Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
The comic, sequential art or the graphic novel has been around since the time of the egyptians, in that time its stories have not changed that much. They are still about heroes and villains, good versus evil, but something has happened in the last 30 years, something you could almost call sinister. The heroes began changing, becoming as gritty and grim as the villains they fought. Why were they colourful and filled with concern for their fellow man to begin with? More importantly, why have they become darker? These are the questions that I found myself asking after I saw the film version of Watchmen. In this essay I will attempt to answer those questions by exploring the history of the comic superhero, a genre that is close to my heart.
Watchmen by Warren Ellis and David Gibbons (recently made into a feature film) marks the appearance of the post-modern super hero. Ellis' bleak world set in 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President and Vietnam is the 51st state of the United States of America, shows us a group of heroes who have had the world pass them by. They are no longer wanted by their nation in a time where the world is on the verge of mutually assured destruction. If there is a time for a hero to save this world from itself the time is now, but the heroes have their own problems. One of their own (The Comedian) has been murdered and they are all in a malaise of personal problems which are getting in the way. Eventually, they pick each other up and work out that it is a fellow hero who is behind the murder. They also discover that he has a plan to save the world by, creating a series of disasters killing millions of people to unify the world against a fake extra-terrestrial threat. It is this “ends justifying the means” answer to saving the world that announces these heroes as post modern. They accept, all but one (Rorschach) that it is better to kill many to bring about world unity and peace. They are able to hold the conflicting interests of saving the world and mass murder to bring unity to the nations.
I had read the graphic novel Watchmen a few times before seeing the film version and, it was during the screening of the film that I came to the realisation that the heroes I was watching were not the heroes that I had grown up with. The heroes I have read over the last 30 years of my life would not have acted in the way Ozymandis, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Dr Manhattan did. Their moral catch phrases or mission statements would not have allowed them to. Spiderman's “With great power comes great responsibility” and Superman's “Truth Justice and the (sigh!) American way” does not lead to the death of even one person being an acceptable means to any end, no matter how good that end may be. I left the theatre confused as to why I was not able to accept the heroes of Watchmen and struggled about this for a time. It has only been recently that I have come to the realisation that Watchmen is a significant landmark in comic history because of its depiction of the post-modern super-hero.
To be able to understand Watchmen be it the movie or the graphic novel you need to understand some of the history of the super-hero. Characters such as Superman, Batman, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and The Flash were gaudy bright characters who championed justice with a smile and with right on their side. With the possible exception of Batman (there were other non-powered crusaders in the Batman mould yet none of them are iconic enough to include here) they all had miraculous powers and abilities aiding them in their crusades against evil. This benevolent and altruistic response to the gift of amazing abilities is somewhat contrary to early greek thinking on the subject of the super-hero. This thinking about the hero is described in the tale or fable known as The Ring of Gyges. In the Ring of Gyges the story goes that a shepherd finds a ring that gives him the ability to become invisible. The shepherd's response to this newfound power is to seduce the queen, kill the king and take over the kingdom. Superman could quite easily take over the world, and in many alternate stories he has but, the characters altruistic beliefs are set in stone by the company that owns him.Yet, it is not just the corporate interests that have kept characters like Superman the way they have.
The early comic creators had a few things in common imagination, creativity and Judaism. Many of the creators of the heroes that are still around today were immigrant European Jews or children of Jewish immigrants. Will Eisner (The Sprit), Siegel and Schuster (Superman), Bob Kane (Batman), Jack “the King” Kirby (Captain America, X-Men, Mister Miracle and the Entire 4th World, and Kamandi), Chris Claremont, and Joe Kubert. These were men who possibly had a foundation in justice and the rule of law through their Jewish heritage. They also understood rejection and racism which is the reason why some of these creative people writers and artists ended up writing and drawing children's comics. The Jewish backgrounds of the comic greats could be a reason for the altruistic motives of the super hero, but there are other reasons.
