The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Waiting for Superman

Times like this truly do make me wish superheroes were real.

There’s an affecting moment in J Michael Straczynski’s recent run on the comic Thor. The Norse god of thunder’s been dead for three years, but has come back to life, as only gods and comic book superheroes can.

One of the first places he goes is New Orleans. Thor was dead when Hurricane Katrina hit a year earlier, and he knows he could have stopped the hurricanes, the floods, or otherwise saved the city and its people. But he wonders where the rest of the superheroes were: “Why were not force fields erected? Why were tides not evaporated by heat and blast? Why were buildings not supported by strength of arms and steel?”

Just then, Iron Man shows up, to tell Thor that all superheroes need to register with the federal government to prevent superpower-caused disasters. Instead of preventing Katrina or repairing New Orleans, Iron Man and his fellow superheroes have been fighting each other over this registration requirement, part of what Marvel Comics called Civil War.

There’s some meaning to be drawn from this, that I can’t fully articulate. Something about thinking too small, thinking about short-term hurdles and squabbles rather than the big picture; a blindness to the fact of habitual human suffering that would be willful if it weren’t also somehow sickeningly necessary.

I’m not sure. But I think I know why I’ve been reading more comic books lately.

May 31, 2010 / Uncategorized


I love this:

“Why were tides not evap­o­rated by heat and blast? Why were buildings not sup­ported by strength of arms and steel?”

Because these are all, of course, powers that we—as a real civilization—have.

It also makes me think of Cable. Nathan Summers, son of Scott Summers and Jean Grey—one of the most powerful mutants ever born. He had the ability to snuff out stars with the power of his mind, they said. But: infected with a techno-organic virus by Apocalypse, the only way he could survive was to bend *all of that power* to the daily maintenance of his body—to life support.

And so this left him, in essence, a normal man. Great power balanced perfectly with a great burden.

This has always seemed like one of the richest & truest symbols in all of comics lore to me.

I should add: Thor then completely kicks Iron Man’s ass. I’m not a big fan of Straczynski, but he really writes a good Thor.

Saheli says…

I finally watched this video.

Cheesy confession: I was living by myself for the first time during 9/11, and also kinda ill. Either that day or the next, sometime, I couldn’t really face going back to my apartment and sitting alone with the 700 club (the only TV I reliably got) and my terrible AOL connection (the only ISP I yet had) or even NPR, so I rented my favorite childhood movie, Superman I, and bawled for the towers I never got to see and the superhero I really wish had shown up. It’s probably around then that I became more of a Batman fan, and later the Global Frequency, and I wish I knew enough about comics to fin those superheroes that don’t rely on magical thinking.

Global Frequency
Iron Man
Astro City
The Watchmen
V for Vendetta
The Authority (Warren Ellis’ run)

That should get you started.

Tim Carmody says…

So… basically Alan Moore and Warren Ellis, is what you’re saying. 😉

I know, I know; there are some others mixed in. But it is amazing to me how much comics, which were once reliably industrial, crank ’em out, title- and publisher-driven products, have turned into a pretty solidly auteurist medium.

You know, the tale of that flip — the “creator-owned” movement of the 90s — would be an interesting one to research and tell. Especially b/c so many of the comics that came out of it were NOT very good (e.g. most of the stuff from Image) but, in retrospect, who cares, because at least it firmly established this new commercial assumption—that you’d be crazy to create new IP on Marvel/DC’s behalf. Ya wanna end up like Siegel & Shuster? Of course you don’t.

Basically the ONLY reason you go & work for one of the big publishers now is to get your crack at Batman, Spiderman, etc.

Tim says…

It’s a similar story with movies. When auteurism as an idea was developed, it was mostly a critical take on Hollywood movies. Critics would look at old movies and say, hey, these ones that John Ford and Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock made were really special, with a distinctive visual style, thematic progressions and continuity. So, the same way you might say, retroactively, that classic comic figures like Jack Kirby or Chris Claremont were really important, to draw an analogy.

But it quickly involved into an argument that 1) movies were important because X made them, not because they were popular or even any good, and 2) movies would be better if they left directors alone to make personal, arty movies that reflected their special visions. And like comics in the 90s, a lot of the post-Hollywood movies made under this idea in the 70s (and since) just weren’t very good.

That’s interesting. One difference is that the economics of Hollywood didn’t change much. Well: directors have probably gained clout over time. But even today, no director owns his movies; at best, he extracts a huge payment and some small share of the profits. And even then, that’s just the film itself—forget the underlying IP.

Whereas the baseline assumption in comics is now that a creator will own what he invents, 100%—especially the IP.

Saheli says…

Wait, Watchmen? Somehow Dr. Manhattan pulls it out of this discussion for me, and is actually the main reason I didn’t really enjoy it. I have V for Vendetta, and have read most of it, but honestly, I started reading it during a period of my life when I just couldn’t deal with extended descriptions of torture.

I feel like I really lucked out with Global Frequency. The very first issue just happened to catch my eye; I had no idea who Warren Ellis was. Usually I feel really alienated & intimidated on the non-graphic novel side of the comic book store; they seem peculiarly evolved to be uninviting to an outsider. The friendly shopboys (they are always boys, for some reason) try to help, but their recommendations are too vague and multi-faceted; they can never help me clearly decide that this, this, is the place to start reading Iron Man. So instead I end up getting local one-offs, graphic novels, more stuff by Neil Gaiman, nonfiction, just other things.

I’ll try again with this list in hand though.

Tim says…

Hey, Warren Ellis wrote the “Extremis” run on Iron Man a few years ago, which kinda rebooted the character. . I’d start with that.

Tim says…

To a certain extent, the economics of comics and movies CAN’T be the same, just because they’re different industries. But to the extent that directors (and writers and actors too) have their own development companies and shares in studios (Tom Cruise, Stephen Spielberg, etc), they’ve got a much bigger financial and creative stake than they had in the heyday of the studio system. The analogy’s sound, is the key point.

“Some­thing about think­ing too small, think­ing about short-term hur­dles and squab­bles rather than the big pic­ture; a blind­ness to the fact of habit­ual human suf­fer­ing that would be will­ful if it weren’t also some­how sick­en­ingly necessary.”

Wasn’t this in large part the premise behind the Alex Ross/Mark Waid miniseries “Kingdom Come” that DC put out back in ’96?

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