Soundtrack: The Verve Story, Disk One 1944-1953
Wow! I’m in a talkative mood today/tonight!
I ranted at length on “The Pop Culture Gadabout” on the subject of Singin’ In The Rain’s inferiority to Swing Time, Gold Diggers of 1933, and a few other films (RIP Donald, give Francis the Mule a hug for me!)
I engaged in some back and forth with Doc Nebula over whether it would be a good thing if scientists could settle this whole reincarnation question.
I tried to register over at Pulse:
(thanks for the reference NeilAlien!)
in order to get in on all the craziness going on there thanks to Michael David Thomas’s big thumbs down on Jordan Raphael & Tom Spurgeon’s Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book and Mr. Raphael’s subsequent childish replies… Unfortunately, Pulse wouldn’t let me register, because I don’t have a stylish-enough e-mail account… Oh well. By the way, I read the book (and loathed it) a couple of months ago, but more on that later…
Also, if Sean Collins had a comments thread, I would certainly have checked in there to applaud his humour piece, er, review of Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee’s Batman series Hush. Suffice it to say, Mr. Collins has an instinct for the jugular worthy of Edgar Allan Poe (and anyone who hasn’t read EAP’s evisceration of William Ellery Channing’s poetry is really missing out!)… Sean certainly doesn’t inspire me to want to return to my late-eighties habit of buying 70 reserve titles off the racks every month… To be fair, I never liked Batman, and the only issues I ever really actively looked for were the ones drawn by Gene Colan in the early eighties, and even those weren’t very interesting (just more of Doug Moench’s Moon Knight desires…)
And A.C. Douglas has added me (along with Forager) to his select Blogroll! Very classy A.C., maybe we can be friends after all…
Okay, now, without further ado: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the Battle for the Soul of the Silver Age—My Twelve Cents’ Worth:
Whilst stickering new hard-covers at work tonight, I kept ruminating upon Geoff Klock’s book… After more consideration, I think I’ve isolated what I find most troublesome about it: when discussing the version of Silver Age that he claims Warren Ellis’s work would eventually supersede, Klock acts as if Stan Lee didn’t exist. To make matters worse, in my quick critique of the book, I pretty much treated King Kirby the same way. Of course, the Lee-Kirby war goes way back, and has only intensified since Jack’s death, but what I’m starting to see is that this is more than just a personal feud over the attribution of creator credits—it’s the fault-line of an enormously important interpretive divide.
On the one hand, we have Klock’s (Ellis’s) paradigm, which equates the Silver Age with Jack Kirby. And on the other we have those who, like me, believe that the most definitive contribution to the Silver Age was made by Stan Lee. People who hold the second opinion clearly (is there anyone besides me? please tell me there is!) would not see Planetary as the culmination of any tradition that they recognize. Reading Klock, you get the impression that he considers the main difference between the Silver and Golden ages to be merely the oft-mentioned fact that the super-powers go from being magic-based to science-based. Oh, maybe “characterization” sharpened up a bit, and continuity started to become important, but basically, according to Klock (and—unless I’m wrong, and please let me know if I am—Doc Nebula as well) Golden Age and Silver Age super-heroes are the same animal… And there’s a lot of truth in this—if you’re looking at DC. But, I submit that, at Marvel, there’s a lot more than that going on.
Now, Jack Kirby doesn’t change, from one era to the next—except in the fact that he kept getting better at doing what he had been doing since he created Captain America—i.e. depicting high-octane action though the use of highly stylized, almost cubistic renderings of powerful figures in motion against wildly imaginative, alien backdrops. Pure Kirby characters are always supremely competent human beings or Gods—either “justified” or Ancient, and often (to invoke Tammy Wynnette & the KLF) both…These are characters who always know where the action is, and what to do when they get there (it starts with an uppercut to Hitler’s jaw, and just keeps rollin’). Kirby’s people are strong, confident, and obsessed with the accoutrements of their power. If you want an idea of what I mean, here’s a vintage Kirby moment from 1958:
Green Arrow & Speedy hitch a ride on a giant arrow from “Dimension Zero” and find themselves stranded in that very same null zone. Of course, this is Green Arrow’s cue to think, “Will we ever get back? Will we ever see the arrowcave—or the arrowcar? Will we see those days again when kids flocked around us in department stores, asked for our autographs, and played with the Green Arrow toy arrow kit.” (Adventure Comics #253; reprinted in The Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told, 62).
Clearly, the Green Arrow is one fucked up guy—he’s a HERO alright, and if you want to find latent fascism in his attitude, I’ll join you. On the other side of the sixties, Jack went back to doing this kind of character, in his 4th world stuff and his Eternals stuff, and his atrocious mid-seventies Captain America stint. Now, surely anyone can see that the FF, the X-Men, and Ant-Man et al are nothing like this (Thor seems to have been a sop to Kirby’s wonted mode, and, not surprisingly, Stan really went crazy with the self-parodying dialogue in that strip).
In my opinion, the major change (at least at Marvel) is that superheroes become stand-ins for the reader, instead of objects of worship, and this is Stan’s doing all the way (or, at least Stan & Steve Ditko’s). Ditko’s vision is very similar to Stan’s, although it’s a lot grimmer—this is not a writer vs. artist debate, it’s a conflict between two fundamentally different conceptions of the superhero. And it’s Kirby’s conception that needed Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s critique in the eighties, and has had its Id completely unleashed in the pages of The Authority. The Lee-Ditko formulation spawns a completely different tradition (although the two traditions often coexist between the covers of the same magazine, as in the FF, where Lee’s “spiritually conflicted” protagonists clash with Kirby’s godlike figures, or, in the case of Galactus, God himself, basically)—the one I intend to write my dissertation on–which, I believe culminates in the work of Mark Gruenwald (on Captain America) and Grant Morrison (on Animal Man).
I’ll explain what I mean by this cryptic pairing tomorrow. I’m awfully tired.
Good night friends!