The Deeper Magic of Comic Book Heroes

Wednesday , 8, November 2017 22 Comments

No, Doctor, it really isn’t.

Spring is coming.

Surveying the blasted wasteland of western culture, frozen and atrophied thanks to the long dark winter of post-modern deconstructionist thought embraced by the intellectual mediocrities that connived their way into positions of influence one might be tempted to give in to despair. The long years since the golden days of our cultural summer faded into the all too brief cool and pleasant newness of autumn long ago, and for years we have suffered the cold and dark cultural nights. But spring is coming. Cracks have formed in the ice pack and green shoots are springing up throughout the land – if one knows where to look.

Let’s look at the realm of comic books. The flailing death throes of Marvel Comics represents only the latest softening of the permafrost. The phenomenal success of Alt★Hero represents the most obvious green shoot, but the most important sign of the coming spring is the reaction of fans to both events. No longer content to turn their backs on the cold and sterile offerings, comic book fans are turning up the heat and demanding better.

With the vast array of forces aligned against the common man, it is more important than ever that fans step back and reassess the history of the medium. Pushing back against the winds of winter and preparing the ground for the coming planting season takes some thought and effort, to be sure. But the rewards are well worth the effort. To that end, let’s turn the weapon of deconstruction around and use it against those who would replace genuine virtue in comics with the empty simulacrum of Diversity Uber Alles.

The common narrative of comic books runs a little something like this: At first comics were bright and cheery and featured stories of black and white morality with clear good guys and bad guys. It was a simpler time, and the stories were far simpler and lacked nuance and context. They were written for children and so the stories only dealt with obvious situations easily understood by the audience. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, as the audience grew older, the stories in comic books matured as well. From the bright morality of Superman, comics segued into the their more sophisticated tales that carried undertones and layers of meaning as typified by the stories of alienation and prejudice presented in the pages of The X-Men. Eventually, comic books outgrew that phase and matured further into the much more wise and philosophical stories of the 1990s that finally presented the bleak and meaninglessness of life in which everyone is a bad guy; even the best of us is deeply flawed and the only thing that truly matters is understanding that nothing matters and living life accordingly. The Patron Saint of this style of comic book – sorry, that’s graphic novel now – is Alan Moore, who wrote classic titles such as V for Vendetta and The Watchmen, both of which reveled in moral ambiguity and nihilism. From the complete abandonment of classic virtue (pagan or Christian), it was a short hop to the power politics of the present day, in which the good guys are characterized only by the day to day feelings of whichever SJW crab is closest to the top of the comic book bucket in the Current Year.

That narrative is garbage. Every word of it.

It feels good. The official and commonly understood story presents we enlightened Current Year denizens as the smart and sophisticated audience who has only ever improved on the simplistic and childish stories of our forebears. We can pat ourselves on the back for being smarter and cleverer and more understanding of the world around us, even as we lament the crumbling civilization that surrounds us. Even as we watch the disappearance of the middle class, the withering of social bonds, and the literal crumbling of our roads and bridges and buildings.

Our pride helps us swallow the sugary lies of that narrative. To admit we have been misled is to risk admitting to faults we prefer to hide even from ourselves. The sort of introspection required to understand how the abandonment of virtue in our media has impoverished us and left us far less clever and sophisticated than we would like to believe ourselves. Worst of all, reconsidering the history of comic books might force us to admit that we were wrong, and few among us enjoy that important part of learning and growing. It’s hard, but it needs to be done. Ironically Intentionally, the very act of casting virtue out of comic books has helped to prevent us from resisting the costly mistake of that pride.

Thanks to Shakespeare we all know pride might cometh before a fall, but have you ever considered that a fall cometh before growth?

Set aside your pride for a moment and consider the old joke about how your father was an idiot when you were a teenager, but ten years later you marveled at how much the old man had learned in one short decade. It’s an amusing tongue in cheek admission that as we grow older we often learn that the wisdom we rejected in our precocious teen years wasn’t so stupid after all. We learn that our understanding of the world was incomplete and that many of the old man’s diktats were built upon a larger and deeper foundation of wisdom than we could possibly have imagined at the time. Not everyone does this – the prideful refuse to admit to their shortcomings and proceed through life with a teenager’s understanding, and they suffer the pains of approaching their problems with that understanding.

In typically succinct style, Vox Day calls the sorts of people who never admit they were wrong about the old man, despite all evidence to the contrary,  “midwits”.

Don’t be a midwit.

Apply the deeper reasoning to the history of comic books.

Were the early comic books bright and did they feature relatively simplistic tales of good and evil? Perhaps. But how is that a criticism? We all face relatively simple temptations between good and evil every day. Why shouldn’t our comic books and movies and literature inspire us to choose the good every time? Tales designed to force us into the moral relativism train us to view every situation as a complex moment in time where what is right and wrong depends on so many factors, and really, who can say what truly is right? That’s a devil’s game designed to produce people who consider their twisting and turning in the winds of their own whim a sign of their grounded responsibility.

