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The Black Flag: An Essay in Celtic Tribal War

Chaz Wood's graphic novel The Black Flag is a work with many layers, themes and concepts that may not be obvious to the general viewer. The following is an explanatory essay which was composed as a preface to a future edition of the book, but which limited space has forced the publisher to leave out of the current Amazon Kindle digital edition.

The complete essay, with artwork and illustrations, is presented below.

Original 'woad' nude design for the 2015 cover art

Early FWB graphic advert design for The Black Flag
It starts with a storm-lashed rock, a gang of noisy females and the most intense, unsubtle but nonetheless electrifying music ever composed.

What does? Act III of Wagner's Die Walkure, the first 'real' opera in the Ring tetralogy. I first experienced this when I was 16, in a crackly radio broadcast from Bayreuth. I still have those tapes, and their power remains awesome to this day.

This wasn't the start, but a continuation of my eternal fascination with the wild characters of pagan mythology. It was the Viking/Germanic side which most appealed at first - big guys with beards battling dragons and braving icy waters hold eternal fascination for small boys. It wasn't 'til much later I realised my Celtic (Scots/Irish) heritage and began to explore that too, soon discovering that the myths of ancient Ireland are every bit as exciting and imaginative as their Scandinavian counterparts. And with some fascinating similarities too... but those will be explored later.

I spent a good few years drawing characters from mythology and opera from this time. My gods were stout and gruff; my heroes bare-chested and hairy; my valkyries long-haired and bare-chested. At the back of my mind were forming vague ideas about producing some kind of epic fantasy of my own; whether in music, prose, poetry, or some combination of the above. I spent 3 years studying Graphic Illustration and developed a bold visual style which suited me and disgusted my tutors. Despite all the flak, I had the feeling I was doing something right. Fantasy to them was pointless. Art had to be real. So, I made my fantasy real.

At the same time I was developing a typical art school attitude. I was heavily into punk rock, and lived the mindset of a 1970s London guitar slinger. I supported anarchy, free speech, and most of all, 'do it yourself' art. I loved the idea of 'Sniffin Glue' - a photocopied fanzine that featured all that was radical and new on the 70s punk scene. Bands jumping on stage and hammering out three-chord anthems. DIY fashion: safety pins, strange haircuts, weird makeup. The slogans and rhythms of the street filled my work. My 2nd-year end-of-term art dissertation was 'No Future? An Analysis of Punk & New Wave' in which I explored my most inspirational period of history. Things were starting to come together gradually...

 I had always longed to write and publish a book. Any kind of book, as I was never short of ideas. When I was 5, I stapled old bundles of typing paper together and scribbled out monster stories on them. When I was 11 I produced monster comics, science fiction strips and the like. Lack of true artistic talent had never really held me back in my enthusiasm - much like the punk musicians of the time. As time went on and that style which so offended my tutors reached its peak, I felt the need to apply it to my ambition and get a comic strip of some sort out there. While at college ('93-'96) I fumbled about with an adaptation of 'Clockwork Orange', based on Burgess' novel, not the film (though at the time the movie was one of my all-time favourites...and still is now). I got about three pages done before being distracted by another adaptation, this time of one of my own works: a satirical novel called 'The Black Flag' which featured a character called Georgina Werner, a psychopathic German/Polish eco-terrorist of a darkly futuristic Britain. The character embodied the spirit of the original valkyries, valkyrjar or waelcyrgwe - blood-thirsty furies who revel in slaughter and carnage. The novel was hard and brutal, owing much to Burgess and 'Natural Born Killers'. Again the comic-strip project floundered after two pages. It seemed I would have to wait.

  After college I continued to train and produce work in the visual media. I wrote, directed and shot short video features. I received training in film-making, another of my great loves, and worked hard on various projects. One particular piece arose as a likely candidate for translation to the screen: my old unfinished novel 'The Black Flag'. I took the main characters and worked them into a tight, 90-minute urban thriller set in London. This was 1999, and I hoped its dark apocalyptic themes would attract attention. It got some good feedback but nobody was willing to take the script off my hands. So I decided to storyboard the thing myself, and no sooner had I started than it became obvious to turn these sequential frames into a....comic strip!! So began 'The Black Flag': graphic novel. I was only working part time now for my media company, so I had the time on my hands to do justice to the thing. The year 2000 had just begun.

