Transformaciones 004: El Cuarto Movimiento

Un análisis denso al legado de los comics de superhéroes y lo que se espera del género en el futuro.

“Transformaciones” es el título que le he dado a un grupo numeroso de publicaciones que he recopilado a lo largo de mi vida siendo aficionado a los comics, y que iremos compartiendo paulatinamente dentro de este blog. Algunas de ellas datan de décadas atrás y en los albores del Internet como plataforma de expresión escrita, incluyendo artículos de opinión, entrevistas y contribuciones esenciales en los años mozos de la “blogósfera”, repleta de voces con gran poder y con algo que decir acerca de este hobby que tanto nos apasiona. Todas ellas diseccionan al mundo de los comics desde diferentes aristas y matices. Algunos de ellos representan un retrovisor bastante interesante, y necesario para entender a su evolución como manifestación de las artes y plataforma multi-género. Sin mayor preámbulo, continuamos…


El laureado guionista de comics Warren Ellis ha dedicado gran parte de su carrera a analizar con profundidad a los paradigmas que le dan forma y fondo a la industria del arte secuencial. En sus artículos de opinión desmenuza sus problemas inherentes, las áreas de oportunidad a atacar y los vicios a exterminar. Sus contribuciones como un todo forman un contexto muy interesante y el cual, sin temor a equivocarnos, informa y da sentido a escritos mucho más célebres y de su autoría tales como Pop Comics y The Old Bastard Manifesto, los cuales a partir del año 2000 fueron el punto de quiebre para la introducción definitiva de la obra de autor multigénero en el mundo de los comics, y a través de formatos autocontenidos y económicamente viables.

“SUPREME y el Cuarto Movimiento” es un análisis denso al legado de los comics de superhéroes y lo que se espera del género en el futuro.

De nueva cuenta, este texto prefigura la intención de una obra posterior como PLANETARY, siendo una herramienta de exploración, arqueología y antropología del superhéroe y su lugar en el mundo, pero con una energía, inventiva y sentido de asombro lo suficientemente diferente para abandonarlo por completo.

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SUPREME and The Fourth Movement
February 20 1997

The First Movement of superhero comics began with Superman and Batman. The Second Movement began with the revamping of DC heroes in the late Fifties, gained momentum with the Sixties launch of the Marvel Comics Group. The birth of the Third Movement is fuzzier; somewhere between Frank Miller on DAREDEVIL and Alan Moore on MARVELMAN, but warning shots were fired in the late 1970’s. We stand today at the close of the Third Movement.

The 1990’s have been a quick quiet decade, quite unlike the thunder and lightning of the 1980’s. There was something loose in the 1980’s, as Bruce Sterling would have it; a decade of fear and loathing. The decade of grim postmodernism, that informed cyberpunk fiction as well as comics, and led both to the screaming stomp of 1988 rock and the heartless hedonism of the technologically-revitalised dance music. The Eighties were loud and hard. The Nineties are fractured.

What we’re finding, though, in all forms of popular culture, is that we have reached a point, here on the edge of the end of history, where we can look back on history with sense. We’re far enough away from an awful lot of things, now, that we can see them with a new clarity.

Superhero comics, like everything else, is standing at that point of fracture and distance. The opening shots of the Fourth Movement have been heard; early chords struck, the sound of instruments tuning up for the music that’ll take us through into the 21st Century.

These first notes are the sound of retrenchment, of re-evaluation and reconstruction. James Robinson’s STARMAN and THE GOLDEN AGE, Kurt Busiek’s MARVELS and ASTRO CITY, Alan Moore’s 1963 and SUPREME. All of these pieces couch themselves very deliberately within the medium’s history. It makes a degree of sense. Just as the most modern of dance bands are looking back on what came before them and finding they can pick and choose elements of the past in order to make a more modern music… these people are trying hard to make a new sound using a mix of old and new instruments.

Robinson, with STARMAN, finds himself at a point in superhero comics where he can actually create a generational saga within the genre. His THE GOLDEN AGE is set deeply within history itself, telling a tale of 1940’s characters with modern skills, using them as a tool to dissect post-World War Two paranoias—the same paranoias that killed superhero comics not too long after. In MARVELS, Busiek discovers enough extant history within the Marvel Universe to tell a story that spans nearly an entire lifetime for his protagonist. And in ASTRO CITY, only the re-invention of sixty year’s-worth of superhero movements will carry the weight he requires to bring off his mass re-examination of the gaps within the genre; the quiet moments, the personal intimacy, the thought processes of the movers and the moved.

Alan Moore’s version of this I find particularly interesting, as he was one of the chief architects of the Third Movement (which implies there was a plan to the Eighties wave, which I doubt, though Alan has insisted otherwise to me, through my mocking laughter). He’s characterised his current superhero work as “atonement” for the Third Movement excesses his work led to through influence. We know he’s joking, but still there is a sense of him trying to find a way through his previous concerns with the genre (and the cultural environment of the 1980’s, which had as much to do with the tone of WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT as anything else), out into brighter country. Can’t blame him. The Eighties were a miserable decade, real spirit-crushing years. You might have had Reagan, but we had Thatcher. I still say it’s a bloody miracle that any character in English-written comics during the Eighties even smiled.

The Nineties are something different. The culture as a whole is more interested in big playful ideas. It’s more of a play decade, in fact. When we can get paranoia packaged up for us as TV entertainment, you know nobody’s taking anything terribly seriously. Hell, when John Major and Bill Clinton can get elected, you know nobody’s taking anything terribly seriously.

And it’s my suspicion that that’s what Alan’s taken from the decade; that’s the lesson learned. The playfulness of the year and of the genre in past. Big insane ideas, delivered by the hundredweight. “Mad and beautiful ideas,” as he says himself. For, while Alan’s SUPREME concerns itself with history and social context like the others mentioned, it also makes use of the compressed, dense ideation of the First and Second Movements; something from the days when there were fewer pages to play with, and the audience were not yet conditioned to multi-part, or never-ending, storylines.

All this is also known as “The Sense Of Wonder.”

It doesn’t come from one big idea alone, but from a rain of them, one after the other, presented and tossed. Here you go; a city in a bottle, a doorway into another universe that you can dive through, a planet with the mobile face of an old man, a depiction of time as a tunnel with the years printed on the ring-casements, one after the other, bang bang bang. The sense of wonder—the shock of huge ideas hitting you constantly, and of wondering what the hell comes NEXT…

That’s what people are getting out of SUPREME, in its examination of old stories—an imaginative energy. I don’t think it is the kitsch thing, or the cleverness of the re-examination. I think it’s the sheer energy of that hammering of mad and beautiful ideas.

And I think it’s that that the Fourth Movement will take back. The sheer beautiful power of intense imagination. The use of the medium’s history & older styles will fade, save for formal experimentation. It’ll have to. Because, with an approach of dense invention, the question will soon be asked—why aren’t we doing this in a new and definitively modern context? Why aren’t we applying this to creating the thrill of, say, picking up FF #1 in 1960whatever? That utter, dazzling newness? And that’ll be the first book of the Fourth Movement. I await it with interest.

Warren Ellis
February 20 1997

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