It’s nonsense.

Most of the moral quandaries we face on a regular basis are black and white. We know the difference between right and wrong. We recognize it instinctively. It takes active effort to deny the instincts built up in western men over two millennia and pressed into every fiber of our being – active effort and a constant bombardment over generations.

And over the generations that effort has borne bitter fruit. The erasure of black and white morality has left the west bereft of the wisdom that might have saved us from the grim acceptance of truck attacks and mass shootings at outdoor concerts and revelations of the sexual deviancy of entertainment executives that shocked no one. The denial of raw evil in its primal form and the denial of the existence of men who embrace and abuse power for its own sake has left us nearly defenseless against the ravages of terrorist truck drivers and whoever is ultimately responsible for the Mandalay shooting and the countless Hollywood deviants who prey on young men and women. Young men and women who might just have been able to resist the temptation to accept blood money for their silence, and thereby save others from the same fate, if only they had the example of a comic book hero who did not fear the repercussions of doing the right thing and standing up in the face of overwhelming evil.

The nights are long and the winds blow cold through our hearts. Our reserves are running low, and for too long we have been cooped up in our own little cabins, weathering the blizzard in small groups. But take heart.

Spring is coming.

 

Little green shoots are appearing in the wastelands. They are the harbingers of warmer days and fruitful endeavors, but they also represent a warning that long days of work lie ahead of us. Without considerable sweat and toil, there will be no feasting and no satisfaction of a job well done at the end of the day. The little green shoots must be nurtured and cared for lest a sudden late cold snap snuff them out. Ignore the cold winds or even rage against the storm – defy the forces of winter.

You already know how to care for many of these little green shoots. You are probably already doing so.

In the comic book world, keep supporting projects like Alt★Hero and the ongoing efforts of Diversity and Comics with your financial support. Talk about these projects. Spread the word that others can join in the fun. Talk them up, ask your local shop if they know about them. Plant those seeds. Though many will fall on barren ground, if you don’t drop any, then none can take root.

But also, tend to your own heart. Reject the false gospel of the history of comic books. Ignore those who tell you the golden age superheroes and their troubles are unrelatable compared to the bronze and clay age heroes. You may be told that one cannot imagine himself punching through a wall like a golden age hero, but one could imagine himself standing up for friends ostracized by a wider community as typified by the bronze age heroes. That midwittery lacks the brainpower to understand that the wall is metaphorical. Understand that the wisdom and morality of the comic books written in the generations immediately following Christendom’s great victory against the relentless attacks of her enemies can be conveyed in colorful books with easily understood morals – both in the virtuous sense of the word and in the lessons conveyed sense of the word.

The greatest truths are often the simplest. And the simple truth of comic books is that the golden age was golden because it rejected the sophisticated and complex nonsense of post-modern nihilism. It’s not too late to return to greatness.

Spring is coming.

All we have to do is choose to nurture those little green shoots.

22 Comments
  • Jon Mollison says:

    Thank you. This was written before comic book fans paid to replace the door to Gotham City Comics – smashed by an irate SJW after the shop histed a comic book professional who had the temerity to admit to voting Republican.

    Little green shoots all over.

    • Man of the Atom says:

      Alt★Hero signaled to others that the time is right to get into the fight with their own comic books, comic strips, and graphic novels.

      I expect more Freestartrs and websites featuring many green shoots over the next few years as Mainstream Comics rots to the ground.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    Jon
    Thanks It’s nice to read that It’s not all doom and gloom.
    Hope springs eternal and our enemies really don’t have the last word and never really did
    xavier

  • Man of the Atom says:

    Excellent post, Mr M.

    Crops do better when a burn of the cover on the field proceeds the planting.

    Bonus: this field is already filled with manure.

    Burn it all.

    Marvel/Disney delenda est.

    DC/Warner Bros delenda est.

  • jic says:

    “The Patron Saint of this style of comic book – sorry, that’s graphic novel now – is Alan Moore, who wrote classic titles such as V for Vendetta and The Watchmen, both of which reveled in moral ambiguity and nihilism.”

    Even Alan Moore thought that *Watchmen* had a negative effect on the comics industry:

    https://www.avclub.com/alan-moore-1798208192

    “And to some degree there has been, in the 15 years since Watchmen, an awful lot of the comics field devoted to these very grim, pessimistic, nasty, violent stories which kind of use Watchmen to validate what are, in effect, often just some very nasty stories that don’t have a lot to recommend them. […] The apocalyptic bleakness of comics over the past 15 years sometimes seems odd to me, because it’s like that was a bad mood that I was in 15 years ago.”