By bringing the main character into the visual dimension I was able to add, adapt, and improve upon the screenplay. I stole frames from my previous aborted comic strip attempts, dressed them up and dropped them into place. In time, the first few chapters of the graphic novel took shape. It became quite a kick to see my characters visualized exactly as I had always seen them, and I pressed on. By the middle of the summer, I had completely finished drawing and lettering the first of what I had proposed to be four books, or 'phases', in the 'Black Flag' cycle. I chose 'phases' instead of books to reflect the sense of natural order at work in the main storyline, the underlying suggestion there are forces at work beyond the control of man.

Very early version of Georgina, drawn in 1993
 'God is dead!...'
The theories of Nietzsche had long interested me, partly through his cross-influence on the works of Wagner but also for his brutal, modernistic ideas which were a century before their time. The anti-heroine of 'TBF' was wont to quote his aphorisms, proclaiming herself the 'future of humanity' and the first of a new race of superbeings. Her devotion to saving the environment corresponded with Nietzsche's view that "to sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing..." (Zarathustra).
Thus was her inherent violence justified: directed against tyrants, polluters and takers of the will. However, I felt suspicious that ideas such as these might get misinterpreted by the narrow-minded - after all, both Nietzsche and Wagner had their works hijacked for nefarious means after their deaths - but nor did I feel the need to apologise or tone things down. The imagery and concepts which surround MacDubhgaill are deep, multi-layered and complex, some of which I am only now beginning to fully appreciate. My attitude was, and still is, if anyone wants to take me to task over some point or other then bring it on...for part of Georgina's (and my own) eternal battle is against those of small mind and bigoted outlook.

Early cover art for Phase 1 of the original 4-issue comic series, from about autumn 2000
  Come the autumn 2000, and I had begun to explore my own Celtic roots. My mother's side included the McDowall family, whose Gaelic name means literally 'sons of the black strangers' - these being dark Danish invaders of Ireland, long ago, and who later migrated to Scotland. I thought that name so evocative that I renamed the central character of 'TBF' MacDubhgaill (the Irish Gaelic spelling). The whole idea of 'invaders' began to take root. As I started upon Book 2, I began re-inventing other aspects of the story...

The character's middle name had previously been Waltraute, one of Wagner's Walkuren. I changed this to Buadach - Gaelic for 'victory', and from the same root as Boudicca (or Lat. Boadicea), the great warrior-queen of the ancient British. The name also seems to be cognate with [Cath]Bodua, an ancient Gaulish triune goddess of war and slaughter....who is identical with that most fearsome of all the Irish pagan deities, the Morrigan. Like the Valkyries, the Morrigan, in the form of battle-crone, inspires battle and hovers over fields of war but seems to take no real active role. I found the Morrigan's sideline adventures with the Dagda and Cu Chulhainn less interesting than her inherent similarity to the battle-witches who ultimately inspired Wagner's most famous music. My character was losing her 'rogue psycho' label and becoming a being of great primal power, a new-age warrior and champion of the land. The 'phase' theory was proving accurate; this great goddess of ancient times had returned to cleanse the fields of the earth-mother from her invaders...
Painting for the cover of the original Phase 3 comic, from 2000.
  So far, so peachy. My growing excitement for all things Celtic led to further revelations, some of which took several years to be fully understood. It occurred to me that MacDubhgaill/Morrigan would, upon realising her own destiny, try to see other individuals in a similar light: following Nietzsche's popularization of the Eternal Recurrence (I think the Greek Stoics got there first), it would folow that if the Crow-Goddess had returned, so would others of her ilk. So I began to interpret the supporting characters as taking on the parts of other great Irish heroes or deities. The principle one being MacDubhgaill's arch-nemesis....the reincarnation of Balor the Evil-Eyed, leader of the Fomorians who invaded ancient Ireland from their outpost of Tory Island. The Fomorians are deemed in the Irish Liber Logoaeth (Book of Invasions) to be mighty but deformed enemies of the good and great people of Ireland- the Tuatha de Danaan, euhemerized deities who include Lugh, Nuada, the Dagda, and others. Balor has one great baleful eye which can slay dead any who look at it - however, the eyelid requires four men to lift. Ultimately, the de Danaan defeat the Fomorians at the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh, the Plain of Towers; Balor's single eye is extinguished by Lugh; and all is safe and well again (until the de Danaan themselves are thumped by the Milesians at Drum Ligen, but that comes later on and only helps to enforce the theme of the eternal cycle.)

