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Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined

Title Page >> Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Afterword | Message Board

PART FOUR: "Crisis of Faith" (April 19, 1995)
He couldn't sleep.

He didn't have to sleep, mind you. Well, not exactly. But, he found that taking a few hours of rest each night allowed him a much-needed respite from his busy days. He was only super-human, he would chuckle to himself as he turned in. The world certainly didn't need a cranky Superman with bags under his eyes.

But, this night, he couldn't sleep. He read the new McBain. He watched Leno's monologue. He went out and got newspapers from London, Paris, Copenhagen, and Yokohama, and worked the crossword puzzles in each. And he still couldn't sleep.

There was a nagging question that had lodged in his head and wouldn't be stilled, a question whose answer eluded him as surely as his desired rest.

Why had the world, the universe, gone so terribly wrong?
******

We've been asking our own questions about why so many comics publishers have abandoned the essential optimism of their classic super-heroes, those shining beacons of inspiration, for "revamps" born of despair and rage.

We've been disputing the view that claims these super-heroes have become darker to better reflect the sad world around them by offering examples of real-life heroism in that world.

And, if we appear to be singling out DC Comics for an unfair measure of our disapproval, we plead unavoidable circumstances in the answering of that charge.

DC Comics is scarcely the exclusive offender in this regard, but, by virtue of their having so many classic super-heroes among their characters, and their obvious willingness to deform any and all of them for short-term gain, they necessarily come in for the lion's share of our reproachful commentary.

Then, too, there is the simple fact that your scribe is more familiar with the DC Universe, having recently tarried within its cheerless borders for some short while. If I'd been reading more Marvel super-hero comics, perhaps it would be those books and not DC's efforts concerning me now.

And so, it is the DC Universe we consider herein.

******

All too often of late, he found himself thinking life itself had degenerated into an unending series of crises, that the hopes of tomorrow had been eclipsed by the terrors of the now. He knew the seemingly unrelenting struggle was exacting a heavy toll from man and Superman alike. He could see it in the grim faces of the ones who fought alongside him.

It was two o'clock now and he still couldn't sleep.
******

I have held that the creators of super-hero comic books have the power and the responsibility to take their readers beyond the despair and the rage, that they have the ability to entertain and inspire us. These convictions are, of course, born of the values I grew up with and still embrace.

However, beyond any one writer's concept of right and wrong, there are several compelling creative and economic reasons for DC Comics to reconsider the increasingly dark avenue down which they have taken their super-heroes.

Fictional universes require an internal consistency to work. It isn't logical for Superman to fight his neverending battle for truth and justice, then allow the serial killer Lobo to slaughter his way through the DC Universe. It isn't rational for Batman to devote his existence to stopping criminals, but ally himself with a vicious assassin. Yet these and like incongruities are written into story after story for the sake of the fast buck.

The DC Universe relies on its readers' willing suspension of disbelief. The shortsighted thinking that allows a Hal Jordan to go insane or a Lobo to murder without significant consequence can push that willing suspension past the breaking point. The reader loses faith and interest in the fictional reality. And, perhaps, he moves on to other forms of entertainment.

One wonders how small the comics market has to get before DC Comics will look at the big picture?

******

In those small hours before dawn, the mightiest man on Earth wanted nothing more than to share his melancholy with someone who might understand it. There was no one.

He considered flying to Gotham City, then rejected the idea. Though there was no man he respected more than the Batman, he had watched his friend grow colder with each passing year. It was as if Bruce had come to consider hope as an indulgence ill-suited to his eternal war. There was no one.

Barry would have understood, but he was gone now. So would have...the other heroes who gave their lives to save the universe from the Anti-Monitor.

(How strange. When he thought of Barry, another name popped into his head and just as quickly left. Kara?)

Who else? He found Arthur a bit confounding these days, and he wasn't sure who--or what--Carter had become. He hadn't talked to Ollie in months, not even to refute the disturbing rumors he'd heard of the archer's activities.

And Hal? He tried not to think about Hal at all.
******

If DC Comics were to look at the big picture, they would see a country driven by the need to hope. We elected Bill Clinton to office because we wanted to believe he could change our lives for the better. We elected the Republican Congress because we wanted to believe they could change our lives for the better.

Okay, we screwed up.

(We are, in addition to being a hopeful people, an amazingly impatient people. We want those ready-to-use answers to the most complex of problems. This also explains why we took to microwave ovens so quickly. We want it all right now.)

DC Comics is an excellent position to tap into the essential optimism of the American people. They have two vital ingredients that would allow them to secure said position: classic characters and lousy sales.

Their classic characters give them a high recognition factor among the vast majority of Americans who don't read their comics. If those characters were more in tune with the essential decency and optimism of our fellow countrymen, and aggressively marketed as such, their readership could grow beyond the tiny confines of their current following.

Their lousy sales make a convincing argument that "grim and gritty" doesn't translate into sure sales anymore. Their comics need more. They need better, more original stories and artwork. They need hope and wonder. They need heroes.

Real heroes for real people.

******

He had virtually willed his body to sleep when he awoke with a start. Someone had called to him from very far away.

It was not a dream, this single thought fired into his mind. It was a cry, a revelation, a warning.

He recognized the "voice" instantly and he knew this was the answer he had been seeking.

Now he knew why the world had gone so terribly wrong.

And he knew what he had to do.

As the first rays of dawn flowed over the still-resting city of Metropolis, the Man of Tomorrow burst through their shimmering glory and into the darkness beyond.
Next: why bad things happened to good heroes.

Tony Isabella

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board.

    Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined

    Introduction
    "My Back Pages" (September 22, 2001)

    Part One
    "My Heroes Have Always Been Heroes" (March 24, 1995)

    Part Two
    "There Are Heroes Among Us" (April 5, 1995)

    Part Three
    "Heroes and Hope" (April 10, 1995)

    Part Four
    "Crisis of Faith" (April 19, 1995)

    Part Five
    "Oklahoma City" (April 26, 1995)

    Part Six
    "Making It Right" (May 16, 1995)

    Part Seven
    "Columbine High School" (May 4, 1999)

    Afterword
    "Unfinished Business" (September 23, 2001)

Title Page >> Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Afterword | Message Board





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