Monday, July 29, 2013


The Most Shocking Moments In Comic Book History
Good comic books can often times outshine the best book, song, film, or television program. The in-depth story details, accompanied by amazing illustrations give comics their own identity. Many influential characters have been born through comic strips, including a long list of famous superheroes. The first comic book appeared in the U.S. in 1934. Despite their name, comic books are not necessarily only humorous. Many modern comic books tell stories in a variety of genres. In the U.S. the super-hero genre dominates the market, although many other types of comics exist in Japan and various European nations, including the widely popular samurai series. I have composed a list of 10 of the most shocking and influential moments in the history of comic books.

Spider-Man Kills the Burglar
The Burglar is a fictional character in the Marvel Universe, left unnamed in most of his appearances. He is best known as the first criminal faced by Spider-Man and the killer of Ben Parker. The burglar first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962). After the murder of Ben Parker, Spider-Man tracked the Burglar, beat him, and sent him to prison. Years later the Burglar was released from jail and joined forces with Mysterio. The duo conceived a plan to take May Parker captive. Spider-Man discovered the plan and tracked the criminals. The Burglar died after suffering a fear-induced heart attack when Spider-Man revealed his true identity as Peter Parker, Ben Parker’s nephew. The true identity of the Burglar has been debated. We learned that he has a daughter named Jessica Carradine and Captain Stacy revealed that the burglar’s full name was Dennis Carradine in Spider-Man 3.

Ozymandias Drops “Alien Menace” on New York
Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book series created by writer Alan Moore in 1986. The story takes place on an alternate Earth where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s to help the United States win the Vietnam War. As the story begins, the country is edging close to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most costumed superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. It is considered by many the greatest single story in the history of comics. Watchmen has an ending that will shock you, when Ozymandias drops an alien
invader on New York, causing it to release a psychic shock wave that kills millions of people. He claims to have been acting in the interest of mankind, as people needed to be prepared for an inevitable alien invasion. The invasion would never come. Ozymandias ended up being the true villain in the story.

The Joker blows up Jason Todd
Jason Todd first appeared in Batman #357 (1983) and became the second Robin, sidekick to the superhero Batman. The initial sidekick to Batman was Dick Grayson, who went on to star in The New Teen Titans under the name of Nightwing. In 1988, DC comics decided that the audience would be attracted to the opportunity of influencing the comics storyline. They created a telephone poll via a 1-900 number that would decide the fate of Jason Todd.
The vote was set up during the four-part series “A Death in the Family,” that was published in Batman #426-429 in 1988. In a close vote, readers decided 5,343 votes to 5,271 to kill Todd. The following issued portrayed the death of Jason Todd. He took complete beating from the Joker and awoke in time to find his mother at his side, right next to a ticking bomb. The two died in the explosion. No event has scarred a superhero like the death of Jason Todd. In 2004, Jason Todd was resurrected as an enemy of Batman, eventually becoming the second Red Hood and assuming a new role as an antihero.

Magneto rips out Wolverine’s adamantium
The X-Men are a superhero team in the Marvel Comics Universe that first appeared in The X-Men #1 (September 1963). In the beginning of the series, Magneto and the X-Men had been waging a psychological war with no serious injuries. In X-Men #25, Magneto unleashed an EM pulse from space that knocked out power on a good chunk of earth. The X-Men came looking for Magneto and a legendary fight ensued between Magneto and Wolverine. The pair became instantly confrontational. While Magneto was distracted by the combined telepathic assault of Prof. X and Jean Grey, he was
attacked by Wolverine, who cut an “X” shape right into Magneto’s chest. Magneto grabbed a hold of Wolverine with his magnetic powers and tore the adamantium from his body. Adamantium is the metal surrounding Wolverine’s bones. Wolverine was literally being ripped apart from the inside. He nearly died from the shock and spent several years traveling the country with bone claws.

Green Lantern – Green Arrow Heroin Storyline
In the early 1970’s, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams created the legendary Green Lantern/Green Arrow series. It was a relatively short lived collaboration, but was acclaimed for dealing with a variety of social and political issues in which Green Arrow spoke for radical change, while Green Lantern was an established liberal figure, wanting to work within existing institutions of government and law. Shortly after the Spider Man issue #96-98 LSD comic, DC decided to publish the infamous story in which the Green Arrow’s Ward and Sidekick Speedy gets addicted to Heroin. It was printed in the Green Lantern vol. 2, #85-86. Despite earning a congratulatory letter from the Mayor of New York, John Lindsay, many felt the mature topics were not for children’s eyes. Ultimately, it led to the cancellation of the book by issue #89 in 1972. It was a ground breaking event in comic book history.

