Cover by Jack Able & Rich Buckler
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Comics suffer the constraint of perception. For all of its growing social relevance, for all of its long history from the pages of the funnies to the glossiest of graphic novels, comic books still bear the stigma of entertainment for kids. Comics are still that crazy kid’s stuff. And hence that delightful paradox: no longer for kids, who barely think of sex, they’re targeted at teens who barely think of anything else. And one thing teens won’t find in super-heroes books is sex (at least beyond the tame suggestion of it in the context of romance).
Now, it is obvious that sex mustn’t have a prominent place in super-hero comic books, since as a rule those are not erotic or porn books. Each genre with its own rules, even though nothing prevents genre fluidity, or the successful inclusion of explicit content in superhero comics, as both Comico’s ELEMENTAL’S SEX SPECIAL (1991-1993) and WildStorm’s THE BOYS (2006-2007) or Dynamite’s HEROGASM (2009) clearly attest. Nor is either of those matters the point of this brief post, although I intend to tackle both of them in future writings.
If I now bring up the subject of sex I do so in a more specific context – that of rape in superheroes comic books, and even so (saving the subject for a future and longer post), only as the utmost perfect illustration of Goldman’s rule #4: “the comic-book movie doesn’t have a great deal to do with life as it exists, as we know it to be. Rather, it deals with life as we would prefer it to be. Safer that way”. Even if the way we prefer it to be is childish.
First of all, I’m not talking about graphic representations of rape. Just as graphic representations of sex, they would have no place in mass-market entertainment like the comic books put out every month by Marvel or DC. What I really want to discuss is the very concept of rape. The basic idea that anywhere in the universe – in the superhero universe – such a thing could happen. To anyone. Let alone to some super-powered female come from Krypton or a power-stripped mutant in Genosha (yes, I’m thinking of the infamous UNCANNY X-MEN #236) or Kansas, or whatever.
Despite endless talk about why superheroes need secret identities to protect their families and the ones they love, we know that the Vulture, or Doc Ok, or Venom will go straight after Peter once he advertises his true identity, and if they go for Aunt May or Mary Jane, they’ll do so without the least lubricious thought in their minds.
However, one would expect rape to be a professional hazard to super-heroines (if not super-heroes). After all, their job is to fight, many times at close quarters, with vicious super-powered villains intent on world domination and drunk on power. And even more so if said villains are of the Freudian persuasion.
In fact, reality tell us that, even allowing a large margin for underreporting, and despite a decline in crime statistics, and if we’re to believe the UNODC data for 2011, more than 26 women for each 100.000 is a victim of rape, while the FBI, for 2012 alone, lists a total of 67.354 female victims of rape in the United States. In the military (something more akin to superherodom) that number rises to one in three.
But, just as it happened with Gwen Stacy, the intrusion of reality in the comic book world is a shattering event. That supervillains are willing to rape, and that superheroes are unable to prevent it, is something people seem incapable of handling. It’s something that defies Comic Book Logic, something that further punctures the improbability sphere that surrounds the world of each main character in superhero books.
Indeed, the rape of a minor character, Sue Dibny, in a hugely popular mini-series – IDENTITY CRISIS (2005) – was probably the most decried event in comic book history. In fact it was decreed anathema from all quarters. It was deemed by some to be “the stupidest, most offensive move in modern comics”, while others considered it “the embodiment of all of the worst aspects of current super-hero comics”. Some tried to justify their aversion to it because the story did not dwell at length with the trauma of the rape victim, as if that was or should be the point of the story. And others still, with shock-and-awe bombast and no sense of ridicule, proclaimed that “the rape of a superhero's spouse ripped through the superhero community, broke rules of corporate superhero fiction, and left the spirit of the DC Comics universe in tatters.” But, in the end, what they all were objecting was this:
Quite restrained isn’t it? Even tame, by comparison with some of the other images I chose to illustrate this post. There’s nothing graphic about it – not even the slightest hint of nudity, despite the discrete rrrrrp sound that I imagine is Dr. Light ripping Sue’s trousers. So, the only thing objectionable on this scene is the shock of the rape itself. The unexpectedness of it. Not the unexpectedness of “how could it have happened?”, but of the more crude “How dare them (the publishers/writers/artists) do it?” type. As an example, Shaun Spalding, referring to IDENTITY CRISIS, admonishes his readers: “If you’re going to write a rape into your superhero comic book, be prepared to write it well.” Sadly, no examples are given on how to do it. What a surprise.
