Showing posts with label The Spirit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Spirit. Show all posts

Monday, 23 December 2013

On The Rocketeer & The Spirit, Red Sonja, A Voice In The Dark, Sidekick & The Bounce

In which the blogger continues the experiment - begun here - of speaking well of a number of recently-read - or re-read - comicbook.

Please do be advised, there be spoilers in what's below, as well as a single moment plucked from each of the comics that's discussed;

   
1. A Voice In The Dark #1, by Larime Taylor (Top Cow)

Even if you've not read A Voice In The Dark itself, you've probably heard something about it. Two headline issues have tended to quite understandably dominate the conversation about Larime Taylor's work. The first concerns the extreme physical challenges that Mr Taylor has admirably overcome in order to produce the book. The second focuses on the comic's POV character, a young female murderer who struggles to control her delusions and impulses. As understandably fascinating as these are, they have on occasion overshadowed the virtues of Taylor's storytelling, the richness of which extends even down to the fine detail of his art.

A Voice In The Dark portrays a distinctly 21st century America that's far more diverse and convincing than that depicted by a great many of Taylor's comics-creating peers. It's a context that allows him to intriguingly juxtapose the disordered Zoey Aarons' struggles to appear typical with the abundance of difference and debate that surrounds her. Much has rightly been made of Taylor's depiction of a world in which class, gender, race, culture, sexuality and nationality are far from that typically presented in mainstream entertainments. But his is a commitment to detail and truth which extends even to the way in which he represents the body-types of his cast members. The overweight - to take but a single example - are so rarely represented in anything other than the most peripheral and generic terms. Yet here, the less svelte characters are each given their own unique appearance, and each of them exists as distinct personalities rather than incidental stereotypes. (I write this as an individual who is, shall we say, traveling below his own Plimsoll Line in this particular matter.) And so, we're presented with the thoughtful and middle-aged Critical Thinking lecturer Ed Dean in addition to the belligerently opinionated Regan Heath, a student so lacking in self-awareness that she quite misses the dangers of labelling others on the basis of appearances. It's just one of the many ways in which A Voice In The Dark challenges lazy and even reactionary models of storytelling. Though the comic's central conceit may appear from a distance to be well-worn and over-familiar, Taylor's work is anything but.

  
2. The Rocketeer & The Spirit #1 by Mark Waid & Paul Smith (IDW)

Paul Smith's one of the very few artists who've both the chops and the insight to convincingly hybridise these two very different properties into a visually coherent and convincing adventure. In the page above, Mark Waid's typically captivating script ensures that cast members from both strips are established in an entertainingly exposition-free sequence. Driven by Ellen Dolan's impassioned refusal to let laddish, punch-first preconceptions impede her mission, the Rocketeer and the Spirit are cut endearingly down to size and given something more productive than testosterone and a mutual suspicion in common. Smith's work is wonderfully effective. Not a beat is missed, not an opportunity wasted.  In each successive frame, character is established with wit and energy; the Spirit's lack of power in his relationship with Dr Dolan accentuated by his defensive posture and shadowed face, while the Rocketeer's comparative youth and relative innocence is marked by his taken-aback smile and the unexpected lipstick trace in his cheek. Even the chance to show both crimefighters in a single panel is grasped to depict them as people rather than types, with the physical differences between their frames and personalities being elegantly established. It's an eight-panel page which remarkably never once feels crowded or indulgent, and yet it contains nods to both Dave Stevens and Will Esiner's work in addition to a mass of character-play. What might have been a relatively uninteresting sequence in the hands of a less gifted artist is instead lively, amusing and informative.

