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6 - Truth Serum.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Andrew Lesk

 Lots of paratext  Sodium pentathol - truth serum in superman comic  Captain Force is the first hero we meet in Jon Adams' Truth Serum  First villain: Mr. Lip (in Friends Again)  Truth Serum is about putting superheroes in mundane, awkward normal everyday situations  Crimes are being committed in a sense o Someone invites you over for lunch, but you don't get lunch o Someone wants to come along, but you brush them off  We find that most characters in the book aren't decent people; the crimes being committed are social crimes, social faux-pas  These themes are introduced by the first two stories  Hero and villain: contrast b/w the two is powerful only when both characters have strong similarities. Each then presents a slightly different approach to the same dilemma. And it is in the similarities that crucial and instructive differences become most clear. o Truth serum extinguishes good and evil to the extent that we can't tell one from the other, and all the characters therefore are emphasized by having similarities o Adams is questioning the convention of dividing right from wrong; conflict being the engine of most stories, Truth serum ends up being an examination of the mundane o He draws superhero conventions, not by imitating them, but by turning them upside down  Eg. Superman vs batman in TDKR versus "Bam! Ugh!" - there is a sense that this is half- hearted; this is repeated ad nausea in the story  Adams literally sketches his world in black and white  Normally, superheroes are active and effective; they did things  In truth serum, the heroes are passive and bumbling ("I'll never forgive you for letting my daddy die" - flat confrontation, characters are hunched), full of petty vengefulness (they don't save people or fight crimes, they get back at each other), casual cruelty (eg. Bank scene in "Costumes"), arbitrary intervention  p.44, 47: supervillain party o Don passes out on the couch  p.32, 33: CF taunted for buying an Ace of Bass CD o Pettiness; not alerting the teenagers to the truth; very passive retaliation, he does nothing  Heroes and villains often talk about fighting, but don't do it o Ideological foundations are weak in the book (good vs evil)  Naivety (eg in superman) is pushed aside; it is being mocked, but also sorrowfully commented on; sense that Adams wish it could be black and white o Chester acts as the point of identification for this  Therefore, morality becomes much more complex  The art is deliberately non-dynamic - people falling asleep at parties  "Truth hurts" - characters depicted as lifeless or anxious o But more complex: who is she to be mocking him? o Is the guy mentally underdeveloped? o Looking at their interactions, one could assume they don't know each other  The moral complexity is that we might all think what she is saying, but wouldn't say it  Did we respond this way when we first saw this? Who are we to judge? Is Adam giving us the information we secretly do want?  This is a social crime  Joke here about his unattractiveness rests on the surface, but there is a deep moral implication that implicates us; we might have thought of it ourselves  Truth serum takes place in dilapidated Manchester; story lacks incredible physical specimens, no astonishing feats  Instead, we have overweight or ill at ease characters  They refer to each other as costumes, not as superheroes - that's all they are, they're just costumes  Characters are very earthbound (eg. p.7) o Why fracture the gutter? Maybe to imitate the extra time one spends at the bank o The other people don't think anything of him at all; costume not indicating he is special  Critique of traditional comic book heroes, and instead truth serum is about ordinary people in costumes  CF capturing chuck nut charlie: CF ends up talking to lester, and they talk about celebrity and ignore chuck nut charlie  Adams brings the heroes down several notches  Maybe taking "realism" of superhero comics to the extreme  Quote: critic on Marvel comics: "The realistic hero as a kind of outsider"; similarly, DC comics tried this - drug addict sidekick o Led up to watchmen: normal people without superpowers, but could still do stuff o Fear of nuclear weapons supplanted by fear of superheroes  Adams could be bringing things to the logical conclusion where people can't do anything, people are reduced to unappealing normal folk  Adams quote: "spiderman used to be so real"  "Let's be friends" - 'isn't there a chance i could be killed?' - they are ordinary people  Back cover text: he's getting at Manchester becoming a state of mind: the everyday and the mundane o Below the text, Chester boy is reading the first superman; he knows about the real thing  p.67: "costumes" instead of "superheroes" o He's engaged in denial o Superman and his parents versus Lester boy and Captain Force (son and father); these origin questions are quite important for all of these superheroes (eg. Batman), but in this case the origin is shunted aside o If Lester is supposed to be us, then this is showing us people's social ineptitude o Adams is reading into the origin story, making fun of it  p.68: CF is telling his son "there's nothing here for me anymore" o Reference to publishing company; Lester boy was thrown out of work when the publishing company he worked for  Comics company responsible for CF's public image has closed up; CF realizes he is nothing without the comics o Meta-fiction: there are heroes in this world, and comics are made about them o Lester will stay in Manchester (interested in Chuck Nut Charlie, aka Chester Lip) o Repeated nods to the comic industry; Adams has put these clues into the book o Adams suggests the origins lie with the writers, and the publishing company is viewed as the bad guys (not wanting to pay staff)  Adams had a similar run-in in real life p.128 cont'd  CF's return is mundane, no fanfare, ordinary citizen greets him, conversation peters out and is awkward o Mutual attitudes of lack of remark o Return is not much of a return at all p.28  Marvelous! Comics - Marvel Comics  Lester boy is somewhat of an autobiographical stand-in for Adams (quote about Adams working for Dark Moon Productions) p.27  "where imagination ends, we begin"  Double entendre: they are turning ideas into real work; the other is that 'we' as the publishing house begin to make money off your imagination o Or, the publishing house forecloses upon imagination; we begin in a place without imagination, we are cold, hard business  Lester's story is deliberately unsatisfying coming-of-age tale; woman he secretly loves moves away to live with drunk ex-superhero  Defining relationship in the comic is b/w Lester boy and CF; looks like relationship b/w Mr. Lip and Chester o Mr. Lip supposed to be the evil guy - but treats Chester in pretty much the same way CF treats Lester, at least Mr. Lip doesn't deny paternity p.68  CF trying to deny alimony  Very dysfunctional 'superhero'  Lester boy's heritage is not magical at all - plays upon the usual magical origin storsuperheroories  Distinctly unheroic suburban existence - total opposite of usual superhero comics  Notion of parenthood turned upside down (compare to Superman, Spiderman)  Even when fantastic events happen, they happen undramatically p.59  Evil twin - so undramatic  Notion of twin-ness seems to be arbitrary (Adams playing on the fact that substitution of heroes with twins is not likely here, versus normal superhero comics) p.60  Scene is dragged out, nothing really happens  CF is not exactly the opposite of evil p.61  Long pauses, nothing really happens  'Pakew' - ineffective; like Jimmy Corrigan 'haha bitch comment' - renders him pathetic, or Skyscrapers 'BADAZAM': ineffective  More cliches, banana peel, lame death  Trivialization of the classic confrontation between good and evil  Chit chat is mundane, like Jimmy's dad in the medical clinic o All talk, no action  They both don't act on their good/evilness - they are more alike than different  Random chitchat, uneventful climax  'the end - continue reading the adventures' - not really adventures at all p.3  Artwork working in tandem with the text  Defines a lot of the parameters of truth serum itself  Schoolyard tactics - CF can't even handle this, he's not very heroic  Name of guy not introduced -> doesn't even matter, and CF makes up names  CF is portrayed as a somewhat popular character  "Bye", "actually": battle of words o Bye - indicates CF was already turning around but the other guy misses the social cue  First panel: the two men's hands are in the same position  Last panel: he doesn't fit in, literally and figuratively o Or - as CF is walking away, the other guy asks pathetically 'blast man?' - reverse the reading order o Most of all: time is of the essence in su
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