Comics of Interest II January 27, 2010Posted by Ian Duckles in Art and Music, Uncategorized.
Continuing on my theme of philosophically interesting comics books, I intend to devote this entry to an examination of what people normally associate with the form: the cape and cowl style superhero. Rather than discuss the genre generally, I want to focus on a specific series, The Brave and the Bold volume 3, issues 27-30 written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Jesus Saiz. The Brave and the Bold is published by DC comics and features team-ups between various characters in the DC Universe. I will examine the four most recent issues of this series (still available at your local comic book shop) because the creative team behind the book is really doing an amazing job. Each of these four books is an out of continuity one-shot (meaning that each book tells a self-contained story that can be understood on its own without having to have read other comic books or even be familiar with the characters in the book), which makes them a perfect starting point for people who are new to the comic book medium.
Each of the four books features a team-up between a well-established superhero and a more obscure character(s) from the DC Universe. What sets these books apart from more generic super-hero comics (not that there is anything wrong with that) is the way Straczynski uses these team-ups to explore themes and issues that transcend the normal fare found in comics. I want to briefly discuss each of these books in turn. As a quick note, I won’t be discussing the art in these books but suffice to say Saiz does an outstanding job.
Issue #27: Batman and Dial H for Hero. At this point, Batman needs no introduction, but Dial H for Hero is an old-style rotary phone dial that turns the user into a superhero when he or she dials the letters H-E-R-O. In this story, the owner of the dial is visiting Gotham City (Batman’s hometown) when it is stolen by a petty thief named Travis Milton. Milton uses the dial and is transformed into a Superman like character named The Star. When the Star rescues a window cleaner who has fallen off the scaffolding, Travers realizes that his new-found powers provide him an opportunity for redemption and an escape from his life of crime. Of particular interest is the way Strazcynski uses this set-up to explore the nature of heroism in comic books, and he suggests what might motivate someone in this fictional world to put on a costume and start fighting crime. The psychological profiling of superheros and villains has been done (often poorly) by many in the wake of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen, but Strazcynski is able to give a more optimistic spin on this well-worn trope.
Issue #28 begins when the Flash (the fastest man alive) breaks his leg while inadvertently traveling back in time to the Battle of the Bulge. Because he needs to run at super speed to return to his own time, the Flash is trapped in the past until his leg heals. While there he encounters the Blackhawks (a multi-national group of WWII flying aces) who themselves have been accidentally dragged into the battle when they were ambushed while on R&R in Belgium. In the DC universe, the general criterion that distinguishes heroes from villains is that heroes do not kill while villains do. This creates a dilemma for the Flash as he finds himself in the middle of a war, teamed up with an elite band of soldiers. The way in which the Flash resolves this dilemma provides the core of the story and the way in which Straczynski uses this framework to explore notions of heroism and the obligations of citizens during wartime is fascinating.
Issue #29 one again returns to Batman, this time teaming him with an obscure 60’s counter-culture superhero: Brother Power the Geek. Straczynski uses this match up to contrast the values of the 60’s (particularly the hippies and the counter-culture) with the values of contemporary America. This is a story that has already been dealt with in many contexts, but Straczynski is nevertheless able to find an interesting and compelling take, particularly as he contrasts the ideals of the Summer of Love with America in 2009.
Issues #30: My personal favorite of the four and the most obviously “philosophical,” this issue teams the Green Lantern with Dr. Fate. Very quickly, the Green Lantern’s powers come from a ring that is fueled by the user’s will power. Dr. Fate, as the name suggests is a servant of the forces of fate and destiny. Straczynski uses this team-up to explore the classic philosophical debate of free will vs. determinism. What I particularly appreciated about this book was that, in true philosophical fashion, Straczynski does not provide any answers, but instead raises issues and questions about this topic as he uses these characters to explore many of the different perspectives one can take. This book in particular would work as an excellent way to get students to think about these concepts and some of the issues and consequences of the various positions one can occupy in this debate.