Thursday, January 27, 2011

Escapism and Escapism (Human Torch, R.I.P.)


Don't know if you caught this on the news this week but the Human Torch, member of the Fantastic Four, was killed in action Tuesday. Not Chris Evans -- don't worry, he's fine -- the comic book character the Human Torch, who could literally burst into flame and was known for being sort of flashy and superficial.  Cute girls, fast cars, constant twitter feeds -- you know the type.

Comic books are one of only two genres of storytelling in which characters who die stand a very good chance of coming back. (Can you name the other?) The last few years very high profile characters Captain America and Batman have both undertaken the forever sleep of the ancients, and both are back in action today.  It's actually a major complaint in the blogosphere that death doesn't mean anything in comic books anymore, it's just a scam to boost sales.

But the guy who blew the Torch out, if you will, writer Jonathan Hickman, commented in an interview the last few days that while yes, in comic books death is more like putting a TV show on extended hiatus while you try to fix it, stories about death are important to have because that's our reality. And by presenting characters dying and other characters dealing with it, we offer people a little window into their own lives. We give them a way of coping with it.

I love that way of thinking about story.  People kvetch and kvetch about there's nothing good on,  everything's just escapism (or worse) -- and honestly, I don't know what that means.  Sure, while I'm watching television I may put aside the conscious consideration of my cares and concerns of the moment.  But it's still me sitting there, with those concerns and many others rolling around inside, and whether I know it or not I'm still looking for comfort and and release and ideas and answers and even new questions.

Good stories show us ways of coping with our lives, and open up new possibilities -- even if only in the temperment we bring to our situations.  I firmly believe that we identify with certain shows and certain characters for a reason, that they have something we want, that on some level they offer us some opportunity for liberation and new life. A real escapism, if you will, out of the chains of sin and fear that bind and torment us and into greater possibilities of love.  

I used to be embarrassed to read comic books. The tights, the story lines all can be a little silly. And watching a comic book character die is in some ways most silly of all, because you really do know, they'll be back. But in the moment, if it's well written, it's also a meditation on heroism and sacrifice.  And if anyone should know the value of hearing stories like that, it's us.



And if you're looking for a really interesting political twist on superheroes, Foreign Policy Magazine of all places ran this photo story on migrant workers a while back that's really wild.   A teaser:



2 comments:

geosray said...

Jim,

The Torch's death moved me too. He was my favorite FF member; I identify with him; and his manner of death both struck a blow and made me feel proud about how Hickman wrote him.

I guess I feel like this because I have very strong reactions regarding real-world deaths, and not just those of people I know. Even scenes of mourning in the news bring me to tears. I pray that such deaths brought salvation to those who have passed beyond this world; and even in the cases of those deemed irredeemable, that they hopefully had last-minute conversions.

I guess the Human Torch symbolizes something we yearn for or be, and because he was the youngest and brought needed levity to the title, that the impact was great.

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

Nice reflections. Thanks for the comment, Geosray. It's funny, it's been a couple weeks now, and I find the power of that moment lasts. Pretty rare in storytelling, in my experience...

Cheers.