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.

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