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Silly Rabbit


Some people are acting as if this Millarworld post by a guy named Richard L actually means something… Let’s take a look shall we?

That being said, the more I think about it the more I think that superheroes (by which I mean the mainstream Marvel and DC universes) ARE just for kids. That doesn’t mean they are stupid or simplistic or that adults can’t enjoy them. Rather I mean that the characters themselves don’t work as adult creations – they are intrinsically ridiculous if you look at them as an adult (surely part of the point of, say, Watchmen).

You can have adult super-powered characters or superhero-like characters for adults but I’m afraid Batman isn’t one of them – the only way to do that is to recreate him as an essentially impotent character struggling to reconcile his own need for a violent outlet for trauma (Dark Knight ends with him finding a better way for a reason).

Let’s face it “I’m a multi-billionaire genius and the best way I can find to help the people of Gotham is to dress as a giant rat” is not an approach you can take with an adult sensibility and not conclude that he’s mad as a hatter.

Both Watchmen and Dark Knight were taken as heralding a new age – an “adult” approach to superheros when infact both were about the impossibility of treating these iconic characters as “adult” and having them continue to behave in the way we have come to expect.

Comics can be for adults and some of the most challenging and interesting modern literature for adults comes in the form of a comic book. But the mainstream characters – the archetypes and the bit-part players that surround them – simply cannot be written as adult characters with out appearing utterly ridiculous to all concerned.

Like I said, that doesn’t mean you can’t write these things in a way that both young and (relatively) old people can enjoy, just that you should not be trying to approach Superman with an adult sensibility.

That’s why we get these constant arguments about his actions – because the greying audience increasingly expects Superman to act in a manner psychologically authentic to the adult reader when, of course, the character simply cannot hold that weight – he becomes something completely different.

The key, I would argue, is that for the mainstream superhero, ditch the “adult” garbage and accept these characters for what they ARE, limitations and all. Stop trying to make them something completely different – which is what being “adult” with them (what Moore called last week the current “intellectual posture” towards them) does.

If you want adult, there are plenty of books filled with characters designed to appeal to adults.

Okay now. Yes, there is no doubt that any effort to turn superhero comics into psychologically realistic comedies of manners a la Jane Austen will certainly fail (artistically, that is). And it seems that many failures of this kind have come into being since 1986, many of them written by Kurt Busiek… If that was all Richard L. intended to say, then we are in complete agreement.

Unfortunately, that is clearly not all he says. Part of the problem here is the terminology he uses. This, for instance, is gibberish:

Comics can be for adults and some of the most challenging and interesting modern literature for adults comes in the form of a comic book. But the mainstream characters – the archetypes and the bit-part players that surround them – simply cannot be written as adult characters with out appearing utterly ridiculous to all concerned.

“Adult (read ‘psychologically realistic’) characters” equals “available to an adult sensibility”.

“unrealistic”/”archetypal” characters equals “fuh kidz”.

Right?

Of course not.

Readings like this make me crazy! A text is more than the sum of its characters’ parts! Stop focusing on (for instance) the Gruenwaldian Captain America’s psyche and start thinking about how he, and the other elements of the story, fit into the narrative structure! Characters exist to serve a greater design! You know that Magritte painting? Well, think ceci n’est pas un etre humain when you look at Steve Rogers and his supporting cast…


By Richard L’s reasoning, Hawthorne is for kids–so is Keats’ Fall of Hyperion, and Wuthering Heights, and Moby Dick, and Pierre, or the Ambiguities, and so on! Any epistemological quest is going to seem like it’s for kids in this strange formulation. Basically, he’s declaring that all of the greatest works of art since Wordsworth & Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads are mere escapist fantasies, because their characters aren’t “adult” enough… Now, Aaron Haspel might agree with this, and he might even produce an excellent Yvor Wintersian defence of the position, but who else out there is willing to give it a whirl? Mr. L? Mr. Butcher? Mr. McMillan? Go ahead guys–I’m listening! Whatever you do, don’t forget to check out this piece by Steven @ Peiratikos before you begin!

There’s a lot more to say here, but I’d better go–Cerebus: Church & State arrived via inter-library loan today + Lillian Robinson’s Wonder Women is very good so far + I’ve got more Infantino to think about, a novel to tinker with and a paper to write!

In the meantime, I hope you will join me in looking forward to reading Tim O’Neil, Mike Sterling, and J.W. Hastings’ imminent Cerebus posts + H’s upcoming work on the seventies All-Star Comics run! I can’t wait!


good night friends!


Dave

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One comment

  1. Dave, I’ve really been admiring your crusade against the anti-genre, anti-superhero people. Not only would their arguments, taken to their logical conclusions, mean that Hawthorne and Bronte and Dickens etc. were juvenile, but they would also consign almost all pre-modern literature to the kids’ section. By their standards, we shouldn’t trouble ourselves with children’s genres like the Greco-Roman and folk epic or the Medieval romance or various forms of comedy. It drives me crazy! Keep up the good work. John

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