     
3. Red Sonja # 5, by Gail Simone & Walter Geovani (Dynamite)

As if disassociating Red Sonja from the misogyny that's so often marked her appearances wasn't enough of a challenge. Even with those decades-worth of intermittent sexism admirably excised, Simone and Geovani still have to create a strip that appeals to both hardcore S'n'S fans and the unconverted. One of their most intriguing strategies has been to introduce a version of science into the Kingdom of Patra. The very presence of the empirically-minded Prince Timath challenges the taken-for-granted assumptions of Sonja's fantastical world. In doing so, the character helps to bring to life a culture which otherwise might seem unremarkably generic. What Timath conceives of as an efficient delivery system for a much-needed anti-coagulant is to everyone else a stupendously huge and dangerously fang-ladened leech. What he thinks of as reason, they consider wizardry. His very presence suggests debate and conflict, heresy and bigotry, and implies a world more dynamic and nuanced than might otherwise be feared by neophytes and fantasy-refuseniks. (It's to Sonja's credit that she can look beyond his lack of martial prowess and recognise the virtues of a very different way of thinking.) Rather than conservative and predictable, this is a sword and sorcery book with change and debate built into it. Why not steam-barbarism in addition to steampunk? (I'd love to see a lone, single-track railway line linking Patra, Cimmeria, Westeros, Narnia and the Shire. That would be an industrial revolution to savor.) It'll be fascinating to see where Simone takes this beguiling innovation next.
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4. Sidekick #5 by J. Michael Straczynski, Tom Mandrake (Image)

Five years have passed since the apparent assassination of Sol City's champion the Red Cowl, and the killing's anniversary is marked by a gathering of thousands of morning citizens. Each wearing a copy of the murdered champion's face-mask, they surround and berate the Cowl's surviving sidekick, Flyboy. It's a strikingly threatening scene that briefly enlivens a comic that's otherwise solely redeemed by Tom Mandrake's energetic and captivating artwork.

  
5. The Bounce #1, by Joe Casey and David Messina (Image)

An experiment in storytelling which sacrifices not just sympathetic characters, but interesting ones too, The Bounce is hard book to warm to. But its first issue is at least lifted by the page in which the entirely repellent Jasper Jenkins finds bravado-fuelled psychonauting far more dangerous than he'd had the wit to imagine.

to be concluded;


Saturday, 9 April 2011

On Fearing To Disagree With Will Eisner

             
I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm going to have to force myself to write this now, and write it quickly, or I just know that I'll never be able to get round to writing it at all.

For I know that what follows is nothing more than a question of taste, and that my opinion isn't worth the worrying about anyway, but disagreeing with Will Eisner makes me feel incredibly uneasy. I've been putting in the morning's washing, I've been wandering around Waitrose looking for plums, I've been tickling the tummy of Eyebrow Girl, the wonder pup, I've been doing all the things that I normally do of a morning, and all I can think about is that I'm a heretic, and that I'm wrong, and that I just can't work out where my thinking's gone wrong, even as I'm sure that it certainly has.

        
I really don't mean to sound disingenuous. I know my judgement must be flawed. But I'm also keenly aware that I'm not going to get past this unless I own up to my own apostasy, and suffer the shame and slingshot that it deserves. And then, with a clean conscience and, hopefully, the penitent's lightness of spirit, I can get on with the business of working through my misconceptions for a piece on Mr Eisner for next month.

So; while there's no creator in the history of comics that I respect more than Mr Eisner, I just feel that I'd benefit from owning up to the fact that I think his work on the Spirit is, as a general principle, far, far superior to anything which he produced from the publication of "A Contract With God And Other Tenement Stories" in 1978 onwards.

I know, I know. I'm a shallow, bubble-gum minded child who prefers seven-page slabs of pop entertainment starring a mask-wearing crimefighter - a superhero - to mature graphic novels focusing on what are commonly agreed to be far more adult and fundamental themes and forms. Worse yet, I know that I'm seeming to ignore in that judgement the undeniable fact that "The Spirit" was a work marked by a great deal of distasteful racism and the inevitable sexism and sanitised politics of the entertainment mainstream of America's Forties and early Fifties.

              
In short, I'm an idiot, and at best a political naif, and I'm declaring an opinion or two on the matter of the work of Will Eisner when I'm patently not qualified to do so.

He was, after all, Will Eisner.
                 
