Saturday, February 26, 2011
My Life and Times (Good and Bad) as told by the Brain of Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond
Imagine yourself at a juncture, with six directions: up, down, and to each of four directions.
Your brain is typically busy conducting the input of your senses, as well as whatever internal train of thought occupies you. Can you imagine: the senses have stopped telling you anything about being in your body. One supposes, being in a coma could be like this, to a degree.
Let me share with you some thoughts, inspired by a comic magazine published in 1975 under the name The Defenders, #32, and sold for twenty-five cents on the same spinner racks as Richie Rich and Wonder Woman. It's a chapter in a story about a man who tries to live as a two-dimensional style of character, a Stan Lee hero (as Alan Moore might say) and finds himself dealing with three dimensional problems, at the very same time he finds himself---removed from it!
Less dimensional heroes have external conflicts, and we know their motive, and their intent to meet that conflict. But here, we have a hero at a most difficult juncture in his life,and in a way, his complication is completely debilitating.
Paradoxically, it's the one way he can hope to face everything that really bothers him. Death is his companion; there's no one closer, you'll see. Death visits vengeance upon Kyle, in the form of the totem he's taken on for his empowerment: the hawk, here on a plane of eternal night.
His figurative experience is his literal experience---because his brain is surgically removed from his body.
His first challenge is dealing with himself on a level beneath action. Who are we, besides, one day, dead people? If we are dying, are we not also being born---just as continuously? Within our eyes, already we see, before they tell us anything. How shocking it can be, to realize we are conscious without any input from our senses. It can only be compared to dreaming, an incomparable way, itself, of thrilling and intriguing ourselves with a construction of awareness. The story here is Kyle's dream of himself, and Death. Which way to go? The magnificent craft here lies in the ability of the artist to make the surreal images entertaining; even if the adult themes are not completely understood, there's a yearning to come to grips with them, and the images here are pieced together in a colorful way, depicting the fantastic and violent confrontations comics were so known for while telling a story outside of juvenile fiction's conventions. For once, the kid's intelligence will not be insulted, nor imagination left dull. Things that scare adults are among the greatest interest to the young---didn't you know?
Kyle begins to envision his childhood, at the sad end of his security. He pictures himself as a child, but throughout his dream, he is dressed as the superhero Nighthawk. He slides down the slide, so fun, speeding from a peak, experiencing gravity, up the stairs, down the slide. Only his downward slide is depicted, because that is the theme of his journey. That is the real opponent he must transcend---for he may never beat death, but in a way, he can outlive it.
But first, he must become acquainted with it. His governess walks up to little Kyle and takes him to his mother's death bed. He has to be the responsible one; he is the man of the house. Dad is away. When Father returns from his travels---a journey into money, for he concentrates upon his worldly wealth---he begins to send Kyle on a
long exile into private schools, where he learns to fight, rebel, and ignore learning. His father, after all, can make the sizeable contribution necessary to open the next door, regardless of anything Kyle does--or doesn't do.
He smarts off about this to a principal, who slaps him. Kyle punches the principal.
It's not until college that Kyle gets a nice girlfriend, a lit major, who challenges him to apply himself. By now, learning is a tangled nightmare.
"So it was back to my usual state: Freefall, with nothing to grab onto...an empty past...no future I could picture..but I did have my own car...and I was old enough to drink." Then he makes a mistake money can't erase, that costs him Mindy's life. Understand, he's realized he's nowhere---but nowhere is really where he's always been found.
Buscema perfectly breaks Gerber's surreal script down into tangible scenes: the soldiers leer and brandish bayonets, taking him for the draft. Vietnam is where he plans ---"plans" is a misnomer, really---to embrace Death. Instead, a heart murmur leaves him 4-F. Hauntingly, Death awaits him in the street outside---to point to his father's death, a televised plane crash featuring a prominent ambassador along with his internationally-important father. His inheritance is good for a little decadence, some jet-setting he doesn't really care about. To this point, his problems have been problems a real person can have---all of them are ones someone has had.
Now his life becomes the comic book story: now he's given an improvement on his heart murmur serum by a cosmic being known as the Grandmaster, which doubles his strength after sunset.
This garish existence is bent for misguided deeds. Violence is still his reaction, still his resolution---yet everything's confronted, while nothing's truly solved.
Perspective: which is more important: Nighthawk, or Death? Death is bigger, but which one matters most?
Not even the story of redemption---to play the savior, and perhaps, to continue his righteous rage, as Nighthawk---could keep him free from tragedy. Misfortune seems to come his way because of who he is; this creates a dissonance in his comfort inside his own skin. Trish Starr, the talented, heartfelt, intelligent girlfriend he just can't quite commit to marry is maimed by a bomb planted in his car. Pennysworth, the man who ran Richmond Industries, funded a racist group's agenda to the point of a bizarre social phenomenon, playing to the baser blames unhappy people embrace, when they feel a lack of dignity between themselves and Death.
Now is the moment for him. With so little hope engendered in his choices...what part of himself must he trust to make decisions?
"The same crossroads I've stood paralyzed at all my life. And I still can't remember HOW I got here..."
This existential crisis, to me, is a fairly ingenious obstacle, a more interesting kind of encounter, because it is of a nature that everyone has. Where our fear and doubts cluster most fiercely, there is our crossroads---where we decide what step we, nonetheless, must take, if we are to be anything other than dead.
Yet again, the image tells the real story. You see, it is darkness all around, save for the paths of blue. Before him, in the direction he faces, lies his shadow---which is significant, but most strikingly, for this:
Behind him, above him, there must be a light. Possibly, that light is the one that shines, as the comics creators, and we the reader, gaze down upon this man, now that we've seen all there is by which to judge him, or more precisely, to delineate his regret. Yet we are one with the light that makes him visible, which gives light to the paths before him. There is not enough light present to make any of the future clear, and the past that places him here involves an agency he cannot know; there is not information regarding that "why." He casts a shadow, because he has reality, and while he is just a vision composed of lines, words, and our feelings, there's a light for his existence. It's not in the direction he's looking; he's looking towards his shadow. He's experiencing his limited spiritual warrior self, alone. By our observation, however, he is not alone in this.