In writing about webcomics and the development of superhero characters through use, I had a weird flashback to 1976.
So we’re cuttin’ alllll the way back to my tween-teen transition and the siren call of a new title at Marvel: The Man Called Nova, by Marv Wolfman and John Buscema. I bought it, and if memory serves, stuck with it for about a year.
I’ve been thinking about when and how superheroes are “alive” in the culture. Swing a stick right now, and you’ll hit someone telling you that all is roses. Superheroes are in! They are arrived! They are (gasp) cool at last! … whereas all my little eye sees is that they are in the cage. They have “arrived” in the sense of at rest. They are tamed at last.
It’s true that a lot of Venning is nothing special, an unnecessary display of things that do just as well in a comparative table. It also risks reifying, thereby generating categories as “things” when none exist just because you depicted a circle or box.
But here I am working on a game system which lets people make their own superhero groups for their own creative purposes, rather than aping existing ones, and yet also which relies on inspiration from and appreciation for the comics. How does one describe and inspire superhero groups without just skinning existing ones? I started thinking about what superhero groups were and why they existed – not the in-fiction reasons, but reader and publication reasons.
Here’s a picture of the Man, i.e., the persona, that I knew well from my initial comics madness years. You could find cartoon versions everywhere as well, whether affectionate as in FOOM or derisive as in the New Gods.
This blog has turned out to be mainly about the births of characters and the deaths of people. A lot of ink’s been spilled about which one Stan was, or which one we should like or loathe or analyze or criticize.
This isn’t the time for that. Maybe in about a year.
I’ve been doing this long enough for some productive recursion, both in content and real life. My very first post at this blog concerned the political context for Doctor Doom in the early 60s, once the creators bumped him up out of generic or improvised foe status into genuine villainy. Soon after that, I posted about my acquaintance with Joe Culp in high school, in tenuous reference to his role as Doom in the 1994 movie.
It’s Jerry Grayson’s fault. He knows all these people with opinions about comics and culture, and as the geek social fallacies would advise, said, “Hey, if I get all my friends together, they’ll be friends too!!” Which actually worked this time, for a jam let’s-all-try-it discussion for his own 1972 Project.
Death of the author, say the students of the Big D, it’s the text, stay with the text … yet in my experience, all too often, the text is abandoned along with the author. Instead, the eager young scholar is distracted by the cultural gestalt, a mélange of multiple derivatives, the shared “is” that “everyone knows.” The sizzle that sold once and can be referenced as having sold, in order to hawk its echo. Worse, instead of critiquing it, they adopt it, so that all the verbiage and Foucaltian Hegelian Derridan whatnot add up to nothing more than its own consumerized and recondite fandom, in which academic employment and careerism have replaced anything resembling inquiry.
Ha! I managed to utilize the characteristic prose of said academic movement and spoof it at the same time. That’s a bucket list moment.