But  I do find myself fundamentally disagreeing with the critical consensus on the relative merits of Mr Eisner's work. More disturbing yet, I find myself at odds with Mr Eisner himself. For example, here are his words as recorded in Charles Brownstein's fascinating, and inspiring, "Eisner/Miller", a collection of interviews held with both men present;

"I'm in pursuit of a connection between me and the reader. The only other entertainment form that provides a real, live connection between the viewer and the actor is theater. In live theater you are sitting there and watching a real thing happening. On film, you're just a camera. There's no sense of contact between you and the actor. It's an experience that you immerse yourself in. You're a spectator, and comics  is a participatory form. I want my reader to feel that he is watching something real ... Technically, I currently work from live theater because I no longer worry about getting bird's-eye views and special camera angles. When people talked about the cinematic quality of The Spirit, that was because I realised when I was doing The Spirit that movies were creating a visual language and I had to use the same language, because when you are writing to an audience that is speaking Swahili, you'd better write in Swahili."

         
While I know that Mr Eisner's opinions here can't be challenged in terms of their worth to him, I truly can't help but disagree with just about every principle he's stating in the above. And if this were one of my typical pieces, then I'd take on the argument in some detail, so that I could best understand why I feel alienated from so much of what he's saying. But given that all I want to do here is stick my head above the parapet, wave a dissenter's flag, and then hide away again, amazed at my second of dissension, I'll just state that Mr Eisner's conviction about what we might agree to call comic-book theatricality is one of the two factors which have so alienated me from his later work. For a great deal of Mr Eisner's later graphic novel work seems to me to become more and more static and over-literal as the years pass and the acclaim accumulates, until it appears more sincere and worthy than vital and moving. There's often so little space given to the reader to 

        
engage with the scenes before them, to contribute to their meaning, because Mr Eisner is presenting what can appear to be a sequence of sketches undertaken at an amateur dramatic performance, and, as a result, the reader can feel as if they're being lectured at rather than entertained. This, Mr Eisner's later work so regularly seems to insist, is exactly how it happened, as if his pages are reports in pencil and ink on an already-completed and entirely didactical theatrical recital. It's as if there's no room for subtlety and surprise on these pages, as if the reader has to be hit over the head with exactly what's intended, and that so frequently occurs to the degree that the work is bled of so much of its individual character, its energy and verve. Figures dominate scenes as if they really were on stage, crowding out panels as if there really were nothing but a few sparse props and local actors in the frame, with the latter delivering specific lines in broad and rote-like gestures, as if they were pacing around more focused on hitting their marks than displaying an inner life. Even more kinetic and imaginative shots can regularly feel bled out of life by the lack of ambiguity in them, by the sense that Mr Eisner isn't concerned, to use his term, to have the reader participate in what's happening on the page. Instead, the reader is going to be told, and they're going to told through the use of a deliberately pared-down range of storytelling techniques.


Yet compare the later work with the achievements of Mr Eisner's studio during what now seems to me to have been his prime, in those three or four years after he returned from the war, and what constantly enthralls  is the excitement and imagination and exuberant populism on show in the work. For a man who later claimed he was just appropriating the language of cinema simply because his audience would expect it, he showed the most marvelous control of its techniques when applied to the printed page. In particular, the pace of the storytelling is determined to the most precise degree. Different camera angles are used not simply as affectations, as audience-attracting baubles, as might be assumed from the quote above, but as successful and intimate aspects of the tale being told. The reader constantly has the sense that they're involved in what they're seeing rather than being simply presented with it. As a consequence, there's a feeling of a dialogue between creator and audience sometimes lacking in the later work, because the vividness and variety and control of the techniques being used encourage the reader to want to ask questions of the world being presented to them, and, indeed, to want to wander around in it too. In the relatively still splash page scanned in below, for example, there's more than just a depiction of a tram moving through a night-time world. The reader can also consider travelling around the shot, stopping within the frame even as they're being pulled through it, hiding behind the buildings, taking a glimpse at Central City across the waters, participating in even this, one of the least vivacious of Mr Eisner's story-opening designs. There's a sense of a world being opened up as well as outlined in these Spirit tales; the reader is being given access to far more than just a particular set of actions in a specific locale with a fixed interpretation for the inter-relationship between the two. To slip into a Jazzism, the earlier work swings, and it does so in a way that enhances rather than distracts from the key narrative matters at hand. In essence, we're inspired to imagine that we're part of the world being depicted in The Spirit, rather than being told to hush up and listen and learn.

