Integrative Arts 10

Post-Modern Graphic Novels


Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.

-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche


The Rise of the Post-Modern Graphic Novel
by Gregory J. Golda
copyright March 1997

The Dawn of an Art Form
A Resurrection
A Background in Graphic Design
The Philosophy of Modernism and the Changing Dominant Ideology
Into Post-Modernism
Maus and the Advent of an Age
Who Watches the Watchmen?
V for Vendetta
Batman: The Dark Night Returns
Arkham Asylum: a Serious House on a Serious Earth


The Dawn of an Art Form
Before Comics took themselves seriously enough to demand three dollars an issue, before they came in hard cover editions with limited gold and silver foil covers they were a largely disposable medium defining the hopes and aspirations in a generation of adolescents across the nation. It was the Golden Age. Between 1938 and 1949 the American comic book sprung to life with the creation of a radically new form of mythological being. The most popular of which was an alien with powers beyond human comprehension but who wanted nothing more than to be one of us (figure 1). Clothed in the colors of America, Superman represented the ultimate power in an individual yet never used his super strength for personal gain. He was a benevolent father figure and stood for truth, justice and the American way. In other words, he was the personification of the dominant ideology.
There was, however, another side to the American psyche which Superman’s physical powers and apple pie honesty could never satisfy. Culminated from the drawings of Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks and a pulp character of ambiguous moral standing. Bob Kane introduced America to Superman’s diametric opposite. Moving with stealth in the night and using his idle fortune for a technological advantage against his enemies the Bat-Man’s greatest weapon against criminals was using their own brutal tactics against them. Often acting as judge and executioner, Batman, as he came to be known, struck fear in the hearts of criminals and honest citizens alike. (figure 2)
The super heroes we grew up with and were supposed to grow out of have certainly not been left behind. Instead of recapturing the past through first print expenses and collectibles from an long gone era, the twenty and thirty year old generation who joined the super hero culture during the Silver Age of 1961-1975, have forced comics to grow up with them. Shedding the adolescent skin called comic books for the sophistication of the graphic novel, the content and appearance of this medium has matured rapidly and can compete artistically with any other form of mass media. Instead of continually finding itself stuck in the constraints of the picture frame, the graphic novel shattered into not only genres but into visual styles interchangeable with cinema and television.
The Golden age was an era of stereotype and symbolic personifications like the Red Skull and Captain America and became the often secret means of escape from the dire realities of the world at war. It had to be. There was evil and there was good. There was no place for ambiguity. Even the Mafia and the law men had to come together as Americans to fight the Nazi menace in comic books. The ideology could not deviate from the norm, not in a time of national crisis. Comic books gave us hope and larger than life examples to live up to in the face of overwhelming odds.
After World War II was over, the disillusioned soldiers returned home to see the nation they had fought to defend fundamentally changed. Gone was the stereotype of the helpless and feeble housewife, she made the money now. Gone was the clear distinction between good and evil in world politics. The dominant ideology had a darker side the likes that Superman would never mention in polite company. It was now our unwritten code of puritanical sexual repression and stereotypical separation of classes according to gender, religion, and race. Now after the war, in a time of peace and prosperity, was coming a time of harsh debate and flux. It took several years and secret directives from the heads of government and the entertainment industry to enforce an order on the ethical composition of our society that was similar to the pre-war era. This attempt to control what the public was "exposed to" was actually written in the voluntary 1930’s production code for movies. Filled with ambiguous directives and loaded words like obscene and moral standards this code was largely ignored and when read in the negative, sounds like the ultimate formula for a highly successful movie. This censorship would eventually come to comics in the form of the Comics Code of Authority which was put into place in 1954 to suppress the increasingly graphic and grotesque output of the horror comic industry.
In 1997 at the end of the cold war and over five years after the debacle in the Persian Gulf we find ourselves in a similar situation to those of the post WW II era. Our only enemy is in our complacency. Just as our ideology was in a tailspin after World War II, so were our heroes. In 1949 Captain Marvel, also known as Shazam, was fighting a mad scientist named Dr. Sivana. Was this scientist’s crime inventing a weapon of mass destruction and using it on helpless civilians? (Or was that the work of the good scientists?) Dr. Sivana’s crime was just being evil. He wanted to rule the universe and was pictured throwing darts at a picture of Captain Marvel. (Figure 3) Evil took on a very vague form. What were we fighting for and why did we need heroes anymore? With this question unanswered sales of comic books plummeted. It would take a police action, a missile scare, a flawed invasion, a war our nation did not want to fight and vague, undefined buzz words like "Commie" and "domino effect" before we would need heroes again.



