DC: The New Frontier… Stripp’d

Boomtron have my latest comics column on Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier.

New Frontier is an ‘elseworld’ that takes the superheroes of the DC Comics Universe and transposes them into the late 1940s in much the same way as Neil Gaiman transposed the Marvel Universe into Elizabethan England in 1602 (2003). However, while 1602 is really nothing more than an extended exercise in fan service that wanders around Elizabethan London going “Oooh… I wonder what Daredevil would look like if he was an Irish bard!”, DC: The New Frontier is an attempt to liberate mainstream superhero comics from the cynicism of the post-Watchmen era by finding a way of reconciling psychological depth with the values of old-fashioned Gold and Silver Age heroism. While I do not think that Cooke is ultimately successful in his endeavour, I do think that the result is one of the most fascination mainstream superhero comics ever produced.  It is fascinating because it is a comic that clearly realises the challenge that faces large generation-spanning mythological systems.  As I pointed out in my review of Dick Maas’ horror film Saint (2010), myths must reinvent themselves in order to stay alive and DC: The New Frontier is clearly designed as a mutation that might help superhero comics adapt to the culture of today:

The last thirty years has seen a drive to re-invent traditional heroes as darker and more realistic figures. Moore’s reinvention of the superhero as a vigilante mired in psychological trauma and political compromise is no different to the re-invention of King Arthur as a Roman Centurion or an Iron-age Chieftain. The world has changed and though we can no longer believe in a campy middle-aged Batman, we can believe in a tortured psychopath who acts upon his own flawed sense of justice. Humans have always and will always yearn for escape from the prison of their lives but the vehicle they choose for that escape is determined by the nature of the lives they are escaping. Because of this, stories must be retold and heroes must be reborn. Even modern day myths are subject to these evolutionary pressures, in order to survive stories must change to suit the demands of their audience.

Despite its failures, DC: The New Frontier is still a fascinating read and a great place to start if you are looking to get a handle on the tendency of superhero comics to keep re-launching and re-inventing themselves.

Zack Snyder’s Orgasm Death Gimmick

I have always found my view of the genius perceived by others in Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1987) to be obscured by the looming presence of the bleeding obvious.  I respect the form, less so the matter.  Zack Snyder’s  Watchmen (2009) failed to turn this respect into love.  For most of the film I felt the adaptation so submissive and passive that I might as well have stayed at home and read the comic.  However, there are moments of greatness in Watchmen.  Moments that have very little to do with Alan Moore and a lot to do with Zack Snyder.  Moments when Snyder allows himself off the leash, and no… I am not talking about the stupid fight scenes.

In an essay entitled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (1920), Freud argues that pleasure stems not from stimulation but rather a lack of stimulation.  The lack of stimulation that comes, for example, from taking off shoes that pinch your feet and the moment not of orgasm but the instant of satiation immediately after the orgasm but before post-orgasmic tristesse sets in.  If pleasure is the complete lack of stimulation then it follows logically that death is the ultimate pleasure and that the pursuit of pleasure is somehow also the pursuit of death.  Freud called this drive towards death Thanatos.  No film maker argues the case for the connection between pleasure and death more aggressively than Zack Snyder.

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