Friday, October 10, 2008

Comics as Metatext: These Are The Days of Our Lives

So why is it that I know more about Tony Stark’s heart condition than I do my own father’s? Why am I more curious about Wolverine’s past than my family’s own checkered and mysterious past? Why, sadly, do most fanboys know more about Diana Prince’s bust than… well… then about any real busts?

Are comics the true metatext for our times? Have the long running series developed a life of their own in our memories, and our discussions, and our continuing their lives into other media? Have the Fantastic Four become more real to those that had their brains permanently scarred by Lee and Kirby, or those whose chromosomes were altered by Claremont, Byrne and Austin?

For all those that will claim movies as our fictional consciousness, can six hours in the life of Indiana Jones compete with months and years of following the minutea of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben? Like the album that was playing when you had your first kiss, your first break up, your first make up sex, these serials become the soundtrack to our lives. I can recall not only the 7-11 where I would purchase the X-men comics, but also all the little bits surrounding going down there on Wednesdays after school, getting that hideous Charleston Chews to go along with the new comics. What else can make all that come back?

As well, comics have provided the same sort of story stability the music can provide. When all else is going to hell, you can go back, again and again, to stories and watch everything going to hell, and somehow come out all right yet again. Comics can personify the cathartic element in storytelling as our heroes confront an endless series of troubles that should seem to overwhelm them, and yet somehow do not. While we might expect that somehow there will be a point where they breakdown over the troubles and yet they do not.

If there is a furthering of the metatext, then it is in the addition of the breakdown that has taken heroes one step further than they ever went before. Daredevil breaks down with Karen Page as she returns from her drug addiction, and takes his life as Matt Murdock down with it. Jack Knight, father and girlfriend gone, breaks down with his newborn son in his arms, his precious Opal City no match for his personal losses. Comics grow up when our characters face real dangers, but those dangers act as a real advancement of the characters, which is a danger to the corporate metatext. Perhaps the only way to continue then is to follow the prince Valiant path, where the characters do age, obviously not in real time, but slowly and surely, so that their path eventually mirrors our own.

It is perhaps The Batman who personifies the longest running metatext currently available to those of us who follow popular fiction. Superman has been rebooted enough times that only the very basics of his Jewish origins have stayed true: Ma and Pa Kent, Smallville, and a few others. Batman, on the other hand, has been the true Gilgamesh, whether written by Kane, Fox, Miller or Moore, he’s never quite been able to shake Joe Chill pulling the trigger on his parents. Whether it was from a distance or so close that the pearls break and spill to the ground, it matters not. Two-Face will always be Dent on his worst day, the Joker always the rogue force of chaos, Catwoman his own self with a looser set of morals and a greater sense of who she really is.

Bob Segar once sang, “Come back baby, rock and roll never forgets” but comics do forget. DC and Marvel have, in some measure forgotten where they came from. There is nothing wrong with adult heroes, but we need the heroes of our children as well. While Civil War was heavy handed allegory, Secret Invasion takes the very underpinnings of the Marvel Universe and spins a tale out of Skrull cloth whole. Right now, the Marvel Universe is an odd mix. DC had dragged the entire universe into Morrison’s world, and it is not a happy place with Final Crisis. Oddly enough, Grant knows almost better than anyone how to mix the light and the heavy into a delightful stew that many different ages can enjoy (see his All Star Superman). Somehow, in all the politics and editorial decisions seem to have driven the fun out of it. A selective memory is what is called for here.

And memory is what its all about, then, isn’t it?

1 comment:

Freckles said...

Interesting analysis.