Friday, April 29, 2011

Lex Luthor's Existential Epiphany and the Power of Music

The power of something as simple as music to make a man cry is absolutely astonishing. There’s no real logical reason why it should when you break it down… just a collection of sounds and chords arranged according to subjective aesthetic. But the right piece can map out your soul… reducing the heavily inter-woven fibers of the emotional structure making up your life into an identifiable rhythmic cadence that seems to know you better than you know yourself. Sometimes it’s a memory, a fragment from yesterday that brings everything back in big vibrant technicolor through association. Sometimes it’s something you’ve never heard before. Like the face of a woman on the subway you’ve never met before, but can’t help feeling like you’ve known your entire life… it makes you think about the choices you make every day simply by sticking to your own routine. How many times have you condemned yourself to a linear destiny simply by choosing not to strike up a conversation with a stranger? 

You’re lying awake in bed at night and you hear something that’s simply so evocative of your experiences that it takes you by surprise, and pierces the emotional Great Wall of China you keep up for appearance’s sake. Just walks right in through the front door like it owns the place. There are vulnerabilities you never even think about until something hits you right square in them like a baseball through a pane glass window. It happens in the simple truths that we don’t like to think about. There are irreversible mistakes you’ve made in the past where you’ve lost important things… trust, closure, friendship, a relationship with someone incredible… it’s been entirely your fault because you’re weak, and there’s nothing you can do to repair it or make it never have happened no matter how hard you try. The delusions that we use to keep ourselves going everyday, the light at the end of the tunnel with a happy pleasant simple existence. Mortality, and how much of our lives we waste not doing the things we really want to because we can’t or won’t. You’re reminded of the most basic of all painful truths… there’s simply a huge difference between the way the world is and the way you want it to be, but you can’t do anything about that. 

But you don't just cry when something like that happens... you laugh, too. You laugh because there's something wonderful at the heart of everything. Even in the middle of the night in the dark in your bed with no one else to talk to, you aren't alone. You're surrounded in the world by countless others who go through the same struggles and experience the same joys that you do every day, taking the same pain and pleasure. That's what it means... that's the significance of the entire experience. It's intangible communication of existence's common denominators, even the simple ones. You're not alone. You exist on the same wavelength as an entire species, all that's left up to you is finding the connections and appreciating their value. 

"It's all just us, in here, together. And we're all we've got."

There's a profoundly beautiful moment at the end of All-Star Superman where Lex Luthor has gained Superman's powers for a day, and finally gets to see everything in the visual spectrum simultaneously the way his arch-enemy does. In the several seconds worth of complete and total clarity that he experiences, he arrives at an extremely simple conclusion. "It's all just us, in here, together. And we're all we've got." This is it and you make the most of it, you find connections where you can and you love like nobody's business because in all importance we don't have anything other than that. I think about that moment a lot. It makes me want to be a better person. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a Crime?

Hobo with a Shotgun is in theaters and we somehow can't ignore just how much we all love homeless people. Like natural disasters and dramatic ironies, there's something that makes this horrible tragedy of the human spirit irresistible as entertainment. In practice we experience empathy at best and disgust at worst, but in fiction it becomes almost sort of a terrible power fantasy. The absolute freedom that comes with having no Earthly restrictions, limitations or expectations is unimaginable. Having absolutely nothing in the world save the clothes on your back is a nightmarish fever dream that most members of regular society can't even conceive of. It's an extreme of the human condition. This is why homelessness makes for great superhero comics.

Crazy homeless Batman hallucinates
Horrible circumstances have a way of bringing about the absolute best in characters on a primal level. One of the many beautiful things about a story like Batman R.I.P. is that it completely epitomized what makes homeless comics so fantastic. Batman, arguably the greatest comic book character of all time, reduced to his absolute lowest means. Becoming a hallucinating psychotic dressed in tatters and rags when his personality is separated from Bruce Wayne, Batman stops brooding and spends the entire night running around using a baseball bat to beat the shit out of whoever strikes his fancy. Granted nobody in their right minds would ever give this man change, but the points he makes in his crazed ranting are communicated extremely well.

This has happened before in the storyline Divided we Fall which also depicted the two personalities separating, Batman becoming a useless fop without Bruce's motivation and Wayne becoming a violent psychotic without Batman to relieve his aggression. Really I suppose it's not important how it's done, we just like seeing characters famous for their control completely losing it. Either way, borderline dementia and shit-kicking make for great stories.

Sexy sexy demented hobo god
Granted how little we've seen that super-heroics can pay the bills, it's surprising that it's not more common. There are a few lovely examples. One of the best underused characters that came out of the publishing tragedy known as Bloodlines was a blind 'Nam veteran named Hook who divided his time between fighting monsters and begging for spare change in the park. He was murdered unceremoniously off-panel to prove what a badass Prometheus is. Steve Gerber's Doctor Fate, an oft-overlooked gem cut tragically short, finds his Helmet in a dumpster after participating in a Bumfights video for booze money. He then immediately hocks it at a pawn shop for chump change the first chance he gets after fighting a demon, and walks away with less than $200 cheerily delighted that he will be experiencing breakfast in the near future. It was glorious. Thor: The Mighty Avenger has Jane Foster show us how easy it is to fall in love with a sexy blonde dementia-ridden hobo when amnesiac Thor starts smashing things in her museum and sweeps her off her feet.

What's really surprising is that we've never completely seen an exclusively homeless super-hero in a regular feature, or at least very rarely. For all the socio-economic diversity contained in such an expansive genre, this is startling. I think there's a horrible stigma attached to deriving entertainment from troubles on the lowest rungs of society, but like almost everything else in tragedy it would be nice if we could all just sit back and admit that we really enjoy reading about it. I'm not one to suggest that the world needs more crazy people running around with baseball bats and foaming mouths, but... no, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. More homeless super-hero comics please.