A Resurrection
In the years known as the Silver Age of Comics, we moved into a rediscovery of the heroes that went to World War II with us. I remember specifically finding great pleasure in the nostalgic visions of Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Bucky and Toro fighting the evil icons of Hitler and Baron Blood. But alas, the nostalgia wears thin when the audience isn’t old enough to be nostalgic. The problem was comic books weren’t moving in time. They were static and locked to a rigid formula perfected over twenty years before these books were being printed. Enduring such unlikely epics as Marvel’s Secret War series one and two in which all the super heroes were magically teleported off the planet by a god that dressed like Michael Jackson wouldn’t have been so bad had they all stayed there. The frustration was unbearable and the comic industry was in another slump. It took the dramatic horror and unassuming style of Art Spiegelman’s holocaust allegory Maus to inject life into a stagnant art form (figure 4).
Alan Moore who previously extended the stylistic boundaries and length of a graphic novel to cinematic proportions in V for Vendetta (figure 5) would team up with illustrator Dave Gibbons for the seminal, height of the cold war, post-modern masterpiece the Watchmen (figure 6).
The prime candidate to face the new cynical movement of the 70’s and 80’s had to come out of retirement for Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (figure 7) and Batman continued to rise in popularity with Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum (figure 8). These five books stand as the definitive examples of the graphic novel coming of age as a true art form with it’s own language, style, audience and most of all, purpose.


A Background in Graphic Design
For thousands of years our species has been trying, to various degrees of success, to convey our thoughts to others. Because we lack telepathy or the electronic brain to brain interface of science fiction (so far) we have our mechanical processes such as musical instruments, cameras, paint and chisels to convey our thoughts visually. And similarly we use writing instruments and text to convey ideas that are not suited to objects but are specific actions, thoughts and emotions that are too complex or specific for visual representation. The question then is what is the difference between the two forms of communication I have explained?
Visual art and text were once the same thing. Several Asian languages such as Chinese still have elements of a representational nature left within their text systems called ideograms. Where as the Egyptian scarab glyph may once have meant "smelly dung beetle rolling a ball we associate with earth" the language evolved away from direct visual representation and used the scarab symbol as part of a more complicated system of communication turning the symbol into the equivalent of a letter with a sound attached to it. If our text was to revert to a direct representational system we would have either 26 words or have to develop thousands of pictures to represent everything we want to explain. Instead, this move to an arbitrary sound based system of letters allows us to take 26 characters and arrange them in many combinations to represent objects and concepts.
The Egyptians developed a relatively complex language with their system of sound based characters but certainly did not abandon the powerful visual narrative. Over 3,200 years ago the Egyptians were covering their buildings and monuments with narrative cartoons and accompanying texts (figure 9). 10,000 year old cave paintings discovered in Lascaux, France have what can be construed as a narrative quality in its depictions of ancient animals being hunted (although we can’t be sure as thought bubbles weren’t developed until Ben Franklin stuck some dialogue in one of his woodcuts in the 18th century).
So this leaves us at a rift between text and image. And as what usually happens, qualitative connotations were quickly assigned to divide two neutral options. The "intellectuals" gathered around the superiority of text and left direct representation to the illiterate and the children. Text was especially good at capturing minute detail. Hence its use in keeping records of taxation and harvest yields as well as its military use in communiqués. But the true power of text was its ability to relate specific historical detail in the form of chronological narratives. The earliest surviving works come from the Egyptians and their creation myths as well as the Gilgamesh epic written around 2000 BCE by the Sumerians of the Middle East. This written narrative would reach new heights in form and content with the ancient Greeks and their great tragedies such as Oedipus Rex and Agamemnon. Much later, as the religion of Christianity developed and the books of the New Testament were completed, visual representation of narratives were employed for the benefit of the illiterate masses that they may memorize the content of the Bible. More often than not these forms of communication take the form of a narrative. Aristotle analyzed the works of his contemporaries and predecessors and wrote the Poetics in which the secrets of narrative dramatic structure were opened and demystified.
When we think of telling a story to someone I would generalize that we would start at the beginning, proceed through the rising action and explain how the conflict works itself out. This is the form we have come to expect in our fiction because of its predictability and its similarity to the way we perceive events in our reality. But once in a while someone (or an entire culture) takes a different approach. Aristotle mapped out dramatic structure as a pyramidal form, starting at a low point and rising to the climax where the story would proceed through the falling action and all the loose story ends would be tied up. Feminist critics however find this "natural" system to be quite artificial and overtly sexist. There is an ever expanding list of critical tools being developed and used to analyze both visual and written works. Each critical technique has its own agenda and bias. They include Marxist, Objectivist, Semiotic, Capitalist, construtivist and deconstructivist etc.. In this report I will explain the style of the work in terms of Post-modernism. A movement which started in architecture but owes its formation to our living style which in turn is based on modern technology. To understand post-modernism, let’s first define its predecessor, Modernism.


