Month: October 2003


Soundtrack: Concrete Blonde — Bloodletting

The story is called Night of the Collector, and the issue appeared on the stands in October 1973 (although the cover date is January 1974–my birth-month). It’s one of a number of Marvel and DC adventures that took place in Rutland, Vermont on Hallowe’en, and since it’s the only one I still have, it’s the I’m going to discuss…

writer:Steve Englehart
pencils: Bob Brown
Inks: Don Heck
Letters:Artie Simek
Colors:Glynis Wein
Edits:Roy Thomas

Upon re-reading this, I find myself concluding, quite against my will, that it’s not one of the better Ruland stories. There’s nothing supernatural going on–unlike in some of the earlier issues of Thor and Marvel Feature (the “feature” was The Defenders) where forces of evil like Dormammu and Loki provided the opposition. In this one, we have to make do with the Collector, who never really developed into anything resembling a proper antagonist for a team like the Avengers… It’s a pity really, because his particular Elder of the Universe tic ought to have made him really useful–he actually has a real (albeit extremely neurotic) reason NOT to kill the protagonists… It must be hell to write super-villains, because you somehow have to make them seem menacing, despite the fact that, they cannot, by definition, ever succeed at what they are trying to do (which usually involves–when it is not completely fixated upon–killing the heroes). The Collector is just a powerful guy on a perverse quest to round up other powerful characters–who knows why? Maybe he got picked on at Elders High and has been trying to prove his “manhood” ever since (one wonders why he didn’t just pick out a serviceable Elder-bride and get married, right Eve?)

Anyway, the Collector’s obsessions are such that he can enjoy at least a limited amount of success (by his own deranged standards) without completely decimating the ranks of your favourite super-hero team. When Dr. Doom caprtures the FF and then just hangs on to them in order to “torment” them, it just comes across as a real gaffe on his part. But the Collector? Well, he’s got carte blanche to squander whatever opportunities he gets to eliminate his opponents, because he’s playing a different game entirely.

In this issue, he manages to capture half of the team, before he is vanquished by a gregarious bunch of adolescent comic-nerds in pretty spiffy outfits, who basically talk him out of his gourd (I am not kidding). Englehart makes one his (less successful) vaunted stabs at “characterization” here, by having the Collector shriek: “What? Children! I must escape! Flee! I can stand no more! Now, more than ever, I know why I chose the life of a Collector! It is a solitary life!”. Hunh? As flip commentary on the probable social dysfunctionality of people who get into the habit of amassing things like comics, movies, toys, etc., this is probably dead on, but it seems kind of foolish in the context of this issue… Everything is going splendidly well for the villain, until those pesky kids (led by Tom Fagan) show up–at which point things fall apart in a real (and inexplicable) hurry.

Not that any of this matters–the issue is still a great snapshot of the Avengers right on the verge of the great “Celestial Madonna Saga”, with Wanda ranting about dull normals and how much she has begun to despise them; Mantis telling T’Challa that she is “nothing to speak of” (before falling in to a trance that causes her to channel the message: “DANGER TONIGHT… IN RUTLAND…”–and this is never explained either, I guess the Collector is responsible for it, somehow… who knows? at least it’s kind of supernatural…); and the Swordsman confessing that he has begun to lean very heavily on the aforementioned martial artist. And this proves to be a fine occasion for the dreaded exchange–which I think comprises roughly 10% of all of the dialogue balloons Chris Claremont ever wrote–Sword:”I love you.” Mantis: “And I you.”. And I you!?!? Nobody talks like that. They either say “I love you too” or maybe “Well, I don’t love you (that’s not an easy one to say, believe me!), or maybe just “Thanks”. But they don’t say “And I you”. Or do they? If any of you out there have ever said this, please let me know! (and please, Chris Claremont, if you ever happen to read this, don’t even start with me–you are clearly too far gone, in this respect, to participate in the debate. On the other hand, I would dearly like to hear from the Stainless One on this matter, because I don’t recall that he committed this offense regularly, which makes it all the sadder that he started the trend in the first place. Can it be that he saw how it looked on the page and muttered to himself “No. Never Again…”? I’d like to think so!

