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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Comics Explained: Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two (Part 1)

Year Two
Last time on Injustice Superman had split the Justice League by enforcing a world-wide ceasefire after the Joker tricked him into destroying Metropolis and killing Lois Lane (who was carrying his unborn child). A war broke out between Superman's supporters (Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg etc), and those who opposed him led by Batman. The initial battles left Batman paralyzed by Superman, and several heroes including Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter dead at Superman's hands. Now Year Two begins and Superman's reign comes into contact with beings from other worlds...

Ollie's Funeral
At the funeral
The story begins with a flashback. In their civilian gear after defeating a 'planet-core-eating zombie moon' (this is a comic book after all) Dinah Prince (Black Canary) and Green Arrow (Ollie Queen) force Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) to come with them to a bar despite him protesting that he'll be a third wheel. When a biker rudely offering to buy Dinah a drink and insulting Ollie the two beat up the biker gang as Hal reminds them that he is still a third wheel. The scene shifts then to the present with the Justice League holding a temporary truce to attend Ollie's funeral. The League members leave one by one until only Dinah and Hal are at their fallen friend's grave. Hal attempts to talk to her but she refuses to hear what he has to say after finding out that he still stands with Superman. When Hal walks away Clark Kent to try and apologize to Dinah for Ollie's death (stating it was an accident). Enraged that Superman described the brutal beating to death of her partner an 'accident' Dinah releases her Canary Cry; a high-pitched scream which can incapacitate foes. It is so powerful that it causes Superman's ears to bleed. Unlike the old Superman this post-Metropolis Superman takes it badly and grabs Dinah with his eyes glowing red. Dinah demands to see 'the real him' so she can die seeing the same Superman which killed Ollie, and how Superman has deluded himself into thinking that he is human. Superman, however, notices with his super-senses that Dinah is pregnant with Ollie's child. The Man of Steel flies away and we find out that she had been wearing lenses. The entire encounter had been recorded by her friend Oracle, (the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon).

The next chapter cuts between several characters. We first see Kyle Rayner. Kyler is one of several Green Lanterns from the planet Earth, and he became a Green Lantern when Hal Jordan went rouge. We find out that for the last year Kyle had been on a mission for the Guardians of the Universe (who lead the Lanterns) so he has no clue about the destruction of Metropolis, the increasing tyranny of Superman, and how Hal has sided with a tyrant. However, the scene shifts to Gotham where Commissioner Gordon is figuring out who lit the Bat-Signal. He is met with Superman demanding to know where Batman is. After Superman paralyzed Batman Alfred took the Dark Knight somewhere safe and we can assume that it is not in the regular Batcave. Naturally Gordon would be the one to know where Batman is. Superman is dumbfounded to discover that Gordon truly does not know where Batman is (using his supervision to check Gordon's vitals to see if he is lying).
Superman meets Gordon
Gordon also tells Superman that he will happily help Batman as he doesn't see him as a fugitive. Superman informs Gordon that he has spotted several masses on the commissioner's lungs. Years of chainsmoking and fighting in a city full of the world's most dangerous criminals has taken it's toll on Gordon. We finally find out where Batman is when the scene shifts for a third time. Alfred informs Bruce that they are somewhere where Superman can never find them: the Tower of Fate. Zatanna Zatara helped bring Alfred and Bruce to Dr Fate's lair as Superman is weak against magic. We do not stay there long as the scene shifts back to Kyle Rayner in space. Kyle is captured by Sinestro and members of the Sinestro Corps. If the Green Lanterns are Jedi then Sinestro Corps (or Yellow Lanterns) are Sith. Sinestro was once a Green Lantern but went rouge and harnessed the power of fear, instead of willpower, before enslaving his homeworld of Korugar. Sinestro taunts Kyle saying that Earth has changed and that he can see allies for a future war. Before Kyle can message the Lanterns for help Sinestro cuts it off. He then laments that Kyle will be unable to see the upcoming war as he is torn apart by the Sinestro Corps. 
Sinestro kills Kyle
Coming of the Green Lanterns
On the homeworld of the Green Lanterns, Oa, the Guardians of the Universe question their fellow member Ganthet on what is troubling him. He tells them of a shift in power on Earth and how that one planet has been the center of several universe spanning crises. The other Guardians realize that what happens on Earth could throw the fate of the Lanterns into jeopardy, and more worryingly the Earth-bound Lantern Hal Jordan is closely tied to the events. In response they summon one of the other Earth Lanterns, Guy Gardner. Gardner was one of two people to be chosen to be Earth's Lantern (the other being Hal) but as Hal was closer Gardner was made a backup, but he eventually became a Lantern. Guy laughs off the idea that Superman is becoming a tyrant, (after all he is seen as a glorified boy scout by many in the DC universe), until he is informed that Kyle has gone missing and that his ring has been destroyed. On Earth Hal is testing a jet while being observed by Carol Ferris (it is likely in this universe she is not a member of the Star Sapphires; a group like the Lanterns which uses love instead of willpower to create constructs). However, Hal almost crashes the plane with it only surviving thanks to him wearing his Lantern ring. Ferris finds this deeply unsettling; Hal never wears his ring on flights and it seems like he is afraid...

On the Watchtower as Superman looks over a comatose Wonder Woman (still very injured from when Superman was forced to burn Martian Manhunter out of her) Hal informs him that Congress is planning to shutdown the government. Superman is still angry over the US president's interference which lead to his father being injured, Wonder Woman's injury, and, the deaths of Ollie and Captain Atom (both at the hands of Superman). When Hal doesn't want to stop them as it would be him interfering to much Clark chastises him by saying that as the Lantern for Sector 2814 it won't be interfering but protecting. Due to his anger at the United States Superman sent the Flash to Congress with Hal who seals the House of Representatives in informing them that they cannot leave. Desperate the president calls Batman (who is puzzled about how his cellphone can get reception in the Tower of Fate) but it is diverted to Oracle in Gotham who informs her that Superman has taken over Congress. 
Congress Taken Over
As the Flash and Green Lantern force the Senate to resolve their differences on the Watchtower Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons (Wonder Woman's mother) arrives to see her daughter. She informs Superman that although the doctors have failed to heal her the gods of her island should be able to. However, the Watchtower's alarms go off and Robin informs them that Sinestro is here. As Wonder Woman is taken to the teleporters Superman flies to Sinestro and smashes him into the Moon. Before Clark can do to him what he did to Kalibak Sinestro informs him that 'they' are coming who would undo all that he has done. On Earth the Flash and Green Lantern leave the Senate to be faced with armed forces, Guy Gardner, and Ganthet.

