Friday, March 23, 2012

I think I've figured it out

I cut my teeth on late 60s and early 70s comics and I still like to settle in for a while in a bookstore and read several graphic novels covertocover when I have the time. but I've come to be more and more disturbed lately by what I see, and today I think I've come to realize what the cause of that disillusionment is.

they simply are no longer realistic.

many people have noted the incredible violence being perpetrated in comics in the past decade--rapes, beheadings, fists through faces, cannibalism, that sort of thing--and that isn't so much the realistic punch that many of us readers back in what they've come to call the bronze age of comics were hoping for when we cried out that comics lacked realism. after all, we had characters who quit, who were strung out on horse, who killed villains. it was often done as if it was the only way to deal honestly with these issues, but also with an air of trepidation and sometimes coyness, almost in a sweet way.

but now we are given hyperrealistic deaths of tens, dozens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at a time. and almost no one is punished for it.

I'm not arguing for a return to the comic code sort of justice in which the evildoer must come to bad ends. but consider: we've told creators and companies that we want realism and grittiness and dark, dark stories where the bad guys win at least as often as the good guys. and that's not what I'm arguing against because frankly I like that. it strikes me that kickass is a more realistic comic story than batman.

but if comic stories reflected the world that we live in no murderous villain would appear more than 2ce, 3 times tops. in a conceit where the joker kills dozens of civilians and cops each time he escapes or where an ultimate (intended specifically to be a more realistic universe) green goblin slaughters multiple dozens of highly trained secret agents, both of these characters in any reality we would recognize would be executed formally or secretly shortly after being taken into custody.

we live in a reality in which a 3 strikes law requires that a person stealing a slice of pizza is given a life sentence; in which 34 states have death penalties and there are 41 separate federal crimes for which someone can be executed; in which the only ways that people like slobodon milosovich or augusto pinochet (in many ways our realities supervillains) can escape life sentences are by playing out the length of judicial rope they are allowed until they die of natural causes; or in which people like jeffrey dahmer are themselves murdered by other prisoners. that the batman would put the joker back in prison or a psychward each time (after he murdered his own partner!) without himself taking vengeance or the state stepping in and putting him to death obviates the refusal by comic writers to take their own concepts seriously. there is no reason readers ought to either.

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