Sunday, July 4, 2010

Editorial July 2010 issue #13

You may find it strange that a blog/magazine that professes itself to be primarily concerned with horror culture and entertainment speaking to its readers about comic book superheroes. But, hey, let's face it: if superheroes (and supervillains by extension) were indeed real, then they would mostly be some fairly horrific folks to be around. What if Uncle Charlie could instantly eject razor sharp claws at the Thanksgiving gathering, to slice and dice the succulent turkey right before your eyes? Pretty cool, no doubt. But what if that same funny uncle with the weird claws coming out of his fists got really pissed off and decided to rip your loudmouth aunt a new asshole with them, right in front of you? Not so cool.
And that's what comics taught me from an early age. Power was great in some cases, but could truly become something terrible in the hands of the wrong people. For a perfect example, I have but to point to our own government in the U.S.A., a government which swaggers through the world, taking what it wants, using the thin guise of a global superhero doing good for the innocents and oppressed.
But I'm not going to get off on that particular tangent, for there are many people who would certainly disagree with my political opinions.
I'm here to talk about superhero comics.
Our comic book go-to guy, Jason Shayer, has dealt with a few superhero types in his past columns of "IT CAME FROM THE BACK ISSUE BIN!", but they've usually been distinctly horror edged, as befits a horror culture and entertainment magazine. But as a lifetime horror fan, I certainly don't see a love for horror culture and the geek love for comic book superheros as a huge stretch.
I started reading comic books when I was nine years old, which strangely enough is about the time that I fell completely in love with horror movies (thanks to a secret viewing of George Romero's 1978 DAWN OF THE DEAD, hiding in a field of wild grass a few yards from the local drive-in theater). A couple of years later, I started reading horror novels voraciously, and came to the decision by age twelve that I was going to become a horror writer myself. At thirteen, I had to get a part time job after school to pay for my ever growing obsession with comic books (and the horror novels).

I was strictly a Marvel guy. I rarely purchased anything from DC. I didn't get the whole Batman and Superman thing at all. The ones I had read always seemed like they were written by people who were talking down to me as a reader. Marvel had much more emotionally complex characters and the stories felt more adult. Now, none of these observations were evident at that age; I just knew what I liked; and I couldn't have told you why until later.
I was in deep geek love with the likes of Spider Man, The Fantastic Four, The New Mutants, Marvel Teamup, The X-Men, Alpha Flight, Iron Man, Power Man and Iron Fist, The Avengers (both East coast and West), Captain America, Daredevil, The Defenders, and at least ten other Marvel titles that I can't recall right now. When the Secret Wars limited series hit the stands I damn near cried with anticipation each month between issues. And when The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe made its appearance I was one giddy comic book geek.
I spent most of my teen years collecting comics, hundreds of issues, year after year, keeping up with the multiple storylines, as if I was keeping up with best friends. I won't detail the tragedy that led to me having to leave behind every single issue when I was about twenty-seven years old and just wanted to escape. When I left them behind as I drove away, I felt as if part of my soul was being ripped out, no matter how necessary the sacrifice had been at the time.
I spent the better part of my thirties tracking down and replacing most of my collection. But, of course, it wasn't quite the same. These new issues weren't mine; they belonged to someone else who had dumped them on used bookstores for cash. These comics didn't have my childhood sweat and tears embossed in their four colors panels. They didn't carry the weight of ass kickings I received from my peers for protecting them from asshole bullies.
As an adult, I discovered that I had a lot of memories tied up in those old comics, and that a lot of my adult structure of morals and ethics had come, not from my family or friends, but from madeup people with extraordinary powers and responsibilities.

From Spider Man I learned about self-sacrifice, determination and, of course, that "with great power, comes great responsibility", a credo which the recent Hollywood films seem to have forgotten in their CGI jerkoffs.
From the X-Men I learned that being different wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe it was even something of which to be proud. And I learned to trust in myself.
From The Avengers, The Defenders and The Fantastic Four I learned the value of teamwork, and the value in trusting in others and their particular gifts and insights.
Hell, I'm not ashamed to admit it: Yes, a bunch of inked, colored, bubble talking fictional characters taught me how to be a better man. As I'm sure they did millions of other readers. So, thanks very much Stan Lee and all you other folks who put together the 70s and 80s Marvel fare.
I'm also not ashamed to admit, even at age forty, that I often yearned to be a superhero. I wanted to have super powers, which I could use to help the world. Not for money or fame (well, at that age, maybe a little fame; I was after all a fairly geeky and lonely kid). No, I wanted some kind of super powers so I could help the world. Because even at that age I knew the world was in bad shape. I had only to turn on the television to see how fucked up things were becoming.
And as I've gotten older, I find I miss that simple belief in superheroes. Let's face it: We live in a less-than-perfect world, and sometimes it feels to me like we've just handed the controls over to the worst possible people we could find. Not just here in the U.S.A., but everywhere, so it seems.
Just imagine what good a few real superheroes could do for our world. Natural disasters might be averted altogether; violent, murderous despots could be stopped before genocides happen; evil, true evil, could be exposed to the light of day and destroyed.

