Legion and the Trauma of Metaphysics

It's just about ten years ago that I finished my manuscript for Our Gods Wear Spandex and the perspective that I spelled out in it has become, if not the dominant pop cultural paradigm, then certainly a predominant current within it. 

Superhero movies make billions and keep studios solvent. Superhero TV shows are reliable moneymakers. Conventions attract millions of fans every year. Superhero cosplay is now a major cultural phenomenon. But it wasn't always this way. The entire superhero archetype was gasping for air at the dawn of the new millennium, and a lot of qualified observers were predicting its imminent demise. Funny how times change.

For a while there those same observers were getting a whiff of Batmania Redux. Comics and superhero people are pessimists by default, having seen one too many bubbles burst, one too many promises broken. They were the traumatized stepchildren of pop culture.

But the train just kept on rolling and shows no signs of going off the rails. As I wrote in Spandex, superheroes are essentially palliatives for anxiety, and the superhero renaissance will last as long as widespread anxiety does. 

And if there's anything everyone seems to have in abundance these days, it's definitely anxiety.

Even so, the archetype is mutating. There are a number of TV series, either live or streaming, and some seem to be evolving towards a kind of modern urban noir. Of course, this is simply a return to first principles, since the first modern superheroes weren't in the comics but in the pulp magazines. DC's adaptions still fly the spandex flag (aside from Gotham and Lucifer, of course) but attempt to place their stories in a world at least vaguely familiar in the context of series television.

Then there's Legion.

This has been a radical departure for Marvel Television, which specializes in radical departures. MvTV has been cultivating the less-prominent characters of the comic's vast catalog of characters and making hits out of heroes who aren't perfect, aren't godlike, and seem to suffer like you and I.

Daredevil is blind, Jessica Jones suffers from PTSD, Luke Cage is a former convict. None of them are particularly cheerful, probably because things don't usually work out all that well for them, superpowers or not. 

This is all working off a postmodernist refinement of Stan Lee's "heroes with problems" dictum that helped Marvel crush its competition in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Needless to say, it presents an interesting contrast to the more conventional heroics of the tentpole franchises.

Then we have Legion, a new series based on a character no one outside of comics will have heard of and one that probably never topped anyone's TV adaption wishlist. 

And boy, he's got problems.

Legion's near-perfect pilot is based on a New Mutants (being the first X-Men spinoff, started back in the early 80s) character whose mutant power is multiple personality, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, as it's now called in the DSM-5. Interesting to note that that the series' release follows shortly on the heels of M.Night Shyamalan's controversial DID thriller, Split.

But Legion seems to dispense with the DID aspect of the character in the pilot and presents a character who seems to have gone on a shopping spree at the psychic supermarket. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Legion seems able to tune into a dizzying spectrum of potential realities and that's his problem: he can't seem to control it. 

He's also a powerful telepath and given to violent explosions of telekinesis when it all gets to be a bit too much for him. This is an old trope, dating back to 70s classics like Carrie and The Fury, but it's rendered beautifully here nonetheless.

If you haven't yet watch the Legion pilot (it's available for free on Amazon Video). Its sixty-eight minutes play more like a feature film, serving up some eye-catching, Kubrick-influenced, widescreen cinematography. 

As with The OA, its sensibility is more pomo than pulp, almost like what a superhero movie would play like as directed by Wes Anderson (the vintage Who and Stones tracks certainly help in that regard). More conventional fans might have a hard time with it.

But at the same time there's a heapin' helping of style on loan from Zack Snyder's criminally-underrated Watchmen movie, particularly in the opening montage. The use of Jane's Addiction's "Up the Beach" in a pivotal scene feels very Watchmen, as does the glossy camera work (and again, use of montage).

Watchmen was targeted- unfairly, in my view- for breaking two unspoken laws of comic adaptions. On one hand Snyder was pilloried by the purists for hammering Alan Moore's sprawling epic into a coherent, self-contained document. And on the other he was slagged off by fans terrified the superhero movie bubble would pop for commercial underperformance (thanks mainly to its hard-R rating).  

But I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Legion writer/director Noah Hawley probably gave Watchmen a viewing or three. And here I'd like to give Hawley due props, not only for the bullet-proof dialog, but also for the meticulous handling of the pilot's many tonal shifts and mood swings. It only feels a little discordant at the very end, when all of a sudden you're wondering if the characters wandered into another show entirely.

