Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Post Modernist Flash


This comic from Matt Seneca (ace critic) is a rather wonderful bit of comics art, and it makes me quite excited that work this good gets distributed for free on the Internet. The comic is an old piece Matt drew of ideas for a 'Flash' comic, featuring the red and gold hero. But alongside the basic, but still compelling, images, Seneca textually narrates the story behind his creation, of the events in his life which underpinned the comic, notably, the end of a relationship.

The fascinating thing here is the way Seneca weaves the two together. His narrative guides us through our reading of the sketches, and transforms our understanding of what otherwise would be a simple superhero story. In the way we draw out elements from the sketches based on the emotions highlighted in the textual back story, the sketches provide an unconscious narrative alongside the blunt force of the more self conscious words. In that context this is an ideal example of what comics can do so well, by providing another dimension, making a three dimensional perspective from a first person narrative. In literature, an author might write in the third person, and use alternative character's reactions, to sugges aspects of personality which the protagonist, for whatever reason, ignores. Here we are able to draw out those aspects ourselves, to gain a deeper understanding than is given in the plain text by juxtaposing it with our emotional reactions to the sketches. This is then, a brilliantly pure example of the power of image and text combination, as well as highlighting the unique portrayal of multiple narrative strands in comics, an aspect I'll be looking at in more detail soon.

The main thing that struck me with this though, is Seneca's use of the comic book superhero. By relegating "The Flash" to the position of a supporting narrative (the big story is certainly Seneca's break-up), he subverts our notions of the superhero archetype. A powerful aspect of superhero comics is inevitably their escapism, the ability for us to place ourselves in the shoes of Superman or Spiderman in a world where they will always win. We don't need Scott McCloud to tell us that we can identify with these characters in the visual form, but the relationship is generally one where we appropriate the power and strength of these heroes for our own fantasies. We become the hero, rather than the hero becoming us. In Seneca's cartoon though, Flash is very much Seneca himself, with a conscious effort from the artist to introduce elements from his own life (namely his girlfriend) into the scenario of the superhero. He admits doing this to 'say the things she increasingly didn't want to hear', the classic case of using the superhero as empowerment and escapism. Yet, as the comic continues, the Flash does not solve Seneca's problems, and it is not Flash's heroic qualities which ultimately shape Seneca's reality, but rather the real world problems begin to overtake the scarlet speedster. The comics increasingly reflect the reality of the disintegrating relationship, culminating in the third to final pages where text and the red and gold colours of the Flash blur completely, and post relationship fantasies utterly consume the world of the superhero.

By making the fictional Flash powerless against the force of real emotions, he deconstructs the idea of the superhero archetype, destroying our notion of escapism associated with this type of character and story. In a sense what Seneca is doing is addressing a question he posed in a later post when reviewing "Wildcats": "What do adult superheros do?" While the answer in that post might be a bit simplistic ("FUCK"), here it is far more nuanced, and suggests, to me at least, that the idea of an adult superhero, in the general perception of a 'superhero', is an oxymoron. In adult situations, with adult emotions, there are no such things as superheros.

No comments:

Post a Comment