the Red God in Game of Thrones borrows things like monotheism and the fascination with fire from the Zoroastrians it’s place in the history of Game of Thrones and its rapid spread throughout Essos shares similarities with a more modern religion: Islam.

The first and biggest similarity between the two is doctrinal.  When Islam rose to prominence around 600 A.D it firmly believed that there was one God and one God only.  This was expressed in a Muslim belief known as Tawheed which confirmed that God ruled alone and was absolute.

This put Islam at odds with Christianity’s view of the Trinity, which stipulated that there was “One God in three parts”.  This bears a striking resemblance within the Game of Thrones universe to the Red God’s singular rule vs. the Faith of the Seven “one being divided into seven aspects”.

But doctrine isn’t the only thing that makes the faith of the Red God similar to Islam, it the religion’s place in history as well.

The Red God is something of a late comer to the religious scene and Islam was as well.  By the time the Prophet Mohammad received his visions from God, Christianity had been around in the ancient world for over 600 years.  Just like the Red Priests the prophet Mohammad and his followers spread the word of their visions throughout the Eastern Mediterranean through preaching,

fighting,

and engaging in political intrigue by converting kings and nobles.

Just like the Red Priests Islam followed a similar pattern by becoming very popular in the East, while experiencing resistance and outright hostility in the West.

It should be noted that in the show the Red Priests haven’t reached the point of controlling an empire of believers like the early Muslims did.

But I’m sure that if the faith of R’hllor is given enough time they will eventually reach a point where they become one of the most powerful religions in Westeros.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: From Parts Unknown

Today we are going to be looking at a Kickstarter project called From Parts Unknown: A Journey into the Heart of Professional Wrestling.

The project is seeking funding what the creators have dubbed “a coffee table book” written and drawn by people ranging from professional comic book creators who are fans of pro wrestling.  It’s goal is to try to explain why people love wrestling so much to people who might not be so enthusiastic (spoiler alert: I’m one of them) about it.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gbrettwilliams/from-parts-unknown?ref=category_recommended

Why I like it

I am going to go the personal route and confess something: I am only a casual fan of wrestling and even that’s a stretch.  Sure when I was a kid in the 90’s I knew about Stone Cold and the Undertaker (because let’s face it, even people who don’t know a thing about wrestling love these guys)

and I think the Rock is a fun actor to watch.

but I stayed away from professional wrestling when I was younger.  I actually wrestled all through middle school and high school, you know…this one.

Granted I wasn’t very good (over my seven year career you could count the times I pinned someone with one hand) but I stuck with it because it I thought it was fun.  The reason I bring this up is because for the longest time I viewed professional wrestling as something of a joke.  I was participating in a legitimate sport that was being sidelined by clowns in colorful underpants who weren’t even athletes…they were entertainers.

Plus the fact that the matches were fixed didn’t help change my stance.

However, since then my opinion has changed and I’ve come to respect the people who work in organizations like the WWE.  Let’s face it, amateur wrestling is incredibly boring to watch so some showmanship is always welcome.  Plus, when professional wrestling has good story telling the matches it can be legitimately good performance art.

Also, I’ve been watching clips of a wrestler the WWE brought over from Japan named Shinsuke Nakamura.

The man is amazing and a treat to watch.

This book is a love letter to/expose of professional wrestling written by people who range from actual professional wrestlers to die hard fans.  It is a way for the people who know and love everything about professional wrestling to reach out to non believers turned casual fans like myself and explain exactly what makes professional wrestling so engaging and fun.  This project is a team of people sharing their passion with the world and that deserves my respect.

Why you should donate

Not only is this book a fun passion project, I honestly think it’s an important project as well.

Despite the fact that the matches are rigged, despite the fact that the moves are choreographed, and despite the fact that the stories can get very silly at times,

professional wrestling is incredibly dangerous.  Sure the moves are planned out but banging your head on a botched piledriver,

getting beaten by a steel chair,

or having an unplanned fall from the top of a steel cage,

are all facts of life while working in professional wrestling and require tremendous endurance and physical toughness to survive.