Next chapter we get a flashback to the destruction of Kypton. Jor-el places his infant son in a rocket as his wife, Lara, asks about if 'outsiders' could help. He tells her that Kypton has been abandoned. Lara gives her son a pendant and the rocket is sent off before the planet explodes. In the present Superman sitting in the Hall of Justice clutching his pendant he asks Ganthet what he can do for the Guardian. Flanked by Hal and Guy the Guardian tells Superman that he has come to Earth as an ambassador and a friend. His advice is: stop what he is doing. When Superman says he is protecting Earth Ganthet interjects that Clark is controlling, not protecting Earth. He tries to explain that he is of Earth but Ganthet reminds him that Clark is Kyptonian, not human. Begrudgingly he agrees but says that he cannot allow the ignorance of leaders not acting to take Earth down the same route as Krypton. Sadly Ganthet reveals that the hardest part of being a Guardian was not interfering and that he has seen civilizations rise and fall. Earth must chose it's own path. However, like a devil on his shoulder through an earpiece someone says 'Ask him the question'. Superman asks if the Guardians allowed Krypton to be destroyed. Ganthet doesn't reply shocking Hal and infuriating Clark. Superman berates Ganthet for lecturing him when it was the Guardians who doomed his homeworld as Ganthet claims that Krypton doomed itself. Gardner steps in between them telling him to tone down their 'ominous power levels' and that they're in danger of losing a continent. During the argument Ganthet is ordered to leave Earth and, the Guardian tells Gardner and Hal to return to Oa (something which Hal reluctantly does). When they leave Sinestro comes out from the shadows where Superman tells him that the Guardians are Guardians in name only. He also tells Sinestro that he doesn't trust him to which Sinestro responds that he will need his help.
John Stewart
Upon returning to Oa Ganthet orders several Lanterns to return such as Kilowog and Tomar-Re. One other is Earth's final Lantern (in the Injustice universe that is) John Stewart. When Guy Gardner was badly injured John Stewart was chosen to temporarily replace him but he became a full time Lantern. John had been fighting an undead horde threatening to take over Ryut in Sector 666 and reluctantly returns stating that leaving a planet full of undead would never come back to bite them (literally). On Earth Superman's new army walks into Gotham as the Man of Steel and Lex Luthor talk to the mayor. Although the mayor is in favor of it he doubts that Gordon would be to which Superman spits that Gotham's staggeringly high crime rate is a testament to Gordon's failure (although Gordon's belligerent support of Batman is hinted to factor into Superman's disdain and occupation of Gotham). The GCPD has no other choice but to let the army enter. Gordon later standing in the rain yells at a CCTV camera announcing to Barbara that he knows that she is in there. Meanwhile, at the Ferris Airfield Hal has to tell Carol that he has to return to Oa where Ganthet informs them that Guy will remain on Earth in Hal's place. Back at Gotham Gordon snaps that he's always known that she was Batgirl and Bruce Wayne was Batman (it really should be obvious to be honest), and that he knew it was pointless to stop her from being a vigilante. Barbara admits that she can't contact Bruce and has no idea where he went after the confrontation with Superman: they are alone. Gordon reveals that Superman's army has entered Gotham...and that he has cancer. Silently the pair hug as Gordon cries that he soon won't be there to protect her and Gotham. However, Barbara does have a plan. She reveals that she has made a new Birds of Prey consisting of Catwoman, Batwoman, Huntress, and Black Canary.
The New Birds of Prey
The New Axis
In the Hall of Justice the Flash tells Superman that creating an alliance with Sinestro 'is pretty much the worst idea ever'. Lex Luthor agrees with the Flash that allying themselves with a tyrant like Sinestro cannot be good but Superman insists that Sinestro came to warn them. When Luthor calls him dangerous from a special holding cell Sinestro agrees stating that Superman's 'pets' are wise to fear him. He says that he is very much like Superman and that is why he told him the truth about the Guardians allowing for Krypton to be destroyed. Sinestro says that like Superman he had brought justice to an injust world after the death of his family but the Lanterns undid everything that he had worked hard to achieve. He relates a story of how he had once been the most respected Lantern (even training Hal Jordan) he decided to oust the corrupt government of his homeworld of Korugar from power to install himself as a benevolent ruler. Then the Lanterns and Hal betrayed him and ended his rule. The audience gets the true account though. After ousting the government Sinestro quickly descended into tyranny upsetting all of Korugar. His wife, Arin Sur, hid their daughter Soranik before killing herself which Sinestro refused to accept. Blaming the old regime he murdered the surviving council members and firmly created a dictatorship. The Lanterns arrived finding that Sinestro had become mad like a rabid dog with Hal distraught on how far his mentor had fallen. 
Sinestro on Korugar
Sinestro states that he doesn't blame Hal but rather the Guardians who tricked him. Lex and Flash are, however, unconvinced. When Luthor says that Sinestro can't be trusted the Yellow Lantern agrees but insists that if Earth is to be free from the Guardians then they will need his help. He also states that he simply wants revenge (which the Flash admits that at least he is being honest). To alleviate their fear Sinestro hands his ring to them (after using his powers to escape from the cell). 

On Oa Hal desperately tries to plead Superman's case in front of the Guardians stating that the only reason that he acted the way he did before Ganthet was because he had found out that the Guardians were complicit in Krypton's destruction. Ganthet reminds Hal that it is Superman, not the Guardians, who are on trial, but Hal responds that Superman is doing good by channeling the pain over Lois' death to help bring peace to Earth. Hal tries to show the Guardians of the wars that Superman has ended and the dictatorships toppled by the League, but the Guardians also question him about the legitimate governments toppled by the League and how Superman has made an army. He claims that the army in unaligned and necessary as the League cannot be everywhere which the Guardians retort that Superman is creating an enhanced army. Hal points the hypocrisy in this as what are the Green Lanterns if they aren't an enhanced army? However, the Guardians then end the conversation. After leaving the Guardians' Spire he meets Kilowog and John where Kilowog jovially hugs his friend. As Kilowog goes to meet the Guardians Hal starts informing John about what is happening on Earth as they see thousands of Green Lanterns. Soon after a glum Kilowog returns to tell Hal that he has to lead a group of Lanterns to arrest Superman, and that Jordan has to hand over his ring. After being warned not to do anything stupid Hal tries to fight the Lanterns in order to get to Earth to warn Superman. However, he is soon knocked out by Kilowog and John. As Hal is taken to a cell Kilowog leads a small group of Lanterns to arrest Superman...

Thus ends the first part of Injustice: Year Two. Next time the Justice League will face the Green Lanterns as Sinestro's plans fall into place...

Friday, 14 April 2017

World History: Mali and Songhai

The Mosque of Djenne
African history is often overlooked by people. Larger than Europe, China, and the continental United States in terms of geography Africa over the centuries has been home to thousands of unique cultures. Last time we visited Africa on World History we looked at the impressive archaeological site of Great Zimbabwe (please see here). This time we shall look at West Africa and the empires of Mali and Songhai. Mali was home to Mansa Musa, a man rumored to be the wealthiest person in human history. Before we look at Mali and Songhai we first need to look at the world where they sprang from.

West Africa
Mali at its height
As you can see from the above map the Empire of Mali stretched over a huge area encompassing savanna, forests, grasslands, and deserts. The nucleus of Mali was in the fertile southern savanna region which was perfect for a vibrant agricultural economy. What would become Mali managed to create an agricultural surplus creating an internal exchange economy which soon branched out into an external trade economy. Before Mali there was the Kingdom of Ghana (incidentally it was not in modern day Ghana) who had profited through a trade with Muslim and African merchants. To the north there was a group of people which for the sake of simplicity we shall call Berbers. To the south there was the Gold Coast, (aptly named for the rich gold mines). To the east were Arab traders. Ghana, and later Sudanese kingdoms, became middlemen for trade. Gold and kola nuts were sent across the Sahara in return for grain, while these items were traded with Arabs as well for a wide array of goods, and unfortunately slaves. Those who have read my other World History posts on the Vikings and Russia will remember how Arabs created trade posts in Russia to facilitate trade, They similarly did this in West Africa. For this reason centuries later French colonizers believed that the ruins of Mali were made by Arabs and not Africans, although similarly to Great Zimbabwe this was influenced by racist thinking as well. This trade was the reason for Mali's wealth. It also introduced Islam to West Africa. Arab traders brought their religion with them and locals adopted the religion for better trading prospects although it would take until the rise of Mali for Islam to become the dominant religion in the region. 

The Rise of Mali
A modern drawing of Sundiata
Mali came from the Kingdom of Kangaba. Ghana was very much like the Achaemenid, Roman, and later European empires where kingdoms could survive if they swore fealty to the empire. Kangaba was one such prospering as middlemen in the Trans-Saharan trade with the Mandinka people becoming gold traders. The Dyula or Wangara as they are called today would become famous for their skill and enterprise. It was a somewhat mutually beneficial system: Ghana needed gold and Kangaba needed markets to sell their gold. However, like all empires Ghana started to collapse from external wars and internal revolts. Ghana was eventually toppled by Sumanguru who extended his power over the capital of Kumbi Saleh and the caravan routes making them more dangerous for the Mandinka. From here we get a rather biased tale of events. The founding of Mali is told in the Epic of Sundiata which has been passed down generations. Kevin MacDonald has described Sundiata as a 'King Arthur figure' and was described by Arab scholar Ibn Kaldun as Mali's greatest king. His name also means 'Lion King', (he also is sometimes called Mari-Diata). According to the Epic Sundiata's mother was a hunchbacked 'Buffalo Woman' but was said to bear the king his greatest son. The king married the woman who gave birth to Sundiata who for years was disabled and could not walk. To honor his mother Sundiata he learnt to walk and became so strong that he could uproot a baobab tree. When his father died he went into exile but then Sumanguru conquered the Malinke. Sumanguru was said to be a tyrant so Sundiata returned with an army:
As Sundiata advanced with his army to meet Sumanguru he learned that Sumanguru was also coming against him with an army prepared for battle. The met in a place called Kirina. When Sundiata turned his eyes on the army of Sumanguru, he believed that they were a cloud and he said: 'What is this cloud on the eastern side?' They told him it was the army of Sumanguru. As for Sumanguru, when he saw the army of Sundiata, he exclaimed: 'What is that mountain of stone?' For he thought it was a mountain. And they told him: 'It is the army of Sundiata, which lies to the west of us.'
Sundiata's witchcraft was said to be greater than Sumanguru's who was killed. Due to the Epic being passed down through oral tradition it has changed many times and will change with each telling. However, we do get some important information which has been corroborated by archaeological evidence. We do know the Battle of Kirina took place around 1235 and the Empire of Mali was formed. There has been some debate on where the first capital of Mali was with Niani on the River Niger being often cited. Kevin MacDonald has argued that the first capital it possibly at Segou, also on the River Niger. 

