Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sometimes There's a Reason Why They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore

Frank J Barbiere & Chris Mooneyham “Five Ghosts Volume 1: The Haunting of Fabian Gray” (Image, 2013)

It seems that we may be undergoing some sort of revival of pulp era stories.  Dynamite is publishing new adventures of The Shadow (as well as his masked brethren).  Lovecraft is more popular than ever, and his mythos is appearing in ever increasingly mainstream settings. 

It’s really not much of a surprise to come across original stories that for all purposes could be retellings of tales originally published in the pulps.  Five Ghosts is almost a checklist of tropes from old stories.  A few examples:  our hero is a globetrotting archaeologist/treasure hunter; mystic gems; legendary hidden cities; evil cunning Nazis; inscrutable Asians; aggressive African tribes worshiping monsters.  

The problem is that you can’t tell these stories anymore.  You just can’t do this.  You can’t have the only Africans in the story be portrayed as scantily clad savages who worship a giant evil spider.  You can’t have the only Asians in a story be suitably mystical and inscrutable.  You can’t have the only women in the story be servants or damsels in distress. 

 It’s almost 100 years past the original date of publication for these types of stories.  As a culture we have moved past this.  We recognize that these types of stereotypes are wrong and damaging.  So why are people still telling these types of stories? “That’s how the original stories were” is not an excuse.  You can acknowledge that without using every single one of those tropes in a story.

Setting aside the racism and exoticism of the text for a moment, I suppose that I should address the issue of how well the story was done.  My answer would be mediocre.  Strangely enough there’s more than a bit of confusion in terms of what is actually happening in the story.  What exactly are Gray’s powers?  Who are the literary characters that he absorbed?  Why these?

It’s extremely rare that I can find something admirable about a text, but this seems to be exception that proves the rule.  Run away while you still can.

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