It’s no secret that near to the end of most Halloweens, after everyone else has gone to sleep, I retreat into a something of a Halloween ritual of my very own. I’ll usually round out the night by watching Branagh’s version of Hamlet, and this Halloween will be no different.
Why Hamlet? Because the Danish play is just about the most powerful example of neonoir in all of literature. And noir as a concept is at the heart of Halloween. The holiday has never really been about the ghosties and the ghoulies and the dressing up (although the pantomimes are great). Rather, Halloween has always been about inherent vice (a human need that expresses as the confabulation demons and ghouls), the willing occlusion of any escape clause (our perpetual return to the scene of the crime—the refutation of pure reason), and our interminable last tango with the invariable (well y’know, faith’s pretensions at being one of the great empires of the mind).
But even back-to-back viewings of Hamlet, one raw, and the other in director’s commentary, can’t prepare me for the next day. For the day when I come down from all that sugar. I’ll need to be reading to get through it all, the comics will help me, what’s the word, “maintain”. And now’s as good a time as any to start thinking about what I’ll be reading, pretty much because Night Film just broke the internal mechanics for me.
Just An Aside: I was disappointed to learn that Pessl’s book had been optioned as a movie. I loved the book, but I had no idea why. The Guy, McGrath, was just plain unlikeable and Ashley Cordova’s suicide seems uninteresting. But the world, Pessl’s world of Night Film, is deeply engrossing. And that’s really at the heart of the project; the idea that a piece of fiction can be held up as a kind of dark mirror to our own world. I was disappointed when I heard about the book being optioned in the same way I was disappointed when I stepped into a multiplex all those many years ago and bought a ticket for Primal Fear—in both cases the novels were so involved and the fictive worlds so vivid that they seemed to demand the broader scope of a TV show rather than a two-hour movie. But before I go off…
Tentatively then, my reading list is going to have to involve a number of acts of summing things up. This year since last Halloween has been host to three very different kind of legacy statements, really the summation of some three decades of work by two giants of the comicbook industry. We’ve seen Geoff Johns wind up a decade of work on Green Lantern (since the 2003 reboot, Green Lantern: Rebirth, that brought Hal Jordan back into play as a Green Lantern). It was a long and bitter road to walk with Green Lantern, with Hal Jordan. It was the work of undoing decades.
The decade earlier, 1993 until 2003 (more or less) was the decade of Kyle Rayner. And the decade of publisher DC relegating Hal Jordan to the role of cosmic supervillain Parallax. And while it seems to scan as DC being heavy-handed or drawing dead on creativity, it only seems that way. Green Lantern, going back as far as John Stewart in pre-Crisis DC, Green Lantern was always about more than Hal Jordan, so why not a decade dedicated to a GL from one generation on?
The decade before that was even worse for you if you were a GL fan. The period between 1983 thru 1993 was about consolidating the cultural capital amassed during the ‘70s era Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and attempting to parlay that into a workable space opera formula. Remember the Omega Men, and the Predator and G’nort? Yeah me either, not so much. Or maybe it’s a case of my simply not wanting to remember. Those members of the expanded cast of GL in the ‘80s feel more and more like a distraction, an over-wringing of the space opera formula; where the necessary mechanisms are in place, but they push the genre too far so it ends up unwieldy. Almost like Bizet’s Carmen when compared with Mozart’s Magic Flute or Colin Farrell’s Total Recall remake pitted against Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner.
So what hath Geoff Johns wrought? Think of it as a decade-long experiment, but essentially it reduces Johns having wrestled with and ultimately expanded the core concept of Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps. Over the last decade, over the course of a slow build-up in the first three or so years, we encountered a fully developed space opera every bit as powerful as Star Wars. The Green Lantern Corps, a legion or space cops, became one corps among many others (six others). They fought with their ideological opponents, wielders of the fear sub-spectrum in “the Sinestro Corps War”, they fought the return of their dead Blackest Night, they fought the Guardians’ doomsday failsafe in Rise of the Third Army.