But more importantly Legion seems to fit in with a mini-movement of series mining the narrative possibilities of psi in a way that cheesier and more simplistic treatments a few years earlier failed to do. There are vague yet not-insubstantial echoes of Stranger Things and The OA swimming just below the surface.

It's interesting to note then that Legion premiered just as stories about CIA remote viewing programs have been hitting the mainstream news.

But its conscious tributes to the Sixties- through the musical drops and the visual style- also call to mind the unresolved traumas of MKULTRA, particularly its exploitation of mental patients and other captive subjects. You can practically feel the shade of Ewan Cameron wandering the halls. The name of the hospital-- "Clockwork"-- is an obvious nod to Kubrick's own MKULTRA parable. 

Interesting then that a recent story has it that Congress killed the STARGATE remote viewing program out of concern it could become a new MKULTRA.

And who's to say it wasn't?

Legion doesn't shy away from these implications, as the main character is clearly the victim of a dense, covert and ruthless government conspiracy. The MKULTRA stand-ins are the unambiguous villains of the piece and there's even a mustache-twirling Gottlieb/Cameron analog. There's no question that powerful people are still looking for psychics like main character David (Legion), not to research them but to weaponize them.

The Sixties ambiance of the pilot and the connections to the X-Men Universe can't help but call up memories of hippies latching on to the mutant archetype in order to concretize the vague ambitions of conscious evolution they believed the Aquarian Age represented.

Of course, it didn't quite work out that way.

David's incarceration feels like a metaphor for an increasingly hemmed-in world, where the individual is given less and less room to explore, to self-actualize. There's an entire generation who've grown up unaccustomed to concepts of true autonomy, having been raised in daycare centers and acclimatized to social media. 

It's no accident then that David's powers- which set him far above the herd- feel like a curse, and exercising them is pure torture.

As powerful an ambition as on-call psychic powers are we don't usually think much about the downsides, of the pain such heightened sensitivity would necessarily inflict in an over-saturated, stressed-out, anxiety-drenched world. We don't think about how difficult it might be to switch these perceptions off and how they might expose one to a never-ending deluge of information and emotion. 

That's the power of the Legion pilot, how it rather ruthlessly plays out the implications of broad-spectrum psi and the terrible damage it might inflict on minds that haven't evolved to handle such incredible potential. 

We also don't think about how intolerable it might be if government-controlled psychics were monitoring every passing thought. After all, every technology and human ability is eventually weaponized, isn't it? And if our inner dialogues weren't even safe then I believe we'd all turn into vegetables.

I think we can be grateful that psi doesn't work like it does on TV then. I think we have a lot more potential than we're aware of and I think you can develop your innate sensitivities to a much higher lever than we're presently capable of on the whole, but we should be grateful that Nature seems to have put these potentials in a kind of neural lockbox. For now, at least.

The Surrealist poet Andre Breton thought that schizophrenia was a kind of frontier of genius, and that schizophrenics simply became incapable of processing the barrage of information that geniuses were able to. It's probably no accident that schizophrenia often strikes the highly-intelligent. 

Does it also strike the highly psi-capable? 

How many people- children, especially- are being drugged into stupors simply because they're operating on levels that they can't navigate, processing information coming from channels that the rest of society fails to recognize? We don't even bother with therapy anymore, with finding out just what they might be perceiving. All the major psi operations have been defunded or hounded out of existence.

Is it simply because it's been decided whatever information they might be receiving can't be melted down into a bullet?

SYNC LOG: I  met Legion co-creator Bill Sienkiewicz just as the issue of New Mutants premiering the character hit the stands. He taught for a semester at the Kubert School. He later offered me a job as art assistant but I was unable to relocate to Connecticut (he eventually hired comics artist Amanda Conner). But I later got him to illustrate a New Mutants toy package I designed, working off my layout.  He blew everyone away with the final art. Incredible, one of a kind talent.

The OA and the Metaphysics of Trauma

If you pressed me for an adjective for these times I'd have to go with "bleak." The Obama era opened with so many promises and ended almost exactly as they began, with a nation bogged down in war abroad and dangerously polarized politically and economically at home. The Trump Administration and its discontents are only exacerbating the process.

With huge swathes of the country written off as obsolete by the decision makers on the coasts, any sense of national unity has terminally eroded. For the moment, the disposessesd have been kept pacified with entertainment and opiates but there's a growing sense that the American experiment is nearing its completion. 

