A Genesis for Generation Y

I’ve said from time to time that I think we would be better off if we could just stop using the word “Millennials” to describe my generation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word written down where it wasn’t meant disparagingly, and it often comes with very little other information to describe what it means.

So, for a bit of background, let’s learn about Generation Y (which is a boring term, but so far doesn’t carry the weight that “Millennial” does) in America.

We are the generation born from around 1980 to around 2000. We were all children when 9/11 happened, and the “post-9/11” global politic has been the one that has shaped us most into adulthood. We are the first generation to have “grown up” with the internet, and we respond quickly to technological advances. We are, generally speaking, more politically liberal than our parents. We are less religious than previous generations, and we are often anti-religion. We have (or had) great expectations of educational and economic success, and have been characteristically disappointed by the world we found ourselves in after school. We also had great expectations of our impact on the world, and have met with frustration over perceived inability to affect change.

I’m sure you can quickly find out more about us, but this paints a broad-stroke picture of the generation of people I believe the graphic short-story Genesis (created by Nathan Edmonson, Alison Sampson, and Jason Wordie) was written for.

The comic is bookended with the simple phrase, “They said I’d change the world for better or worse.” This is an idea that has been offered to the members of Generation Y since the beginning of our education. We were told the stories of Martin Luther King Jr., of John F. Kennedy, of Mother Theresa, even Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. We were told all of these stories and then we were told that we could do so much more!

These were the kind of expectations with which we approached adulthood.

In the comic, the main character becomes a priest, determining that religion was how he would make a difference, but he quickly discovers that — despite the fact that he is speaking to people, and they seem to be listening — nothing is changing.

I can identify with this sentiment, partially as a preacher and partially as a member of this generation. I value words, partially because I was taught that what we write and what we say matter, but also because most of my work as a preacher is centered around words. Words spoken in worship, words in lessons, words in sermons. But at the end of the day, saying something is not the same as doing something, and speaking about change is not the same as seeing change happen.

In the comic, by means of some mystical encounter, the main character gains the ability to change the world just by imagining something. He can create with mere thoughts.

Suddenly his perceived impotence to change the world is gone, and he sets about “fixing” the world. He makes food grow where people are hungry, he provides shelter for victims of a hurricane. He provides for the world in the best way he can imagine, and the world loves him for it.

Then, in an act of selfishness, he changes his wife’s body and it results in her death.

From that point on, his imaginations are dark and twisted, and he is afraid of his own mind. He curses the being that gave him his powers over reality. In the process of trying to undo the damage that he’s done, he learns how his abilities are limited. He can manifest things from his imagination, things that already exist somehow, but he can’t create from nothing.

Eventually, through effort and wrestling with himself he comes to realize the following: He has the power to destroy, the power to change the world, and the power to hurt people – all powers he already had before the mystical encounter.

Without spoiling the rest of the comic, I believe this is the crux of what we are meant to read in this book. It’s the message that Generation Y has to hear, so that it doesn’t get bogged down in the places where it feels like the world is out of its hands. Generation Y needs more than words to take advantage of its power, but the power is still out there.

And like another comic we all know and love told us, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Why Comics Growing Up Means Universes Have to Die…

Spoilers for New Avengers

What makes modern day comics so interesting in the “gray” areas in which they decide to tread.

In the medium’s early years of “flight and tights” stories, it was all about truth, justice, and the American way. Everything was black and white; you knew who the good guys and the villains were, and you knew the outcome every time…

The heroes would do the “heroic” thing, and win.

There wasn’t a discussion of the morality of the action. There didn’t need to be. Captain America just had to punch Hitler or Superman just had to save Lois one more time. This was the norm.  No one questioned it either. It was a lovely naivete that we all accepted, and we enjoyed the stories that came with it.

Yet, as the years went by, comics grew up along with its readers. Nowadays, things are not so clean cut for our heroes. Yes, there is still Cap, Superman, and all the other classics, but they are put into situations that would never have crossed the minds of their original creators. They force the reader to question their own ethics and morality, and to examine these “heroes” in a different light.

This brings us to New Avengers…

 

New Avengers focuses on the Illuminati of the Marvel universe, a secret cabal formed to take care of the universe ending threats that may come upon Earth. Its membership includes Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, Black Panther, Captain America, and most recently Beast (who took the deceased Charles Xavier’s position.) These men shape the Marvel universe from the background, and safeguard existence without anyone’s knowledge.

Since its relaunch, the group has been dealing with “incursions” into our universe. These incursions are where a parallel universe starts overlapping with our own, and if not stopped, destroys both in the process.

The group spends the first couple of issues trying to find ways to stop this from happening; even to the point of using a reality warping deus ex machina (the infinity gauntlet) to “push” one of the encroaching universes back. Of course, this only works once due to the gauntlet’s destruction, and the Illuminati are left to wonder what they need to do next.  This invariably leads them to a singular conclusion…

Destroy the other universes.

It is a terrifying thought, but a completely rational conclusion. If nothing is done, both universes will be destroyed; so why not destroy one in order to save the other? It is the classic ethical debate, the moral quandary that has been discussed by Ethicists and Philosophers for years.  Do you kill the one to save the many? Do you let some people die, so that not all will?  Yet, instead of reading it in a textbook, we get it played out in our comics…

This type of discussion forces the reader to confront his or her own feelings on the issue. As you read the page, you find yourself naturally drifting to one side of the argument or the other.  As the reader travels deeper into the story, they too find our more about themselves in the reading.

How far would you go to save your planet? What lines would you cross to what you believe is right? We are able to live vicariously through some of our most iconic heroes as they play out their own answers to those very questions…

Sometimes doing things that we didn’t think they would…

This is what differentiates modern comics from most of the Gold and Silver age stories. Those were written to make you feel good, to experience a bit of escapism, and maybe some pro-America propaganda (lookin’ at you, Cap.)

Now, there are many mainstream comics out there that exist not only to tell a good story, but to make you think along the way. This, of course, leads to much more adult and darker story beats; not for the sake of being edgy but for greater narrative depth.

Long gone are the days of yore where your heroes were always the “good” guys. We live in a world where people get their hands dirty when trying to do the “right” thing; where even our heroes are living in shades of gray in the name of protecting all of us. Modern comics have given writers the opportunity to discuss these types of philosophical and ethical issues in a medium whose typical reader wouldn’t be normally interested in such discussions.

Because comics have “grown up,” they have become an open forum to discuss topics like racism, sexism, morality, ethics, sex, philosophy, religion, and so much more. Writers today don’t want your comics to just be about escapism, they want you to use your mind in the process.

The flipside to all of this is the fact that there has been an innocence lost in our comics. Now that we culturally have crossed some line, there is no going back to that old way of doing things.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just means things are different now, and different can be good.

The age of the morally ambiguous hero is upon us, and the stories that will come out of this will be incredibly interesting. Whether it is the questionable actions of the Illuminati, Superior Spiderman’s gang of spider-thugs, or the ENTIRE concept of the Suicide Squad; these stories would have been impossible to tell before; at least in their current form.

Only time will tell if we ever find our way back to the “flight and tights,” days, but until then all we can do is look back, remember who we were and wonder where our heroes are going next.