“Green Lantern’s sudden awareness of people suffering below the poverty line may seem almost farcical, but we can also choose to view the Lantern as a representation of the typical white middle-class young reader and to see in the politically engaged Green Arrow a “fiction suit” or mouthpiece for [writer Dennis] O’Neil, using art to open a few young eyes to some important facts of life.”—
from Grant Morrison’s awesome analysis of Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Dennis O’Neil and Neil Adams in Supergods.
Two weeks ago, I was talking with Francis about what superhero comic books can teach us about our cultural structure. We were talking about something completely different—probably politics—over our Six Point “Crisp” Ales at Hell’s Gate, and really getting into it. I was making the case that Superman and Batman represent the Cold War divide, before the war was actually initiated. Capitalism takes the form of Batman—a billionaire playboy whose parents were taken from him by a desperate criminal and in response he decides to beat down those low-lives creating a classic have vs have-not battle, and a dissection of capitalism made four-color flesh in the form of Bruce Wayne.
Superman, our beacon of social justice for rich and poor alike, stands for equal rights under the law or as Morrison writes—socialism:
“Superman made his position plain: He was the hero of the people. The original Superman was a bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and soulless industrialism. We would see this early incarnation wrestling giant trains to a standsill, overturning tanks, or bench-pressing construction cranes…Superman offered another possibility: an image of a firecly human tomorrow that delivered the spectacle of triumphant individualism exercising its sovereignty over the implacable forces of industrial oppression.”
This is displayed in the first issue of the rebooted Action Comics when Superman holds Mr. Glenmorgan and threatens to drop him, but just before he does our new Man of Steel promises to release Glenmorgan “Just as soon as he makes a full confession. To someone who still believes the law works the same for rich and poor alike.”
I explained to Francis that Superman and Batman teamed together are called the “World’s Finest.” So, in typical brilliant thought while drinking I proposed the idea that if Batman and Superman are the World’s Finest (Capitalism and Socialism) working together perhaps the finest form of government is both of these things together. I shouldn’t drink anymore and talk about comic books, clearly.
NG: Whenever I see you now, you are this glorious bird of paradise, but I remember, just as for you I will always be a nervous, hungry young journalist, I remember you as a kid in a black raincoat, incredibly shy. The thing that would get you animated was the point where you’d start talking about a story, and you would come to life.
GM: I was really shy around new people, but I was in a band at the time. And when I did comics, it was also a performance. It’s like playing live. You don’t get much time to edit; we don’t really do second drafts in our business. I love that aspect of comics, where you could have a Sandman out and people would be talking about it immediately, and we could be responding to things that were happening all around us and it could be published three months later, or two months later, depending on how late we were. It’s not like writing a book, which is over a span of years like building a cathedral. The comic is so instant. That’s why it covers the seismic shifts of culture very, very accurately.
NG: The truth is, when I was doing Sandman — it may have changed by the end, when I knew it was being collected in hardbacks and stuff — but definitely for the first years of Sandman, I thought I was doing something disposable. And that was part of the joy of it. It’s here this month and it’ll get you excited, but in a month’s time it will be in the bargain bins, and in two months’ time, you’ll have to hunt for it.
GM: Or it will only be in your memories. Like so many of the books I had as a kid and don’t have any more, where I have these images of little teddy bears dressed on gigantic night-black seas in my head, and I’ll never find these books again.
NG: I can read the comics I read as a 12-year-old now through those same 12-year-old eyes, but if I missed any issues and I try to read them now as a 50-year-old, I can’t do that.
“It’s adults who have the most trouble separating fact from fiction. A child knows that real crabs on the beach do not sing or talk like the cartoon crabs in The Little Mermaid. A child can accept all kinds of weird-looking creatures and bizarre occurrences in a story because they child understand that stories have different rules that allow for pretty much anything to happen.
Adults, on the other hand, struggle desperately with fiction, demanding constantly that it conform to the rules of everyday life. Adults foolishly demand to know how Superman can possible fly, or how Batman can possibly run a multibillion-dollar business empire during the day and fight crime at night, when the answer is obvious even to the smallest child: because it’s not real.”—Grant Morrison, from Supergods (via spidon)
“In so many ways, we’re already superhuman. Being extraordinary is so much a part of our heritage as human beings that we often overlook what we’ve done and how very unique it all is. We have made machines to extend our physical reach and the reach of our senses, allowing us to…
Metropolis is the ‘City of Tomorrow’ but it clearly is not our world. It’s not New York or Marvel or any of those things. It’s very much Metropolis and Gotham, and the DC Universe. The idea was to take the DC Universe and treat it almost as a science fiction playground, and this was the first time this had happened. And to show how it works in Metropolis, a city that has always tried to be the City of Tomorrow, but now it’s 2011, or 2005 I guess, since these stories are taking place in the past. But it’s slightly run down, you know? The machines don’t work. The robot trains are kind of useless. There’s graffiti everywhere. And it’s kind of like the way New York was in the 1970’s, before they cleaned up the place. So the Metropolis we’re doing is a lot scarier, it’s a lot more urban than I think we’ve ever seen it before. It’s maybe a bit more like Gotham city, but it’s not as dark and gothic. But in terms of crime, it’s kind of like ’70s New York…
I tried to introduce Superman to that and play with what would happen if it wasn’t the character we’re familiar with.
And as you see, they don’t know who he is. The cops don’t know him. They can’t trust him. He’s willing to break the law. So obviously, people are scared as well, because he’s using these incredible powers, and no one quite knows what that means.
“Could it be that a culture starved of optimistic images of its own future has turned to the primary source in search of utopian role models? Could the superhero in his cape and skintight suit be the best current representation of something we all might become, if we allow ourselves to feel worthy of a tomorrow where our best qualities are strong enough to overcome the destructive impulses that seek to undo the human project?”—Grant Morrison