Most people first encounter the idea of Cosmic Judgment at the end of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation. Not me. Apocalyptic thinking actually began in my young mind at the age of seven, when I witnessed the End of History play itself out in the wonderful world of Marvel Comics.
Jack “King” Kirby was the greatest comic book artist of all time. He created a whole pantheon of unforgettable characters including Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men. Along with his writing partner Stan Lee, Kirby provided an entire generation of hungry young minds with new legends to ponder. In less than a decade this Lee/Kirby production line changed everything in the imagination of western culture. In the process they also single-handedly reintroduced Norse mythology into the collective consciousness, giving the ancient gods fresh stories and a second life as modern superheroes. When you think of Thor, God of Thunder, you don’t visualize the actual Viking deity; no, your mind instantly flashes on a picture drawn during the 1960s by the King of Comics.
In 1976, in response to the Erich Von Daniken-inspired craze over the question of whether or not the religions of humanity were seeded by contact with ancient astronauts, Jack Kirby stunned the comics world with a new series called The Eternals.
One day a massive alien spaceship arrives in the Andes Mountains, landing amid the ruins of a long-forgotten Inca city. Out steps the King’s answer to Von Daniken: The Space Gods, a race of gigantic Celestial beings who in the distant past experimented on primitive hominids, altering their DNA to create modern man.
Across the short run of the series, Kirby forced the issue of Apocalypse on the same Universe he helped create. The Space Gods had returned in our time to test the results of their experiment, to judge us and see whether or not we should be exterminated. It was all symbolized by Arishem, the giant leader of the Celestial host, standing atop Incan temples holding out his massive hand, thumb extended in horizontal fashion. Kirby gave us fifty years to get our collective act together while the Space Gods surveyed the planet. At the end of that period, Cosmic Judgment would be passed. Would it be thumbs up for the humans, or thumbs down?
The reaction among the fans was largely one of shock, confusion, and revulsion; no one could criticize the artistry of the King, but they couldn’t accept his new creations, either. The storyline seemed to invalidate the hierarchy of the entire Marvel Universe, a meta-fiction that referred to itself with great consistency in the pages of its many different titles. How could the Celestials be integrated into an already complete continuity? It was a controversy that went right to the spiritual nerve center of the readers, many of whom saw the Space Gods as a direct Evolutionist attack on Christianity and other faiths.
Jack Kirby withdrew from the comics industry as a result. The editors at Marvel never did come up with a satisfactory way to integrate the Celestials or the ideas about Cosmic Judgment that the King had posed.
One thing had been accomplished, however. My apocalyptic imagination would go on to be eternally haunted by the image of Arishem and his uncertain thumb. I grew up with the firm determination that should the Space Gods arrive one day, I was going to be ready for them.
Cut to the close of the year 2000, when I was hanging out on a nightly basis with the ghosts of Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, and the Prophet Joseph Smith. With the arrival of the Millennium the subject of Cosmic Judgment was foremost in my mind. I constantly thought about the judgment scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Scales of Ma’at.
On a whim one night, I struck up a conversation with Brother Smith that would change my life forever.
“You seem rather dour,” Smith observed. “What is it?”
“All this millennial madness, End of the World stuff,” I replied. “It makes me feel like I am under Arishem’s thumb.”
“Who is Arishem?”
“It’s from a comic I love. Arishem is the leader of the Celestial Host, the giants who created our world, and return in modern times to pass Cosmic Judgment over us. It is like the Scales of Ma’at scene, but occurring for the whole planet, not just one person.”
“You say these giants made the world?” Smith mused. “That’s interesting, as I too believe that giants- the Elohim- created us.”
“I thought that Elohim was just another name for God’s creative powers, which is why the Hebrew term in Genesis is plural.”
“No, no, no,” the Prophet insisted, “that’s what Rome wants you to believe. The truth is that the original language Genesis uses was right all along. We were not created by one God, but many.”
This highly unusual “literal” interpretation of Genesis is one of Mormonism’s more controversial tenets, I was later to find out. No one is exactly sure what the “real” Joseph Smith meant by this, but some have been quick to compare it to the Von Daniken-style plot level, insisting that it implies the exact scenario Kirby envisioned (and in case you’re wondering, Jack Kirby was not a Mormon- he was Jewish).
“That’s funny,” I said, as mythic wheels began to turn in my mind, “it seems that the creation stories of other mythologies also begin with giants. The Greeks have the first world being shaped and ruled by the titans, whilst Norse myths also involve giants at the beginning….and at the end…”
And then an incredible intuition came to my mind. It seemed ridiculous at first, but just as quickly, it rang absolutely true.
“What if…” I murmured.
“Well, it may be a crazy leap, but what if all these apparently different giants were in fact the same beings? I mean, is that possible?”
“Of course it is possible,” Smith replied whimsically. “But as with all Cosmic Judgments, the real question is: Why should anyone accept it?”