Making The Case For Speculative Fiction

My mother doesn’t know this, but I actually once landed in detention because of a comic book.

Let me explain.

If my memory serves me right, I was twelve when Avengers Disassembled first came out. I remember sneaking out during midday break to get to the corner bookstore just to buy the first issue, which I then smuggled back to class, and read in between subjects. I was already halfway through the book when I felt a tap on my shoulder — a tap that turned out to be from my teacher, who then proceeded to make me choose between surrendering my comic book and spending thirty minutes after class at detention. Like the smartass that I was, I chose the latter. Honestly speaking, though, landing in detention, as harsh as it might sound, was a relatively small price I was willing to pay for a temporary escape into a colorful world where superpowered heroes in colorful spandex roamed free.

A panel from Avengers: Disassembled. | IMAGE from MARVEL COMICS

A panel from Avengers: Disassembled. | IMAGE from MARVEL COMICS

Let’s get one thing out of the way: unlike today, being a nerd during my schoolboy days was far from easy. Not only did one have to steer clear of the jocks and the snooty kids who have no qualms getting his “uncool” nerd stuff and dumping them in the trash, one also had to deal, like I did, with teachers and other grown-ups who often took their sweet time when it came to dishing out lectures about not wasting one’s money and time on disposable sheets of paper filled with stories that, in their minds, one would have easily forgotten by the time the weekend rolled in.

Growing up as someone who practically devoured literature and art, I found it hard to understand why most of my teachers then found comics a waste of time. I mean, was it not clear to them, how comics were in fact, clever instruments of storytelling? Were the genius and the artistic brilliance that went into the creation of those pages not apparent enough?

And it’s not just comics, to be honest. Time and again, people have looked down on speculative fiction and other forms of popular media, deeming them “childish,” “amateur,” and, as one of my teachers put it ever so bluntly, “dumb.” And frankly, it’s depressing.

Do these people actually mean to tell me that one couldn’t glean anything good from the likes of Harry Potter, The Avengers, and Star Wars? For the benefit of the uninitiated, speculative fiction, whether in the form of books, films, video games, and comic books, is fast becoming a mirror that reflects our realities — and yes, that’s a good thing.

In fact, taking into account how diverse our current pop culture landscape is, one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find a narrative that best reflects whatever issue is being discussed in society today. Politics? George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is on TV and on our bookshelves. Racism and bigotry? There’s J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as well as Marvel’s line of X-Men books and films. To borrow the words of the Schuyler Sisters in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, look around; look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

A panel from X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. | IMAGE from MARVEL COMICS

A panel from X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. | IMAGE from MARVEL COMICS

But I digress, speculative fiction, despite having the uncanny ability to expose us to realities we’d normally brush off, can only do so much. After all, the burden of taking action still rests upon us, its audience.

When I was in college, a friend of mine once asked me about my thoughts on the potential impact of speculative fiction has as a medium. He asked me if there had been any instance wherein a film, a video game, or a book directly influenced a society’s actions in any given time. I reminded him about the impact Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere had on the Philippine Revolution.

Despite considering myself to be quite a big fan of comics and speculative fiction, however, I’ve only managed to attend my first comic and fan convention by the time I reached my early 20s. And, at the risk of sounding dramatic,the experience was nothing short of life-changing. First, because it allowed me to meet people who loved the same things I did (spoiler alert: there were a lot), and second, because it allowed me to meet the creative minds behind some of my favorite stories — including the ones I first read furtively inside the confines of my high school classroom.

There is a game — one that I have a real difficulty with, personally — that goes, “When would you most like to have lived and why?”

It’s a relatively straightforward game, I’ll give you that, but it’s one that has, most of the time, confounded me, especially when I consider the fact that while it affords one the chance to think about what it’d be like, living in another century, say, Shakespearean England or the Renaissance, it would also mean missing the emergence of comic books and modern speculative fiction, and I honestly don’t think I could bear that, for obvious reasons.

Long live the nerds.

(Header art by Vince Puerto)

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This story first appeared on GISTPH.COM