Frontier Psychiatrist

Posts Tagged ‘Comic Books

characters from the Avengers movie

There’s a lot of be said for Polytheism.  Sure, believing in a single all-powerful deity is comforting and all but, in the end, it’s just not very interesting.  The Greeks had dozens of Gods; The Egyptians hundreds.  The Hindus claim to have 330 million.  How many do Americans have?  One?  Three if you’re Catholic?  Where’s the fun in that?

Humans are varied creatures and we need a multiplicity of stories to explain our lives properly.  For all their ridiculous amount of deities, Hinduism admits they are all a tiny fraction of Brahma but it is their lives, their legends which illuminate the totality.  Take those legends away and we’re in the dark.  Or, as has happened in the West, the culture will cobble together a pantheon from strange and jagged fields.

Witness:  The Avengers, opening May 3rd in theatres everywhere.  Hollywood has assembled an American Olympus, a collection of flawed, omni-powerful creatures who telegraph our hopes, fears, flaws and aspirations.  These are our Gods, ladies and gentlemen, so let’s do a roll call:

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The Avengers at Comic Con

It’s a good time to be a geek.  I’m not sure how it happened.  In high school, I had to constantly check myself lest at the merest mention of the X-Men I found myself giving an impromptu lecture on the ins and outs of the Summers family tree (which includes clones, time-travel, space pirates and an evil Victorian bio-geneticist, but I digress).  These days, I can show pretty girls my Batman/Superman tattoos and they seem impressed.  The San Diego Comic-Con is a major cultural event.  Frat Boys play Sci-Fi video games and Sorority Girls wear “I Love Geeks” t-shirts (though you’ll forgive me if I doubt their sincerity).

Oh.  And the Movies.  JESUS CHRIST, THE MOVIES!  If you would have told me when I was 15, skipping school and reading the latest issue of Iron Man in the back of Downtown Comics (which was oddly not located downtown) that Robert Downey Jr. would a) not be on drugs and b) star in a 200 million dollar Iron Man summer blockbuster, I would have told you to a) stop doing drugs and b) leave me alone, I’m reading.  Like I said, I don’t know how it happened.  But, Praise the Lord, our time has come.  Looking back, we may view 2012 as the apogee of the Total Geek Domination of Hollywood (though it might also be the Mayan Apocalypse…I wonder if the two are connected…?).

Thus, I give you the Top 10 Films Geeks Can Look Forward to in 2012.  In the great Geek tradition, I will endeavor to make harsh and sweeping judgments about things on which I have very little information.  Enjoy.

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The following is an excerpt from Jared Thomas’s upcoming book, Up in the Sky, Down in the Shadows: What Batman & Superman Can Tell Us About the American Spirit.  Read more from Mr. Thomas here.  

Prologue: Down in the Gutters, Up to the Stars

Myth begins in the gutter.  It comes to life as folktales.  It’s what the Germans call Volkgeist; the Spirit of the People. The Priests and Poets come later.  It always starts with the stories.  They can be refined, re-worked, written down, re-vamped, re-told, re-booted but never actually altered because Myths are always true.  They are forged in the crucible of the People’s predicament.  They are told because they are necessary.  They exist because they must.

Homer was a blind man who wrote down the stories of shepherds and cutthroats.  Geoffrey of Monmouth took the strange Welsh songs of a peerless hero who fought giants and cat-monsters and turned it into the defining myth of the United Kingdom.  Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were academics who recorded the morbid morality tales of Central Europe.

Achilles.  The Trojan Horse.  Helen of Troy.  Arthur.  Lancelot.  Gwyneviere.  Sleeping Beauty.  Cinderella.  Little Red Riding Hood.  They come as freely to the modern mind as they did centuries ago and they will continue to until we no longer have need of them.  Like it or not, these are our defining stories, and they didn’t come from the Literati or the Tastemakers.  They sprung from the Volkgeist and help to illuminate the Spirit of the Age.

Now, add two more names to that list:

Superman. Batman.

