Tag: superman

The Importance of Kingdom Come

Contributed by Joshua Guess

A lot of comics influenced me and the way I look at stories. Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, all the usual suspects. To have been a reader of comics within the last thirty years means a certain vein of highly acclaimed books will be at the forefront of your thoughts when someone asks which comics had the biggest impact on you.

And while I will remain a faithful acolyte of the works of Alan Moore until I draw my last breath, no comic impacted me as deeply or powerfully as Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.

On a purely surface level, look at the visuals. Ross is a painter of staggering talent, able to render heroes into believable figures while capturing the smallest nuances of body language. His ability goes beyond human form. His battles look as if they could spring into motion. His layouts are dynamic. The visual language of his art is consistently brilliant.

Kingdom Come wouldn’t work without Mark Waid, whatever claims Ross now makes about the division of labor. The writing carries Waid’s touch heavier in some places more than others, but it’s the unique alchemy between the two men that gives the story its heft and power.

This story asks the question: How do our greatest heroes cope with a world moving past them? Whether it’s Superman quitting after a hero with less strict morals kills The Joker after he murdered Lois Lane or a Batman with the veneer of Bruce Wayne finally ripped away, now free to assert control over Gotham, Kingdom Come does what few stories are brave enough to.

It opens up our heroes and makes them truly examine the consequences of their actions. Not just on the small scale, in the daily repercussions of fighting crime, but over the course of decades. What do we become when the next generation rises up, so certain that right is automatically conferred upon them by virtue of might? It asks us how far we will go—must go—in order to maintain peace, and whether peace is worth oppression.

The central thread tying every theme in this book together is one more question: where does the blame lie when everything spins toward Armageddon?

The brilliance of the story’s structure can be found in its main character, Norman McCay, a human man given apocalyptic visions by The Spectre. God’s spirit of vengeance is itself out of touch with humanity, as are many heroes of its generation. McCay is old enough to remember being inspired by the Golden Age heroes, giving him the perspective needed to judge. Or perhaps that deserves to be capitalized—Norman is to Judge.

The power of life and death, of punishment for the sins of all heroes young and old, is given over to a single human being. Norman is us—the reader. We are being asked as we read to question the ultimate morality of even the most noble heroes. Norman is our proxy, horrified and yearning to be inspired simultaneously, all while being confronted by the horror of the brave new world growing darker around him.

Kingdom Come is a deconstruction of the superhero genre that demands we look harder at the trend toward darker, grittier heroes that began with Moore and Miller. It forces us to shine a light on why this new strain of storytelling appeals to us. It holds us accountable for its popularity.

And while Kingdom Come does all that, layering questions and themes together, it also manages to beautifully tell two stories at once. Threads of classic Golden Age heroics are woven together with the better angels of Modern Age characters and stories instead of only presenting them as the villains. It doesn’t paint a picture of pure right and wrong as so many other stories might. It instead lays out the many shades of gray and begs us to pause and consider them.

Kingdom Come is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated piece of fiction. That it can be enjoyed on many levels is a powerful endorsement on its own, but that it challenges us to question the larger shifts in storytelling in comics without explicitly condemning and pointing fingers is easily the most overlooked aspect of its impact.

The story came at a time when I needed something to remind me what made me fall in love with superheroes to begin with. In a world where the trend spiraled toward anti-heroes, Kingdom Come not only rekindled that wonder about watching a man fly, but made me appreciate the complexity of the more gritty and violent modern heroes who didn’t fall into the stereotype of being nothing but ruthless killers.

I read the trade paperback at least once a year. Anyone who loves heroes should do the same.

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My Secret Identity: Unmasking a Superhero

There is no superhero costume underneath my t-shirt or claws sheathed alongside my knuckles. My origin story doesn’t involve being the prince of a mythical land or a millionaire playboy genius. However, known to very few, Superman and I, Jeremy Flagg have something in common.