After Sundiata came his son Uli who adopted the title mansa which means 'lord' in Mandinka. The mansas of Mali would continue conquering and surprisingly even a slave managed to become mansa. In 1298 a freed 'slave of the court' called Sakuru seized the throne, and has been seen as possibly Mali's strongest rulers. The most famous is Mansa Kankan Musa whose pilgrimage to Mecca became world renowned.

Governance and Religion in Mali
Similar to Ghana Mali was comprised of land directly ruled by the mansa and various kingdoms who swore fealty to Mali. Unlike Ghana Mali's population was larger and trade was far larger. The Trans-Saharan trade flourished under Mali, and when Mali incorporated major trade routes and the gold-rich areas of Bambuk and Bure in 1255 it had easy access to this trade. Most of our sources about Mali come from Arab sources who at times at highly praise the Mali society. One such was Ibn Battuta. Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan scholar and traveler who went across the world, mostly to Muslim regions, to describe what he saw. Below is a map of all the places which he visited.
Ibn Battuta's journeys
Starting in 1349 he traveled to the Islamic regions of West Africa. There he described some of how law operated in Mali:
The small number of acts of injustice that take place there, for of all people, the Negroes abhor it [injustice] the most. The sultan never pardons anyone guilty of injustice. [Something praiseworthy is] The general and complete security that is enjoyed in the country. The traveler, just as the sedentary man, has nothing to fear of brigands, thieves, or plunderers. 
Although it is hard to corroborate Ibn Battuta's observations it is possible to see a rather just society (despite having slaves). However, how just it is hard to estimate without other valid sources. He is critical of some aspects of Mali's society, namely how female servants and slaves are often naked and how they supposedly threw ashes/dust on their heads to show that they were educated or being respectful.

Islam was adopted by Mali during the reign of Barmandana in the 1050s; centuries before Mali became an empire. Like in India and Malaysia Islam had first been introduced thanks to Muslim merchants from either the north or east. With Islam having a written script, (Arabic), and proscribed sets of rules for trade. This made it a nice prospect for Mali's rulers. However, Islam for a long time was something just for the ruling elite. Ibn Battuta talks of the piety of the Malians, and Mansa Musa would later build many mosques many people continued with local religions, or would mix Islamic and local practices. Although pious, Musa and other rulers allowed this mixture to happen and, they even occurred in court. West African Islam gained its own identity in contrast to North African, Egyptian, or Arabian Islam. When we get onto the jihadi states of nineteenth-century West Africa we will see again the attempt to balance local traditions with Islamic scholarship.

Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa is said to have been the richest person in history. When he came to power Mali had a firm grip on trade routes, the gold fields of the south, and salt lands in the north. From here he expanded Mali to include Timbuktu, Gao, and northern Hausaland (the southern tip of modern Niger). Like Akbar in the later Mughal Empire in India Musa allowed a flourishing of Islamic and non-Islamic customs in his court. However, Musa is famous for his hajj (holy pilgrimage), starting in 1324. Medieval records have a habit of exaggerating numbers so we have to take reports of Musa's wealth with a pinch of salt, but it was said that he had 100 camel-loads of gold and each slave had a stick of gold. He visited Cairo and North Africa generously handing out gold. Scholars paint a very positive picture of Musa and his entourage describing them as being overly polite, pious and hygienic. However, he spent so much in Cairo that it devalued gold by 10% and it took over a decade to recover. While on his pilgrimage Musa encountered other Muslim rulers so he established embassies in Morocco, Egypt and other areas, and in return he got Muslim scholars to return with him to Mali. One, as-Saheli from Andalusia (then under Muslim rule), was tasked with designing new mosques where he designed mosques in Djenne, Gao and Timbuktu (as well as Musa's palace). Unfortunately, only one sort of survives today. The Mosque of Djenne (pictured at the very top) was built on top of the old one in 1907 after the old one went into disrepair. Musa's wealth, however, went down in history and when Europeans first started looking for El Dorado they first looked to West Africa.

The Fall of Mali and the Rise of Songhai
An artistic depiction of Gao
Like Rome and Ghana Mali faced dynastic worries, external attacks, and internal revolts. After the death of Mansa Suleiman in 1359 infighting caused issues for Mali which became exacerbated by attacks from the Tuareg in the north, and the Mossi in the south. In 1433 the Tuareg even captured Timbuktu. Here Songhai (sometimes spelt Songhay) enters the scene. Songhai, at Gao, were one of Mali's vassal kingdoms and in the late-1300s Songhai tried to brake off under Ali Kolen. It failed but later in the mid-1400s Sunni Ali managed to successfully brake off. Songhai had accepted Islam in 1010 under Dias Kossi, possibly to win favor with Berber merchants according to Basil Davidson, and Gao became a major trading area. However, it faced greater challenges than Mali as Gao was near the rich grasslands that Mali was so it could not use agricultural surplus to trade with. Sunni Ali relied heavily on the military and became a power through military might. Sunni Ali managed to have Songhai supersede Mali as the regional power (although Mali would survive until 1610). In 1469 he conquered Timbuktu and in 1473 he conquered Djenne. Today Sunni Ali is fondly remembered by people in the region where Songhai ruled.

Songhai Rule
It was under Songhai that Timbuktu became the center of African Islamic thought that it became famous for. Under Mali it had never became a major center due to it being hard to defend from primarily Tuareg raiders. Under Songhai rule it gained more autonomy and prospered primarily through the salt trade. Wealth flooded into Timbuktu and with it scholars allowing it to become a major center of Islamic scholarship. Despite Timbuktu being more independent under Songhai than Mali the empire as a whole was more centralized under Sunni Ali's successors. Particularly under Askia Muhammad the central government was stronger but it was somewhat meritocratic allowing talented men (like always it was patriarchal) not in the leading families to have positions. For this and his impressive conquests Askia is referred to as Askia the Great. However, Islam was nearly ousted from Songhai after the death of Sunni Ali. His son, Sunni Baru, refused to be a Muslim. Here we see a common theme in history: countryside versus urban areas. Non-Muslims were located in the country while Muslims occupied the urban areas. Sunni Baru allied himself with the countryside as Askia Muhammad allied himself with the Muslims in the cities. When Askia won he placed more emphasis on the power of cities over the country. We have seen this in past posts and future posts ranging from the Reformation to the French Revolution to communism in China. In 1528 Askia Muhammad was ousted by his son.

Decline of Songhai
Mali/Songhai cavalry
Like Mali and Ghana Songhai came into trouble from abroad and domestically. In 1448 Portugal had set up a trading post in what is modern day Mauritania where they bought slaves from Mali (and Songhai). By the late sixteenth-century trade had shifted from the Trans-Saharan route as the Spanish brought the Americas to European attention when they tried to find an alternate route to the East. Africa's gold became less important when Spain could simply take it from Mesoamerica. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade had started as well (a topic for another post) taking more of Songhai's wealth from them. In the 1580s the Hausa states started to revolt against Songhai rule, and in 1588 a civil war broke out. Similar to the earlier civil war between Askia Muhammad and Sunni Baru it fell along religious lines. Askia Ishaq II had claimed the throne but he was challenged by Sadiq. Sadiq was supported by Muslims whereas Ishaq was supported by traditionalists. Ishaq won but Songhai was weakened. Although Songhai's wealth had started to be weakened by the Atlantic trade it was still formidable which the sultans of Morocco looked enviously at. In 1578 at the Battle of Al-Kasr al-Kabir Morocco defeated Portugal which ended ideas of European conquest of North Africa until the 1800s. Sultan Mulay knew the gold mines of Songhai would enrich his state so in December 1590 a force of 4,600 soldiers under Spanish eunuch Judar Pasha was sent to fight Songhai. At the Battle of Tondibi on March 12 1591 the Moroccan firearms overwhelmed Ishaq II's forces. The Moroccans took the wealth of Timbuktu and Gao back to Marrakesh, and with various revolts with no army Songhai splintered. What was left of Songhai formed the Dendi Kingdom which lasted a very long time with it being conquered in 1901 by the French. Mali, in contrast, managed to linger on until 1610 when the sons of the last musa fought over the throne and divided the kingdom, according to oral traditions.

