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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 07/04/2005
Vol. 2, #168

This is one of my days for mulling around among the detritus that fills my mind, that great disorder I discussed last week, as the matrix of my creativity. And as I often do because this column is part of a comics site where I find myself as the unique representative of Superman, I've been thinking about the Man of Steel as a symbol of where we are at this moment in the early 21st century, and even wondering whether he still belongs in it. My conclusion is that he definitely still does, And here are my reasons.

We have always had myths and fairly tales and folk stories in which humans and other living beings perform in a way denied to the rest of us who are apparently bounded by physical laws and a kind of reality beyond which we cannot act. Yet all of us have seen actions by others that seem to defy our beliefs in what's real and what's possible. And most of us enjoy reading about persons or creatures for whom common reality does not exist. The ancient Gods could fly and lived in demesnes beyond our reach. Spirits and ghosts and seers and magican often break down the walls between past and future, dream and reality. Our religions are built upon these paranormal capacities and our hardest sciences are always trying to test them.

One of those tests, performed late in the last century by the French scientist, Alain Aspect and his crew, demonstrated a quality known as non-locality. Expressed directly, non-locality means that everything in the universe is essentially here and now, so that, in effect, locality, nearness-- does not actually exist. The entire universe is in immediate reach of itself and all its parts. The Aspect experiment accomplished this, to put it in the simplest of terms, by showing that signals between photons at vast distances from each other, exceeded the speed of light. Thus the contact between non-local and local parts of the universe were both, so to speak, immediate. Nothing was really not local anymore. Hence locality became meaningless. This finding supported John Bell's theorem that you cannot save locality by invoking hidden variables because they too exhibit non-locality.

Now if all this sounds like heavy scientific gobbledygook, let's look at it in another way. Let's put it all in the context of Superman. Here is an imaginative work that somehow set off a vast string of imitators, created an entire industry, and, at the same time provided a popular symbol for non-locality. What's more, Superman was created by a man, Jerry Siegel, who was simply expressing that sense of non-locality that's always present in the back of our minds, that capacity to be everywhere instantly. All of our greatest myths and beliefs are essentially based on this. So Superman can fly faster than the speed of light, see microscopically and telescopically, and peer through solid objects. He is essentially the pop expression of non-locality. And in one way or another, there has always been such an expression, mostly, in our history, through religion, and under more secular conditions other beings until, in this "material" age, it gets expressed in the form of Superman.

All this by way of explaining that way back in the beginning, during the early forties, when I first started to write both Superman and Batman, I found the former fascinating because he was what I felt was a true and direct expression of the way things were. Batman was just another detective story, with gimmicks, and not the first of his kind either, having been modeled directly on the pulp hero The Phantom Detective.

However, Superman was not original either. But he is archetypal. He is one of the specific forms in which our reality gets bodied out. He is, in short, archetypal though expressed in the secular mode of the current age. And as I said in my recent book, An Unlikely Prophet, Superman is us when we're at our highest point, when we're truly impermeable, indestructible, totally concentrated. And living entirely in the now, a condition each of us attains in actual fact from time to time. We really do have such moments.

As most of you know, by the way, An Unlikely Prophet went out of print when its original publisher went bankrupt. But I've just signed a new publishing contract, and Prophet is scheduled to reappear next Spring, to be followed soon after by its sequel, A Gathering of Selves.

--Alvin

<< 06/27/2005 | 07/04/2005 | 07/25/2005 >>

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