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February 24th, 2011

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 01:15 am
I've a cold.

I stuck it out at work long enough to get the absolute bare minimum done, then stopped by the video store on the way home so I could curl up with All Star Superman and a bottle of DayQuil.

I like comic books. I like comic books far more than I like most comic book movies. Comic books is one of the last bastions of the uncomplicated heroic narrative: a diegetic universe where men and women wage a courageous fight against great odds, where the issues are always black and white, where it is easy to tell good from evil, and where might is always subject to right - truth, justice and, yes, the American way.

Attempts to bring the comic book genre (as distinct from the graphic medium) into the "real world" have ever only been semi-successful. Marvel Comics set its stories on the street of New York instead of Metropolis; Frank Miller rewrote Batman to expose the hero's tale as a sadistic, fascist revenge fantasy rooted in the class-jumping aspirations of the lower-middle class; better technology allows contemporary comic artists a wider and subtler palette than the original four-colour tales newsprint tales - none of it more than a gloss of shadows, narrative vanishing points to simulate depth in a two-dimensional universe.

Comic book heroes, superheroes if you will, have always fared poorly in live-action films for this reason. It's not that we don't believe a man can fly, it's that we don't believe a man who can fly would dedicate himself selflessly to the betterment and protection of strangers. Superheroes look strange on our movie screens not because their costumes or appearance are out of place in a realistic world but because their mores are.

2011 and 2012 may be the high-water mark for superhero movies. Over the next two years we have been promised films about Captain America, Green Lantern, Thor, X-Men, a new Spider-Man, another Batman, a new Superman, an Avengers movie, more Wolverine and a third Iron Man.

And those are only the heroes with above-the-title billing.

These movies come at a time when democracy, civil society and people's economic rights are under threat in a way they have not been since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Our public discourse is fractured and polarized to an extent that it is difficult not merely to find areas of agreement between political foes but to agree on what issues are being contested. The question is not black and white but whether black is black and white is white.

I watch my Prime Minister defend the "courageous" actions of his cabinet minister, a minister who lied to Parliament, not once but thrice. I listen as he asserts the right of government ministers to make funding decisions when the question he was asked was why did your minister lie about the decision she made. I see our democracy brutalized by the cheap populism of petty ideogogues, deveoid of compassion, scruples and any guiding principles save the narrow scope of their own self-interest. I see them abetted by an electorate too lazy, too self-involved and too self-interested to fulfill their solitary civil obligation of voting, let alone take care to do so responsibly.

Is it any wonder that comic book heroes are more popular than ever before?

O to live in a world with no problems that can't be solved with your fists.