In My Humble Opinion #13

Dark Media

It's the dark corners of reality that hide the most interesting treasures. Most are not pretty, or nice, or kind. Indeed, most are of brutish human nature, in a glut of passions, rivalaries and chemical induced decisions.

People like to blame the media for showing the worst of humanity, and rising up sensationalism as a cult. It's a convenient way to tramp down the horrors of the beast within us all, and tell ourselves that 'I'd never be that way'. It's a soft lie of survival.

The truth is that media is a mirror. It reflects what the nature of the viewer is. If shows like Jerry Springer and Hard Copy are so vile and loathsome, why are they the top ratings grabbers on television? Why do we follow scenes of disgrace and vile humour with such avid obsession?

Media is the twisted and ugly face of humanity; like Frankenstein's monster, it's something we have created out of our own minds and now desperately wish would vanish. It strips away our illusions, and forces us to face a fractured image of ourselves.

Frightening stuff.

We'll be looking at this for the next little while, since it fascinates me, and I think it's pretty funny stuff. I have two pieces of fanfiction that go so far beyond the mundane pale as to be astonishing. If there are two fics that you 'must-read', it is these both. One is a shockingly adept story set in the early days of the genre, and the other is exactly set in the realm of dark media. These are no easy meat.

It's joked that Subreality's version of the Apocalypse will start with the eighth angel pouring Dr.Benway's imagination into the air. Even the laughter to this has a nervous edge to it. Mainly due to the fact that Dr.Benway's amazing range of writing ability is twinned with a magnificent sense of the dark passions that drive humanity. His newest piece, X-Manson, Dr.Benway examines the 'what-if' element of the X-Men's cultish trends with a sinister undertone.

X-Manson is fittingly crouched around a news 'expose' style special about the shocking discoveries at the X-Mansion months later. Told in a '60 Minutes' style documentary, it brings up themes of abuse, cult worship, cannibalism, and forced messiah complexes. The X-family is turned, frighteningly easily, into madmen and lunatics; Cable as a delusional sadist with megalomania. Wolverine as a psychotic rogue agent. Phoenix so totally controlled by Xavier that her mind is cored to a hollow shell. It's touching just lightly on the id of every X-character and processing it through a fractured lens.

The mastery of language is second only to the natural ear for 'sensational' sound bites that Dr.Benway uses to make the cuts between scenes, film clips and voice overs. The idea of humanities' darker side run riot amongst mind crippling psychic control creates a startling contrast. The idea of Cyclops holding on to enough humanity to try and save people next to Beast's cultivation of mutant organs for research is extremely powerful; each element reinforcing the impact and horror of the other. As well, the 'viewer' of the special in torment to frame the scene is so exceptionally well handled as to create emotive overlays across each segment.

It's dark and disturbing and forces your mind around dark corners to nasty places. But it also possesses a kind of horrific beauty to it; a picture of compelling realization. This is a story that needs to be read and understood. Powerful, deep, and likely unhealthy, it is one of the most effective psychological looks into the id of the X-Books to ever have been written.

DarkMark is an old pro. We can say this in the most literal sense, due to his actual credits in the 'biz'. DarkMark is also an old pro by his willingness to tackle obscure and old material, making it constantly relevant from the Silver Age to modern comics. There's an element of Frank Miller in him; a kind of challenge in his writing that says 'So what if he was in purple tights and wore a yellow cape? I'm can make this work.' And he can.

His new series is set (surprisingly) in the X-Books, but starting at the books of 1970. Bobby and Hank say "Farewell, New York" and Other Things is a wonderful piece of period fiction, with a tremendous amount of underplay hidden deep within it.

DarkMark's series 'X-Men 1970' starts just after the Z'Nox invasion attempt, and the return of Xavier to the school. Exhaustively researched, it deviates when the five original X-Men decide not to remain regular costumed heros and get into the real world. This story starts with the wedding of Scott and Jean, and quickly ends up with Hank and Bobby down at the 'Coffee A Go-Go' (yes, it's been a while since we've seen that). Merlin and Mesmero crash the party for revenge purposes, and end up fighting each other as well as inciting a riot. The X-Men manage to contain the fight, capture the villains, and head west to make their fortunes.

The dialogue and plotting of this book reads like one of the comics of the period. Skirting 'hokey' levels, it rings true as a plot you might have seen at the time. However, when translated to prose, what may have been a somewhat silly comic ends up a magnificently handled retro-narrative. There is a joy to this fanfiction, something drawn from the less substantial but tremendously fun days of the Silver Age. The inclusion of the poet/owner of 'Coffee A Go-Go' Bernard gives the fic the right bridge between old ideas and new beginnings. The skill required to produce this tight piece is remarkable, and DarkMark exceeds all expectations as he jumps from deadly serious examination of the characters as real people to cliched battle cries of his villains to the richness of an era peeking through in his prose.

The use of Tom Wolfe from his Village Voice days as an witness to the entire scene is the brilliant cap to the piece. Not an easy writer to imitate, DarkMark is able to capture the flair of Wolfe's writing in his faux article headers, as he describes the battle. Even this is canon, since Wolfe has appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics before. It's truly the best examples of what fanfiction strives for; taking canon and building engrossing and astonishing stories from it's fertile soil.

There. Now DarkMark and Dr.Benway each owe me ten bucks. You owe them to read these pieces. Society hates a debtor, you know.

Apologies for the lateness of IMHO this week. Both the subject material and my life got away from me. I'm going to leave this up until next Friday, when I have a big article and surprise for you all. As always, comments, feedback, criticism and unmarked bills of large denominations can be sent to me at this address.

And you are getting close to your deadlines for DexCon. See C-Fan's Scratching Post for details, or e-mail me. Right then, off to the pub.


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