Sadly, while wrestling may be “fake” the consequences from routine concussions, broken bones, and attempts to cope with the pain through drug and alcohol abuse are all too real.  More people have died while attempting to cope with the problems of “fake” professional wrestling than legitimate amateur wrestling.

Disclaimer: I should note that, at the current time of writing this article, the investigation into the death of female wrestler Chyna (pictured above) is being listed as “possible overdose” so there may be other factors involved.  However, it should be noted that over the course of her career Chyna had her fair share of problems and 46 is a terribly young age to die.  She will be missed.

The point I’m trying to make here is that these wrestlers put their bodies and minds through hell in order to entertain the masses and that deserves everyone’s respect.

This book is a way for fans and professionals alike to share their love of wrestling with the world and a way to explain what makes it worth all the pain, sacrifice, and commitment.

It has top notch talent and passion behind it and I cannot recommend it enough.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gbrettwilliams/from-parts-unknown?ref=category_recommended

Golden Age Showcase: Mercury

So the Boston Marathon was today.

I know this because I live right by the Marathon starting point, and I spent the last six hours praying to every god above that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic (long story short, I did…it wasn’t fun).  Anyway, spending all that time thinking about running got me thinking about comic book speedsters and provided the inspiration for today’s article.

Anyone with even the the most basic comic book/pop culture knowledge can probably name one speedster.

It’s an incredibly useful power to have and many of these heroes who possess super speed are capable of going toe to toe with opponents who, at least on paper, are even more powerful than they are.

But here’s the thing, I’ve already covered two Golden Age speedsters: the first and original Flash from DC Comics.

and the spectacularly named “Whizzer” from Timely Comics, who got his power from mongoose blood (swear to God, not making that up).

But here’s the thing, the Whizzer was not Timely’s first attempt to imitate the Flash and create a speedster.  That honor goes to the original god of speed himself: Mercury.

Mercury

Origin and Career:

Mercury appeared in Red Raven Comics #1 which was published in August of 1940.

Red Raven Comics Vol 1 1

Mercury’s first and only Golden Age appearance was actually pretty important to the world of comics.  For starters he was created by writer Martin A. Burnsten and the man, the myth, and the perpetual loser of hard earned credit, Jack Kirby.

Mercury was also one of the first instances of Timely Comics using actual mythological gods from history in their comics since Mercury was the Roman name for Hermes, the original speedster from antiquity.

This is a strategy that would pay off big for Marvel in the future.

Anyway, in Timely’s story the Greek god Zeus looked down on Earth and saw it was being ravaged by war.  It’s worth re iterating that this comic was published in 1940.

Zeus deduced that his evil brother Pluto (you may also know him as Hades) was the one responsible for this madness and sent Mercury down to Earth in order to make things right.

Mercury meets his uncle who is posing as the power mad dictator of “Prussialand” (subtle Kirby…really subtle) and when talk fails the god of speed proceeds to wreck Prussialand’s plans despite the best efforts of a Prussialand spy named Thea Shilhausen and does such a good job that Prussialand effectively surrenders and peace talks begin.

The comic ends with peace being restored and Mercury returning to Olympus.

So what happened?

Red Raven Comics would only last one issue.  The very next month it was replaced by a new hero who would go on to become a Timely Comics staple: The Human Torch.

But the idea of having a Greek god in Marvel’s library wouldn’t go away and and over thirty years later it would come roaring back.

See Kirby was a HUGE fan of ancient gods and mythology and it would be a huge influence in his later work.  Probably his most famous example was when he left Marvel in 1971 to work for DC.  The reason?  Well, Kirby had spent the 1960’s creating many of Marvel’s most iconic superheroes with Stan Lee.

Bear in mind, this is just a small sample of what Lee and Kirby created but unfortunately there was some disagreement over who did what and Jack wasn’t too happy with what Marvel was paying him.

When Kirby came to work for DC he created a comic book series called “The Fourth World” which branched off into titles such as “New Gods”.