There is a political and commercial reason for the heroes of what is known as the Silver age being so altruistic and moral in their use of the gifts and abilities given to them. In the 1950's in the U.S.A a series of Congressional hearings were held in response to the horror comics that were being printed at the time. The results of the hearings were the establishment of a comics code that insisted a long list (see appendix) that included -
“In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal [shall be] punished for his misdeeds.” (194:Morris and Morris)
These days the comics code is a forgotten relic of the past and if you pick a comic it no longer bears the “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” logo no matter if it is Archie or Vampirella. The comics code may have been a political tool but this tool made sure the bad guys lost and the good guys saved the girl, country, world, universe. These tales of heroes battling against odds to eventually win struck a chord and outsold the horror comics.*
*There is more I could write about the the place of the hero in global culture and its almost universal appeal but that is for another time. More can be found in works such as Joseph Campbell's “The Hero with a thousand faces”.
There are three ages to the history of American comics, Golden, Silver and Bronze. The changes are marked by certain stories that show a gradual decline in the rule of the comics code. The Golden age where Captain America and Superman are the ideal hero who battle arch-enemies and Nazi's during WWII. The Silver age began late 1940's to early 1950's around the time of the Congressional hearings that brought about the comics code. The heroes were bright as before but by the comics code, yet this was popular and profitable. The Silver age is said to have ended around the death of Gwen Stacy the girlfriend of Spiderman at the hands of The Green Goblin (The Amazing Spider-Man #121 June 1973) announcing the darker Bronze age. As the Bronze age continued stories became filled with real world issues like drugs and racism, they become regular themes. The heroes became less bright and often killed (Wolverine, Punisher) with some remorse but it was okay because “they were all bad”. Recently there has been floated a fourth age with Watchmen being cited as the beginning of the Modern age.
It is this gradual decline in the morality of the super hero over the last 40 years that has lead to the post-modern heroes of Watchmen. As the real world issues were further introduced the real worlds anger, frustration and despair came along for the ride. The hero had to become darker “with great power comes great responsibility” became “eye for an eye” as the rise of the Vigilante hero dawned. The heroes became darker and more violent but the code was still in effect even then because the hero was still winning and the bad guys were getting their punishment. Punishment that was now dealt out at the hands of vigilante heroes like The Punisher or Wolverine with the body count rising every year. Wolverines catch phrase is “I'm the best at what I do and what I do ain't pretty” With his indestructible adamantium (fictional indestructible metal) claws he was made to be the perfect killing machine by the Canadian government. Often drunk and smoking a cigar even when in costume he is the antithesis of Superman and Captain America from the 1950's, yet he is on par with Spiderman when is comes to popularity. From an “eye for an eye” it is not as far a leap to “the ends justifying the means” characters such as Deadpool a mercenary who kills for money, and Lobo an alien punk riding a space faring chopper. Their books are played as black comedy where death is merely the exclamation point of a punchline. As reality has seeped into the world of the superheroes the colour and sheen has washed off and the strict moral comics code has been abandoned.
You could say that I am being a sad fan-boy mourning a supposed loss of innocence that was fabricated by puritanic right wingers of the 1950's, and you would be right. These days comics are made to be cool, not good and right. They mirror society instead of holding up an ideal for us to live up to. This descent has happened within my life time and the manipulations of the comics code have finally been washed away. The American superhero has succumbed along with the rest of society to what Francis Schaeffer called “The Line of Despair”. Schaeffer's line of despair charts the progress of change in the concept of truth through western culture beginning with the philosopher Hegel to the present day. According to Schaeffer truth has changed from “antithesis” where Good is Good and the opposite of Good is Evil to a “synthesis” where ultimately anything Good is what you want it to be. This line is described by Schaeffer as a series of steps that descend through society from Philosophy to Theology. It is this change from antithesis to synthesis that has affected the western world and superheroes. If good is relative then how the hero saves the world is merely up to the hero. By the end of the Bronze age we can see this synthesis writ large in Ellis' Watchmen. Ozymandis can save the world he just needs to kill a few million to convince them to unify against a fake external planetary threat.