Like any comic book, we must start with an origin story. I, Jeremy Jeremy Flagg, was born to Phillip & Susan Flagg. Once my father retired from the military our family returned to my parents’ hometown. In an elementary school of a little more than one-hundred students, I should have been unique, one-of-a-kind, but no, I was not the only Jeremy inside the walls of Brownville Elementary. A female name-thief, Jeremie Smith, with a tenure track exceeding my own robbed my identity. Answering simultaneously as the name was spoken, a split second decision occurred, changing my life forever. Jeremy James died and J.J. was born.

It wasn’t much of a loss. My name isn’t pronounced Jur-mee or worse Germ-ee. Despite it’s spelling, it holds three syllables. Jair-ra-mee. Neither of my parents refer to me by name, my mother opting for “Boogie bear” and my dad, mocking those who pronounce my wrong, “Germ.”

By high school my nickname had become a slurred. J.J. required two syllables, and with the right slur it could be reduced to one. Birthed from laziness, Jage became the norm. In college it would later get shrunken to Jer. In a room mixed with friends from different periods of my life, I can be called upon half a dozen ways without my birth name being used. Each salutation gives away the age, association, and origin of our meeting.

The first half of my name took a beaten during my youth, but in college, the second half would be the name that carried me into adulthood. Via instant messenger, Virginia Castagno referenced my love the X-Men’s Gambit by referring to me as Lebeau. The realization the last half of my first name was Remy spurred an inside joke. For the sake of anonymity in social media, it hid me from the world. But as I acquired friends through Facebook, my real name faded away into the nothingness. Like Wolverine having his past wiped away in place for Weapon X’s Logan, my identity vanished.

I.Am.Maine was originally meant to be published under Remy Flagg. However, in a town about my youth and growing up in Maine, how could I rob myself from my most powerful marketing tool? When it came time to release the Suburban Zombie High series, I had to make a decision, use my real name and face the potential pressure from employers or remain safely hidden amongst the shadows?

I chose Jeremy Flagg.

By printing under my legal name, I simplified my financials and gave myself a legal advantage. I chose not to hide. I chose to be true to myself. I chose to remove my glasses, shed my button down and reveal the proverbial “S” on my chest. Despite the majority of my professional associates not knowing my real first name, I took a leap of faith. But while it lended itself to my image and brand, beneath the obvious ramifications, there was a philosophical and emotional plot unfolding.

Superman, unlike many characters in comic books is not an alter ego with stupendous abilities. Superman, a man with powers beyond any human is Kal-El. Clark Kent, the average daily reporter is the costume, a secret identity woven together to give him a stronger connection to the humans he’s sworn to protect. Remy Flagg is a construct, a persona utilized to connect with the outside world. He is my shroud of safety. And like in every comic book, there is an arc in which the hero is put on the shelf and they are forced to live the world as a mundane.

While my arc played out with Remy Flagg dominating the story, I continued publishing books under my real name. Tonight, while contemplating how we perceive our identities versus our outward facing selves, I had a moment of clarity. Remy, much like Clark Kent is a construct, a persona created to help me blend in with the world around me. However, Jeremy Flagg makes his appearances much like a superhero rescuing an elderly woman from a burning building. In my writing there is a piece of me known to a very small and select group of individuals. Each time I open the document and begin writing, a cape covers my shoulders and I dare to put my underwear outside my jeans. In my writing, you’re getting to see the real Jeremy Flagg.

J.J., Jage, Jer and Remy are convienent costumes. The indestructible, amazing, uncanny, fantastic, Jeremy Flagg, the man on the page, he’s the real super man.

Hi, I’m Jeremy Flagg.

Escapism in Comics

First of all let me share with you the definition of escapism as quoted by Wikipedia.

es·cap·ism
əˈskāpˌizəm/
noun: escapism

  1. The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.
synonyms: fantasy, fantasizing, daydreaming, daydreams, reverie;

imagination, flight(s) of fancy, pipe dreams, wishful thinking, woolgathering;

informal pie in the sky

“romance novels offer a form of escapism that many people thoroughly enjoy”

Like many kids who grew up in a small Maine town in the late 80’s and Early 90’s I didn’t have a lot to do outside of traditional small town entertainment. There were recreational sports, outdoor activities and doing whatever random thing I could find to do with my friends. When I was younger that often meant making up various scenarios and acting them out. Whether it was pretending we were characters from G.I Joe, He-Man, Star Wars or the Transformers or just making up our own things. We always found a way to amuse ourselves.