The Philosophy of Modernism and the Changing Dominant Ideology
Modernism was and continues to be a line of thought begun in the late 19th century which was concerned with synthesizing traditional beliefs such as spirituality and Christian world views with modern scientific realities. When taken against the height of the industrial revolution, the old world views did not account for mechanization and the very real possibility of human obsolescence. Terrible weapons of mass destruction were proliferating throughout the world. Machines were doing the work of hundreds of laborers and there was no relief to this technological oblivion in sight. Man needed a bridge into the uncertain world of tomorrow. This was to be the job of modernism, a philosophical system made to embrace the future no matter how incompatible it was with the past. Skeptics formed on both extremes of the system. Pope Pius 10th condemned the philosophy in 1907 and the liberal movement considered it a false and strained system of thought.
The early years of the 20th century were filled with economic instability and war. Art was a strong voice crying out against the anxieties man kind was facing. Underground movements and radical ideologies were everywhere. In the world of art, a group of Europeans faced with the horror of World War I formed an artistic movement called Dada as a reaction to the insanity of rationality. Reasoning that if rationality and modernism leads to war then rationality and modernism must be destroyed. They used text as image and became the avant garde of modern graphic design (figure 10). Another faction of artists in Italy yearned for a new direction in Italian culture and sought to embrace modern technology as its salvation. Backed by the philosophies of a political movement called Fascism, these "Futurists" considered war "…the world’s only hygiene." They shook up the art world with their experiments of the depiction of movement which would be eagerly accepted by comic illustrators across the world (figure 11,12).
In America during the 1930’s and 40’s the forum for cultural debate went far beyond the art gallery and into the newspaper comic strips and comic books. Increasing censorship and/or public outcry would force dissenting voices to conceal their social criticism by masking it in their work. Al Capp’s Lil’ Abner became a vicious parody of democratic/socialist ideology counteracted by the innocent and liberal possum Pogo drawn by Walt Kelly beginning in 1942 (figure 13). After the world wars was the onset of an unrivaled period of economic prosperity in the United States. While we had banded together to fight for our principles as a nation a verbal and artistic battle began over just what those principles were. During the late 40’s and 50’s when comics were being forever linked to one of many social arguments there was a very distinct period of growth in comic form. The artistic capacities artists were imbedding in comics were becoming equal to almost any other form of mass art, specifically cinema.



