Heroes Never Rust #52 by Sean Ironman
Choice Over Power
he other day I was driving down I-4 and thinking about Harry Potter and how much I don’t give a shit. Living in Orlando, I can’t escape all this talk about the new section of Harry Potter opening at Universal Studios. I was given the first book a couple of years ago, but I’ve only read the first chapter. Yeah, yeah, I know I should read it. I’ve been hearing that since the first movie was released. But I just don’t care. I thought most of the movies ranged from bad to okay, with a couple of them being good.
So I’m driving and thinking about how I don’t care about Harry Potter and I don’t want to read the books and I figured out why. I hate the character of Harry Potter. I think the story would be much more interesting if he was killed toward the beginning and Hermione, who is clearly the best character in the story, had to fight against Voldemort and his gang. I don’t care for characters who are special. Something happened to Harry Potter that he had no control over and now he’s some special kid who’s the only one who can defeat the great big bad guy. Give me a break. I know it’s not quite fate, but it’s close. I don’t like characters who are special so that they are the only ones who can save the day. It’s boring.
Yet, I love the X-Men, a group of superheroes born with superpowers. For a minute, I was stumped. How can I dislike a story that focuses on a character who’s in a situation he has no control over and like a story that focuses on characters who are in a situation they have no control over?
In 2002, there was a mini-series called Muties. The difference between a mutant and Harry Potter, in regards to my earlier issue, is that mutants might get superpowers, but that doesn’t make them superheroes. They are hated and feared for who they are. They are killed for who they are. If Harry Potter was born a wizard, and then had adventures just based on that, I might be into it. But being some special kid makes me think of greater issues in our society, of people thinking they’re special. No one is special. But that’s my own issues.
Back to Muties. The mini-series presented the daily life of mutants in the Marvel Universe, away from the X-Men. What’s it like to have mutant powers without having Professor Xavier and his school? Each of the six issues focused on a different character, unrelated to the other issues, and was drawn by a different artist. The first issue focused on Jared, a boy who was smart enough to skip three grades. As the youngest in high school, he’s picked on and doesn’t have many friends. His single friend is a girl he’s crushing on named Kate. The basic plot is young Jared likes Kate, but he walks in on Kate making out with one of the bullies. Jared asks Dunk, a bully who is having Jared do his homework, if he could get his friend to lay off Kate so Jared could have a shot. Dunk refuses and beats Jared. Then, poor Jared makes a poor decision. He gets his father’s gun and brings it to school. He fires at Kate, her boyfriend, and Dunk, killing Kate and Dunk. Then, Jared is taken to jail.
That’s the story. It’s not much on plot, but I don’t know if you noticed, I didn’t mention anything about a mutant. Jared is not a mutant. He’s smart, but smart just like a lot of kids. He doesn’t have telepathy. He just reads a lot. The only mutant that’s in the story is Dunk, and he’s not shown to be a mutant until the very end when Jared shoots him. Dunk, a star basketball player, stretches like Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four. He doesn’t use it to save the day. He doesn’t stretch to protect his friend or Kate. He’s desperate, reacting, trying to save his life. Being born with mutant powers hasn’t made him special. It won’t save him. If anything, he’s had to live in secret, keep his power hidden. After Dunk is shot, the students say, “Jared stopped him” and “You saved us, man.” Poor Dunk was hanging out in the hall, talking with friends. He wasn’t using his powers. But that doesn’t matter in this universe because mutants suck. Even the title of the comic, Muties, is a derogatory term for mutants.
Issue one has an interesting art style where the pages change style. The first page is in a painted-style with no gutters. It’s a full-page shot of the high school with a small panel laid on top, with a thin black border. The second page is another full page painted shot of Jared in class. Then, the third page showing a scene in class features panels without a tight border on a loose-leaf background. The panels change from a painted style to tight pencils. The lines from the loose-leaf run into the panels. It’s like the notes Jared takes in class. We’re getting closer to his point-of-view.
Most pages stick to one art style, but later, the styles start to overlap. Whenever we need to get closer to Jared and his viewpoint, the notepad style returns. On one page, his drunk father sends him to the store to get more frozen dinners. The page is painted when we are far from Jared, but the one panel of him at the store, upset he’s had to go out again for his father, is back to the notepad. It’s also the first panel on the page that gives us a few words of interiority. To sympathize with someone who will kill two people by the end of the issue, the reader needs to really feel for Jared. The change in art style allows an almost silent method to understand his motivation. Words are kept too a minimum throughout.
When I read a great comic, there ends up being a page or two that I can recall for years afterward. The opening of the second volume of Maus with Art Spiegelman and his drafting table on a pile of corpses, for example. Or when Magneto says, “I can’t. I’m concentrating,” and rips Apocalypse in half at the end of the Age of Apocalypse. Here, it’s the two pages with Dunk being shot and the aftermath. The first panel on the page is in the painted style of Dunk stretching to get out of the way of Jared’s fire. Then, the second goes to a panel closer to most comics. The gun in Jared’s hand is three times the size. This panel is where Dunk is shot and killed. My reading of it is that we are in Jared’s mind here. He’s thinking of himself as a hero gunning down one of those evil muties. On the next page, when one of the students thanks Jared for killing Dunk, the art style returns to the notebook style, minus the loose-leaf blue lines. We’re closer to Jared there. When Jared realizes that Kate was gunned down too, the comic starts to distance itself from Jared’s point of view and returns to the painted style of the first couple of pages. Again, comics can’t just rely on text. The visual medium requires more than just someone drawing pictures in panels. Muties shows us what it’s like to be a mutant. A kid can shoot one in the hall of a high school and people congratulate him. When he shoots a regular person, that’s when things turn sour. Being able to stretch didn’t save Dunk. He wasn’t meant for something greater. He just wanted to live like every other kid, and when he’s killed, people are glad, even though he never caused any of them harm.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) 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.