Who Should Write Superman? Pt. 9
April 6, 2007
It was a simpler era the last time we did one of these installments. Brandy Taylor was still dominating the Yesterday’s Salad charts, and a weird hugger was the Republican front runner for the presidency, and not a cross-dresser. In fact, the 2008 election seemed so far away that we were doing regular political coverage as a sort of joke; it was all part of our love of the obscure. Now Mandrake is sequestered, actually working for a political candidate, while he bides his time analyzing the ‘010 midterms. For now a preview of those races remains a desideratum.
Most of our dream Superman writers are the type of people who plan large, epic stories, whether outlandish (Pynchon) or just run-of-the-mill pseudo-outlandish (Zadie Smith). With the exception of Jhumpa Lahiri, we’ve selected nary an author who focuses on character and tenderness; the interpersonal relations that can enliven any sort of text. But is there an author who can do both? Is there someone out there who can tell the zany Superman stories with an emotional touch that can cause the reader to reverse the subject/object relationship and embrace the fictional as part of its world? (See the latest at Elm Rock City if you’re totally confused.)
I submit that The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy should write Superman.
In addition to recording with the Decemberists, Colin Meloy has written a musical and a ruminatory “novel” about the Replacement’s album “Let it Be.” He’s even been a media escort for Myla Goldberg–an experience which led to the Decemberist’s aptly titled “Song for Myla Goldberg,” an especially beloved number around the Salad because of its excellent use of the word “funicular.” (I posit that this is also a favourite song of St. Op Snitchin’ over at HB…&T, whose hatred of snitching, whose raison d’etre, comes from a childhood misadventure with a tattle-tale on a funicular railway, or “Incline” if you prefer to speak Pittsburgh Standard English). But I’m getting behind myself. Why should Mr. Meloy write Superman?
1 ) Richness. One of the hallmarks of any Decemberists songs is its level of detail. The songs are filled with allusions to historical events, giving their musical an almost mythic tapestry of playfulness. In general the songs are so filled with ephemera and minutia that they are worlds in and of themselves. This level of detail is needed by any Superman writer. The fabula of the DC Universe is rich and ready to be exploited. With years of dangling plots to play with, and decades worth of minor characters, Meloy will have more than enough material to keep him, and the reader, entertained.
2) Originality through familiarity. Though they often mimic other genres, Meloy’s music avoids the pitfalls of simple imitation. At his best, his music takes a familiar genre and consumes is. Take, for example “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.”
At first the song comes off as an inconsequential ditty–perhaps the result of a Typee hangover–but later listenings reveal the piece to be an artfully constructed ode, more complicated than a simple reimagining. Meloy has that unique capacity to embrace the past without falling into kitsch. He can write a 70’s Superman story if he wants, or a ’30s Superman story. Both, however, would be his own and our own, and not a reconstruction.
3) Tenderness. The Crane Wife showed Meloy’s ability to write harrowing, touching music. It was an emotional outcry to war that never felt overwrought, or unbelievable. The songs had an organic sweetness to them. This sweetness is what works in comics. Given the genres propensity towards reanimation, death itself is not a better pill. Complexity and allegory, such as Meloy’s interpretation of the legend of the Crane Wife, are needed in order to make “comic” suffering mean anything.
Next up: ?