Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #127 by Drew Barth
If good characters are the lifeblood of comics, and fiction in general, then tropes are the muscles that help to get that blood flowing. Comics themselves are defined by their tropes—everything from superhero iconography to the resurrection of long-dead characters is emblematic of comic fiction. But while so many series utilize those tropes within their genre conventions, seeing a series play around with tropes in a more metafictional way can create a sense of self-examination within the medium that is necessary for monthly comics to remain fresh. It’s why a series like Bang! by Matt Kindt, Wilfredo Torres, Nayoung Kim, Bill Crabtree, and Nate Piekos can twist comic fiction around its fingers and show us something vastly different from many other action-oriented series.
Bang!, however, is an action series at its core. It is every action-thriller book series you’ve ever read or watched. From James Bond’s rotating 007s, the shoe-less John McClain, Jessica Fletcher as globe-trotting detective, to so many others from across time and mediums. Each issue of this series dives into the tropes of spies, action heroes, and detectives only to pull them apart by the end as each character is revealed to be only fulfilling a story someone else has written for them. Each issue begins and ends with a page from the books these characters are living through—a script from another universe that they’re having to follow unknowingly. By the last issue, which of course ends on a cliff-hanger, we almost wait for the camera to pan out further to the write of the books being illustrated by the author of the comics themselves to give it that true Morrison-esque meta-twist. While it doesn’t happen yet, you can feel it in your bones that it can happen later.
But what exactly are all these tropes and characters doing here? Kindt, Torres, Kim, Crabtree, and Piekos are dismantling expectations in what is possible with action comics. We all have a certain knowledge of tropes and the assumptions of what will happen when those tropes play out. But then the characters become aware of those tropes and the fact that they’re in these stories written by someone else. How much can they realistically rebel against a story of themselves that has already been written and published elsewhere? Individually, maybe not so much. But as a collective, each aware of where they fit into their own narratives, can begin to push back against the roles of the others and keep each other from dying.
Bang! on its own is pure comic bombast when looking at is splash-page action and bloodshed, but it wants to do so much more with its subject and its medium. Its audience is one that is intimately familiar with the tropes of action-oriented stories, and its plays with those like a fiddle as it leads us into a broader meta-narrative about who the characters are that inhabit these spaces. More and more stories are working toward dismantling and picking apart those conventions and tropes and I only want to see them succeed.
Get excited. Get meta.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.