Into Post-Modernism
The undulations and unrest in our transition as a society from the plastic-coated, faux finished 50’s to the free loving "peaceniks" of the 60’s and 70’s left us with the emergence of an ideology that was fragmented and desperate for some type of unity. Knowing that we were past the modernist stage of our societal thought but not yet having the hindsight to put our current philosophical era into a category, post-modernism was the logical conclusion.
Realizing that technology was enabling architects to move in ever more seemingly random (fragmented) ways, the term was first applied to the emerging style of design which took disparate elements from ancient to modern sources and mixed and matched without any reverence or reason. Notoriously tacky in most respects to a refined eye, post-modern architects were putting neon lighting on Corinthian columns in more places than Las Vegas. Here in our tiny town of State College of Pennsylvania there are many glaring examples of post-modern architecture including the quasi-Byzantine facades on our local mall to the poured concrete columns adorned with turquoise tile supporting the superfluous archways on the Palmer Museum of Art (figure 20).
How does technology relate to post-modernism? In the above example of the art museum, the perfection of poured concrete with metal interior supports allows for a cheap building material and in our Spartan times where laws have to be passed for building financiers to include art as part of the construction costs of a building, every corner is cut to save money yet give the appearance of integrity of materials. Hence, when a building needs to allude to what it contains or must fit into its environment in some way, our ability to pour through images and styles of historical precedents and emulate them with a modern equivalent becomes a matter of necessity instead of artistic integrity. To clarify, technology enables post-modern design but does not directly cause it. Lack of a unified vision and the lack of willingness to commit a great amount of capital into construction projects is what causes corporations like Wal-Mart to use plaster facades instead of marble.
As you can probably tell from the above paragraphs I am hardly a fan of Po-Mo architecture but that is merely my affective response to the aesthetics of the style in one particular manifestation. But post-modernism happened because it is the way we live. It springs from our emerging philosophy and when we can’t quite call our beliefs a "philosophy" we must once again use the nebulous term dominant ideology. The situation in which we currently exist allows us to use computer technology to test designs before they are ever built, to fragment literature into countless sub-genres, to play computer games that simulate combat between armies that were separated by centuries and project combat between spaceships in a galaxy far, far away that bears an uncanny resemblance to WWII dogfights. Even in the last sentence, my reference to Star Wars will be recognized by most readers because of the technology we live with. The cultural capital, which is the accumulated knowledge of one’s culture by means of technological media’s, comes to us through either our televisions, VCR’s, home computers or other such devices. We have common experiences although we were never together. That is simply a factor of our society.



Maus and the Advent of an Age
How does this relate to the design of comic books? In the exploration of our first graphic novel Maus (figure 4), Art Spiegelman uses a familiar device most notably used by Aesop. The personification of cats and mice serve respectively as the destructive and predatory relationship between the Nazis of Hitler’s Third Reich and the European Jews of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Spiegelman takes us on an episodic journey into the memories of his father’s internment by the Nazi’s. The book is post-modern on several levels. It’s incredibly unassuming and unobtrusive graphic style looks almost like documentary footage (figure 21).

Spiegelman lets the story be told without distorting the forms or calling any attention to itself. In all respects, this would be a purely illusionistic work except that the metaphor of cats and mice works on such a cohesive level. It’s design is post-modern in its perfection of combining the art of comic books with the art of the novel. It takes a story which in any other form, such as a novel or a movie, would certainly be affecting yet not ground breaking and pairs it with a medium that was continually perceived as a forum for parody and stereotype. This deep characterization and development of the father and even Spiegelman’s own character lift this graphic novel into a truly novel category and creates for itself a unique form. Originally released in installment form, the compilation Maus Volume 1 sold for just under ten dollars in book form. With no advertisements and an actionless front cover its subtlety was an affront to our conditioned sensibilities. Comic books were supposed to have garish costumed hulks in dynamic poses and cats and mice were certainly antagonistic but Tom never buried Jerry’s dead corpse in a shallow grave. The post-modern sensibility had turned comic books into the stunning form called the graphic novel.


