When I went to my local comics shop this past week I see that someone has released another book commemorating the events of September 11th, in fact it seems to be a two volume set. I noticed that this time there was no “LIMIT FIVE COPIES PER CUSTOMER” sign nearby, and I hadn’t read much about it on the various message boards so I’m guessing they aren’t the hot commodity previous 9-11 related books were.
I contributed a story to Jeff Mason’s 9-11: Emergency Relief book, which came out last month from Alternative Comics, and I remember that when he was soliciting submissions, he insisted they all be true stories. No fictional characters. It was one of a few guidelines he offered so I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but now I think can see what a good idea that was.
I had heard about the special issue of Spider-Man that was coming out featuring the attack on the World Trade Center and, while it’s been a long time since I’ve read the adventures of Peter Parker and friends, I was curious to see how they handled it. I picked up the book in the shop and read through it quickly. And I thought it was horrible.
Not in its execution: the art seemed like typical Marvel Comics fare, fine for the story it told. I can’t really comment on the writing, since as I said I mostly skimmed it in the store. I think my reaction was spurred by the very idea of superheroes pitching in to help out at Ground Zero immediately following the attacks.
I realize their (the creators and publishers) intentions are good, but seeing Mr. Fantastic, Daredevil, Wolverine, etc, climbing among the rubble just struck me as wrong. These are fantasy characters who have seen New York City destroyed a thousand times over, so to reduce a real life human disaster in which thousands of people lost their lives used as just another excuse to use their superpowers seems at best perverse, at worst exploitative. Today Spidey’s at the scene where thousands of people lost friends, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, lovers, cousins, but be sure to come back next pulse-pounding ish, where we find out about the Hobgoblin’s secret plan to kidnap Aunt May!!
I don’t want people to think this is specifically about being anti-superhero, because it isn’t. I don’t read superhero comics myself anymore but I used to love them and I have no problem with other people reading them. It’s the fact that they’re escapist, fantasy characters being put in a scene of real horror that I object to. I wouldn’t want to see the Powerpuff girls at Ground Zero, or the cast of Friends talking about someone they knew who worked at Windows on the World. I don’t want the crew of the Enterprise to travel back and try to save Riker’s distant ancestor who died in the attack. These characters have no business using my friends’ and neighbors’ suffering as a backdrop for their adventures.
Aside from all of the above, even in the context of the revered continuity of the Marvel Universe it doesn’t make any sense. The issue of Spider-Man takes a moment to show us a group of super-villains breaking into tears at the sight of Ground Zero. This just seems plain stupid. In real life, there were examples of people delighted that the World Trade Center was destroyed or even using it to their advantage (people using the chaos as a cover for looting, selling rubble from the site for profit). For that matter, where were all these heroes when the planes were coming? Were the FF trying to track down the Super Skrull that month? Why doesn’t Superman just fly around the Earth really fast backwards and stop them? Did this happen on Earth Two as well?
Of course, there is some precedent for having superheroes meddle in real life human affairs. Hitler had his ass kicked (or actually his jaw socked) countless times by an endless parade of superheroes, Tony Stark fought in Vietnam and who can forget the famous Superman/Muhammad Ali fight from the 1970s? Actually, (some would say hypocritically) I have no problem with Captain America beating the crap out of Hitler. Within weeks of September 11th, those rascals at South Park aired an episode where Assama Bin Laden and Eric Cartman have it out—in the style of Bugs Bunny and Elmer, no less. Being South Park it was silly, rude and very funny. Why is this different? I think because it basically goes back to what I was saying before, about superheroes being escapist wish fulfillment. The idea of Captain America infiltrating Hitler’s bunker and beating him into submission can only be seen as pure fantasy. What American wouldn’t want to see Assama captured and put in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson? But the minute you start to throw real life suffering into the fantasy it doesn’t work. Would anyone have wanted to see a story about Captain America liberating Dachau during World War II?
Which brings me to my last point: we all know that old adage about comedy = tragedy + time. I think that applies to drama as well, and I have no doubt that within fifty years we’ll see a Titanic-style movie about the World Trade Center disaster. If the Fantastic Four are still around in fifty years I’d have no problem with them getting caught in a time portal that sucked them back in 2001, minutes before the first plane hit. By that time it will seem like ancient history, and the families scarred on that day will have had plenty of time to come to terms with the horrible events of that day. But for now, let them finish carrying away the rubble and leave the boys in tights to their fantasy world.
(I realize I’m in the minority on this one. Most people on the various message boards seemed to love the superheroes at Ground Zero stories, a few even claiming to burst into tears upon reading them. I certainly invite any of you to post on the Slush Factory message board and tell me what an insensitive idiot I am.)
Alex Robinson is the creator of the Eisner Award-winning smash hit, Box Office Poison. While waiting for George Lucas' phone call, he is currently working on his next original graphic novel which will be released by Top Shelf later this year.
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