This is why you have the richest of the rich planning their escape to hold-outs in New Zealand and other remote locations, exactly as Roman knights and aristocrats did when central authority began to collapse in the Western Empire. Not a sign of rude health, that.

Everywhere you look you're confronted with trend-lines pointing towards a number of crisis points; social, political, economic. We have all the technology in the world yet, for the moment at least, the future is starting to look a bit bleak


The Netflix series The OA is certainly bleak. So much so that it makes bleakness into its own kind of poetry. The camera's eye is relentlessly documentary and dispassionate and there's very little musical score to relieve the sometimes unbearable tension. Cold, washed-out colors dominate the photography. This isn't Hollywood you're looking at here.

And as such it's not necessarily an easy series to watch. A lot of viewers didn't make it through.

Its central themes are death, trauma and captivity. The zeitgeist is captured in the person of a maverick scientist whose quest makes him into a monster, a callous, obsessive Dr. Frankenstein whose inability for basic human compassion drives him to murder, over and again.

The story is fairly simple and for some viewers, a bit repetitious. A young woman named Prairie is saved from jumping off a bridge and is brought to a hospital. It's discovered that she was the adopted daughter of an elderly couple and she's been missing for several years. Her back is mottled with strange scars. 

And even though she was blind since childhood she can now see.

Brought back home to a dismally anonymous, semi-finished housing tract she brings a group of misfits into her orbit with her otherworldly charisma: a drug-dealing thug and his sidekick, an honor student from a troubled home,  a transgender boy in the midst of transition and an emotionally-fragile high school teacher. 

Prairie begins telling them her story, which starts in Russia: she was the daughter of an oligarch who fell afoul of the Mob. To get at their parents the Mob arranges the deaths of her and other rich children on the way to school. In death Prairie is confronted by a woman, who is apparently her guardian angel. The woman returns Prairie to life but takes her sight.

When her father dies Prairie ends up in America in the care of a shady adoption racket. There her adoptive parents (played by Alice Krige of Star Trek: First Contact/The 4400 fame and Scott Wilson, best known today for The Walking Dead) discover her. But they soon find out she's extremely troubled, given to weird, visionary episodes during sleep. She's then heavily medicated.

When Prairie reaches adulthood she begins to entertain fantasies that her birth father is still alive and travels to New York to meet him. But instead she's found by Hap, an anestheisologist obsessed with near-death experiences who can tell Prairie had an NDE when he hears her play violin in a subway.

Hap seduces Prairie into coming home with him so they can study her condition but instead she's taken prisoner in his basement. There she meets his other prisoners, all middle American archetypes. She bonds with Homer, a young football player who died and was resuscitated after sustaining a fatal injury during a game.

As Prairie tells it, Hap subjects his prisoners to brutal experiments in which they are repeatedly killed and medically resuscitated. During one of the experiments Prairie meets the woman from her childhood vision again and is told she has a great mission to carry out. Along the way, Hap takes Homer to Cuba to seduce a female musician whom Hap wants to abduct.

Desperate to fill long hours of captivity, Hap's prisoners begin acting out complex ritual dances, believing that they can cross into other dimensions by following an exact sequence of movements. The dances seem to have palpable effects, as we see in two memorable scenes.

As she tells her story, Prairie's circle is increasingly drawn into her world, forming a kind of cult around her. The stories have a hypnotic, transformative effect on them, changing their lives and redirecting them from potentially self-destructive paths. But crisis is always looming in the background and everything ends up blowing up in the end, leading to a shocking denouement.

 At the same time she's contacted by a journalist who wants to tell her story and by an FBI psychologist, whose motives are somewhat opaque. Later he will act as the linchpin as it becomes increasingly evident that Prairie's captivity may have in fact been part of a much larger conspiracy. 

And this is where the series will burn itself into your brain. We are asked finally if Prairie's stories are real or are in fact the product of a gifted but damaged psyche who's been subjected to an unimaginable ordeal. Was her captivity in fact even more traumatic and damaging than her stories will say? Are her stories, compelling as they are, elaborate constructions meant to shield herself from an even more terrifying reality? 

It's a question often asked when people claim experience with alien abduction, MKULTRA testing or other socially unacceptable traumas, isn't it?