Who Watches the Watchmen?
When describing the graphic novel the Watchmen, I immediately begin to put the narrative before the images. Certainly more naturalistic but somehow not as captivating as Spiegelman’s style, Dave Gibbons’ illustrations are both a tribute to the Gold and Silver age style of super hero comics.

But the larger fact is within this 1987 graphic novel, the super heroes are actually left over from those time periods, the view of these infirm, cranky and inept old timers shows us another element of post-modernism in the graphic novel, anti-veneration. This technique attacks the dominant ideology in a much sharper way than parody or farce ever could. With parody, the audience is allowed to distance itself from the subject matter with laughter, often releasing the audience from responsibility for the way the rules of society work. Anti-veneration allows no such buffer and treats destructive societal norms as the direct responsibility of the viewer by attacking the principles society holds most dear. This lack of respect for the past is the crux of the Watchmen, The disillusionment and anxiety we all felt at the height of the cold war was maddening. I remember seeing nuclear weapons statistics on the news by day and having nuclear blast nightmares during my sleep. If we were making any plans at all for our future they were of the order of what would you do if "it" happened?
Welcome to the Watchmen as well. This book was the most accurate and stunning mirror on reality I had ever seen. Coupled with Rorschach, the scariest anti-hero ever devised, and an aging Batman wanna-be called Nighthawk was an intricate web of subplots which led to the end of the world at the hands of global thermonuclear confrontation. Ozymandias, the "villain" of the story, has a plan to save the world by killing a million people before the irresponsible world powers kill billions. It is in this incredibly ambiguous world of three dimensional characters, replete with fetishes and idiosyncrasies worthy of chapters to themselves, that we see the mortal, everyday individual powerless against the superior beings that inhabit the earth. This differs from the fictional marvel universe because the world of the Watchmen shows us real motivations and emotions such as fear and lust and how they play into decision making processes of these characters.
There are symbols embedded in this work that require a book to fully discover. What I can touch on here however is one element relevant to my critical analysis in post-modernism. In the story, a being called Dr. Manhattan, (who is a post-modern compendium of Superman, the Hulk, Dr. Fate and countless others), lives his now immortal life with a perception of time and events as unchangeable. He becomes the symbol of Determinism. Determinism is an antiquated (I hope) philosophical system in which those in power keep their power by convincing the powerless that free will plays no part in the way events will turn out. In many ways it is the ultimate philosophy of the status quo. It was meant to take rebellious urges from the people and make them live a life of relative futility. Dr. Manhattan has banished himself to his fortress of solitude on Mars believing that he is responsible for the deaths of those he once loved (figure 22). He lives his own life under this illusion of determinism failing to see that there was a superior intellect that could outsmart even an "all knowing" being. Knowing that his guilt would lead him to leave the earth, Ozymandias framed Dr. Manhattan for the deaths. With Dr. Manhattan in self-imposed exile, Ozymandias’ Machivellian plan could now begin.
In my last word about the Watchmen, this is indeed an epic, not merely accompanied by images but symbiotically linked to the visual element. The text and images play off each other in a controlled and masterful way. Sometimes passages go by in which the visual element will dominate no text is necessary while at others, the text gives hinds based on cultural capital that no pictures ever could.
While Dave Gibbons’ illustrations are not quite as big of a contrast as Spiegelman’s images of what are usually lovable icons of animal characters combined with brutal situations, the characters in the Watchmen feel slightly freakish for prolonging their costumed crusading days into their later years and that becomes a feeling transferred beyond the personal lives of the characters and becomes Allan Moore’s statement on humanity. It’s an overriding feeling of futility and self loathing for hanging onto obsolete paradigms in a world that has become more complex than any one individual can handle. The immanent collapse of civilization in the Watchmen is the proverbial eye that gets knocked out to stop the fun and the heroes can do nothing but feel inadequate.



