Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Comics: Retro White Bread

Now, in the last installment, I mentioned that I was a fan as a kid of the Silver Age Flash and Green Lantern. In fact, I would put myself in the DC category as a kid - DC had more stories per issue (since I didn't know that many of those tales were republished from earlier books), while the Marvel books were continuing tales, and in a world without Direct-Sale comics shops, the chances of getting two books in a row were thin indeed.

But I have to tell you, one of the reasons I eventually shuffled over to Marvel was that the DC universe was filled with middle-class, middle-aged, white guys. The JLA was filled with white dudes, even the Martian Manhunter, who was obviously green, was a white guy.

All that stuff about depth of character and political views and evolving relationships between heroes? Most of it after my time, starting with the "Hard-Traveling Heroes" era of Green Arrow and Green Lantern. But a lot of the history and personality of these guys were added pretty much after the fact.

Look at their secret identities - Supes is a reporter, Bats a millionaire playboy (OK, he's above middle class), Wondy held a number of jobs in the military and government. Green Lantern was a test pilot, Flash a forensic scientist before CSI made it cool, Martian Manhunter was a cop. Hawkman was a cop from outer space. Elongated Man was a mystery writer. Not a struggler or slacker in the bunch. In fact their secret IDs were pretty much just a hook to get them involved in the story.

And the stories were pretty much detective stories. Something odd happens, the hero gets involved, follows the clues, reveals a greater crime, fights the baddie, everything gets resolved. All that differed was the hows and the impediments. Batman would have his lab in the batcave, Flash would solve matters with super-speed, Green Lantern would have his power ring. Need to slow the heroes down for storytelling purposes (or to reach page count)? Kryptonite for Supes, dehydration for Aquaman, fire for Martian Manhunter. Throw something yellow at Green Lantern - yeah, here was a hero who could be defeated by Spongebob Squarepants.

But what about how yellow representing fear, which was the enemy of willpower, the source of the Green Lanterns' abilities? Later stuff leavened into mythos through retroactive continuity (The dreaded RetCon you always hear about). Ditto with the Speed Force, which didn't even exist when Barry Allen sacrificed himself in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now the speed force is part and parcel of the Flash Mythos, and the Fear/Yellow impurity has been deeply justified, removed, and reinstated a couple time in the Lantern vocabulary.

So here's another dualism of modern continuity storytelling - Statics versus Change, or perhaps call it the Issue versus the Series. The old comics I read as a kid were timeless in the fact that they did not ever change. Flash would always be late to dinner with his girlfriend Iris West. Green Lantern would lose planes are an alarming rate as he had to bale to be Green Lantern. Clark Kent would continually have to disappear whenever it was a job for Superman. Only when they engaged with the nature of time, of connecting the serial issues together into their larger mythos, did suddenly filling in all the blanks become important. Then the cracks of repeated action began to appear, and the stresses for the character to change over time suddenly become apparent.

Stresses, in the case of many of DC Heroes, to (temporary) death and (temporary) replacement. And in particular, to revisions of their past heritage, putting stuff in that that wasn't there before, and creating the illusion that it was always so.

One more thing I want to say on this, but for now, More Later,