Here I am, all these years later, seeing my beloved comicbook friends and mentors finally making it to the big screen. In some ways, it's very gratifying to see it happen. But in too many ways, I see them becoming dummied down and diluted by a Hollywood machine, a machine which exists to make money, which caters to the lowest common denominator in our society (which to them apparently means fucking morons!), and these good people, these modern myths of morality, caution and ethics are becoming mere excuses for trying out a new CGI technique. Those all-so important lessons of goodness and fairness and morality and ethics and simple good and evil are getting lost in the shuffle for more explosions, more flying men in suits, more CGI, CGI! CGI!! Some have missed the point entirely, why fans loved a particular character or their personal story.
Take for instance Hollywood's quick reappraisal to further the alcoholic angle to Tony Stark's all too human character. Why? Wasn't that one of the keys things about Stark that we fans learned to embrace and worry over for him as he became more human for his weaknesses and addictions? He was human at that point; not some madeup mythological being meant to sell ad space.
My guess is Hollywood got scared that if they showed his too human weaknesses and propensity for self-destruction that they'd never get that coveted PG-13 rating which seems to be the end all-be all of filmmaking in this fucking country now. As if 13 year olds are the only people who ever go to a movie.
It was these lapses in faith, these human stumblings and fumblings towards betterment that made me love these guys and gals in tights. We all have a dark side, and seeing it happen in people whom you admire makes it conceivable that you could also be as good as they were when the moment arrives.
I know I've had those moments when I weighed my human responsibility to others to keep them out of harm's way, to help a stranger because it's in your moral/ethical makeup to do so.

I bet a lot of comic book fans have been there, too.

Speaking of the dark side of humanity, even the villains taught me a thing or two about how easy it is to slip over to that side, if you're not careful, if you're not watchful of your own sense of self, and that human responsibility. An example: Magneto wasn't out to kill anyone for the sake of killing. He wanted only that he and his fellow mutants be treated with equality and respect. It was too easy for him to justify attempted genocide so many times because of his belief in that credo.
Like the first three Star Wars movies, these modern day myths helped a generation of traumatized fans in dealing with a rather unfriendly world, through adult values. Unfortunately, Hollywood is eschewing those values for all the wrong reasons. Those comics spoke to an unconscious understanding of the mythologies of good and evil, a somewhat black and white outlook on a world that many teens, myself included, barely understood.
The night Barack Obama was elected I felt as if I had slipped back into those simplistic days of good vs. evil, and for once, maybe for the last time in my life, that the forces of good were taking back the world I know--even for a short time.
But, folks, I'm an adult. An optimistic pessimist (?), perhaps, is the most apt way to describe how I look at that world. I hope for the best, but I'm never surprised by the badness that seems to ooze from the human collective. So I'm not surprised now that Obama hasn't been able to live up to my ideal of the superhero in the White House. Some of that has been his fault, undoubtedly. But too much of it has been because negative greedhead forces inside our own government have purposely stymied him for money, for power.
Now, I know he ain't perfect. No one is. But I know he means more good than evil in this world.

And make no mistake: there is true evil in this world. But this evil doesn't have world shattering control over gravity or the elements with which to drive mankind into subjugation. Instead, these villains wear suits and false smiles; they control banks and corporate 401Kss. And they do NOT care two shits for who they casually destroy in their greedhead lives. They don't even care if it's a whole race of people that have to die to line their pockets with dollars and power.
For me that's the definition of true evil.
So if it crazy to still believe also in superheroes?
Is it childish to hope for unselfish people to come forth one day and use their gifts, their talents, to save this world from evil?
Is it so wrong to still believe that one day even I, a lowly human being, filled with all the good and bad which such a state entails, could actually be a superhero?
I pray not, because this old world could sure use a superhero right now. If for no other reason than to kick the living shit out of the greedhead oil fucks who have basically screwed our country for a dollar.
So, long live Stan Lee, and all his creations, all his heroes and villains, all my old friends. They made me a better man, a better human being.

--Nickolas Cook