The best way to summarize the reaction and the ballyhoo about this scene is the one employed by a reader in a comments thread (and I’m sorry for dropping on her shoulders the heavy burden of poster-girl for social indignation) when she wrote that:
“My primary problem with Identity Crisis, which I mostly liked, was the rape because it wasn't necessary to the story. Dr. Light being crazy dangerous and smart enough to infiltrate the satellite and hack their computers and threaten all their loved ones was enough.”
The shocking thing in this scene was, in fact, that Dr. Light dared go beyond the mere threat. The thrill of the menace was enough, just like in a theme park ride. In the comic book world some readers like to inhabit, bad things don’t happen to good people. Superhero’s wives are not raped by unscrupulous villains. Super-heroines are not objects of desire. It’s safer that way.
In truth, this kind of reaction harkens back to a time when comic books really seemed incapable of going beyond infantile prudishness even when dealing with larger issues. Take, for example, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #84 (September 1962). At a certain point of the cover story for that issue “The Mighty Thor vs The Executioner”, Dr. Don Blake (Thor) is captured by the titular villain, a prescient ersatz Guevara/Castro figure that shows us the Marvel was much more aware of socialist reality than many of its critics.
When the Executioner, who has noticed the enticing young American nurse Jane Foster: “Such lovely eyes… such soft hair” is clearly a displaced appreciation of the girl’s other bodily charms – unmentionable by name in a comic book for kids. The sexual subtext is there, the libidinous menace is clear; and, noticing the concern of Jane over Dr. Blake, the ersatz Cuban dictator expresses his most primal instincts for the young American girl:
“Would you marry me?” Yes… the sexual subtext is there, in a language that only children could identify with.
Monday, September 19, 2016
Comic Book Logic works because it maintains the coherence between the reader’s expectations and the storyworld. We accept superhuman powers as a given, and so we accept their functioning inside its own intrinsic logic. It is as if each and every super-powered being acted inside a sphere of non-causality, with varying radius, and inside that sphere, their powers work as they should were it not for the uncompromising laws of physics. To reach such affect, writer and artist must aim at the realistic portraying of impossible feats, both in story structure as in art. By realistic I don’t mean mere photo-imitation (one can be realistic without adhering to realistic representation), but a special codification of the logic structure of the working of such feats against the story’s expectations. The risk here is that Comic Book Logic should inadvertently slip into Cartoon Logic.
The image above, from FANTASTIC FOUR #4 (1962), sits uncomfortably near to that fateful incline towards ridiculousness. Mr. Fantastic, here penciled by “the king” Kirby, looks disproportionate in relation to the buildings that surround him. At that height, just try to imagine the size of his feet, dozens of meters below. In the early stories from Marvel’s Golden Age (during the Silver Age of Comics) the super-heroes’s super-powers were somewhat fluctuating and malleable, as if they hadn’t been completely thought out (as they probably weren’t) before being committed to the printed page. Here, Mr. Fantastic not only expands his body, as he seems to expand his size and mass as well – something that seems awkward, for a man of the size of Reed Richards on the panel above would be so massive that he wouldn’t be able to stand, and much less move. But although it is a silly situation – Mr. Fantastic stops a helicopter to ask if those aboard have seen the Human Torch – it still hasn’t slid entirely into a cartoonish mindframe.
As it had done, for instance, in the previous issue (FANTASTIC FOUR #3), when the same Mr. Fantastic turns his body into a racecar-wheel:
Please mind that Mr. Fantastic didn’t turn himself into a tire (which would be ridiculous enough by itself), but into a full functioning wheel for a speeding racecar, in the middle of a high-speed chase. Think of the sheer mechanical complexity of such feat, and the mind boggles…
Truth is, Cartoon Logic, just as Comic Book Logic, does not adhere to the laws of physics, but unlike the latter, it does not aspire to present a credible representation of the storyworld. Cartoon Logic thrives on the unexpected, on the surrealist logic of dreams, on the unchecked imagination of children still free from a sense of the world as it is. Its is a logic of free-association, of willingly incoherent rules, where one cause does not necessarily produce the same effect twice. Its dimension is a dimension of symbols, and when it invades the real world, it does so with a hint of madness.