In Superheroes and Philosophy Dennis O'Neil describes the changes that have taken place in superheroes that have lead to Watchmen. O'Neil explains that the superhero is merely a meme : an element of culture that is passed on from one generation to another. These meme's “change as they pass from generation to generation” taking different meanings when it “changes under new pressures”. The superheroes that I grew up with in the 1970's and 1980's are no longer what they were, they have changed and evolved with the times. The synthesis that Schaeffer has described in his line of despair has altered the superhero meme and will continue to do so. Watchmen is merely the beginning and this christian fan laments.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
You must buy this really buy this comic. No, really, this is worth it
For more try newsarama
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
"What! I've had surveillance cameras in the lair for ages?" I reply
"So when's Ice-T getting here?" Henchy asks. "Tell him to bring popcorn."
Was it my imagination or was Henchy sounding more and more like Deadpool these days.
I didn't have time to dwell on that anymore as Galdys was still just standing and looking at Jorgy.
This is boring! what are they doing talking with their eyes?
"Your a clone of me, aren't you." states Jorgy breaking the silence.
"Yes I am Gladys." answers Gladys
"God! They used my mothers name for you. Is there anything Koma wont defile?" complains Jorgy.
"I was created by Fortuna and Silver." answers Galdys
"You can't be her. She told me they got the aging wrong. That you looked over 50."
"Koma fixed me. I was made to replace you. You lost your powers and went bad"
"I didn't loose my powers." seethes Jorgy. "Koma's damn cosmic power station took them from me."
"Koma made you bad so you helped take over Australia?" simplifies Gladys.
"He made me powerless I couldn't save people anymore." protests Jorgy. "I helped make eveyone safe, they can't hurt themselves anymore."
Gladys considered what Jorgy had said. She looked at Jorgy and then at the ground. Then she looked at the camera.
"Koma told me he would never use mind control, because its stops people being people. That only a selfish person uses it, because they cannot get what they want any other way."
"If I had my powers...." fumes Jorgensen.
"You do not. You are captured and your superior will be stoppped." declares Gladys she turns and leaves.
"You'll never stop her. She's so much more powerful now. She doesn't even need to touch you to hurt anymore."
Gladys stops and smiles at Jorgensen.
The speakers announce themselves with a crackle...
"Thanks for making it easier Jorgy." I tell him. "Its nice to know who I'm going up against."
Later on Henchy and Gladys met me for my plan.
Okay we know who we're up against Novicane my former boss who after the cosimic incident that took away Jorgy's powers got powers of her own. She can heal or hurt, to avoid this meant just not getting touched. Now thanks to Jorgy we know different. So by following the co-ordinates in Jorgy's Burning Man suit we can go where he came from. So all we have to do is..
"Umm scuse me dude but if we go in blind there could be a trap and stuff?" interupts Henchy.
"Yes I agree with Henchy." adds Gladys. "There are only three of us. Where is Chroma?"
"I can answer both questions with the same answer." I tell them. "I sent Chroma there ahead of us."
Sunday, May 31, 2009
"Explosive tipped bullets?" I ask Henchy. Trying to find out what made that size of a hole.
"Deer slugs." smiles Henchy
"Ah yeah." I reply remembering I'd built a hand gun to carry deer slugs for Henchy.
"Who is he?" asked Gladys joining us.
"Yeah! I do like to know who I kill." chimed in Henchy.
"Its Jorgensen." Chroma tells them. "Your genetic donor, the Cavalier."
"Whooo Yeah!" shouts Henchy. "I killed me Australia's superman. Koma I could kiss you for this."
"He went bad and he had to be stopped. Its all over now." says Gladys trying to convince herself the death was worth it.
"And when he finshes healing Gladys you can ask him why he did it." I tell her.
Henchy still hadn't finished shouting by the time Jorgensen had finished healing.
Jorgensen wasn't happy he'd been shot and captured.
"It had to be you." spat the ex-superhero behind the plexiglass.
"I'm sure Harry Connick Jr isn't wild about you using his material." I quipped.
"You haven't worked it out yet have you?" chuckeled Jorgensen. "The great comsmicly enhanced genius hasn't worked out who stole his plans and took over Australia. So you have to come to me."
"You still hate me don't you. Cause I just came here to introduce someone to you. I've got all I need to answer that question." I tell him holding the Helmet he wore as Burning Man. "Jorgy this your um sister Gladys. She has a few questions."
