Tuesday, September 09, 2008

NerdinessWarning -Skip if you have no tolerance for nerdiness!

Howdy and good evening to y'all!

Here at GAB we feel that whenever we make two heavy posts in a row, we'll take a step back, lighten things up and give you readers a curve ball. So here is a bit about Comics! (YAY! Nerdiness!)

So, I thought I might take a few moments to write about comic books and iconic imagery. What place does this have in the greater scheme of things? Pop culture's influence in the greater world we live in, the collective unconscious AND multi cultural mythological reciprocity aside, comics books are just a great hobby. Nerdiness, yep. Yah, comics!

Over time so many people with whom I talk comics ask about deeper meanings and from where the mythos borrows its leads? Here are my answers, find them insightful, flawed or just nerdy, and there you go. Lets start with the big names:

Superman (He has to be listed first, regardless of my favorites) He is THE big icon in the comic world for one reason, and one reason alone. Hope. The big red "S" is the image of hope and good to which the well adjusted person aspires. His heritage is that of such greats as Hercules, Prometheus, Samson, Moses, the Early pulp heroes like "Doc Savage," even Judeo-Christian imagery is thrown into the mix. They drop hints about the basic nature of the character everywhere in the mythos they create, even naming his planet "Krypton" which essentially means "alien." Why? It made for compelling story telling in the 1930's. He is alone, a refugee, come to this planet to live out his life as one of us, and what does he do with the grand abilities granted by a fluke of his alien nature? Saves us over and over, showing us all that to which we can aspire. The two men who created the character were both Jewish sons of immigrants to this country who fled the growing intolerance in Europe. Moses...anyone? Anyone?
(Shuster and Siegel originally wrote the Superman stories with him as the villain, based loosely on Nietzsche's "Ubermensch." But when they tried to get their characters published to a larger audience, they had to revamp the whole idea to suit the target audience. An Icon for the world was born.)

Wonder Woman...WOW what a weird road this character had. She was created by William Moulton Marston...you know...that guy who invented the lie detector! Whacky!

Created during WWII, the character was initially depicted fighting the Axis forces, as well as an assortment of super villains and villainesses. In later decades, some writers and their editors preferred to retain the World War II setting, while others updated the series to reflect an ongoing "present day." Wonder Woman has also regularly appeared in the team books Justice Society(from 1941) and Justice League (from 1960). Arguably the most popular and iconic female super hero in comics, she is informally grouped with Superman and Batman as one of a Trinity of DC characters who are regarded as especially important, both within their fictional universe and without.

Her powers? She was a physical match for Superman, an intellectual match for the Batman and had an arsenal of weapons magically powered by the Greek Gods to help her bring balance to the world. She was a warrior, and fought hard battles against the worst the world of men could throw at her.

Originally, sadly, she was given the thinly veiled trappings of a bondage queen. Her weakness? She would lose her powers if she allowed any man to "bind" her...And oh, yes...the images of this skirted the edges of comic book values. In the 1980s our heroic Dianna was given a make-over ostensibly to make her "more relatable to modern female readers." How did they do this? They put her in a disco pant suit, and took away her powers...thankfully it didn't last; and this icon of female strength, the Amazon Warrior of myth, is back to the power levels that made her a foil for the testosterone driven tales of her male counterparts.

Batman (Still, not my favorite, but better known, and more influential to the culture) Originally written as a dark foil to the bust of sunlight and hope that is Superman, Batman is, on the surface, the image of what one determined man can do to make the world a better place. He is sacrifice, and gritty determination. Beneath this top layer we see echoes of older tales. Sherlock Holmes, the Shadow, Doc Savage, even Zorro! But if we take a moment to look even deeper, we see the older mythic figures who have gone into the underworld to save lives and souls, Aeneas, Pericles, Perseus, Annua, Samhuinn. All tales that show us how to relate to the darker side of our natures to find the strength to fight on against those who would do us wrong. His rogues gallery of villains are fractured and fragmented images of the hero himself, showing the reader what dangers lie ahead for those not willing to take the harder road.