But the season's climax doesn't let you off the hook that easily. We see inarguable evidence that Prairie is not just a delusional victim of an ordeal we're finally asked to guess at, but is in fact a prophet. One whose mission it is to avert a harrowing outcome for her small circle of followers and the larger community they represent.

In many important ways, The OA is an arty, indie, more than slightly pretentious companion piece to Stranger Things. 

Both deal with suburban monotony broken up by the arrival of a female character possessing otherworldly powers. In both series that character brings a group of misfits into her orbit, as well as an authority figure. In both series we see horrific human experiments undertaken and in both series the subjects of them cross over into other realities. 

But The OA is as elitist as Stranger Things is populist, as cold as the other is warm. It's not perfect by any means; it bogs down to a crawl in some spots and dials up the cringe-meter in others. 

But it goes a little deeper into the esoteric than Stranger Things does, taking issues like the mutability of reality by the horns and leavening the dough with some seemingly well-studied metaphysics. Nothing seems sloppy or dashed-off; on the contrary it can feel almost too meticulous in spots. The symbolism gets a little bit on-the-nose more than once.

The OA is worth sticking with, especially given the formulaic inter-changeability of so many series these days. (I actually dropped the series during the Christmas season and picked it up again after the New Year and I'm glad I did). It's like nothing else out there.

In the end it leaves you asking questions about the transformative nature of trauma and the grueling reality of captivity and the need it creates to construct alternate perceptions of reality in order to cope. And other questions as well.

Like why do some trauma and/or NDE experiencers emerge with heightened or changed abilities and perceptions? Why have mad scientists like those in MKULTRA believed that controlled trauma could lead to enhanced psychic abilities? Does that somehow justify their abuses, if not just in their own minds? Are NDEs tricks the brain plays on the dying or objective experiences? Does the paranormal work the way we want it to or does it follow its own inscrutable logic?

I can only assume that these are questions the series will address in its second season. It will if it's smart.

Bobby Beausoleil once said that Charles Manson's ability to seduce weaker minds into his alternate reality was the by-product of solitary confinement and the need it created to construct narratives to endure the crushing isolation. He had a lot of time to practice the powers of persuasion.

I'm not sure if the producers of The OA were aware of that fact but it certainly carries through in the story. It's an interesting comparison to make; are cult leaders themselves all damaged personalities who need the adoration of others to plug in the holes? 

The obvious answer is yes. But some cults also have had positive (and sometimes ecstatic) transformative effects on their followers, something we're not usually allowed to admit.

No, The OA is not perfect, not by any means. I'm not sure it's exactly entertaining, even. But the way it chooses to address complex metaphysics, and at the same time ask uncomfortable questions, makes it important.

Hazy Cosmic Jive: Bowie and the Starmen, Part Three

And your prayers they break the sky in two
Believing the strangest things, loving the alien
You pray til the break of dawn
Believing the strangest things, loving the alien
And you'll believe you're loving the alien
Believing the strangest things, loving the alien

OK, this is where things get a little strange. A little more synchy.

In part one we looked at the established history of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (more or less) and Bowie's superhero-oriented project that directly anticipated it. We also looked at the influences that fed into Bowie's seminal creation, not the least of which was Bowie's lifelong obsession with UFOs and extraterrestrials. 

We dug a little deeper in part two, unearthing a heretofore unacknowledged precedent for the Ziggy character-- stories about an interdimensional space savior who is channeled through an aspiring rock star named Jones  (I mean, come on)-- that appeared in several seminal comic books, all released at the very same time that David Bowie was struggling to find the right hook to achieve the mainstream success that had eluded him so since the mid-60s.

And timing, as they say, is everything.

I also think that, given the nature of the Captain Marvel storyline, Bowie could be forgiven if he saw it all as a message expressly intended for him, sent from some unknown, possibly extraterrestrial, source. 

And in light of the superhuman output that followed that revelation, who are we to argue?

Remember too that Bowie himself later appeared as a thinly-veiled character in a strangely similar narrative, namely Philip K Dick's VALIS.

But first a word about the unlikely source of this potential epiphany, since people may be wondering.

The crossover between comics and pop music is so common today we take it for granted (My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way is now an editor at DC Comics) but was a bit less so in the 1970s. 

Even so, Bowie's Glam rivals KISS and Alice Cooper both starred in their own Marvel comics, as did Bowie's idols The Beatles. And as we saw Bowie's then-wife Angela- a self-admitted Marvel Comics fan- was having meetings with Stan Lee to develop Marvel properties, as well as a Ziggy Stardust cartoon. 

