Meanwhile, on the Internet, somebody called Zibarro In The Real gave me a kick to the brain without meaning to:
Barbelith Final Crisis thread, with the general consensus being that some New Gods were more symbolic than others. Cue the laughter: Fourth World epic are more important for what they do and how they look than for any one-for-one symbolic resonance.
Which isn't to say that the Fourth World books aren't a meaning-filled battleground of ideas, but rather that these ideas are more interestingly expressed in the form of Kirby's bizarre characters than they would be if they were more easily reducible to a series of cardboard cut-outs.
Sure, the Forever People are Kirby's take on the flower power generation, but if that was all they were then they wouldn't be half as interesting as they are. I mean look at 'em:
Why would anyone want to close the conversation on these freaky fellows in the name of clarity?
All of this talk brings me back to something Marc Singer said when he was discussing the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum graphic novel:
Morrison's working notes show that he's well aware of how symbolism best works in comics, incarnated into humanoid forms that can then happily beat up on each other. The more concrete the incarnation, the less overt and, therefore, the more potent the symbol.Indeed, the appeal of Kirby's later work would be nowhere near as inescapable as it is if his thematically mature comics weren't still full of bizarre characters knocking the cosmic energy out of each other.
Or, to put it another way, it's probably true to say that "Desaad is Pain, and Granny Discipline", but that fact in itself is nowhere near as interesting as seeing what kind of hideous punishments and traps they come up with. Equally, knowing that Mr Miracle is an avatar of freedom does very little to explain just how damn appealing it is to see him escape the crushing machinations of fate again and again and again.
I should point out that I'm not having a go at anyone involved in the conversation on that Barbelith thread -- I'm just riffing on a couple of thoughts here, and this particular line of questioning actually got me thinking again, which is always a plus!
I think that the point I'm reaching for here is not dissimilar to the one Sean Collins likes to make with regards to allegorical horror -- just because something is obviously meaningful doesn't mean that it's particularly interesting, or that the work in question has somehow "transcended" its genre (blech!).
Because you know what? Where good genre work is concerned, meaning is often conveyed just as well by kicking and punching and weirdness and drama as it is by metaphor, symbolism or allegory.
Since this little piece has been very quote and link heavy, I'll leave the final word to fantasy author and pulp-pride flag waver China Mieville:
The thing about good pulp is that you trust the reader and you know that the mind is a machine to process metaphors so of course all those connections will be there. But you've also granted the fantastic its own dynamic and allowed that awe. There's no contradiction. So I want to have monsters as a metaphor but I also want monsters because monsters are cool. There's no contradiction. It's a grotesquery and grotesqueries are completely fascinating.