Green Lantern (BINGO!) It's all about the willpower! Humanity can, and has, moved mountains, rerouted great rivers, built walls that have spanned continents, gone to the moon and sent our eyes, ears and thoughts out into space. With willpower. Most heavily influenced by the tales of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, the original Golden Age Green Lantern was a modern look at this classic Arabian tale. Martin Nodell, who created the golden age character, told an odd story about the creation of the character. Nodell had wanted to name the character Alan Ladd, to hint more ham fistedly at the idea of the magic lamp. He said that the editors thought Alan Ladd was a silly name for a character, and the Aladdin reference was unneeded...the actor, Alan Ladd's star didn't actually rise to popularity until '42, two years after the character was created. Whacky...) As the character changed over time, and the times called for a revamp of the title character, writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane envisioned a whole squad of GL's that patrolled the whole universe. They were employed by an ancient and alien race of wise (and infuriating) immortals called The Guardians, who where based on the planet at the center of the universe, called Oa.

The revamp kept to the basic premise: ring, lamp, willpower. The idea that a single person could, with willpower, change the universe was at the core of the book. The Green Lantern was given as much power as he could force to his/her will for 24 hours every time they recharged their power ring on the battery (A lantern shaped artifact...).

Spider-man is the everyman of the comic world, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to be the flawed super hero teen to which the average schmo reading the funny books could relate. The point of Spider-man is often confused with his rallying cry, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." While that is a great ideal to keep in mind, the point of poor old Peter Parker's life in fiction is that even heroes have their own problems. Under that mask they may not be the most handsome, might even have acne, they may be awkward around the girls. They have homework, and bills, and bullies in their lives just like the rest of us. But they still try to do their part to help, not because of the hard driving forces of frustration, but in spite of all the rest. Some folks may harp on the idea that Marvel comics is saying you don't have to aspire to something better, like Superman or Green Lantern; they miss the point. Spider-man aspires to be the "Superman" idea in spite of his failings. He is not perfect, but he does not give up. It's almost two in the a.m. now, and I have a busy day tomorrow. So, I'll stop here and leave you with these to mull over while I compose mental notes on more comic nerdiness for your pleasure later.



yellowdog granny said...

i never read comic books when i was a kid..i read h.allan smith, edgar rice burroughs, ayn rand, (really)robert roark,kipling etc. sorry..

Maebius said...

very, very interesting! I'd made hte connection with superman & Wonder-woman before in terms of ancient mythos, and vaguely internalized Batman as you described...but I never knew about Alan Ladd, or really explored the underpinnings of the characters as you did there. Quite interesting, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Yellowdog Granny, did you read H. Rider Haggard too? I remember Wonder Woman only from a visit in my 50s childhood to a female friend who had (gasp) 3-D versions. But I remember her frequent comment: "Suffering Sappho!" Hmmmmm ... Rodger Cunningham

Hillbilly Fairy said...

my comic book heroes were the furry freak brothers. hmmmm.
now i really really love linda barry. whatever happened to her?

Anonymous said...

I always liked Green Lantern, myself, growing up. When we played "Superheroes" I always wanted to be him... or Green Arrow - and I don't even particularly like the color.

Kimberly Anne said...

Okay, I'm going to admit to being a total doofus in my first post here. Please, gentle with me. Who is Annua?

And for the record, although I loved Wonder Woman, my heart has always belonged to Batgirl. A superhero libarian? Sign me up!

Souris Optique said...

Anne, have you read the "Sandman" comics by Neil Gaiman, or Alan Moore's "Promethea"? I think you would like them a lot.:)

Anonymous said...

Annua is a God of the Underworld, He is charged with keeping all ways to the Land of the Dead sealed. Sometimes called Ankou. His twin sister is the goddess of light, beauty and inspiration, Annwn.

Heckle, the Crow

Livia Indica said...

Although I've never been into comic books I do recognize their importance. Todays comic book heroes are the demi-gods of tomorrow.