So we have a very well-attested and direct connection here. This is not just wild Internet speculation.

And Bowie himself listed three comic books in his well-publicized Top 100 books list so he was obviously a fan too. And I think that fandom had a powerful effect- at least a unconscious one- on him until the day he died.

Now, Captain Marvel defined the trippy "Cosmic" era of 70s comics, an post-hippie update on both the Golden Age Captain Marvel and Superman, an alien savior whose adventures reflected the hallucinogenic adventures of his writers and artists (one creator told me he and his fellow artists used to drop acid and wander the streets of Manhattan at night on vision quests).

But Captain Marvel is noteworthy for another reason: he died.

Of cancer.

With interest in cosmic characters waning and management looking for an attention-grabbing hook to launch its graphic novel series, Marvel had writer/artist Jim Starlin revisit the character in 1982 for a death narrative, which were becoming all the rage for the publisher (the deaths of the X-Men's Phoenix/Jean Grey and of Elektra in Daredevil were huge sellers).

The story went that Captain Marvel contracted cancer while exposed to a deadly nerve gas (back in Captain Marvel #34). As the end nears the major heroes of the Marvel Universe travel to his outer space sanctuary to be at his side. It's a bit more involved than that but you get the idea.*

For the occasion, Starlin swiped from Michelangelo's take on the Pietà for the vaguely sacrilegious cover art.

And apropos of absolutely nothing, Bowie posed himself in post-postmodern rendering of the Pietà for his 1999 album '...hours.'

And as we saw last year the artwork for this album was rife with eerie foreshadowings of Bowie's own death by cancer (liver cancer, in this case; note the dead Bowie's hand is over his liver).  

Is there a connection?

Try this: David Bowie died on January 10th. Captain Marvel "died" January 12th, when The Death of Captain Marvel was released.

A collected version of the space hero's 1982 Death story, along with related adventures, was published in trade paperback in 2002, the same year Bowie released Heathen. 

Is that significant for any reason? Synchronistically, yes: Bowie covered a "song" by the Legendary Stardust Cowboy on it, the outsider artist from whence he lifted Ziggy's surname.

One more sync: Heathen also featured the enigmatic lyric, "Down in space, it's always 1982." 

But look again: what do you see emblazoned on the book cover behind the reimagining of the Pietà?

A black star.

Which brings us back to Bowie's final testament and second-to-last video. What do you see emblazoned on the cover of the Bible-like book Bowie waves around throughout the clip?

A black star.  

Interesting coincidence, particularly given the biblical connections to both. (Incidentally, the black star cancer connection is to breast cancer, which obviously doesn't apply to either of these cases).

This is interesting, too: in the song (and video) Bowie first drops the term 'Blackstar' after the bridge, when the song veers from a jittery skip to a jazzy stroll. The lyrics go something like this:

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar**

As fate would have it "somebody else" took Captain Marvel's place after he died as well. And what pictogram do we happen to see emblazoned on her tunic there? 

Well, well; wouldn't you know it? A black star. 

How do those lyrics go again, now?

Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar

Yeah, that's one hell of a coincidence there.º Is all this intentional or conscious? It doesn't have to be. 

In fact, it's one hell of a lot more interesting to me if it's not.

In that light, note that Bowie is wearing a eye-mask in the "Blackstar" video. It doesn't look like Captain Marvel's mask, but still; He's wearing an eye-mask in the video.

"Blackstar" also features a dead NASA astronaut who was stranded on a primitive alien planet orbiting what looks to be a black sun. For many this is seen as a symbol of Major Tom, the protagonist of "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes." That could certainly be true, but the symbolism goes quite a bit deeper:
The association between Saturn and the Black Sun as an alchemical and occult symbol is traditional. In alchemy, the Black Sun represents the nigredo stage of the alchemical operation, the stage of calcination or blackening of the first matter by burning. 
As Bowie certainly knew the identification of the color black with Saturn is almost universal throughout occult and esoteric teaching:
Saturn: Put on black clothes, namely the cloth used to wrap a corpse and a black cape in the mode of a doctor and black shoes. --Picatrix, Book III, Chapter  7 
Note that a woman- with a prehensile tail- carries the skull of what to her is an alien astronaut like a icon. This too ties us directly to Saturn iconography:
In Vedic texts, Saturn is described as riding a crow and carrying a skull. Finally, another of the epithets of Saturn in ancient astrology is "Great Lord Dark Sun" and "Son of the Sun." In these symbols, the Black Sun is conflated with Saturn himself.
Well, that's all terrific and all, but how does any of this tie into our overall narrative?

