Comics

No Stranger to Fiction: We Need to Talk About Kaga

Kevin M. Brettauer

Pain, Kaga was created to remind us, is an unavoidable side-effect of hubris.

Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.

-- Frank Lloyd Wright

Former Iron Man and Eternals writer Daniel Knauf’s fascinating and impressive historical drama/fantasy series Carnivale offered a mind-blowing look at a slightly different world with a slightly different history of mankind. In Knauf’s universe, since a woman known as the Alpha sired two children, man has always had walking among them an Avatar of Light and an Avatar of Darkness. When the series picks up in 1934, viewers instantly met the two “Prince” characters who were to be designated as the Avatars of their generation: escaped convict Ben Hawkins and evangelist Justin Crowe. Without spoiling too much of the series or its revelations, it’s worth noting that Carnivale touched upon several of the same cultural touchstones as Warren Ellis’s second Astonishing X-Men arc, “Exogenetic.”

The main villain of “Exogenetic” is a Japanese man named Kaga, the child of a survivor of the American attack on Hiroshima, which Carnivale was building towards. Constantly ill and physically debilitated, Kaga always considered himself a mutant, what was left of his private little pride wounded by the very public presence of attractive mutants in skin-tight uniforms with flashy powers. Kaga, of course, was no ordinary mutant, but merely a comic book representation of what radiation really does to people who aren’t named Peter Parker, Reed Richards or Bruce Banner.

Kaga, then, refusing to accept his personal reality, very clearly wanted to be special in the same way as Scott Summers, Emma Frost and the others. And when he couldn’t be, he struck at them. Using their dead friends and students, Kaga engineered a psychological and physical attack on Marvel’s merry mutants, one that left the X-Men angered, frustrated and violated.

One of the more fascinating characters in the Carnivale ensemble was Professor Ernst Lodz, a fortune teller in the titular traveling circus. With Lodz, the devil was in the details, as the series was unfortunately canceled before it was able to tell his whole story. What is known about Lodz, however, is that he, too, just wanted to be special, even going so far as to engage in a magical ritual with an Avatar named Henry Scudder and a preacher Kerrigan just to gain “a fraction of” Scudder’s abilities, rendering Kerrigan insane and Lodz himself blind. To Lodz, this made sense. His quest for power was what it was: to achieve what he desired, any ends would justify the means. Similarly to Kaga, who apparently thought killing as many mutants as possible would help make him look special to the world, Lodz was never quite playing with a full deck, but after a lifetime of nothing but wanting what others around you have, well, who would be?

Suffice it to say, things don’t turn out well for Kerrigan, Scudder or Lodz, and one could argue it’s all Lodz’s fault.

In the second half of Carnivale’s first season, Brother Justin began work on his manifesto, which began with the words “Pain is an unavoidable side-effect.” But a side-effect of what? Power? Desire? Life? As viewers never got to find out the full extent of Justin’s personal theology due to the shower’s untimely, abrupt cancellation at the end of its second year, we can only surmise what Justin’s manifesto actually contained. However, until we know for sure what Knauf and his writing staff were driving at, it appears Ellis and his villainous Kaga have the answer.

Pain, Kaga was created to remind us, is an unavoidable side-effect of hubris. Altered in the womb by the atomic fire of a vengeful, self-absorbed, violent nation and eventually brought down by his own perceived greatness when those he wished to join justly attacked him, Kaga showed readers of Astonishing X-Men that the sort of pride that led to the creation of Fat Man and Little Boy still exists today.

Not long after the release of the final chapter of “Exogenetic” in Astonishing X-Men #35, American military operations in Iraq allegedly came to an end.

But never mind the special operations folks over there. Don’t worry about the privately-contracted mercenaries. Don’t worry about the litany of illegal acts already perpetrated by “our guys” during the War on Terror.

Our pride says our actions are right. Never mind what history or the fiction born of that history tells us. In the end, we’ll be proven right.

Just like Kaga was.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.