                
How strange it is to me, therefore, that "The Spirit" is so often seen as an immature and almost distastefully commercial venture, when Mr Eisner's later work is popularly regarded as being both more adult and more artistically valid. Yet I can't help but believe that the very fact that the Spirit was a popular piece aimed at a mass audience helped ensure that its pace rarely flagged, that its purpose was always invigorating, and that its concerns were delivered in the form of an adventure rather than any more prosaic and apparently dryly realistic form. The weekly context in which The Spirit's adventures were published demanded both innovation and clarity, emotion and excitement, and just like the very best of any and all popular entertainment, it was largely unpretentious, lacking in worthiness and completely involving. If the message of a typical Spirit tale tended to be somewhat obvious, and most of the themes were never anything other than straight-forward, the storytelling carried the reader onwards towards the story's moral closure with an exceptional vigour. And The Spirit himself, so often decried by Mr Eisner as being no more sophisticated a character than a man in a mask, served so effectively as an everyman, as the reader's POV, as a symbol of an individual caught outside the madness of everyday life trying to impose some sanity upon it. Constantly beaten, wounded, heart-broken, confused, the Spirit moves me far more as a fond symbol of mid-20th century urban man than any of Mr Eisner's later characters do.

             
A laudably focused moral purpose and a serious-minded inividual commitment to a beloved mode of craft and self-expression are not, of course, qualities necessarily synonymous with the creation of great art, whatever that might be. And The Spirit, for all that he's just a superhero in a blue suit in an action-adventure strip, for all that his adventures were a deliberately commerical enterprise undertaken by a team of creators, really does seem to be far more real and engaging and dynamic to this reader than the majority of characters in Mr Eisner's mature work. (Whether The Spirit was art or not isn't a question I've any interest in; I take the "Sullivan's Travels" approach that that whole matter is a very big red herring.) In contradiction of the truism concerning the narrative virtue of the specific and the local over the general and the universal, the very generic amiability and decency of The Spirit as animated by Mr Eisner and his many collaborators locked the eccentric narratives of his strips into place around his relatively calm focus, and permitted eccentricity to swarm all around him without the tales degenerating too often into cuteness or over-sincerity.

Even more that that, "The Spirit" as a strip also embodies that rarest, most precious and most frequently dismissed of literary qualities; it's fun.

           
In the end, I don't think that Mr Eisner's metier was the graphic-dramatic tradition that he later pursued with such diligence and creative energy, and for which he received, I readily admit, so much critical and popular acclaim. I don't think that his perception of the superior virtues of his later work allowed his gifts to express themselves to the successful degree that the form and content of "The Spirit" encouraged. Without the driving qualities of pop and that ever-present swing, without the madcap humour and the variety of subjects and the pressure to entertain and the sense of a mass audience being incorporated playfully into a weekly ritual, what's left and later pursued seems somewhat dry and, worst of all, on occasion, quite dull and wearily obvious. (Evoking at times The Book of Job and the moral tone of a Sophocles, for example, doesn't mean that a weight of fundamental importance can necessarily be summoned up by doing so.). Mr Eisner's dialogue, to take but one element of his work, was rarely strong enough in his later work to bear the weight of intention it was asked to carry, so often did it fert stiff and over-deliberate, as if his characters were delivering the author's moral purpose rather than expressing their inner life. Even his gentler and more amusing work, for all that it could be wry and touching, feels at times more creaky and awkward than entertaining.


In truth, there's often a worrying feeling that Mr Eisner wanted some wider legitimacy, some literary respect for his work and the form itself, and that he was pushing his talents in directions which simply didn't best display his undoubted brilliance to its best advantage. It's only useless speculation on my part, but that's how the work so often feels. It's not that his work was ever poor, though it could embarrassingly sincere, as with his hippie-Hamlet piece, and it was certainly, for all my quibbling, often undeniably successful, as the page below from "New York-The Big City" alone can testify.  Rather, it's just that I regret how more and more of the very qualities which I thought most became Mr Eisner's work gradually diminished within it, until, finally, I felt as if I was looking at pages which were somehow far less fundamentally alive, far less unambiguously life-enhancing, far more predictable, than they'd previously seemed to be.