Mali and Songhai shows us how trade and religion can greatly expand the fortunes of any state. Islam opened doors for both empires who then managed to sell gold, slaves, salt, and grain to their lasting benefit. When we think of Islam we often think of the Middle East but doing so leaves out the rich Islamic culture of West Africa. We focus on the great mosques in Saudi Arabia but forget the magnificent Mosque of Djenne. Mali and Songhai also shows us the importance of oral traditions and archaeology. Traditionally historians have looked down upon oral and archaeological sources but by looking at these sources we fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle that is our history. Finally, looking at Mali and Songhai we can see that no matter if it's Asia, Europe, Africa, Australasia, or the Americas empires fall for the same reasons. Thank you for reading and next time we will look at the worst epidemic to strike Eurasia and the chilling warning that it gives us: the Black Death.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-'Mali' by Ibn Battuta in African History in Documents: Volume 1, Western African History edited by Robert O. Collins
-West Africa before the Colonial Era, A History to 1850 by Basil Davidson
-A History of Africa by J.D. Fage and William Tordoff
-'Sudanese Kingdoms of West Africa' by J.I. Dibua in Africa: Volume 1, African History before 1885 edited by Toyin Falola
-'The Empire of Mali', BBC In Our Time podcast

Saturday, 8 April 2017

What If: The Galactic Empire invaded Earth?

Invasion of the Empire
I love Star Wars. While on YouTube earlier this week I saw a very entertaining two-part video detailing an invasion of our planet by the Galactic Empire (Part 1 and Part 2). These videos got me thinking: what would an actual invasion of the Earth by the Empire be like? Would Earth manage to resist the power of the Empire? As I'm rather illiterate when it comes to non-Star Wars related military all my information on the actual fighting of the Earth-Empire War comes from the YouTube videos themselves (which I highly recommend watching). This scenario will combine both Canon and Legends information.

The Coming of the Empire
The Galactic Fleet
Like all empires the Galactic Empire were always looking for more resources. Setting off from the planet Jakku the Empire sends several scouting parties into the Unknown Regions looking for resource rich planets to pilfer, or alternatively to build/hide superweapons like their Death Star (currently under construction). One of the scouting parties discover a mysterious star system which they name Sol, and discover that Sol 3 has life. They find the planet has satellites and that they have invented a primitive version of the HoloNet. However, upon investigation they find that this planet is extremely unusual. Humans live on this planet but there are thousands of different cultures, languages, and religions on this planet. The language English when spoken seems awfully familiar to Galactic Basic. Instead of one unified government like on Alderaan or Coruscant there are many regional leaders who range from monarchs, elected leaders, and dictators. The diversity of this planet also staggers the Empire. It has giant cities like Coruscant, deserts like Tatooine, forests like Kashyyyk, great oceans like Kamino, and tundras like Hoth. The Empire hated aliens so it was another bonus for them that the only sapient species on this planet were humans. Several Star Destroyers are sent to Sol 3 with a message: Join the Galactic Empire or else...

The propaganda machine would show the glories of being in the Empire: mass employment, access to advanced technology, the ability to live on different planets (solving the looming overpopulation problem), and preferential treatment as Sol 3's inhabitants are human. Also the threat of being destroyed by an intergalactic power is significantly reduced under Imperial rule. This is where my scenario differs to the YouTube video: Earth will not be united in their reaction.

The Invasion
The Invasion Begins
Earth is divided today. We would like to imagine that an invasion by aliens would unite humanity but there is a strong chance that we will remain divided. This has been shown throughout our history. During the Japanese invasion of China the leader of the Nationalists, Chiang Kai-shek, was placed under house arrest by one of his leading commanders, Zhang Xueliang, as he was going to ally with Japan over the Communist Chinese. During the Second World War it was famous that people allied with the invading Nazis instead of the resistance. Wars can unite people but equally they can divide people. While some would be enticed to join the Empire for the advanced technology and access to new markets others would notice the similarity with fascist regimes, like the Nazis, and the apparent xenophobia of the Empire. The Empire would exploit this. Unless if both ally with the Empire it could use Kashmir to entice Pakistan or India to their side, it could use the Korean conflict to get allies, it could use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it could divide the EU, and the list goes on.

The Empire would first destroy satellites of hostile countries and then use Star Destroyers to rain down upon key military and civilian targets. Star Destroyers by themselves are capable of turning a planet's surface to glass so it is not too far-fetched to imagine that they could level entire cities. It is doubtful that they would destroy capitals (what if they killed the people who can call for a surrender?) but large cities would definitely be destroyed. If the USA opposed the Empire then San Francisco and New York would be destroyed, if Russia St Petersburg and Volgograd would be destroyed, China would have Shanghai and Hong Kong etc. The Cheyenne Mountain Complex would stand no chance against the blast from a Star Destroyer. Earth does have a fighting chance though. This is better explained in the YouTube videos which I would advise watching. Several nuclear blasts can take down a Star Destroyer and our jets are more maneuverable compared to the cheaply made TIE Fighters. The ground attack would also be difficult for the Empire. Stormtrooper armor is designed to resist laser blasts so they are weak against our ballistics. As shown in Return of the Jedi stormtrooper armor was easily pierced by Ewok spears. Our combat armor isn't designed to resist a longsword so stormtrooper armor isn't designed to resist bullets. Equally, Imperials rifles have a shorter range than our guns and their helmets themselves impede trooper vision.
AT-AT walkers
Earth would come into issue with Imperial vehicles. Many Imperial vehicles were made of durasteel; although weaker than titanium durasteel is very resistant to kinetic damage. Although severe blunt force can destroy them (like how Ewoks destroyed AT-STs with logs) we would struggle to take them down. With no Snowspeeders which the Rebels had we would be hard pressed to topple the AT-AT walkers. Our mines, and other paraphernalia, would help take down AT-STs our weaponry would struggle against the Empire's vehicles. Our body armor and tanks would be weak against the Empire's lasers and plasma blasts. Despite this we will still start to resist the Empire until Palpatine decides that he's had enough. With the Rebel Alliance causing problems, such as on Jedha, and not simply wanting to turn Sol 3 to glass Palpatine sends one individual to end the war: Vader. 

I can imagine Vader landing on the lawn of the White House (if Trump decided to oppose the Empire) with members of the 501st. Televised we see the sheer power of the Sith Lord. Using the Force the White House's doors are forced open. The Presidential guard shoot at the Sith but their bullets are stopped mid-air. With one flick of his hand the guards clutch their throats as their life is slowly squeezed out of them. Vader's lightsaber flies to his other and a flash of red erupts from the end. Vader starts approaching the Oval Office and the guards fall one by one as Vader's red blade slices through them. Meanwhile, the 501st search through the White House dispatching security and arresting members of Trump's cabinet: Ivanka, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence etc. Vader then uses the Force to smash into the Oval Office where Trump is. His bodyguards are Force-lifted upwards with their heads smashing against the roof. "Mr President. I must inform you that your term has ended earlier than expected" Vader's lightsaber would then impale the president. The 501st would bring in Pence. "Mr Pence. I hope you are more willing to accommodate the Empire than your predecessor. Otherwise you will find me less forgiving than your other Lord." After seeing the fall of the United States the last free world leaders would flee to the apparent security of underground bunkers. However, as the Separatist leaders found out at the end of the Clone Wars there is no escaping the Sith...

The Empire's Vietnam
Earth under the Empire
As the United States found out in Vietnam, the USSR found out in Afghanistan, and the US-led coalition found out in Iraq and Afghanistan it is one thing to fight a weaker power but something entirely different to win the peace. Earth may have lost the war but it will win the peace. Those who aligned with the Empire would be given positions of power over the rest of us, but a loyal member of the Imperial government would be placed in charge. From Coruscant high-tech products and the HoloNet would be imported to Earth. With them would be Imperial mining teams to take advantage of Earth's rich resources. Slavery would publicly return to Earth. Some of the collaborators would be willing to have Twi'lek and Wookie slaves arguing that as they are aliens human rights don't apply to them. In contrast the rest of society would virulently turn against the Empire and the collaborators if they hadn't already.