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The sheilds lasted less than a minute. The guy in orange and black floating above the robot army destroyed it by a force beam, which came from his hands. Then the robots came and just kept coming. The first few hundred got blown away by the cannons, but a few got through and we were kept busy protecting the cannons and the gateway.
Murphy's Law of course continued its recent domination of my life and despite our efforts we lost the first of four cannons. We were loosing again, it was only a matter of time before they would overwhelm us.
"Austin, whats the plan?" asked Chroma as we sheltered behind cannon 4 as the robots swarmed over what was left of cannons 1 and 2.
"Your asking me, now?" I ask back. "I thought you'd had enough of my plans."
"Austin." begins Chroma. "Ever since I've known you you've had a plan. Often they're so crazy that it seemed like they'd never work, but they did. Whats your plan?"
"Aww!" Interupted Henchy. "Hate to break up this touching Halmark moment but it looks like Henchy's gonna die and Henchy don't like that." Henchy was wearing one of the robots heads like a hat.
"Why are you wearing the robot head?" I asked expecting something ridiculous.
"Dude, it's camo. If you can't see it, you can't hit it." replies Henchy.
I smiled. Not because Henchy made me laugh but because I had an idea.
"Whats the plan Koma?" asked Chroma guessing my smile.
"Christine get Gladys from the lair. We're going to need her again." I looked at Chroma and she wasn't happy about it. "This is the plan. You wanted one, this is it. Now do it." I ordered. She left through the gateway.
"Dude!" exclaimed Henchy negatively. "Splitsville! Population you and her."
"Henchy get back in there and get as close as you can to the leader without him noticing you." I tell him.
"The floaty guy, done. Then what?" asked Henchy back.
"Then wait for your opening." I tell him. "Are we clear?"
"As clear as Chicken grease." answers Henchy and he left.
I turn back to see Chroma and Galdys emerging from the gateway.
"Chroma says you need me again?" asks Galdys wearily.
"Yes." I reply writing something down on a piece of paper. "Get up as high as you can and when I tell you to go do what it says on the paper."
"Okay but..." starts Gladys.
"No ifs, no buts. Just do it." I order handing Gladys' the paper. "Chroma give her your earwig."
Chroma puts the earwig communicator in Galdys' ear and in a flash of light Galdys is gone.
Then BOOM! An almighty blast goes off knocking Chroma and I to the ground.
- CANNONS 3 and 4 HAVE BEEN DESTROYED. DEFENSES COMPROMISED -
"So what happens next?" asks Chroma as she gets up off the ground.
"We surrender." I answer.
The robots rush in. Chroma takes postion to defend herself.
"We surrender!" I tell her and the robots. I put my hands on my head and kneel. She does the same. The robots take position and aim, but do not fire.
"So the great evil genius admits defeat." mocks whoever is in the floating gold and black armour. "Where are the Henchman and the clone?"
"Henchy split during the fight." spat Chroma angrily. "He's a mercenary he's only around if there's a chance to be paid."
"And the clone?" demanded the still hovering figure of malice.
"Its all well and good to demand stuff but I don't like talking to people without a name." I quip back. The force beam from his hands comes from directly above me. It flattens me into the ground.
"I am Burning Man." declares Burning Man. "Now tell me where she is?"
"I'd like to tell you where she went but I specifically told her to GO. I didnt say where." I replied my face in the dirt. Burning Man released the force beam on me. I looked up to see the light of Galdys pass over Burning Man as she flew past him.
"Arrrrgh!" screams Burning Man. His hands cradling his helmet free head.
Another stream of light passes me and I've got the helmet in my hands.
"Hurts when you have your helment taken off at sublight speeds, doesn't it." I mention. The very hot helmet in my hands that Galdys gave to me on the way back.
"Robots kill them." orders Burning Man still with his hands over his face. The Robots sit down. Burning Man pulls his hands from his face. I'm standing in front of him and the robots with the helmet and control of the robot army.
"I'm sorry it had to end this way, Cavilier." I tell him and Henchy takes the shot.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I'd just given then now golden Gladys one of my gateway briefcases. Its so easy to operate a child could do it. Just open and step back, quickly.