V for Vendetta
Paralleling the Watchmen was another epic focusing this time not on the destruction of the planet but on destroying the individual. The location of Allan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta (figure 4) is the not-too-distant-future totalitarian state of England. This Film Noir style graphic novel follows the actions of a vigilante dressed as Guy Fawkes, a martyred English conspirator who plotted to blow up parliament in 1605 but was foiled the day before the bombing and executed. This ever anonymous figure inhabits a long forgotten section of the London underground where he plans the destruction of the totalitarian regime. The truly interesting feature of this character is that he (we can only assume the gender) must surrender his individuality for the sake of the millions of silent and docile inhabitants of England who are under constant surveillance from the big brother equivalent, the Voice of Fate. Here we see determinism has come up again. The personified and patriarchal state has squashed dissent and given the public the idea of the future as predetermined and unchangeable by free will. V, rescues a young girl named Eve from a life of prostitution and takes her under his wing. He exposes her to the cultural heritage that was banned years before.
This heritage is the cultural capital I mentioned earlier. V, has tremendous knowledge of everything from Shakespeare to the Rolling Stones (figure 23) and laments the passing of literature and art and even grows hydroponic roses which he uses as calling cards (figure 24). These roses grow in memory of a woman V once loved who was killed by the state for her sexual preference. V, uses the roses as a final test for his pupil, Eve. V offers to kill the murderer of Eve’s lover and instead of plucking the rose she decides to let it grow with shows us Moore’s belief in the human spirit rising above retribution and other base instincts.
The Story is one of freedom from reactionary emotions and a triumph of free will and intellectualism. Eve believed herself to be free when she was happy with her lover even though she lived in a totalitarian state. V, convinces her that happiness is the worst kind of imprisonment. The maturity level of this graphic novel isn’t measured in violent content but instead it is the metaphysical content which is maddening and torturous. The existential nature of existence is portrayed with a vivid clarity. Moore is truly interested in giving the viewer the option to connect the divergent themes in his work and perform a severe self-analysis or shrug it off and live without critical thought. The consequences of which, like the climax of this book, are startling.


Batman: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Story: Frank Miller
Art: Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Color: Lynn varley
"Vowing upon his parents death to rid the city of the criminal element,
the Batman has, over the years, fought crime in its many macabre forms... For the last ten years no one has seen
or heard from him... That is, until now..."
The time is a very near future. Gotham as well as the rest of the world is in a state of turmoil. Violent gangs, terrorists and other forces of darkness roam the streets. A disillusioned Bruce Wayne, now in his fifties, haunted by his nightmares, finally decides to come out of his shell. After ten years, he once again becomes the man with the cape...

The excessive societal chaos that reigns in these books serve as a warning for the viewer that if we do not regulate ourselves and remain vigilant to the minor incursions on our civil liberties, the slippery slope theory will silently ring true. As in V for Vendetta Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns makes a direct assault on the habits and complacency of the viewer. Both of these futuristic novels allow us a familiar framing device in their graphic layout, the television screen. Miller’s excessive use of the form makes us want to shout out to stop the absurdities within the book but on a critical analysis of our reality we must wonder why we don’t do it now in our real world. In figure 25, Miller uses the cinematic convention of parallel action and cross cuts between the three developing stories. In the first two TV panels we see the Joker, who has recently been awaken from his ten year coma at the sound of the word Batman, with his therapist sitting next to a caricature of Dr. Ruth Westheimer on the David Endocrine show. In panel three he announces to Endocrine’s mocking, that he is going to kill everyone in the room. In the panel below we jump to the action of the aged and winded Batman fighting a swat team. The four TV panels below are a continuation of the argument which has been raging through out the book regarding not the insanity of the Joker but of Batman. The frame with the Joker grabbing Dr. Ruth will be resolved on the next page with a poison kiss which results in her death. The frames at the bottom of the page show one of Joker’s flying gas bomb dolls streaking toward the TV studio to release the poison which will kill the studio audience. The layout of this page, while cinematic, doesn’t necessarily want to be a movie. Miller has overlapped the frames and built a pace and symbolism that can only work in graphic form. Whereas V for Vendetta and the Watchmen could easily serve as storyboards for a movie production, the Dark Knight is in its element. Miller’s depiction’s of the aged Batman, the unchanged Superman, and the Joker grow more and more grotesque as the story continues. Miller as author and illustrator is concerned with showing his vision by distorting the characters to reveal something about them that a faithful anatomical analysis would fail to convey (figure 26).