In his 1967 origin story, Captain Marvel was depicted as an alien astronaut stranded on a primitive planet (ours, to be specific). He took on a secret identity as a rocket scientist and had several encounters with NASA.

And his original jumpsuit was emblazoned with a giant ringed planet, a pictogram most commonly identified with Saturn.

NOTE: In an interesting sync, Captain Marvel was doomed to drift in space (anti-matter space, in this instance) in a comic released the very same month Bowie recorded "Space Oddity," which had Major Tom doomed to float aimlessly in space when his capsule's instruments malfunction. Surely a "coincidence", but one the mystical Bowie may well have seen as a portent.

Bowie's final video ("Lazarus"), released three days before his death, had him wearing the eye-mask again, while hovering over a hospital bed (look carefully). On closer inspection, the mask reminds of a kid's improvised superhero mask, something he might make by poking two holes in a random strip of fabric. 

Or more accurately it reminds me of an artsy take on a kid's improvised superhero mask.

And coincidence or no, it really reminded me of the splash page in which Captain Marvel lies on his death bed. I wonder if it did for Bowie as well. 


So you wanna know what I really think? 

I think those Captain Marvel comics (which Angie may well have turned hin onto) burrowed deep into that man's subconscious. Very, very deep, indeed. I think this process actually started back in the 50s when the Golden Age Captain Marvel reincarnated in Britain as Marvelman. 

How could those stories not effect a young suburban boy, lost in a deep world of fantasy with his schizophrenic half-brother, whose stated primary ambition was to become superhuman (or "a mortal with the potential of a superman?").

How could this flying saucer-spotter not believe those alien savior stories were some kind of message for him, when their co-star was a young singer-songwriter named Jones?

I admit these connections might seem completely out of left field-- if not flat-out straight out of the stadium-- to many fans and critics. Believe me, I'm a bit stunned myself. 

This entire series started, like so many others here, by a strange connection that caught my attention; that Bowie's first Glam project- the admittedly superhero-inspired Hype- inspired the singer to dye his hair silver. 

For some reason something bugged me about that. Or maybe something was implanted about that.

Sometimes the tiniest details can unravel mysteries you never knew existed in the first place. Several themes gestated in my unconscious- superheroes, aliens, rock 'n' roll, channeling- until a few accidental discoveries made it clear to me that Bowie, who at the time was at the risk of falling into the commercial black hole of One-Hit-Wonderdom, found inspiration in the humblest of sources and used it to reinvent both himself and pop music.

History shows that far greater inspiration has come from far stranger places. 

UPDATE: Just in case you're having trouble with this entire concept, you should know that Elvis Presley idolized Captain Marvel, Jr, going so far as to base his look and attitude on the character.

In Elvis and Gladys Elaine Dundy highlights Elvis' interest in the comic book hero, Capt. Marvel Jr., and demonstrates the interesting similarity in Elvis' haircut compared to that of the comic book character and that his TCB logo (with a Marvel-esque lightning bolt insignia) also shows inspiration from Captain Marvel Jr. In addition, some of Elvis' stage outfits (with a half-cape similar to those worn by the Marvels). 
Elvis Presley was a big fan of Captain Marvel Jr. and his collection of Captain Marvel Jr. comic books still sits in the attic of Graceland. Captain Marvel Jr. is a fictional character, a superhero derived from the Fawcett Comics character Captain Marvel, later purchased by DC Comics. 
Elvis was Bowie's idol, role model and labelmate on RCA Records.

And also sang a song called "Black Star."

UPDATE II: Where might have Bowie's iconic thunderbolt logo come from? We know Elvis' thunderbolt was a tribute to Captain Marvel Jr. Well, during the recording of Aladdin Sane the first issue of Shazam was released, featuring the original Captain Marvel.

Note Bowie's thunderbolt uses the Marvel Captain's red and blue color scheme. Stealing some of Elvis's thunder, perhaps.

POSTSCRIPT A: "Memory of a Free Festival"

Bowie actually wrote of an alien "Captain" shortly after Captain Marvel #17 was released in July 1969. 