The Fourth World Saga is a massive heady mix of mythology and modern culture and to talk about it would take an entire book on its own.  Unfortunately, the Fourth World didn’t sell as well as Kirby’s Marvel creations.  However, he was responsible for creating one of DC’s most iconic and dangerous villains in the entire DC universe: Darkseid.

Kirby would return to Marvel in 1976 and it could easily be said that his time at DC had a profound effect on his work.  Marvel let Kirby create a series called The Eternals  and it’s fairly easy to see the similarities between The Eternals and The New Gods.

Like the New Gods, the Eternals were a group of god like beings who possessed incredible powers and long lives.  They fought against groups such as the Deviants

and to go any further would be getting into Marvel’s cosmic history which, like the New Gods, is incredibly complicated and dense and would require much more time to explain here.

One of these Eternals was a being named Makkari.

Makkari 1.jpg

Makkari was an Enternal who had spent quite a lot of time on Earth.  In the series he helped teach writing to the Egyptians, learned philosophy from Plato, witnessed the reign of Vlad the Impaler, and even taught Elvis a few tricks.

But most importantly he was sent to Earth by the Eternal Zuras

under the aliases of Mercury and Hurricane, which was the name of another Marvel speedster from the 1940’s.

In a stroke of genius Kirby had changed his original 1940’s work from a one off tale about a Greek god coming to Earth to thrusting him into the middle of a rich and complex celestial story that still has a tremendous impact in the Marvel Universe today.

Seriously, Kirby was the man!

Golden Age Showcase: Mastermind Excello

Today we’re winding down our coverage of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve with the second to last hero in the story.  He’s the suave, playboy, telekinetic spy catcher for the United States Navy: Mastermind Excello.

 

Origin and career:

Like so many of his Golden Age compatriots Excello only lasted a couple of issues.  His first appearance was in Mystic Comics #3 in April of 1940,

Mystic Comics Vol 1 2

where he would uncover and defeat a Nazi spy ring.

His character was simple.  His real name was Early Everett and he was a wealthy playboy (because there aren’t enough of those in comic books) who possessed great physical and mental powers which he used to fight for America.

The man was sort of like an American James Bond but with superpowers as well as cool gadgets (this was a time when a pocket transmitter was a big deal).

So what happened?

Sadly “James Bond with superpowers” was as far as they were going to go with the character so it was up to Straczynski to expand the character and give him a more meaningful existence.

Judging from this picture they were off to a very good start.  The character looks badass, although to be fair anyone can look badass when holding a Tommy gun like that.

In The Twelve it is elaborated that Everett’s father is a brilliant scientist, so brilliant that he was actually pen pals with Einstein.  While his father was busy developing a special radioactive bullet for the Allies,

Earl Everett was determined to waste as much time and money as possible the only way a wealthy playboy with no concept of the value of money can.

It should be noted that for some reason Earl seemed to win more often than he lost.  This would later be revealed to stem from latent psychic abilities that wouldn’t be fully realized until a fateful trip to Britain where he was shot in the head by a Nazi spy while saving his father.

However, while the doctors managed to save his life they weren’t able to get all the bullet fragments out.  Several of these highly radioactive fragments would remain in his skull threatening to kill him.

After turning a new leaf Earl Everett decided to work on behalf of the United States government and was given the code name “Mastermind Excello”.

He would use his powers to great effect during the war, even helping the Allies retrieve occult items that the Nazis might have used to win the war.

In 1945 he joined the Twelve on their ill fated assault on Berlin.

They were captured, placed into stasis, and re discovered in 2008.

Like many of his compatriots Mastermind Excello had a difficult time fitting in.  It wasn’t for lack of money, his trust fund from 1940 had amassed millions, but it was more due to the continued noise and interference from this new world that played havoc on his psychic senses.

Excello separated himself from the group for most of the story and bought a house that he was able to soundproof and line with lead, which allowed him to enjoy a quiet peaceful life.  Gradually his future senses returned and he began interacting with his former teammates again.  While he couldn’t see the future clearly he could get glimpses and snippets of what was about to happen, enough to warn his friends and prepare them as best he could for the coming danger.

