Biff Bam Pop’s catalogue of “February Faves” continues, but how could someone have a favourite massacre?
I mean, unless you’re talking about last night’s hasty finishing of a scrumptious double burger with apple-smoked bacon and Gruyere cheese, a “massacre” signifies human death – and lots of it! A tragedy, surely! Who could possibly enjoy death so much that they’d actually have it listed in their mind as something…enjoyable?
In the world of pop culture, with stories in various mediums depicting heroes and revenge and redemption, (whoa! We might be talking Joseph Campbell here!), massacres of the deathly variety hold an honorable position. It’s through massacres and great human loss that our emotions are elevated to supreme heights and our heroes lifted along with them. It’s through massacres that villains are defined as well as the heavy odds facing our protagonists. It’s not that we love death. It’s that we love the storytelling possibilities that arise from it.
I present to you, then, five of my “favourite” massacres in pop culture history.
Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope – The Destruction of Alderaan
“You may fire when ready.”
Yeah, Grand Moff Tarkin, played ruthlessly by Peter Cushing in the very first Star Wars film, was one of the best. You know, if you like dastardly villains who have a habit of killing millions, nay billions, of innocent people just to prove a point.
The destruction of the planet Alderaan, and its peaceful inhabitants, was and remains one of the most heinous massacres in pop-culture history. Perhaps the worst thing about the incident was that, using the might of the Death Star, the actual event was so quick and performed at such a distance. Those poor, peace-loving Alderaans never even faced their executioner. Heck, they never even knew that their execution was at hand! A cold, calculated command, a push of a button, a pull of a lever and a mullti-pronged green laser merged into a single destructive shot was all it took.
For Tarkin, genocide was just a passing thought. No ramifications of any sort. Ruthless, indeed.
Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War
I read the collected Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War hardcover in a hotel room in Chicago during a weekend Wizard World road trip getaway with pals Denny and this site’s Editor-in-Chief, Andy B. Actually, Denny read his own copy in the chair beside me, as we turned pages of the comic at the same time, shouting “Oh my god!” and “Holy shit!” and “That was so awesome!” in unison.
That was the appeal of writer Geoff Johns remarkable and historic run on the Green Lantern comic book series. Not only was his story action-packed, not only did he build the mythology of the GL universe, not only did he create and write characters, heroes and villains, of emotional depth and resonance, but Johns created a new and engaged cultural fellowship of readers and science fiction enthusiasts.
Green Lantern had never before seen this kind of attention from readers. For that matter, the character had never before seen such attention from the publishing company. Amidst the terror of the Yellow Lanterns, the evil and revenge-laden mind of their leader, Sinestro, and the horrific deaths of hundreds upon hundreds of Green Lantern Corps members, Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War will go down in history as one of the most enthralling massacres in all pop culture.
It’s too bad that poorly received GL movie from a few years ago only hinted at the greatness that was to come…
Henry V: The Battle of Agincourt Aftermath
The Battle of Agincourt is an example of human history made famous through various eras of artistic pop-culture.
I don’t know if it was in high school English class or early university days studying a full credit Shakespeare and After course, but somewhere along the way I read and enjoyed the Henry V play and then watched and enjoyed the corresponding 1989 Kenneth Branagh film.
Here was a moving account of the horrors of war, visualized in the aftermath of the historic Battle of Agincourt between the English and the French. Dead bodies of peasants and noblemen alike cover the blood-soaked battlefield but the truly shocking revelation is the number of the dead for each army.
Although there is a distinct lack of reliable sources, it’s safe to state that the English forces consisted of approximately 1,500 men-at-arms and 7,000 longbowmen while the French forces had 8,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 archers, 1,500 crossbowman, 1,400 mounted fighters, along with thousands more troops in the rearguard. Some estimates total the entire French army at nearly 50,000, heavily outnumbering the English total of 8,500. And yet, the battle was one of the most lop-sided victories in armed conflict.
In the most famous Henry V scene, King Henry is given the total number of slain French, an enormous number of 10,000 when compared to no more than the historic 100 English. “Here was a royal fellowship of death,” indeed!
It’s an enormously moving scene, walking through a land littered with such brazen massacre alongside Branagh’s stylistic choice of an uninterrupted, four-minute long tracking shot, while the beautiful Non nobis is sung triumphantly. Haunting and elegant.
Crisis On Infinite Earths
If you’re looking for epic massacres in pop culture history, look no further than DC Comic’s 1985, twelve issue maxi-series, Crisis On Infinite Earths. Here, billions of people, ordinary, heroic and villainous, met their demise – in the first few pages of the very first issue – never mind the entirety of the series!
Crisis On Infinite Earths already made one February Faves list this month, namely my Favourite Comic Book Issues. You can read that entry here. In a very quick nutshell, the story aimed to clean up DC Universe continuity (and its many alternate dimensions and alternate earths and alternate versions of characters) by having the most horrendous villain that ever existed absolutely destroy…well, everything! What remained, from all of the infinite universes, was one single, solitary existence from which DC’s pantheon of characters operated.
An incalculable number of characters, known and unknown to both casual fans and hardcore readers simply ceased to exist. You can understand the madness, the sorrow and the absolute surrender to this fate by gazing upon the classic George Perez cover of that first issue.
Crisis On Infinite Earths is one of the greatest comic book stories ever published. Its importance is cemented in pop culture history. Never had there been a greater massacre – nor a more enjoyable one!
The Ten Commandments – The Red Sea Parting
Oh, so this massacre goes back to when I was a young and impressionable kid.
I’d watch Cecil B. Demille’s 1956 classic, broadcast on television in its 220 minute entirety, each and every Easter, absolutely enthralled by the film’s eye-for-an-eye, Old Testament story, it’s amazing sets, larger-than-life characters, and, especially, its mind-blowing special effects.
The word “epic” only has meaning because of The Ten Commandments.
After watching, I remember lying awake at night, each and every year, unable to sleep, fearful of the creeping, deathly mist that took the lives of Egypt’s first-born sons. Dammit, I was first-born! Or I’d be thinking about the special effect metamorphosis of Moses’ wooden staff that, through the power of God, transmuted into a vicious serpent. And then there was the fearful imagery of the burning bush, the kinetic lightning bolt writing on the stone tablets…and the voice of God!
Still, the one scene that stands out above all others is the Red Sea parting, wherein the entire army of Ramses II is lost to God’s angry wrath inside the thunderous, crashing waves of an entire sea!
Wide-eyed and torn between awe and fear and grief, that particular pop-culture massacre stays with a viewer, child or adult, forever.