Dark Knights of Steel #6
Batman is still missing (thanks to his brother) and the Amazons are on their way to do battle with the Kingdom of El. All that stands to quell the war of the three kingdoms is an acrobatic boy, a drunken wizard, and a plucky information hound. This universe doesn't stand a chance.
More and more, this series reminds me of an experience I had when reading Roland Barthes’ Mythologies — the realization of exactly how much of our shared understanding of the world is composed of our interpretations of signs and the things which those signs signify. If you haven’t taken a deep dive into the study of postmodern literature, I’ll outline the basic theories in broad strokes, and then I’ll show you how my summation of a seminal semiotic text (see what I did there?) connects to this book about quasi-medieval superpowered people.
Very basically, Barthes posited that much of our language is composed of signs which are (or were) attached to ideas which are significant within a culture. Every culture has their own signs, and many signs overlap across cultures — though the interpretations attached to those signs may (and often do) vary. These signs can be broken down into two general categories: Denotative and Connotative.
Denotative signs are literal. A red octagonal stop sign means ‘stop your damned car’ to most western drivers. A pair of golden arches signifies that a greasy, unethically sourced and exploitatively produced burger can be procured in a nearby locality.
Connotative signs are a little bit different. This term describes a sign which interacts with the feelings and values of an observer within the culture which produced (or adopted) it. Think of the image of a twisted body on a crucifix. Or, I dunno, a bright red S emblazoned on a blue field. Or a golden lasso. Maybe an emerald ring.
Some people might have an emotional connection to McDonald’s, but it’s not going to produce the same level of emotional frisson as that produced by a connotative image.
Many, many cultural misunderstandings and general fuck-ups spring from the misinterpretation of a connotative sign by someone who is visiting from outside of the culture. Pandas signify a very different set of associations in China than they do in America, just for example.
The genius of this book is in the very different ways that some of the signs we recognize are interpreted by the fictional people who inhabit this text. The S that we associate with Superman, for example, doesn’t stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way (whatever the fuck that means, aside from the painful death throes of end-stage capitalism) but rather it’s interpreted as the legacy of a noble family. It’s enough to give loyal DC fans the most delicious kind of mental whiplash. And this was the effect which Tom Taylor carefully crafted and which he uses to draw you into the story.
The fact that it looks like we’re about to be treated to an undead demon king is just the icing on the proverbial cake.
Bolstering Taylor’s rather complex storytelling mechanics is Yasmine Putri’s beautiful art. Every line is designed to pack as much narrative and emotional punch into the story as possible. Arif Prianto’s astonishing colors function as brilliantly as a dash of cobalt in a pane of stained glass, highlighting the emotional beats of each panel.
This is a remarkable series, delivered with sure hands, and no faltering. If you aren’t reading it by now you are missing out.
This is a remarkable series, delivered with sure hands, and no faltering. If you aren't reading it by now you are missing out.
Dark Knights of Steel #6: Semiotics
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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