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Batman and the Book of the Dead, by Arnaud Quertinmont

Batman and the Book of the Dead, by Arnaud Quertinmont

Appearing in the United States in the early 1930s, comic books generally consisted of about thirty pages and focused sometimes on a theme, sometimes on a particular hero. Several characters populating the DC universe were created at the end of this decade; among the most famous are Superman alias Clark Kent (1938) and Batman alias Bruce Wayne (1939). While ancient Egypt served as the backdrop for some plots like the origin of Hawkman (Flash Comics Vol 1 #1, January 1940), it was not until the 1960s and the genre’s renewal that the universe of Egyptian gods was fully exploited. Thus, in the Marvel universe, the Egyptian gods were established in a parallel dimension where they created the celestial city of Heliopolis. They maintained contact with Earth via a golden bridge called “The Path of the Gods.” They frequently encountered other well-known deities like Thor and Loki (Thor #240, October 1975).

Egyptian deities were then integrated into scenarios in line with the ancient astronauts theory. Also known as neo-Euhemerism, this theory posits that ancient gods were actually extraterrestrials who came to Earth long ago. The extraterrestrial intervention aims to remedy the presumed inability – in accordance with the theory of the White Gods, with which the neo-Euhemerist theory merged in the mid-20th century – of ancient human societies to build iconic monuments such as the pyramids of Egypt or the statues of Easter Island. This theory cites as evidence for this intervention some ancient representations testifying to contacts with beings from elsewhere (for instance, Japanese dogū,  and a relief from the temple of Abydos in Egypt) or even stories that depict a people coming from the stars, with a higher purpose of creating human beings. In reality, to support their hypotheses, proponents of this theory rely on ancient images taken out of context, archaeological elements perceived as mysterious, and the literal rather than interpretive reading of certain ancient religious texts.

This theory found its origin in science-fiction of the nineteenth century, and was subsequently popularized in narratives like those related to the Cthulhu mythos imagined by the American Howard Phillips Lovecraft. “The Call of Cthulhu,” published in 1926, thus evokes entities from elsewhere. Invisible, buried in the depths of the earth, oceans, space, or our reality, they remain unknown to all but a few initiates who have dedicated their lives and risked their mental balance in search of the truth. It was particularly popularized, in the French-speaking world, by magazines like “Planète” (1961-1971) by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergerou, and more broadly, by collections like “L’Aventure mystérieuse” and “Les Énigmes de l’Univers.”

Published in June and July 1999, the two volumes of “Batman, The Book of the Dead” are a perfect illustration of the exploitation of the ancient astronaut theory in comic books. The story, which includes all the required clichés (extraterrestrials, pyramids, hidden knowledge, and so on), transports us 14,000 years ago on the eve of a cataclysm that is to eradicate most of planet Earth. Sensing the end of the world approaching, the extraterrestrials present on Earth, posing as Egyptian gods, decide to hide part of their advanced technological knowledge at the heart of the Giza pyramid complex before returning to their world. One of them, Seth, like in the Egyptian myth, rebels, kills, and dismembers his king, Osiris. Nekhrun, representing a bat god, faithful to his sovereign, tries to avenge him but is mortally wounded. He then locks himself in the great pyramid to forever guard the knowledge hidden by Osiris.

The story continues in our time and aims to integrate the narrative into the Batman universe. As often with the vigilante, the story “begins” with the death of his parents, executed before his eyes. During archaeological excavations he conducts near the pyramids of Giza, the couple discovers a strange gold medallion depicting Nekhrun – then unknown in mythological references. Years later, Bruce Wayne understands that the murder of his parents is linked to this artifact, which closely resembles the bat emblem that the masked vigilante has adopted. He sets out on the trail of his parents’ killer, aided by a young Egyptologist, with the conviction that a mysterious secret chamber lies at the heart of the great pyramid of Giza.

Author: Arnaud Quertinmont, Musée royal de Mariemont

Images: 

Cover of the two issues of the comic book Batman, The Book of the Dead (1999) (Screenshot by author)

Further readings: 

Doug Moench, Barry Kitson, Ray McCarthy, Batman and the book of the dead, DC Comics, June-July 1999, 2 vols.

Quertinmont, A. 2024. Batman and the Book of the Dead. Alternative Egyptology or ‘Just for Fun’? », in van den Bercken B. J. L. (ed.) Alternative Egyptology. Critical essays on the relation between academic and alternative interpretations of ancient Egypt: 96-105. Leiden.

Batman and the Book of the Dead – Egypopcult database (link here)

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