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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Rick Geary talks S&V
Rick Geary
Truth Be Told comics
Influencing Machine animated short
Hollywood Reporter's DC Reboot Roundup
Old Man Logan
Recent Books of Interest
The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti by Rick Geary (NBM)
The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti Bombs on Wall Street? Perceived terrorists on the loose? Yup, it all happened 100 years ago when Italian-born "anarchists" (though really they just seem to be Socialists, and the two aren't exactly the same) Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were arrested for their presumed involvement in a payroll heist/murder in Massachusetts. The trial of the pair -- who seemed entirely railroaded (descriptions didn't match, witnesses who contradicted the prosecution were ignored, the judge specifically said he was going after the "Reds," etc.) -- became a cause célèbre around the world,and the protests even included bombs going off on Wall Street. You can just imagine how many fewer of your vanishing Constitutional rights you'd have left, if such a thing happened now... Geary, of National Lampoon, American Splendor, and many other fames, does a fine, low-key documentary job of presenting the trial (not all the facts exonerate the pair, but most of them do) and its historical context. The B&W art evokes its era simply, and you're left wistful not only for past injustices, but at the realization of how little, really, anything has changed.

The Big Lie by Rick Veitch (Image)
The Big Lie
The Big Lie

I've been a fan of Veitch's since his run on Swamp Thing, his other Alan Moore work, and of course projects like Brat Pack and The Maximortal. Well, heck, I guess I'm just a fan. Knowing his socio-political sensibilities, I looked forward to the first issue in his Big Lie series, looking at all the unanswered questions about 9/11. Nominally pegged to a fictional construct about a time-traveling scientist from the Hadron Collider going back to try and rescue her unbelieving husband, office-bound in the World Trade Center on the fateful morning with his "Risk Management" co-workers, the book is really a documentary, as the time travelers uses her iPad to show clips of what's about to happen,and to explain all the fishy elements -- why were no jets scrambled? why were virtually all FBI warnings in advance ignored? Why were government officials warned in advance not to fly?, etc., -- including the more damning, and still unanswered ones, about how those buildings (including adjacent #7) really fell. We've been lied to, as a people, steadily in the postwar era. The Big Lie, while not the most artful story you'll ever read, at least starts asking some questions that have long been necessary for whatever "democracy" is still left to be salvaged.

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone (words) and Josh Neufeld (Art) (Norton)
The Influencing Machine
The Influencing Machine

NPR Host Gladstone here takes through a non-fiction treatise on the both the history of media -- including its scribe-based roots -- and ruminations on its future. And ours. This is basically a talking heads documentary, with many of her thoughts directed directly "to the camera," i.e., us. But the whimsy of comics informs it, as historical figures can be equally animate with contemporary ones, and we move fluidly from "objective" frames to anachronistic costumes and conversations. It's a little hard to pin down Gladstone's central thesis, since she makes a compelling case that most media has always been captive of those running society -- whether Mayan priests or 19th century industrialists. Still, she argues that a society ultimately gets the media it deserves. And given what the events of our "decentralized," "mass participatory" media age -- where we're logged on at all times -- that may be the most sobering, if not depressing, thought of all.

Rebooting into Fall

So here we have the rebooting of the DC universe, but I think we're going to tack against the grain of the comics press and not talk about that, or the new issue Justice League. Too much. I did not line up for the midnight madness events, though one wonders why, if the comics are available digitally, one would line up at all?

Well, getting out has its own rewards, I suppose.

In any case, the reviews so far are mixed (as per the Hollywood Reporter roundup in the links area), and I don't know, as one of the older readers, if I want all my various heroes "rebooted" anyway. I mean, it's a very American conceit, just completely shedding your past as if it never occurred. But then, superhero comics were invented here, so I guess it makes sense.