  I suffered many headaches trying to rationalize a bunch of characters and an already established plot in terms of a single ancient myth: the driving away of invaders by a group of supernatural heroes. In the end the result was a compromise. First and foremost was the surface plot, with its hardcore military police squads pursuing the central character as she embarks upon her destined mission of destruction, saving nature (and the British Isles) from exploitation. Obviously not everything could be literally transposed either- all the bad guys don't have eyes and limbs missing, as the Fomorians are so often depicted; the heroes are no longer great kings but radical activists banged up in prison or hiding out in the English countryside. For all its Norse/Irish origins, 'TBF' is a story firmly rooted in Britain, around the South of England to be precise. The streets of London are where the final battle is to be fought...the modern-day 'Plain of Towers'. Tory Island, the source of all woe, is the seat of government which makes the laws that grant ever more power to oil corporations and building developers. Whether this particular government is a 'Tory' government (nickname for the British Conservative Party) is a point I will never answer, although the pun is amusing. Being totally apolitical and supporting only green issues, I would never declare one or other political side the 'enemy', even in a satirical work as this. Nor would I for a second support the view that MacDubhgaill and her activities somehow represents the history of the IRA and their campaign against the British occupation of Northern Ireland. Being born on Bloody Sunday makes the character at one with strife, disorder and war, as befits her inheritance - incidents from the history of her homeland may be invoked, whether Cromwell's razing of Drogheda and Wexford, or the Easter Rising of 1916 - but her cause is spiritual, not political. It is a cause also ultimately inspired by the character's father...

Earliest existing sketch of GM, from early '93 or late '92
The concept of 'father' holds many images. In the context of 'TBF', Georgina's father had always been a dark, shadowy figure; dominating, blustering, yet tinged with tragedy. In many ways he developed dramatically into a parallel of Wagner's Wotan, or the great All-father of the Norsemen, Odin. His Irish equivalent would be the great Dagda, the 'good god' of the Tuatha de Danaan with whom the Morrigan once had a spicy encounter in the middle of a river - and certainly his shaggy hair and masculine moustache recall the mighty heroes of old sagas. Not for nothing does Georgina sometimes sport the runic symbol for 'father' on her forehead, daubed on like warpaint.

In his first appearance, he barks rhetoric about how things should be: how his daughter should speak, how people should behave, how the government ought to work. We feel he would make a good agitator or rebel, but his passion and anger seem to rule him more than his reason. We're aware he threatens to beat her should she disobey, and has clearly carried out this threat to judge by the livid scars which cross the back of the older Georgina, wounds which look almost ritualistic.

He prepares his daughter as the manifestation of his will, seeing in her a power that will soon overtake him and lead to greater things, with or without his control. One day, he wishes, she will make his dreams reality. Only recently did I realise the similarity between Georgina & her father, and Wagner's Wotan & Brunnhilde. Both are feisty females, pushed by their fathers to enact their wishes. Both are bound in a strong and complex psychological relationship. Both end in dramatic tragedy. Georgina is dangerously deep within Electra complex territory; despising her weak-willed mother, she sees strength and inspiration in her blunt and dogmatic father, and loves him all the more for it. Georgina's father, Shawn, sees in his only child a spark of greatness, to the extent of refusing to use her given name and calling her 'Buadach' instead. For all her attachment to the feminine side of nature and the cosmos, Georgina has no feeling for her own mother. Alexandrina Helen Stuart dwells in the shadow of her husband. She shares the names of the greatest Queen of England (Queen Victoria's first name was actually Alexandrina), the royal house under whom England and Scotland united and the most fabled beauty of history, but there is nothing remarkable about this woman. She cries over pollution, and frets over American nuclear missiles in England, for this is the early 1980s and Europe is still in the grip of the cold war. Her mother is a passive, peaceful force, through which no change can ever come in this hard world. Her father is a forceful, proactive spirit by comparison - embodying the aggression of nature, the masculine side of Georgina's own psyche, her animus through which she dictates her will, creating change through force. It is their similarity which fosters the father/daughter relationship, and unites them still further following Alexandrina's untimely death.