Maybe madness is a strong world, for this madness I’m thinking of is no more than the craziness of childhood. For only a child could imagine an entire building floating through the skies, ridden like a ski by a semi-naked Amazon that, lassoed to an invisible airplane through a golden lariat, drives that incredible mass of tons of bricks and steel, with the might of her shapely thighs. Well, maybe not just children, for the above scenario appears on the pages of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #28 (1960), written by Gardner Fox and penciled by Michael Sekowsky:
Super-hero comic books were on their twenties when these two examples were published. Still a long way away from the revolution that would shake the comic book world around 1970, ushering the greatest comic book era of all time – the Bronze Age of Comics –, and that being so there were sometimes childish stories, already bearing the seed of great things to come, but not always more sophisticated than their forebears from the Golden Age were (1938-1954). Comics in their infancy, are surely entitled to the occasional slip into cartoonish situations.
Not so with more recent comics, where Cartoon Logic sometimes erupt like a mushroom on a well-kept lawn. In modern super-hero comic books, such eruptions tend to signal a return into childishness, an attempt to remove comic books from the adult status they sometimes have achieved, and throw them back into a mythical infancy of safe parental embraces. Of Saturday morning cartoons. Consider, for instance, the following panel from HARLEY’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK #1 (2016), written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner, and penciled by the same Amanda Conner with John Timms:
This is the kind of image we expect from French or Italian comedy films of the sixties and seventies (movies by Jean Girault or Michele Lupo for instance), films where the chaos of the surrealist imagination would subvert to comic effect the strictures of neo-realism and the less than ideal real world politics.
I’ve stressed in my previous post that Comic Book Logic could be a symptom of the infantilism in the medium of comic books. When it slips into cartoonish antics, it is undeniably so. Consider that Wonder Woman would be subject to the same Newtonian laws that governed Superman’s attempt to stop the Metropolis Bullet in ACTION COMICS #1 (2011) (as also discussed in my previous post). The same as saying that in the real world she wouldn’t have made it. The momentum of the speeding Mini would push her for kilometers, even if she could keep her arms locked with enough strength to prevent the sword from cutting her in half. Accepting – as we do – Comic Book Logic, we would also accept that she would be able to stop the car with the blade of her sword, smashing in the entire front of the Mini. But to slice the car in two perfect halves, cutting through the motor innards like it was butter… I’m sorry, but that is pure Cartoon Logic – something beyond even the brilliant cartoonish buffoonery of Deadpool, a character with a logic all of his own.
As I reread the previous lines, I can’t help but feeling that I’ve wasted too much time on what shouldn’t be more than a short footnote to my previous post. And I’ll be the first to admit that none of the examples quoted are enough to disqualify comic books as relevant pop entertainment. But I feel that these hints of childishness that sometimes creep back into comics, hark to something darker, as childishness is not always equated with innocence. Childishness is also a symptom of totalitarian thought control, and there is one aspect of this control that I want to discuss briefly in my next post: rape.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
So, onto Goldman’s Rule number (4) and its relevance for my understanding of Comic Book Logic: “the comic-book movie doesn’t have a great deal to do with life as it exists, as we know it to be. Rather, it deals with life as we would prefer it to be. Safer that way”.
As I’ve mentioned before, the first thing one derives from such a iteration is an implicit condemnation of escapist forms of entertainment. However, that is not helpful when dealing with comic books, as they are – as every other popular form of entertainment – escapist in nature, inasmuch as life problems tend to be totally ignored or wholly subject to larger-than-life crisis. On the other hand, unless one professes that fiction must be absolutely faithful to life as we live it, there would be no point in comics, films, music or books as they would be at best confirmation of one’s insignificant role in the grand scheme of life, at worst a dreadful bore.
To say that comic books – and therefore comic book logic – do not conform to life as it exists, could also mean (and necessarily does) – as I’ve pointed out in my previous post – that superheroes, by definition, do not conform to the natural laws. They are not bound by gravity, affected by friction, explicable through biology or physics; they are, in all other aspects but their diagetic origin, god-like.
Now, it is true that not all comic books are superhero comics; and it is also true that superheroes were not the first ones to come back from the dead – if not the first, the most famous example of resurrection by popular demand is that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, returned from a fatal fall over Reichenbach Falls in “The Final Problem” (1893), further reinforcing the tie between comics and pulp traditions (and, apparently, confirming Goldman’s assertions, as even the supreme value of life – and the ultimate sacrifice of death – seem to be devalued). But this allows me to stress the fact that my own understanding of comic book logic is best illustrated by superhero comic books. It’s not a matter of it being applicable mainly, if not exclusively to superheroes, but that they do serve as a reductio ad absurdum that help to gauge said logic in other comics. For, in a final instance, Comic Book Logic is no more than a special case of willing suspension of disbelief.
