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On Trial: Magic In Comics

Van_Damme_MagicWelcome to Comical Musings.  We are excited to bring you the next entry in our “On Trial” column where each month, we will be taking a character or concept from comic books and putting it “On Trial.”  We will state who or what is on trial and why and then your favorite Writer’s Blok writers will weigh in with their opinions on the side of the prosecution or the defense.  Once you have finished reading the report, you will decide by voting on the poll and hashing out your feelings in the comments section.  Through all of this, we will establish if the accused is really guilty.  Do you believe in magic?  In a young girl’s heart?  How about in comics?   The mystic arts used to be a major force in comics and a convenient explanation for anything that writers didn’t feel like explaining.  But in our modern rational society, magic has fallen out of favor in favor of scientific explanation.  Most of the mystical characters in DC, like Zatanna, have been relegated to Justice League Dark.  Dr. Fate has yet to make an appearance in Earth 2.  Alan Scott’s powers have been attributed to a life force within the earth, rather than magic.  And Captain Marvel has been officially renamed Shazam, because the wizard who gave him his powers has already been killed off.  But, writer Geoff Johns assures readers that this incarnation of the character will be “far more rooted in fantasy and magic than it ever was before.”  “Magic” has always been a blanket term for anything beyond the reach of modern science, but with the extent to which science has advanced over the last eight decades there is far less territory beyond its boundaries.  While magic is still associated with characters of fantasy, including leprechauns and the tooth fairy, readers seem to be less enchanted with the concept than they were in times past.  In an age when the public wants to know “how it works,” some view magic as cop-out or a gimmick.  Today magic in comic books has been placed on trial.  Does it still have a few tricks up its sleeve?  Or has it been revealed to be little more than smoke and mirrors?  Members of the Writer’s Blok will present their case for both the prosecution and the defense.  Read their opinions and then weigh in with your verdict in the comment section below.


The Prosecution:


The Black Ness Monster:

Lately, I’ve been gorging on Game of Thrones (both the book and the HBO series), and since I’m so far behind the GoT frenzy and very few of my friends were ever caught up in it, I have no one to talk to about it. Also, I’ve been forcing the show into every conversation as well to fill the void. And now, I’m about to force it into this discussion! Sorry…

One of the things George RR Martin does that gets me (and many of my fellow Westeros brothers) is that he writes in a world where magic is available, but instead he often chooses to deal with issues in pragmatic manners. I admire that in my comic books too. Sure, it’s fun to watch Reed Richards whip up some crazy invention that saves the day (and yes, I know Reed is technically a scientist but Mr. Fantastic’s brand of science is so fantastical that you might as well call it what it is: magic), but I’d much rather watch Spider-man think and scrap through a story arch, coming out only by the skin of his teeth. I mean … Rorschach  is far more interesting than Dr. Manhattan…


Shiera Carter:

Some scoff that magic is nothing more than a convenient explanation for things that writers have neither the time nor imagination to expand upon further. Others state that magic is essential to the art of masterful storytelling, and cite examples like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia to reinforce their opinion. While I greatly enjoy reading all the afore-mentioned series, I must say that magic has lost a place in comics.

Comics are written to appeal to the everyman. I’ve yet to read any type of popular comic with a protagonist who isn’t in some way above humanity’s standard grade. These heroes are smarter, stronger, and faster, and we love them for it. They are flawed (sometimes deeply) but in the depths of their desolation we readers cheer for them anyway.  We feel camaraderie with them.

This being said, as a reader I become frustrated when I’m reading a comic and something mysterious or unexplainable is attributed to “magic”. Tell me a story! I want the hero (or heroine) to battle their way out of a war, blood streaming from their wounds, rather than simply turning the enemy into cockroaches and then stomping on them.

Magic has a place in literature, but its presence shouldn’t be felt as strongly in the comic book world.




The Defense:


Scott Deaux:

I can see why magic is an outdated concept in comic books.  Science is much more terrifying to people than magic ever was.  Why be afraid of what cannot be explained when there are equally terrible things that cannot be explained and can’t even be prevented?  Magic seems “cute” these days, but a good fantasy comic is full of it.  The thing is that other than Skullkickers, Orc Stain, and something really important that I am surely forgetting, there aren’t many “good” fantasy comics.  As someone who enjoys the steampunk design aesthetic, I have always appreciated when the high tech meets the arcane.  They are such great adversaries for each other, but even better bedfellows.  Enough of that soap box.  I can see how magic can be considered outdated, but I do not believe that it should be omitted from comic books.


Jim Tenkins:

The story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the story of magic’s “disappearance” from popular culture. When Frankenstein was first adapted for the stage, Victor Frankenstein was presented as a magician, and the monster’s creation was understood to be the result of either mastering or meddling with forces beyond the normal realm. As time progressed, Victor slowly turned into a scientist and the monster became the product of a brilliant (crazy?) man’s grasp on the building blocks of life. Simply put, we used to explain the un-explainable with “magic” and now we do it with “advanced science.”

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic is not gone, we just call our wizards by different names now. Sometimes they are scientists (Reed Richards), sometimes they are gods (Thor), and sometimes they are actually wizards (Zatanna). All the same, what we’re really talking about is that which is beyond the normal man. “Magic,” or whatever you would call it, is not a gimmick, but our imagination projecting something greater (or scarier) than ourselves. It’s a wonderful part of our culture that has never left, just simply put on different clothes to remain relevant.



In my opinion, magic will always have a place in story-telling, comics or otherwise.  “Magic” has always been a blanket term for all things not understood, but there is currently a trend to re-label this as an area of science and classify it as “not-yet-understood.”  Even so, there are genres and subjects that are distinctly magical in nature and cannot easily be grouped into other broad classifications; these include the miraculous, the occult, and all things mystical.  Magic is often invoked in the Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery genre, but one can hardly argue that all magical characters can be classified under fantasy (i.e. Dr. Strange and Zatana).  The term “magic” has acquired some unfortunate connotations from real-world illusionists such as David Copperfield and Chris Angel.  But the fact that it is challenging for writers to use magical themes in an effective way does not mean that they should be eliminated.  In my opinion, this area is currently underutilized in comics and is well-positioned for a renaissance of-sorts.  The fact that DC had to dedicate an entire title (Justice League Dark) to magical themes and is re-introducing Shazam (formerly Captain Marvel) as a more magically-oriented character highlights the reality that magic is alive and well in the world of comics and cannot be easily dispelled.  Some might say that it is only by magic that I would be able to write a fairly serious blog contribution, and they might be right.  But in my America, Lucky Charms will always be magically delicious.


So there you have it.  The vote is in your hands. 

[cardoza_wp_poll id=4]

(Comments In Comments Section Please)

About Scott Deaux

Favorite Comics: Lazarus, Essex County, Chew, Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, Age of Apocalypse stuff, The Nightly News, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Pax Romana, Avengers, NEXTWAVE: Agents Of Hate, Sweet Tooth, We3, others... Favorite Quote(s): "Journalism is just a gun. It's only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that's all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world." - Warren Ellis "People who hold signs go hold many other things" - Eddie Pepitone

One comment

  1. I think one of the bigger problems coming about with magic lately is its harder to set a limit for. Things based on science or technology they can more easily define what the limit is, what its capable of. Magic though, how do you limit it? Sometimes it seems indefinite. Often its based on the user’s strength/focus, but often that will vary greatly. It just seems to me that magic is far more on the Dues Ex Machina side of things just for it is harder to really limit.

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