    • Man of the Atom says:

      And yet Mr Moore does nothing to rectify the “bleakness” that troubles him.

      He is a cyclic variable in the solution and can be safely ignored.

      • Xaver Basora says:

        But strangely enough the Euro comic books don’t suffer from that nihilism
        xavier

        • Jon Mollison says:

          I’m not well versed in the Euro Comic scene – any idea why there’s such a big difference?

          • Xavier Basora says:

            Jon
            Because comics on Europe are treated as both literature and a respectable art form. So this attracts very high quality talent and an ecosystem of cultural industries and fans

            Further given that the French, Spanish markets for example while big are still much smaller than the Anglophone one and really can’t afford to affront their audience.
            Further during the 80-90s the comic book industry in France and Belgium went through a serious crisis that closed down stellar houses like Spirou and Tintin. That kind of trauma really focuses what’s important
            lastly everyone has resisted the no escapism because a lot have lived through REAL no escapism via the various tyrannies that engulfed Europe throughout the 20th century.
            There are other factors too but hopefully this gives you some help.

            xavier

        • Nathan says:

          I’d like to know as well. I’ve been leafing through more BDs and Euro comics lately, and, while they often go to some dark and literary places, the despair common to American sff and comics isn’t there.

          • Xavier Basora says:

            Nathan
            To follow up on Jon’s question
            There’s also genuine joy of life. Case in point Ibanez creator of Mortadelo and Filemon. He’s 80s years old and has chronicled Spanish society for over 50 years.

            in an interview by rac1 during one of the salo de comic in Barcelona he was so joyful having such a blast that it’s infectious. He’s a like a kid who’s always finding happiness and laughing because life is beautiful
            If you can listen to his interviews you’ll pick that joy up very quickly
            xavier

      • Andy says:

        He spent a chunk of the 90s writing mainstream superhero comics inspired by what he likes about the Silver Age, such as Supreme and his ABC imprint.

        Although these comics did okay at the time, they didn’t correct or inspire the industry the way Moore hoped. Possibly because even with good intentions, his thing is creating clever beard-stroking work that doesn’t have the emotional punch that really involves readers with the characters and makes them want to read the next story. Technically dazzling but not very romantic.

    • Bleak stories aren’t necessarily bad stories, and Watchmen had its merits. I saw its primary message as “Power corrupts.” Its clique of superheroes were a mirror image of the entertainment history, the Comedian being a lot like Harvey Weinstein.

    • deuce says:

      Moore’s “1963” comics were excellent. I wish that series had run longer. Perfectly nailed the mid-’60s Marvel vibe. Fun stories. Pretty much the “Anti-Watchmen”. Moore has/had it in him, obviously.

  • freddie says:

    golden age superheroes and their troubles are unrelatable compared to the bronze and clay age heroes

    Yet reprints of the golden and silver age comics remain popular — why is that? /sarc

    I’d love to see a breakdown of sales numbers for Marvel/DC between comics & trades, and then break that down further into the “age” of material in the trades as well.

  • Frank Luke says:

    >Spring is coming.

    Perfect ending. Great contrast to the “Winter is coming” that we hear so often.

    During the AH drive, I scrolled through the top funded comic projects on Kickstarter. Disgusting. I didn’t even view details on many. The short descriptions and headline images were enough to let me know I wanted nothing to do with them. Many seemed to fall into three categories.

    1. Open celebrations of evil as good (demons and the hellbound as heroes).
    2. NC-17, Rated X, and Rule 34.
    3. Combine the above.

    Heroes should be heroes. Virtue should be protected and cherished. Nurture those shoots, because we have much work to do.

  • windsong says:

    Thank you for the reminder that in all the doom and gloom, there is hope.

    While there will be (perhaps great) hardship ahead, the deepest dark can only exist so long as no light shines upon it. One of the wonderful things about the here and now is that while the darkness might not be pierced by a great, big light (for now), it can be pushed back by thousands of smaller lights all burning with purpose to restore truth, beauty, and virtue.

    May spring come swiftly.

    • Jon Mollison says:

      When the bulk of the high profile media – Hollywood movies, network television, and mainstream publishing – are so dreary, it is easy to give in to despair. Sure, we may have found our way out of that trap thanks to places like Castalia House and alt-media, but what about the hordes of people shivering around us? They are starting to get it. They’ll come around once the system finally collapses under the weight of its self-inflected misery. When the Star Wars and Marvel cash cows run dry, people will look for alternatives, and we’ll be there ready to point out where to look.

  • Moore? Eh. Gimme Will Eisner over him any day. Heroism in The Spirit and Hawks of the Seas, well written drama set in NYC, even a low rent sf story or two. Also was a patriot shown with Last Day in Vietnam and his comics work for the army.

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