                  
Now, in this attempt to sit down and write this heresy out in one go, I'm fighting with the knowledge that if I don't publish this now, I'll prevaricate and re-work what's here, I'll qualify my words and multiply my examples until the case is as safe and as thin and compromised as any coward's stand might be. So I'm going to stop here. My contention is massively over-simplified, I know, my points easily challenged, and I fear that I've given the impression that all I ever wanted Mr Eisner to do was churn out more and more Spirit stories, which was never my intention, and never my desire. Rather, all I wanted to say was that the types of tale which Mr Eisner produced from 1978 onwards, and the techniques he used to illustrate them, seem to me to be substantially less successful than the choices he'd made earlier in his career with the form and content of his storytelling.  And yet, my opinion really does seem to be quite entirely out of step, and to the degree to which I'm left feeling quite baffled as to why "The Spirit" is so often seen as a historical curiosity, and at times an example of juvenila, compared to, say, "A Contract With God" or "The Building".  

             
But there we go, I've said it now. I'll be able to think in a clearer fashion once I put this up. Sometimes you just have to own up to wrong-headedness, pour out all the waffle and babble that's clogging up your thinking, in order that you might see through the confusion to something clearer. However my thoughts settle, I'm incredibly glad that Mr Eisner got to invest the last decades of his life in the creative ventures which most fulfilled him. It's not that I in any way begrudge him that; it seems to me to have been a wonderful and well-earned era of his life, and all that he earned in that period was undoubtedly his due.

It's just that I don't know how to agree with the line we're consistently given about that work, and yet, I'm so keenly aware that he was Will Eisner, and that I'm anything but, and as a consequence, I still feel that I've no right at all to disagree with him, or with many of his most learned and insightful critics either.

Which is why, in the end, I thought that I ought to write and publish the above, so that I could discover whether a touch of assertiveness might restore my confidence where this matter is concerned, or even cause me to change my opinion.

It didn't.

Mea culpe.

            
The blogger's opinion on the question of the racism evident in The Spirit can be found - just in case anyone fears I've no grasp of that vital and disturbing issue - in the comments to Carol Borden's wonderful piece on the subject at The Cultural Gutter.  Perhaps you might go read the piece anyway, it really is very good.


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Saturday, 11 December 2010

Four More Great Comics! (10 Great Comics No 2)

In which the blogger continues to discuss the 10 books he choose when it was kindly suggested that he might think to write about comics which he considers to be so fine that no critical thoughts come to mind when discussing them! The imaginary rules that guided these choices, and the first 3 comics on this list, can be found in yesterday's blog entry.


4. "Spider-Man & The Human Torch" # 5, "Together Again": writer, Dan Slott, artist, Ty Templeton

Dan Slott remembers that Peter Parker hasn't always been an entirely admirable individual. It's a fact that most readers, and indeed many writers, seem to have avoided noticing. The young Parker may well have been a lonely, bullied teenager mocked on his very first appearance for being a "bookworm" and a "wallflower", but he was also capable of sneering at his tormentors not just because they were cruel, but because they couldn't solve the simplest of equations in physics 101 either. There's always been a soft sprinkling of arrogance and resentment in Peter's nature, as well as a tendency to subside into self-pity while failing to notice the needs of the people around him. It's tough for those who regard Peter as the patron saint of losers to deal with, but there are times when Uncle Ben's boy has fallen quite short of perfection.


In "Together Again", Mr Slott subtly reminds us that while Peter Parker is very rarely unpleasant, he's a far more nuanced and compromised young man that we've often been shown. He's impatient of the Human Torch's lack of intellectual firepower, for example, and oblivious of how hurt Storm is by the fact that everyone up to and including Luke Cage has been told Peter's secret identity before Johnny stumbled upon it. And where Johnny is clearly in awe of both Peter's achievements and his often quite-unrecognised excess of good luck, Peter's opinion of the Torch is still tinged by a touch of resentment and dismissiveness. For example, he describes Storm's apparently privileged life as being characterterised by his having "all the power ... and no responsibility", quite forgetting that Johnny too has lost his parents, as well as a wife and host of lovers who've left him quite against his wishes. Peter's keen awareness of how Peter Parker has suffered is shown here as a weakness tinged with self-indulgence that prevents him noticing that Johnny Storm's had his challenges and disasters too.