 In the days when Georgina was but a psycho without a clue, I had worked hard to rationalise her motivations. Initially I had decided that she would have been an abused child, beaten up by an uncaring father following the death of an over-protective mother. I soon realised this was predictable and dramatically unsatisfying; the bully's victim goes on to victimize others because that's all she knows? With the later shift in motivation and psychology, I realised the origins of the character's attitudes had to be fully justified. The idea of physical violence remained, but I turned it on its head and had the child eventually abuse the parent, knowing that she had it in her power to do so. Taking her father’s idea that she will one day rise to greatness, Georgina decides upon a course of self-mortification, having discovered that ancient tribal peoples used such practices to gain insights into the cosmos and to enter heightened states of being. Being a fumbling teenager, her first attempts amount to little more than bloody lacerations, but she is determined to live up to her father’s ideals. So she demands that he inflict upon her the necessary hardship to achieve this. At first repelled, he soon finds himself drawn into the ritual of thrashing his daughter to the point of unconsciousness in an attempt to awaken within her an expanded sense of being and give life to her hidden powers. He hates himself for it, knowing he has set her upon this course, yet he feels also it is somehow destined to be this way. However, he soon wimps out, insisting he can no longer continue. This doesn’t impress Georgina, and what happens as a result leads to tragedy for them both. It is a twisted, dysfunctional situation which nonetheless makes sense for both parties involved – although Shawn had never realised quite how literally his child would take him. His fear is not so much at inflicting continued suffering upon her, but in what he may unleash should he continue to do so…however, he has already passed the point of no return, as she is soon to point out, with the barrel of her father's own revolver.

Therein lies the first great act of subversion in the character's life: no longer mere petty thieving or childish gang fights. This is the taking of power from her ultimate authority figure, her father, and transferring it to herself. In many ways Georgina absorbs her father's spirit, becomes one with him. She becomes her own figure of authority, answerable to no-one now. And as such she takes off to be at one with the only force higher than herself - the very force of nature. In the woods she lives in solitude, like Zarathustra, and during this period she suffers her ritualistic awakening into the true nature of the cosmos. [I decided not to use the term 'shamanic' there - as this concept has now become frightfully overused, if not actually abused.] During this time she also reinvents herself as a symbol - the Black Flag, or Dubhbratach of her native tongue - a rallying point for her supporters of the future. The movement from individual human being, to higher concept, or ideal, has begun. No longer a mere girl, or a woman, she is becoming an icon, something greater than herself, a symbol for impending victory, and death and defeat to her foes.

Phase 1, page 1.
 'What am I?" is the first question asked in 'TBF'.
It's also a question with major ramifications for the central character.
It is, as she says, a good question, and one that is not even completely answered by the end of the story. Beyond the limits imposed by national and tribal identities, MacDubhgaill is something of a universal figure of femininity. It is her most obvious aspect as the 'battle-hag' that she appears throughout the book (representing, in turn, the Morrigan, the Valkyrjar or waelcyrgwean, Cathubodua, Inana, Hippolyta and others), however she does display other prominent tendemcies also. Most goddesses of war and death tend to be linked with sex as well in some form, again displaying the seductive/destructive nature of the female, but distinct and seperate again is the mother figure. While not the most obvious aspect of her nature, MacDubhgaill does find herself developing such tender feelings toward the teenage Olga, whose very presence seems to initiate a shift in the older woman's nature...another form of the personal evolution that she believes is continually ongoing within her, as unstoppable and chaotic as the natural law.

MacDubhgaill is aware of her own split nature, possible stemming from her universal origins. Born in Dublin to Irish parents, though Dublin itself was founded by Norsemen in the 9th Century and her own father, seemingly influenced by this in some way, shares a distant connection to that time. He expresses this by referring to his daughter at least once as 'my little valkyry', a nod to the common ground shared between these fabulous creatures and the Morrigan of his homeland. From a young age, she is told what she is and what she should be. It is her father's view that mould her. Whether Shawn MacDubhgaill has some serious psychological hang-up which is manifested upon his daughter is undecided...whatever the case, his assertion that she will one day 'crack the earth and burn the sky' is proven by the end of the book. One cannot help but think that had he lived, Shawn and Georgina would have gone on to have wild adventures together, and that sense of loss for a constant father figure is very much a part of the older Georgina's psyche. He is with her always, it seems; in her dreams, while her mother haunts only her deepest fears and troubled nightmares. It is that sense of loss that drove her out of civilisation and into the arms of nature, where she was to spend several years in the quest to discover her true self and her own destiny.

 Working intensely through the script of 'TBF' for Phases III & IV brought a number of surprisingly appropriate subtexts to my attention. These weren't things I had considered or explored, they just appeared from among the words I had written. Two of the main ones are tied to the ultimate climax of Phase IV...where dramatically, most of the threads of the story knot together. Possibly not as elegantly as a piece of Celtic knotwork, but hopefully as interesting.