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In 2009, Marvel Comics was aquired by Disney.  DC Comics has been owned by Time-Warner since 1967.  In other words, Superman is a corporate trademark.  As is Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Wolverine and practically any other superhero the average person can bring to mind.  It is fitting, perhaps.  Comic Books are a uniquely American invention, along with jazz, rock n roll and, you guessed it, the corporation.  Of course our Gods would be owned by them.

And make no mistake, the superheroes are American Gods.  No matter what Rick Perry and the red states say, we have been a secular, urban nation for over a century now and it shows no signs of changing.  The old Gods didn’t make their way from Europe so immigrant kids from New York had to make up new ones.  What are Batman and Superman if not 2 different sides of The Messiah?  Is Iron Man not America’s dream of itself?  Who are the X-Men if not the marginlized made strong through talent?  If myths are the stories we tell ourselves so we might understand what it means to be human, in our particular time and place, then superheroes are most assuredly modern American myths.

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Promethea, by Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III

Alan Moore is widely considered to be the greatest writer in the history of comic books.  For people like me, graphic evangelists, it is Moore we most often turn to when attempting to sway the unconvinced of the medium’s potential.  He is a serious writer whose skill, innovation and effect on popular culture are on par with any author, in any medium, currently living.  From his early Orwellian fable, V for Vendetta to his nearly single handed creation of the Veritgo imprint through his groundbreaking Swamp Thing to the industry changing Watchmen to his stunning and disturbing exploration of the Jack the Ripper mythos in From Hell to his Victorian era meta-myth League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore is by turns brilliant, inscrutable and utterly singular.  He, is at times, maddeningly dense and, at others, refreshingly simple.  At his best, he is both.

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PYONGYANG, by Guy Delise

“Our Father is Marshall Kim Il-Sung.
Our abode is the bosom of the Party.
We are brothers and sisters.”

The above is a poem read to Guy Delise by a student in The Children’s Palace and, if his 2003 graphic novel, Pyongyang, were a dystopian fantasy set in a chilling future where the human race has been reduced to dominated vessels of some cartoon God-King, it might be easily dismissed as almost adorable.  That Pyongyang is an auto-biographical memoir about Delise’s time spent as an animator in the capital city of North Korea makes it neither cute nor easily brushed away.  Instead, it distills the surreal and hidden terror which permeates both Delise’s novel and, it would seem, North Korean society. Read the rest of this entry »

 “The argument goes like this:  Words are good.  You can win the Nobel Prize for words.  Pictures!  Pictures are good.  They hang in a museum.  BUT, if you combine words and pictures you’re automatically doing something intended for children or sub-literates.”  -Neil Gaiman, author of  The Sandman and Coraline

(Today we welcome Jared Thomas to the Frontier Psychiatrist staff with the first installment of his column Words & Pictures, a regular look into the best of the world of graphic novels.  Each month, Mr Thomas will be bringing us reviews of newly collected works as well as thoughts on the medium’s creative benchmarks.  He begins today with an essay on David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, a landmark work that Publisher’s Weekly referred to as “the comics equivalent of a Pynchon or Gaddis novel.  We hope that you enjoy Mr. Thomas’ work, and we hope you’ll take a chance on the world of modern comics.)

“Aristophanes, in Plato’s Symposium, is purported to suggest that human form was not always as it is today:  Originally, humans were spherical, with four arms, four legs, and two faces on either side of a single head.  Zeus, in his wisdom, split the upstarts into two, each half becoming a distinct identity.  Since then, men and women have been running around in a panic, searching for their lost counterparts, in a desire to be whole again.” –Ignazio Polyp

Wholeness, or lack thereof, is a central theme running through David Mazzuccheli’s elegant graphic novel, Asterios Polyp.  Dualities consistently appear.  The above quote is from Asterios’ twin brother  who, not so incidentally, died in the womb and therefore doesn’t really exist.  Asterios himself is a famous “paper architect” (Mazzuccheli makes much of the fact none of his designs have ever actually been built) who is obsessed with dividing the worlds into opposites.  Linear versus Plastic.  Functional versus Decorative.  Apollonian versus Dionysian.  Men versus Women.

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Sons of Dionysus

A Transmedia Novel of Myth, Mirth, and the Magical Excess of Youth.