Friday, March 14, 2008

For the Love of Crap

I have, I have discovered, a remarkable threshold for crap. Some of the narratives and characters I have a great deal of affection for are really, by any objective measure, incredibly cheesy to be generous.

I've thought about this recently as I completed The Essential Silver Surfer V.1 and am half way through The Essential Ghost Rider V.1. I have a vast and equally cheesy collection of original recordings of the radio drama The Shadow.

I could pass this off as nostalgia, I became a fan of these characters when I was young and 'didn't know any better.' But I don't know that that is the case. I watched and loved G.I. Joe and when I had an opportunity to watch it again as an adult I found them unwatchable. Even The A-Team, with the always enjoyable Mr. T was stomach groaningly bad. An episode of MacGuyver made me question my judgment.

But are these characters whom I continue to hold such affection really all that different? The Shadow can get down right goofy-I remember an episode where a man creates a TV that can see in any room he desires. Lamont Cranston's back and forths with the easily frustrated Commissioner Weston are so riddled with naked winks to Cranston's alter ego that it seems ridiculous to think that Weston remains unaware of them. (It has led to, on occasion, me imagining that Weston is in fact aware that The Shadow is in fact wealthy man about town Lamont Cranston and has just decided that allowing his delusion would be easier than trying to tell him. Sometimes I go further and assume that The Shadow's lauded ability to 'cloud mens minds' is all in his head and it's only his staunch conviction that he's able to that throws his opponents off balance. "Don't bother looking for me, I've clouded your mind to make me invisible." "Is he kidding with that? He's standing right there with that big hat and goofy scarf? What's the gag?")

The Ghost Rider spends the first 60 issues of his run being protected by the purity of his girlfriend Roxanne Simpson from the devil's remarkably focused desire to capture the soul of Johnny Blaze. From a rather intriguing start where the devil makes him battle his raised from the dead adoptive father (who, in a healthy dose of the goofy, masquerades as 'Curly,' charismatic leader of a motorcycle gang. Predictably, motorcycle gangs play a pretty constant role in early Ghost Rider stories.

He fights demons like Roulette, Demon of Las Vegas, a NASCAR promoter killed by Vegas casino owners and resurrected by Satan in a ploy to get at Johnny Blaze that I still don't understand how was supposed to work.

Silver Surfer's preachy earnestness leaks over every page while he battle Mephisto (read:Satan) who is offended by the very existence of some so 'pure at heart.' (a theme, apparently, in Marvel comics of the late sixties and early seventies...). I was surprised a bit that Mephisto was actually created as a Silver Surfer villain.

What is the pull, the allure of these characters that hasn't managed to save G.I. Joe or The A-Team? I wonder if it's wishful thinking, a desire that the characters in some parallel universe are as interesting as I want them to be. Me and Sous Rature have talked about the stories we'd tell with some of these characters, or with Sous Rature's cheesy favorite ROM. Perhaps it's the earnestness that goes into the characters, that same earnestness that has made Spiderman one of the most popular super heroes.

I don't really have an answer. I just know that I can't wait for The Essential Silver Surfer V.2 and The Essential Ghost Rider V.3 (I already have V.2) come out. And sitting quietly on my hard drive for those moments of needed fix is every original pulp short stories of The Shadow...

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