Revolutionary Comic – Lone Wolf and Cub
This entry is not really a specific comic book moment, but a ground breaking series. The moment might be in 1987, when the story was brought to America and became internationally revolutionized. Lone Wolf and Cub is a well-known manga created by the writer Kazuo Koike and the artist Goseki Kojima. It was first published in 1970 and chronicles the story of Ogami Ittō, the Shogun’s executioner who uses a dōtanuki battle sword. Disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyū clan, he is forced to take the path of the assassin. Along with his three-year-old son, Daigorō, they seek revenge on the Yagyū clan and are known as Lone Wolf and Cub.

It is an extremely powerful and epic samurai story and is renowned for its stark andgruesome depiction of violence during Tokugawa era Japan. It was the fist comic book
of its kind and is highly regarded for its historical accuracy. The story spans 28 volumes of manga, with over 300 pages each (totaling over 8,700 pages in all). Lone Wolf and Cub was initially released in North America by First Comics in 1987, as a series of monthly, square-bound prestige-format black-and-white comics containing between 64 and 128 pages.

Bane Breaks Batman’s Back
Knightfall is the umbrella title to the trilogy of Batman storylines that ran from 1993 to 1994. They consisted of Knightfall, Knightquest, and KnightsEnd. The plot of the story starts with the master criminal Bane freeing all of the maximum-security inmates of Arkham Asylum, a notorious psychiatric facility in Gotham City. Bane’s plan was to weaken Batman by making him deal with the escaped deadly villains simultaneously, including The Joker, The Scarecrow, and the Mad Hatter. The plan works and Bane eventually discovers the identity of Batman.

He attacks Bruce Wayne at Wayne Manor, where he is most vulnerable as his alter-ego. The historic fight between Bruce Wayne and Bane is detailed in Batman #497. The battle ends with Bane breaking Wayne’s back over his knee. Bruce Wayne was seriously injured. Bane assumes control of Gotham City’s underworld and takes over several illegal operations within it. It takes a long time for Bruce to heal and he ends up asking Jean-Paul Valley (Azrael) to take up the mantle of Batman, so that Gotham has a protector.

Action Comics #1
Action Comics 1 is a comic book that was published in April 1938 by National Allied Publications, a corporate predecessor of DC Comics. It is widely considered the first true superhero comic and the first appearance of Superman. Action Comics was started by publisher Jack Liebowitz. The first issue had a print run of 200,000 copies, although sales of the series would soon approach 1 million per month. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were paid $10 per page, for a total of $130 for their work on this issue. They eventually signed away millions in future rights and royalties. After the release and success of the first Superman movie, the pair began to receive a month annuity of $30,000. Today, Action Comics #1 has become one of the most famous and collectable comics every created.

The death of Gwen Stacy
Gwen Stacy was the first true love and girlfriend of Peter Parker, also known as Spider Man. She first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #31 (December 1965). In The Amazing Spider-Man #121, the Green Goblin takes Gwen Stacy captive and transportes her to a tower on the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man arrives to fight the Green Goblin and the Goblin throws Gwen Stacy off the bridge. Spider-Man catches her by the leg with a string of web and initially thinks he has saved her, but when he pulls her back onto the bridge he realizes she is dead. Peter is unsure whether the whiplash from her sudden stop broke her neck or if the fall killed her, but he blames himself for her death. Spider-Man nearly kills the Green Goblin in retaliation. The Goblin would later die when he is impaled by his own goblin glider in an attempt to kill Spider-Man, and would not return for nearly three hundred issues. However, Gwen Stacy would never return and she became the first loved one of a superhero ever to die. Mary Jane Watson was a close friend of Gwen and would eventually become Peter Parkers second love.

