The most depraved and sick comic books are healthy and possibly even necessary. This is a difficult article to write, and I’m not sure if this is going to go down too well, but it needs saying. These comic books are doing us a public service, helping us to live out our most dangerous fantasies in a safe environment which harms no one else. This way, when we can accept our unacceptable selves, we’re able to let go of them and move on.
As a child, every school report card I ever had complained about my tendency to stare out the window and disappear into my own world. Once I started to read comic books, my fantasies got a lot more interesting. I could escape my tiny little girl body and pretend I was the Hulk, indiscriminately smashing and crashing through life, or the Angel, flying away on graceful wings. As I got older, my fantasies got more complex and confusing and I realized that comic books were no longer just a way to supplement my fantasies, but an effective way to live them out in an alternate reality. Now that I’m an adult, I still like to use comic books to experience the fantasies I have which are at odds with the kind of world I want to live in, without actually having to inflict them on my environment.
In the main I’m a pacifist, I abhor violence. I recognize our shared humanity, and consider the fate of the world entirely dependent on our shared happiness and success. I want to help people. If we all start degrading and hurting each other, then what kind of environment will we create? Our society runs best when we can trust each other, when we feel safe and cared for. Unfortunately I’m an angry pacifist. My empathy and understanding is only part of me, the other part doesn’t give a toss. That aspect of my personality doesn’t care why people do the things that adversely affect me, it just wants to crush them.
So there I am, wrestling with my principles, and the conflicting desire (for example) to tear my upstairs neighbors limb-from-limb because they are completely unable to take their empty trash cans in after trash day. I resolve these conflicting desires by living out my anger and fury via my fantasies in my comic book reading tastes, so that I can move on, without exacting them upon the world. Briefly diving wholeheartedly into my depraved fantasy life through the harmless medium of comic books, no one is hurt by my fantasies and I can then let them go. Denial and suppression of these feelings would only give them more power, so by immersing myself in a comic book fantasy I can stop the fight against my own nature, and move on to my more peaceful, loving thoughts about my fellow humans.
There’s a reason that I suggest comic books as the medium for this fantasy life. It works incredibly well, far better than reading a novel or watching movies. Like novels, comic books are personal, intimate and exist most powerfully in the imagination, but they aren’t as abstract or removed as the simple words on a page can become. Like movies, comic books are visual and immediate, but they do not involve a cast or crew in potentially denigrating or uncomfortable fantasies. It is the combination of these two mediums which lives in comic books to create a perfect experience. Simultaneously, we can hypothesize that it acts as a fantasy-based release for the comic book creators themselves too. For example, Robert Crumb fantasized about sex with headless women, among other disturbing things, and while some people might find this kind of thing entirely unacceptable, it’s important to recognize that not only did he use his art to live out his fantasies in a safe environment, but he also gave the world art that provided a place to explore feelings about things that would otherwise be completely disgusting.
At various times I’ve fantasized about experience the savage violence of an animal like Wolverine in his berserker rages, or the brute power of a massive Hulk, smashing and losing control. There are definitely those times when I wanted to have Elektra‘s ninja skills, her silent shout and subtle mind-control abilities seemed fantastic. Most recently, I’ve found strange pleasure in Garth Ennis’ Punisher. Ennis invested the Punisher, (who is already a ridiculously violent, judgmental character) with an incredible, unrelentingly vicious single-mindedness. But rather than making him two-dimensional, he creates a character who is unrelentingly driven. It’s is somehow so deeply satisfying, that I can only envy him. His perfect commitment to the mission and his inability to perceive gray areas seems almost freeing, it allows him to judge and destroy any and all wrong doings. While I’m actively opposed to the death penalty in life, in my fantasy it is almost a relief to watch him methodically murder drug dealers. It’s a satisfying fantasy for me, and I’m not about to question why.