Old Man Loga I've been reading other things instead this past month. Including the whole run of Old Man Logan, from Marvel, the Mark Millar story (with Steve McNiven art) where he takes his idea from Wanted -- the bad guys finally coordinate with each other, and lick all the superheros -- transplants it into Marveldom, and has Wolverine travel across a ruined, villain-run America, on a mission with Hawkeye, of all people.

I mention this because I haven't been reading any Marvel in years, and yet my oldest son, for his recent birthday, asked for a year-long digital subscription to Marvel (he'd been reading mostly DC stuff himself, recently), so we are both catching up.

And now I can read all the new issues.

So, true believers, there may be more Marvel mixed in here, for at least the next year. Reading on screen isn't the same as holding the issue in your hands, but on the other hand, these were issues I wasn't going to read anyway. As for Logan, I generally liked it -- I'm a fan of superhero dystopias -- but I didn't think the politics was pushed far enough. There are lots of fights, there's lots of action, sure, but not enough of what this world was like. I mean yes, it's bad, but what are textures of life-under-bad-guys really like?

We don't get to find out much, and I wish we did. Though the ending promises a sequel, as an emotionally bereft Logan, once again embracing his Wolverine-ish nature, treks out back across the landscape, this time as a kind of, dare we say, avenger, in a world without them.

And yes, I know Logan was a year or so back, but it got me thinking, along with the new DC reboot, about superheros, comics, and what comics still do well.

And what comics maybe don't do exclusively well anymore is, well, superheros. Because the technology exists for films and TV to do convincing (in the usual suspension-of-disbelief way) superhero stories, too. For a long time this was impossible -- visually, a superhero story could only be corny, when it was filmed. And while most movies -- of any sort -- aren't all that good, the ones that are can really move you, of Spider-Man course. In superhero terms, when we get a Spiderman II or a Dark Knight, all the great metaphors of superhero storytelling -- what does it mean to wear a mask? To trust being "unmasked?," et al. -- are on visual display, and usually in a story not encumbered with decades-long "continuity" problems, since the film narratives exist separately, and usually in shorter 1,2, or maybe 3 movie arcs.

So the question is whether films, then, now a better medium for superhero stories than, well, comics. They have digital effects, and the best ones have clearer narrative schemes. Comics now, in trying to catch up, are frantically "rebooting" to clear their own narrative decks.

But with that, I suppose, goes some of the comfort of having taken longer -- in many cases years-long -- journeys with these characters. Do I want them really starting out all over again, when I haven't? Or, being human, can't?

But if comics, ironically, aren't axiomatically the best place for superhero stories anymore, I do find them increasingly valuable as places to tell stories that more "mainstream" media won't.

The three books I review this month (see sidebar at right) might have been political documentaries in the 70s. Brooke Gladstone's treatise on media, The Influencing Machine, might be something Bill Moyers could have done when he was on PBS, or in earlier age, perhaps something Edward R. Murrow could have gotten away with on CBS, but no more. (Though we note that Moyers is planning a return to PBS, so we'll see). Whether you agree with all her points or not, a conversation about media and its current role is vital to have -- but none of the entrenched media will, of course, actually have it.

Rick Veitch's all-but-documentary tale on 9/11, starting in the first issue of The Big Lie, recaps material that has been done in documentary form, but primarily on internet-distributed videos. Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 did touch on the Bush family's comfy relationship to the Saudis, and the Bin Laden family in particular, but none of the real questions about the structural integrity of the buildings, anomalies in how they were brought down, or even the question of why the evidence was destroyed before a normal forensic examination could be made, well -- none of those questions are even allowed in "mainstream" media.

And not even being able to ask a question, or hold a sustained, sober conversation -- well, those are the hallmarks of a dysfunctional family, yes?

Comics then, by virtue of still existing on the periphery of more mainstream culture (with the obvious exception of providing source material for summer movies) are allowed, as ever, to do things more mainstream culture can't. Or won't.

And it is that -- not the frenetic rebooting of superhero universes -- that keeps them valuable, and necessary, to the culture at large.

Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. He actually made a trailer for the impending eBook release of the series. Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.

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