"See you soon." said Galdys doubtfully. And with that she turned and made her way through the airlock and out onto the moons surface. One short pulse of light and she'd gone. Unfortunately as I turned around I found Forutna and Christine.
"You careless bastard!" screamed Fortuna the wheel chair bound healer. Obviously Christine my girlfriend had told Fortuna what I had done to Gladys.
"Not only are you a careless bastard. "Continued Fortuna. "But you're a selfish coward too. Letting a naieve innocent take the burden of saving us by giving her a death sentance. And for all these years I thought you were just fooling us, but no you really are an evil genius."
And with that she wheeled away.
"Ouch!" exclaimed Henchy. "Hey a brotha gots to what he gots to do."
I looked to Christine not expecting much.
"I-I knew what Koma was capable of but I never dreamed you let him do it Austin." said Christine. "You could have come up with something else. Couldn't you?"
Before I could answer a gateway was requesting access, I opened it up. On the other side was Galdys, golden shining like the sun itself.
"So what took you so long?" I joked.
"It was so easy." smiled Galdys. "They didn't even fire at me, I just aimed at Australia and then here I am."
Gladys had landed in the middle of the Nullarbor desert. Pretty much the middle of nowhere. Hard enough for anyone to get here let alone detect Gladys flying at sub light speeds.
The next ten minutes were full of everyone getting what we needed to make an advance position and preparing anything I had in the lair that could fly to carry a briefcase gateway anywhere so we had an emergency exit. I had a few flying synthoids and a two seater jet. We put Silver and Fortuna in the jet and told them to make for Indonesia. I sent the synthoids north and west, no sense in sending them east thats where our adversary was.
Having finally gotten most of the defensive weaponry and shields up to protect the gate Vadar my Lairs artifical inteligence informed me that...
- THE TELEPORTATION SATTELITE ARRAY IS NOT JAMMED ANYMORE AND IS BEING OPERATED BY A THIRD PARTY -
Before I could utter anything the desert was filled with androids and above them was a figure in Gold and Black.
Vadar then told me.
- THE TELEPORATION ARRAY HAS BEEN JAMMED -
Sunday, February 15, 2009
"Wooof!" exclaimed Henchy as Gladys changed in the tank before our very eyes. Of course less than twenty minutes ago he'd been revulsed by her, now he wanted her bad.
"You disgust me!" spat Fortuna.
"Hey dont' be hatin just cause I know what I like." snaped back Henchy.
If it wasn't for Galdys emerging from the tank taking Henchy's breath away again it could have gone on for hours between the two of them.
Her transformation was a complete success later I lead Gladys into my lairs sun room where the oxygen for the lair comes from.
"So I'm solar powered?" questioned the now young Galdys.
"Exactly. The more sun you get the more powerful you are." I explain simply. Of course its got more to do with that but she doesn't need to know right now. There was just not enough time. To this day I really wish there was.
I gesture her to go in and close the door behind her. Gladys gave me a little scared look.
"I'd need factor 1200+ sunscreen to just not get skin cancer. You'll be getting a soild streem of sunlight completely unfiltered. Think of it as a jump start."
And what a jump start it was. I remove the sunlight filters that guard the plants and the raw sunlight storms in. Of course just raw sunlight isn't going to be enough so I amped it up to eleven. The plants all withered and then caught fire the smoke filled the solarium. Gladys screamed and I was glad I didn't let Fortuna or Silver in on this part of the plan. I let it go till I was sure she'd abosorbed more than enough for what we needed her for. I turned it all off and entered the sun room as the smoke cleared there she was.
Her skin was golden she was literally glowing. The solar radiation was such that my exposed skin got burned.
"Koma" she whispered. "Am I dead?"
"Not yet you've got enough time to shine Galdys. To shine like the sun." I tell her.
"I feel like I've eaten too much." she mumbled.
"Its okay you just need a little help from mister adrenaline here." I tell her as I quickly inject her with the hormone.
Gladys' eyes opened quickly. Her eyes glared daggers at me.
"There is no other way." I tell her. "Either we all die up here when they come to kill us or you save us in one bright moment."
Gladys looks behind me. Where Chroma is standing listening to every word I just said.