***SPOILER BELOW! If you REALLy don't want to know some of what happens at the end of the story, then skip the rest of this post!!!*** :)

One of the principle themes running through the whole serial is that of justice and retribution. MacDubhgaill herself is out for both - justice for the downtrodden, the oppressed, and for nature itself - and vengeance against those who perpetuate suffering upon their victims. She likes to think of herself as the manifestation of natural justice...we feel she would cheer for man-eating animals in horror movies or novels. In a later flashback we see the child Georgina gleefully telling her mother how 'wonderful' is the comic she is reading, which features a killer shark who 'eats the bad men' who try to kill him.

Justice appears in several other forms. Firstly in the form of the beat cops who stumble across the biggest prize of their careers - the unconscious body of MacDubhgaill, succeeding where Louise Masters and her dedicated band of troops had failed for the past 3 years. There is the stern justice that is proposed by Masters' boss, Susan Barnes, a vocal member of the 'hang em and flog em brigade' - radical individuals in the British government who demand the return of capital punishment. Historically this is a point which has divided the British people since its abolition in the mid-1960s, and still does to this day. The fact that Barnes' motion is so narrowly defeated shows how strongly Parliament feel about the subject. And ultimately, there is the personal justice which Barnes demands for herself in the climax, manifesting as single-minded vengeance for the wounds inflicted upon her by MacDubhgaill 20 years before. Whether the reader sees Barnes or MacDubhgaill as the right party in this is primarily a matter of personal taste, and/or spiritual or religious upbringing. What is certain is that when Barnes finally corners her nemesis, her invocation of the Biblical judgement upon her enemy is absolutely correct. Barnes is dispensing divine retribution straight from the pages of Exodus and Leviticus, taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, obeying the very letter of the Mosaic law. Anybody who subscribes to the veracity of this concept of justice must take Barnes as the wronged party in this whole operation, and thus see her as the hero. It is also the classical confrontation between Christian conqueror and Pagan. However, as Barnes takes from her enemy what was once taken from her, another subtext takes over: that of primal dismemberment.
Barnes' claw-like nails deliberately suggestive of a predatory carnivore
The idea is present throughout the earlier book. Macubhgaill is hung up to the point of paranoia about modern-day 'Fomorians', the one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged enemy of the Tuatha de Danaa. Her gut reaction is that Nim, with his eye-patch and deformed right hand is representative of Balor, for it was his plan at the Cartech lab which led to her downfall. But as Nim explains later, 'did not the All-father put out his eye for the secret of the runes...and did not King Nuada lose an arm and receive a silver one?' The modern-day Nuada is of course Tony Z, whose metal cybernetic arm replaced the one he lost in a street battle. What MacDubhgaill has long been unaware of is that Balor is someone quite different...lurking beneath her dark glasses is Barnes' empty eye socket and the baleful stare of Balor the Evil-Eyed.

Barnes also commits upon MacDubhgaill an act of dismemberment which has its roots across most Indo-European myth systems, and featured in many different contexts. Dismemberment of a primal being is a common theme of cosmogeny. This can be seen in Norse myth with the tale of Ymir; in Egyptian, with Osiris; in Babylonian, with Tiamat, etc. (The Near Eastern connection is made earlier - where Georgina remarks that the 'city of Uruk rang with her name'.) In the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge, two great bulls do battle: Donn Cuailnge and Findbennach Ai. Donn kills and dismembers Findbennach, and makes parts of the Irish landscape from the component parts of his foe.

Dismemberment of a more ritualized kind is common to tribal priests, and to shamen - by taking the body apart in a certain way, then reconstituting it, great wisdom and insight is gained from the resulting journey to the otherworld, a more complete and full form of that which Georgina practiced on herself in earlier episodes. The significance of the taking of the eye is also important. The All-Father of the Norse pantheon, Odin, hanged himself upon the world-tee Yggdrasil and put out his own eye that he would gain the insight to the workings of rune-magic. We have already seen that Georgina identifies her own father with the greater concept of the All-father - in certain sources (primarily Wagner's Ring) we see the Valkyries presented as the daughters of Wotan, the Germanic Odin. Thus in creating her own nemesis in Barnes, the avenging spirit of the Christian law, MacDubhgaill has also secured her own inner transformation - by submitting to her own self-sacrifice, her spirit and power gain their greatest fulfilment. She creates her own fate, and with it her full spiritual awakening. The cycle has come full circle, destiny fulfilled, the wheel rolls on.

