Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Real Life Intrudes

I spent four years editing comic books, after 30-odd years of reading them. I have opinions (like, what, I don't have opinions about other things? Oh, shut up). But I do have a life-long interest in comic book storytelling--and I'm talking superhero comics, not talking animals or slice-of-life stories of depressives. People in spandex. Probably my first experiences in textual analysis came from writing to the letter columns to explain why a story worked or didn't work. And I think Frank Miller has a bad idea.
Look; Miller's an interesting guy. Some of his work, particularly on Batman and Daredevil, is brilliant. I'm not one of those people who adored Sin City, which seemed deeply obvious and derivative to me, but I can still read The Dark Knight Returns and remember the frisson of pleasure and recognition I got the first time I saw it. But now he wants to send Batman after Al Qaeda, and I think that's a bad idea. At least, a bad idea for someone whose comic work is regarded as something approaching literature.
On my coffee table I have The Great Comic Book Heroes, edited by Jules Feiffer, a compilation of super hero comics from the 30s and 40s which include superheroes taking on Hitler and Toho; we have video tapes of old Warner Bros. cartoons from the 40s ("Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips!"). There are all those late 60s-early 70s comics in mylar bags in my basement with "relevant" stories about drug use and Vietnam which seemed quaint even when they were published. They are curiosities, not stories. And even with Miller's ability behind them, I'm afraid that Batman taking on Al Qaeda is going to wind up being a curiosity, not a story. The comics which have made a political statement have always (it seems to me) done it sideways: Dark Knight Returns is a great super hero story, but manages to satirize the culture we were in, mid 80s, by showing us a near-future where everything was kicked up a notch. The Watchmen pretty much deconstructed the second half of the 20th century, politically and socially, as well as the idea of the super hero itself.
So, no, Frank, I'm sorry. If you want Batman to take on Bin Laden, I'd suggest that you go about metaphorically. Otherwise it trivializes the character and, worse, trivializes terrorism.


Blogger Jonquil said...

The thing is, just as Batman has to live on or else seem silly, so does bin Laden. Bugs Bunny can defeat Hitler because it's farce. If Batman defeats fictional bin Laden but the real bin Laden goes humming on, Batman looks stupid.

And the one thing that Batman can never afford to do is look stupid. He'd rather paint the Batmobile pink.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mad! If you get a chance swing over to and look in the "about us" section and see if you recognize a face from your past.

All my best!

Your old friend BEE ;)

7:55 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Brent! How are you? Well, obviously you're busy, and still working in the industry. Excellent to hear from you.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Caro said...

I have to agree with you on this -- comics often feel horribly forced if they try to be relevant to current political and world events. They can make powerful statements -- J. Michael Strackzinski's issue of Spiderman which dealt with the fall of the Twin Towers comes to mind -- but for Batman to take on Bin Laden? It's a pass for me.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm doing great thanks for asking. I see your keeping busy as can be as well. I was so plesed to find your blog, it's been for ever sense we spoke. I would love to send you a box full of our Ape books if your interested.

All my best!
Brent E. Erwin

11:32 AM  

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