As I got older and middle-school rolled around those pursuits became in my eyes too childish. I began to find myself more interested in trying to woo my ever changing weekly love interest or being part of the in crowd (Both of which I failed miserably at.) It was an awkward stage of life that we all go through at some point. It is also a point in life that starts to shape our personalities and who we are as people.

It was during that time that I found myself getting seriously interested in comics. I had previously read a few titles like G.I Joe, Spiderman, Superman and The West Coast Avengers at random, but had never seriously gotten into them.

That changed for me in sixth-grade when I discovered two titles: NOW comics Terminator: The Burning Earth and The Punisher. Over the top and rather violent by many standards both of those titles sucked me in and I couldn’t get enough of them. When I read them it let me escape from whatever was bothering me at the time. Whether that was not making the sports team I had tried out for, no longer fitting into the clique with the kids who I had been friends with growing up, getting rejected by the girl I had asked out or a plethora of other things.

Comics became a healthy way for me to deal with that awkward adolescent angst and anger. We didn’t have a lot of options for purchasing comics. A few of the stores had a limited amount of titles so it was always an adventure trying to get the ones I wanted. So when I could get a hold of them I devoured them almost as fast as they were purchased. I’d find myself going over issues of The Punisher, X-Men, Spawn, Cyberforce, W.I.L.D.C.A.T.S and LOBO over and over.

I had a few classmates who were into comics and we’d often spend our time reading and swapping the latest issues in study hall. We’d point out what we thought was cool or didn’t like about a certain issue or new series. While never close with those guys, it gave me a glimmer of hope that I wasn’t the only one who used comics to escape.

While today it is more acceptable to be part of the Geek culture in my day it wasn’t. As I got further into high-school I got caught up in the whole you can’t do certain things and be cool stuff. I began to hide my love of comics and it became a bit of dirty secret. Still, they were a way for me to escape and I’d find myself in my room with music cranked escaping into whatever series I was into at the time.

When I graduated I left my love of comics behind. Life happened and I found myself becoming increasingly interested in music and other things. It wasn’t until I started playing in bands, traveling and establishing a larger circle of friends that I found out so many other people had been into comics like I had. These were the people I had always wanted to be like. It turns out many of them were just like me (Funny how that works) they had used comics as a form of escape just like I had, who knew? Hind sight is 20-20 and I wish I had not hid my love of comics from the world in fear of being ostracized. Maybe, just maybe that would have opened up doors to more friendships when I felt like an outcast and didn’t fit in.

Comics were my escape. They helped me deal with the negatives in my life by letting me get lost in others conquering theirs. They taught me lessons that I may not have understood right away, but became engrained in my subconscious. Treat people the way you wanted to be treated. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and sometimes doing the right thing might not be the popular choice.

In the escapism comics allowed me (I didn’t realize this until years later) the most important lesson I learned was this: Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are. We’re all different; we all have something unique to offer in this life whether we realize it or not, it’s what makes the world a beautiful place.


Thomas Washburn Jr. Is an independent horror author from Maine who has published two novels The Returners and Mr. Witcher along with the short story collections Legend of North Lake & Other Short Stories and Into Darkness. He also keeps one foot firmly planted into his childhood love of comics with his short story series-Santa Claus: Monster Hunter. You can connect with him on FB www.facebook.com/thomaswashburnjrauthor or check out his work on Amazon www.amazon.com/author/thomaswashburnjr

I get it, but it’s still okay to love Superman!

Since his debut in Action Comics#1, Superman has always been a beacon of hope sharing a storyline similar to Jesus Christ. He was written to embody everything that is good in the world and to be an example of down-home American raising a god to be an upstanding moral figure. He is powerful, yet fair, charismatic, but humbled and capable, yet fallible when confronted by the frailty of humankind. In summary, Superman is everything that most people have aspired to be over the decades.