By the end of "Together Again", there's a sense in which Peter simply can't work out how Johnny Storm has become such an intimate part of his life. It's not that Johnny doesn't matter to Peter, but rather that there's so many other things that matter more. But it's Johnny Storm, the golden boy, the superhero jock, who's ended up living something of a lonely life, while this take of Peter Parker has the resourceful supermodel wife, the membership card for the Avengers and the prospect of a luxury family suite at Stark Towers. The gap between the two of them is in many ways as broad as ever, it's just that the balance of power has so dramatically shifted. It's surely no coincidence that the book ends up with a typically expressive Ty Templeton panel of both Johnny and Peter wearing matching "I'm With Stupid" t-shirts; the Torch looks simply pleased to be sharing the moment with his friend, but Peter's face reflects a slightly baffled self-consciousness that approaches embarrassment. What am I doing here with this idiot, the expression seems to say, if kindly, and it's an exceptionally good question. What are you doing there with your good friend thinking about how he's an idiot, Peter?


5. "The Forever People" # 8, "Together Again": writer, artist, Jack Kirby

One of the reasons why few but Jack Kirby have ever convinced with their take on the Fourth World is that's it's rare for anyone to pay attention to the sociology of the New Gods. I know, I know, that sounds ridiculous, but I do believe that it's true. Most writers have tended to focus on capturing the broad personalities of the various Gods, but few have even made a serious attempt to replicate the idiosyncratic dialogue that Mr Kirby gave his characters. As a result, the New Gods are often presented in such a way that they seem like nothing more than an ill-connected rabble of pompously declaiming and apparently incompatible types. What's so often missing is the sense that the Gods of both New Genesis and Apokolips share a common culture of sorts, as they so obviously do in Mr Kirby's tales, where they each often live according to local variations of the same thoughts, knowledge and customs. For although Darkseid and Highfather are leading opposing forces in a civil war, they're not strictly opposites. The two powers clearly share far more of their social identity with each other than is often recognised.


At the climax of "The Power", the younger Gods have been surprised and cornered by Darkseid. The reader might expect that some kind of desperate rear-guard action on the part of the Forever People is about to break out, but something very different occurs instead. "I said be silent!" barks Darkseid at the young Gods before him, and they immediately straighten their shoulders and line up as if on parade. This isn't the result of an overwhelming fear on the part of Moonrider and his comrades, for though they're clearly scared stiff of Darkseid, they're not ready to crawl to him. "Are you warriors of New Genesis - - or some prattling gaggle of half-grown fowl!!?" Darkseid demands to know, and the stiffness and imprecision of Kirby's dialogue gives the impression of a necessarily flawed but meaningful attempt to express the untranslatable language of the Fourth World. They're words which can almost seem to suggest that the soldier-Gods of this conflict are expected to show a formal respect to their opponents in circumstances such as these, but it's hard to grasp the precise details of what's going on, just as the ultimate meaning of Darkseid's abuse of power is absolutely clear. This is of course entirely appropriate; we should be a touch thrown and confused when we're reading about the Gods, and their worlds and customs should seem somewhat familiar and yet somewhat alien too.


What are the rules that both sides of this conflict draw upon without thinking? Why is it, for example, that the Forever People should feel so obliged to trust Darkseid even as he's so predictably betraying them, and why exactly is it that he ultimately spares them? The more the reader stares at the adventures of the New Gods, the more strange and yet the more disturbingly consistent a world it is that they find staring back at them. (*1)

*1: I'm indebted to Richard Bensam for his analysis of the first version of the above, which I've as a consequence changed.


6. "Flash # 76: "Identity Crisis", writer, Mark Waid, artist Greg LaRocque

"The Return Of Barry Allen" is the story of how Wally West finds all his dreams have come true for Christmas, and of how everything in his life utterly collapses as a result. For more than five years after the death of Barry Allen, the second Flash, in "Crisis On Infinite Earths", Wally had been defined more by the fact that he wasn't his murdered uncle than by his own character and capabilities. Mark Waid eliminated this fundamental and somewhat story-stymying passivity in West by apparently answering West's prayers and delivering his beloved role-model back to life. All of a sudden, a character whose whole purpose had been to live up to someone else's saintly standards found his own self-definition redundant. Who was this Wally West, then, if he wasn't a superhero trying to be, and sometimes succeeding in being, everything his vaunted predecessor was?


