Shakespeare and Comic Books
Last week, the BBC Culture website posted an article called “Finding Shakespeare in Thor”; within a few hours, it was reposted by many on my Facebook news feed, including The Folger Shakespeare Library (one of my favorite research libraries for both the nerd-tastic old books and the atmosphere – they serve afternoon tea to the researchers and conference goers). For me, however, the article merely confirmed what I already know and talk about all the time: Shakespeare is everywhere and has influenced everything. Including – especially – comic books.
I’ve spent much of my free time the past two years hanging out with two self-proclaimed comic book nerds (one in his 30s and one in single digits), and I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would: about the intense rivalry between DC and Marvel, for example, and who Deadpool and Miss Marvel and Scott Summers are. Quickly, I realized that these characters were very much like the ones that fill the pages of my Shakespeare anthology – villains who used to be just flawed would-be heroes; heroes who struggle with thoughts of vengeance and bitterness; young people trying to escape the pressures around them. I began to debate issues of character and narrative with my boyfriend and his son and other comic book fans in same way I debate them with my students – is Captain America “deeply ethical” (as Jason would suggest) or (in my opinion) just a “wimp”? Is The Punisher comforted by his revenge, or is he slowly going insane like Titus Andronicus did? What circumstances could have changed Magneto into the greatest comic book hero rather than a classic Shakespearean villain?
Needless to say, these days I am unabashedly open about my newfound comic book knowledge when I teach my Shakespeare class or when I go to the comic book store with Jason and Ashton (the owner has read King Lear and was a onetime English major – who knew?).
So, I’d advise any Shakespeare fans to go check out some comic books and any comic book nerds out there to read up on your Shakespeare. You won’t regret it.
For me, reading both has confirmed that this statement by Samuel Johnson is even more true – both in comic books and Shakespeare: “Shakespeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men.”