The song in question was his pivotal "Memory of a Free Festival" (released in the US on Space Oddity).

We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size/ We talked with tall Venusians passing through/ And Peter tried to climb aboard but the Captain shook his head...
From the Wiki: 
Biographer David Buckley described "Memory of a Free Festival" as "a sort of trippy retake of the Stones' 'Sympathy for the Devil' but with a smiley lyric". The track was written as a homage to the Free Festival, organised by the Beckenham Arts Lab, which was held at Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham on 16 August 1969. 
The festival was a month after the release of Captain Marvel #17, so it's entirely possible the Captain in question here could be our Captain. He started off his career at Marvel as a UFO pilot, after all.

What's more the Kree- the race from which Captain Marvel sprang- bear a strong resemblance to the Venusians of classic Contactee lore.

Bowie was almost certainly gobbling up a whole host of influences, but don't forget he was also married to serious Marvel Comics fan at the time.

"Memory" is the first Bowie track to feature future Spiders from Mars Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey, so we also have a strong Synchronistic connection to Ziggy here as well.

The rainbow connection-- Bowie's silver-haired superhero in The Hype was called "Rainbow Man" according to some reports, even though he was garbed entirely in silver-- leads us to another Captain Marvel connection, if not a somewhat oblique one. 

As his adventures grew increasingly trippy and psychedelic, the silver-haired Captain encountered a rainbow wall (Captain Marvel, vol 1 #15), shortly before encountering aspiring rock star Rick Jones.  

Not entirely direct evidence there, but perhaps evidence of a kind of an overall unconscious gestalt on Bowie's part.


Bowie claimed that his original inspiration for Ziggy Stardust came from a rock star-turned- acid casualty who believed himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Strangely enough, Captain Marvel has returned to the Marvel Universe in reincarnated form on a number of occasions, and has been presented as a distinctly Jesus Christ-like figure.

Like he actually defeats Death. That kind of Jesus figure. From an alternate-reality time series, Universe X (2000)
With the death of Death, Mar-Vell used the remaining items he collected to create a new realm called Paradise. This realm was for those in the Realm of the Dead that admitted that they were truly dead. Those admitted to this realm would be given a portion of the Cosmic Cube to consume, and they were granted with the power to create a reality that was for each person their ideal paradise. 
For those of you who might not grasp the significance of this, defeating Death is a power the Bible reserves for Jesus Christ alone: 
And which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. -- 2 Timothy 1:10

Captain Marvel returned again in 2007 (well, kind of) and a messianic cult was formed around him, the Hala Brotherhood. Then in 2011 he was resurrected once again for the Secret Avengers series:
Some time later, Kree mystics resurrect Mar-Vell using a piece of the M'Kraan Crystal and a portion of the Phoenix Force. Controlling his mind, they use Captain Marvel against the Avengers. The Vision frees Mar-Vell, who sacrifices himself to save the Kree from the Phoenix Force, which threatens Hala when it seeks to reclaim its missing energy. 


In 2012, Marvel introduced yet another new Captain Marvel. This version was longtime Captain Marvel co-star Carol Danvers (formerly known as Ms. Marvel) given a somewhat more androgynous makeover (more so now than then). Note that her costume is a loose adaptation of the red/blue/gold Captain Marvel's outfit.

Not long afterwards, David Bowie reemerged from a nine year retirement with The Next Day, one of the singles for which was "Stars."

Coincidentally, the Bowie rock star part (complete with heterochromic eyes) is played by a young, blonde, somewhat androgynous woman. Note mock-turtle collars on both.

† Also included is Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi

* After some time apart Captain Marvel and Rick Jones- who by now can exist independently- catch up atop a New York City apartment building. Sadly it's not a happy reunion since the Captain has come to tell Rick he's dying of cancer.

Bowie lived in a penthouse- which is to say the top of an apartment building- on Lafayette St ("Fayette Factor" alert) in New York City when he learned he was dying of cancer.  

º Black women are important to the Captain Marvel saga. Just as a black woman took Mar-Vell's place for a time, Rick Jones met his new singing partner Dandy in the very same issue in which Captain Marvel (vol 1, #34) was retconned to contract cancer. 

There were strong hints that Rick and Dandy were also romantically linked, but the relationship may have been a bit too daring for 70s comics.

** This character self-identifying as a "Blackstar" rules out the theories that the song is about cancer. At least for me.