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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 02/18/2002
Volume 2, Number 24

Who's Spoofing Whom?

I've been on a long vacation from this column. During that time, I had various kinds of business to attend to, mostly to do with writing. And I've become a lot clearer about something that I'd like to pass on to you. It has to do with radiance. And being clearer, well, that just means more radiance is coming through.

Radiance is an interesting and often misunderstood word. For example, when I think of an archtypal comic strip personality like Superman, the word radiance, er, shines forth.

Consider, for example, Superman's x-ray vision. Jerry Siegel equipped his original Superman with that gift. And as we went through war and depression and emerged finally into a brighter, more radiant world, it really was more radiant, more hope-filled, despite the Cold War that followed. Because the United Nations was born, and a new ethos began as the Marshall Plan slowly reconstituted Europe from which our own North American civilization evolved, and out of which also is emerging one of the most remarkable events since the Renaissance, the true unification of Europe as symbolized in the recent appearance of the Euro. The importance of this has been overshadowed by the "war on terror" which, if I may dare challenge the popular conception is more accurately a war between two concepts of society that has been going on for centuries, blazing up, then fading down a bit, but has always been essentially a struggle between two visions of humanity, one of which is associated with revealed truth in the hands of an elected few, and the other with the grace of individuality, a grace that knows the infinite through the finite, through the personal self. Without here going into a very complex topic (which I certainly intend to go into in a slow, careful and balanced manner as these columns proceed), I thought I'd simply mention it. The war on terror is an unhappy flareup in an old struggle. For now, perhaps we'll understand this better as we examine the word "radiance" right here on the ground.

Before I go any further, let me mention that that ultimate horror of radiation, the nuclear bomb, does not fall into the same category as radiation which is a natural phenomenon, a thing that goes on in the entire heat exchange of the universe as measured by Plank's constant. Radiation is something associated with light, with warmth with brightness. And even with burning. Yes, the sun can burn. And the radiance of the sun is indeed a nuclear phenomenon. But a nuclear weapon, though utilizing a similar process, is the ultimate negation of radiance. It is nullity horribly disguised as light You might even say, it's the dark side of light.

Fission is not radiation. Neither is fusion. Even though a deadly radiance results from it. You see, true radiance has to do with positioning as well as bursts or quanta of energy. The sun gives off a deadly radiance, but that deadliness is undirected. By the time it reaches us, it is benign. Igniting a nuclear weapon is a decision made by creatures of light to snuff out the light. It is not a negative of light, since as Hegel has said, there is no absolute negative, only the negative of a particular positive. I won't belabor this any further here. There are complexities involved that I'll be glad to go into on the Round Table.

When World War II was ending, certain changes also had to take place in popular culture. Even Superman enjoyed a slow, barely noticeable evolution. X-ray vision expanded to include almost all the other aspects of radiation, such as, for example, "power vision" "heat vision", and Superman's personality took on a more radiant, less menacing, since he had no war to fight anymore, aspect. He became the gentle savior, the lamb rather than the lion, the rescuer, the guardian angel. I was the main writer during this period, at least up to the mid-fifties, but I didn't plan it that way. It's the way things were. And then, around 1958, my last year in comics, in a discussion with Mort Weisinger, the idea came up in which Superman's pure radiance seemed almost too much. How can you really have radiance without a dark side to clarify it. At least that was the way I saw it. All consciousn ess, all creation, is an act of division. Nothing grows except by dividing. Consciousness cannot know itself except by standing outside itself. Superman, in the comfortable world of the fifties, was so radiant, he was almost unnoticeable. He needed a dark side. A doppelganger. A negative Superman. Remember, this was the period in which Reisman wrote The Lonely Crowd, a work that bemoaned the dull, comfortable, dreary neo-suburban conformity of the time. Of course, we know now that the wild sixties were lurking just around the bend.

But in those dull fifties, I created Bizarro. A dark creature, but only in the sense that he (and his kind) was dark to himself. All his abilities were like Superman's. But without light. He lacked vision, a sense of order, a clarity of purpose. He was an unradiant Superman. And above all, he was not evil. Evil is an absolute. Bizarro is simply a negative of something positive. Through Bizarro and his ilk, Superman becomes more real, in the sense that his radiance becomes more visible. In practical terms, Bizarro is a means of joking about Superman. Otherwise, in today's world, at least up until September 11th, he is hard to notice or take seriously, not without his double. Not without a good spoof. In the recent issue of DCs Bizarro # 1 Book, the spoof extends to the entire superhero world. What could be more necessary?

Hey, I wrote the lone Bizarro story in that book. That's part of the spoof, that I'm still a comics writer.

In case you thought I was, take another look. Go to the Alvin Schwartz Store on this site and get yourself a copy of The Blowtop. It's a new edition of the novel that started the beat movement. It really did. And me, I'm still a beatnik. That's why I sometimes write comics.

--Alvin

<< 10/22/2001 | 02/18/2002 | 02/25/2002 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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