Sunday, September 06, 2009

Is it too late to request Black Lanterns we’d like to see?

The second issue of the Geoff Johns-written, eight-part miniseries Blackest Night, in which the dead rise up as zombie-versions of Green Lanterns, is already out, so artists Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert should be finishing up the final issue right about now.

I assume then that it's probably too late to say that I think it would be really cool if Jumbo came back as a Black Lantern.

That’s right, Jumbo, the late 19th century celebrity elephant who was part of the Barnum & Bailey Circus until his untimely and tragic death.

I’ve been reading a lot about famous dead elephants lately (relative to how much I normally read about famous dead elephants, of course), thanks to Jan Bondeson’s The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History (Cornell University; 1999). As the title indicates, it’s a collection of essays on animal topics, mostly of the unusual sort—the history of belief in the basilisk, strange falls of the sort Charles Forte was so interested in, animals being put in trial, the biographies of a few very famous performing animals.

One of these was Jumbo, whom Bondeson devotes a 34-page chapter entitled “Jumbo, King of the Elephants” to. I knew very little about the elephant before reading this—only that he was said to be one of the biggest elephants of all time, and that he was one of P.T. Barnum’s attractions—and was surprised at what a dramatic story his is. (If I were a Hollywood producer, I’d be working vigorously on a Jumbo movie for holiday, Oscar-bait season release. It’s got everything! A period piece that would necessitate a great deal of special effects, out-sized characters like Barnum, Queen Victoria and less well-known but eccentric types, animal drama for the kids, and the set-piece surrounding his death! Wow!).

I certainly didn’t know that he was killed be getting hit by a train, nor any of the morbid, gory and semi-religious details that followed. Basically, elephants are really, really big, and disposing of their bodies was pretty difficult, probably particularly so in the late 1800s as opposed to now.

The other famous dead elephant Bondeson devotes an essay to is Chunee, an elephant kept in an indoor menagerie in the heart of London in the early years of the 19th century. Chunee suffered an equally spectacular death, and a much more prolonged and violent one.

Essentially, it went “mad,” and had to be put down before it could smash it’s way through its cage and destroy the menagerie—which housed other dangerous animals whose escape was feared—and God knows how man people in buildings.

A firing squad was hastily assembled, and seemed to have little effect—they fired over 150 musket balls into Chunee, and it was only killed when it was stabbed with a harpoon and a sword.

The disposal of Chunnee’s body was even more difficult, as the giant elephant was indoors at the time of it’s death, and in the middle of London (Jumbo died at a rail yard in Canada).

In both instances, Bondeson talks in some detail about groups of butchers cutting up the elephant and carting away the meat, the removal and preservation of the skins and various other body parts, and notes that both elephants had very long and productive afterlives, with their skeletons (and, in Jumbo’s case, his stuffed skin) being put on exhibit.

As far as the reanimated rotting corpses of superheroes with magic rings returning to get revenge on the living goes, I think a huge black elephant with glowing red eyes and a Black Lantern ring around his trunk flying around attempting to gore and trample Hal Jordan would make for a pretty scary customer.

Scarier than any of these guys, anyway:


calvinyabass said...

See Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre for the best (and perhaps only) Elephant funeral in cinema.

Anonymous said...

Here's some crazy elephant death stuff. My friend George Brant, a playwright, has a play called "The Elephant's Graveyard," about an elephant named Mary, the only pachyderm in the history of mankind to be executed by hanging. It's a great play. Try to find it with the Google or something.

"O" the Humanatee! said...

Or maybe your Black Lantern could be Topsy, the
elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison
to "prove" the dangers of Tesla and Westinghouse's alternating current and thereby promote his own direct current.