the mango behind the mask

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Carl has a very interesting post here about expressiveness vs. post-expressiveness in mass culture, and specifically about how "[t]he excitement about finding a perspective on life or a point of identification - the personalized gnosis that seems key to the teenage music-listening experience - doesn't transfer to gaming." A few people in the comments have brought up comics, and I'm wondering to what extent they've offered "personalized gnosis" in the past vs. now. The shortest route to that when I was a young reader was probably the X-Men comics--mutant powers manifest at puberty, right? and the X-Men etc. were very often a way of talking about difference--but I never found myself thinking "this is speaking for me" when I read the X-books (although obviously lots of people did). I think I found something like what Carl's talking about in Larry Marder's Beanworld comics, and probably in what little there is of Big Numbers. I don't know that I ever found that in straight-up superhero series, except maybe Jim Starlin's Warlock.

More recently, I've gotten something like that from Morrison's Doom Patrol and the later Invisibles (if you're looking for gnosis, you might as well start with a Gnostic), but as I get older it's harder for me to find that sort of "point of identification." The feeling I get now from certain kinds of really great work (Epileptic, some of Hope Larson's stuff, prime Jim Woodring) is more like: "this person gets it."

It used to be, though, that mainstream/superhero comics almost always dangled the possibility of identification/gnosis via their characters: the idea was that the Batman way of seeing the world or the Dr. Strange way of seeing the world was at least a viable fantasy. (This is why, say, Daredevil is a much more fertile character to tell stories with than Thor: Thor doesn't permit that sort of projected perspective. It may also be why Chris Claremont is so intensely drawn to stories about mind control that it's become a cliché for him.) I can't think of any major mainstream character right now whose head would not be a horrible place to be, or whose current stories invite any sort of this-speaks-for-me projection. A few writers still know how to toy with that dynamic: Mark Waid & the way he writes Brainiac 5, for instance. But just imagine the kid who projects himself onto the Punisher--I mean, that's totally a first-person shooter of a comic.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on November 26, 2005 12:36 AM.

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