or, “Lobo Syndrome.”
To start this entry, I’m starting with the assumption that people need entertainment or else we would all go crazy inside our over-developed brains. Entertainment, and by extension art, is food for the soul. Further, I am assuming that there is art that is good or bad in the same sense that food is good or bad for the body (a simplistic metaphor, I know). The purpose of art is to illicit some kind of response. For good art, this is profound and transformative. For bad art, this is an indulgence. Sure, like the body, we should nourish the soul with the fruits and veggies of art, but we all like to indulge in the glazed doughnuts of art.
And that’s 100% okay! Such indulgences are often called “guilty pleasures” and I have a fair few of my own. This entry concerns how indulgent media seems to me to becoming more normal and less recognized for what it is. To use my food metaphor, people are eating pancakes for breakfast every morning instead of just once in a while (a pancake is still a cake). I really have less problem with indulgent forms of media when such media is clearly marked as such.
For example, one of my guilty pleasures and indulgence of everything my inner nine-year-old would ever want in a movie is Pacific Rim. The plot is simple and has holes you could pilot a jaeger through, the lead male character is stiff and wooden, the lead female character has an accent so thick she’s hard to understand, and there are so many clichés. But it also features giant robots punching giant monsters! Yes, there’s a lot of destruction which should mean people die but the nature of the violence is very cartoony (that is, there are no bodies falling out of the rubble and no corpses littering the street). That’s part of what makes this movie an indulgence; the real consequences are glossed over.
So why is this subtitled, “Lobo Syndrome?”
Portrait of a Bastitch:
Once upon a time in the grim and gritty ’90s, comic books in particular suffered from a strange mutation. All the men grew muscles that humans don’t actually have and all women’s spines twisted to show off their boobs and butts. Everyone thought pouches and shoulder pads were high fashion, and the best accessories of all were guns. Everyone was a kewl badass (“because poor literacy is kewl”) and Wolverine reached the levels of popularity that seems to have sustained to this day. Heroes were traded out for anti-heroes, even though most writers really didn’t seem to understand how that worked but since “Watchmen” was by all accounts brilliant, they figured they’d give it a go.
Now, DC and Marvel have had years worth of an antagonist relationship in which they subtly and often blatantly ripped off each other’s characters. And the sameness of a bunch of gritty characters who gritted their teeth and shot and punched stuff must have taken its toll pretty quick, and also did I mention Wolverine was insanely popular, so DC introduced Lobo. Well, that’s not fair, as Lobo was actually introduced in the early ’80s. He was mostly on the sidelines until the Dark and Edgy ’90s when someone realized that he, too, could be insanely popular. Even his creators say he’s kind of a joke and meant to be a cross between Wolverine and the Punisher. Hell, his name is Spanish for “wolf!” The creators were not subtle, and neither is Lobo. Lobo is Wolverine taken up to 11 and then punching the amp because it’s just not loud enough. If the guy had a theme song, one of them would be “Bad to the Bone.” There is nothing remotely redeemable about Lobo. He’s a bounty hunter who rides a space Harley, smokes cigars, and blows up anything and everything. His healing factor is so insane that he can regenerate from one single cell. He is a straight-up villain who occasionally does good because it suits him to do so. Everything he says or does is completely, utterly, totally bad-ass.
The Main Man:
And that is fine! I’ve got nothing against Lobo. In fact, in some ways, he’s really a brilliant character. People can indulge their darkest, basest human desire to be a complete [Denis Leary] through Lobo’s stories. And because he’s so terrible, when bad things happen, people don’t feel sorry for him. Instead, they laugh at him because well, he deserves to have terrible things happen to him (he committed genocide of his own species for funsies). Hell, I remember a comic in which he spent all but the first and last pages without a head, and it was really funny. Lobo doesn’t grow as a character. He doesn’t have character arcs. He is pretty much chaotic evil from beginning to end and that’s it. What you see is what you get, to reference a very ’90s phrase (I reject New52!Lobo).
But, and here’s the big but you knew was coming, Lobo is nothing but pure indulgence. And that, again, is fine, except that a lot of people don’t seem to know that. To them, Lobo is awesome and every character in comics should be like Lobo. That misses the whole point of Lobo. To enjoy Lobo is to indulge our (and I definitely include myself) darker desires to see pain and suffering. But the reason we enjoy pain and suffering in such a context is because we know it’s not real. When Lobo guns down an entire space truck stop and gets his head blown off, that’s funny. When a real psychopath guns down an entire real truck stop and gets killed by the cops, that’s tragic. While we might be tempted to indulge our desire for gore and misery, most of us are ultimately don’t because the pain and suffering are really real and we empathize with the victims and their families. Knowing real people got really hurt takes the fun out of the situation (as it should), especially when we realize that we could be the victims of that kind of tragedy.
I should probably state (if it isn’t obvious) that I’m hardly objective about this. As a purveyor of entertainment, I would prefer to provide something wholesome if possible (but don’t worry, I have no illusions that my novels are some kind of metaphorical superfood; I think they’re probably sweet potatoes). And as consumer of entertainment, I don’t like seeing my options getting limited as more indulgent pieces of media are produced. And I very much dislike an indulgent piece of media that tries to pretend it isn’t indulgent, or that people don’t understand is indulgent (although to be fair that’s not the fault of the creators of that media).
To use my food metaphor, an all-Lobo comic diet is like living off of nothing but bags of Halloween candy. Consuming a whole bag of Halloween candy once in a while results in a major sugar crash and a stomach ache, but is mostly harmless. A diet of Halloween candy is a problem. And sometimes I like fruit and veggies, and I don’t like being sold candy corn as though it’s actually a veggie.
…That metaphor may have gotten away from me a bit. Anyway, I think that about wraps up this entry. Next time I might provide examples to clarify my argument. And now I’m going to get a snack.