Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nothing but crumbs

The lack of super-punching in Superman Returns was a fatal flaw, but the scene in which he stops a plane plummeting from the edge of space was a wonderful slice of cinema. It has power and speed and momentum, in a movie that was often lacking all three.

But considering how often superheroes stop planes falling out of the sky, runaway construction equipment from crushing people and workers plummeting from high rises, you really have to wonder about the health and safety practices of the DC universe.

Is it just written into safety legislation? When Lex Luthor builds another skyscraper in Metropolis, does he save money on safety harnesses and ropes by just assuming that Superman will be passing by at any given time?

Furthermore, a scientific study of plane crashes in the DC universe shows that aircraft lose their hydraulics or have an engine flame out on them roughly seventeen times a month, which would really make the average DC commuter a little concerned for their wellbeing when travelling around the country. All things considered, they're probably better off taking a bath in radioactive toxic sludge and hope that gives them the ability to fly.

The image of a superhero wrestling one of mankind’s grandest technological achievements out of the sky and down safely to Earth is undeniably a strong one, but it’s also become a tired one. The heavy influence of realism in modern comics has got some more mileage out of the idea, but after Garth Ennis showed how hard it was to stop a plane in full flight in that magnificently horrible issue of The Boys that dealt with 9/11, there isn’t much further you can go.

Maybe, just maybe, we don't ever need to see Superman catch a jumbo jet ever again, and the writers could come up with another way for the character

Maybe that’s where the real danger lies.

* * *

A while back, I was listening to a nice little news/culture radio station on my mp3 player as I walked home in the rain from work.

Unfortunately, the station was transmitting a panel discussion on the merits of personal music players and the panellists didn't have a fucking clue what they were talking about. Smug media hacks on the wrong side of 60, who have done the “hard yards” in the business and now shit out ridiculously biased columns for newspapers, while also spewing out their words of wisdom on live radio.

One of these wits showed off his mad knowledge skills by pointing out that the word 'idiot' derived from some old Greek word that meant you were rejecting society and cutting yourself off. Therefore, everybody who wears headphones that cut off the sounds of the world was an idiot in the deepest sense of the word. And there was much chortling and hums of agreement.

Oh yeah?

Well, if there was any other fucking way to interact with fucking society while walking home on Symonds fucking Street at 6.15 pm on a fucking Thursday fucking night, I would fucking like to fucking know it.

The thing is, I wouldn't be listening to this vapid pontificating if I agreed with their point of view. According to these wise men, I should be taking these headphones off and soak up the sounds of speeding traffic and more speeding traffic. Since I choose to walk to work and leave the car at home, the hour I spend walking the streets is made much more bearable by a variety of news, information and entertainment on the mp3 player. It helps make the mundane business of getting to work five times a week a lot more bearable.

But no. I'm an idiot. And I must have been, because I was listening to these fools.

On the other hand, I do like to zone out to some of my favourite songs. Always have, ever since I got my first portable radio and headphones as an eight-year-old. I adore walking to the sounds of me favourite tunes, letting the mind wander with the rhythms of the world, giving the dull ache of modern life a personal soundtrack.

Technology has bloomed since I first used up the batteries of that AM radio in half an hour. For years a Walkman and a huge stash of cassette tapes was enough to wander the world with, but now it takes an ultra-light mp3 player to provide the 1000 songs I need to get through the working week.

Just to get it on, to get out the door and head on down the street to the groove. Now I've got those thousand finely selected songs on the player that blasts out the music loud enough to disrupt Klaw. The best songs I’ve ever heard, all available at the touch of a sensitive little button.

I could walk forever on this endless trail when I got some music. I’ve had some of the most profound and puzzling moments of my life on these walks, the little epiphanies of life and the big mysteries of the universe coursing through my head. Sometimes, when some form of inebriation is involved, it ends in filth and vomit, rubbing out the smell in the dirt, wondering how it all got to this. But for a moment there, it was starting to make perfect sense.

Driving is also good for thinking, but you can tune out the whole world with a walk. In a car, there is always that 10% of the brain watching the road, shooting up to 100% when something needs to happen. Walking a familiar route means the process becomes automatic, and it just rolls and rolls.

* * *

My wife is a fine, fine woman, and I’m not just saying that because she’s a journalist who wanders around the house in her underwear, just like Vicki Vale did back in the best batman comic of the past decade. She’s smart and funny and sexy as fuck, but by God, I couldn’t get her to read a comic book for anything.

She understands my passion and loves the way I can’t help doing a little happy dance whenever I get my hands on new comic books, but she won’t ever read one for herself. Her reasons are her own and have something to do with the fact that she thinks they don’t let the reader rely on their own imagination, but no matter how much I debate this point with her, she won’t cave in.

A lot of it does have to do with the still widely-held perception that comics = super heroes and that is all there is to it, (even though I have tried with many, many, non-genre efforts). Fact is, the idea that an adult could pick up a super hero comic cold and find it fascinating is more than a little weird. Get ‘em when they’re young with that sort of thing. It’s the only way.

But I’ve given up forcing my favourite books on non-comic readers. They might feign interest, but they never really care. If somebody comes to me asking for recommendations, I’ve always got a few too many to share, but I just don’t initiate the conversation.

As somebody who literally learned to read by studying Unknown Soldier comics when I was three years old and has never stopped loving the medium, it took me a long time to realize that a lot of people just don’t care about comics. It took me even longer to realize that there was nothing wrong with this – that people didn’t have to like the same things I did, even if those things were obviously business.

There has been an element of Team Comics in the comic world – of spreading the word and building up interest from unusual quarters. And there has also always been a section of comic readers who have been proud of their insular medium, and view any new entrants into their precious arena as something to be feared and loathed (This can be seen in something like the backlash from horror fans against the Twilight franchise – anything that so many young girls like CAN’T be any good.)

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle – always happy to share the medium I love more than any other, with enough restraint to avoid scaring everybody else. People who don’t like comics are just plain wrong, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a dick about it.

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