Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Comics, Metafiction, Theology. The Things I Normally Think About

So I finished Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man today.  Did I tell you this already?  Oh well.  I knew it got trippy at the end, but I didn't know just how much.  Especially since it started out so mundane and, well, mostly normal.  It didn't seem like anything to special.  Until the end of the run of 26 issues when it began folding back to things happening in the very first few issues.  The dude had it all planned out.  Or at least tied it all back together.

It was a wonderful piece of meta fiction.  Animal Man eventually begins to realize he is in a comic book, and the last issue is him and Morrison talking about that fact.  Yeah, and it also deals with a lot of the Crisis On Infinite Earth maxi-series in the 80's where DC tried to reconjigger their continuities so it all kinda made sense.  This inevitably led to many old and obscure characters being completely wiped from the existence/history on the in-story continuity of the DC Universe.  Except in Animal Man there's one crazy guy that remembers it all, and his memories start to bring them back to life.
It actually covers some of the same ground that the three-part South Park episode "Imaginationland" addresses.  I don't know if you ever saw that.  But it deals with stories, and characters, and the notion of "real."  In South Park, a character points to Santa Clause, I think, and opines that of course Santa is real.  Santa's been around long before I was ever born, and he'll be around long after I'm dead.  If anything, Santa is more real than I am.

Morrison addresses the issue in a similar manner.  His run on Animal Man was during the end of the 1980s.  But Animal Man was originally (and still kinda is) an old and rather obscure character that first appeared in 1965.  In his final issue, Morrison tells Animal Man that he was only a boy when Animal Man was first created.  But because of these stories, Animal Man will be around long after Morrison is gone.  In a way, the character becomes more real than the creator that writes his stories.  This is only compounded the more people read and remember these stories and characters.

You know me.  I'm flesh and blood.  I'm real.  Harry Potter is not.  He's just a fictional character.  But millions and millions of people have read, watched, and experienced in some way the life of Harry Potter.  There may be a couple hundred, maybe a couple thousand or so, people that are aware of my existence.  But millions of people are aware of Harry Potter.  Millions of people know him intimately.  And that collective unconscious breathes much more life into Harry Potter than I'll ever have.  Especially because his stories are likely to always live on.  At least for a long long time after I'm gone.

So who's more "real?"

This is what I think about when I read comics.  And I'm starting to think like this when I read the Bible.  And part of me is starting to wonder, at least hypothetically, if the Bible could also be a form of meta fiction.  Well, maybe meta fiction isn't quite the right label for this idea.  But what if it, or any other story, isn't so much an account of people or history or ideas, but an intentional tool to tap into our collective unconsciousness and shape it and form it.  Instead of reality shaping the story, the story shapes reality.  Think about it.  How much of the past 2000 years -- culture, politics, history, society -- has been shaped by the story of a man dying on a cross?

This is a little bit of something The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross is also getting into.  The last issue seemed to note that Jewish people, in particular, tend to tell stories that change the world.  Moses.  Jesus.  Superman.

Oh, the new issue of The Unwritten comes out today.  I'll definitely have to pick that up.  There may be some Wednesday Theology in it.

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