Thursday, December 9, 2010

Superhero Realism and the Role of Print Media

               The role of comics has moved from a form being established in print to a form being established digitally. Comics are now more likely based on other mediums it has branched into, such as a comic based on a movie, or they enter a digital space before they occupy the shelf space held for print publications. Another example of the traditional comic platform becoming alienated is shown with the television series Walking Dead. A flagship of modern print, it is interesting that the television show hardly adheres to it’s source material. I have not seen ‘The Watchman’, but I hear it is a good example. I mention this as The Watchman is to comic book fans as Naked Lunch’s to junkie literature lovers.
                This death of a medium, the paper comicbook staple, has moved to the digital age, both in forms of publication and creation. Web comics are established in digital form first and then they take on their print material, which is the opposite of the century before. Comic books are also changing in the way the novel is changing in how they are created; I have heard the argument that one cannot sit in a basement and write the great American novel anymore. This idea is apparently dead. Well, the counter to that idea would be that you can sit in your basement or den and write as much as you like as the internet and digital transfer removes the spatial gap between cultures. Therefore, the issue becomes one of mental space and information. If you can be creative, you must then only figure out what resource (as in, information) you need to harvest. So a man may sit in his room and still create traditional comics, he would just want to change is form of distribution. Really, in the age that we live in, there is much fear over the death of print when it is something not nearly as dramatic. The conduit for what creates the print only needs to be augmented for digital publication first and print second.
                A good way to explore this idea is to contrast it to the storyline methods applied by comic book authors. Specifically, with the origin story of a superhero and how this aspect of storyline has, in a small way, also evolved it’s distribution.
                While there are many ways to explain an appealing aspect of comics, a large draw is their origin story of the character. While I’m sure many a person as critically analyzed the Hulk and Batman, what is interesting is how these stories have changed. For example, the current story for Batman in comics is that the Joke killed both his parents. However, in the actual comic, Bruce’s mother dies from shock, perpetuating an image of female frailty. Eventually, this was changed to reflect the severity of the Joker’s evil and, hopefully, to place DC’s stance firmly against ridiculous gender roles.
                This example of Batman is a small one, but details are what readers care about. Most forms of popular writing cater to quicker reads on ‘small’ or ‘marginal’ details (creative non fiction, hint fiction, flash fiction, creative essays etc), as they are the most universally identifiable. Consider Ang Lees movie adaptation of The Hulk and the scene where the Hulk jumps into the air as high as he can for the first time. Ang Lee highlights how the Hulk is both amazed by his ability and scared of coming down, even though we are sure he will be fine, because he’s the Hulk. But even though the audience knows he’s okay, this is still material from a comic book after all, for a moment, the Hulk does not know. Usually hated for its lack of action, Ang Lee chooses to highlight moments that actual make characters appear genuine as opposed to things being smashed (it’s still not a great movie). This aspect of storytelling is seemingly being extinguished from mainstream movies and videogames.
Forms such as videogames and movies want you to hate a villain because they are evil, not because they are a complicated threat (threat to what is also a great debate). A majority of popular films ignore details due to hate from the audience. They would rather a hero hates a villain because he blew something up, some form of hippie pop philosophy of rebellion against government that an audience can easily digest (oppression is bad, man!) or because someone killed their family (just some examples – essentially villains threaten as an Other figure and must be removed). In super hero film, characters will say a couple lines of dialogue and the audience is expected to feel emotions invoked through cinematography, directing and musical score because the actual writing is horrible. This creates a distancing space from the audience with the source material. The reason is that the lack of relatable detail proves to make a consciousness appear genuine. When I see giant robots firing lasers, and that’s where its starting off, I’m uninterested. When you watch someone discover themselves however, is something that super heroes bring to the table quite easily and should be explored more. It is a shame that more comics do not prey off the notion of their own medium, for example, by routinely killing characters without reintroducing them. There are far more interesting stories for comics to pursue, many of which they do through series such as Sandman, Felix the Cat, American Splendor and Y, but the realistically dramatic superhero origin has not been one of them.
                So here is my take on what human details should be explored to add a more relatable and genuine spin to the realm of digital and print comics:

-          Any aspect of physiology explained in a way that  makes scientific sense. However, do this halfway through  the origin material in a manner that shows the writer  actually thought out the origin.
-          Explore physical injuries someone would sustain while  developing these abilities in a barely exaggerated form.
-          Consider altered forms of presentation (as shown in   modern studies of shape prose)
-          A sense of decisions made by characters having an      impact by introducing permanent death and at any point.
-          Shift from corporate focus, shown in its ultimate decadence and copyright self indulgence in DC’s 52 comic series, to a more grassroots movement (through digital publication).
-          New marketable selling point; Less of a stance to   ‘protect print’ and more on a stance to ‘collect art’.    Creating new material that is subject to true temporal status   in comics would help solidify this, no matter what   form its original distributed in.

I hope that anywhere from the Paris suburbs to the London boroughs, some misguided individual will write some decent comic series that repeats original origin stories that legitimize themselves through believable and relatable moments while still adhering an aspect of ‘superness’. All while being done in a manner different than Resurrection Man. Hopefully any future comic that has the balls to continue exploring the unsuper of superheroes won’t be molested by being turned into a weak AMC television series.

End Note  – I recognize that Walking Dead does not have super heroes, per say. A series like this is being used to describe the comic medium and how it has not kept its source material. As for comics that are not about super heroes, these are some of my favorite and most profound. Indeed, Walking Dead as a comic is good. However, there was a time when the superhero story was just as interesting and genuine, not because of a hero’s toys and abilities, but because of their story and actual life scenarios. In this regard, the super hero story, or the interest of superheroes, has died to the author.