I used to write a good deal of poetry, too, much of it well received; but I stopped when I realized I could only write SAD poetry, which, frankly, gets kind of depressing after a while. I mean, don't you think Dickinson would have been happier if she'd taken up stamp-collecting, and Housman clearly just needed to go out to the bars and get lucky with some soldier on leave?
Anyway, I think poetry (even sad poetry) is fun. That's why I miss it in modern comics.
I've joked a lot about 'heroic haiku'; but I know that writers never intentionally have the characters speak in haiku or, for the matter, any form of poetry. But there was a time when writers seemed more conscious of the need for their characters' prose to flow, to ring, to resound. As a result, their characters' speech wasn't necessarily poetry, but it was certainly poetic.
Then, characters uttered speech; now, characters speak dialog.
Sure, it's easy to make fun of the orations of Golden Agers and the exposition of Silver Agers; but isn't it more fun to read than the mumblings, cursings, and onamatopoetic vocalizations of current characters? Newsflash: people do not really say "*hrm*" or "*hk*".
If you get off on inconsequential Bendis-style verbal pong or Whedonesque serial snarking by JLAers pouring over prospective candidates, you are welcome to them. I'll be right over here, shouting things like, "Fire cranial cannon!" ,"Thought-robots! Seize them!", and "Pennies will be my crime-symbol!"
Yes, the modern dialog styles may, in fact, be more like the way people actually talk, more "realistic". But, you know, if realism were really one of my higher priorities... would I be reading a comic book at all?
Heroes and villains don't dress in an ordinary way, nor do they behave in a normal way. Why should they speak in a normal way? As a matter of fact, it strains my credulity when they do. That's right; when these characters I follow precisely because they do not dress or behave in normal ways are forced to talk like "normal people", it seems ....
unrealistic and abnormal. Oh, the comic book irony.
But this is all abstract so far. Here's a concrete example of the kind of prose I miss in comics:
It also happens to be the second Gayest Aquaman Panel Ever,
but that's merely a happy coincidence.
but that's merely a happy coincidence.
Don't bother commenting to me that it sounds weird and that no one talks like that. Weird? It sounds like a bad translation from Japanese. After Aquaman pwns these guys, I bet he says, "All your base are belong to Aquaman!" Yes, I know it sounds weird. It looks weird too. That's part of what makes it memorable. It's the reason all you people love Morrison so much.
No one talks like that? No one rides porpoises into battle, either, or wears orange and green in public. What's your point?
Relative realism aside, examine the panel for its poetry. Stressed (or "long") syllables are in bold;
- Forth from the | waves bursts a | terri|fying |juggernaut | of justice.
I'll spare you most of the metrical analysis, but the basic rhythm of this line is the same one used in most ancient "heroic" poetry, dactylic hexameter. It's not perfect, but, hey, this ain't Vergil.
If you read English natively, you pretty much have to read the line with the stirringg rhythm above, unless you choose to emphasize "bursts", making it a long syllable.
- Forth from the | waves BURSTS a | terri|fying |juggernaut | of justice.
The letterist certainly seems to be emphasizing the word, so "bursts" literally bursts out of the rhythm of the line, mimicking through sound the action it is portraying.
Which is impressively poetic.
- I've oceans | of love for | you boys!
This is one of the greatest pick up lines ever. It's also poetic in fact, it's almost pure limerick. It's two successive amphibrachs (short-long-short) followed by an iamb; amphibrachs are the basic metrical unit in limericks and are used for "light and fun" poetry.
This is laughing Aquaman of the Golden Age, who is about to have a great time kicking your butt and predicting it to your face. The writer chose words whose meaning and rhythm perfectly conveyed Aquaman's battle-happy attitude.
- There he is | -- the | man of the | sea! | Run! | Hide!
If you're having trouble reading those in a nice flowing way .... good. That's the point. As an English-speaker, you can't read those words without it feeling disjointed, halting, stuttering -- exactly conveying the panicked distress of the bad guys on the docks.
Make fun of Golden Age writers all you want for being "bad" or "corny". But they didn't write "normal" because they knew what they were writing about wasn't "normal". They knew how to employ, if not poetry per se, the tools and attitudes of poetry to convey information, set tone, and reveal character -- all in one word balloon. In the single panel above, they did it three times.
And you know what?
As a result, you'll remember this panel long after you've forgotten every other panel you see in your comics this week.