Remembering George Michael: Pop Icon and Possible DC Deity

I have two George Michael stories. One is personal, while the other possibly confirms his existence as the deity of the DC TV universe. We’ll get to that one in a second.

My first long-term job was as the assistant manager of a comic shop. We had a staff of two. The other was the manager. So I basically spent seven years straight out of University living inside an extended episode of Spaced. It was, for the most part, lovely. If you were going to work in 20th century comics, the end of the century was pretty much the time to do it. Web magazines like Savant and Ninth Art were firing up and the industry had figured out that actual books were an actual thing people actually bought and they should maybe look at that. A huge number of the creatives working at the top of the field now, names like Warren Ellis, Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Amanda Conner, and Marjane Satrapi were all starting to come to the fore at that time, too.

So I worked retail, I wrote for and briefly edited one of the news sites and even had some immensely small press comics published. My creative horizons expanded massively and I credit a lot of my positive, open-minded approach to that time.

Not just in comics either, but in life. I come from the Isle of Man. Go take a look at a map of England and Ireland. The island is the little apostrophe-looking thing between them. It is a vanishingly small place famous for an annual motorbike race and for cats with no tails. I loved growing up there and, when I went to University, I loved not being there anymore. Clark Kent moved to Metropolis; I moved to York. He got the Daily Planet building; I got a comic store. It worked out pretty well for both of us.

One of the big reasons I didn’t miss the island overly was the homophobia. It is, or was, baked in over there like the angry, short-sighted crust of a pie everyone is too self-conscious to eat. To the extent that it was regularly assumed I was gay by some people because, (1) I was overly articulate, and (2) I carried books the same way gunslingers carried holdout weapons.

Yes. I have essentially lived the old Bill Hicks “Welllll…looks like we got ourselves a READER” bit.

Despite this, I was lucky. I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I got slurs thrown my way. I can count far more times I saw them thrown at other people, or saw sex scandals which rocked the tiny community. Things are much better now, but, like I say, it is not an environment I miss.

Especially as the assumptions made about me cut both ways. On the island, some people assumed I was gay because I wasn’t traditionally masculine. On the main land, some people assumed I was homophobic because I grew up on the Isle of Man.

None of those people were Mike. My manager at the store, and a man who described himself as ‘Not so much having come out of the closet as hacked it into pieces and danced naked around the bonfire I made of it’. Mike was my first major off-island role model and he was amazing. Endlessly calm and focused and with a sense of humour so dry you could almost feel the grains run through your hand. He wrangled me, a terrified-of-everything 17-year-old, and countless regular customers for years with aplomb, honesty, and compassion. When things went very wrong for me at one point, he was who I turned to. When things went very right, he was one of the first people I called. He taught me about art, music, the importance of personal choice and of standing up for yourself. I still disagree with him completely about Bjork (Eight hours. EIGHT HOURS of “It’s Oh So Quiet” Remixes) but George Michael? That hit me. Like I say, I was 17, I was fresh on the mainland and had absolutely no idea what my sexuality was other than “yes…please?” Mike was a huge part of creating the space I needed to work that out along with everything else about the flaming wreckage of my life at that time. Usually to the strains of “Freedom ’90” or, if I was unlucky and he was feeling cheerfully malicious, Bjork.

Again.

Mike left the company a few years into my time there. When we caught up a little while later, he said he and his husband were planning on relocating to San Francisco. He joked about you’d be able to tell where he was by listening to “Outside” by George Michael was dopplering towards you or away from you.

That was over a decade ago and it still makes me smile every time I think of it and him and that song’s fierce, joyous pride in its own identity.

So, now here’s why George Michael is God in the DC Universe.

Eli Stone is one of those TV shows that arrived a few years too early for its audience. It starred a pre-Elementary Johnny Lee Miller, a post-Species Natasha Henstridge, and a pre-Firestorm Victor Garber as lawyers in a San Francisco firm. Jordan Weathersby, Garber’s character, was a senior partner, Taylor, played by Henstridge was his daughter. Eli, played by Miller, was her fiancé, a well-meaning, charming and perennially slightly confused chap, even before he starts hallucinating.

Worried by the sudden arrival of said hallucinations, Eli sees a doctor and is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. The same sort that killed his estranged father. Except…well…Dad may also have been a prophet. And passed the family gift down.

George Michael’s music was a huge influence on the show, to the extent that every first season episode is named after one of his songs. He appeared in several episodes too, both as part of Eli’s hallucinations and as a client. The show never quite committed to whether or not he was God, although if he isn’t, the next most logical candidate it put forward was Sigourney Weaver (which I’d also be okay with). Instead it sat perfectly in the liminal space between certainty and art. And never more perfectly than here, in the closing sequence to the season one finale:

Eli Stone was created by Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, who would go on to be the powerhouses behind Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl. and Legends of Tomorrow. Legends, of course, also prominently features Victor Garber, and fellow Eli Stone alum Matt Letscher is the Reverse Flash there at the moment, too. There’ve been other tips of the hat along the way as well, including Laurel considering taking a job with Weathersby/Posner in Season 3 of Arrow.

But for me, the crucial evidence arrives in The Flash’s Season 2 premiere: Barry receives a letter from the late Harrison Wells’ lawyers…

…who work for Weathersby & Stone, the firm focused on in Season 2 of Eli Stone.

In other words, Eli Stone happens in the Berlantiverse. Or perhaps the Berlantiverse happens in Eli Stone.

I love this revelation for a few different reasons. Eli Stone was a show I really connected with and the gentle, offhand way it dealt with issues surrounding faith arrived at the exact time I needed it. It was a funny, sweet, wildly odd show that found its own voice and at the same time evoked the magnificently eccentric movie A Matter of Life and Death (which is equally wonderful, profoundly odd, and a story for another time).

But most of all, it’s because the idea of George Michael as either God or the shape through which God interacts with the world is simply cool, on many levels.

There’s something wonderfully pleasing about the idea of a deity, any deity, deciding that if it’s going to visit Earth, it’s going to look good doing it. And it’s not just about looking good, either: before his untimely death, George Michael was justifiably lauded for the defiant and honest way he dealt with the homophobia that threatened his career. In the days following his passing, we’ve gotten an even better picture of an extraordinary artist: a man who once tipped a waitress £5000 so she could pay off a loan. A man who anonymously helped fund a complete stranger’s IVF treatment. A man whose approach to life was founded on the simple, resonant belief that now that he was successful, it was up to him to help others out. He’d made it, he didn’t need the attention, but he knew other people needed the help. So, when he could help, he did.

Enlightened. Compassionate. Modest. Looked great in a suit. SERIOUS dance moves and an excellent sense of humor about himself—his work inspired not only Eli Stone but Jeff Winger’s gloriously terrible audition video on Community, as well as playing an integral part in last summer’s Key and Peele comedy, Keanu.

As gods go, you don’t get much better than that.

So thanks and here’s to you, Mike, and Eli, and most of all, George. Play us out, please sir.

Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape PodPseudopodPodcastleCast of Wonders, and the magazine Mothership Zeta. He blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.

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