Friday, October 23, 2009

The Lion in Winter

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Thanks to B.L. Donnelly, Batman and related material have gotten a lot of mental airplay over here. Batman has strong roots in the Mystery Man pulps, not to mention Aristotlean philosophy (as often exemplified by Frank Miller's literature). However, I choose to examine the phenomenon of what allowed "Batman" to form as an idea and take the reins.

The canon of Batman's genesis goes as follows. Thomas Wayne, inheritor of the preposterously exhorbitant Wayne family fortune (money as superpower), goes to medical school and becomes a surgeon. Somewhere along the way, he falls for a powerfully idealistic woman named Martha. The two marry and have a son, named Bruce. Although often estranged from other youths and easily startled, Bruce had a good heart and a singularity for a brain. The family resided at Wayne Manor, which has a rich history. Set over a vast cave network, Bruce had his first encounter with live bats after tripping into a well. The event left him shaken, but otherwise unscathed. Most scribes put Bruce at around 7-10 years old when he and his parents set out to see Mask of Zorro on the big screen, as an endulgence for Bruce. This endulgence coincided with a very strong desire, or perhaps even need, for liquid assets in a gentleman named Joe Chill. Agitated by circumstance and possibly other stimulants (or lack of opiates), Joe Chill attempts to mug the Wayne family and in the scuffle shoots the parents before scrambling away from the devastated child.

Here's where the recounting gets shaky. The point at which Bruce re-encountered the bat shifts and changes often, implying a moment out of time. This is where I feel that Bruce interfaced with something much, much bigger than his individual consciousness, the moment in time that sent ripples through his short life. The well of bats didn't exist in Bob Kane's original story, instead coming from later authors. That said, it has been used repeatedly since its inception. Bruce was, nevertheless, left with nothing off of which he could project a Paternal or Maternal role directly, which left him open in that moment of trauma to recognize the Living Idea Being which he identified through the same sensation as a child trapped in a well with an endless stream of bats flying past him. Many authors have projected the idea of what he must have felt, yet it all seemed to ring strangely. It seemed clear-cut and softened, neglecting the raw uncertainty that comes from the loss of fundamental psychological rudders.

As with all great works, Batman started out in utter dreck. Bruce, understandably, felt responsible for the loss of his parents. He pleaded for hedonism's sake; he wanted to see one of his favorite action characters ride around on the big screen when he could experience the same from recording equipment at home. He wanted his mother to wear pearls to make the excursion a noteworthy event. If we take a step back and remember Bruce's exploratory and literate nature, he perhaps "remembered" sacrificial rites in Dionysian tradition, in which the vessel would receive the greatest accolades and endulgence before getting ripped to shreds. Seeing meaning in everything, this seemingly random event may have been part of a larger process of manifestation. If they hadn't gone out, and if he hadn't wanted to make a gaudy spectacle of it, his parents wouldn't have died. Bruce's sense of self-chastisement made any sense of enjoyment for its own sake something to be discarded. Bruce Wayne was responsible, so Bruce had to be cast out as the lead role. The child had such an aversion to the psyche responsible for the sacrifice of his parents on the altar of crime that he chose to embody everything that would send Bruce Wayne running: discipline, vigilance, and control. He chose the trauma in the well as his starting point. Considering Bruce Wayne as co-conspirator, he chose the very thing that would make the boy panic, and used it as his template for future endeavors. The Bat requires the absence of a commanding figure or figures before introducing itself. Bruce Wayne became the puppet, the unwanted thing that the controlling consciousness would use to avert people's attention to its doings. Despite continuing his Father's business and his Mother's philanthropic work, Bruce Wayne would do his best to come across as an idiot and dilettante, in order that the consciousness could return to lashing out at this vague "crime" thing of which Bruce was an unconscious part, using the spirit of the animal that brought the boy to quivering trauma. He would act as the vessel of the Bat.

I don't know how relevant, cohesive or sane any of this sounds, but I'm going to keep at it.

So, a man in a Bat costume runs around, ruthlessly mangling and mutilating those who would choose to bring pain to others through illegal means all throughout his city. Much of this, however, was beating the living shit out of drug addicts and other people whom life handed the short end of the stick. Chances are, Batman began in an ugly, ugly place. Just as it required the sacrifice of two outstanding people, the Bat-monster must have chewed on a lot of furniture and shat on a lot of carpets before the controlling consciousness could get a leash on it. Batman would now give rise to his antithesis, as if to create limits for himself. This he would manifest in the autocratic need for violence and justice in the Man, who would carelessly knock an externally unremarkable fellow into a vat of chemicals, out of which would arise The Joker.

Just as Batman became defined as Not Bruce, this Joker would become defined as Not Anonymous. Every act would be an indulgence. Everything would be seen as a source of amusement. The Joker has no alter ego, for his world is all for fun, and thus he has no need to act in shadow or in secret. The terrorization of the Bat-monster run rampant has consequences with the Joker. No one is an anonymous vessel for crime when a person chooses to become the opposite of their fears instead of the embodiment of them.

The Joker's inception perhaps initiated the Robin scenario as well. Seeing the effects of his works, Batman would perhaps see a unique opportunity in the newly orphaned Dick Grayson, already a child so different than the young Bruce Wayne of an equivalent age. The forgotten Little Boy Bruce found a peer, and Batman found a person in whom he could affect change without terrorizing. Although Robin and Joker share red and green elements in their appearance, Robin chooses yellow which complements the Joker's purple. From here, the Robin figure would act as the synthesis of Joker and Batman.