This being said, what am I aiming at? What is the subtle distinction that differentiates it from the logic of, say, pulp fiction? On first attempting to answer this question I felt it was a matter of degree. One could be made to believe that, say, Indiana Jones could escape from a pilotless plane about to crash by jumping from it using a blanket to slow down his rate of descent, parachute-like (THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF INDIANA JONES #4, 1983).
Everything in the scene conforms to the laws of physics: Indy uses the blanket to slow his fall (or to “glide” as the caption puts it), and then, when the unforgiving sea waters grow near with the implacability of a brick wall and the blanket no longer holds, he spreads arms and legs to increase air-resistance and, in the final moment, positions his body in the most hydrodynamic configuration to diminish the force of the impact on the water.
Again, as I said, everything in the above scene conforms to the laws of physics, even if not to the law of averages. I bet not one in ten thousand doing what Indy did would be able to survive (or even have the guts to try it). It is an exaggeration, what we can call an extraordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances and playing the laws of probabilities. He is, after all, the story’s hero. His actions are believable, even if the outcome strains our willingness to accept it as totally feasible. After all, we expect extraordinary solutions from heroes. But at no moment did we expect Indy to start flying, or for a flying man, wearing a cape, to rescue him in the nick of time.
So, pulp logic – the daring of possible feats in impossible circumstances – would be a degree below the logic of super-hero comic books – the violation of the laws of physics, instead of the laws of probabilities. Pulp logic will strain, but not break, the laws of physics.
But I soon understood that was not enough. And not only because much of pulp fiction depends on violations of the laws of physics (time-travel, hyper-spatial velocity, FTL drives, magic, etc…), but because if we accept super-powers as something akin to super-scientific gadgets (or magic for that matter) we would be left with nothing to differentiate pulp logic from comic book logic. So, despite being close, there’s another factor that we must bear in mind.
I wrote before, in this regard, that “comic books are ruled by their own self-validating logic, a logic that cannot be challenged by facts extrinsic to their own internal consistency.” And, it was pointed out by Gene Phillips, prompting this train of thought, that so is pulp fiction. If one accepts FTL as a given, the story logic must be judged not by current physics, but by another set of assumptions that admit FTL travel. The consequences of such possibility must be logically appraised in relation to the fictional admittance of that tenet.
In order to avoid an endless circular reasoning, instead of defining the difference as a matter of (probability) degree, one must search the answer in another, obvious, but subtler difference. And that difference resides in the fact that pulp logic applies to the entire fictional universe, whereas comic book logic applies only to super-heroes. That is to say, if there is something like FTL drives, teleportation or magic in a given fictional universe, every character in that universe is, in principle, capable of using it. If Indy can jump from a pilotless plane, so can Hildy, Jack or Minnie. The rules of reality, strained as they may be, apply equally to all. The fictional universe differs from ours in some ways that are typical of that universe, not of the characters populating it. In the case of the Indiana Jones example, the universal laws are the same as ours. But in super-hero comics there are two sets of laws operating: the laws that apply to super-powered beings and those in touch with them, and those that apply to the common characters of that universe (be them our laws, or the ones that allow for FTL, magic, etc…). Again we have a matter of degree of separation from the known laws of physics, but in the rules governing comic book logic, we have two different standards to measure them.
I know this sounds like a wee bit feeble argument. Obviously, super-heroes, because they have super-powers, defy – by definition – the laws of physics. It is a logical tenet of the story that even if Superman can fly, no one else can. He is, after all, an alien from another world that gains powers from the radiation of our yellow sun. Every other kryptonian, in fact, will have the same powers. True. And it is also true that every common character can gain super-powers in the same way as any other: being bitten by a spider, fused to metal waldoes, genetic mutation, electricity igniting chemical compounds, etc… And from that moment on, they will as well be freed from nature’s constraints. Also true. But that is not what I mean. Let me demonstrate. Consider these panels from MAN OF STEEL #1 (1986) and SUPERMAN #18 (2013):
John Byrne’s take on Superman defined the Mythos for the generations that followed. The panel above represents the moment – that became canon – when Superman appears in public for the first time, stopping an experimental space-shuttle from crashing in Metropolis. The shuttle – a concept now dated, but then much en vogue (for good and, then soon to be, sad reasons) – has been substituted by commercial airliners in more recent takes in SUPERMAN – THE ANIMATED SERIES (1996) and the dreadful MAN OF STEEL (2013) by Zack Snyder, but one can easily find other instances where Superman (or Supergirl, Power Girl, Captain Marvel, The Hulk, whomever) stops fast moving vehicles with his bare hands.