The Death of Superman
Superman met his demise at the hands of Doomsday in 1992. It all played out in issue #75 of Superman (vol. 2). The storyline’s premise was compelling, Superman engaged in battle with a seemingly unstoppable killing beast from ancient Krypton named Doomsday. It all went down in the streets of Metropolis and the battle was merely strength versus strength. Doomsday had the intent on destroying Metropolis. The last son of Krypton put every ounce of strength into his final battle. At the fight’s conclusion, both combatants died from their wounds. Superman died in Lois Lane’s arms. It was a surprising defeat, as Doomsday was an unknown character before these issues. The Death of Superman, which was a multi-issue story, was one of the best selling graphic novels of all time. After the Man of Steel’s death, a crossover depicted the world’s reaction to Superman’s death in “Funeral for a Friend.” In the story four individuals emerge to claim to be the “new” Superman. The original Superman eventually returns in “Reign of the Supermen!”

The Dark Phoenix Saga (1980)
The Dark Phoenix Saga is an extended X-Men storyline. It revolves around Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force, ultimately ending in Jean Grey’s apparent death. The story began in 1976 with the Phoenix Saga, X-Men [vol. 1] #101-108. In the Phoenix Saga Jean Grey repairs the M’Kraan Crystal and garners an assumption of power. In 1980 the story continues with her corruption and ultimate demise. It is one of the most well-known and heavily referenced stories in mainstream American superhero comics, and widely considered a classic.

Emerald Twilight (1994)
Emerald Twilight is a 1994 comic book story told in Green Lantern (vol. 3) #48-50. The story caused a bit of outrage among comic book fans because it transformed the well-established silver age super-hero Hal Jordan into the super villain Parallax. The story introduced a new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, who has gained a significant fan following. The entire story was released as a trade paperback collection in 1994, which is known as Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight.

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (1994)
Zero Hour is a five-issue comic book limited series that followed the story of Hal Jordan. It was released five months after Emerald Twilight. In the story, Parallax (Hal Jordan) attempts to destroy and then remake the entire DC Universe. The crossover story involved almost every DC Universe monthly series published at the time. Eventually, the collective efforts of the DC superheroes managed to stop Parallax from imposing his vision of a new universe, and the DC time line was recreated anew.

