Comics are weird.


Well they are. Today I read two. The first was the inaugural issue of Marvel Comics Ultimate Graphic Novel Collection (available from your local newsagent in the UK), The Amazing Spider-Man’s Coming Home. It’s a J Michael Straczynscki story which introduces the concept that Spider-Man’s powers have an origin a little more complicated than a radioactive spider.

Namely, that he is the latest in a long line of people imbued with special powers from totemic animal spirits, and that so many of his villains are animal themed because some subconscious narrative source in the universe deliberately attracts villains that balance out the hero. E.g., Captain America has Red Skull, the X-Men have Magneto and Spider-Man has the Lizard, Doc Ock, Rhino, the Vulture et al. This is of course how hero/villain dynamics work. The villains that caught on were always the ones that proved to be either the opposite or dark reflection of the heroes. It was a pretty damn meta-textual moment.

Now, I liked it. Spidey’s internal monologue did get  bit overwrought at times, hopefully Straczynscki (y’know what, from now on I’m calling him Mr S) in his other works remembers that sometime silence speaks the loudest of all. Also, not ten minutes after I turned to my brother and said “why doesn’t he call any of the other heroes that live in New York?” (which is at least a half dozen high profile ones), he considered calling the Fantastic Four with change he’d stolen from a fake-blind beggar.

In fact, when comics go all meta are often my favourite part. Of course, now that previous fans are running comics, they do that a lot. But according to tvtropes at least, I’m supposed to think that “messing” with the webhead’s origin and introducing new concepts into what was then an ailing character (and this story helped lead to his revival, at least the blurb at the back said) is automatically wrong. Even though it was done for Superman and the destruction of Krypton. Or Batman and Joe Chill. Or The Flash family and the Speed Force.

That was the other one I read, Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns.  It’s the story where the Silver Age Flash Barry Allen was readjusting to being brought back from the Speed Force, the quasi-mystical source of all the DC speedster’s powers. Turns out that even though he was the second Flash, he created the Speed Force and that the more he uses his powers, the more he builds up the Speed Force and the more heroes (and villains) can tap into its power. Some of the Golden Age heroes like the original Flash and Green Lantern also remark about how the appearance of Barry Allen as the new Flash brought them out of retirement. This is meant quite literally, as the Flash is pretty much universally credited with leading the revival of superhero comics after they nearly died during the forties and early fifties.

But to return to the matter of the Speed Force for a moment, the implication behind Barry having inadvertently created the Speed Force is that he inspired the rebirth of superhero comics that sprawled throughout the medium and that he, with his continued presence in comic books, will continue to grow and expand and help to inspire and shape the medium for decades to come. That’s pretty deep subtext for a picture book where men in silly suits punch each other really hard.

I like that comics can do this. The tradeoff is that it’s pretty hard for a newcomer to find a way in. I know some argue that it’s not that hard, but I’m pretty boned up on DC for a non-regular reader and I struggling with having all four Flashes, and one of the Flash’s twin children, and two Flash’s wives, and Reverse Flash, and Liberty Belle, and Black Flash, and Savitar, And Gorilla Grodd, and Max Mercury and Johnny Quick. See how this stuff gets confusing? It doesn’t help that two of the Flashes have identical costumes. Seriously, one of them has to have his headgear torn off so we can see he’s not Barry Allen. The plot even has to stop several times to explain characters or contexts or backstories.

What’s the point of all this incoherent rambling that I’m doing instead of important uni work? I dunno. Comics are weird. I like ’em. I want to read more. It’s a shame I’m poor, really. And would you look at that? I didn’t even have to refer to Mr S again.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mitch Allan
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 19:31:28

    I would agree that the thing keeping me out of comics is the massive amount of continuinty I would have to learn. Even if I didn’t need all of it to get by, I’d still need someone to let me know which back issues to check out.

    And I’m That Person who won’t watch a show until I’ve seen it from episode one. It’s why I like Fables and Sandman – I can get volume one no problem and read them like that insead of jumping in halfway through.

    But I agree, any medium going meta is awesome, especially one so self-referential and continuity-bending as comic books.

    Reply

  2. jackcalico
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 05:26:20

    Sandman may be the King of Meta Comic Moments. It helps that the lead character is the living embodiment of dreams and stories. Kinda gives you license to do that.

    Reply

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