It's Not Just You

There are people out there who are big into the comic book scene. Famous people.

Aren't there?

Does it mean anything when you see what I saw this morning? Footage of Melissa Etheridge wearing a DAILY PLANET T-shirt? Does this mean that M.E. is a big Superman fan, or is she wearing a borrowed shirt, or is Superman and all that goes along with his mythos just that acceptable as cultural everyday statement now?

Try this. On an episode of Homicide, the detectives meet a boarding-school kid from a rich family who wants to run the school... he had his lieutenants murder another student because he couldn't control him. He fashions himself a modern military genius like Alexander and Caesar etc...

Okay, any Chuck Dixon reader should recognize this kid as Chuck's character of The General who often crosses Batman and Tim Drake... Coincidence?

For a long time I presumed that the actors who played Darlene and perhaps David on Roseanne were huge DC fans and, later, Vertigo fans. Darlene's room and David's basement were decorated in Early American Death of Superman/Invisibles. Later I found out that it was actually comedian John Goodman who was the huge DC fan.

What to make of the Milestone issues framed and hanging on the wall of Will Smith's guesthouse in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Was that his own choice or what? I'm guessing yes, since I know that his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith actually tried doing her own comic book for about 1 issue a few years ago...

What about when they occasionally made comic book geek jokes on Saturday Night Live? Like when they had the whole Funeral for Superman thing? Or when they needed "Jesse Jackson" to make some X references on Chris Rock's Dark Side with Nat X segment and he threw in X-Men Nightcrawler and Colossus? Occasionally Jon Stewart of the Daily Show has been known to pull this sort of joke too, but is it him, the writers, both?

Let's try this. I wrote a column some time ago about Walter Mosley (of Devil in a Blue Dress)'s one sci-fi novel foray Blue Light in which there are a few comic-book conceits... but when I wrote that column, I hadn't finished the very end of the book... Mosley takes the ending of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol in a very suspicious manner, suggesting that the whole thing with these mutated men and women was perhaps all in the fevered dreams and memories of this guy who spent time in an asylum... Am I to take this as postmodern appropriation? As an open plot-swipe like that common in Hollywood in which we steal from comics (if not specifically Grant Morrison [Grant Morrison, writer of The Invisibles, didn't sue anyone over The Matrix though I rather think he was somewhat annoyed. I wonder what he'll think of The Animal...]) because the straights/squares'll think it's brilliant and entirely original to themselves? As a coincidence? As an homage, which is great except that none of us really bought it in the days when Image was starting out, so why should we excuse anyone else?

Okay, one last one.

I'm reading Colson Whitehead's novel The Intuitionist. It's about an African American female elevator operator. You start thinking more as a result of reading this book about elevators than ever before in your entire life. But anyway, here and there there are a couple of very small hints of a comic book reader writing this novel... he names a thug Jim Corrigan, for example. Okay, Jim isn't such a strange name, and it's not like The Spectre was the only guy ever named Corrigan. It sounds like a 1930's boxer's name, a tough-guy name. Not so strange.

But then we get to this guy, a reporter for LIFT, the trade magazine for the elevator industry. The reporter's name is Ben Urich.

Uh huh.

Ben is onto a big cover-up about this futuristic elevator, the Black Box, that's supposed to revolutionize the industry. And you know sometimes things like that have just got to happen, but right now the inspector's guild is about to have a big election and now is not the time for big revelations and sweeping threats to the elevator industry status quo. So the other team wants to keep Ben Urich quiet. They want to silence his story and his investigations into the black box.

So gangsters break all of his fingers on one hand.

Uh huh.

For those of you not with me, this happened to Daily Bugle Reporter Ben Urich (same name even) as collected in the graphic novel we know today as Daredevil: Born Again as written by Frank Miller, perhaps the greatest thing, at least in Barb's opinion, the man has written thus far, though there are occasional things that come close, and incredible art by David Mazzucchelli.

In it, the Kingpin has all the fingers of one of Ben Urich's hands broken to shut him up, to keep him from exposing what he knows, for to do so would be to aid Daredevil.

Okay, that's not a coincidence. What do we make of this? What does this mean?

It means that Colson Whitehead is like me.

Next I've started reading Whitehead's second book-- John Henry Days. The plot (so far): the U.S. postal service is issuing four stamps based on American Folk heroes, one of which is John Henry, the man who drove steel into mountains so that nitro/explosives could be inserted into the holes made by said steel and rails of transportation could be laid down across this bumpy and mountainous land. First vertical transport, now horizontal.

Let's stop for just a moment and point out that John Henry, that steel-drivin' man, was turned by that greatest of All-Ages (i.e. comics for kids that are marketed to adults) comic book writers, Weezie Simonson, into John Henry Irons, portrayed fairly poorly in my opinion by the media-consuming Shaq in the movie Steel. Although lord knows Christopher Priest (I think it was) tried to work with Steel (the monthly)...

So. Having said that, here's this character who writes puff pieces for magazines and periodicals, and is quickly trying to get into the world of creating content for online sites (which, if you've forgotten since last week, is also what I create for this site-- content-- not news, not facts, not reviews, not rumors, just content. Single sentences that run-on for three lines if I feel like it). He's covering the big media event of the unveiling of the John Henry stamp at what is reputedly the birthplace of John Henry, Talcott, West Virginia. The owner of the motel where all the journalists are staying is happy because he's trumped the other local motels, like the Sandman Inn. The publicity agency handling things is called Lucien Joyce Associates, after its head, Lucien...

Then I get to page 77 with this passage, where the main character is choking on something... "It won't move, it sits like a bullet in his throat. No oxygen for me, thanks, I've had enough. Luke Cage the Marvel Comics superhero had bulletproof skin. At one point he had a sticker book where he kept stickers of Marvel Comics superheroes, they jumped out of the page, dynamic, Avengers Assemble and all that, muscles on full ripple, Luke Cage the jive-talking ex-con. This is what we get. Your whole life is supposed to flash before your eyes and this is what I get. Step into the light. Red light? What was up with that yellow shirt he wore anyway, some sleazy guy in a disco laying lines on the ladies, Luke Cage."

You can learn a lot from a book. Like on the page with the publisher's information, it tells you whom this novel was written by and when he was born.

And it's all clear to me because it's how it happened to me, Colson Whitehead's just a little ahead of me agewise. The kid was a kid in the seventies and he got into Marvel. That Marvel Bronze Age thing where for a while the comic book writers got into the problems of America. And when you're talking about the biggest things wrong with this country, you're also talking about racial stuff, my friend.

Luke Cage. We took a stereotype and gave him super powers.

Colson Whitehead grooved on Marvel until Vertigo came along. Something better. Noticably. Like head-slap noticable. So we've got this guy who digs Marvel's sometimes sad attempts to comment on American society but at least they were TRYING, combined with postmodern self-referential intertextual mature horror that likes to play with the American Scream (Shade, Spectre) and so on.

What does this mean?

I'm gonna say it's just like wearing a T-shirt with the Daily Planet globe on it... just a message broadcast to make those of your kind feel good. It says hey. I'm like you. We have this in common. I can tell you this and only you'll get it. We appreciate storytelling, you and I. We know what's good. No reply is needed or expected. But I know you're out there and I know if you see this you'll spot it, get it, like it.

That's what this says to me.

That's what it means when Louis Wu's name shows up on a wall in Sleaze Castle.

That's what it means when Dorkin plots a whole issue of Hectic Planet around "I'm All Lost in the Supermarket."

It means this person is a FAN of something and they know they're not the only ones. They're sending you a message from their hand to the bottom of your brain.

It says: Hi. It's not just you. It's me too.