Thursday, March 11, 2010
Noir in a Cape
Confession time. I am a comic book geek. No, I mean really. Look at the facts:
I owned a comic book store for almost ten years.
I was an Overstreet Guide advisor (the bible of the industry).
I combined comic book and cultural history and Classics in many an academic presentation, and wrote a very well received scholarly journal article on Wonder Woman (and how her image reflects American society's attitude toward women from the 40s through the 90s) that is actually cited occasionally (validation!)
I own a huge comic book collection--including every issue of Detective Comics from 1959 to 1989.
Our store was actually in an issue of Batman, thus making me part of the DC universe.
And ... here's the clincher. I can name the Legion of Super-Pets.
So I'm not going to go on and on with this post ... for one thing, only fellow geeks would enjoy it, and for another, I'm fighting (and losing to) a cold, and I have to fly tomorrow and be ready to rumble and read at a signing at the legendary Book Soup in Los Angeles tomorrow evening ... so my time and energy is limited. But--now that my geekiness has been confirmed--you know you won't hear the last about superheroes from this corner.
So, who's the favorite? Batman, of course. I grew up with Batman, watched the TV show, and (according to my mom) used to run around with a towel around my neck pretending to be Batgirl. But the Batman that I knew best--the one that "turned" me, so to speak--was the Batman of the '70s, a true dark night detective. Why?
Well, during the "bronze age", as it's known--days of 20 cent comics or 50 cent 100 Page Super Spectaculars--comics were forging ahead into adult themes. The 70s was a generally pessimistic era, but one of social consciousness and a lot of psychic and paranormal emphasis. Batman was returned to his 30s gangster roots during the decade, a figure born of tragedy and personal pain, who decided to get revenge ... and then decided to try to harness the rage and power for the benefit of other innocent victims.
Nowhere is this more clear than in a seminal story (and still my vote for best Batman tale ever) called "The Night of the Stalker." These ten or so pages made me a Batman fan for life, because I understood the sense of fury and loss and frustration and anger and obsession--all the noir underpinnings, in fact--that drove Batman to become Batman. I still clearly remember the day I read it--when I was nine years old.
There have been other heroes and heroines, of course. I am a DC girl, and only flirted with Marvel's darker titles (like Tomb of Dracula). But DC, during this time, was reprinting golden age stories from the 40s to fill out those 100 pages for 50 cents ... so I became acquainted with Dr. Fate and the Spectre, two dark and supernatural Golden Age heroes, and The Black Canary, who was a femme fatale crime fighter, right down to her fishnets and blonde wig.
I also eagerly followed the adventures of psychic Madame Xanadu, created in the 70s, and illustrated by the great Michael Kaluta, and the cool and mysterious Phantom Stranger. And really, I liked 'em all, from Green Arrow to Green Lantern to Superman's extended family.
But Batman ... I understood him. He was a totem, a symbol, a sacred representation of something very dark and very powerful.
And he still is.
Batman is noir in a cape ... and the most vulnerably human of the twentieth century myths we call superheroes.
Plus, let's face it ... who doesn't want a batcave??
I'm heading south tomorrow with some of my fellow Criminal Minds ... and hope to meet any CM readers at Left Coast Crime!