Anyway, Avengers #119 isn’t really all that great, but it’s fun, and has some nice renderings of the Rutland Hallowe’en Parade (which Christine & I are still hoping to make it to, one of these fine years) in full swing, and it ends with “morning and November break[ing] across the cool Vermont mountains”, and there’s nothin’ wrong with that…

Good night friends
Happy Hallowe’en (anyone notice the seasonal Google Banner?)



Soundtrack: The Breeders– Title TK

Don’t have much time tonight–and I don’t know what I was thinking of, planning to discuss Madcap when we’re on the verge of a major(minor)holiday! (no day off, but a lot of comics specials, over the years–i think that ought to qualify Hallowe’en for major-minor status, no?). I don’t know why I love the autumn festival so much, because I hate dressing up, and I’m not into horror–I think it might all be traceable to those Marvel/DC Rutland/Halloween stories, which I’ll discuss tomorrow night… Plus the Great Pumpkin, of course… In the meantime, check out this site, devised by a native Rutlander!

And before I go, I wanted to take this opportunity to address a couple of things that have come up via e-mail:

First, here’s a little something I received moments ago:

I really think you should go back and reread those (DeMatteis Captain Americas). Sure, the whole “old Cap” gets a little wonky, but that battle-to-the-death with the Red Skull was amazing, and the Deathlok story was amazing. And Bernie’s a heck of an interesting character. Add in the last good run of art (the Mike Zeck issues) on the title until, arguably, Ron Garney, and I think JM’s run was much stronger than Gruenwald’s (with the exception of the Operation: Galactic Storm issues, which was a fantastic storyline).

I’d love to see more of why you think JM’s role sucked.

I’m not exactly sure who sent me this, but it’s certainly worth responding to!

1–you’re right, I should probably have gone back and re-read those issues, if I wanted to go around shooting my mouth off about them, but the damage is done now (and I have read them, although, much like the Jack Kirby issues that Forager loves so dearly, it’s been a long time, and my opinions are bound to show the rust that has built up on them since 1989).

2.One thing I do remember very well is how much I hated the Cap/Red Skull confrontation that my esteemed interlocutor praises. I have never liked the whole “hero-villain relationship as twisted love affair” type of story, and this one represents the apotheosis of that tradition. I’ll have to admit here, (if it wasn’t already obvious) that I’ve never had the slightest interest in villains, and I don’t care how the Red Skull got to be his bad-ass self. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just an allegorical necessity (like Moby Dick), not a three-dimensional character (I think Darren Madigan just gave up on me entirely, but that probably can’t be helped at this point). Of course, there are a few “villains” that I have been able to motivate myself to think about for what they are in themselves–like Magneto, some of the members of the Serpent Society (especially Diamondback, obviously), the Mimic, Madcap, the Swordsman, and Kang/Rama-Tut/Immortus–you know, vacillators like that. But those “evil/ambition incarnate” characters (including Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Mandarin, Kang-when-he’s-just-Kang, most of the biggies, really) are just so many white whales to me…

2.Bernie Rosenthal is pretty cool, I’ll give ya that. And even though Stern & Byrne introduced her, DeMatteis deserves credit for developing her into one of the more interesting supporting characters in the Marvel Universe.

3.But what’s all this about Zeck being the only good artist to work on Cap in the 80’s? I don’t hate Zeck, but I much prefer Kieron Dwyer. Am I alone here?

4.I can’t really comment on Operation Galactic Storm, because I quit buying comics at just about that time. It doesn’t seem like my kinda thing though…

On the whole, it looks like I’d better go back and read the DeMatteis stuff before I make any more strong statements about his run, and I will, when I can get a hold of them… Thanks for writing!!!