Secret Skin- An Essay In Unitard Theory
(By Michael Chabon, New Yorker, 2008)
When I was a boy, I had a religious-school teacher named Mr. Spector, whose job was to confront us with the peril we presented to ourselves. Jewish Ethics was the name of the class. We must have been eight or nine.  Mr. Spector used a workbook to guide the discussion; every Sunday, we began by reading a kind of modern parable or cautionary tale, and then contended with a series of imponderable questions. One day, for example, we discussed the temptations of shoplifting; another class was devoted to all the harm to oneself and to others that could be caused by the telling of lies. Mr. Spector was a gently acerbic young man with a black beard and black Roentgen-ray eyes. He seemed to take our moral failings for granted and, perhaps as a result, favored lively argument over reproach or condemnation. I enjoyed our discussions, while remaining perfectly aloof at my core from the issues they raised. I was, at the time, an awful liar, and quite a few times had stolen chewing gum and baseball cards from the neighborhood Wawa. None of that seemed to have anything to do with Mr. Spector or the cases we studied in Jewish Ethics. All nine-year-olds are sophists and hypocrites; I found it no more difficult than any other kid to withhold my own conduct from consideration in passing measured judgment on the human race.
The one time I felt my soul to be in danger was the Sunday Mr. Spector raised the ethical problem of escapism, particularly as it was experienced in the form of comic books. That day, we started off with a fine story about a boy who loved Superman so much that he tied a red towel around his neck, climbed up to the roof of his house, and, with a cry of “Up, up, and away,” leaped to his death. There was known to have been such a boy, Mr. Spector informed us—at least one verifiable boy, so enraptured and so betrayed by the false dream of Superman that it killed him.
The explicit lesson of the story was that what was found between the covers of a comic book was fantasy, and “fantasy” meant pretty lies, the consumption of which failed to prepare you for what lay outside those covers. Fantasy rendered you unfit to face “reality” and its hard pavement. Fantasy betrayed you, and thus, by implication, your wishes, your dreams and longings, everything you carried around inside your head that only you and Superman and Elliot S! Maggin (exclamation point and all, the principal Superman writer circa 1971) could understand—all these would betray you, too. There were ancillary arguments to be made as well, about the culpability of those who produced such fare, sold it to minors, or permitted their children to bring it into the house.
These arguments were mostly lost on me, a boy who consumed a dozen comic books a week, all of them cheerfully provided to him by his (apparently iniquitous) father. Sure, I might not be prepared for reality—point granted—but, on the other hand, if I ever found myself in the Bottle City of Kandor, under the bell jar in the Fortress of Solitude, I would know not to confuse Superman’s Kryptonian double (Van-Zee) with Clark Kent’s (Vol-Don). Rather, what struck me, with the force of a blow, was recognition, a profound moral recognition of the implicit, indeed the secret, premise of the behavior of the boy on the roof. For that fool of a boy had not been doomed by the deceitful power of comic books, which after all were only bundles of paper, staples, and ink, and couldn’t hurt anybody. That boy had been killed by the irresistible syllogism of Superman’s cape.
One knew, of course, that it was not the red cape any more than it was the boots, the tights, the trunks, or the trademark “S” that gave Superman the ability to fly. That ability derived from the effects of the rays of our yellow sun on Superman’s alien anatomy, which had evolved under the red sun of Krypton. And yet you had only to tie a towel around your shoulders to feel the strange vibratory pulse of flight stirring in the red sun of your heart.  I, too, had climbed to a dangerous height, with my face to the breeze, and felt magically alone of my kind. I had imagined the streak of my passage like a red-and-blue smear on the windowpane of vision. I had been Batman, too, and the Mighty Thor. I had stood cloaked in the existential agonies of the Vision, son of a robot and grandson of a lord of the ants. A few years after that Sunday in Mr. Spector’s class, at the pinnacle of my career as a hero of the imagination, I briefly transformed myself (more about this later) into a superpowered warrior-knight known as Aztec. And all that I needed to effect the change was to fasten a terry-cloth beach towel around my neck.  It was not about escape, I wanted to tell Mr. Spector, thus unwittingly plagiarizing in advance the well-known formula of a (fictitious) pioneer and theorist of superhero comics, Sam Clay. It was about transformation.
The American comic book preexisted the superhero, but just barely, and with so little distinction that in the cultural mind the medium has always seemed indistinguishable from its first stroke of brilliance. There were costumed crime-fighters before Superman (the Phantom, Zorro), but only as there were pop quartets before the Beatles. Superman invented and exhausted his genre in a single bound. All the tropes, all the clichés and conventions, all the possibilities, all the longings and wishes and neuroses that have driven and fed and burdened the superhero comic during the past seventy years were implied by and contained within that little red rocket ship hurtling toward Earth. That moment—Krypton exploding, Action Comics No. 1—is generally seen to be Minute Zero of the superhero idea.
