Falsifying the National Death Certificate

Wednesday , 6, August 2014 7 Comments

“I’m interested in characters only as each is a locus for allowing certain sorts of sentences to be uttered–by the character or about the character.” – Samuel R. Delany

Captain America Never Dies

One of the cruelties of the slow subsumation by megacorporations of the two former mom and pop titans in the comics genre is that popular superheroes–at least in their original words-and-still-pictures format–have become disconnected from their respective popular cultures.

In an interview regarding Fallen Son, a series of comics developed on the theme of the five stages of grief over the assassination of Captain America, writer Jeph Loeb talks about his part in the process of an entertainment corporation taking part in the killing off of a “living symbol” of a nation’s identity:

 

 

 

 

Spotlight: …what was your initial gut reaction to [first learning of the planned death of Captain America]?

 

Jeph: I was surprised. Not that we were doing it but I had somehow missed that we were doing it. That’s what happens when you miss a creative retreat! (emphasis mine) But, once I was brought up to speed, I thought it was going to be huge. Lead story on Nightly News, Joe Quesada going back on Steven Colbert, that sort of thing…and what’dya know!

 

Spotlight: …Why did this story grab you so firmly out of the gate?

 

Jeph: Some of that is I’m a huge Captain America fan. He’s the closest thing the Marvel Universe has to Superman and still he’s very much not Superman…Secondly, on a more personal nature, I unfortunately have too intimate a knowledge of grief and the process of losing a son [Jeph lost his 17-year old son Sam Loeb in 2005 to cancer – Ed.] and hopefully, I can bring some of that to this project.

 

Spotlight: How is Captain America different from other heroes?

 

Jeph: He was created to be a living symbol. By wearing the flag, he separates himself from the others in that he has a name and purpose that is about country and heritage and loyalty…

And the company killed him to impress the media and satisfy their diversity-first, readers-last agenda. But setting aside the fact that actual “comic book” sales are seen as mere cost overhead for the far more lucrative film, video game, and graphic design sales, the thing about popular heroes like Captain America and Superman and Batman is that their ideal form is represented far more accurately outside of the relatively unnoticed books. Ask any non-comic book reader what Superman stands for, what Captain America’s occupation is, or the name of Batman’s vehicle, and they’ll tell you with a smile on their face…even though the comics themselves have abandoned the core identifiers of these characters.

Every Halloween, there are folks running around as Supermen who believe in “Truth Justice and the American Way”, Captain Americas who have not died in a horrible explosion, and Batmen who inspire the “Nananananana” song from the 60s, without a trace of “darkness.”

In short, the essence of these heroes, these characters, these alleged creatures of a corporation, live–and live fully–beyond the page, outside of copyright, outside of  “creative retreats,” far from the clenched pencils of their would-be masters.

Sometimes, the best hero is an outlaw.

7 Comments
  • The CronoLink says:

    Perhaps someday, someone will stand like the Blue SF/F has and do for the comic business what Castalia et al. are doing for SF/F

  • Red Comet says:

    …diversity-first, readers-last agenda…

    This is because the readers left long ago. Most comics barely move 60k units a month when in the past they sold millions. Even the highest selling handful of books barely crack 100k.

    For what it’s worth, the American industry is basically irrelevant from a world-wide perspective. Asian comics, particularly Japanese manga, sell millions of copies worldwide and are for the most part focused on SF/F adventure and entertainment rather than political statements.

    • Daniel Eness says:

      Notably, the formats of these that are internationally recognized tend to be both SF/F adventure/entertainment…and closer to their iconic ideal forms. If you look at the top 40 all-time grossing movings in the Superhero genre, not one of them strays from conventional expectations of the hero, and most of them are traditional science fiction or fantasy. Some of this, no doubt, has to do with the distribution collapse that rocked the paperback world but went relatively unnoticed during the comic “collectors boom” of the late 80s-early 90s.

      When comics sold to the general public at gas stations and grocery stores in the 1970s, there were relatively few dedicated comic shops. Those channels absolutely died because traditional paperback publishers stopped paying people (men, primarily) in station wagons to drive a regional circuit to deliver new books every week. These guys would have a stack of that week’s monthlies for the front spin racks, too. Once those guys were cut out of the loop (to save distribution costs, don’t you know), the book supplies were lightened and would be put on food semi-trucks if there was space. That inevitably got shifted to a monthly shipment (since books don’t spoil, and food does), and comics’ main channel (over and above the robust newsstand sales) pretty much collapsed to a trickle.

      No one cared because of the comic shop fad that coincided with the destruction of a primary channel.

      …but it sure as shootin’ opened the gate for the transformation of comics. Not all of it was bad: there were some very interesting books that sold well that probably would have had no distribution in the 1970s that ended up as blockbusters in the 80s, but that lasted only as long as comics were riding the wave. The wave inevitably crashed…and lame, casual-reader-hating books became the norm, not the outlier.

  • Daniel says:

    The “Direct Market” is about as indirect with the public as possible. Even at the friendliest store, the average person – especially the average mom with a kid – would be overwhelmed by the peculiar culture if she were ever to find herself inside the confines.

    Now, Archie would likely never be slain in a gay hate crime (as he was this month) nor would Thor become transsexual nor nationalism murdered – that stuff is simply damaging to long-term populist sales…but such insignificant artistic sacrifice would be considered the cost of doing business.

    Simply put: there are books and entire sections of the “direct” market that are as repulsive to the traditional comic-buying market as anything by Maplethorpe. It doesn’t matter how many rainbow-hued heroes you decorate the front of the store with, when the next aisles down seem downright diseased, it isn’t suited for a broad customer base.

    This is not dissimilar to the practices of the traditional book market. The interior of a bricks and mortar B&N is not far from becoming a Hallmark shop inside. You feel kind of sketchy going there nowadays if all you want is a fun book.

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