Also, Justin Colussy Estes got in touch with me about my discussion of “open-endedness”, just as I was attempting to refine my discussion of “seriality” in the proposal which I posted about a month ago. It was Kismet–at least of a very minor sort! Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up with JCE(I’ll just post the two paragraphs I’ve changed):

The Marvel Universe, with its realistic New York and fantastical science, can be read as a vast “theatre, a little removed from the highway of ordinary travel”, and the overwhelming emphasis the texts place upon endless individual quests for (an impossible) moral and epistemological certainty situate them firmly within the American romance tradition. From the moment of their inception, in the 1930s, super-hero comics had always been published serially, but it was only in the 1960s, at Marvel, that the texts began to reflect an awareness of this formal “seriality”. In his editorial capacity, Stan Lee built a sense of “continuity” into the texts, barraging readers of the various series with exhaustive references (and footnotes) to the protagonists’ previous adventures (not to mention events occurring in other titles published by the company). The injection of “total recall” into these basically static—or, at least, anti-teleological—narratives (the characters don’t really age, and evil is never in danger of being eradicated) had unexpected side-effects. Inevitably, as each monthly issue established a new plateau of “presentness”—suspended above an increasingly protean body of temporally unclassifiable “past” experiences—inconsistencies arose, and narrative logic became muddled. This problem did not go unnoticed by those readers who contributed to the letters pages, and the most persuasive instances of this epistolary exegesis bled back (at least implicitly, and sometimes explicitly) into the ongoing narrative.

In The Office of the Scarlet Letter, Sacvan Bercovitch examines Hawthorne’s strategy of eliciting “personal response in order to allow each of us to contribute to the expanding continuum of liberal reciprocity”(22). The structural innovations at Marvel, fuelled by the tension generated between “editorial call” and “readerly response”, allowed these works to take Hawthorne’s practice to a new level. Readerly contributions, at once deeply engaged with the material and ironically distant from it, introduced unassimilable elements (the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and women’s liberation among others) from outside the ostensible text, dramatizing (at least a portion of) the “American Self” grappling with the inadequacies of its own intellectual tradition. In a way, the letters page functions as a “support group” for subjects seeking to move beyond (without discarding completely) the stale categories of Calvinism. This project will explore the ways in which this interpretative Babel transmuted these categories into new continua of meaning for an “age of dissensus”.

Okay, good night friends


Soundtrack: Hole — Live Through This

I scored a (great) pumpkin at the Atwater Market today, which we’ll carve on Thursday night (actually, Christine will take charge of that activity, beacause I’m reasonably certain that, if I were judged solely upon my ‘handicraft’ skills, I would not qualify as a primate). I managed to get Friday night off, so we’re gonna hand out some cheap candies and watch the greatest of the Hallowe’en specials, which Christine owns. (I don’t mean Garfield’s Hallowe’en, Schulzophiles!!!)

I have to work at eleven tomorrow morning, which is a frightening prospect. In fact, I’ve had to get up before noon an awful lot lately, and my skin’s not as green as I like it to be–must work on that… But save your pity for Christine–they’re making her work six days this week, at all kinds of times that she’s not used to (the price of promotion, I suppose)…

Anyway, I thought it would be fun tonight to run down some of the reasons why it’s so much fun to switch on the computer these days:

1–Sean Collins is creeping up on the greatest horror movie of all time, in his estimation. It’s all part of his Where the Monsters Go: The Thirteen Days of Halloween series, and it’s very much worth anyone’s time, even if they (like me) don’t really go in for horror. The big unveiling will be on Friday. The list includes some of the usual suspects, like Night of the Living Dead and Wicker Man, some brave deviations (like picking The Birds over Psycho) and some just plain inspired juxtapositions from outside of the traditional parameters of the genre, most notably Barton Fink.