Just by looking at our own history and contemporary world would we be able to see what the Empire would face. Guerrilla factions would spring up around the world to oppose the new regime. As shown with Jedha and Alderaan the Empire has very heavy-handed methods in dealing with revolt. We all know Order 66. There were many other orders for the Clone Army with Order 37 having troopers arrest civilian populations and execute them if someone does not give themselves up. Although clones were fazed out of the Imperial Army, in Legends due to the Kaminoans rebelling, it is not too hard to imagine that at least some of these orders remained in place. Order 37 would be used to quarantine civilians and execute them if rebel leaders would not hand themselves over. Thanks to this many would actually side with the rebels over the Empire. As Earth is more divided compared to any other planet in the Galaxy the rebel groups would not form one congruent unit; in comparison the Twi'lek resistance on Ryloth during the Clone Wars was only divided based on who would lead them. Looking at contemporary Libya, Somalia and Syria there are many rebel groups fighting not only the government but each other. We can imagine something similar in this scenario. However, the Rebel Alliance would seek allies on Earth. This would unite some of the rebel factions. Thanks to the Rebels and the fighting the Empire the Earth rebels would get Imperial technology. Most importantly Imperial armor more resistant to blasters. When the Death Star is destroyed during the Battle of Yavin support for the rebels would grow but only with the death of the Emperor at the Battle of Endor would Empire rule end. Vader would be universally feared on Earth so the announcement that he died at Endor would be a huge moral boost for Earthen rebels. The Rebel Alliance would help oust the last Imperials from Earth. The remnants of the Empire would flee further into the Unknown Region where they eventually will form the First Order.

Post-Imperial Earth
The New Republic
Like the rest of the liberated Empire Sol 3 would be integrated into the New Republic. However, the New Republic would be receptive to Earth's diversity. Instead of being one unified government like Coruscant Earth would have a similar government like Naboo. Naboo has two governments: one for humans and one for gungans where both are represented with human and gungan politicians. Earth would be the same but with a more diverse set of politicians. On Earth many former countries would return like France, the USA, Russia etc. However, the map wouldn't be the same as it was when the Empire invaded. With the Republic's aid the borders would be redrawn to accommodate various groups. Maybe an independent Scotland, a united Israel-Palestine, and a Kurdistan? However, for years rebel groups not affiliated with either the New Republic or the new world order would still remain, For years they would be a problem until they either willing disarm (just like the IRA in real life), or be destroyed (like the LTTE in real life). However, Earth would remain connected to the wider Galaxy as Earthen humans move across the stars and various species like Twi'leks, Wookies and Rodians come to Earth. There could be even a populist movement to leave the Republic, or even a resurgent racism against aliens. Maybe even the new Jedi Order would visit Earth looking for prospective new Jedi. Earth would remain part of the Republic until out of the depths of space the First Order comes and Earth would be eerily reminded of her past when Snoke and Kylo Ren come onto the scene...

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Comics Explained: Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year One (Part 3)

The Final Third of Year One
Last time on Injustice following the death of Lois Lane and the destruction of Metropolis by the Joker Superman unilaterally declared an enforced worldwide ceasefire. However, this has split the Justice League between Superman's supporters and, those who believe that the the ceasefire is unenforceable and that the ceasefire would lead to authoritarianism. After accidentally crippling a wannabe superhero in Australia the Flash has growing doubts over his place in the League, an attempt to move the inmates of Arkham somewhere more secure led to the death of Dick Grayson, and Batman's team has kidnapped Hawkgirl and replaced her with a spy. That is where we start today.

Infiltration and Invasion
The League are stunned about how Hawkgirl managed to escape from Batman. As we all know escaping from Batman's imprisonment is no easy task (unless for some reason you are in his Rouge's Gallery). Hawkgirl says that she didn't escape; Batman let her go with a message for the League. Stop working for the world and start working with the world. During the French Revolution Maximilien Robespierre said 'No one likes armed missionaries' which Batman sees a clear parallel in Superman's actions. Although Superman's and Wonder Woman's attempts to bring peace are noble by enforcing world peace you are just creating new problems, (and not addressing the reasons for the conflicts to begin with). Shazam and Flash agree with the statement stating that since the destruction of Metropolis they've been overreacting to events around the world. Wonder Woman counteracts saying that they're bringing peace and making the world safe. This isn't too different from the mainstream Wonder Woman. Diana leaves Themyscira to help bring peace to 'Man's World', and in the alternate future comic Kingdom Come she is expelled from Themyscira for failing to bring peace. However, in Injustice the destruction of Metropolis and death of Lois has radicalized her. The Flash questions Wonder Woman if the Atlanteans felt safer when the League moved Atlantis from the Mediterranean to put it in the Sahara. The Flash turns on Superman as well stating whether the crippling of the Australian hero Galaxor was bringing safety, which Superman responds by saying it was 'unpleasant' and that they are still, nevertheless, bringing peace. Barry questions at what price this peace comes at and Diana spits back that if he doesn't like it he should leave. Shazam enters the debate backing Barry and saying that the could have killed Black Adam when they depowered him; in response Diana reminds them that Black Adam had destroyed a city. Shazam refuses to bully the world into submission and that Superman is a poor leader for not listening to others.

Robin chips in that he can 'practically see the strings'. He tells the the League that they've fallen for his father's game, and that Hawkgirl isn't really Hawkgirl but an impostor. Lex Luthor sides with Robin as Hawkgirl tries to defend herself. To avoid another argument Lex states that they just need to communicate with people, although Shazam questions whether it would be Superman or the League who communicates. Superman replies that it would be the entire League, and Shazam apologizes and states that he simply doesn't want the League to become what they've been fighting for years. Meanwhile, something is happening on the planet Apokolips...
Deep in the bowels of the hellish planet the Lord of Apokolips, the tyrannical, formidable Darkseid is torturing someone. His son, Kalibak, comes to find Darkseid and says that Superman has become weak. He asks his tyrant of a father for him to allow a war party to attack Earth. However, he notices who Darkseid is torturing: Black Racer. Black Racer is a deity who is an avatar of Death. Darkseid grants Kalibak's request. Back on Earth the Justice League gives a speech in front of the Eiffel Tower in civilian clothing. Superman apologizes for his recent actions and for frightening the world. He explains that although he is an alien he was raised by humans who were compassionate people. He loves Earth and that he just wants the world to be safe. From the Batcave Batman, Catwoman, Alfred and Harley Quinn watch the address. Just then a Boom Tube opens in Paris with thousands of Parademons from Apokolips pouring through the portal to attack the crowd. Kalibak attacks Superman chastising him for going soft but when he sees Superman's face all he can mutter is 'Oh shit'.
Kalibak in Paris
Kalibak tries to negotiate with Superman but he uppercuts Kalibak thousands of meters into the air where he is smashed through the wing of a plane. Wonder Woman goes to prevent the crash of the plane as Superman continues his fight with Kalibak. Both the League and Batman's Insurgency finds that Boom Tubes open in Shanghai, Moscow, Istanbul and Mumbai. Batman realizes that the Parademons are attacking the most populated cities and that Gotham will be next. Black Canary tells Batman that he must work with Superman; of the Insurgency only Captain Atom would be able to properly fight the Parademons. In Paris Superman smashes Kalibak into the ground creating a massive crater. Superman demands that Kalibak call off the attack which the god refuses to do stating that despite Superman's immense power his moral code ensures that no one actually fears him. Using a Mother Box Kalibak summons Parademons to attack Superman. With the Man of Steel incapacitated Kalibak taunts him by saying that he will never win as he lets people live, and proceeds to torture Superman by making him listen to the thousands dyeing thanks to the Parademons. However, this shatters Superman's moral code. After Metropolis he has been toeing the line with him refusing to kill in the issues around Atlantis and Black Adam. With eyes burning red Superman states 'Not again' and incinerates the Parademons. 

Kalibak is a stereotypical bully: stupid and a coward. After seeing Superman cross his moral he tries to back away but Superman hoists him up by the neck demanding the god to fight him. Meanwhile, across the world the League and Insurgency are struggling against the Parademons while protecting civilians. In Paris Superman asks how Kalibak dares to invade Earth which Kalibak replies like any bully that Darkseid would never allow him to be harmed. Superman says that he can no longer hide behind his father. He declares that he is tired of letting 'creatures' like Kalibak have mercy and that he is tired of showing mercy to 'men posing as cancers'. Desperately Kalibak declares his godhood for Superman to say 'I. Don't. Care!' Superman kills Kalibak by smashing his skull.
Superman starts to kill Kalibak
In Mumbai the Flash tries to save a woman in Mumbai before Superman arrives to talk to him in superspeed. Superman is tortured by Kalibak's words but Flash tells him to ignore Kalibak's words. When Superman suggests that they kill the Parademons Barry is horrified. Barry realizes that Superman has made up his mind. Quickly Superman flies across the world incinerating the Parademons as Batman is horrified that Superman has dared to cross his moral line. In Paris Luthor declares Superman the planet's savior as the crowd happily cheers his name.