Such instances serve a clear purpose: to illustrate the hero’s power. He can stop a diving airplane, stand the impact of a runaway train, stop the out of control truck from hitting the old lady in the street. And, usually, they are opportunities for artists to exhibit their talent for representing that power through the representation of energy and motion. And it really works. The reader is lead to believe that – having accepted the essential impossibility of the hero’s powers – he could do it. If the hero has super-strength, super-speed, the ability to fly, why, surely he can do it!
However, one needs not think long to know that it isn’t so: never mind that Superman himself would need to have an engineering degree just to know where to apply pressure, where to lift, where not to press; airplane’s were not designed to be held by the tail, to stand impacts on the nose, their wings are really not that resistant to applied pressure from solid objects, nor to torque motions at high Gs. If Superman were to stand in front of a falling commercial airplane, ready to stop its fall, his hands would go straight through the nose of the airplane and the avionics lodged there. Would he grab it by the tail, his fingers would tear the flimsy fuselage at best, break the airplane in half at the worst. That is, assuming he could stop the airplane at all, lacking a firm support where to ground the force necessary to stop de airplane’s momentum.
The most illuminating example is, perhaps, the recurring moment where Superman (or any other superhero) must stop a speeding train or truck. Were we to discard Newton’s laws of motion, pretending that he would be able to stand his ground by planting his feet at an angle, thrusting them as deep inside the earth as he could, he would not stop the train (or truck) but disintegrate it. But bringing such laws back in the equation, what is more expectable, is that the kinetic energy of the speeding vehicle, and its mass, would overcome Superman’s resistance as the entire strength he can apply comes from the friction of his feet with the pavement. For instance, Manuel Moreno Lupiáñez and Jordi José Pont, from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, calculate in their 1999 textbook “De King Kong a Einstein: La física en la ciencia ficción” (From King Kong to Einstein: Physics in Science Fiction) that given a weight of about 90Kg for Superman, would he try to stop a truck of 50 tons, moving at 100Km/h, and admitting Superman would survive the impact, he would be only able to exert a force of about 880N that would cause the truck to decelerate 0.02m/s each second. That is to say, Superman would be able to stop the truck after 25 minutes and at a point 20Km from the point of impact. Something very distant (pun intended) from even the most approximate depiction of such a feat on ACTION COMICS #1 (2011) by the superior Grant Morrison (writer) and Rags Morales (art):
A depiction that would be slightly more credible if Morales didn’t draw Superman with his feet barely ever touching the ground – which means that after the initial impact the train isn’t even loosing speed from Superman’s action.
But a lot more interesting than this simple demonstration is the situation represented in the previously reproduced panel from SUPERMAN #18. In it, due to a hypnotic command imbedded in a DJ’s sound system, a small crowd of party-people start to jump lemming-like from the top a skyscraper. From the story art we get just an incomplete picture, but one that allows us to measure the height of the building at no less than 65 meters (21 visible stories, considering each to be 3 m from floor to ceiling, plus 2 meters for the ) and the jumpers to be no less than 28:
And Superman saves them all just shuttling up and down at full speed, picking them from the air and depositing them on the terraced rooftop of a near building, adding that much distance to his dislocation. Well, at sea-level a falling body does so with a constant acceleration of 9.8m/s2, that is, from a starting zero-velocity, each and every jumper will accelerate towards the earth, changing his velocity by an amount equal to 9.8m/s. That is, the jumper will have travelled 9.8 meters at the end of the first second, 29.4 meters at the end of the second second, and 58.8 at the end of the third second. That is to say, each of the jumpers would hit the ground in less than four seconds, with a velocity of 35.7m/s or 128.5 Km/h (you can check my calculations here). And, from the image above, we can estimate that the human lemmings are jumping in bunches of six, one after another, with intervals of less than a second. But let us give a comfortable margin of about five seconds for each suicide to stop drinking or dancing, moving to the edge of the building and jumping. Each of these 28 jumpers, in bunches of seven, would take less than 40 seconds to hit the ground (five seconds interval between the 4 bunches = 20s, plus the falling time of 4 seconds for each bunch = 16s). Inside this time interval, Superman would have to change from Clark into his red-and-blues, and execute more than 28 high-speed flights for, as Superman himself lets us know, “Soon as I catch them… they leap off again”. That time-frame must include deceleration to soften the impact of the falling revelers against his arms, acceleration towards the ground or the nearest roof, again deceleration to drop the almost-suicide, then again acceleration towards the next intended victim that would have kept falling, doing so with even higher velocity and with less space for deceleration, and so on.