It would later be revealed that one of their own, the hero Dynamic Man, had turned evil and was ready to embark on a homicidal rampage.  Although Excello didn’t play a direct part in the ensuing fight he did help prepare the Phantom Reporter to take on the Fiery Mask’s powers and was able to help the team cope with the apparent death of Rockman.

After the fight was over Excello used his powers to ensure that The Phantom Reporter and Black Widow became a couple,

it worked.

It was also revealed that the shrapnel in his brain would kill him (kind like Iron Man only in his brain instead of his heart) if he used his powers to much.

Not willing to go quietly Excello decided to continue being a hero and used his vast fortune to purchase a large private investigator firm which he renamed E.X.C enterprises.  The Phantom Reporter and Black Widow were two of his first hires.

Like so many heroes in this series Mastermind Excello had tremendous potential as a hero.  He had the looks, superpowers, and motivation to be an interesting hero but sadly he was a drop in a very large bucket of “one and done” heroes.  Thankfully he was given a better ending and a new purpose on life with The Twelve.

Golden Age Showcase: Mister E

Continuing on our series discussing the previous lives and careers of The Twelve we’re going to look at the one of the basic and standard superhero archetypes of the 1940’s: Mister E (good Lord even writing that just makes me want to groan).

 

Origin and Career

Mister E debuted in February of 1940, along with his future teammate The Laughing Mask, in Daring Mystery Comics #2.

 

I’m going to level with you, almost everything about Mister E is boring.

His origin story?  He’s a rich athlete named Victor Jay who decides to fight crime.

His motivations?  He’s bored.

His costume?  You can find the same design on half a dozen pulp and super heroes of the time.

It’s a small wonder he only lasted one issue.  That being said the villain he faced was pretty cool.

That is a picture of the Vampire, a mad scientist who was the mortal enemy of Mister E (it’s never explained why) who had developed a drug that would cause his victim’ heart to explode.  Mister E would stop the Vampire from taking over an oil company run by a man named J.P Snead.  At the end of the comic Mister E captured the Vampire, who promptly escaped, allowing the hero to wonder if the Vampire and himself would meet again, gearing up for a re match that would never occur.

So what happened?

Like many previous superheroes on this list Mister E would only last one issue until he was revived in 2007 for J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve.

Like his fellow super heroes Mister E spent time in Europe fighting the Nazis and was captured after a failed assault on Berlin.  It’s interesting to note that since Mister E didn’t have super powers he was viewed more as a tourist rather than a super hero,

and his revulsion at the Witnesses’ description of the crimes committed at Auschwitz seemed to reinforce that idea.

Like everyone else he was placed in cryogenic storage and wasn’t discovered until 2007 and while he would play a pretty passive part in the main story Mister E would have one of the most heartbreaking and emotional side stories in the entire comic.

One of the great things about The Twelve is Straczynski’s ability to create great characters to tell a great story and make a point.  In the case of Mister E this was a moment where Straczynski’s talents were put to exceptional use.

It turned out that Victor Jay wasn’t Mister E’s real name, it was Victor J. Goldstein.  He was Jewish but decided to hide the fact in order to fit in and be accepted into modern high society.

For anyone who is a fan of Golden Age comic books this is something that is incredibly jarring.  Not only does Straczynski use a medium of story telling where its heroes are supposed to stand above petty racism like this but it is especially shocking when you consider that so many of the early comic book creators were Jewish.

Siegel and Shuster

Joe Simon

even Stan Lee was the son of Jewish immigrants (his real name was Stanley Lieber before he had it changed)

Mister E would attempt reconnect with his now 68 year old son, who disowned his father by claiming he was a coward for not owning up to his heritage.

However, at the end of the comic Mister E would later learn that his wife had passed away and he vowed to never be a superhero due to the extreme emotional and mental cost it placed on him and his family.

While Mister E wasn’t much of a super hero and didn’t get to save the day he was put to fantastic use as a commentary on 1940’s America and the culture that spawned the industry we all know and love.