Friday, July 17, 2015

For One Brief Superheroic Moment

Despite the weird emergencies, Iris West and Barry Allen enjoyed their lives in a sleekly self-assured Central City.

In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison is eloquent in his description of how DC Comics reflected the charm of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and why that couldn’t last long.
Federal officials, anxious about Sputnik despite America’s postwar prosperity, had exhorted the purveyors of children’s entertainment to glamorize science in their stories — a mission that DC editor Julius Schwartz was able to handle deftly, without didacticism.  
“Flash stories were the work of well-adjusted grown-ups who really understood children,” Morrison wrote. “In contrast to the titanic but all too often cruel and cloying sensuality of the Superman and Batman tales, the female leads in (editor Julius) Schwartz books brought a brisk self-assurance to the proceedings.
“In the graceful hands of (Carmine) Infantino or (Gil) Kane, women like Iris Allen, Sue Dibny and Jean Loring were styled in the finest New Look Paris modes. Their hair was cut to keep up with the latest trends. This was partly a result of fallout from the (Comics) Code, which insisted that female characters be realistically proportioned and modestly attired, but it helped turned the Schwartz heroines into hip and pretty exemplars of the Jackie Kennedy style.
“Out of costume, their men wore slacks, blazers and trilby hats or sported short-back-and-sides establishment haircuts. An aesthetic that would one day be called metrosexual was born here in full bloom. They all hung out together, these settled young couples with good jobs, positive can-do attitudes and crime-fighting double lives they still kept secret from their loved ones…”
“They didn’t meet to fight one another, as the later Marvel heroes would do. They didn’t over-emote. They enjoyed picnics, which were routinely disrupted by oddly small-scale, almost polite alien invasions — the kind easily repelled by the deployment of some quirky science fact that rendered the invaders vulnerable to common table salt or H2O. Their sexuality was never dubious or in doubt. Relaxed, cosmopolitan, they represented the epitome of our Kennedy Man, our postwar Madison Avenue pioneer astronaut American role model. Hopeful in the clear light of the morning of the Sun King. Poignant in their certainty.
“And then the president was dead. The golden walls of Camelot collapsed, flimsy as any stage set, to reveal the bloody screaming mires of Vietnam beyond, where two million potential astronauts, artists, poets, musicians and scientists were being lined up to die in the sacrifice of an American generation.
“And with that came the new turn of the wheel, the biggest revolution of all.
“The Marvel superheroes had arrived.”

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