 A flurry of frantic activity at the close of 2004 and in the dawn of 2005 brought the cycle of Gergina MacDubhgaill to an end. Inspired by the notion that as of February 2005 it would have been exactly 5 years since the book's beginnings, I resolved to complete it by that date - a deadline I was proud, relieved and happy to have made. It was en exciting, intense and sometimes emotional experience...drawing the final page made me feel like I was waving goodbye to old friends...litle wonder that the next piece of art I produced was a group picture of all the main characters together.

As I expected, I ran out of space. Backstories, biographies, and details were left hinted at or abandoned completely. I found the need to emphasize less the 'bigger story' of the revolution and civil war, and focus on the fate of the central characters, at least in pictures. But then at the outset I had given myself a strict limit: 4 volumes, 20 pages each, to prevent my usual fiddling and tinkering. Even at that, I found myself overrunning on Phase IV - adding a Page Zero at the start to squeeze in some forgotten tales and footnotes. Some of the characters ended up being relegated to a series of newspaper clippings: Han, the brave and loyal SID trooper, and Inspector Carpenter, whose dogged policework uncovers Barnes' scurrility, for example.

Soon after, Morgaine mentioned the idea of a single bound volume - and this got me thinking along the lines of a 'director's cut' - where I could insert a few of the lost scenes, pages that were scripted and sketched but kept out for reasons of space. If such an entity does ever materialise, it will very likely require a translation appendix for some of the Scottish dialogue. (McPherson in particular - despite being 'toned down', I understand much of his speech will be incomprehensible to non-Dundonians.) So, the future may, at some point, see me resurrecting characters now dead and buried...the prospect is exciting, but is just that, a prospect. I'm in no hurry to add new inserts. After all, each book is split into chapters, and each chapter is a self-contained portion - I wouldn't want to upset what sense of balance and timing exists therein.
Pre-graphic novel sketch of GM, from about '95
Looking back over the whole thing - in particular the last dozen or so pages of Phase IV - I'm satisfied and pleased with the results. And thinking back, I became more and more amazed at the layers that exist withing the story, like skins of an onion, most of which have been summed up in previous posts. One recent change to the conclusion was the embodiment of Georgina's father within the form of the Raven-King, Domnhaill Dubh - as her Wotan/Odin animus, here represented by one of the All-Father's all-knowing birds, and another cycle completed; the giving of herself to him in sacrifice, as she once took his mortal life from him years before. In this form, her father sees his dreams come true...his daughter truly becomes his 'victory'...as a man with a history in paramilitary groups in Ireland, we can easily assume he was even active in the IRA at one point. For him, if he still held to his views, the dissolution of the British government would represent a truly great 'victory', and his daughter's part in this even moreso. It is interesting he does not take her up on her offer to 'feast upon' her body - no cannibalistic holy communion here. The clan of the crow-king spare her corpse alone from further dismemberment.

Prior to this, the stalking figure of McPherson has re-appeared, and departed; once longing to be MacDubhgaill's executioner, we feel he has become rather sickened by the carnage around him, ans has seen a much more fitting form of justice than what comes out the end of a shotgun. Not so much a cop-out (I hope), but rather an indication of the personal development of the character...the theme of true justice returning again, and also it's very subjective nature. McPherson lets natural justice take its course - that dealt out by Barnes, the unstoppable lawgiver of the would-be New Britain, whose crazed plans could only be ended by the reincarnation of Lugh, the spearman of the Tuatha de Danaan; in this case the sniper, Mr. Grifin. The final conclusion also returns to the original myth of the de Danaan; Aongus Og was the glorious son of the Dagda, here cradled in his mother's arms, she who scorned the very idea of motherhood before but who has now brought into the world 'the miracle of new life'. Only by accepting her own mother, in a reluctant, grudging way, could her fractured (male-dominated) psyche hope to grow and prosper, and fulfil its true potential; the words she hears her mother speak during her darkest hour may come from within, or from outside; we need not believe in the literal presence of her mother's ghost. Perhaps just a reminder, a cry for recognition from the subjugated feminine side of her mind, which only manages to surface at times of crisis. In these final fames MacDubhgaill cuts a deliberately androgynous figure - in sweeping black trenchcoat, eye patch and travelling hat she resembles nothing less than her own father in his spiritual, mythic aspect of Odin/Wotan, a character straight out of a modern production of the 'Ring'. As a single mother, this 'new' Morrigan/War-Mother prepares to face the unknown freedom she has helped create.