Grayson would eventually distance himself from Batman. Many authors have attempted to cover this disagreement, yet the result remains the same. He would take a new sobriquet not from the polarity of Batman and Joker, but instead from Superman's mythology, something foreign to the Matter of Gotham. The next Robin, Jason Todd, would not escape the polarity. Jason lacked the discipline that Grayson had learned as an acrobat, and had no desire to develop it. This would, inevitably, lead him to fall into the Joker's hands, or rather his repeated crowbar blows and explosives. Jason at first hung like a scarecrow, a bogeyman story to spook aspiring Robins. He would rise later as the consummate counterpoint, dressing in the rags and castoffs of others to attempt to put a name to his senseless rage. He would come to embody the self-loathing of young Bruce Wayne, the all-consuming sense of abandonment that would burn through whatever stupid outfit he'd put on. The third Robin, Tim Drake, was more of a mirror for Batman. Although he dressed in the colors of Robin, the vibrance and hyper-activity of Dick and Jason gave way to a predatory coolness and diamond-like intellect. Dick was the Detective personified, scouring for solutions to the mysteries that would present themselves before him. Unfortunately, Tim's emotional center hadn't the years of processing that Batman was afforded, and after his father's death, he would retreat into the indestructible mind of his for any and all trauma. When he sought initially to become the next Batman, the "death" of Bruce Wayne brought him to evolve the idea of what being Robin meant in and of itself, without connection to a Batman. Donning one of Jason Todd's Robin-derivative costumes, Tim would step out to solve the mystery of Bruce Wayne's death.

I think this is all I can do for now. There's a lot more to say on the matter, but the Mindless Ones have said it before and have said it better than I have. It's sometimes just nice to vomit information.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Hangman's Banner

I just could not get through the snarls, today. They run too deep and too far, but I may as well get them out of my system. The Internet is our collective Shadow, and I may as well own it.

I love comics. I dare say, I will love comics for a long time, especially those silly superhero ones. That said, the past year has made the Superhero comic into a form of rage-inducing tedium. Meandering hipster chatter about the creation of an issue replaces content, even though that little smidge of content's fucking great. A story with a novel and inventive take becomes bogged down in grindhouse camp and devolves into '90s-style posturing and flexing on who can claim the "baddest ass" title while mowing down redshirts in rockin' cool ways. The bad guys had supposedly won the day in Marvel's Dark Reign, yet after the inception it's become increasingly flaccid and uninspired. We're on the fifth Marvel Zombies iteration, with a sixth, now including zombie superhero monkeys, in the wings. Superman is on some new version of Krypton, and guess what?!? Kryptonians are still the same stiff, dull, soulless alien tropes I've had to suffer through for so many years. I mean, there's no artwork on an alien world aside from architecture, everyone's clothes are plastic, nothing wears down, and everyone has a stick in their ass. Spacemen can say "Fuck." You hear that? Little green men have probably called someone an "unwashed anal bead" or some equivalent. I mean, seriously: where are the rude people, the working class, the sports fans in space? Why don't I see Non of the New Kryptonian military pissing on a building and knocking it over after too much Superlager? Ohhhh wait, speaking of dense and uninteresting aliens, let's get into the great big DC jam-bo-ree called Blackest Night! I barely know any of the characters coming back from the dead, and I have to deal with every dickface who's read DC since they were 8 staring down their nose at the latecomers for not giving a shit about Magpie, Hawkman's unrequited love, the Dibny's, and Necron.

The Batman property, so far, has kept afloat. All anyone needs to know is Bruce Wayne's dead, the first Robin is now Batman, and his biological son is now Robin. From there, it's all crazy adventure. The world of Batman has burst open with possibility, and one needn't have read it for eons to enjoy the story. It feels... unburdened, and I like that a lot.

Well, that's that.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ice and Hammers

What's validity? Okay, yeah, just as most intellectual concepts, "valid" has all manner of subjective values that rearrange between subjects, which in themselves remain just as amorphous as the aforementioned adjective. As far as English goes, I feel more likely to hear "valid assessment" than "valid gardening trowel". That said, could I then come to a notion that "valid" represents the structural integrity of an experience or idea, and thus possessing an oxymoronic nature, as ideas have less physical presence than a neutrino in our sensory observance?

So, with this in mind, I popped onto the Online Etymology Dictionary, which gave the definition of "supported by facts or authority." However, as far as authority goes, the Orson Welles movie F for Fake has elaborately ruined that concept for me.

Yet... in our presentation of ideas and concepts, for the populace that operates in the realm of words, symbols, concepts, philosophies, religion, magic, spirit and persuasion, "Validity" is not unlike the Holy Grail bearing Bran's severed head and the Lapis Philosophorum. Somehow, the idea has no merit if not repeated to another source, be it in singular perspective or in multitude, and if that source mentions a confluence of perspective with that idea, the Ideomancer steps a little closer to finding the Big Prophecy- and Abundance-Barfing Head on a Plate. What do I hope that Validity will offer? What power does it manifest in our social sphere?

I've more found that Validity acts not as a giver of power, but as a means to stave off Thanatoic fear. "If I have people who have heard my ideas and agree with them, and those people either have merit through either number or status, then I have made a worthwhile contribution to humanity, and my existence has been useful. If my existence bears utility, then my experiences of life were not wasted and I need not fear mortality." In my case, this feeds into massive social phobias and ambitions. Will Grant Morrison come across my thoughts and feel moved to see his own effect on a human being? Will I convince Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to forgo anti-Semitism with a comic book? Will I dazzle a member of the desired sex with my intellectual might so that I can appease my lizard-brain's incessant screams for carnal experience? What if I'm not making enough money to meet these people? What if I'm not relaxing in the right way to formulate the Most Impressive Idea in the World? What if I miss the opportunity to Meet Validating Ideomancer/Dazzling Soulmate/Perfect Audience? How do I find these people on the way to finding the Most Impressive Idea in the World?

Ha! Ha ha ha!!!

But... what do we chase when the windmills stop looking like dragons?