Monday, July 19, 2010

Screw Your Courage!

Finished the last chapter revision. There now remains only some minor odds and ends to go over in the manuscript, besides of course my main task: plugging the one big gaping hole which I have decided will be Chapter Three.

I updated by Shakespeare and Comics Bibliography, below, with a few new pieces and I have done a lot more reading than I have had the opportunity to comment on in these pages. So far, what I can say with some authority is that scholarship on Shakespeare and Comics is pretty solid when it comes to a) adaptations of Shakespeare, or b) Neil Gaiman. Discussion of other comics which use Shakespearean characters or themes, or which might be playing creatively with Shakespeare, are almost entirely absent, with a few notable exceptions. There's a wonderful discussion of a Shakespeare story in Mike Baron's old Badger comic, a couple of mentions of The Cowboy Wally Show, and reference to a Peter David Incredible Hulk five-part story called "Tempest Fugit," but generally speaking, if it's not a clear adaptation of a play, and it's not Sandman, then it hasn't really made it onto the academic radar yet. I found precisely one mention of Moore's Prospero, in a footnote on an article on Gaiman.

I'm now focused entirely on this chapter, which is forcing me to sit down and think about what the hell I have to say. At its broadest level, we're starting with uses of the Tempest in comics. I don't want to do a survey, and my hope is to use Tempest as an entrance into a deeper discussion of Moore's Prospero, the Blazing World, and his play fragment Faerie's Fortune's Found. But I think it is worth exploring other touchstones as well, such as Claremont's use of Caliban and Ariel in X-Men, and I think David's story will go here as well. Long ago, when I first considered writing about Shakespeare in comics, my idea was that Prospero embodied the kind of honorable archvillain stereotype: with his magical lair, his complex scheming, his powers, his ugly sidekick, his beautiful daughter. I mean, isn't this Ras Al Ghul all over? Or Dr. Doom? Or Magneto? These are characters that are intended, on one hand, to be powerful menaces for the protagonists to face, but on the other hand they are crafted to be somewhat sympathetic to the reader.

Of course, Moore turns this back around. In Shakespeare, Prospero isn't the villain at all. He's the protagonist, a hero. After many decades of modern comics in which he has been made the villain, sort of by proxy through various villain aliases, Moore returns him to his proper place as a protagonist, as a hero, without losing any of his traits: he's still a schemer, still with his ugly sidekick, and above all -- still possessed of magic! That has got to be important; Moore's Prospero doesn't give up his magic. He keeps it, but pretends to lose it in order to get the public off his trail. His epiloge at the end of the play is made thus into something of a sham. He's not really stuck and desperate for the audience to "release" him; he has his powers and is slipping off to become a super-spy for Queen Gloriana. He's just playing a ruse on the audience. So although he is a hero, a good guy, a protagonist, he is nonetheless still morally ambiguous.

Not really sure where that is going, or how much I will linger on this "Prospero as Villainous Mastermind" theme when I get to drafting, but for now it helps to get it down on (virtual) paper.

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