Should we accept that Superman could travel at the necessary speed to get to the twenty-eight jumpers – never less than 1.579,5Km/h, faster than sound – and that he could catch them and take them to solid ground, we would be forced to conclude that each of the victims would die or suffer severe injuries from pulped or blasted inner organs from the sudden deceleration and acceleration of their savior, along with burns from contact with Superman’s body, heated by his friction with the atmosphere at such velocities, not to mention pure and simple physical disintegration under the unbearable G-forces.
With this, I intend to show a very simple fact: that used to reading comics under the premise that superpowers are indeed fantasy, demanding we willingly suspend our disbelief (much as FTL travel in Star Trek or Hyperspace drive in Star Wars demands of us), we don’t usually stop to ponder the consequences of the use of those same superpowers. That is to say, even if we admit that Superman can fly at super-speed and can withstand the impact of a speeding train, we must also recognize that even if it was possible, Superman wouldn’t be able to use such powers to stop a train, or to save people falling from a skyscraper, or to safely land a crashing airplane. To accept this second degree of impossibility, we must accept Comic Book Logic: the necessary mental or thought process that derives from impossible powers impossible consequences, in such a way that although not conforming to reality, is coherent with the way we imagine those impossible powers to work. We need a double-degree of suspension of disbelief, that second degree defining Comic Book Logic; a reading logic that goes beyond Pulp Logic.
One can argue that Comic Book Logic is a symptom of the atavistic infantilism of the comic book medium itself. And in some ways it is undeniably so (although that is an issue to expand in a later post). However it may be, the inherent tension in Comic Book Logic (and the thought processes it demands) sometimes allows for great comic book moments, precisely because the artists break the logical convention with their readers:
In such unexpected moments, the comic’s creators allow reality to supersede Comic Book Logic, to intrude in the comic book world with sudden and unexpected fury (or maybe coldness is the most appropriate term). The shock of intrusion is clearly psychological, and it is clearly strong, for it necessitates a sudden jump between levels of reading, the brutal passage from a reading code to another, with all their respective expectations: from Comic Book Logic to Real World Logic. From “life as we would prefer it to be” to “life as it exists, as we know it to be”. An in that brutal moment, we feel comics as we never did before. In that SNAP moment when Gwen’s slim neck brakes under the sudden stop that breaks her fall. As soon as the Green Goblin threw her from the top of the bridge we know she is dead – that’s the world as it really is. There’s no way in the known universe to stop her fall. And yet, we are reading the story under the influence of Comic Book Logic and we know Spider-man is there, and he has enhanced-reflexes, enhanced-strength, and he shoots webs from his wrists, as strong as steel cables and as flexible as a real spider’s web. And we have seen him do it time after time: stopping criminals in mid-air (the Vulture, the Goblin himself), surviving vertiginous falls by the simple expedient of shooting a web or creating a web-safety-net. We know he will save Gwen. What we fear is that he might miss Gwen, and that she will plummet to her death. But, as we know, that’s not what happens. He does catch her. What really happens is that reality intrudes for the first time, in a way it never had before, and what kills Gwen is Spiderman’s own powers. It betrays reader’s expectations, it forces him to change reading planes, planes of overlapping logic, and the effect is devastating. That SNAP sound is the most shocking and violent onomatopoeia in the history of comics. It echoes over the Hudson, reverberating inside the empty soul of countless readers of all ages. Cold, real, definite: SNAP.
Comics being comics, Gwen came back as a clone only two years later in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #144 by popular and editorial pressure. But her death changed comic book history forever, and it still helps us understand the reading process of comic books. As I said above, Comic Book Logic may be understood as a symptom of infantilism in comics, not as much of the comics medium itself (although it is childish enough – and even more so under the recent onslaught of PoMo feminism and multiculturalism), but of the expectations readers sometimes derives from them. This will be more evident when I’ll discuss the use (or absence) of rape in super-hero comics as another instance where (some) readers seem unable to cope with reality’s intrusion over Comic Book Logic.
But that is a matter for another post. Before I finish this exposition of my “No Theory” of comics (in part three of this long rambling) we’ll make some detours in order for me to address two aspects (I don’t know if they have enough dignity to me thought of as corollaries) derived from this post’s conclusion: this I’ll do in the next (short) posts before I turn to part three (you all know where I’ll be getting at: super-hero costumes). Sorry for the extended absence from this blog. Let’s see if I can keep myself on track from now on.