Intertextual

Intertextual

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer: Age of Doom Part 1 (Dark Horse, 2019)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Throughout the Black Hammer series, Jeff Lemire has been experimenting with intertextuality, playing with his knowledge of Golden Age comics while adding modern comic sensibilities and skepticism about the genre. In Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Lemire’s superheroes, who have been thrust into a world without superheroes, begin to see the patterns around them slipping. They begin to see through the idyllic world that has been their home since their battle with Anti-God. Their world starts being full of plot holes that, as much as they try to ignore, become far too apparent for them.

Lemire plays with the idea of story itself in Black Hammer: Age of Doom, examining authorial intent and the role of characters in shaping their own narratives. He examines the idea of suspended disbelief, so essential for the superhero genre, but twists it so that his characters themselves are the skeptical readers, reading their own narratives and noticing what is missing. In a powerful meta-narrative that is evocative of the comic Fables, Lemire even has a character enter a world with personifications of types of narratives, having young Black Hammer meet Mystery, Romance, The Editor, Grammar, and The Pagecounter. These are elements of writing made physical and they guide Black Hammer on her narrative. Lemire even plays with his own writing history by having Black Hammer open a doorway into one of his other graphic worlds – that of his book Sweet Tooth.

Lemire points out his love of story in Black Hammer: Age of Doom Part 1, having Mystery tell Black Hammer “It’s all real because stories are real”. In this statement, Lemire blurs the lines between reality and fiction, pointing out that stories have substance, meaning, and that they are important.

To find out more about Black Hammer: Age of Doom Part 1, visit Dark Horse’s website at https://www.darkhorse.com/Comics/3002-552/Black-Hammer-Age-of-Doom-1

To find out more about Jeff Lemire, visit http://jefflemire.blogspot.com

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Disrupting Some Tropes and Reinforcing Other Tropes

Disrupting Some Tropes and Reinforcing Other Tropes

A review of Jeff Lemire’s The Sentry: Man of Two Worlds (Marvel Comics, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Superhero narratives tend to have clear boundaries between heroes and villains. They tend to play with the duality between civilian identity and hero identity, but tend to privilege the hero identity. Like most of his comics, in The Sentry: Man of Two Worlds, Jeff Lemire disrupts these easy binaries, creating a super powered person who lives in moral greyness while trying to push himself to live in a world of good and bad, to conform to the ideas of the superhero. Sentry has given up his superhero identity because every time he becomes a hero, The Void (a dark entity within him) becomes active and conducts evil deeds that far outweigh Sentry’s good ones. Instead of being a superhero primarily and wearing his civilian identity, “Bob” is a civilian who has to enter into a world inside of himself to become Sentry to fight The Void in order for that internal evil not to spill out into the world. He is trapped in his civilian identity with the constant desire to become his superhero self and relives his golden days only in a world in his own mind. Lemire calls into question the tropes of the superhero narrative, inviting his audience to ask critical questions about the way their superheroes are generally presented while also giving readers a powerful narrative of internal struggle and suffering.

Bob works at a greasy spoon restaurant with his former sidekick Billy, who also no longer has powers. The two of them share old stories constantly, pining after the life they lived as superheroes. Yet, Misty Knight and Tony Stark view Bob as an embodiment of danger, as a threat contained within a human body and Bob feels the prison walls around him even though he is technically free. He has to go into his inner world to fight The Void at specific times, not given time to live his life and the constant threat of permanent incarceration surrounds him even though Bob and those around him think of him as a superhero. His danger outweighs the benefit he can bring to society, so he is contained. There is no simple morality in Lemire’s tale of Sentry and heroism doesn’t always mean social acceptance or freedom. Bob has to challenge the simple morality of his Sentry persona in order to find a way to exist in the world completely and without constant suppression of parts of himself.

Although Lemire challenges tropes around superhero narratives and opens up those narratives, he unfortunately (like many authors) perpetuates problematic tropes of disability. Like many authors, Lemire presents a disabled character (Billy, who had his arm ripped off by The Void) as a threat and a villain. This is a common portrayal of disability, often predicated on the belief that disabled people are “self loathing cripples” and hate the world because we are disabled. It is a far too common portrayal that has unfortunately meant that disabled people like myself have frustratingly again and again seen ourselves only conceived of as self hating and villainous. Of course there are real-world implications of this such as the general public seeing disability as a problem and therefore disabled people as a problem.

Lemire further brings in an additional trope of disability – the disabled person who is “powerless” and therefore craves power. This trope tends to be related to the first one as these “powerless” disabled people frequently become villains in stories because they seek out the power they are believed not to have as disabled people. Billy in Lemire’s story craves superhero powers since he views himself as broken and powerless as a disabled man. The real world issue with this trope, of course, is that it portrays disabled people as powerless and this imagery often gets internalized by people in the disabled community and shapes our perceptions of ourselves.

