Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
On a scale of 1 to “Let’s kill Superboy”, how poorly did you handle beginning to bald?
Honestly, it was a 1. You get those moments where you spot it in the bathroom and become a little disheartened because there’s no going back. Well, there’s no going back without a lot of Rogaine or hair implants, and fuck that noise. But there’s nothing that bad with a bald look and throwing your toys against the wall and having a fit isn’t going to make you any younger. If anything it’s just going to draw attention to your aging and just how poorly you’re handling it.
I’d rather take the route of our esteemed small press editor, Daniel Elkin. He’s someone I’m proud to call a mentor and who totally pulls off a shaved head. Rather than trying to be young or live out youthful fantasies, he embraces being a teacher and our wizened, gin & tonic sipping friend. I love him for it and hope to follow in his footsteps as this spot consumes my entire skull.
Wait. Did we just turn this into a column where I discuss my bald spot? I think we did. How do we get this back to comics?
Oh, I know. Let’s talk about the creators who opt for the “Let’s kill Superboy” end of that scale you devised.
For anyone who didn’t get the joke, you’re referencing the conclusion of a terrible event comic by the name of Infinite Crisis. In that particular story Geoff Johns not only killed Superboy, but brought back the Superboy from Crisis On Infinite Earths and had him murder the fuck out of the original Superman who supposedly got to live happily ever after. It is a frustrated and frustrating comic that picks up the parts of COIE and smashes them on the ground in something akin to a hissyfit. It’s a narrative that complains about how superhero comics have changed, while embracing all of their worst aspects.
So why in the hell did Geoff John’s write it?
I don’t think it’s his thinning hairline, but that’s just me. I suspect the real answer lies in the divide between what one wants as a child and gets as an adult. Johns is the dude who really got to live his childhood dream. He grew up a fan of DC Comics and then got to reinvent many of their biggest properties and now sits as one of the most important creative forces for them in comics, television, and movies. That begs the question of how any of this could cause unhappiness.
Well, there’s always a divide between expectation and reality. That’s a lesson that applies in a two-fold manner here, as it goes for the superhero stories that Johns clearly loves and the actuality of a career as a storyteller. It’s about discovering what your childhood fantasies mean both in fiction and reality.
Looking at the former, the fiction, it’s pretty obvious as we grow older that the things we adored as a child are not the same as an adult. It can be as simple as coming to understand cynicism and irony when he hit adolescence, but I think it goes a lot deeper than that. As you continue to study and read any medium or genre, your understanding of it becomes much more complex. You start to see the seams of things that were perfect and inspiring a decade before. The more you attempt to rediscover and capture your early joys, the more likely they are to slip away.
There are a lot of ways to respond to that, but one of the most obvious is with frustration. I think that’s something Johns work evidences in a big way. It’s not just Infinite Crisis, his work on the DC Rebirth Special is all about finding someone to blame for the magic leaving. In that comic he lands on Alan Moore and charges one of the most accomplished comics creators ever with making superheroes dark. It’s a childish claim, but one that he’s rebuilding the entire DC Universe upon in order to make things “better”.
The other half of this equation lies in that storytelling, especially when there are big financial stakes and corporate hierarchy involved is anything but pure. It’s often a negotiation and a battle, as big personalities and concerns beyond the story all become involved. Imagine what it’s like to be put in charge of all of your favorite things then meet resistance, even when you’re sure you know what the best answer is.
Again, frustration is the key. You can see the world the way it ought to be (at least in your eyes), but can’t accomplish everything you imagine even in the positions you dreamed of as a child. Writer isn’t a label that gives limitless potential, but straps you into a much larger machine. That’s what it means to work at publishers like Marvel or DC Comics. You are handling intellectual capital and must answer to stockholders before any higher ideals. It doesn’t prevent them from sometimes creating great art, but it certainly imposes an impediment.
So when you arrive at these sorts of realities, the ones that really disillusion the grandest dreams of your childhood, it’s easy to get frustrated. You won the game, but the trophy isn’t really gold, it’s just heavy. So you have to figure out what to do next.
But here’s the thing: At the end of the day, it’s best not to kill Superboy. There’s a whole generation of readers who can still discover Superboy and love that simple magic before they begin to age too. When you’re going bald, it’s best to embrace that change. Learn to live with your new normal and love the added complexity of your world.
So when superheroes lose their luster and the things you used to love don’t bring you the same joy, it’s time to relax, shave your head, and move on.
Editor’s Note: We think someone gave Chase a bottle of Scotch this week.