In evolving the core concept, Johns was able to grandfather in Hal’s role as a hothead. Jordan’s do-or-die-and-then-ask-questions-after-comma-caution-what’s-that attitude struck a truer note with the new fractious politics of Guardians and the Corps. One thing that seemed difficult to process (and extreme kudos to Denny O’Neil on his run as writer on the now mythic Green Lantern/Green Arrow for making this character jump seem plausible) was Hal Jordan’s post-roadtrip with Green Arrow recalcitrance and his reversion to impulsive risk-taker.
While this post-‘70s Hal Jordan was more reminiscent of Hal Jordan back in the ‘60s, it definitely seemed more at odds with his Goldwater-esque Republican-ism of the ‘70s. Now, some two decades on and in Johns’ capable hands, Jordan’s near-infantile, there’s-always-time-for-thinking-when-you’re-dead approach became more central to his role as GL. Jordan was both deeply needed, and a threat to the Corps, because of his personality. And this Johns showed beautifully in those issues just prior to Blackest Night, when Hal Jordan himself first encountered the Blue Lanterns and the Red Lanterns and the Orange Lanterns.
A second legacy statement made earlier this year, and I know this one doesn’t stretch quite for a decade, but we’re going to squint our eyes and cheat just a little, was Grant Morrison’s on Batman and Superman. With Morrison’s return to DC following his profound reimagining of the X-Men in New X-Men circa September 2001, and his reboot of the Justice League in the pages of JLA, Morrison hath wrought phenomenal wonders. All-Star Superman, which gave us Morrison’s unique take on the zany-science Superman of the ‘70s, Seven Soldiers which laced together seven individual mini-series in an omni-epic, 52, co-written with Johns and with Mark Waid and Greg Rucka to form a kind of television drama-esque weekly-installment comicbook that spanned an entire year. But all of those projects pale in comparison to Morrison’s Batman and Superman.
Playing out in the pages of Batman and Action respectively, Morrison treated us to the most postmodern versions of the superheroes to date. Imagine that for Batman and Superman both, their entire publication histories became their biographies. Superman came under attack simultaneously from the Anti-Superman Army, a corporate meme from a parallel Earth and a trickster imp from the Fifth Dimension. These foes who could bend time attacked him throughout his entire life, Superman’s memories became weaponized. And much the same with Batman. The invisible foe, Dr. Simon Hurt guided Batman down a psychic labyrinth of torture and compromise really from the beginning.
Those are big comics dreams, and honestly I’m not made from time, so I won’t be able to get to everything. Realistically? It will probably come down to me shaking in sugarshock while scenes from Akira flit across the wall-mounted 50” screen and, I think maybe this year, Lightning Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf playing on loop.
I’ll draw the line at this though.
I will be reading Animal Man, especially those last few issues since the “Rotworld” epilogue. It’s been a lone slow journey journey back from the character’s Mature Readers Only-branding of the ‘90s. And in writer Jeff Lemire’s hands, it seems like Animal Man’s sojourn has been lap around the track of the popular imagination, rather than a walking back from excommunication. Every lesson every writer’s learned since the title’s been consigned to DC/Vertigo in the mid-‘90s seems to be a lesson Lemire’s taken to heart. That’s why Lemire has been able to present us with the Four Great American Migrations; the East-to-West of Bob Dylan, the South-to-North of Muddy Waters, the Middle-to-Coasts of Chris Carter and the Then-to-Now of Steve Jobs.
I will be reading Colin Lorimer’s UXB because it is the very best kind of science fiction. Imagine Neon Genesis Evangelion crossed with Lord of the Flies crossed with Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
And I will be reading Gregg Hurwitz’s entire run on Batman: the Dark Knight. Because Gregg is scary, scary. Human scary. This time last year, it all got too much for me to read him write the Scarecrow’s psychological torture of the Batman. If Gregg’s achieved anything, it’s to take b-grade Batman villains and craft their stories of human weakness lovingly, almost to a fault.
In other words, Gregg’s found that inner noir that Chet Gould aimed at in all those daily strips of Dick Tracy, all those decades ago now. If there’s an inner noir to be found in Halloween it lies in batmanism; the idea that we indulge pantomime and phantasmagoria so that we may be free of it for the remaining 364 days.