 Just another of those onion layers mentioned before...as the writing came to a close, I realised the notions of nationalism which run through the story are more relevant than they may appear. At first it was merely for satirical effect - how far can nationalism go before it becomes ridiculous, and every tribe and town wants independence? - until I noted that much of the history of MacDubhgaill's people (the Irish/Celts) is very much bound to its own identity. Invasions and subjugation played a large role in this - one of the reasons why I wanted to include 'Page Zero', to show the mythical origins of this cycle of defeats and loss of individual sovereignty. The 'good gods' of ancient Ireland came from the North and settled there to become the Tuatha de Danaan. They fought off the Fomorians, invaders from another land like themselves - until the de Danaan were crushed by the Milesians, driven underground and eventually forgotten. History goes on to show the recurring sequence of tragic losses and brave attempts at rebellion. Others came and made their mark - Cromwell, the British Army, and successive governments fostered revolution in the form of terrorism. This was the role in which Georgina had always been cast, from her earliest days when she was called Werner - not an apologist for the IRA by any means but a champion of true, natural justice (as distinct from the stern proclamations of Moses & the prophets invoked by Barnes - just another aspect of man-made religion to a Nietzschian pagan like MacDubhgaill). That champion was then created in the form of a native of the country which for many still represents untouched natural beauty, with a sense of magical wonder and a deep spiritual heritage that is hard for modern, materialist minds to grasp.

The terrorist aspects of the character and her friends were not necessarily downplayed as I went along - I had decided early on (long before September 11th) that not writing about a fictional terrorist was not going to make real terrorism go away. Bombs and bullets are her stock in trade, and directed against the unworthy proponents of hard-faced capitalism and exploitation: oil company executives, fox hunters, vivisection, gourmet chefs...the 'natural born killer' clearly enjoys her work but it is not so much an end in itself. Her role is more one of radical anarchist - her dream, to see the British Isles one big happy commune, full of disparate tribes and clans as they were in the 'old days'. Such a dream is nonsense, of course, as her prosecuting council points out in Phase II - true anarchy may not be practical, yet it still inspires many to rally to the black flag. Whether it actually works in MacDubhgaill's New British Isles, we shall never know, as that is one conclusion that is left open at the end of Phase IV.
The case for the prosecution

The terrorist/radical environmentalism angle is most evident through Phase I; from Nim's likening of his proud little band to 'Robin Hood's Merry Men', to the shadowy pasts of the characters he introduces her to. Only MacDubhgaill's paranoid loathing of 'Fomorian types' really scuppers the whole operation at Cartech. Looking for betrayal, she thinks she finds it, upon discovering that the labs are still producing Triclytol-30 - the deadly agent responsible for Nim's disfigurement and used against him and his people by his own mother's troops. That the operation is an act of simple revenge on the part of Barnes' wayward son only reveals itself to MacDubhgaill much later, when she hears the truth about Barnes and 'Nim' from his own lips. We can assume that the mythical 'extraction' (the victims are mostly past saving) was only Nim's way of hiding the truth from his team, or at least its leader in the field - MacDubhgaill certainly takes exception to the misinformation and reacts badly, fearing a conspiracy behind her back. She is as responsible for her own capture and defeat as much as the angry, desperate members of the team - a significant point, showing her instincts are still far from clear or correct, and running on fear and loathing rather than the single-minded determination which drives her later on. For this terrorist, at any rate, imprisonment provides nothing but inspiration and clarity of thought - much like Nietzsche's Zarathustra in his solitude, or the shaman's self-imposed isolation in his sweat lodge.

The Black Flag Glossary: A WEE HELPING HAND

The following is intended for those readers who are unfamiliar with the marvellous worlds of Norse & Celtic myth which feature in the background of the story. There are many wonderful books on these subjects, but for those unwilling to investigate further here is a brief explanatory glossary: I also attempt to explain briefly some of my looser interpretations and inventions as well as some of the other related themes incorporated in the fabric of the story.

CROM CRUACH: The name means possibly 'Bloody Crescent', an ancient Irish idol to whom blood sacrifices were said to be made. In the book I made this also the name of the sacrificial sickle used by the Morrigan to decapitate Indech prior to Cath Magh Tuireadh, and thus assure the Men of Danaa of victory.

DOMNHAILL DUBH: The name means something like 'Black Donald'. In  Irish this is the proper name for a raven, as Brock is to a badger, etc. In the story I made Domnhaill Dubh the Lord of the Ravens, a wise ancient bird who acts as the Morrigan's eyes and ears, a little like the ravens of Odin, Hugin and Munin. It is possible this magical bird may be a separate aspect of the Morrigan herself, a further embodiment of her spirit.

