#6 – Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a frog?
Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog, it’s just another volume of “I’m JUST Sayin…” a glimpse into the mind of King Cobra or as I’m known in France and Canada: “The Great Dark Thing That Ogles Our Women.” As always, I don’t precisely start out knowing what it is that I wish to discuss, distress, dismember, disrobe, and/or discombobulate at any given moment, but sometimes I’m struck by Inspiration. Other times, I’m actually mugged, rolled, and left with knife wounds in a rest stop bathroom outside Castle Rock, Maine by Inspiration, while Inspiration and it’s friends use my debit card to buy porn, booze and switchblades.
Today’s Lecture Topic:
DEEP THOUGHTS ON COMIC BOOKS AND THE SUPERHERO IN MASS MEDIA:
I have been much irritated of late by the Visa Check Card Commercial featuring a host of Marvel superheroes coming to the rescue of some chick in a mall parking lot. Leaving aside the question of WHY the entire roster of the Avengers and the X-Men were wandering around Twin Pines Shopping Centre, or why Captain America is suddenly strong enough to burst through CONCRETE (not that comic fans are anal about such things), but why does Spider-Man sound like a drunken Corey Feldman with a head cold? Sure, he’s young and he’s supposed to be a wise-cracking devil-may-care type, but that voice track is just ANNOYING! He literally sounds like a voice-over that Prisoner and I would have slapped together in ten minutes at KBSH Television in Hays (home of the legendary “SANDWICH OF IVAN JENSEN”). It’s as if they’re trying to make the commercial ridiculous to apologize to those who are too GROWN UP for caped heroes…
I guess I just don’t get it. I’ve read tons and tons of fiction, both adventure/escapist (soooperhero and comic booky) and “Real Literature,” and frankly? I don’t see that much difference. There’s apparently some unwritten line of demarcation that makes the little 24 page paper pamphlets mind-sucking pap, (Doesn’t being 3 bucks a pop make them adult? After all, who but a grown-up has that kind of disposable income?), while virtually the same story told with Russell Crowe in the lead becomes a poignant and tender Oscar nominated must-see film experience.
For the purposes of my BMF list and the subsequent Hall of Fame (currently over in “The Jungle”, he said, hinting broadly), I won’t draw any lines on genre. Children’s program, soap opera, comic book, movie, Tijuana Bible: Everybody gets an even playing field. Mebbe it stems from my pathological need to balance the scales (hey, YOU try being the only BOY child in a family of psychotic Amazon women and see if YOU don’t have a problem with marginalization), but mostly it comes from this truth: Ideas is ideas. The set dressing isn’t nearly as important as what you’re trying to say. If your story is, say, a deep and philosophical look at the world around us, why should it matter than the main character is Wonder Warthog? (Heh. I love Wonder Warthog. “I gave ’em all a TV, and a Cadillac and sent them to Mississippi! They’ll never bother Americans again!!”) Aaaaannnyway, there are tons of television shows on the air where the main characters do thing that are reminiscent of comic book/superhero stories, in a GOOD way. From Gil Grissom’s almost telepathic understanding of a crime scene, to Sydney Bristow’s fighting skills, to the Bruce Wayne fortune of Doctor Carter on E.R., virtually any show has SOMETHING that’s over the top, that’s larger than life, that’s… fuck it, comic booky.
Halle Berry is much criticized in comic book bitching circles for supposedly having been quoted about her casting as Storm: “There were so few good roles for African Americans, that I had to be in some stupid comic book movie.” Does she have a point? Sure. Will the irritation of a dozen (or even a couple THOUSAND) hardcore super-geeks make a damn bit of difference to Halle Berry? Nope. Not a sausage… bugger all. Ms. Berry will continue in her happy, beautiful life with her dune buggies, and her mansions, and her sleeping with her Hispanic chef Joaquin Behindjoo, and there won’t even be the tiniest fiber of her being affected by it. I mean, everybody KNOWS that a REAL actress wouldn’t be in some childish comic book story of her own accord?
To which we retort: THPPPPT! Let us respond to this imaginary Halle Berry by pointing out that not EVERY superhero comes from comics, and not ever COMIC has a superhero in it! There are literally hundreds of comic books that come out every month with nary a caped crusader in ’em. Why tar them all with the same brush? Also frustrating to me is this: For the past 20-odd years, there has been this underlying belief that no concept from comic books is REALLY successful until they “escape!” You’ve got have movies, got to have McDonald’s cups, got to have merchandise. Don’t get me wrong, when you can buy Wonder Warthog Underoos in a XX Large, I’m there, but can anybody tell me how that affects the story? Is the Fantastic Four movie going to improve the Fantastic Four books? Probably not. Is it going to make people more aware of the property? Certainly. Will it make people respect the original material? Not if they’re predisposed to think of it as silly juvenile crap… It’s a Catch-22. The people who don’t read comics because they’re “childish” will never know what has changed, and when a creator does something truly well-done and adult, they’re often chided for working in the medium. Why the heck would anybody who doesn’t already LOVE comic books want to work in the medium?
Witness “Sin City,” a well-done, adult comic. Now that it has a MOVIE, we continue hearing how “lucky” Frank Miller is that he can now go and do “real art.” And when artists from other mediums move INTO comics, somehow their work is considered to be superior, such as novelist Brad Meltzer’s flawed gem “Identity Crisis.” A more adult Justice League, I like, but why does adult always mean conflicted, angry, confused, and/or dead? Aren’t adults allowed to be fun and goofy, too?
Most annoying to me: The condescension has now permeated the comics themselves. I just read the latest issue of “The Ultimates,” from Marvel Comics (mostly on the strength of Bryan Hitch’s ULTRA-sexy portrayal of old-school heroine The Valkyrie. Hey, I’m married, I’m not DEAD!) I alternately love and hate this book (just like my high school girlfriend!) and the latest issue irked the hell out of me. Set in a world where superhumans are just beginning to show up, this issue shows Henry Pym (having been thrown out of The Ultimates for wife-beating) teaming up with a group called “The Defenders.” They’re based on an old comic book series (creatively called The Defenders, another reason why I hate The Ultimates sometimes. It’s all retelling stories with a “fresh creative spin.” And by that, they mean “You may have seen this before, but now, they say FUCK!”) and makes their members seem like putzes. Sure, it’s funny to hear “The Black Knight is stuck in traffic!” and “Isn’t it cool that we finally have a member with superpowers?” and “Next time we have sex, I want you to dress up as Captain America for me!” but it seems disrespectful to the work that they’re adapting. To take a COMIC BOOK about SUPERHEROES and use it as a platform to say how ridiculous a COMIC BOOK about SUPERHEROES is? That’s kind of insulting, isn’t it? It’s just mean, like a swirly for the kid you just beat up and gave a wedgie. It’s just insult to injury…
And besides, Peter Parker wouldn’t sound like Corey Feldman. He’s from Queens! He’d sound like a young Archie Bunker!