It was a stroke of considerable skill by Mr Waid. There can't be many of us who haven't longed for an absent figure, a lover, a friend, a parent, to come back and make everything alright simply by their presence. It was impossible not to empathise with Wally, both in terms of his joy and because of the uncertainty and unease that any fulfilment of a dream brings with it. West's look of adoration, of absolute relief, that accompanied the returned Barry Allen's encouragement of a young boy to "keep up" with his efforts as a member of his school's track team was enough to bring tears to this reader's eyes. It's as if some secret equation had been introduced into the physics of Wally West's universe so that nothing could ever hurt him again.


Who couldn't want that for someone else, fictional or not?

Of course, the shock of reading of how this "Barry Allen" then tried quite deliberately to kill Wally in "Identity Crisis" was made all the more poignant by the scenes of happiness and unease which preceeded it. We've all dreamed of a loved one returning to us, but I doubt there's very many who've gone on to imagine the returnee deciding to kill them pretty much straight afterwards. In a genre that tends to redevelop the personalities and purposes of superheroes through extremes of physical trauma and teeth-grinding emotional anguish, "The Return Of Barry Allen" provided the requisite measure of both while adding a third quality to the mix; a recognisably touching personal crisis which anyone who's ever experienced loss could empathise with. It was that specifically human quality which made this generational tale of superheroes a great deal more than just another manipulation of continuity involving a parade of costumes and super-fast super-feats.


7. "The Spirit: July 27 1952 "Outer Space", writer, Jules Feiffer, artist, Wally Wood, inspiration and oversight, Will Eisner

If there had been a soundtrack to "Outer Space", I suspect that "September Song" would have been the first track on it. For this is a tale of space exploration where the fantastic premise and the special effects are grounded in a story of how Denny Colt, the Spirit, is becoming keenly aware of the process of growing old. "I'm no longer a kid ..." he explains to the scientists who ask him to accompany them on their trip to the Moon, but it's not just that his body is starting to betray him. His "insides" are "dead" too, his heart so levelled by long years of fighting crime that even "circling the moon" can't spark a sense of wonder in him. He's a man who can't perceive the future for all the responsibilities that he bears in the present, and the two thousand yard stare that Wally Wood gives him is enough to make any reader want to put an arm around The Spirit and guide him to a quiet and darkened room where he might catch a few restorative weeks of sleep.


There's a very real, if easily qualified and challenged, sense in which "Outer Space" marks the first appearance of the particular type of superhero which was at the heart of the Marvel revolution of the early Sixties. And the Denny Colt of "Outer Space" is something of a superhero rather than just a straight-forward and two-fisted crime-fighter; he has his mask, and the respect of all those around him for his clearly untypical abilities, and he's the lead in a science-fiction tale of space-travel too. But most importantly, he's the very model of the hero with a flaw and a self-conscious understanding of it that Stan Lee and his collaborators ran with in 1961 and 1962 and beyond, with the creation of Peter Parker and Ben Grimm and all of their wounded brethren. Colt's fatal flaw is his age and the physical and mental limitations he feels and fears his years fighting the forces of disorder have brought him. And the various reflections upon that Achilles Heel given to him by Mr Feiffer, in both dialogue and thought balloon, sit recognisably in a tradition that would later inform Stan Lee's most successful work; the self-reflective and recognisably mortal hero. Add to that the presence of the soap opera complications of the Spirit's relationship with the distraught Ellen and the deeply concerned Commissioner Dolan, and what's here is the distant but distinct ancestor of the characters and conflicts that the House Of Ideas was built upon.


It's not that "Outer Space" is important only because of the historical influence that it may or may not have had. No, it's important because it's a peerlessly moving comic strip in its own right, regardless of whatever genre it may be associated with.

I can quite literally find nothing negative to say about it at all.


To be concluded;


Coming soon; numbers 8 to 10, and the review of USM volume II, number II as promised. I'm as always grateful for your visiting, and I wish you a splendid day and a most productive sticking together!


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