The beginning of the end.

Since the end of the 80’s, the character of Superman has been on the decline. Issues were not selling as quickly anymore, and few new cartoons were being produced that featured Superman, or his reluctant partner in justice, Batman. Most connoisseurs of the comic medium have broken it down from the sheer boredom of the character to recycled storytelling. All of which is very true, but I believe there is a much deeper meaning behind the mixed bag that Superman has become.

1986 was a critical year for DC comic fans with the release of The Dark Knight Returns. This series would completely change the tone for both the characters of Batman and Superman. Batman would no longer be the billionaire Bruce Wayne that everyone knew. Here you have a tough-as-nails, older and an even more bitter character than we had ever seen before. Batman was now a real anti-hero, willing to defy the authority of the government and bring the pain to the villains of Gotham City. Then along comes Superman who has become so consumed with his role of savior, that he barely realizes that he has inadvertently become long arm of an oppressive government. It was the first time we got to see Superman as the villain in a story. Although he is not evil or diabolic by any means, his nature is turned against him for the right reasons and in the process he forgot his mantra of truth, justice, and the American way.

The Killing Joke would come two years later, and Batman cemented himself as the edgier hero in DC’s Showcase. The first of the Batman films released around this time and America was instantly hooked on the masked vigilante. This new breed of comic book action combined with the failure that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, was the stake in the heart of the Last Son of Krypton, and it would stay that was for many years to come.

So the tone of the audience was set, and then …

Superman Returns.

Although not considered a success for Superman, it is not a bad movie. As a fan, I believe there is no way to recapture the magic of the first Richard Donner film. It had the benefit of the best director, best screenwriter, and the best cast. Superman Returns was less of a superhero movie and more of a thank you card for Richard Donner from Bryan Singer. Unfortunately, we live in a different time where having a good story is important, but a good story plus action is what gets attention, which is why the Marvel movies tend to do very well.

Man of Steel/Batman v. Superman

I admit that I am very fanboy when it comes to these movies. I do see its many flaws, but the potential to be something better is lingering under the surface. I like everyone in it and even enjoyed the plot. The one thing I find utterly unforgivable about this film is in the way they attempt to make Clark Kent out to be an angst-ridden emo child for so much of the movie. It is painfully clear to anyone that knows the character of Superman that Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder do not care for him, nor do they wish to build on his best qualities. Too much drama, self-pity, and misplaced anger permeate these films, and the story suffers for it. Everything about BvS has a more positive view of Batman and a demonization of Superman. While the two characters have fought in past stories, the ability for both of them to bring out the best in the other has been what makes the World’s Finest some of the most popular stories in DC. BvS has none of the positivity that the Batman/Superman dynamic brings to the table, and the critical reception of it is proof. People may not like the Man of Steel like they used to, but they hate him when they try to make him like Batman. Am I blaming the writer and director for these failures? No, they are merely products of the same jaded society that causes them to sympathize more with the Bruce Wayne/Batman character, despite him having similar origin story with Clark Kent/Superman.

We have all lost hope.

Is there a future for Kal-El of Krypton, or has his time come and gone? To be cliché, I still think the world needs Superman, but I understand why they believe that it does not. We live in a time where people have become disillusioned with concepts like truth, justice, and the American way. Many people have forgotten or rejected the ideas that came with the motto. We have become plagued with misguided exceptionalism and fed a diet of hopelessness from those we look to for leadership. Characters like Superman seem like a pipe dream of grumpy old men sitting in their favorite chair complaining about the youth of today. Maybe it is my optimism that keeps Superman at the top of my list, or maybe it is my firmly held belief that anyone can come far away and make a better life for themselves. No matter how jaded a society we become, there is always room for a Superman in it.


Who is Eddie Jakes? Well, I’m a Navy brat born on the submarine base in Connecticut and have lived there my whole life. In typical New Englander fashion, the desire to write and create worlds was as strong as the force. It all started with serialized stories for elementary school and progressed to regular games of Dungeons and Dragons.