ETERNAL RECURRENCE: Concept popularised by Nietzsche, similar to that believed by the ancient Greek Stoics. Simply put, everything in the universe, through history, through all of time, repeats. It is the principle of cycles. Cycles are of course a natural phenomenon, as with the moon, biological processes, seasons, etc. It is for this reason that the individual books of ‘The Black Flag’ are titled ‘Phases’.

FOMORII, FOMORIANS: The Fomorii were the old enemies of the Tuatha de Danaan. Always deformed, depicted with body parts missing or withered ,the Fomorians nonetheless presented the heroes with a mighty challenge. They were finally defeated at the 2nd Battle of Magh Tuireadh, where the de Danaan heroes including Indech, Lugh and the Dagda, with the Morrigan’s assistance, defeated the armies led by the one-eyed Balor.

LUG LAMFHOTA: Lug the Long-Armed, the title referring to his ability to throw a spear a great length. Lug is one of the great heroes of Irish myth, standing shoulder to shoulder with Cu Chulhainn and Fionn MacCoull. His modern counterpart is the Englishman Albert Jennings, a deadly hitman whose speciality is long-ranged sniper rifles.

MORRIGAN, THE: A trio of goddesses who embody death, war, etc. The concept of three deities in one form is ancient and features across much of Indo-European myth. Despite her dark aspect, the Morrigan is rarely portrayed as evil, being merely the spectator in violent conflict. Her dealings with Cu Chulhainn are well-known.

MUIRE: the name of the Virgin Mary in Irish Gaelic.

NUADA: His modern-day counterpart is Tony Z, a street-warrior whose metal cybernetic arm reflects his predecessor. He adopted the alias ‘Z’ in imitation of Malcolm X, one of his personal heroes, but also knowing the ‘Z’ rod is a common symbol in Celtic (esp. Pictish) art, thus emphasising his role as an upholder of the old ways.

ORCS: A mythical race of beings, fashioned loosely after the boar. They are fearsome with tusks. The Irish word ‘torc’ means ‘boar’. My orcs, led by the warlord Torc Triath, inhabit a land in the South-West of Ireland, Torctalamh (captal city: Torc Mor). Their society is harsh and warlike but also cultured, like that of the Vikings. They practice slavery, blood sacrifices and their language is harsh and guttural. Though usually portrayed in fantasy as ‘bad guys’, in my universe the orcs are spiritually redeemed by fighting for the Goddess, the Land, and as such support the Tuatha de Danaan at Magh Tuireadh.

SUPERMAN, UBERMENSCH: The second is the German translation of the first. In this misunderstood (and  occasionally bastardized)  theory, the superman (or 'higher man' as Nietzsche wrote) is the result of the masses being sacrificed to the elite. This is thus the higher stage of humanity, a proud, healthy and noble warrior class (cf. the warrior elite of ancient Celtic society). The introduction of materialism, equality, false religious morality and science reduces humanity's power and stature to the point where NIHILISM takes over. The modern world, in its current state, is therefore nihilistic, a condition of being loathsome and anathema to Macdubhgall.

TORC TRIATH: In Irish myth, this was the King of the Boars and is as such a supernatural animal, as of the type commonly found in the Celtic legends. For the story I used artistic license to make him the King of the Orcs in order to present a more interesting character. I was bored with orcs always being the bad guys in fantasy, so I redressed the balance slightly here. My concept of Torc Triath turned out to interest me so much I presented him as one of the Kings of the Tuatha de Danaan, fighting for the land and the goddess; thus his heart is in the right place, despite the intrinsic dark nature of he and his people; a further development of my interest in protagonists whose morals are some shade of grey as opposed to the clear-cut romantic idea of the ‘hero’.

VALKYRIES, WAELCYRGWAEN: The 2nd form is the Anglo-Saxon variant of the more familiar Norse name. The word means roughly 'Chooser of the Slain'. While the Anglo-Saxons associated them with witches, the Valkyrjar were portrayed in Norse poetry and prose as powerful maidens of slaughter. Wagner romanticized them in his masterwork 'The Ring' but the earliest sources depict them as blood-thirsty, battle-crazed bitches and as such are closer to the Morrigan in general aspect.

Photocopied lo-fi flyer advertising the 'DIY' edition of Phase 1, from late 2001.

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