 

Arkham Asylum: a Serious House on a Serious Earth
Copyright 1989, Cover Copyright 1990
Cover Price : $14.95 US
Written by : Grant Morrison
Illustrated by : Dave McKean
Lettered by : Gaspar Saladino

 

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'We're all mad here. I'm mad, you're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "Or you wouldn't have come here."
- Lewis Carroll
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland

 

Dealing with the shadow ridden psyche of the Dark Knight, Arkham Asylum is an expressionistic trip into madness. This one issue story comes as close to drama as a graphic novel can. Batman's mind is probed by the inmates of the fun-house like asylum where all of his greatest adversaries have been brewing up a plan. Whether or not it is revenge is a question I must leave to the reader.
The true beauty of this story is the ambiguity between good and evil. For once in the sorted history of D.C. comics we are privy to a view of characters that doesn't confine them to stereotypical roles of good and evil. It's much deeper than that. The inmates are actually given a motivation beyond revenge. They are seen for the first time as patients in need of counseling and heavy doses of Prozac.
Like a distorted Marquis de Sade, these prisoners take over the asylum with the goal of bringing Batman within the walls where he belongs. Heading up this effort is the brilliantly androgynous Joker who forces the issue of Batman's sexuality and his proclivity for masquerade and bondage.
Batman has always been a torn character but for those of us frustrated to death of his many campy or just plain humiliating portrayals in cartoons and film, Arkham Asylum shows Batman as the anti-hero he was intended to be. Owing much of his persona to pulp heroes like Doc Savage and film noir detectives that shot first and asked questions later Batman is a lose cannon in this society. His vigilantism and destructive nature make a powerful case for his inclusion to Arkham's tormented confines.
This story coupled with the schizophrenic design work of Dave McKean fuses the photorealistic with the iconic. Images and montages seamlessly flow between time and space exploring textures of surfaces like the textures of memories: Both jagged and nebulous.
I once lent this book to a colleague who returned it with a look of both astonishment and revulsion. She said, "It's like a car crash... you know you shouldn't be looking, but you can't stop." This book touches something that deep within our sensibilities and has the power to manipulate our moral structures. The scariest part about this work is not its shocking artwork nor its devilishly keen content, but how it exposes how tenuous our grasp reality really is.


Kingdom Come was a recently-released miniseries showing a possible future for the DCU characters. Superman has retired (after his parents and Lois died); Batman apparently has never fully recovered from Bane, and has robotic Bat-men protecting Gotham (Gotham is the only "safe" city in the US now); and Lex Luthor has been conspiring with Catwoman, the Riddler, Ib'n Al Xu'Ffasch (Ra's al Ghul's grandson (son of Batman and Talia)), and others. A new breed of superhumans has become bored with protecting the people, and hunt one another down, killing many innocent people in the process. Diana convinces Kal-El to return to his role as Superman and take control of the new superhumans, after they destroy most of the American Midwest during one of their battles. The story is presented from the point of view of a priest being taken around by the Spectre (very much like the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol).

The story is in four parts: the first shows the new breed of superhumans, and Diana's meeting with Kal-El. The second shows the incarceration of these new superhumans by Superman and his allies. The third shows Bruce Wayne and the people on his side - those that oppose Superman's methods, meeting with Lex and his people to stop Superman, and the fourth shows the final showdown.

