Hello again comic fans! This is your comic blogger here with a more serious matter. As a new writer to this blog, I expressed last month that I was a comic junkie, but what I did not menton then was how important I think they are not only as popular culture, but as literature.
Now stay with me here, because while I cannot go into a huge dissertation as to why I believe comics can serve as literature, I am going to briefly share some feelings here today.
What prompted me to write this was an article recently published on theguardian. It was an interview with comic legend Alan Moore and his reasoning for leaving the public realm of comics for good. He addressed such concerns as his supposed “racism” and “sexism,” but, for the time being, that was not what caught my attention. Moore opens his interview by stating “To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics.”
He further states that superhero comics are a “cultural catastrophe.” A catastrophe? Really? Are we going back to the paranoia of Fredric Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocent?
Comics are not meaningless, nor simply for children. In fact, comics often deal with themes also present in classic literature such as identity formation, gender questions, political turmoil, and so on. While the superheroes in comics are, indeed, super-human, they possess an incredible humanity about them. This was particularly apparent in the comics being produced during the 70s. Ironman begins to struggle with alcoholism, while Spiderman, in an attempt to save Gwen Stacy, unwittingly snaps her neck. The struggle each superhero faces can certainly be deemed mature content. How does one navigate an identity that is both superhuman, and yet humanly flawed…prone to addiction and mistakes at the cost of another. This lead readers to really question what it means to be a hero and a human, be they child or adult. On the DC side of things, this comic franchise was the first to create a truly gay woman superhero, known as Batwoman (though the franchise is currently making a huge mess of that, but that is a post for another day). Sexual orientation was finally being discussed in comics, which many adult readers celebrated and appreciated. Frank Miller wrote a story arc for Batman called The Dark Knight Returns, where the validity of a vigilante superhero is heavily questioned, along with the political turmoil in the wake of Ronald Regen’s election into office. The content and themes of this comic might be a bit heavy for young readers, but adults are sure to tackle and appreciate the complexity.
To summarize, comics promote critical thinking like any other piece of literature might. There are various papers written and published about the psychology of Batman, Wonder Woman as the ultimate feminist icon, the connections between mutants and racism in America, the idea of female superheroes being merely an extension of male counterparts like Superman and Supergirl, and the political implications of Captain America. Comics are not meaningless. Comics are not merely an escape from reality. It is our reality in fantastic terms. It is our triumphs and faults as a society splashed onto the page and dressed up in spandex.