America Ate My Brain (Part Two)
There ain't no Jesus gonna come from the sky
Since I found out, I know I can cry - John Lennon
Even when there's nothing funny about it, satire's a funny thing. The better it's executed, the fewer people you can expect will get it. This affords satire a particular value under tyranny as a vehicle for dissent, when dissent can endanger life or livelihood if the wrong people get it.
Even when those who can read the intended meaning remain few, there can be a much larger crowd who are merely entertained by its dressing of transgressions. ("Swift says we should eat Irish babies." - "Duuude!") This can make satire commercially viable, because its narrow purpose is compensated by mass appeal, which also disseminates subversion far more broadly.
I think this is what's going on with Robert Kirkman's Marvel Zombies. Marvel, the corporation, may care only about the bottom line (a hard cover compilation has sold out an unprecedented four printings), and major advertiser the US Army may be simply happy to reach a young male readership with an appetite for destruction. They may not even give a thought to the text, let alone the subtext, but we should pay attention to both.
Since 2005 the zombie story arc has ranged over several comics titles but remains quite simple to summarize: a zombie virus is carried to New York, which quickly infects the superheroes of the Marvel universe, who methodically devour all life on Earth. When they've exhausted the planet, they take to space and extinguish life there as well. The End. Though the end hasn't been written, there can be no coming back from that.
It's supposedly set in an "alternate reality," though that doesn't spare us or the familiar heroes the degradation of say, Spiderman feasting on Aunt May or the Hulk snapping off the head of the Silver Surfer. And to many readers of American politics, the last seven years feel very much as well like an alternate reality, so that disclaimer doesn't carry much comfort anymore.
There is a lot of unredacted horror here. Hank Pym, Giant Man, keeping his uninfected friend the Black Panther alive so he can cut away fresh meat when the urge strikes. ("You want to know something really scary?" he confesses. "I like the way flesh tastes. Really, I do. If I were to somehow find a cure for whatever's going on with us - if things went back to the way they were - or as close as they could get...I think I'd still eat people.") Spiderman, tormented as ever, agonizing in the moments his head clears after a feed. ("I ate my wife - my aunt! - Why?! Why did I do that?!") Call them "alternates," but there can be no looking at these characters the same way. And honest to God, it's about time.
Publishing success stories are rare in comics these days, and while Marvel Zombies is one it also has its detractors. ("There comes a point where death isn’t funny anymore," says a reader. "I cannot trust in a hero anymore!" says another.) And here I think is the subtext: your heroes are dead. Or worse: undead.
There are a lot of monstrous metaphors available to describe America's descent from pulp fiction superhero to real world arch-villain, but perhaps the most apt is the zombie. There's the relentless and insatiable consumption of goods, fuel and lives which devours entire nations without thought or apology - Iraq's genetic future may be "for the most part destroyed" - and threatens even the viability of life on the planet. It even eats brains. Consider the occupation's targeted slaughter of Iraqi intellectuals.
A vampire would be preferable. I could see trying to talk things out with one. Probably not successfully, but there's at least the vain hope. A zombie? First of all, it's already dead. And last, I'm only food. Do you explain yourself to your breakfast?
There's no coming back from Iraq. There's no homecoming for Captain America. And don't wait for a hero, because he's only going to eat you.