Life would take me in a lot of directions between those days and the publication of my first novel. I have been a salesman, a warehouse worker, and a DJ at parties all over the New England rave scene. Now I’m happy to be working at my real passion, which has only just begun.

My favorite genres are horror, fantasy, thriller and sci-fi with a little suspense thrown in. Aside from writing, I also enjoy politics, reading, spending time with friends and family, as well as producing other content for the web.

http://www.eddiejakes.com

Bibliography
Malevolent Prisoners Book One – General Population
Malevolent Prisoners Book Two – Nefarious Heroes

Reality & Continuity, Or Why 9/11 Reveals Some Insights About Live-Action Superheroes

Superheroes aren’t real. (Gasp, I think one may have just died because I said that). They aren’t, but the rise of realism in comic storytelling that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, means that readers demand realistic elements to the storytelling. Even though our capes are walking deus-ex-machinas, we prefer the veneer that all things are genuine struggles for them. But surprisingly, superheroes do have limits. They are not perfect. Because for all that the superheores can do in their fictional realms, they cannot leap from the page and be a part of this world. However, they can appear increasingly life-like through good and sustained storytelling.

A good measure to think about superheroes is to consider how they operate in response to the world around us? How do they deal with real tragedies such as 9/11 and other tragic events wherein they are specifically designed to protect us from? Herein, I will explore how both DC and Marvel have grappled with that idea and the implications it has had for their cinematic and television universes.

I turn to Peter Coogan and his seminal book on the superhero as a genre (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/222322.Superhero) to highlight the power of the genre over others and how it may operate or deal with the real world.

“Real events from the past are worked in…Likely it will become more prominent as creators are freed from the burden of timeless continuity and are able to present stories that deal with the passage of time in more flexible ways….The superhero has a unique signifying function. It can be used to express ideas that other genres cannot portray as well. Superheroes embody a vision of the use of power unique to America.

Superheroes enforce their own visions of right and wrong on others, and they possess overwhelming power, especially in relation to ordinary crooks. They can project power without danger to themselves, and they can effortlessly solve problems that ordinary authorities cannot handle. This vision of power fits quite well with the position America finds itself in after the Cold War. America is the only superpower in the world, something like Superman in the days before other superheroes and supervillains.”

However, with cataclysmic or galvanizing events, trying to tell superhero stories becomes trickier. Cord Scott articulates this challenge in discussing writers dealing with World War II in “Written in Red, White, and Blue: A Comparison of Comic Book Propaganda from World War II and September 11” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00381.x/abstract):

“The writers and artists had to walk a fine line in how they portrayed these characters and how they showed them fighting the enemy. If a character was too successful at a time when the war was going against the United States, sales went down and people became demoralized. If the superhero did nothing but fight imaginary, nonthreatening foes (such as domestic criminals), then the heroes were not doing their part for the war effort.”

What does walking a fine line look like when dealing with more contemporary events, especially when the perceptions of comics and readers are much darker and adult-oriented, when censorship and violence is much more present within comics?

911—Continuity vs. Non-Continuity Responses

In 9-11: September 11, 2001 (Stories to Remember, Volume 2), published in January 2002, DC published a 2-page feature as part of a 2-volume series of publishers and artists delivering stories about 9/11 with the proceeds going to charities for the survivors. The short piece, “Unreal” features Superman saving a spaceship while breaking the fourth wall and telling the reader that despite his superpowers, he cannot “break free from the fictional pages.” The story reveals a child reading the comic that Superman is featured in and being rescued by a firefighter (likely, in one of the World Trade Center towers). The final panel bears the words, “A world, fortunately, protected by heroes of its own” while showing a silhouette of a firefighter holding an American flag.

