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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 04/21/2003
Volume 2, #74

DeHirsh grabbed himself a seat at one side of the table, placing himself squarely between Supes and me while he continued to expatiate on his new approach to opaque watercolors. Finally, I broke in, trying to bring his attention back to where we'd been before he'd brought his hobby horse into it. We had been talking about selves as elements in systems and I wanted to hear more, so I broke in on deHirsh to introduce Clark first off. I simply said it, "this is my -er- friend Clark Kent and this is deHirsh."

"Hey, I know that name," deHirsh popped in. "Some column or other, right. I'm a reporter myself. Do you write your own column? What paper?"

"Actually, I'm in a lot of papers."

"Only he doesn't write," I began.

"Oh, I know the name Clark Kent all right,"  deHirsh said. "Rings a bell, but..." He pushed his chair in closer to the table. "You know, it's a funny thing about identity. The way you get pieces of it, like, don't you have something to do with comic strips?"

"Never read them actually," Clark said with a mild grin.

"You should," deHirsh said. "They're a true reflection of the world we live in."

"I spread my hands lightly on the table top and looked down. "Some think they're not a good reflection at all," I said. I was trying to hold back laughter and might have failed if Clark hadn't come to my rescue.

"A lot of people think that," he said. "That comics only reflects the way the world is. Or the country. That it's like a mirror. As though a mirror could even know that."

"What do you mean by that?" de Hirsh demanded, puzzled.

"Simple, a reflection doesn't know what it's reflecting. People get ideas about the world by looking in mirrors. First, they see themselves. Right? But how do they know what they're looking at is really themselves? They'd have to have a pretty good idea of themselves to start with. And if they do, what more could a mirror tell them? The fact is, though, that people don't know a thing about themselves until they look in the mirror. And even then, they're not sure. Mmm, is that really me? With that funny nose? Those squinty eyes. Naaa-ah, that's not me." Clark paused and looked first at me than at de Hirsh who was scratching his head.

"You mean, I look in the mirror and don't know it's me?" deHirsh said.

"No, you've just been trained to believe it. How about an animal who sees itself in a mirror? Often as not, it'll attack the image."

"Yeah, but, we know."

Clark slapped his hand on the table. "Didn't I tell you? You've learned it somewhere. But the mirror itself tells you nothing. That's why when they say that comic strips are just mirrors of reality, that's nonsense. We decide what reality is and then claim we find it in a comic strip, or in the movies, or in our politics, as though everything around us mirrored reality instead of contributing to it, part of the whole positive feedback system.In that sense, yes, comic strips, like everything else, all have their part in influencing reality. In changing it. Even your pictures do that. So you see, there's no such thing as a mirror of reality, only a point of view. You only see in the mirror what you already bring to it."

"Come on," deHirsh said. "You know this character Superman that's the big rage in comics these days? You trying to tell me it isn't because people are looking for some kind of savior?"

"Hey, deHirsh," I broke in. "You're talking to Clark Kent. Don't you realize--?"

"I know I'm talking to Clark Kent. I know he's got some kind of column. So what? I'm saying that Superman is popular because people like to have a savior around during war time. What's hard to understand about that?"

"Well, maybe some idiots believe that Superman can be a savior. There are even idiots across the ocean who believe Hitler is a savior. No, the reason Superman is popular, well, it's a good story. Even a good escape from reality. How does that grab you?"

"In fact, I said, everybody likes to imagine what it's like to have super powers, or be super rich, or super smart, that's what stories are about. I agree with Clark. Besides, Superman was popular before the war started."

"But you're not explaining why superheroes are all suddenly so popular." deHirsh retorted.

"They've always been popular," Clark responded. "Ask Schwartz here how he learned about superheroes from reading his Uncle Yoineh's books about the Illiad and the Odyssey."

"But why now?" DeHirsh insisted.

"The reason for that, well, it's a long story and has little to do with saviors. In fact, once prohibition was killed, there was all this bootleg money lying sround in the hands of guys who didn't know what to do with it. So they tried publishing, mostly dirty books. But congress soon began to make that unsafe. So there they were with their presses and all that money invested in distribution setups, so they went into comics. Then these two guys came along with a superman comic and it sold like crazy."

"All right. So how do you explain that?" deHirsh insisted. "Why Superman? Why superheroes?"

"Because it was an old formula that existed for centuries. Even before Homer. And Hesiod. The legends of the Gods of all peoples. They come back in cycles. Then the gods break down. As these will too. You'll see."

DeHirsh shrugged. "It doesn't sound right to me," he said.

It was Clark's turn to shrug. "Why should it sound right? But you'll see. In fact, Alvin here knows. Ask him."

DeHirsh turned to me. "Well?"

I didn't think I could tell him that I had this car that brought me from the future and that sometime around 1958, I'd be inventing a character called Bizarro that would turn the Superman idea upside down. Maybe Superman knew it because to him, time was just a matter of stretching his superspeed talents a little. In fact, in that, he himself was a little old-fashioned. Einsteinian, I would say.

Anyway, it ended there. DeHirsh found some distraction at another table and left us, never knowing that the Clark Kent he'd been talking to was Superman himself. And I decided it was time to get back to my car and my own time Things were happening at home too. Like there was a war on.

But worse than that. The biggest swindle the world had ever seen had been going on --and the war, which in itself didn't make sense, had somehow exposed it.. One bit of lunacy exposing a most unsuspected source of international villainy. I'll tell you about it next week, if I can get my car started.

Alvin

<< 04/14/2003 | 04/21/2003 | 05/05/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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