Debating Ideologies
On the Watchtower the League watch the planet where Superman has ascended to a god like status. Superman, however, believes that his actions were not enough with him focusing on all those who died during the Apokolips invasion. Diana says that there aren't enough people like Superman to tackle another crisis to which Luthor replies 'Not yet'. In the Batcave Catwoman and Batman are also watching the populace chant Superman's name. In a mirror image of Superman Batman is focusing on those who died. Unlike Superman he is focused on how many Superman killed. Huntress comments that Superman saved millions of lives through his actions and that he is a hero to everyone bar Batman. She cries 'Being sanctimonious and arrogant doesn't make you right, Bruce'. Huntress then realizes her mistake: most of the Insurgency didn't know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. She also gets mad that he hasn't told his own allies his identity. Batman tries to explain that Superman and Luthor are making a super-soldier army but Huntress questions how anyone can trust him. To build trust he makes the ultimate move: he removes his cowl. Green Arrow and Captain Atom are shocked that Wayne is Batman. However, on the Batcomputer they spot Superman cultists attacking people which the Insurgency goes to stop them. The cultists had first originated after Metropolis but after Apokolips they had grown astronomically in number. In Gotham they had been attacking people to oust them from the city. As they arrive to fight the cultists the League arrives where Diana orders the cultists to leave. It is the first time that Batman has seen Superman since Atlantis. However, Catwoman tells Batman that now is not the time and the two teams depart.

In the Fortress of Solitude Luthor has created a pill which grants those who ingest it superpowers. The Kents are there with it being the safest place in Superman's mind following their kidnapping by Mirror Master. Jonathan questions if Luthor is proud of what he has done which Lex replies that he is proud for using alien tech to improve humanity. Martha states that he doesn't need the pill but someone to talk to; Luthor argues Clark is beyond 'mere mortal compreshension'. The Kents angrily disagree saying that losing Lois, his unborn child and Metropolis Clark is spiraling out of control. Martha relates a story on how as a child Clark lost his favorite blanket, went into a tantrum and tipped over a tractor and that 'Aren't we all?' acting like children. Jonathan says 'You're supposed to be the smartest man on Earth. Are you honestly telling me that you can't see that Clark needs help?'. Luthor states that he only wants to avoid another Metropolis and when asked by the Kents he admits that he feels guilty for surviving. The Kents fear that one day Earth will need to be saved from Superman and asks for Lex to do the right thing. On the Watchtower the Flash states that Luthor's pill is straying into mad scientist territory so Superman asks if he wants a game of chess. During the game Superman states that he wants to get rid of guns. Flash states that it is unfeasible to collect every gun and that they will face resistance, but Superman says that they will be at least alive to resent them. Barry states that the people might resist and Clark replies that they would resist with sticks instead of guns. The Flash states that smoking and speeding kill lots of people, possibly more than guns, so Clark states they'll get rid of cigarettes and arrest those who speed. Barry starts to win more games of chess (played at superspeed) as he says that to maintain peace they'll have to imprison and possibly kill for increasingly petty crimes.

Luthor announces to the League his pills which increases the strength and durability of the user. Superman, however, states that they can only hand the pills out to a select few. Green Lantern doesn't like the plan and Hawkgirl isn't too sure if Earth's governments would be too happy for handing out pills to make their own version of the Green Lantern Corps. That night Hawkgirl spots Damien (Robin) stealing a pill and heading to the teleporter. Damien arrives in the Batcave looking at Nightwing's costume apologizing for his culpability in Dick's death. Suddenly Alfred arrives and is pleased to see Damien asking if he received his letter. Damien says that he did and a relieved Alfred says 'it was so hard to find a zip code for outer space'. Ashamed Damien said it was too hard for him to write a response. The Batmobile arrives and Batman gives Damien the cold shoulder, so Alfred explains that Damien is in grief over Dick and urges Bruce 'Not to be you'. However, the talk between father and son break down as each are still traumatized over Dick's death. Alfred times to calm them but Damien accidentally knocks Alfred into the Batcomputer, injuring him. He then knocks Bruce into the Batcave's giant penny but suddenly Hawkgirl prevents the coin from crushing him. Damien throws an incendiary grenade at Hawkgirl and his suspicions are confirmed: Hawkgirl was secretly Martian Manhunter. Damien escapes the Batcave...

The League are informed that Batman replaced Shiera with Martian Manhunter with the Flash being in disbelief that Batman would do such a thing. Cyborg sets up a message to Earth where Superman will give a massive revelation: Batman's identity. Batman initiates the 'Icarus Protocol' knocking off the broadcast. However, Superman merely goes on Twitter writing four words: Batman is Bruce Wayne.
Yes, Twitter beat Batman
Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern proceed through Gotham's underground with Clark assuring them that they'll just talk to Batman to secure Hawkgirl's release. Arriving at the Waterfall Entrance Batman steps out to meet them saying 'You took my life'. Diana spits back that he can buy a new one and demands to see Shiera. Over their communications Cyborg informs them that Hawkgirl's arrived and it is not Martian Manhunter this time. Batman begins to walk away as the League says this isn't something he can walk away from. However, this isn't Bruce. He flies into the air revealing himself to be Martian Manhunter. Superman questions J'onn why he sided with Batman and he replies 'because of what you could become'. Martian Manhunter is a Green Martian whose kind were oppressed by the White Martians, (J'onn was powerless to stop his daughter being taken away), and he saw Superman going down the same route. As Superman remembers the helplessness he felt holding Lois Wonder Woman grabs J'onn demanding him to leave Clark alone. J'onn quickly shapeshifts and enters Diana's body screaming that he's always been distrusted and how Clark chose to become close to the humans whom he resembled, rather than his fellow alien. J'onn threatens to the oxygen going to Diana's brain so she begs Clark to burn her despite the risk to her own life. He does incinerating J'onn as Batman watches knowing his friend has truly fallen. 
Superman burns Martian Manhunter out of Wonder Woman
The War Begins
The U.S. President is woken at night by Batman ringing his personal cell phone wanting a distraction. As this is happening Black Canary and Green Arrow are in a bathroom where Arrow is disgruntled that Batman gave Canary the entire address whereas he only got the number for the stall. Suddenly their retinas are scanned and they get access to Batman's new hideout. An argument between Black Lightning and Batman over his holding of Hawkgirl is cut short when Batman reveals that J'onn has been killed. He informs them of the super-soldier pill currently being held in the Fortress of Solitude which he wants to break into. If the Insurgency has hold of the pills it could tip the balance of power back into their favor. Batman receives then a text from the president informing him that U.S. warships are currently heading to the Korean peninsula, the perfect distraction. He, Captain Atom, Catwoman, Black Canary and Green Arrow are teleported to the North Pole where Atom immediately flies Catwoman to the Fortress to get them inside. However, unbeknownst to Batman Superman hasn't gone to Korea instead going straight to the White House...Catwoman got the Insurgents in but upon seeing the Kents inside Batman calls off the mission realizing that if Superman thought that his parents were endangered in his current state then he would respond with extreme violence. Suddenly Batman got a text from the president: Superman is coming. Just as they are about to leave Superman appears holding Atom by his throat.
Atom vs. Superman
Despite his parents trying to calm him Clark is furious. Desperate Atom unleashes a nuclear blast sending Superman flying as well as causing the front of the Fortress to cave in leaving Arrow trapped in the Fortress. Ollie manages to convince Canary to leave him and get to safety. In the battle Atom manages to bring Clark to his knees informing him that the Pentagon always believed that he could take him. As he prepares to take down Superman Wonder Woman arrives on the scene and cuts his neck with her sword causing nuclear radiation to pour out of him. Knowing it's his only shot Atom flies into the air to kill Superman with the nuclear blast. In space he detonated next to Superman sending Diana hurtling towards the Earth. Despite the blast being seven megatons Superman survived and flew back to Earth. Cyborg sends the Flash to get Diana some medical aid and to help Superman. Clark informs Barry that 'they' (Batman and the U.S. government) got Atom to try and kill him. The Flash is horrified not wanting to believe that Batman was willing to kill. As Flash takes Diana away Superman easily punches his way into the Fortress demanding that Ollie move away from his parents (who are concerned about his burns). Clark informs them that the president tried to have him killed demanding to know if Ollie had any knowledge about it. Arrow jokes that he didn't know while trying to secretly snatch a pill. Suddenly Clark spots this and with his heat vision cuts the table in two. With no other choice he decides to distract Superman by firing his arrow at the Man of Steel's chest. However, it ricocheted off of his chest and impales Jonathan Kent in the shoulder. Furious Superman backhands Ollie through a crystal. Knowing this is the end Ollie fired an arrow over Superman's shoulder and out of the Fortress. The rest of the Insurgency pick up Ollie's tracker only to be dismayed with it solely being his arrow with a pill attached to it. Ollie's last thoughts are of Black Canary as Superman punches him to death.
Superman kills Green Arrow
Martha took a pill in order to grab her son's arm to stop him from continuing to pulverize Ollie's corpse. He then realizes that two are missing: Ollie managed to smuggle out a pill. At the Insurgent base Batman informs them that the Superman they once knew has gone forever. Batman goes to the teleporter so he can scan the pill at the Batcave despite protests from Catwoman as the Cave would be the first place Superman would look for him. He argues it is easier if he went alone but she continues to argue until Batman unexpectedly kisses her. However, as he does so Selina is knocked out by an inhalant. Handing the unconscious Catwoman to Batwoman he tells the Insurgents to go into hiding. In the Fortress Jonathan chastises Clark for beating to death Ollie and the program of his biological father Jor-el materializes saying how disgusted he was that Clark murdered in the Fortress. When Clark says that he had no choice Jor-el replied that 'There is always a choice'. Speaking to Jonathan Clark agrees that it wasn't Ollie's fault. However, we now see Superman's fall into tyranny. Like any tyrant he doesn't blame himself but rather Batman. If Batman had ended the Joker's life years ago then Metropolis would still be standing and, Lois and his child would still be alive. Batman was the one trying to end his enforced peace. With revenge in mind he flies off to get Batman despite pleas from the Kents. Martha apologizes to Jor-el for not raising Clark properly as Jor-el apologizes for unleashing his son onto the world.

