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“Here they come now! It’s going to be okay”…

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I just read Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier… Jesus! Is this really what the pundits want from their superhero narratives? A drawn-out origin story (if I had my way origin stories would be forbidden!) that smoothes all of the most interesting properties out of the genre in favor of a straight-ahead Star Wars-style charge at the fuckin’ Death-Star, or island, or center, or whatever? With good cinematography?

This series gives up where Squadron Supreme begins. It’s all well and good to jump into the maw of the dinosaur, but it’s pretty stupid too, no? Is there anything admirable in these acts, unless you’re the kind of person who believes that human life is worthless until that big moment where all doubt can be cast out of the mind in favor of “pure action”. Is that what the vaunted “sense of wonder” is all about? Not from my standpoint, anyway. The real wonder is in the fact that no frontier can ever be crossed, no challenge can ever be met, and that, as I think Gruenwald and Morrison’s work demonstrates most perfectly (but they are very much in the tradition of Marvel’s Silver/Bronze ages, as I read these texts, at any rate!), no decision can ever be made–at least, not with the kind of orgasmic certainty that Cooke’s figures radiate.

The superhero narrative isn’t about mustering the “courage” to accept the dictum that “with great power comes great responsibility”, it’s about the Hamlet-style consequences of embracing such a motto, in a world in which our “responsibilities” are so radically unclear!

Cooke’s work is incorrigibly golden age in its orientation–longing for an “axis of evil” to combat, on autopilot… Those Nazis had a “wonderfully” tonic effect upon the existential drama, didn’t they? Is it any wonder we’re still so obsessed with them? Awful. And I’m sure this was not Cooke’s intention, but the fact remains that he presents a great (pragmatic) argument in favor of the current Bushite construction of world politics as a struggle against “Islamofascism”. Don’t you think?

I think that NF demonstrates pretty conclusively what happens when you divorce that iconic silver age action art that we all recognize from the ironizing agents (the much-derided Lee/Thomas/Conway/Englehart/Gruenwald-style narrator, the thought balloons/soliloquies, treadmill continuity, letters pages, etc.) that once were consubstantial with it. This is a Jekyll-and-Hyde job, man. Don’t people read R.L. Stevenson anymore? You can’t cut the gordian knots between “good” and “evil”, “innocence” and “experience”, the sordid and the appealing, the “ontic” and the “ontological”!!!!

When you try it with superheroes, you get a portrait of a silver age comic as it appeared to a three-year old–with some weird “mature” rhetorical gestures toward some kind of (there’s no other way to put it, really) neocon theory of heroism as the glorious moment of the decision to plunge into the battle against monolithic “evil”, for the greater good of community. It’s a fantasy that relieves human beings of the necessity to confront their inner demons, which are never going away… This is a parody of what critics of the genre usually deride it for… And the amazing thing is that, paradoxically, this is all that many of these same people seem prepared to accept from the genre! Bravo Darwyn Cooke! Pass the ammunition!

Meanwhile, Grant Morrison continues to thread the needle between the poles of stupidity represented by NF and Identity Crisis, and even he has to couch all of his wonderful ideas in terms of a “return to innocence and fun”… That’s not really what he’s doing, y’know… not in the way it is generally interpreted, at any rate.

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About David Fiore

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Playing devil’s advocate here, the esoteric value of confronting your inner demons can be difficult to appreciate fully when your outer senses tell you someone is actively engaged in an earnest and heartfelt effort to kill you. At such times, many people want to see decisive action from heroic figures, real or imagined.

    Angsty internal dialogues about the existential ambiguity of moral values may be more popular in societies with perceived enemies who specialize in quiet and subtle maneuvering for advantage, like the Cold War of the comic books’ silver age, or the “Great Game” of European colonial geopolitics in Robert Louis Stevenson’s day.

    In other words, David, the art forms you like are not necessarily higher and better forms of art. They may simply be products of their time and place, just like the art forms you dislike.

    This doesn’t mean you have to like them. It does mean you might want to learn something from them, and use what you learn to communicate with people who aren’t exactly like you, rather than merely insult them as inferior art and their fans as inferior people.

    You might find a more respectful approach turns out to be a more persuasive way to promote your own preferred view of the world.

    Just a suggestion.

    You could, of course, carry on with assuming you are right and everyone who disagrees with you is wrong. But then, how would that make you any different, intellectually, from the decisive action heroes who think they can infallibly tell the difference between good and evil?