About the reasons for the arrival of Superman at that zero moment there is less agreement. In the theories of origin put forward by fans, critics, and other origin-obsessives, the idea of Superman has been accounted the offspring or recapitulation, in no particular order, of Friedrich Nietzsche; of Philip Wylie (in his novel “Gladiator”); of the strengths, frailties, and neuroses of his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, of Cleveland, Ohio; of the aching wishfulness of the Great Depression; of the (Jewish) immigrant experience; of the mastermind stratagems of popular texts in their sinister quest for reader domination; of repressed Oedipal fantasies and homoerotic wishes; of fascism; of capitalism; of the production modes of mass culture (and not in a good way); of celebrated strongmen and proponents of physical culture like Eugen Sandow; and of a host of literary not-quite-Superman precursors, chief among them Doc Savage.
Most of these rationales of origin depend, to some extent, on history; they index the advent of Superman, in mid-1938, to various intellectual, social, and economic trends of the Depression years, to the influence or aura of contemporary celebrities and authors, to the structure and demands of magazine publishing and distribution, et cetera. To suit my purpose here, I might construct a similar etiology of the superhero costume, making due reference, say, to professional-wrestling and circus attire of the early twentieth century, to the boots-cloak-and-tights ensembles worn by swashbucklers and cavaliers in stage plays and Hollywood films, to contemporary men’s athletic wear, with its unitard construction and belted trunks, to the designs of Alex Raymond and Hal Foster and the amazing pulp-magazine cover artist Frank R. Paul. I could cite the influence of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne aesthetics, with their roots in fantasies of power, speed, and flight, or posit the costume as a kind of fashion alter ego of the heavy, boxy profile of men’s clothing at the time. When in fact the point of origin is not a date or a theory or a conjunction of cultural trends but a story, the intersection of a wish and the tip of a pencil.
Now the time has come to propose, or confront, a fundamental truth: like the being who wears it, the superhero costume is, by definition, an impossible object. It cannot exist.  One may easily find suggestive evidence for this assertion at any large comic-book convention by studying the spectacle of the brave and bold convention attendees, those members of the general comics-fan public who show up in costume and go shpatziring around the ballrooms and exhibition halls dressed as Wolverine, say, or the Joker’s main squeeze, Harley Quinn. Without exception, even the most splendid of these getups is at best a disappointment. Every seam, every cobweb strand of duct-tape gum, every laddered fish-net stocking or visible ridge of underpants elastic—every stray mark, pulled thread, speck of dust—acts to spoil what is instantly revealed to have been, all along, an illusion.
The appearance of realism in a superhero costume made from real materials is generally recognized to be difficult to pull off, and many such costumes do not even bother to simulate the presumable effect on the eye and the spirit of the beholder were Black Bolt to stride, trailing a positronic lace of Kirby crackle, into a ballroom of the Overland Park Marriott. This disappointing air of saggy trouser seats, bunchy underarms, and wobbly shoulder vanes may be the result of imaginative indolence, the sort that would permit a grown man to tell himself he will find gratification in walking the exhibition floor wearing a pair of Dockers, a Jägermeister hoodie, and a rubber Venom mask complete with punched-out eyeholes and flopping rubber bockwurst of a tongue.
But realism is not, in fact, merely difficult; it is hopeless. A plausibly heroic physique is of no avail in this regard, nor is even the most fervent willingness to believe in oneself as the man or woman in the cape. Even those costumed conventioneers who go all out, working year-round to amass, scrounge, or counterfeit cleverly the materials required to put together, with glue gun, soldering iron, makeup, and needle and thread, a faithful and accurate Black Canary or Ant-Man costume, find themselves prey to forces, implacable as gravity, of tawdriness, gimcrackery, and unwitting self-ridicule. And in the end they look no more like Black Canary or Ant-Man than does the poor zhlub in the Venom mask with a three-day pass hanging around his neck on a lanyard.
This sad outcome even in the wake of thousands of dollars spent and months of hard work given to sewing and to packing foam rubber into helmets has an obvious, an unavoidable, explanation: a superhero’s costume is constructed not of fabric, foam rubber, or adamantium but of halftone dots, Pantone color values, inked containment lines, and all the cartoonist’s sleight of hand. The superhero costume as drawn disdains the customary relationship in the fashion world between sketch and garment. It makes no suggestions. It has no agenda. Above all, it is not waiting to find fulfillment as cloth draped on a body. A constructed superhero costume is a replica with no original, a model built on a scale of x:1. However accurate and detailed, such a work has the tidy airlessness of a model-train layout but none of the gravitas that such little railyards and townscapes derive from making faithful reference to homely things. The graphic purity of the superhero costume means that the more effort and money you lavish on fine textiles, metal grommets, and leather trim the deeper your costume will be sucked into the silliness singularity that swallowed, for example, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin and their four nipples.
