Neil Gaiman has long been an advocate of creator rights, as well as serving as a charismatic but quirky nexus point for attracting non-comic book readers to the medium, particularly overweight teenage girls of the gothic persuasion. A longtime member and spokesmodel for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Gaiman’s infectious passion for comic books was exampled best last summer in his beautifully-composed original graphic novella Neil Gaiman Presents Fredric Wertham’s Past of Future Days, for the triumphant return of the author to the Vertigo imprint of DC Entertainment.
One year later and the book is now entering its seventh printing, so it was little surprise when rumors of a probable film began building last Fall. Gaiman of course has a growing list of imdb credits, from his directorial debut featuring artist John Bolton in a surreal documentary short to his co-writing with Dave McKean the cult-hit Mirrormask film for Jim Henson Productions. Such rumors have been concreted today via a post from Gaiman’s assistant Lorraine at the Official Online Journal of Neil Gaiman. Gaiman has indeed written a screenplay, and will be both producing and directing the motion picture adaptation of his own enchanting tale.
Comic fans and historians have long been excruciatingly aware of the damages imposed upon the medium by the real Wertham, whose 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent unleashed an all-encompassing pox of horrible stigmata for the world of funny books. Filled with bias and accusations and unfounded presumptions, the psychiatrist’s words were so damaging that even persons who’ve never even encountered his book believe that the reading of comics leads to general moral decline, illiteracy, and tooth decay.
In Gaiman’s story however, we are shown not only an alternate history but also an alternate future, as the young Wertham is shown to be born in 1963, the year that comic books exploded.
This Wertham is a tremendous fan of comics and dreams of one day becoming a successful artist himself. Sadly, he grows and matures in the years of the medium’s decline, as jobs become increasingly scarce and the longevity of publishers becomes decreasingly healthy. Failing to find employment from his samples no matter which of the conventions he travels to, an adult Wertham finds himself slowly developing a highly suspect obsession with the industry and all those who are able to find work in it. Failing to raise money for self-publishing efforts in the economic downturns of the early 21st century, Wertham’s long-held dreams face their disastrous finale as the comic book industry breathes its last dying breath in the Spring of 2022, when the lone extant publisher (the merging of Time Warner to Disney for economic dominance in 2017 leading to the eventual integration of both DC and Marvel Universes into a singular comic book universe) with their lone extant series, Amazing Challengers Of The Unknown Journey Into Mystery Action Comics Featuring Superman and Wolverine, end in explosively violent turmoil as a suicide bomber (innuendo’d to be the grandson of Alan Moore) destroys the publishing house and killing all seven employees. Finally snapping, the poor and unfortunate Wertham sees at last that his dreams of becoming a comic book creator have wasted away his entire life, and swears vengeance. Breaking into a government facility (as he learned to do from countless comics of his youth) Wertham steals a prototype time traveling device and goes back to the quietest time in the industry’s history, the year 1954, where he writes Seduction of the Innocent in hopes of negating the industry altogether. The embittered Wertham thereby enacting his hatred, only by this fable having reached such conclusions through facing the hard realities of the Modern Age, which was begat largely by his actions in authoring that damning book to begin with.
The shocking time loop has won over scores of fanboy critics, but will it have similar effects upon the larger, movie-going public? Will the sequential art medium finally, through this masterfully-scripted elegy, at last be viewed as the valid artistic medium that it surely is?
Only time will tell.