Thursday, April 28, 2011

28: Fear and Self-Loathing (Why Children Should or Maybe Shouldn't Read Marshal Law)

For me, Marshal Law has always been a part of comics. Just like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Born in 1983 to a dad that would buy these comics when they came out meant that, as a child, they were there. Some may debate the suitability of these books, especially Marshal Law on a small child, but that seems to be missing the point. Who cares about the violence and nudity and swearing? To focus on those elements is to miss the obvious effect that that comic had on me (along with the other two books I mentioned, but won’t really discuss because they’ve been discussed to death): it helped shape my perception of the superhero genre as much as comics featuring Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Thor, and the rest. On one side, you have the status quo, the love, the reverence, the fanboy lifestyle; on the other, you have cheap jokes, deconstruction, and hate. I still haven’t quite figured out how to reconcile the two.

Is it possible to separate Superman from the Public Spirit in my mind? It’s not like the Public Spirit is what I think of first when I think of Superman. Consciously, I never really connect the two except through the Public Spirit. The Public Spirit leads to Superman, not the other way around. Consciously. But, listen to me discuss the Man of Steel and the influence of the Public Spirit is obvious. My oh so witty mockery, my lack of reverence, my inability to take him seriously, my insistence on focusing on the hypocrisy and failings of the character... That sense of betrayal when I think of the potential to progress beyond the futile, stupid limitations that both the company and the fans want to keep him in as a simplistic mythic status quo figure content to exist in a cycle of awe and hate, falling more and more out of touch while his supporters talk about the timeless quality of the character, of how he rises above fashion and zeitgeist.

What I really brush back against is giving that much importance and love to a fucking superhero comic character.

And, yet, I love superhero comics. They occupy a big part of my life. My weekly trip to the comic shop is based around them. Physically, they take up a somewhat large space in my apartment. I have my favourites and I follow their adventures with an odd loyalty that disgusts me sometimes. I don’t have any problem with loving the writing of an author (whether in comics or not) or an artist... or a musician or filmmaker... but, the idea of following a fictional character and investing emotion into it. Of being content to simply follow its adventures, good and bad, to receive joy from the chance to watch it happen. My first reaction at that idea is to take a step back and just shake my head like I somehow know better and the mere idea is too stupid to even mock. It’s beyond mockery, it’s so stupid on the surface that words are unnecessary. But, that’s bullshit, of course. You don’t stick with a (sub)genre this long without some serious affection. It’s not just comics. I love comics, sure, but I love superhero comics. I also find them inane, juvenile, frustrating, and unfulfilling. I get my thrills when the icons of them are broken down and put on display for the ridiculously immature power fantasies that they really are. Take a step back and giggle at the men in their underwear, right?

Reading Marshal Law and the various comics that follow it, it’s easy to see the influence these comics have on me. The good Marshal is, after all, a superhero comic reader who hates superhero comics and fellow superhero comic readers. His anger at the Public Spirit is that of a boy who idolised him grown into a man who sees through him, how his image is nothing more than something used to lead impressionable youths into death and twisted lives of violence and loneliness and stunted growth. Marshal Law struggles with the idea that he hates superheroes and is one. That he hunts superheroes and, in his daily life, works to help them in a hospital. He’s a string of contradictions, unable to ever truly embrace either side. Because, dammit, it’s hard to. It’s easy to look at the absurdities of superheroes, point your finger, and snicker. It’s hard to embrace that passion inside that draws you to them for reasons you don’t want to admit. So, I wind up running between the two camps depending on the day. Neither one suits me entirely. But I think I know which one ultimately wins out.