November 20, 2008

Graphic Novels in Print

Deconstructing comics, these days, seems to be about as popular - if not more so - than actually constructing comics. It's somewhat easier to do (after all, plugging in a Superman or Batman-esque archetype might be simpler than creating a new character), but deconstruction isn't just about the medium - it's about looking deeper, about what these characters say about our times. There have been two literary "deconstructions" of superheroes - one in the 1970s, the other more recent - that really provide some pointed insights into the times they were published, into human nature...but are also really good reads.

Robert Mayer's Superfolks could be considered the great-granddaddy of superhero deconstruction: Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Kurt Busiek have cited it as an influence on their work, and it's easy to see why. Although it does reflect its 1970s roots, quite frankly - it still has quite an effect, applying principles of real world behavior to familiar comic archetypes. (Plus, it has a very arch sense of humor, and handles adult themes in a slightly schoolboy way...and that's meant as a compliment). It may seem slightly dated stylistically, but it's still a really good read - this is a book worth hunting down and reading.

The other, more recent example of deconstruction is Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, which does for our current time what Mayer's book did for the 1970s. It's slightly more accessible, and much more knowing about super heroic lore (after all, Grossman's book comes after Silver, Golden, and Bronze ages), but it tells two stories - one of Dr. Impossible (the villain who always wonders what he could have done with his genius), and Fatale (the half-human, half-cyborg hero seeking answers for the mysteries behind her origin). There's some very accurate, sharply written insights, (including the idea of being an "evil genius" as some personality disorder), but Grossman's book is able to discuss a post-9/11 culture the same way Mayer's book discussed a Cold War Culture.

For years, we've always wanted a hero to come in and save us - we've suffered through a great time of cynicism and doubt. What Mayer and Grossman have done is show us the fallacy of that thinking - that in essence, our heroes are just as flawed as we are. By taking pop culture and placing it in a literary context, amazingly, these are books that might be good ways of encouraging people who do not normally read comics to do so.

Two excellent reads. Worth your time. And both are very highly recommended.

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