Kingdom Come featured fantastic artwork by Alex Ross - it is all painted. And Mark Waid wrote an excellent story, although there are a lot of things that were left unexplained that made the story confusing. The newest issue of Wizard (#65) explains a lot of the back stories behind Kingdom Come, and is definitely worth picking up.

All in all, not quite The Dark Knight Returns, but an excellent story to pick up.


To understand the term "Post-Modern" itself, let's take a look back to the turn of the century...

What is Modernism? Movement dating from the late 19th century in which traditional belief systems were to be harmonized with modern scientific and philosophic thought. It was opposed by Pope Pius X in 1907. Manifested itself in Architecture, Design, philosophy, religion (Anglicans), politics.

What is Post-Modernism?
post·mod·ern
(post·mod´rn), adj. noting or pertaining to architecture of the late 20th
century, appearing in the 1960s, that consciously uses complex forms, fantasy, and
allusions to historic styles, in contrast to the austere forms and emphasis on utility of
standard modern architecture.

1.extremely modern; cutting-edge: postmodern kids who grew up on MTV.
[1945-50; post- + modern]
Technology allows for the juxtaposition of styles, materials and form.
Images from the past are reinvented
James Dean in Khakis


Vocabulary-

Self-Reflective Content - Stories that consciously use structural devices that draw attention away from the illusionistic qualities of plot and character. Example - characters are acutely aware of their situations and even sometimes aware of their existence as a character.
 
Cultural Capital - Based on the assertion that symbolic expression has, like money and property, an exchange value determined by the ruling class of society. The better one understands and manipulates the language most highly valued by the dominant class, the "richer" one is in cultural capital and the more one can control how cultural capital is distributed and passed on to the next generation. For Bourdieu and Passeron (who coined the term), the concept of cultural capital is useful for understanding why state education systems so often fail to distribute literacy evenly among classes: although public schooling in capitalist democracies supposed to be meritocratic, the students who most often succeed are not necessarily the most talented but those whose families enjoy a higher social, economic and cultural status (i.e. tend to possess the greatest cultural capital). Other applications of the term have arisen in studies of working class subcultures which have been more prone to challenge the term by asking how those low in capital of any kind nonetheless manage to originate powerful even subversive art forms.
-From the Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism
 
Intertextuality - referencing or being informed by many different sources. The web of relationships that causes the reader to have certain expectations about both the content and the form of the work(s) he/she is experiencing.
This intertextuality takes many forms - Parody, pastiche, allusion, imitation, etc.
-From the Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism

Cold War- state of diplomatic tension between NATO Allies and USSR and Warsaw Pact Countries for the purpose of economic advantage and political pressure.
 
Cultural Capital- sense of knowledge about popular culture
 
Intertextuality- referencing many different sources
 
Anti-Veneration- satirical critical analysis of cultural norms, icons and institutions
 
Modernism- reduction of decor- rise of rationalism-
 
post modernism- technology gives rise to the ability to manufacture combined stylistic elements in any material- fragmentation of styles-
 
Graphic novels-
similar ability to fragment the past and bring many elements from different time periods together- relies heavily on idea and text instead of action
Newspaper comics enjoy greater prestige that comic books, often considered uncouth, ill mannered and often ignored, the 60’s a new comic style rose up from the wasteland of teenage fare.

The Artists involved in the early Graphic Novel Movement

Dave Sim's Cerebus

Dark Horse: An Industry Leader in Contemporary Comics


Follow the Links to Topic Pages

Comic Strips Lead to a New Form

Golden Age Of Comic Books

EC Horror Comics

The Comics Code of Authority

Mad Magazine

Silver Age of the Mainstream

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement

The Post Modern Graphic Novel

Bronze Age of the Mainstream

Contemporary Comics

What's Next?


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