Tuesday, 15 May 2012

We Are At Your Gates

posted 5/14/2012 by the Salt City Sinner

As I so often say to myself these days, "I can't say it better than Grant:"

Image by the preternaturally talented Alex Ross

Grant Morrison's Supergods, which anybody who has ever read a comic book even once should read and slowly savor, gets *really* interesting in chapter 21. In the chapter, titled Hollywood Sniffs Blood. Morrison marks the ascendance of comic book culture in Hollywood with 2000's "X-Men."

He acknowledges early efforts in the field like Tim Burton's Batman movies, but I agree with Morrison that the turn of the century marked a turn of fortune for comic book culture in Hollywood.

Morrison makes the case that M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable was the true turning point in super hero cinema. I won't argue with the master -- Samuel L. Jackson (an outspoken comics fan among celebrities) would later build upon his performance as Mr. Glass by becoming the embodiment of Special Agent Nick Fury, first in 2-D and then in real life.

Last weekend The Avengers, which was written and directed by Joss Whedon, "joined the one billion club" as MTV so charmlessly puts it.Most Joss Whedon enthusiasts know him as either the writer/creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the progenitor of Firefly (the series) and Serenity. .

What only comic nerds, loathsome polyamorists, and Rocky Horror Picture Show re-enacters know about Joss Whedon is that he wrote a 24-issue run of Amazing X-Men in the 00's, finishing in 2008. Another well-known comic dork who exerts inordinate media influence is Kevin Smith, director of Clerks, a bunch of crap, and the recent (and well-worth-watching) Red State.

Smith's movies, even (and especially) the crappy ones, are steeped in comics and have done a lot of PR leg-work for comic book culture within Hollywood. Interestingly, this is a huge blind spot in Supergods. Whether that's because Grant Morrison - the Scottish magician-cum-Peter Pan of the club scene - missed a trick or whether he simply finds Smith beneath mentioning I do not care to guess.

The Hulk reminds me of my dad in many ways.
Even the perennial cannibal clown demolition derby of American politics isn't immune to the steady creep of the comic book. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a prominent Democrat, has a little secret to share (other than his love of the Grateful Dead, and no, I'm not kidding). Take it away Wikipedia:

A big fan of Batman comics, Leahy lent his voice in the Batman: the Animated Series episode "Showdown" as the Governor of the Utah territory [editor's note: SYNCHRONICITY RIDES AGAIN!]. He appeared in a cameo role in the 1997 film 'Batman and Robin,' and in the 2008 film 'The Dark Knight.'

Before I launch off on a brief tangent, here's Leahy's cameo in TDK. He's the defiant 1%-er who reminds the Joker of his father.

Tangent: the actor who has played Batman more than any other is...Adam West? Nope. Michael Keaton? Wrong again. Christian Bale? Not even close. Kevin Conroy, the voice of the incredibly successful cross-over kid and adult friendly Batman: The Animated Series has voice-acted for Batman in more roles than you would possibly believe. BTAS was so successful that a character created entirely in that canon - Harley Quinn (pause for hotness):

...was absorbed into the comic book canon, in a weird act of reverse cultural osmosis.

Even in the ivory towers and/or halls of Academe, there is no resisting the Comics Scourge:

As a fine arts graduate in the early 1980s, Carol Tyler felt she had to hide her interest in cartoon drawing [editor's note: anyone who has seen an Alex Ross illustration, or Jack Kirby's best work, knows that "cartoon drawing" is basically a derogatory term based on orthodoxy, not skill] from teachers. An art form associated with comic strips [ANGRY EDITOR'S NOTE: "comic STRIPS?"] wasn't considered college material.
 Now a professional cartoonist and graphic novelist, Tyler began teaching the University of Cincinnati's first comic arts class [in 2006].

There's even a National Association of Comic Arts Editors, who maintain a list of schools with comics classes.

The Flash / Hermes

Comic books are a medium that human culture has not quite comprehended yet - I Agree With Grant on that much. The transition from page to cartoon or big screen is accelerating, but I don't think it's necessarily a new thing.

For example, my dad always told me stories of growing up about how he would come home from school during lunch hour and watch Superman on TV. The simple power of "a Sun God from Smallville" (as Morrison puts it) permeated his life, even back then.

The first cover of the first superhero comic ever (1938)

I urge -- no, I beg -- you to do a simple thing.

Walk into a comic book store, approach the overgrown man-child behind the counter, and ask a simple question. "What's good this month?" You don't have to know the canon -- both D.C. and Marvel outperform any written spiritual text that I know of at this point in terms of volume, import, and legend -- and take a single issue in hand.

Each one is both art and artifact. It's the smell of the hideous ink preservatives, the act of opening it up to the first page (that sound!) and "catching up," the tactile nature of the pages and the color and the drama.

One dose and you're hooked.

We are among you, and We are Legion.

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