When the masks come off, the rules change. When a mask comes off after 44 years, the game changes, and we can learn something in the process.
Spider-Man’s mask was so different in its time, because it covered the whole face. No open eyes, no exposed jutting jowl. It was the perfect cover. Stan Lee needed that mask to be an all-enveloping cocoon for his angst-ridden teen hero, still developing and finding his way.
If you haven’t picked up
a comic an issue of episodic graphic literature in quite a while, keep an ear out for this development: the mask comes off.
This might not rise (or fall) to the level of coverage over the re-launch of Batwoman as a lesbian, nor any of the other “shocking” comic revelations of the last few years. But it might be more instructive.
The seven-issue “Civil War” series, launched in May, sees Marvel’s writers taking on the topical issue of civil liberties.
Following a showdown between a group of superheroes and supervillains in which hundreds of innocent civilians are killed, the government passes the Super-Hero Registration Act, requiring all superheroes to reveal their identities and register as “living weapons of mass destruction.”
Marvel’s roster of invincible crime fighters is split into two bitterly opposed factions, with one camp — championed by the likes of Spiderman — in favour of the new law and the other, including Captain America and his ilk, refusing to relinquish anonymity.
“It’s about which side you are on and why you think you are right,” said Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada.
The biggest gain in transparency comes in the department of trust.
The biggest pain in transparency comes as you get judged not just for what you do, but for what you don’t.
Once others know where you have been, and what opportunities for “good” you have passed up, you are accountable for sins of omission, not just commission. Without the mask, a tired and hurt Peter Parker could whistle past danger and not be faulted for righting the wrong. Not anymore.
It will be interesting to see how the comics’ world deals with the new reality: With great transparency, comes great responsibility.