Personas Private, and Public
When I’m wrong about something, I quickly admit it. The first two issues of Joe Casey and David Messina’s The Bounce had me believing it was a fairly well done but unremarkable deconstruction of superheroes. I was wrong, and The Bounce #3 showed me why. It only took a scene with a masked hero and a drag queen getting high for me to figure it out. The Bounce uses the language of superheroes to examine the differences between private and public personas.
Jasper puts on a mask to try and make sense of what happened to him, and while The Bounce #3 (and the whole series thus far) acts as an origin of the titular hero, with a little government-corporate conspiracy thrown in for good measure, the book really is about finding “the best version” of yourself. It’s a sentiment echoed in a bit of throw away dialogue from female impersonator Terry early in issue three. Jasper is confused about moving forward, confused about who he is and what he’s become when compared to societal standards. Terry can relate. Standards of gender identity would put him out of societal norms, yet when he’s “among likeminded individuals,” it’s “communal ecstasy.” He’s not confused about who is, but the judgments of society weigh heavily enough that he keeps this public persona private. No matter how much better he feels about himself when he’s indulging in his secret.
It’s remarkably very similar to some of the issues the cult rock musical Hedwig and The Angry Inch deals with. While The Bounce uses the tropes of superheroes and comics, Hedwig uses the language of glam rock and punk to explore gender identity.
If you’re not familiar, Hedwig is about a fictional rock band fronted by an East German transgender singer. Hedwig struggles to find her other after a botched sex change operation, but beneath the surface of that search for love is this subtext of accepting who and what you are, and by doing so, you will find that missing part. It’s the merging of Platonic theory with ideas on gender identity, mixed with hard rock music and artistic integrity.
Just as Hedwig’s story is dependent on the androgynous quality of glam rock–It’s the only subgenre of rock and roll where gender lines were completely erased– The Bounce’s story couldn’t be told without some sort of deconstruction of superheroes.
As comic readers we understand thoroughly the elements essential for a superhero origin story, but when we take those parts, separate them, rearrange them, and add elements from modern life we are left with a strikingly powerful self reflection. Societal standards and expectations have us commoditized and categorized so thoroughly that at times it’s hard to identify ourselves outside of the interchangeable parts we essentially are. Deconstructions of superheroes take those parts and apply them to the men and women of myth, legend and imagination.
But in the last 25 years, and especially within the last ten, the varieties of superhero deconstructions have increased astronomically. Part of it has to do with changing societal values, and part of it has to do with a level of cynicism so repugnant that we are unable to accept the innocence of tying towels around our necks and pretending to fly.
It’s certainly difficult to view any piece of superhero deconstruction with the same lens we had when, say, Watchmen first debuted in the 1980s.
That was my mistake and my prejudice to view a cursing, pot smoking, and slacker masked vigilante story as something that can be thrown on the pile with the rest of the vaguely developed post-modern superhero examinations.
And while The Bounce certainly loves to answer one question within its narrative with another question, that deliberate pacing shouldn’t be held against it. Especially as the series opens its doors and exposes the secrets of it characters in the vein of exposing private and public personas.
The striking tone of the book, drug culture mixed with uber-violence and government conspiracy, can at first glance mask the good intentions of the story and its themes. Mix in a drag queen roommate and the prickly attitudes of sibling rivalry, and the cathartic experience that is yet to come of accepting both the private and public personas of the flawed protagonist can seem very distant and removed.
But The Bounce wouldn’t be half the book it is without its deconstruction attributes. Much the same as Hedwig and the Angry Inch would ring hollow if it didn’t address both gender identity and romantic identity in glam rock themes like “Wig in a Box” and “The Origins of Love.” The narrative necessities of each story are what make them resonate. I just have to hold off tearing them down before they’ve confessed their purpose.