Saturday, September 22, 2007

Comics don't deal with terrorism? Are you kidding me?

I've been very bad at keeping this blog updated - I blame September, a class, a reading course, and two teaching jobs - but scott s. recently posted a link to an article/blog titled "Why won't comics deal with terrorism?" by Ned Beauman, and it seems to demand some kind of response. So back to the blogosphere I go.

Briefly, then: the article is awful.

Longer: I expected the piece to critique superheroes for their moral exceptionalism, their authoritarian streaks, or their nihilism. Instead, Beauman manages one of the most painfully literal readings of a super hero comic that I've seen emerge from someone other than a teenaged fanboy. For example: "
quite a few superheroes are powerful telepaths, yet apparently none of them can find Osama Bin Laden. Terrorism makes superheroes look ridiculous, and if you're ignoring terrorism, you can't do much with Iraq, either."

If the juxtaposition of superhero telepathy and Osama Bin Laden isn't already silly enough, then perhaps it should be spelled out - superheroes are a fantasy genre, not a realist one. They aren't aimed toward versimilitude, but toward the fantastic. And when they have a point to make, they usually do so with some subtlety. 'Identity Crisis' seems to be as much about the Patriot Act (and like-minded legislation) and our own complicity in the systemic erasure of dissent as it is about superheroes who brainwash each other. 'Civil War' tackles a similar subject with much less tact, deciding to deal with the matter of dissent from legally enforced patriotism by recasting it as a thinly veiled superhero matter. And 'Ultimates' - and this is all the more amazing because the article in question features an image from this series - is about as subtle as a punch to the jaw, featuring as it does an epic mini-war in which various countries declare war on the Ultimates and the USA for their empire-building policies in the Middle East.

Seriously, I get the feeling that Beauman would criticize Orwell for not 'dealing' with communism in "Animal Farm" - after all, if Stalin did appear then it would only cause us to realize the absurdity inherent in a book where animals converse with one another and build a society, wouldn't it? The cleverest sorts of responses to global politics - those that are harshest, and as such must hide to some degree in the subtext - require that you actually look for them, y'know?

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