In the Batcave via the Batcomputer someone warns Bruce that Superman is coming and that he should get out. Batman refuses to do so until the analysis of the pill is finished. Superman then arrives saying that he's removed all of Gotham's madmen but 'left the original'. Clark says that just like Joker, Two-Face or Penguin he just wants to see the world burn. After exchanging harsh words Clark says that he is here to end this which Bruce replies that if he wanted to he would have already done it. He then asks if the blood on his hands is Ollie's and asks Clark to justify Ollie's death. He goes on to say why he thinks Superman is here: he thinks Batman is the only one able to stop him and that he wants him too. Enraged he throws Batman across the cave but unperturbed he continues to taunt Clark stating that it would be easy for Clark if he exposed him to kyrptonite or put on a metal suit to continuously beat him. He says 'And I'm not like you, I'm not a murderer' as he plays a video on the computer of Clark and Lois getting married. Superman claims that all he's doing is to honor Lois's memory while Bruce disagrees saying that he's lost his one attachment to humanity. Just as the pill is analyzed Batman has a sonic wave released causing bats to attack Clark. Just as he's about to grab the pill Clark vaporizes the bats, grabs Batman's arm, lifts him up and shatters his spine across his knee.
Just like how Bane broke Batman
Looking down on the broken Batman he states that he's too dangerous and will be locked away with the 'other monsters from Gotham'. Bruce simply reveals that this is a Pyrrhic victory for Clark; too late Clark realized that Batman has scanned the pill. Angry, Clark stands on Bruce's back to get him to reveal where the information has been sent to. Suddenly Clark feels a tap on his shoulder and he turned around to see Alfred there...and the pill missing. Alfred headbutts Clark breaking his nose.
Alfred vs. Superman
Alfred starts pulverizing Superman yelling in rage 'You Don't Get To Hurt My Family Any More!'. After dealing with Superman Alfred picks up his broken master and carried him to the teleporter. The next day standing before the United Nations Superman and the League announce that Batman is a terrorist who stole the pill to use against the planet. As his army marches into the U.N. he announces that the League will forever watch over the populace and keep them safe from Batman. Lois's last words to him was to save the world. Now he plans to do it with an iron fist.

Thus ends Injustice: Year One. In Year Two the war between the heroes continues as the Green Lantern Corps and Sinestro Corps come to Earth...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

World History: The Origins of Russia

Novgorod Marketplace
We briefly talked about Russia in the post about Vikings and the Mongols. In Western imagination and history Russia has always been seen as the 'other'. Not quite Europe, and not quite Asia. This has been the case throughout history: the Russian Empire was seen as 'Oriental', by the mid-nineteenth century the empire was seen as backward, the USSR was the ideological enemy which almost led to nuclear war, and even today Putin's Russia has been seen as the 'other'. This is a shame as Russia has had a vibrant, unique history as great as any place in Western Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. This post will summarize the origins of Russia from the first Russian state with the Kievan Rus up to the formation of the Tsardom of Russia in 1547. However, the period we are covering if we called the land Russia a contemporary would have no idea what we were talking about. For simplicity we'll refer to it as Russia.

Origins of the Kievan Rus
Kievan Rus at its height
You may be wondering why we are starting with the Kievan Rus considering that Kiev is Ukraine's capital. Over a thousand years ago there wasn't an idea of Ukraine and Russia, and without the Kievan Rus there would be no Russia. There is some historiographical debate around the origins of the Kievan Rus. There are two schools of historiography: the 'Normanist' and the Nationalist schools. The Nationalist school states that the Kievan Rus was founded by Slavs, whereas the Normanist school states that the Rus were Vikings who founded trading posts along the Dnieper. There is strong evidence to suggest both. Archaeological evidence and written sources indicate that Vikings, called Varangians, were in the area while if we look at Russian and Ukrainian they sound nothing like Swedish. Elizabeth Howe has suggested that the subjects were Slavic and the Grand Princes (not kings) of Kiev were originally Varangian but became Slavic. Using the Russian Primary Chronicle we go from Rurik, to Oleg, to Igor showing a clear shift from Scandinavian names to Slavic names. The Slavs entered written history during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian where they appear across the Danube from the direction of the Carpathians. In 626 with the Avars, either a Turkic or Mongol people, they even attacked the Empire, and the following two centuries they settled the Balkans. Others settled north along the upper Dnieper where they mingled with the Baltic and Finnish tribal peoples. There they encountered the Varangians. 

The Varangians possibly came from Ruslagen in eastern Sweden and for years had been collecting tribute from the Baltic, Finnish, and Saami peoples. They also were big traders where a quarter of a million Islamic coins have been found in the Baltic. The Varangians started forming trade posts from Lake Ladoga, the Dnieper, and the Volga giving them access to the Black and Caspian Seas. Quite often they would go to Baghdad to access the very lucrative Islamic markets. Arabs even went north with Ibn Faldan in the 900s describing a Viking-style ship burial. The Russian Primary Chronicle, 'Tale of Bygone Years', (written by eleventh-twelfth century monks so they are not primary sources and must be taken with a pinch of salt) talk of the Varangian growing control over the locals:
859. The Varangians from beyond the sea imposed tribute upon the Chuds, the Slavs, the Merians, the Ves, the Krivichians. But the Khazars imposed it upon the Polianians, the Severians and the Viatichians, and collected a squirrel-skin and a beaver-skin from earth hearth.
860-2. The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea, and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves. There was no law among them... And they began to war one against one another. They said to themselves: 'Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to law'. They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes: these particular Varangians were called Russes, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans, Angles and Goths, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs and the Krivichians then said to the people of Rus, 'Our whole land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us'. They thus selected three brothers [Rurik, Sineus and Truvor] with their kinsfolk, who took with them all the Russes, and migrated.
A Russian historiography places the founding of the Kievan Rus in 882 when Oleg of Novgorod became Grand Prince (although the settlement itself existed long this date). Oleg moved the capital from Novgorod to Kiev. We shall then continue the story of Russia from here.

The Kievan Rus
The Baptism of the Kievans by Klavdiy Lebedev
Like with their origins the Kievan Rus was built on trade. According to Arab traveler Ibn Rusta:
[The Rus] have no cultivated land. They eat only what they carry off from the land of the Saqlaba [the woodland Slavs, Balts and Finns]...They have no landed property nor villages nor cultivated land; their only occupation is trading in grey squirrel and other furs.
As shown in this quote trade was integral to the Rus. Coins and amber came from the extremely rich cities of the Islamic Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire, and slaves came from all over. Slavery was prolific in the Rus where even one of the possible origins for the English word 'slave' coming from 'Slav'. A 'Varangian Guard' was even made for the Byzantines indicating that the reputation of the Rus made them the best bodyguards for the Second Rome. The Kievan Rus lacked the class institutions and autonomous towns of traditional feudal societies although they had their unique structures. Merchants, laborers, and artisans in urban areas could exercise some political influence through a council called the veche. There was even an entire class of peasants who paid tribute directly to the princes so traditional serfdom was not present in the Rus. Despite the conception that women had no place in society during this time period there were several powerful regents who were women. In 945 Grand Prince Igor was killed fighting rebellious tributaries and his widow Olga (Helga) ruled until her son, Sviatoslav, came of age in 962. Olga was sent to Byzantium in 957 where she personally met with Emperor Constantine VII to organize trade. Rus relations with the Empire was marked by conflict and cooperation. War between the two broke out in 907, 941 and 971 leading to treaties giving the Rus trading rights in 911, 944 and 971 (notice how they did not seize land during these treaties). 