An additional, and perhaps more damaging trope that Lemire incorporates into his narrative is the trope of disabled men using their disability to manipulate care-giving women. This trope dangerously suggests that disabled people abuse their care-givers and use their disability as a way of getting “sympathy” that manipulates others. The problem with this, of course, is that because this narrative is so prevalent, society picks up on it and it is common for people to view relationships with disabled people as being one-sided, only benefitting the disabled person and not the care-giver. Like most of these tropes, I have witnessed this in my own life where people frequently ask my partner how much work he has to do to care for me while looking sympathetically at him, or tell him that he is too kind for looking after a disabled person. In addition to this problem in the trope, this trope also portrays disability as inherently manipulative, which has repercussions around the way that people view disability and assume disabled people are constantly out to gather sympathy (rather than the fact that we generally find sympathy frustrating and wish people would treat us like anybody else while also respecting our accommodation needs). Lemire presents this trope in The Sentry: Man of Two Worlds when he has Billy date a girl only to steal from her, saying to another villain “turns out said grandniece is a real bleeding heart for wounded young men. especially blue-eyed blonds with one arm”.

Lemire also repeats the “better dead than disabled trope” that is so frequently seen in disabled narratives. I have spoken about this narrative repeatedly before and the danger that it poses for disabled people – including society not viewing disabled lives as worth the lives of others or thinking that euthanasia and dangerous surgeries that can kill patients are better than letting us live while disabled. Lemire not only kills off the disabled character as so many people do, but also has him internalize this idea of being better off dead. Billy is told that the serum that is made for him could kill him or give him power and billy responds “it could. But living another day like this is death anyway”. These statements are dangerous, especially since many disabled people are repeatedly told that our lives have no worth. It presents the idea that we are better off risking death than living while disabled.

It’s important to note that, like most people in our society, Jeff Lemire isn’t intentionally seeking out to harm disabled people. Instead, he is replicating the images of disability that he (and the rest of us) have seen repeatedly in popular culture – which is why they are tropes. He is not portraying his character in this way to do harm to disabled people, but, unfortunately, these tropes and these portrayals DO harm disabled people. I would encourage him and others to get to know people in the disabled people who look critically at popular culture and the impact that it has on social perception of disability and political decisions around disabled people. I hope that in the future, Lemire brings his critical, creative perspective to disability and pushes the boundaries of the way disability is portrayed beyond simplistic, problematic tropes

Next Top Villain

Next Top Villain

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Thanos Vol 1: Thanos Returns (Marvel Comics, 2017).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canadian comic book writer and artist Jeff Lemire has worked on independent comics, but has also worked with the comic company giants DC and Marvel. He tends to take his Canadian interest in grey areas and ambiguous endings into his comics for DC and Marvel, allowing for complex plots and characters.

In Thanos Vol 1: Thanos Returns, Lemire takes on one of the big villains in the Marvel universe, trying to add moral complexity to a character that has often appeared in comics as irreconcilably ‘bad’. Lemire is able to introduce some pathos for Thanos by portraying the villain in illness, creating a ‘god’ obsessed with Death… who is, himself, dying. Thanos is viewed as and views himself as a personification of strength, and Lemire explores what it means for someone who takes so much of his identity from his strength… to suddenly have to deal with vulnerability, with something that he would consider weak in others and would likely kill them for.

But what does the death of a powerful tyrant mean for others? This is a universal race to grab power in the perceived power vacuum that Thanos will leave, and Lemire uses this comic to comment on political power and the discourse of vulnerability on a universal scale. Revenge, the lust for power, and the desire to be significant are all wrapped together in the people who race to fill the perceived void that Thanos will leave. Lemire creates a race between villains to secure their place in a changing universe.

To find out more about Thanos Vol 1: Thanos Returns, visit http://marvel.com/comics/collection/62231/thanos_vol_1_thanos_returns_tpb_trade_paperback

To discover more about Jeff Lemire, go to http://jefflemire.blogspot.com

Artificial

Artificial

A Review of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer Vol 2: The Event (Dark Horse, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nothing is quite what it seems in the perfect small town that superheroes Barbalien, Golden Gail, Abraham Slam, Talky Walky, and Colonel Weird, and Madame D have found themselves in. It is a town that is held apart from the rest of the world, surrounded by an energy field… but it is also a town without history, where the history books are blank and everyone seems to just keep repeating the same patterns over and over again.

In Black Hammer Vol. 2: The Event, Jeff Lemire creates a world out of the golden age of superheroes, but he complicates the world, pulling it out of the easy morality of golden age comics and making his superheroes confront realities that they have denied and their own complexities. Barbalien has to deal not only with his disconnect from his home planet Mars, but also with the homophobia that surrounds him and prevents him from being in a relationship with another man. Golden Gail has to face the duality of her identity – young girl when she is in her superhero identity and older woman when she leaves that identity. Here in this village out of time, she finds herself trapped as an eternal child, cut off from her adult identity. Abe (Abraham Slam) faces the opposite experience, flashing back to his experiences as an ageing superhero now considered obsolete and his life in the village where he has created a space of comfort for himself to age away from the superhero scene.Talky Walky, a sentient robotic life form with a taste for adventure has to deal with being trapped in a small space, unable to escape and venture into the wider world. Colonel Weird, a man trapped between worlds, able to see the past and the future, has to confront his knowledge of the future while keeping it secret from those around him. Lucy, the daughter of Black Hammer has found her way into this strange world cut off from her own and lost her memory of the outside world. She has to confront the people she knew before The Event and see how they have changed in this altered world. Meanwhile Madame D tries to maintain this strange bubble of reality and prevent what she fears the most – a supervillain.