By contrast, Marvel Comics addressed 9/11 in Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 2. Interupting the ongoing plotline, the largely internal dialogue of Spiderman is heard as he makes his way through New York City in the wake of the devastation. A bystander confronts him, “How could you let this happen?” He ponders this question and denies his ability to have stopped it with, “We couldn’t imagine. Only madmen could contain the thought, execute the act, fly the planes. The sane world will always be vulnerable to madmen because we cannot go where they go to conceive of such things.” Despite incapable of preventing it, much of the Marvel Universe is dedicated to the clean up in various not-so-sublte disguises. Included in the mix are characters such as Dr. Doom, Magneto, and Kingpin—characters who’s fictitious murders well surpass the death-toll of 9/11. According to Spider-Man, their presence is “Because even the worst of us, however scarred, are still human.”

Brian K. Vaughan’s series, Ex-Machina presented an interesting third option for superheroes regarding 9/11. The series presented the main character, Mitchell Hundred as a superhero who managed to prevent the second plane from striking the second town. Two years later, Garth Ennis would entirely reinvent 9/11, preventing it from happening as we know it and simply having his hedonistic and narcissistic superheroes fighting one another and causing one of the hijacked planes to crash into the Brooklyn Bridge. While both series started with Wildstorm (a subsidiary of DC), The Boys moved to Dynamite Entertainment after the first six issues. However, both were contained universes that had no need to address continuity issues. They also both adhere to Coogan’s point about the chronological distance allowing for them to play with the event.

But DC and Marvel’s approach to the real event is fascinating in its initial reaction to the event. Marvel folds the story into its universe—albeit a bit clumsy. It doesn’t give up its own fictitious realism but doubles down on it. By contrast, DC gives up the ghost and merely says, “Hey, we’re not real and can’t do anything.”

The Real World Approach To Movie-Making

For many years, Marvel was known for being a bit more realistic with its fictional world than DC. The classic, “superheroes with problems” shtick that derived from the 1960s Lee & Kirby team up has long permeated an assumed difference between Marvel and DC. But it goes deeper than that. It’s not just superheroes with problems, but it’s superheroes in a real world. Notice that Marvel Comics, by and large, exist in realm places New York City, Los Angeles, London, etc whereas DC has its fake cities: Metropolis, Gotham, Central City, etc.

This difference also accounts for some of the reason why Marvel has dominated at the box-office in the last decade whereas DC continues to stumble.   Until Man of Steel (although really, not until Dawn of Justice), DC Comics created contained fictions. When the movie ended, the credits rolled and the story was complete and contained (even when sequels would follow, they existed solely within that superhero’s limited world). It was even rare for the movie to reference anything beyond its own world (e.g. Batman might reference supervillains in Gotham, but never those of Superman). For most of the last forty years, every time DC sets to tell a new superhero story in film, they hit the reset button from anything else relating to DC.

For over a decade now, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has continually let viewers know that the fiction does not end. They did this through cameos, Easter eggs, and post-credit scenes—all of which told us, the universe was not contained; there was more story to enjoy. Though this is most clearly done through the Marvel Cinematic Universe (movies revolving around the Avengers character franchises), it was also present within the X-Men movies of the 2000s with numerous references to other characters and events within the Marvel Universe (and, of course, their branching out with the Wolverine movies).

At best, DC can said to be trying to do this now with its TV series and films, but it appears to be in a constant state of catch-up. While its Arrow, Flash, and other shows have found ways to be woven together and that with Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the films are existing in the same world, Marvel still beat it to the punch in making the jump between the TV and the films with Agents of Shield.

I don’t have a superpower to tell the future, but my guess will be that it will be a long time before DC can meaningfully compete with Marvel on the cinematic level with engaging individual tales that interweave with a large tapestry of stories. Yet I can tell you that when it does, it will because it has stopped admitting its own fictional existence and started to own its vision of what a real world would look like with superheroes.

*This essay was adapted in part from a previously published essay by this author in this collection: September 11 in Popular Culture: A Guide. Sara E. Quay and Amy M. Damico, Eds. Greenwood Press (9/2010).


Lance Eaton is an instructional designer, adjunct instructor, part-time writer, and perpetual collector of degrees. He resides in Beverly, MA with his partner and two adorable cats and is currently working on a PhD. He writes about books, audiobooks, comics, popular culture, education, and anything else that crosses his mind on his blog: By Any Other Nerd (http://www.byanyothernerd.com)

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