This One Time, 73

This one time I was trying to read a graphic novel — yes, Mom, that’s like a comic book, but thicker — and the cat was trying to convince me I should do otherwise, like cats do. The book was propped up on the desk and I was holding it by both sides. The cat was somehow draped from arm to arm, nestled up against my belly, purring and blowing spit bubbles through her drool, and grunting with annoyance whenever I turned a page.

This is the same cat that I swear cracked the bridge of my nose headbutting me awake at 3:30AM a couple of nights ago. I spend too much of my life scooping poop and chiseling up hairballs he’s hidden to find much anything he does cute anymore. Especially when he burns into my insurance deductible and makes people order x-rays of my face. I was able to talk the doctor out of that part (“How about we just pretend this is the 1850s and I just bite down on a handful of tongue depressors while you wiggle it and tell me what you think?) because I need full use of all the brain cells I have left.

Yes, the graphic novel was about superheroes, and, yes, those are pretty frequently wish-fulfillment fantasies acted out by cardboard people of unearthly proportions wrapped in Spandex and hardly anything remotely like literature. But frankly — and I’m talking to you again, Mom — I’ve trolled through the Romance section and flipped through a few. All you’re missing is the Spandex, and that’s only sometimes, and the artists that earn like $75 a page drawing it all out, scene by scene. Comics hardly have the market cornered on cardboard characters, unearthly proportions, and wish-fulfillment.

Yeah, sometimes they’re soap operas interspersed with punch-ups — just like the “professional masked wrestling entertainment” from which they derived, like, a hundred years ago. But not all the time. Sturgeon’s Law — “90% of everything is crap” — applies across the board to everything. So maybe one in ten romances are quite a bit closer to literature. And one in ten comics. Hell, one in ten books of any kind. Frankly I think it’s unfair to give books a head start just because they couldn’t afford a cover artist. Even without a Spandex or ripped-bodice specialty.

And I understand what I’m saying is all being weighted based on the mouth it’s coming out of — an out-of-shape guy who’s life is dominated by his mother who lives less than two miles away and the small incontinent animal he shares his apartment with — an animal of a sort we never actually bothered to domesticate, but just kind of rolled over when they moved in — who beats him up occasionally. I know I’d lose the fight denying the appeal of fantasies of power to affect circumstances and dominance and the occasional interaction with a woman of unearthly proportions wrapped in Spandex might appeal, so I won’t bother.

But where the literature part comes in is that power and resources aren’t distributed evenly across the board, perhaps doled out more generously to the deserving. Perhaps its a good idea to play through “What If?” scenarios to try to guess in advance how things would shake out if power fell into the hands of various sorts of people of various backgrounds and various takes on responsibility and duty and compassion and insight into possible consequences of drastic action. Maybe one in ten, perhaps more frequently if you’re discerning enough about what you consume to seek out storylines from particular writers, you run across a chilling tale that lets you have it straight about what people would do if power actually fell into their hands. Good people, bad people, confused people, heartbroken people, people who have never had a bad thing happen to them ever in their lives, people who have never known anything but misery, people who think they deserve it, people who are sure that they don’t.

It doesn’t take a sledgehammer to tell you that these are the sorts of people that have power over you now. These are your judges and cops and bosses and the movers and shakers that pay for political campaigns and run corporations that bury their trash in your backyard and sweep their dirt so far under the carpet that it doesn’t show up until after page six, if at all. These are the people that end up as despots or freedom fighters, half of whom scrambled hard to take advantage of every opportunity that got them closer to their goals, half of whom had it all thrust into their laps and just want to blow it all away and go fishing. These are your ministers and editors and cable channel programming directors and tour guides and tax assessors and back alley thugs and anybody who can step up to you and make you do anything, anybody who can control what you get to see and hear, which is the same thing.

It wouldn’t make them any more obvious to give them glowing whips and portable cannons and biceps and/or breasts the sizes of their heads wrapped in day-glo Spandex. And all you have to do is look them in the eyes to see which ones are wearing Spandex in their own heads. Those are the ones you have to watch out for.

The big question for comics fans is what superpower you’d want to have and what you’d do with it. Trust me when I say I’ve thought about this a lot. And my answer has finally stopped changing. If I could have any power I want, I want to be able to show anyone I meet what they truly look like to other people. If I felt like being a bastard, maybe I’d carry around a knife to hand over for the wrist-slitting afterward. For the other bastards.

Failing that I’d like to know whatever mystic secrets that would allow me to toilet train twelve-year-old housecats and make them hoof it for hardwood, tile, or linoleum when it was time to hork themselves hollow.


March 14, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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