[17 January 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
The thing to understand about Earp: Saints For Sinners, right up front, is that it’s science fiction.
Sure it plays out just two years from today. And the tech unfolded in its pages is a pretty low-grade evolution from our current tech. Sure the lush interiors visualize a grand mythology of running gun battles down Main Street and bank robberies easily the equal of any storyboard for the sequel to Michael Mann’s Heat. But the book is one hundred percent pure science fiction.
Not in the sense that TV shows like Joss Whedon’s Firefly or looking farther back the ‘80s high-impact animated show Galaxy Rangers are simultaneously westerns and science fiction, updating old-timey Hayes code storytelling values by blending them with a space travel future. Rather in the sense that, to the ordinary people staking their hopes on the idea of boomtowns that once littered the Southwest and those hitching their wagon on the idea of the California Gold Rush, just the idea of the year 2013 pretty much scans as pure science fiction.
Put yourself back in time. How would you have read this book before Hope & Change, before a second (yes, second) economic collapse? Before a movie-star President, before landing on the moon, before wi-fi, before Vietnam and the two World Wars prior to that, before mustard gas and airplanes. Before Hollywood.
How would you read this book? If coming out of the 1860s, out of the Civil War, you discover the world of tomorrow once had magnificent things (a movie industry, satellite navigation, ICBMs) but now these social structures have collapsed under their own weight. And now, in the world after the world of tomorrow, the more familiar social dynamics that governed the 1870s have once again arisen. The thing about Earp is that its not a backsliding, lionizing of the halcyon of gunfighters on the streets. The book is more prospective than that. This book is about gaging how to deal with the future, but predicting how the past might have dealt with its future. It’s in this way, that Earp: Saints For Sinners enters into an elite cohort of science-fiction that includes such classics as Dune, Life During Wartime, Rendezvous With Rama or Stranger In A Strange Land. Or H. G. Wells all-time great, The Time Machine. This book is about tomorrow, our tomorrow, by way of our past’s tomorrow.
But of course, that’s not the real question. The real question is, how can you read a book, which throws out the line, “Gun sales went up, but violence went down”? How can you read that line, after Arizona?
The answer is how could you not.
Read David von Drehle’s piece in TIME. Read it not because a Pulitzer would not be praise enough (and honestly, even a Pulitzer wouldn’t be), but read it because David’s right. Because the tragedy here is the massacre of the ordinary, in an everyday world. Read it because Dorwan Stoddard died with bullets in his back (no, not a coward’s death as always hyped in those old John Waynes) shielding his wife and saving her life. Read it because as Bill Badger tackled the gunman (this gunman doesn’t deserve to be named here, google for his name if you don’t know it by now), he was bleeding from his head. From his head. Read David because Daniel Hernandez, at the end of the block directing traffic when the shots rang out, ran towards the gunfire. I’ll say that again. Daniel Hernandez ran towards the gunfire, because he knew his first aid training would be needed.
Read David for all those reasons and understand the scope of the tragedy in Arizona in the early part of this year. The full, human scope. And read David for his compassion for the human victims of the tragedy. Cry.
David’s point is well-taken, here. This story was never about the political jockeying back-and-forth, never about assigning blame to mainstream groups within the body politic for the actions of a fringe, never about haymaking for political causes favoring gun control. This story was about the human price. And the kind of world (littered with ideologues fanning the flames) that put a gun in the hand of a schizophrenic, and a schizophrenic on the street outside an ordinary mall. It is also the kind of world that push-pulled Hunter Thompson, a singular voice in journalism, to turn a gun on himself.
So does art create reality, or imitate it?
If you’re asking the question, let it go. That either/or binary is entirely too simplistic. The situation is far more complex than a simple measure cause versus effect. And Earp: Saints For Sinners a moving and deliberate piece filled with brio and machismo and pure humanity will push you beyond your limits. Because Earp will push into understanding the singular role of the art-piece as predictive. And on this occasion, an art-piece that draws the tight line between financial crisis and gun violence.
Is Earp: Saints For Sinners socially relevant? After a quarter pound of pressure on the trigger of a Glock 19 in Arizona, Earp desperately is. But it will also be socially relevant tomorrow. And long after we’ve healed, and after we still remember these horrific events, because these events deserve to be remembered. But Earp, sadly is socially relevant. Not because the book comments so vividly on a tragedy (it doesn’t, Earp vividly predicts a tragedy), but because one to of the surest ways of understanding what may come, is beginning to understand what might have come from our past.