Heroes Never Rust #21 by Sean Ironman
Roles and Expectations
In the first issue of Gødland by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli, the hero, Adam Archer, fights Maxim, a dog-like alien creature who had just arrived on Earth. Like superheroes such as Spider-Man, Archer taunts the alien. But then he thinks, “Christ…Why do I keep talking smack like that?” Archer is an American astronaut, who was the lone survivor of Man’s first trip to Mars and gained his powers from an alien ship found underground there. He’s not hotheaded. He’s not really out to prove himself. He’s a scientist and a mature adult. He gained his powers from the Cosmic Fetus Collective and was sent back to Earth as the first person to be touched by universal enlightenment. Yet, he falls into the role of the action hero and what a person expects from a superhero.
Gødland is heavily inspired from Jack Kirby’s Eternals and The Fourth World series, with a bit of The Fantastic Four thrown in there. Humanity isn’t trusting of Adam Archer and his newfound abilities upon his return to Earth and the American government keeps an eye on him, giving him the Infinity Tower, similar to the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building, The comic itself (the art, the layout, the coloring) takes after Kirby and other cosmic comics from the 1970s. In the past decade, there seems to be a lot of comics that are going back to the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s for inspiration. The 1980s pushed superhero comics into darker and more challenging areas with stories like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Daredevil: Born Again. Now, they seem to be coming back, finding a middle ground. Genres always seem to be searching for a new avenue.
Re-reading Gødland has me wondering if we can ever find something new, or if we’ll always come back to what we know. Not only is the comic itself going back to decades-old sources, but the characters inside purposely act like the superheroes we know, like Adam Archer’s taunting. Years ago, the comedian Drew Carey had refractive surgery to correct his vision and no longer needed his glasses, but he continued to wear them so that the audience knew who he was. Could we recognize a superhero without the superhero tropes we have been raised on? Adam Archer is the perfect human being, yet he falls back into the role of a protector who is feared by those he is protecting. Is it possible to be a superhero where a hero only has superpowers? Or must they have a high-tech base of operations, a small family, work from a government that they both love and hate, and even an alliterative name?
When I think about superheroes in the real world, which will happen one day, I think society will eventually force them into the role of what we think of as a superhero. They would be required to wear a costume, which will be called a costume, even if unofficially, instead of a uniform. We will expect them to be our superman, to save us, to be morally greater than we are.
For the past few months, due to other creative works I’m exploring, I’ve grown curious about this idea of the institutions we create ultimately confine us, and I can see that in superheroes. Even supervillains. The supervillains in volume one of Gødland are a good example of creatures being placed in the role of comic book supervillains. Basil Cronus, a skull with a robotic body that can be controlled remotely, is on a quest for the ultimate high, just a really enhanced drug addict in a way. Discordia, who tortures her victims only because she derives so much pleasure from it, states during a trail, “I am a super-villain. I’m fairly certain that anyone who knows me…knows that.” She says that to the attorney defending her as well as that she “merely want to inflict pain upon him” in regards to one of his defense strategies. She plays into the idea of being a supervillain. She’s proud of it. Basil and Discordia are not the gray characters who are doing bad for good reasons. They are bad just to be bad. This is not a complaint about Gødland, just an observation. I think it works quite well within the confines of the Gødland universe.
If a superhero will come one day, in the real world that is, then a supervillain will comes as well. Like comics have explored for many years now, there will be an escalation. Superheroes may start being just a person who helps others and eventually be taken over by the superhero concept of a base of operations, a costume, a cool secret identity. Supervillains will follow suit, it seems. Life will be like a comic book. I wouldn’t live in New York City. They seem to get the worst of it.
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.