Welcome to Split Seven-Inch, a new feature of Loser City wherein we examine two pieces of media that are not necessarily closely related with each other yet still have something interesting in common. This time up, we’re looking at the twin superhero poetry collections Missing You, Metropolis and MultiVerse.
Side A: Missing You, Metropolis by Gary Jackson
The titular poem in Missing You, Metropolis opens with a bit of narration from Batman as penned by Jeph Loeb, and while it is surely damning with faint praise, “Missing You, Metropolis” may very well be the best piece of writing to spring out of Loeb’s painfully formulaic Batman stories. It also serves Jackson well by lending its title to this collection, as across nine tercets Jackson goes from the ideal situation of how the speaker would be saved by Superman in a bank robbery to his actual saving by Batman.
Superman would be clean, simple: “By now Superman would be here/in a flash of blue and red and these thugs/wouldn’t know what hit them.” By the end of the poem, we’re treated to how Batman disposes of the robbers and secures the safety of the bank’s patrons, “There are only the wet sounds,/of blood-soaked fists pounding flesh,/the image of black boots bludgeoning skin,” and the importance of the title is clear: these poems represent a longing for simpler times.
Sometimes those simpler times are being a teen and talking with your friends about which superheroine you wanted to fuck—I still cannot believe that this is a thing people do, and thus Jackson’s “In a Conversation About Superheroes” reeks of cliché to me, but it’s a cliché people expect to be there as boys on the precipice of puberty talk comics and super-women in skintight suits—and other times those simpler times are back before the speaker’s childhood friend Stuart sliced open his forearms to see “the road map buried/under flesh.”
While the metaphor of Superman/Metropolis being simple/idyllic/utopian and Batman/Gotham being mature/adult/etc is one that feels frustratingly cynical and played out, Jackson has me believing in it because he believes in it, which is a pretty impressive feat.
I went into Missing You, Metropolis expecting more cape-and-tights poems, and I get the feeling that this would’ve worked better as a thick chapbook with a few of the personal poems scrapped alongside a few of the out-of-place comics poems like “Elegy for Gwen Stacy” which seems to do little more than restate a few facts about the character’s death or the opening poem “The Secret Art of Reading a Comic” which only briefly touches on that secret art (that of what goes on in the gutters between the panels) and rambles a bit about old comics having black-and-white morality (while referencing Marvel comics which historically are much more morally grey).
The personal poems that don’t touch on the speaker’s relationship with his friend Stuart, like losing his virginity to the neighbor girl in “Natalie Pays the Neighbor Boy a Visit” or dealing with a bully-turned-bigger-bully in “Cornell” feel like they take me out of the overarching narrative Jackson’s forming about the friendship – no, the partnership – between the speaker and Stuart. While I’m not a fan of Stuart and the speaker having the uneven partnership of Robin and Batman or Bucky and Captain America as Jackson brands them in “Stuart,” it does explain the slight feeling of responsibility that carries through the collection when we’re left with another dead sidekick.
Whether you’re a poet or a comics fan, you’ll likely get a whole lot out of Missing You, Metropolis, but I’d recommend dog-earing the pages of the poems you dig so that you can easily go back to them and avoid the ones that feel like filler. Particular favorites aside from those already mentioned include “Iron Man’s Intervention, Starring the Avengers” as well as two poems about prominent black superheroes, “Storm on Display” and “Luke Cage Tells It Like It Is,” both of which tackle the ideas of blackness in comics and the problems that come with the titular characters despite the positive things they bring to the superhero genre.
Side B: MultiVerse Edited by Rob Sturma and Ryk McIntyre
Have you ever read an anthology? Comics, poetry, fiction, whatever’s being collected, anthologies are generally a pretty mixed bag unless your personal taste and that of the editor(s) line up perfectly. Despite this, I expected more out of MultiVerse. It’s published by Write Bloody, and I typically adore books published by Write Bloody. And yet here we are.
While it feels as though Missing You, Metropolis suffers from having a bit too much of the personal and the superheroes getting in the way of its overarching theme, MultiVerse suffers greatly from being what it is: an anthology where the only real criteria is that the poems be somehow related to funnybooks.
Poems like “Superman Uses His Fingers To Count Off The Things He’s Not Afraid Of” feel like they should have a turn at some point, a reveal of some kind rather than merely being a list of 10 things that is slightly too long and a tad too clever for David Letterman. I probably should have expected the abundance of Joker and Batman poems due to the popularity of The Dark Knight and it leading folks to the idea that the order/chaos dichotomy between the two characters is the most interesting thing this side of Harvey Dent’s coin, but the only one that offered something beautiful to me was the cliché “Open Letter To Batman, From Robin,” which featured the lines “About hoping they’ll believe you/when you show them a mask and call it your face.”
Despite trudging through pages upon pages that felt like references masquerading as poems, a few stood out among the rest. Robbie Q. Telfer’s “Everybody Is Spiderman” is a clever take on identity and how we are often trapped in our roles in lives by ourselves and others. Chad Parentau’s “Ditko’s Day” is one of the only poems to touch on the men behind the masks and feels like a pretty accurate albeit brief look into the life of the Spider-Man co-creator. “When Peter Parker Crashes At Your Place” by Dalton Day hits on the humanity of Peter Parker and what has made Spider-Man a character that has endured for decades.
Not to discredit the above-mentioned Spider-Man poems, but I think it speaks volumes that these poems stand out above Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and other more traditional heroes’ poems. It can be tough to write a poem about a character that is typically viewed as having a single dimension to their personality and stories, while Spider-Man is one of the more definitive complicated heroes and thus may be easier to grab a bit of depth with.
There’s also the spectacular “Bizarro Hate Poem” by Jesse Parent, which reads like the first time anyone has really done Bizarro right since Morrison/Quitely/Grant did on All Star Superman. And finally, there is the poem that gives me hope that an anthology like MultiVerse could exist filled with poems that are all brilliant and moving: “The Flash Crashes My Father’s Second Wedding” by Kieran Collier. It’s published in The Emerson Review, and you can read it online in their 2014 edition.
The other Write Bloody anthology on my nightstand is the Andrea Gibson-edited We Will Be Shelter, and the fact that those poems required a theme seems to make them more cohesive. Perhaps it would be too much to ask of a themed superhero anthology, and yet Missing You, Metropolis managed to carry some important themes while being rooted in the superhero mythos. If you’ve run out of other superhero poetry and you’re curious about more or if you liked the Rob Sturma-edited zombie poetry anthology Aim for the Head, then MultiVerse may be up your alley. It’s also got a handful of solid Spider-Man poems.
David Fairbanks is a freelance writer, poet, and artist. You can find him on Twitter at @bairfanx.