Bang! Bang! A 'Movie' Comic Book
I’ve noticed that a number of recent comic books have been so-called “westerns,” drawing their inspiration from the world of movies, and I think this is a rather unfortunate fad. Why is it necessary to debase this fine literary form by drawing material from a children’s entertainment medium?
We all remember going to the movies when we were kids and thrilling to the adventures of Cowboys & Indians, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with cherishing those halcyon days of yore. But when we got older, most of us put away our toys and moved on to more adult pastimes, such as curling up with a good comic book. As we matured, we realized that reality was more complex than the simple-minded good-vs.-evil world of Cowboys & Indians. We sought out more sophisticated stories and more sophisticated media.
However, as we all know, there are some pathetic losers who continue to watch movies even into their 40s. What’s wrong with these people? Are they so mentally deficient that they can’t imagine the action between the panels -- it must be acted out for them? Are they so illiterate that they can’t read word balloons and captions, but must have the words spoken to them out loud? Such people may claim their continued interest in movies is a function of nostalgia, but this does not address the core issue of quality.
By their crude, primitive nature, movies were (until recently) confined to stories that could be acted out in front of a camera, greatly limiting the potential of the medium for telling worthwhile stories. Furthermore, the many years of using monochromatic film meant the stories had to be further simplified to a black-and-white mentality. This mindset has persisted to the present day. Comic books, on the other hand, have been limited only by the imaginations and talent of the authors and artists who craft each page ex nihilo, using only the simplest tools -- the hallmark of any fine art. The styles and approaches -- as well as the subject matters explored -- are as varied and individualistic as the creators themselves.
Now, of course, it’s undeniable that movies have made a significant impact on our culture. They have provided us many of the great heroes of juvenile fiction, such as the Lone Ranger. Some argue that they represent a “modern-day mythology.” However, this assertion falls flat when you compare the brainless stereotype of Tonto to the more nuanced portrayals of Native Americans in such comic books as Red Wolf and Tomahawk, to name but two.
It is this inherent lack of quality, coupled with the utter passivity of the viewer, that makes movies extremely problematic when they attempt to move beyond the generic conventions of Wild West shoot-‘em-ups to explore more adult themes. Many movies lately, such as Brokeback Mountain, deal frankly with homosexual themes, but is this really appropriate for children?
Movie fans may pout and whine that such a movie is not meant for children. But I mean, let’s be honest here. You have to actually pick up a comic book, open the cover, and read it, whereas a movie is projected on a wall for anyone to see, its obnoxious soundtrack filling the air with inescapable noise. And if a five-year-old happened to see such a movie, who knows what irreparable harm might be done to an impressionable mind? Likewise, suppose a youngster viewed schlock such as Unforgiven, expecting his usual harmless fantasies of Cowboys & Indians? It would be, if nothing else, a rude shock and a blow to the innocence of childhood that all kids are entitled to.
For decades, psychologists have published studies on the rampant and unchecked violent and sexual imagery in movies and its deleterious effects on children, but what has been done about it? Fearing government censorship, the movie industry has adopted a ratings system, but it is too uninformative, too generalized, and basically impossible to enforce. But precisely because of their appeal to the prurient interest, movies have remained a popular entertainment for juveniles of all ages, and so, looking for a quick buck, a certain segment of the comic book industry has decided to try and cash in. This is a slippery slope indeed.
Movie fans, especially the socially-maladjusted older variety, will argue until they’re blue in the face that their guilty pleasure is as deserving of recognition as any other storytelling medium. However, consider the situation in the world of academia. Many prestigious universities have a Department of Comic Book Studies, whereas the idea of studying movies remains laughable. Imagine the humiliation of the movie fan as he tries to justify his infantile obsession as a proper subject for serious scholarly examination. Imagine also the guffaws of the editors of academic journals as he peddles his theoretical analysis of Cowboys & Indians. The very idea is ludicrous. However, academics thrive on discussing papers such as “De-Centering Iconic Sexualities: The Politics of Representation in Rawhide Kid.” Clearly, movies simply lack something that more respected forms of entertainment possess, and this is, in a word, maturity.
So please, let’s leave movies to the kiddies, where they belong, and not try to bring comic books down to their level.