Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Lion in Winter

*Originally published 10/23/09 on Black Elixir Neat*

Still going on comic books. My feelings on and around them are going through a putrefaction for a variety of reasons, so I may as well get some curd from the fermentation.

Andrew Hickey, the Mindless Ones, and others have touched on a lot of these points. All eight people who read this blog, if you like the comics rambles I've been doing, check these guys out.

I've always dug legacy heroes. If anyone got the opportunity to watch "Son of Rambow," the little Mormon boy shows a lot of how Little Ben interacted with and conceived of the universe. I didn't feel right as playing the established character, as most of what I experienced of, say, the Justice League or Marvel characters were from continuity dense works bought sporadically or from the mini-comics I'd get in the Super Powers action figures. I had it in mind that Hal Jordan meant little to me outside of a name, that Superman may or may not have had that Superplane thing, and that Batman seriously didn't have a shiny blue costume for fighting Mr. Freeze. So most of the time I'd conceive of some derivative, some new fellow who would receive endorsement from the Big Grown Up Heroes who had their grown-up things to handle that I didn't recognize all that well. (I'm still waiting for editorial to treat Green Lantern more like The Wire and less like G.I. Joe meets Star Trek.) That said, whenever some young buck would take over the mantle from the Big Grown Up Hero, I'd be excited to no end. For me, it showed that it was possible to take that idea popularized by these unassailable, emotionally inscrutable things made to look like people and make it viable through change.

Unfortunately, most comic book readers never saw it that way. The idea of growing up into a hero meant needing to grow up, and that scares a lot of them. Somehow, "growing up" means things like "get married, have kids, feel guilty about enjoying yourself, overdo it, get chided by Mother-wife-thing." Thus, comics became normalcy. The popular, emotionally inscrutable fellows in the costume became fundamental pillars instead of benchmarks. To my perspective, it's like being mad that Barry Sanders isn't playing football any more. Just because he isn't out there doesn't mean that his contributions to football and the masculine identity aren't valid.

Also, some characters were poor, poor excuses for follow-ups. Ben Reilly had a convoluted origin involving genetics, enough so that he contributed little as a stand-in Spider-Man. He had little with which I could associate, while Peter Parker's acceptance of an ambivalent totem due to an acceptance of his less-than-stellar traits and his desire to redeem them at all costs was something universal. Kyle Rayner had the greatest potential as Hal Jordan's replacement as Green Lantern, yet he was kept too closely in check by shortcomings on both writing and editorial staff. He never showed us what a visually-oriented person could manifest if given the ultimate artistry kit, and he had nothing of a relatable personality, except for the inferiority complex manifested in his appearances in JLA. The entire Marvel Next line, for all of the interesting details, had been far too sanitized. None of the characters dealt with anything heavier than a slightly bad day or a bombastic, vague cosmic threat.

However, some characters taking up mantles were quite successful. Wally West, the original Kid Flash, graduated from sidekick to full-fledged Flash, and with it he brought a hyperkinetic, childlike enthusiasm that the doddering, stiff Barry Allen lacked. Bucky Barnes was retrofitted as a damaged, dark young man who had been a part of numerous questionable moments in history, and his accession to Captain America after the ethical perfection of Steve Rogers gave him a path to show that he was, beneath the wretched history and rightful political cynicism, capable of altruism and evolution.

With that, however, Barry Allen and Steve Rogers have returned to remind us that comics are governed more by fear more than by possibility. The past returns, and with it a message that our futures are useless and meaningless in the face of nostalgia. Wolverine, along with the return of his memories, has been gifted with a son, a successor. However, his successor is a morally bankrupt, manipulative horror, capable of cruelties that even his hard-boiled father cannot match. The same goes for Bruce Banner's son, Skaar. The younger generation is seen as a blight and a terror, bloodthirsty monsters who would sooner eat a live kitten than save one from a tree. The future holds nothing but aggression and pain in the world of Superheroes these days. Those who empathized with the characters who had bad fathers are now perpetuating the same Zeus/Kronos complex that had damaged them.

I really hope that this is a last-ditch effort before the human spirit kick-starts itself into the realms of the impossible, where science and religion aren't seen as proving what doesn't exist, but as displaying what can become manifest.

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