The old comics were never wrong.
Right always defended
by the hero---polished like Adonis.
In one moment Thor is paused
in flight toward his foe,
the motion lines steadying
his resolve as he hurtles
ever closer. The next moment
Mnolnir, his mystical hammer, slams
against the Black Knight’s helmet
with a thwack in red letters---
emulating pain, as Thor announces
every move in white bubbles.
The Secret Art of Reading Comic Books
Comic books and poetry. On the surface, they seem like strange bedfellows. But then again, superheroes have become our modern mythological heroes, with Superman, Iron Man, the X-Men, and the Dark Knight taking their place among the pantheon of Greek gods and mythological figures like Zeus, Adonis, and Hercules. Seen in this way, Gary Jackson’s 2010 collection of poems, Missing You, Metropolis, makes poetic sense. Winner of the 2009 Cave Canem poetry prize, Jackson brings a fresh eye to pop culture and its hold on our collective imagination, as well as a haunting vision of childhood hopes of right and wrong undermined by adulthood, broken dreams, and compromises.
Selected and introduced by poet Yusuf Komunyakaa, Missing You, Metropolis explores the worlds between the pages of comic books and the streets of Jackson's youth in Kansas and the uncertain roads to adulthood in Manhattan. The childhood death of the author's sister and the suicide of his friend, Stuart, form the heartbeat of the collection, compromising the poet's passion for comics and their promise of a world that is easily defined and rendered between colored panels. Matters of life and death, sex, race, friendship, and marriage sit side by side with poems about Superman, Lois Lane, and The Incredible Hulk stripped of their panelistic adventures and placed within the real world, where actions have consequences and death cannot be forestalled. In “Iron Man’s Intervention, Starring the Avengers”:
As if I can’t have a drink
or two in the morning
before risking my life
for people who don’t
know my name;
or “The Family Solid,” in which Stuart is initiated into a gang:
We were barely out
of middle school
when Stuart showed me the scar---
an S branded in his brown arm.
Solid, Stuart said, fresh
from his initiation.
They held him down
in a basement, seared his skin,
Jackson draws a connection between both worlds until the lines that separate fact from fiction are obliterated. Jackson’s voice meshes an informal, but poetic vision with sharp lines and stanzas that almost resemble the panels in a comic, carefully chosen language standing in for color, movement, and those ever present thought bubbles. In Jackson’s collection, superheroes, like their real life counterparts, are neither heroic nor super, but very human in their pursuits of love and respect. Gone are the naive hopes that these mythological figures will rescue young boys from a world made more treacherous by real-life villains, but offer a hard-earned knowledge that the world does not always offer simple solutions or can be neatly categorized in matters of good and evil. But as the poet ends the Missing You, Metropolis "...we indulge in the power/to inhabit a world a page removed from our own," ("Reading Comic Books in the Rain"), Jackson reveals that even in adulthood comic books and superheroes still wield a tremendous hold on the collective imagination.