Thursday, February 07, 2008

Discrete Music

Having read superhero comics for as long as I have - a long time, kids - I realize I have different expectations from the genre than I used to. Specifically, for all the crappy comics I've read and still occasionally peruse, my senses have become extremely attuned to subtle pleasures. I think anyone who reads mainstream comics for long enough develops this kind of attitude, whether or not they ultimately choose to stop reading the books or stick around out of habit. Sometimes (actually quite often) I ask myself why I bother still keeping tabs on what's going on in these horrid, horrid things - and the fact is I do get something out of reading them, as haphazard as my reading / perusing habits may actually be. It's relaxing, I guess, in the same way that watching football or reality TV would be for someone else: something so familiar, so well-worn as to be almost an instinctive pleasure at this time. Not a very acute pleasure, certainly (except in rare cases), but a nice break after a long day of reading, say, Piers Plowman (to pick a totally random example). I can't, and won't try to defend the practice on anything above a creature-comforts level, but there you go.

I read a couple books recently that I particularly liked, not necessarily because they were good books (one was pretty good, the other not really), but because they both had an ear for the kind of plausibly familiar small-scale world-building moments that, for the most part, are and have always been rare in superhero comics. And yet, those are traditionally the moments people remember best: the Beast had a dog named Sassafras in the pages of New Defenders, Clark Kent's favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird. James Robinson's Starman was filled to the brim with this kind of thing, and they helped make that book what it was.

Nightwing #141, by Peter Tomasi and Rags Morales, begins with a brief conversation between Superman and Nightwing in the courtyard of the Cloisters museum in New York. It's not a long scene, but right before Superman is about to fly away, the night watchman stumbles upon the two heroes:

Just that one line of Superman's put a smile on my face - "You mean, having the three of us patrolling it" - so corny, and yet at the same time exactly what you know Superman would say in that situation. It just sounds "right": a tiny gesture, but a satisfying touch nonetheless.

A totally different moment, but nice nonetheless, in Moon Knight #15, by Mike Benson and Mark Texeira. Now, Moon Knight is by no means a good book - it's trashy and lurid, in much the same way as Doug Moench's early Moon Knight stories were, but without the manic charm that gave the earlier series its vigor. But there is one really good thing about the book, and I'm surprised - given the attention paid to such matters - that it hasn't been mentioned more: specifically, the relationship between Moon Knight's retired aide-de-camp Frenchie and his boyfriend Rob Silverman. Now, Frenchie is one of those characters that was always coded as "gay" in the context of the series for those who cared to look - I seem to recall passing mention of heterosexual relationships, but nothing serious (was Frenchie straight when Chuck Dixon wrote the book?). But instead of continuing to beat around the bush(master), the latest Moon Knight series "came out" and left no room for ambiguity: not only is Frenchie gay, he's in a serious, committed relationship, and everyone is OK with that. In fact, I daresay the relationship between Frenchie and Rob as we see it now is probably one of the best relationships in comics today, in terms of the two characters actually acting in a fashion that vaguely resembles real people:

Again, it's hardly rocket science: just a nice, quiet moment between two characters, the kind of moment that might easily be overlooked in the slightly sensationalistic context of the rest of the book. (Later on in the same issue, Moon Knight finds Bushmaster's face in a box and tries it on - yes, his dismembered face. So classy!) But considering the (deserved) flack that mainstream comics get for their almost total failure to represent the gay lifestyle as being composed of anything besides A) victims of hate crimes and B) lipstick lesbians, it's nice to see a well-rounded, empathetic and non-exploitive portrayal of a male homosexual couple in the pages of a medium-profile book like Moon Knight. Both characters are interesting and dynamic, integral to the plot but in such a way that their function to said plot has no relation to the incidental fact of their sexuality, which is dealt with in the same matter-of-fact way that, say, Peter Parker is obviously heterosexual. Maybe it's slipped under the radar because it's not a series particularly favored by the bloggeratti, but notable and pleasing nonetheless.

No comments :