In fact, the most reliable proof of the preposterousness of superhero attire whenever it is translated, as if by a Kugelmass device, from the pages of comics to the so-called real world can be found in film and television adaptations of superhero characters. George Reeves’s stodgy pajamas-like affair in the old “Superman” TV series and Adam West’s mod doll clothes in “Batman” have lately given way to purportedly more “realistic” versions, in rubber, leather, and plastic, pseudo-utilitarian coveralls that draw inspiration in equal measure from spacesuits, catsuits, and scuba suits, and from (one presumes) regard for the dignity of actors who have seen the old George Reeves and Adam West shows, and would not be caught dead in those glorified Underoos. In its attempts to slip the confines of the panelled page, the superhero costume betrays its nonexistence, like one of those deep-sea creatures which evolved to thrive in the crushing darkness of the seabed, so that when you haul them up to the dazzling surface they burst.
One might go farther and argue not only that the superhero costume has (and needs) no referent in the world of textiles and latex but also that, even within its own proper comic-book context, it can be said not to exist, not to want to exist—can be said to advertise, even to revel in, its own notional status. This illusionary quality of the drawn costume can readily be seen if we attempt to delimit the elements of the superhero wardrobe, to inventory its minimum or requisite components.
We can start by throwing away our masks. Superman, arguably the first and the greatest of all costumed heroes, has never bothered with one, nor have Captain Marvel, Luke Cage, Wonder Woman, Valkyrie, and Supergirl. All those individuals, like many of their peers (Hawkman, Giant-Man), also go around barehanded, which suggests that we can safely dispense with our gauntlets (whether finned, rolled, or worn with a jaunty slash at the cuff). Capes have been an object of scorn among discerning superheroes at least since 1974, when Captain America, having abandoned his old career in protest over Watergate, briefly took on the nom de guerre Nomad, dressed himself in a piratical ensemble of midnight blue and gold, and brought his first exploit as a stateless hero to an inglorious end by tripping over his own flowing cloak.
So let’s lose the cape. As for the boots—we are not married to the boots. After all, Iron Fist sports a pair of kung-fu slippers, the Spirit wears brown brogues, Zatanna works her magic in stiletto heels, and Beast, Ka-Zar, and Mantis wear no shoes at all. Perhaps, though, we had better hold on to our unitards, crafted of some nameless but readily available fabric that, like a thin matte layer, at once coats and divulges the splendor of our musculature. Assemble the collective, all-time memberships of the Justice League of America, the Justice Society of America, the Avengers, the Defenders, the Invaders, the X-Men, and the Legion of Super-Heroes (and let us not forget the Legion of Substitute Heroes), and you will probably find that almost all of them, from Nighthawk to the Chlorophyll Kid, arrive wearing some version of the classic leotard-tights ensemble. And yet—not everyone. Not Wonder Woman, in her star-spangled hot pants and eagle bustier; not the Incredible Hulk or Martian Manhunter or the Sub-Mariner.
Consideration of the last named leads us to cast a critical eye, finally, on our little swim trunks, typically worn with a belt, pioneered by Kit Walker (for the Ghost Who Walks), the Phantom of the old newspaper strip, and popularized by the super-trendsetter of Metropolis. The Sub-Mariner wears nothing but a Eurotrashy green Speedo, suggesting that, at least by the decency standards of the old Comics Code, this minimal garment marks the zero degree of superheroic attire. And yet, of course, the Flash, Green Lantern, and many others make do without trunks over their tights; the forgoing of trunks in favor of a continuous flow of fabric from legs to torso is frequently employed to lend a suggestion of speed, sleekness, a kind of uncluttered modernism. And the Hulk never goes around in anything but those tattered purple trousers.
So we are left with, literally, nothing at all: the human form, unadorned, smooth, muscled, and ready, let’s say, to sail the starry ocean of the cosmos on the deck of a gleaming surfboard. A naked spacefarer, sheathed in a silvery pseudoskin that affords all the protection one needs from radiation and cosmic dust while meeting Code standards by neatly neutering one, the shining void between the legs serving to signify that one is not (as one often appears to be when seen from behind) naked as an interstellar jaybird.
Here is a central paradox of superhero attire: from panther black to lantern green, from the faintly Hapsburg pomp of the fifties-era Legion of Super-Heroes costumes to the “Mad Max” space grunge of Lobo, from sexy fish-net to vibranium—for all the mad recombinant play of color, style, and materials that the superhero costume makes with its limited number of standard components, it ultimately takes its deepest meaning and serves its primary function in the depiction of the naked human form, unfettered, perfect, and free. The superheroic wardrobe resembles a wildly permutated alphabet of ideograms conceived only to express the eloquent power of silence. A public amnesia, an avowed lack of history, is the standard pretense of the costumed superhero. From the point of view of the man or woman or child in the street, gaping up at the sky and skyscrapers, the appearance of a new hero over Metropolis or New York or Astro City is always a matter of perfect astonishment. There have been no portents or warnings, and afterward one never learns anything new or gains any explanations.