In 980 Vladimir became Grand Prince after conflict broke out among the sons of Sviatoslav with the aid of Novgorod. What I would argue is the most important event in Russian history occurred in Vladimir's reign. The Kievan Rus had various religions within its borders with most being polytheistic. Upon becoming Grand Prince Vladimir had erected idols to Norse, Slav, Finn and Iranian gods to bolster support for himself following the succession conflict. However, he would make a huge impact on religion in the area: he converted to Orthodox Christianity. In the 860s the Byzantines sent two missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, to convert the Slavic peoples. When Bulgaria converted they adopted a script similar to Greek, Cyrillic, which would spread to Russia. Orthodoxy was not the only Abrahamic religion to convert to. Trade had exposed the Rus to Islam through the Caliphate, Judaism from Khazaria, and Olga had invited a Catholic mission from Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. The Russian Primary Chronicle states that Vladimir had emissaries find out about Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam to see which was best. It stated that Catholic ritual was without beauty, Judaism passed over in silence, Islam banned alcohol which was required in the primary bonding ceremonial of the druzhina (retinue in service of a chieftain) but Orthodoxy's divine service was described as being so beautiful that 'we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth'. Although closer ties with the Byzantines was likely the true cause for conversion to Orthodoxy. Thus Russia became Orthodox. In 1019 Yaroslav the Wise came to power who created the Russkaya Pravda. This was a major law reform which even made no reference to corporal or capital punishment in reference to the old Norse law code. This code was so successful that it would last for centuries. Finally, Yaroslav granted Novgorod more independence for helping place both him and his father on the throne thus forming the groundwork for the Novgorod Republic. After Yaroslav's death the Rus went into decline as principalities started fighting over power. In 1136 Novgorod dismissed the prince (which had been appointed by the Kievans) and formed the Novgorod Republic, Constantinople went into decline, and the Crusades sapped further power away from Constantinople. Novgorod even started to replace Kiev as a major economic center. Then in 1223 the Mongols invaded and the Kievan Rus was conquered by 1240.

Mongols and Novgorod
Alexander Nevsky
In 1240 Kiev fell although several major centers of power like Novgorod had submitted before being overrun by the Mongols. The Russian lands of the Mongol empire was organized into a khanate called Kipchak, or the Golden Horde in European and Russian sources, with a capital at Sarai on the lower Volga. Despite many fleeing to the relative safety of Tver and Moscow the structures of power remained the same in many cities. The Mongols were relatively tolerant in religious matters so the Orthodox church retained its power, and the princes still ruled. However, they ruled at the pleasure of the khan, such as Prince Yaroslav of Vladimir in 1243 being made Great Prince of Kiev and Vladimir for paying tribute. Mongol rule has often been described as 'the Tatar Yoke'. The princes actually gained more power through Mongol rule as the Mongols prevented fighting by appointing princes, and the veches were given less power in return. The seeds for the autocracy of the Russian Empire were sown here. Many resented the stripping of the veche's power, and enslaving/conscripting householders who failed to pay their dues. Electing princes, diplomacy over war and peace, taxation, and recruitment into the militia were now controlled by the Mongols where they had been controlled by the veche forging an alliance between the veche and people. There were several risings, such as in 1262, which the Mongols put down. As the years went on the Mongols started giving more autonomy to cities to collect taxes.

We now need to talk about Novgorod. Like Kiev it had been founded as a major trading city and had been the capital before Kiev was. It became so powerful that it managed to choose the princes of Kiev. As their overlord Kiev had appointed the Novgorod prince until 1136 when they ousted the Kievan prince, appointed their own, and formed the Novgorod republic. Often overlooked Novgorod was a fairly democratic society compared to the other societies of contemporary Europe. A traditional narrative states that the Novgorod government ran through the veches, posadniks (mayors),  tysyatskys ('thousandmen' who originally were militia heads but later were judicial and commercial officials), archbishops and boyars (aristocrats). A Soviet (and a Marxist) historiography has described Novgorod as a 'feudal republic' although it has been contested whether Russia was ever feudal in the same sense as the West which the historiography implies. The most famous Novgorodian prince is Alexander Nevsky who has become a cultural icon in Russia. The same year that the Mongols sacked Kiev (1240) he won the Battle of Neva against a Swedish army, (although this battle is not mentioned in non-Russian sources). Nevsky opted to subordinate Novgorod to the Golden Horde. The Roman Curia had hoped that Novgorod would go to war against the Mongols, which would forestall an invasion of the rest of Europe. Historians have debated why. Some have argued that Nevsky saw Catholicism as a greater threat to Russia while the more tolerant Tatars could aid Russia. Others have argued that it was more self-serving pragmatism; aiding the Mongols would preserve his power while a war would certainly end it. Either way it further placed Russia in the Orthodox camp.

Rise of Moscow
Dormition Cathedral, Moscow
As we all know Moscow is the capital of Russia today. Until the creation of St Petersburg, and after the Russian Revolution Moscow was Russia's capital. How did Moscow usurp Novgorod and Kiev as the most powerful city? Founded in 1147 Moscow remained largely insignificant until the thirteenth century. Thanks to the Mongols many had fled to Moscow boosting the city's population. It was well situated being on the Movska River, (good for trade), and has a relatively high elevation (making it easy to defend). Quite fortuitously the princes of Moscow produced male heirs (like many societies it was patriarchal) and curried the favor of the Mongols. Ivan I of Muscovy was granted the responsibility for collecting the tribute from the Rus and he became very wealthy as a result. In fact he earned the nickname 'Kalita' which literally translates to 'Moneybags'. Ivan used his wealth to buy land from other principalities and to fund the construction of churches. Princely power in Muscovy became heavily linked to the church. Meanwhile, Mongol power was slipping. Collapse of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China separated the Golden Horde from the rest of the empire and the various khanates warred against one another. In Europe growing powers like Lithuania started to chip away at the horde. Also Russia loathed the Mongols. The Mongols were seen as punishment from God and were begrudged for the raids/tributes. Moscow had gotten powerful and in 1380 Dmitrii Ivanovich led a coalition handing the Mongols a major defeat at the Battle of Kulikovo Field. Although the Mongols regrouped and sacked Moscow in 1382 the idea of Mongol invincibility was shattered. They besieged Moscow again in 1408 but it could not save the Horde. It became split between the Crimean Khanate (1430), the Kazan Khanate (1436), the Astrakhan and the Great Horde. 

Moscow's predominance almost ended in 1431 in what Roger Bartlett described as a Muscovite equivalent of the Wars of the Roses. In 1431 Vasily II's reign was challenged by his uncle, Yuri, and a civil war erupted. During the war Vasily captured his cousin, Vasily the Cross-Eyed, and blinded his cross-eyed cousin only for later on to be blinded by his other cousin. In the end Vasily II won the war. His son, Ivan III, became Grand Prince and continued to expand the realm. Under Vasily and Ivan Moscow's control expanded by 1,000,000 kilometers squared. In 1478 Ivan III captured Novgorod destroyed the veche, massacred the population and, destroyed the library and archives. Ivan died in 1505 after a successful war with Lithuania. In 1533 Ivan's grandson, Ivan IV, would not be crowned Grand Prince as his father was. Instead he was crowned Tsar or 'Caesar'. After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Moscow became the main seat of Orthodoxy. As a result Moscow claimed to be the Third Rome (Rome being the first and Byzantium being the second). With Ivan crowned Tsar the Tsardom of Russia was formed. Ivan would be known as 'the Great', 'the Awesome', 'the Awe-inspiring', and most famously 'the Terrible'. However, that is for a future post.

Russia has often been described as one of the 'in-between lands'. Kiev was founded through the actions of Slavs and Scandinavians of the West while Russia was founded thanks to Slavs and Mongols in the East. However, this description is often used negatively. For centuries Russia has been portrayed as being 'backward' or 'archaic' in Western culture. By looking at the origins of Russia we see a rich culture born through trade and diplomacy. We see a state born through clever political maneuverings. This is something often overlooked in world history. Next time we will look go to West Africa to look at Mali and Songhai, and a man reported to be the richest man in history.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-A History of Russia by Roger Bartlett
-Russia and the Russians: From Earliest Times to 2001 by Geoffrey Hosking
-'The Volga Vikings', BBC In Our Time podcast
-The Mongols by David Morgan