The Funnies Ain't So Funny Anymore
Hello everyone, welcome to the first installment of my brand new column, “The Funnies Ain't So Funny Anymore.” There are plenty of columns and forums out there ranking or grading comics out there; this is not one of them. There are plenty of columns and podcasts out there reviewing new issues as they come out; this is not one of those either. Nor is it a vintage look at old classics or a research into events and origins that preceded a certain event or person. The main point of this column is to have a look at certain dc books that have a degree of merit to them. Beyond funny for the sake of being funny, beyond dramatic for the sole purpose of hooking readers, this is an exploration into the social commentary and political criticism that good writers put in their stories. Some of these are so obvious it hits you in the head (take Alan Moore for example,) some are cunningly concealed (think Warren Ellis), some are a lone flashlight in the dark (an odd issue of Joe Kelly here and there,) while some are so deeply concealed that even the writer didn’t realize it was there.
All these discussions are purely to do with the scripting and plotting of the comics in question, and thus their respective art, as engaging, enhancing or beautiful as it may be, would generally stay out of the equation. By the same token, though the plot itself is generally irrelevant for the issues raised, I cannot guarantee plot confidentiality, and thus be aware that, though unintentional, spoilers may exist.
So, how does this work?
Every new column I go to my longbox and pick up a random issue that has
some moral value or reflects society in any discussable way, and off we
go! And of course, suggestions and feedback are always welcome at the
forum (I’m in the process of registering there.)
With my eyes closed, fate
guided my hand to Action Comics #775: “What’s so funny ‘bout Truth,
Justice & The American Way,” by Joe Kelly, and frankly, that’s a
great one to begin with.
This story is a typical “out with the old, in with the new” setting, where a new breed of superheroes show up and make superman look obsolete, despite them being the exact opposite of what he stands for. Throughout this whole double-sized issue, its Clark against the world as everyone supports the new ways and trends of The Elite, a group far more violent, reckless and impulsive than the globe has yet seen. Throughout their encounters with supervillains, they have absolutely no problem with collateral damage being in the hundreds or thousands, and yet the world loves them for getting the job done. In the words of Jack Rider (there was no way such a controversial reporter could have stayed out of this story): “The world is sick and broken… People want someone to fix it, not hand out slogans and bandages. The age of the supermen is over. Viva the Elite.” I see this as a great prediction of the polarization the U.S. would go through several months after the publication of this issue, with the launch of war in the Middle East. First Superman (analog of the U.S.) is complacent, thinking he is above it all, ignoring a bloodbath in Libya for what looks like at least 7 hours (ignoring gathering opposition), until all of a sudden, his world is rocked (enemy strike) as the Elite responds to what he has ignored, shattering his moral foundations and belief in humanity (political hard liners seeing their nation rotting away.) He even goes as far as asking John Henry (a personification of his conscience here) if he thinks the world has moved on, only to be interrupted by another emergency. But it is the act of asking this question that got him to act. Of course he refuses to let go, but lets face it, the new kids on the block are always more powerful or they wouldn’t have obtained that status in the first place. But here’s a fault of the story, why did they have to draw them as monsters? Common comics convention says that the ugly guy is usually the villain. These guys were butt-ugly. I would have preferred this to remain more ambiguous, but oh well. The Elite humor Superman for a while as a child would humor his grandfather, but it is obvious to everyone and them (let’s not forget the element of pride here) that they are superior. With such a radical and rapid shift of dogma, the old order is suddenly left behind, feeling useless but not yet physically obsolete. How could things have changed so fast? How could people have such short memories and forget what had happened only an instant earlier? We see this in the electorate all the time, where politicians’ actions during the month before elections are always more important than their actions during the last months combined, but I digress…
The political slogans soon follow the battle, Supes questioning their morality, calling them murderers and defilers of the term ‘heroes,’ but the Elite respond with ‘jealousy,’ ‘the dream from which they woke up’ and end with “masks are for hiding. Capes are for play. Villains don’t share their plans before they smoke you… Reality is a mite bloodier than sitcoms or comics. The grays stretch out farther.” Then comes the worse part of all: teach them by example; As Superman attempts to show them there are other ways that don’t necessarily involve fighting, they mention the inefficiency of the judiciary system and Superman digs his grave deeper as he says he’ll do it over and over, again and again until they get the message. How is this any different than an election campaign? How is this standoff any different than the political propaganda we are assailed with the months before presidential elections? First come the charity acts, then the backing party’s position on hot issues, then the slogans, and then the cake is topped off with the sweet cherry of personal attacks on the opposite candidate’s integrity and moral fiber. Such an inefficient system, yet it holds us thrall to its every woes.
This is where the story
becomes more credible: it’s obvious they cannot fight with words, so why
not face off the way they both know best? Let violence reign free! Did
any of you follow the news of the elections in Mexico? The socialist
candidate lost, so he took things to the streets to protest his loss –
the loser takes matters to his own hands. So anyways, the big expected
fight breaks out, but each side still acts his part, with the Elite
shooting to kill while Clark only wants to disable them – ‘wants’ is a
key word there, because he is too busy getting hurt and trying to stay
alive. So, if you can’t beat them, join them? Always a stupid axiom in
times of real need, but used all the same. Let Superman try to kill.
Let him lose control and attack recklessly. Why not? Throw in a lack
of remorse and you get off a perfect loss of control and non-sensical
salad. And for the dressing, add the sentence “how does it feel,
knowing that everything you thought you had has been taken away from
you? How does it feel to watch your dreams die?” And so, the
battle finishes and supes is victorious, though he had to become one of
them to do so. But did he actually win? “When you look into the abyss,
the abyss stares back at you” (no idea who said that or where it’s
from). He’s tasted the rough side of being a hero, he’s tried to kill,
he’s been lost in the moment, but hey, if he’s back in grace he can
leave it all behind, right? If he gets elected, all the stuff he did
before can be safely ditched behind and discarded – that is, until the
next contender shows up at the next elections...
Until next time,
P.S. – for those familiar with DC lore, that next contender, standing on the exact same platform as the Elite, would be Magog in Kingdom Come, to whom Supes actually loses the campaign and goes into exile. After all, if the president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms, why should Supes be an exception? He’s already had one re-election here…