The story of a superhero’s origin must be kept secret, occulted as rigorously from public knowledge as the alter ego, as if it were a source of shame. Superman conceals, archived in the Fortress of Solitude and accessible only to him, not only his own history—the facts and tokens of his birth and arrival on Earth, of his Smallville childhood, of his exploits and adventures—but the history of his Kryptonian family and, indeed, of his entire race. Batman similarly hides his story and its proofs in the trophy chambers of the Batcave.
In theory, the costume forms part of the strategy of concealment. But in fact the superhero’s costume often functions as a kind of magic screen onto which the repressed narrative may be projected. No matter how well he or she hides its traces, the secret narrative of transformation, of rebirth, is given up by the costume. Sometimes this secret is betrayed through the allusion of style or form: Robin’s gaudy uniform hints at the murder of his circus-acrobat parents, Iron Man’s at the flawed heart that requires a life-support device, which is the primary function of his armor.
More often, the secret narrative is hinted at with a kind of enigmatic, dreamlike obviousness right on the hero’s chest or belt buckle, in the form of the requisite insignia. Superman’s “S,” we have been told, only coincidentally stands for Superman: in fact, the emblem is the coat of arms of the ancient Kryptonian House of El, from which he descends. A stylized bat alludes to the animal whose chance flight through a window sealed Bruce Wayne’s fate; a lightning bolt encapsulates the secret history of Captain Marvel; an eight-legged glyph immortalizes the bug whose bite doomed Peter Parker to his glorious and woebegone career.
We say “secret identity,” and adopt a series of cloaking strategies to preserve it, but what we are actually trying to conceal is a narrative: not who we are but the story of how we got that way—and, by implication, of all that we lacked, and all that we were not, before the spider bit us. Yet our costume conceals nothing, reveals everything: it is our secret skin, exposed and exposing us for all the world to see. Superheroism is a kind of transvestism; our superdrag serves at once to obscure the exterior self that no longer defines us while betraying, with half-unconscious panache, the truth of the story we carry in our hearts, the story of our transformation, of our story’s recommencement, of our rebirth into the world of adventure, of story itself.
I became Aztec in the summer of 1973, in Columbia, Maryland, a planned suburban utopia halfway between Smallville and Metropolis. It happened one summer day as I was walking to the swimming pool with a friend. He wore a pair of midnight-blue bathing trunks; my trunks were loud, with patches of pink, orange, gold, and brown overprinted with abstract patterns that we took for Aztec (though they were probably Polynesian). In those days, a pair of bathing trunks did not in the least resemble the baggy board shorts that boys and men wear swimming today. Ours were made of stretchy polyester doubleknit that came down the thigh just past the level of the crotch, and fashion fitted them with a sewn-on, false belt of elastic webbing that buckled at the front with a metal clasp. They looked, in other words, just like the trunks favored by costumed heroes ever since the last son of Krypton came voguing down the super-catwalk, back in 1938. Around our throats we knotted our beach towels (his was blue, mine a fine 1973 shade of burnt orange), those enchanted cloaks whose power Mr. Spector had failed to understand or to recall from his own childhood. They fluttered out behind us, catching the breeze from our imaginations, as Darklord and Aztec walked along.
Darklord carried a sword, and wore a Barbuta helmet, with a flowing crusader cloak and invulnerable chain mail of “lunar steel.” Aztec wore tights and a feathered cloak and wielded a magic staff tipped with obsidian. We had begun the journey that day, through the street-melting, shimmering green Maryland summer morning, as a pair of lonely boys with nothing in common but that loneliness, which we shared with Superman and Batman, who shared it with each other—a fundamental loneliness and a wild aptitude for transformation. But with every step we became Darklord and Aztec a little more surely, a little more irrevocably, transformed by the green-lantern rays of fancy, by the spider bite of inspiration, by the story we were telling each other and ourselves about two costumed superheroes, about the new selves that had been revealed by our secret skin.
Talking, retying the knots of our capes, flip-flops slapping against the soles of our feet, we transformed not only ourselves. In the space of that walk to the pool we also transformed the world, shaping it into a place in which such things were possible: the reincarnation of an Arthurian knight could find solace and partnership in the company of a latter-day Mesoamerican wizard. An entire world of superheroic adventure could be dreamed up by a couple of boys from Columbia, or Cleveland. And the self you knew you contained, the story you knew you had inside you, might find its way like an emblem onto the spot right over your heart. All we needed to do was accept the standing invitation that superhero comics extended to us by means of a towel. It was an invitation to enter into the world of story, to join in the ongoing business of comic books, and, with the knotting of a magical beach towel, to begin to wear what we knew to be hidden inside us.


No comments:

Post a Comment