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Soundtrack: Elvis Costello—“Brutal Youth”

Okay. Change of plans—I can’t talk long today, because I’m immersed in Geoff Klock’s How To Read Super-Hero Comics And Why, which I finally got hold of this afternoon. This is an important book (to me, at least), because there just aren’t many scholarly analyses of the super-hero genre (we’re getting more and more looks at the medium—which is great—but most of the critics are going after what used to be referred to “alternative” comics—which is, again, fine, but it doesn’t help me at all). I need other critics to bounce my ideas off of, because, in the academy, critical context is everything! I can’t just state what I think in a vacuum (and actually, I’m just enough of a wanker for historiography that I wouldn’t want to do it that way!!) I’ll be done the book by Sunday night, at the latest, and I’ll give a full report on it then (I imagine some of you out there have already read it, and I will certainly welcome any criticism of my criticisms of Klock’s criticism—I told ya I love this stuff!)

Just based on the introduction though, I’ve got a few preliminary remarks:


  1. I love the way Klock distances himself from the super-hero scholarship that preceded his book. He laments that what little attention the genre has received has been really unhelpful. Most of these works take a “cultural studies” approach, looking at pop culture as “artifacts” and social indices, never dreaming of making a claim for these things as “art” (presumably, A.C. Douglas would find this type of criticism acceptable…) And on the other hand, we have Richard Reynolds’s Super-Heroes A Modern Mythology, which mindlessly shoves the square-pegs of the super-hero tradition into the round holes of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With A Thousand Faces”-all-stories-are-myths-and-all-myths-are-funadamentally-the-same theory. I hate Joseph Campbell, and I hate Richard Reynolds’ book (which I read a few years ago) with a passion. I know these people have their defenders (a good friend of mine is a devotee of the Campbell/Jung school—not surprisingly, he doesn’t read fiction—why would you bother when all stories are the same?), but I was happy to see that Klock’s methodology owed nothing to either of these.
  2. Instead, Klock proposes to do “something like a literary analysis” of the super-hero genre, using certain “key texts”. Unfortunately (again, only for me), the texts he chooses (Darknight Returns and Watchmen preeminently, followed by nineties stuff like Marvels, Astro City, Kingdom Come, and Planetary) are things I was either never that thrilled about, or (in the case of some of the most recent items) just haven’t read. The problem stems from Klock’s hard-core Bloomianism. Harold Bloom’s major contribution to literary criticism is his notion of the Anxiety of Influence, and, while I’ve enjoyed some of Bloom’s work (and, notably, wrote one term-paper with the idea of setting fire to his entire map of the American poetic landscape because its’ glaring deficiencies made it unable to situate Frank O’Hara in his rightful place!) Writing, for Bloom, is about “strong misprision”—which we can translate as: “willfully redirected tradition”. And the will (basically the strain) has got to show! So Klock ignores people like Englehart and Gruenwald—each of whom certainly re-envisioned Jack Kirby’s Cap—simply because they don’t do it with enough Bloom(in’) bravado! Oh well, you can certainly understand why Bloomian critics would become fascinated by modern comics, with their endless ego-fuelled “retcons” and “reboots”.
  3. That said, I’m prepared to enjoy the whole thing with a grain of salt. At the very least, it’s intelligent, if overly reverent of Miller’s Dark Knight (and he compares Miller’s initial DD run to Hammett! sacrilege!!! personally, the only thing of Miller’s I’ve ever liked is his “Born Again” storyline in DD #228-233, I know Doc Nebula agrees with me on that…anyone else?)—and devoid of jargon.
  4. Sadly, Klock makes no mention of letters pages (but I guess that’s good, this can be my niche—ya gotta have a niche!!), nor does he discuss Antinomianism or any other species of Protestant doctrine (but then, he’s not an Americanist, and he hasn’t been obsessing on Calvinist theology for years, so I’ll forgive him).

Okay! There will be more details and less posturing when I’m done the book…

Good night friends!

Dave

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2 comments

  1. Um. the only thing of Miller’s I enjoy *on DAREDEVIL* is BORN AGAIN. Miller’s first run on DD, now cinematically immortalized in a bad Ben Affleck movie that acts nearly as visual Cliff’s Notes for the whole ninja laden thing, is truly, grotesquely misshapen and just plain bad, yes.

    However, I like much other Miller writing. In fact, I tend to like nearly anything that Miller doesn’t write AND draw. BATMAN: YEAR ONE, while it’s not a story of the REAL Batman, is a great story of some nutball costumed vigilante on some Earth, somewhere. And GIVE ME LIBERTY is well worth reading, and not merely for the excellent Gibbons artwork. There’s other good Miller stuff out there, too. One should simply avoid what Frank writes AND draws.

    As to scholarly analyses of superhero comics, no, I wouldn’t know of any of those. The work you’re talking about sounds like nothing I’d enjoy, though; he’s lookin’ at the WRONG comics.

    MARVELS, by the way, is, in its first two issues, probably some of the best writing Kurt has ever done… and all easy shots aside, Kurt is quite a gifted writer and when he gets somewhere up near realizing his potential, he can kick out some jams. The third issue slopes off a bit and the fourth issue, in my opinion, is a mighty swing at a hanging curve ball that winds up sending a line drive foul straight into the head of some hapless fan in the stands. But MARVELS is well worth reading, nonetheless.

  2. Darren,

    I know, I know, I expressed myself badly yesterday–been fightin’ a cold, and my head’s been cotton-filled for a couple of days! I was referring to Miller’s work on Daredevil exclusively, but it’s true it doesn’t come across that way!

    On Marvels, well, I didn’t find it all that great (although the paintings are nice!), but maybe that’s because, I’ve never been interested in the perspective of the comic book “man on the street” (or,as a Calvinist would say, the “unregenerate”). It’s a fun tour of Silver Age history, but it just doesn’t take anything like the direction I was hopinh it would.

    That said, I shall have to re-read it, because I’m talkin’ through my hat, as they say…

    Dave

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