‘The world I longed for was the world of the X-Men’
From The Morning News:
There’s a comic Freud used to illustrate his famous essay, “Interpretation of Dreams,” called “A French Nurse’s Dream.” The connection between comics and dreams is apparently so direct even Freud did not feel it necessary to explain why he would use a comic to illustrate what he meant. In it, a French nursemaid is walking her young charge along the street when he begs her to let him pee on a street corner. She allows him, and soon notices the child has produced a stream that is filling the street. Soon it is like a river, and a crew shell rows by in the street, then a gondola, then a sailboat, and finally a steamship coming down the river, the boy peeing the whole time. In the last frame the nurse awakens to the child standing in his crib, crying.
The dream protects the dreamer while the dreamer sleeps, Freud said. This is the point he illustrates with the comic. The sleeping nurse’s unconscious kept including the child’s crying in this succession of scenes, until finally she could no longer be kept from waking.
In a graphic-novel class I taught at Amherst College, I liked to pass out comic books on the first day. Many students had never read them. I asked them to describe what they saw. They often smirked as they leafed through the pages, commenting: “Huge muscles,” “huge breasts,” “tiny waists,” “everyone is very good looking,” “costumes appear painted onto the body,” “no one looks like this in real life.”
The superhero fantasy is a fantasy of being superior to our adolescent fears of sex and death. It is the dream that you will always be sexy and always be safe from whomever or whatever may kill you. It is often the fantasy of being the most dangerous man or woman in the room, and thus, also the sexiest. Superman, for example, or his bad-boy opposite, Wolverine. Wonder Woman isn’t a comic about a real female warrior—Wonder Woman is about being stronger than any man who might force her to do something, about being strong enough to choose when she might want to be touched, and yet sexy enough, which is to say, attractive-to-men enough, for people to still want to do so.
The superhero fantasy is also the fantasy that the law is not enough, and what’s needed is someone willing to break the law in order to deliver justice.