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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 06/18/2007
Vol. 2, #199

I happened to pick up an article in Wikipedia that purported to be a history of Superman, including all of the changes and transmogrifications of the character. And there were so many, including life and death. Which confirmed my long held belief, shaped gradually over the nearly two decades in which I wrote not only most of the Superman newspaper strips but many of the magazine stories, where I was made responsible for some of the aforementioned reshaping of the character even to the point of expanding that into the scripts for two Superman operas, fully accoutred with words and music under which guise and in the form of vinyl records became best sellers in their own right. The subtle restructuring of the Superman concept required by my development of the World's Finest book, so that the Man of Multiple Tomorrows could function within the same adventures as Batman also required some subtle tinkering, a kind of temporary limiting framework that would not be visible to the reader but allowed DC to put these two disparate modes of the superhero concept into the same frames.

I mention all these details, and refer to the Wikipedia article because they are some of the evidence that supports my personal vision of Superman as more of a process than a fixed creation of any kind. Until the beginning of the last century, say 1915 which introduced Einstein's special relativity, we tended to think reductively in the sense that the explanation of everything was to be found in something ultimately analyzable into finer and finer particles from which the true and unvarnished substance of reality will surely emerge. But that was never my view after the first year or so into the nineteen forties. As I struggled with my own validities and uncertainties, the world that gradually took shape for me seemed to lose more and more of its outline. Until, as I have indicated in these columns many times before, I discovered that we are not boxed into an inside and an outside, a small private self and an infinite outside -- that is, a universe that holds all the answers that we think we have to have in order to account for ourselves and test the limitations of the box we call the self. I have discovered, along with such thinkers as David Bohm to whom I owe much, that, as he put it, "any describable event, object, entity, etc, is an abstraction from an unknown and indefinable totality of flowing movement."* To me, or in the process of being me, in the course of my flowing, you might say, Superman seems to represent that ultimate flux of being out of which all of his changes, his capacities and powers represent the outermost reach of sheer flow, that grasp which overleaps probability to attain maximum possibility, not really the Man of Steel, but man in his never fixed and never final flexibility. The absolute quantum wave!

Is Superman real, then? Not exactly. But he flows. And that is what our own reality also draws us to.

Consider, Superman has been the rescuer, the attacker, the moralist, the wimp, the hero, the victim, the loved, envied and universalized multi-personal reality, the quantum mirror of our own non-local and ultimately unlimited flow across time, across meaning, across life and death. Had he been the consistent superhero of most comics, say a Spider-Man of whom his particular superpower is only an outcropping of a fixed and carefully defined domesticized humanity, or any of the others who circulate around some fixed point, Superman would not have lasted through the changes imposed on him by his writers and creators, not in the extreme unlimited sense that he, in all his essential dullness, has managed to insinuate himself into some permanent and indefinable flow across all of the images and potentials, even the marketing and cultural shifts, until he has become one of a kind, sheer drift, sheer overpowering reality, snaking its way through endless possibility. Yes, serpentine indeed! How, otherwise, could he have remained on scene so long and consistently through all of his inconsistencies, and his inconsistent creators? He has of course assumed the mantle and become the focus of the superhero concept around which history, itself sheer flow, has coiled itself. He is there as if to deny inertia. He is process, the embodiment of the total flux through which we all ride, not to some future destiny, as civilization since the Renaissance, has imagined itself, but to nowhere and, everywhere.

There was a time when I thought there was someplace to go, something to become. But after all those years creating Superman, and those additional ones, watching others create him, I have learned, by dint of striving for so many things, like most of us, that we are there, just as he is. As I've said in Unlikely Prophet, he is us when we're at our highest point. That point is reached when we break out of the box. When we join the flow. We are, to borrow from A.N. Whitehead, both process and reality. Fixed in the here and now and enfolded in the infinite.

Ask yourselves, if indeed, that isn't what flying is all about.

--Alvin

* Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London & New York 1980

<< 05/21/2007 | 06/18/2007 | 01/14/2008 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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