David Bowie's Lasting Influence on Geek Media

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As reported earlier today on ComicBook.com, David Bowie passed away this morning at the age of 69. A talented musician, actor and writer, Bowie pioneered the glam rock movement (which subsequently inspired early punk rock) and left a legacy that transcended music and permeated all of pop culture. Bowie’s “weird” style and his casual disregard for conformity stood out as a beacon for many who felt out of place in modern society and his songs and performances inspired countless comics creators, actors and video game designers, leaving a lasting impact on the geek genre.

Bowie’s death comes days before the premiere of Lucifer, a TV series based on a DC character heavily influenced by the musician. While Lucifer’s origins are biblical in nature, Neil Gaiman (creator of DC’s version of Lucifer) requested that the fallen angel look just like Bowie. During a 2015 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Gaiman said he pictured Lucifer as a “junkie angel”, a concept perfectly typified by a younger Bowie (before his better known glam-rock days). Gaiman is an admitted “superfan” of Bowie’s, and his recent novel Trigger Warning includes a short story featuring the musician and his wife Iman living in a futuristic New York.

Interestingly, Bowie inspired more than one version of that particular fallen angel who has enjoyed popularity in comics. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine features a reincarnated female version of Lucifer who strongly resembles Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” persona, which Bowie himself described as “a mad aristocrat” who felt nothing. The Wicked + The Divine played on this resemblance with a variant cover that paid homage to a famous mugshot of Bowie taken in the 1970s. While remembering Bowie on Twitter this morning, Gillen stated that he had toyed with making all twelve deities who appear in The Wicked + The Divine as homages to different personas Bowie had adopted over the years. Bowie also played a role on Gillen and McKelvie’s depiction of Marvel Boy, a character featured during the pair’s run on Young Avengers. That character was in many ways a combination of "Ziggy Stardust" and Bowie's Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Grant Morrison also based one of his more radical takes on a classic comic character after Bowie and his Thin White Duke. According to the famed Scottish writer, Bowie inspired Morrison’s version of the Joker during his acclaimed run on Batman. Morrison spoke of wanting his Joker to emulate Bowie’s constantly shifting personas and the underlying creepiness of the Thin White Duke and even titled one issue of Batman RIP “The Thin White Duke of Death”. Of course, Morrison wasn’t the only person to see a connection between Bowie and the Joker. Bowie was on Tim Burton’s short list to play the Joker in his 1989 film (Jack Nicholson would play the role) and Neil Gaiman had said that Bowie would be perfect as the Joker if DC were ever to make a live action version of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

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Bowie’s famed looks and style also inspired many video games designs and characters. Bowie helped design and write the psychedelic Dreamcast game Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and also made two cameos in the game. In addition, Bowie’s influence can also be seen in character designs in countless other games, including Final Fantasy, Xenosaga and Resident Evil. Bowie might have even inspired the creation of the Pokemon Zangoose, who bears a certain resemblance to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie’s illustrious acting career also impacted the world of comics and geek culture. For instance, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth became a cult classic film, largely because of Bowie’s portrayal of the villainous Goblin King. Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation of Labyrinth in 1986 and Archaia and TokyoPop later produced comics featuring the Goblin King and other Labyrinth characters. Bowie later reprised his role in The Goblin King in two of his music videos. Several movies and TV shows like The Simpsons Movie, Community and Scooby Doo have also referenced or spoofed Bowie’s take on the Goblin King.

Another influential Bowie movie was The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s first movie role. Bowie played an alien trying to transport water to his planet from Earth, but is slowly corrupted by vices like alcohol and television. Bowie’s performance in The Man Who Fell to Earth inspired several other actors to emulate him in later roles, including Michael Fassbender in Prometheus. The 2009 Watchmen movie also featured several references to The Man Who Fell to Earth, including the set design for Doctor Manhattan’s apartment. Fringe also played homage to The Man Who Fell to Earth by naming a character after Bowie’s alien.

Of course, Bowie himself has “appeared” in several genre TV shows and movies, including the aforementioned Watchmen, where he briefly appeared as a friend of Ozymandias in the opening credits. One of the best Bowie spoofs appears in The Venture Bros., where the pop singer secretly leads the Guild of Calamitous Intent as the evil shapeshifting Sovereign. The Venture Bros is rich with Bowie references, including one notable flashback sequence in which a Major Tom dies a horrific death in a plane accident (paying homage to Bowie’s “Space Oddity”). Bowie also famously played himself in Zoolander, where he refereed a “walk-off” between Zoolander and a rival male model in one of the best cameo appearances of all time.

David Bowie was an inspiration in every corner of pop culture and touched the lives of countless people, including those who find their passion in geek media. Wherever someone felt rejected, weird, or out of place, David Bowie was there to tell us that the weird wasn’t just “okay”, it was majestic and wonderful. Bowie encapsulated romance, sadness, joy and life for so many through his songs, his movies and his art, while showing how to stand out as opposed to “fit in”. Bowie was a legend and an icon who brought so much joy and made a lasting impact to so many. He will be missed.