The Death of Irony? . . . no, just a Moratorium on Cynicism

Leave it to the geniuses over at the New York Times to sort of pre-empt my intentions here in their typically incisive fashion. Satisfied in my intention to present our readers with a penetrating expose on the need for a cessation of cynicism in dealing with matters reflecting the American political scene in comics, I happen to come across Andy Newman's report on the death of irony. It appears that irony is a lot like Superman, or maybe Robin, or any other superhero who has died and yet lives (only to die again, in this case), in that I seem to recall the proclamations of the end of the age of irony in the months and years following Terrible Tuesday of 2001. Of course irony is not the same as cynicism and reporting the death of irony is only cursorily related to demanding the end of cynicism. In any event, it seems that perhaps Joan Didion might need to read these words as much as anyone else, and with that in mind, I dedicate this post to her.

Parallels to the mainstream media aside, these ruminations came as a result of our discussion of Cable #8. In what was an otherwise excellent issue in a consistently excellent series, there was a scene in which Emma is subjecting Bishop to a particularly egregious form of telekinetic interrogation, the effect of which is described as feeling "like his brain is shutting down, one synapse at a time." The exchange between Beast and Cyclops at this juncture plays out like a set piece from the hopefully never-to-be-released Bush administration movie in which the shrinking violet Colin Powell character "stands up" to the sexier, more manly Don Rumsfeld character, only to find out he hasn't been cast in the sequel.

As Brandon pointed out in his comment to the post, the objection to this sequence has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the discussion or the way in which it is handled in this particular comic, but rather that in light of the election of Barack Obama and its implications for this country, continuing to call attention to the Bush administration's dubious anti-terror tactics feels cynical and ultimately sort of dishonest. Certainly the magnitude of Obama's victory has as much to do with the deplorable state of the national economy as it does with the backlash to Bush's morally suspect prosecution of the terror war. Be that as it may, Americans, for better or worse, still believe in the fundamental position the rule of law occupies in our country and this fact was no doubt reflected in Obama's convincing plurality.

The irony--if I may still use that word--of our original response to this issue is that both Brandon and I took particular aim at Brian Wood's DMZ in our expressions of indignation. DMZ is only the most visible of the numerous political comics that have dealt directly with the legacy of 9/11 and the conquest and occupation of Iraq. DMZ makes sort of an easy target because the stances it has taken have tended to the non-controversial in the sense that they comport neatly with those of the country's nascent pseudo-anarchist anti-war movement. It was only in retrospect--a result of Monique's expressing interest in the new series--that it occurred to me that far from ignoring the developments in the American political scene, Brian Wood has essentially been foreshadowing these developments through subtle shifts in the series' focus.

In addition to the details Brandon mentions in his DMZ House Party List post, one of the great things about this new story is how the subtle shifts in the art and narrative focus away from Manhattan, in favor of Staten Island subtly reflects the radical shift that the focus on the American presence in Iraq will be taking with the new administration. The hook of Wood's story is that the American and Free States forces stationed on or near Staten Island recognize that they don't really have any personal investment in this fight and that the war will be ending soon and when it does, they will have to go back to being neighbors with their erstwhile enemies. Thus, it makes more sense for the opposing sides to operate under an unofficial truce, which in turn allows them to enjoy their youth without the ever-present fear that each day might well be their last, than to continue meaningless hostilities, which will only result in pointless loss of life.

The connection of this construction to the emerging situation in Iraq is not immediately clear, and therein lies its particular genius. After eight years of George W. Bush effectively living every boy/president's dream of war president as international tough, Barack Obama will have to step in to do all of the unglamorous, and frankly boring work of pulling out and putting our military--and hopefully Iraq--back together. The soldiers on Staten Island have a similarly forward-looking--and similarly unsexy--attitude toward their deployment on the Island.

Moreover, the spirit of cooperation between once fierce rivals also reflects the increasing commitment to peaceful coexistence between Sunni and Shi'a Iraqis that one senses is the real reason for the decreased tensions in that country--troop surge notwithstanding. The suggestion of the collapse of the island's utopian arrangement at issue's end, rather than nullifying the point being made, speaks to the fact that Wood is writing a comic book whose success turns on its ability to engender suspense and enjoyment on the part of its readers.

Wood's attention to the shifting winds of American politics doesn't begin with "The Island." The recently concluded series about the election of the populist hero Parco Delgado is at base a story of the power of the human spirit in the face of incredible tragedy. The fact that Parco's story is most emphatically not Obama's does nothing to lessen the series' prophetic power.

In his Defence of Poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley writes, in typically high-flown manner, that poets--and we include comics creators in this equation--are "the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration, the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present, the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves; the unacknowledged legislators of the world." That Shelley's, and by extension our own, ideals for the poet/comics creator are ambitious speaks to our shared confidence in the power of our chosen medium.

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