Sunday, April 02, 2006

"With great power comes great responsibility"

-- Benjamin Parker (a.k.a. Uncle Ben)

I was just sitting in my underwear sewing my torn shorts, eating curry pizza, and watching the movie Spiderman... (Apologies if I just ruined your appetite with that mental image, but then that should teach you to read blogs while eating, shouldn't it?)... and I wondered, why is it that I'm watching this not-particularly-good movie?

One theory about comics (and I suppose, by extension, the related graphic novels, movies, video games, etc) is that they pander to our escapist tendencies. Surrounded by the drudgery of the dull-gray world, it helps to immerse oneself into a fantasy world with excitement and adventure. Also, there are no moral ambiguities in comics, good (usually) triumphs over evil; an admittedly satisfying feeling. Another theory, proposed by the famous comicologist Michael Novotny, goes like

"Later as I realized that I was gay I read them for a different reason. Because, in ways that maybe were not intended, these superheroes were a lot like me. You know, at work they were meek and underappreciated. They were the guys that never get laid... [students laugh] And when they're around other people, they can't let anybody get too close for fear that their true identities would be discovered. Within all the villians and the monsters and the evil forces that are trying to destroy them somehow they're survived. Even the one thing that can kill Superman, one thing against which he has no immunity, kryptonite, ultimately you know that he'll survive that and he'll go on and save the world. I believe the same about us. That's what the comics have shown me -- that despite everything, we'll survive. And we'll win."

(Season 2, Episode 6)

In other words, projection.

All fine and dandy, but not really the reasons I allowed two hours of my life to vanish watching that pap. (If you must know, I don't like the movie 'cos of the soppy love scenes -- I grew up watching Spiderman every Saturday 1715-1745 (go figure, Doordarshan programme scheduling logic follows a different axiomatic system (need to change my writing style -- I'm in love with putting too many nested parenthetical remarks -- I think it'sa function of my thinking style)), and Spiderman would never have gone so mushy).

No, I think the real reason I've re-fallen in love with comics and their associated world-view in recent years is because they are the unselfconscious myths of our century. In a world where successful realist fiction must be internally aware of itself, where cheesiness is to be abhorred like the plague by us uber-mature rational individuals, where portraying the complexities of human nature has replaced moral absolutes as the driving force of storytelling, comics remain one of the few mediums which still provide a framework for being able to make a statement like the one that is the title of this post, and get away with it alive.

Think about it -- use "with great power comes great responsibility" as a quote, and everybody recognizes it; comics (and I suppose ad jingles) are the Iliads of today.

The eye-opener vis-a-vis comics as a medium worthy of respect came for me when I read the Sandman series some years ago.

After a couple of days of reading the series from end to end (ten books ("graphic novels") in a row) I posted this slightly frenzied email to a group of friends


Subject: Days of little else...

... but reading Sandman. Neil Gaimon. Graphic novels. Brief Lives. The Doll's House. Season of Mists, A Game of You... and the rest.

Find them. Read them.

Others have judged them worthy of great praise, as do I.

Chacko wrote - "I find it increasingly difficult to waste my time with anything but excellence." Or something like that. Not a waste of time, Chacko.

A man needs excellence, and truth, and artistry, and all things similarly worthy to reassure himself that existence is not pointless ("If there be such Beings that walk this Earth proudly, then who am I to desire Oblivion?"). This is work which does not disappoint.

There is art which does not need to hide behind artifice. This are epics which have the strength to stand up to mimicry. There are dreams that are true enough that one is not ashamed of dreaming them. This is such work.

Others have judged this worthy of great praise, as do I. At this moment, tired, exultant and happy, brain-twisted by the works I write about, it is the least I can do to join in the paeans...

The books really are worth it. Other favourites -- Alan Moore's Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (only the books -- the movie was crap), Art Spiegelman's Maus, and most particularly, some of the Batman collections (particularly the Frank Miller ones).

Even non-afficionados of comics will acknowledge the riveting power of the Dark Knight -- the excellent recent movie Batman Begins was unmistakably noirish, but with all the grandeur that a 67 year old myth embedded in the collective psyche (not to mention a humungous budget) can evoke, and some correspondingly unforgettable lines. One of these lines made it as the epigram of my thesis (more on that in a later post).

To be sure, there are other works that manage to pull it off. Off the top of my head, amongst recent experiences -- O Brother Where Art Thou, V for Vendetta (I haven't seen it yet, but friends I trust uniformly attest to its excellence -- oh, wait, that too is supposed to be based off a graphic novel, isn't it?), some of Dylan Thomas's recordings of him reading his own poetry... but already we're venturing out of the realm of the zeitgeist of the masses. And then again, perhaps the Greek myths never were part of the firmament of the masses psyche, but the butterfly effects of those myths still live on. As will the giants we've created these last hundred years...

So where does all this leave me? With a sewn pair of shorts, a plate that needs to cleaned of curry powder and pizza crust, a DVD that needs to be returned, and a hundred floors to be climbed as part of my current exercise regimen. Good night, and good luck.


Anonymous sitaram said...

curry powder and pizza crust?


8:47 AM  

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