Black Hammer Vol 2: The Event is a comic about the effects of battle on the superhero psyche and the damage that it does. It is a tale of repression and avoidance where characters seek to hide from themselves even while they face aspects of their pasts.

Lemire brings attention to classic comic books while adding his own complexities and twists to these worlds, creating uncertain realities and characters who are equally uncertain about exploring them.

To find out more about Black Hammer Vol. 2: The Event, go to https://www.darkhorse.com/Books/26-745/Black-Hammer-Volume-2-The-Event-TPB

To find discover more about Jeff Lemire, go to http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca

Old, But Not Obsolete

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Old Man Logan Vol 1: Berserker (Marvel, 2017).
By Derek Newman-Stille

So many narratives of ageing feature memory and reflection, an exploration of a life lived rather than a life in the process of being experienced. Like many representations of ageing, Lemire’s aged Logan finds himself in a world that isn’t the way it should be… but instead of this narrative being another story of an old man who has lost touch with the passage of the world, this is a tale of a man from the future visiting his past, a world that isn’t as it should be because it will all be destroyed. Logan experiences a dissociation from his world not because it has moved on without him, but because he moved on without it.

Logan has to relive his past, see friends and family that have died in his future and find his way in a world that no longer suits him. Logan has escaped from a post-apocalyptic future world, but one that has left its stain on him, changed him fundamentally and coloured the way he engages with this world from his own past.

Wolverine (Logan) has been defined by his ability to resist age, to resist health issues, and to resist ageing, but this Logan is one who feels the aches in his adamantium bones, who doesn’t heal as quickly, and who has now experienced ageing. This Wolverine’s life has been shaped by regrets and he now finds himself inexplicably in the past and able to do something about those regrets. His healing factor may be slowed down, but this is a Wolverine who needs to do a lot of healing.

To find out more about Old Man Logan Vol 1: Berserker, visit http://marvel.com/comics/series/20617/old_man_logan_2016_-_present

Old Enough to be Hurt

A review of Jeff Lemire’s “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin” (Marvel Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

With the “Old Man Logan” series, Jeff Lemire has been playing with ideas of ageing, displacement, and the changes in identity that occur with the passage of time. This is a Wolverine who has been displaced from time from an apocalyptic future to a present he isn’t quite ready to face.

In “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin”, Lemire explores the connection between the passage of time and regrets and Logan has had a long enough life to have a plethora of regrets. Logan finds himself back in Japan, a place he visited when he lived in the future and where he encountered a cult called The Silent Order that sought to claim Japan for its own and had envisioned him as simultaneously a foreign threat and a prophesized figure. Logan encounters The Silent Order again in the present with his memories of killing people in the future and seeks to divorce himself from the person he was in the future. In the present, he is filled with the regrets of his future life and tries to resolve things peacefully with The Silent Order, but the Order has a prophet who has seen what Logan will do in the future and is angry at the loss of his friends. This young, but powerful boy is plagued by the fear of his encounter with Logan in the future and tries to stop Logan before he destroys everything he cares about.

Lemire explores the way that fear, longing, and regret shape us, and the way that these accumulate over a lifetime in a way that transforms instincts into mirrors of the pain and suffering of a lifetime. Logan is a figure defined by pain, pierced as much by his guilt and regret as he is by his claws as they extend to deal with threats he feels to old to cope with. Logan is a man displaced, with nowhere to call home, and yet every place he visits is one he has already been to and already left enemies in. His long life means that he develops all of the conflicts of home, but doesn’t ever get to experience any of its comforts or connections.

To discover more about “Old Man Logan: The Last Ronin”, visit http://marvel.com/comics/series/20617/old_man_logan_2016_-_present

Small Town Ontario Bodies

A review of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (Top Shelf Productions, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jeff Lemire’s Essex County provides a fascinating look into small town Ontario life. Rather than just fixating on the lives of the young in this coming-of-age narrative, Lemire explores the multiple times in our lives that we come-of-age and expresses the idea that we are constantly coming of age as we change and our social and bodily circumstances change. 
Lemire explores ideas of escape and settlement in small town Ontario life illustrating the way that home is something that constantly shifts and changes and is something that is made up as much of relationships to others and to traditions as it is about a physical space. Lemire complicates notions of home, portraying his characters as constantly trying to fit in but also feeling a sense of longing when they leave. 
Lemire’s exploration is about the people in Essex County, but it is also about their bodies since many of the characters become disabled at different points in the narrative, shifting their understandings of their own bodies and their bodily identities. As bodies change and shift, relationships are also altered and changed, pointing out the ways that our bodies are complicit in our understanding of our world. 
The graphic novel format of Essex County brings attention to the ways that bodies occupy spaces and the absence that they leave in the spaces they cease to occupy. 
To discover more about Essex County visit Top Shelf Productions at http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog/essex-county/640

To find out more about Jeff Lemire, visit his website at http://jefflemire.blogspot.ca/