John Cale’s “Sanities” Lyrics Provide
Inspiration for the Title of This Blog Post
“Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”
—Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan
Right now, outside of Kabul, a young man has just had his kneecap shattered by a flying bullet, fired at him by another young man who doesn’t know they share the same favorite poet and that the two would become fast friends if they met in other circumstances. Neither one yet knows that the injured man will never walk again, and will probably need to have his leg amputated, lest he contract gangrene.
In London, a young woman has been caught on camera exchanging an envelope for money and is about to be arrested by undercover police officers from Leeds on suspicion of drug-dealing. The arresting officers do not yet know that she is actually an undercover Interpol agent whose cover they have just blown.
In Bangkok, a corrupt policeman has murdered a famous American film star for reasons unknown to the public and staged the scene of the crime to look like an accidental suicide brought on by autoerotic asphyxiation.
On my television in Manhattan, a woman complains that the American President’s discussions of the previous administration’s handling of alleged ‘unlawful enemy combatants’—discussions which, incidentally, she feels have only occurred on foreign soil—serve as nothing more than slander to the ‘brave men and women in the CIA’ and other American agencies and organizations.
In the midst of all of this, art is created. It has long been said that art (be it prose, poetry, music, film, paintings) is not created in a vacuum. Neither then, are comicbooks, arguably the only truly original American art-form. Art has always served as a commentary on the times; Stephen King’s novel The Dead Zone, for instance, deals with the Cold War, post-traumatic stress, and distrust of our elected officials. The novel ends with a once-average young man, of course named Johnny Smith, driven to change the world from destruction, sacrificing himself like Christ on the cross. Bob Dylan’s song “Desolation Row” is a nearly twelve-minute long indictment of Adolf Eichmann, who at the time of its recording was awaiting trial in Haifa, Israel. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth was written as a reaction to the infamous Gunpowder Plot of November, 1605, to which some attempted to link him. Through the play, he attempted to show the Queen his patriotism.
Although the political relevancy of comicbooks has only risen to national prominence in the last several years with storylines like Marvel’s Civil War and “The Death of the Dream” in the company’s popular Captain America series, comics have by and large, always reflected the world around us. The original origins of the Fantastic Four and the Hulk were steeped in Cold War paranoia, building on the hopes that America would win the space and arms races while simultaneously touching upon the public’s fear of the atom since J. Robert Oppenheimer became ‘Death, the Destroyer of Worlds’ on that fateful day in Alamogordo. Batman, it can be argued, only existed because of the poverty, corruption and crime rates of the Great Depression. When the X-Men initially encountered the Reverend William Stryker in 1982’s now-classic graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, Stryker was only advocating an anti-mutant movement if one looked merely at the surface. Within the subtext of God Loves, Man Kills, published a year after the CDC officially recognized AIDS, one can easily find a stirring call to arms for equality of men, women and children of all ages, races, religions and sexual orientations. Cyclops’s impassioned, televised speech for the acceptance of mutants could easily be about the acceptance of homosexuals, Jews, African-Americans or the mentally disabled.
This, friends, has always been the true purpose of art: to expose the world around us for what it is, and all the truths, beauties, horrors and mysteries that it holds. Comicbooks are a huge, if not essential, portion of that equation, and have been since their creation. As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, comic books suddenly find themselves as relevant as rock and roll and as timely as “Desolation Row”.
My aim here, every single week (sometimes more), will be to discuss how it all works, how it intertwines, what it all means and, most of all… why. Debate is not only welcomed, it is encouraged. Suggestions will be taken to heart as long as civility prevails. Finally, and most importantly, at the end of the day, we’ll all have learned something from each other, and from what these lavish, colorful stories have to say.
Next Week: The superhuman arms race in comics as America continues its war. A look at some fascinating recent and current tales, including: The Marvels Project, The Torch, No Hero and Supergod in “Ballad of a Superman”.