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Another wall falling, the end of the fourth wall


Another wall falling, the end of the fourth wall

It is practically impossible to tear down the fourth wall, that construction quite but quite larger than the Chinese wall without it seeming that we are tearing down the scenery of a movie of Ed Wood. It is not easy to overcome that construction that simply separates reality from fiction, which reminds us that no matter how involved we may be in a story, it is precisely that, a story that takes place in a world other than this one. And excuse me, but it’s disappointing. That despite the fact that we are immersed in a role-playing game we are only characters, completely separated from the real world, since we are exchanging one world for another, it is disappointing. That after six seasons, thousands of pages, we are still so far apart from those we care so much about, it’s a real shame. Of course it has happened, on occasion, that a character suspects that he is a character. the character of Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction is a clear example, like The Neverending Story, in which the characters of the story within the story recognize themselves as characters. In any case, our position remains passive. We are talking about dreams within dreams, stories within stories and code within code; some characters may become aware of their destiny, but nobody bothers us, nobody looks back at us.

Until to Grant Morrison, the king of the rehash, offered to revive Animal Man, a fairly inconsequential cartoon. Of course the story would have its own, but let’s agree that it was not out of the ordinary. Well, let’s be honest and give Morrison credit: Until 1988 Animal Man was a hero of the bunch, a minor character within the vast DC universe. Morrison decided to completely change not only the character but the narrative, the stories, the very world Buddy Baker lived in, and in the process began to deal with topics such as vegetarianism, care for the environment and animal rights. The story wasn’t for kids anymore, even though Buddy’s powers left a lot to be desired (taking on characteristics of animals he was in contact with, no wonder it was never very popular…). But Morrison’s ideas completely transcend any power he might have:

Animal Man is not autobiographical in the strictly naturalistic sense of Harvey Pekar, but it all comes from me and is affected by things that have happened to me. Animal Man is actually about me writing Animal Man, so it’s autobiographical in a cleverly postmodern sense.

Grant Morrison explores reality through his stories, and Animal Man is no exception. On the contrary, far from realism so in vogue at the end of the 80s, when one more thinks that it is something simple the scriptwriter is leading us to the middle of the desert of Arizona, where Buddy Baker takes Peyote and discovers “a network of countless smaller fields, of planes that guide the formation of atoms in molecules, cells, tissues, organs, systems”. After discovering himself as some kind of postmodern shaman, Animal Man has an experience that shakes him completely. But not only to him, but to us, for the first time. Buddy Baker turns his face and with all the fear you can imagine, looks back at us. And he is a comic, so the little white cloud confirms it: “I can see you!”.

Far from a hallucination,** the experience defines the superhero**, since it confirms again and again that in fact he lives inside a vignette, trapped by the designs of an eccentric screenwriter. In the midst of confusion and despair, Animal Man gets to use a bullet to destroy an enemy. The fiction / reality relationship has been completely blurred and our world is no more real than that of Buddy Baker, who will face Grant Morrison himself at the end, whom he asks if he is real. Morrison’s response?

Of course you are! We wouldn’t be talking here if you weren’t. You existed long before I wrote to you and if you are lucky you will still be young when I am old or dead. You are more real than me.

Gentlemen, it’s simple: like so many other walls, the fourth wall has disappeared and can never be recovered, since all of us (the superhero that gives the story its name and us) have learned that we are “minor characters in a story” but that we can overcome our status as mere characters and passive spectators and fully participate in the creative act and create ourselves in a couple of panels. Will we stare back at ourselves?