The works he discusses are unified by what he terms their ability to generate a sense of “awful certainty”, and it’s an extremely well-thought-out enterprise. It’s so well-thought-out, in fact, that I just can’t resist tossing my own (insufficient) funds into Sean’s fount of horror. The two films that horrify me the most are: Scorsese’s After Hours and David Salle’s Search And Destroy. The two movies are linked, in a lot of ways: Scorsese’s involvement (he produced S & D, and played a great part in it, as an evil tax auditor), Griffin Dunne plays manic characters in both, Rosanna Arquette’s presence, etc. But, mainly, what unites them is the way that they take an aesthetic that I live (and create) by–namely, that the sheer opacity of the world is the only reason for us to go on groping in the dark as we do–and turn it into a paralyzing force, rather than, as it is for me, a perpetually energizing sense of uncertainty. Both movies expose ideas of mine that threaten to become platitudes, if not carefully watched, stuff like “everything in the world is more important than the subject that experiences it” and “the beauty of other people is that they are unknowable and their actions cannot be scripted”. This is all well and good, but if you find yourself, as Griffin Dunne does, actually on the run from these people (crazy Greenwhich-Villagers who might as well have pitchforks!!), due to a complete inability to communicate even something as basic as “I come in peace” to them, you’re going to start wishing that there was some way to achieve perfect communion with another soul in a hurry–not that these movies ever offer up that possibility… After Hours is probably the better film, but S & D is more quotable. Dennis Hopper, as a Tony-Robbins-like guru named Dr. Waxling, gives out constantly with his “four rules for success” (1.the past is pointless; 2. just because it happened to you, doesn’t make it interesting; 3. the things we apologize for, are the things we want; 4. strength needs no excuse); Walken, as a bored businessman-on-a-crime-spree, says “You can’t have an adventure without a gun”; Turturro has a crazy rant about smashing people at a Met game with a baseball bat; when Walken gets up at a karaoke bar to perform a song-and-dance tour-de-force, Dunne turns to Illeana Douglas, with a goofy grin, and says, “that’s my friend”; earlier, when Dunne has burst into the television studio, in a desperate attempt to contact Dr. Waxling about getting the rights to film his book (Daniel Strong), he finds himself handcuffed in a chair–Ethan Hawke, playing a weaselly aide named Roger, emerges from darkness to gloat over the would-be entrepreneur. Dunne says: “Is this (the handcuffing) really necessary?” Some extra in a rent-a-cop uniform tells him: “Your behaviour made it necessary.” That’s amazing stuff. And to top it all off, in the middle of all of this hipper-than-hip mile-a-minute banter, Illeana Douglas has a heart-breaking moment (when she is “untimely ripped” away from her birthday celebration, and ushered toward an inevitable bloodbath) where she looks back, to a site where a dream of conviviality had still seemed possible, and says, quaveringly: “my…my…coat…my, uh, cake.” Now that’s my idea of horror!

2.Moving right along, we find Eve Tushnet, praising Carnival of Souls, which I just taped, and am planning to watch tonight; and defending Grosse Pointe Blank against the aforementioned Mr. Collins’ assault. I agree with you Eve. It’s a pretty good film, and pretty damned wholesome, in the final analysis…

3.Johnny Bacardi has posted a short tribute to Elsa Lanchester, a big favourite of mine–mainly because of her her work in Rembrandt(1936), which is one of the best movies about an artist that I’ve ever seen…

4.Bill Sherman has contributed a beautiful Hallowe’en post on EC Horror in general, and the brief adventures of Hartley Quimb

5.J.W. Hastings has taken a break from his Miller vs. Moore showdown to consider the matter of comics blogging vs. message-board scuffling. (This discussion too, was launched by the worthy Sean at All too Flat.) And still, the world (or, at least, I) awaits J.W.’s thoughts on the matter of Gruewnwald’s Squadron Supreme + the resolution of the battle for the hearts and minds of “adult” super-hero readers (my money’s on Moore).

6.Franklin Harris links to a brief article on “Ol’ Hickory”–Andrew Jackson. And this always gets me excited! If you think we’ve had some wingnut presidents in our lifetimes, my friends, then you don’t know Andrew. This is a man who, while in office, actually said–for the record–“the Bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!!!” Sure, whatever dude…Also, the people in the Democratic party that tried to carry his legacy into the 1840s were popularly known as “Locofocos”–never mind about why!!!

7.Darren Madigan states, in no uncertain terms, his reasons for disagreeing so strongly with my take on Marvel in general, and my take on Englehart in particular. Not all of it is fair (and he admits that), but it’s very forcefully expressed, and, well, it’s his opinion, and the guy is worth listening to–although we are never going to come to terms on this issue, and I will match his passion for Marvel’s Silver Age against mine any time…(how many points for tie?) There’s also an amusing four-panel cartoon in the header–which is worth a look.

8.And Neilalien has a link to the best chicken game in the world!!

I could go on (singing), but I’ll stop for now. Madcap tomorrow!!!

Good Night friends


Okay… I’ve used up all of my time, this evening, filling out forms and engaging in controversy in the comment-threads (just scroll back a coupla days to see what I mean!!). So I have nothing (to quote Whitney) to give tonight–except this fun comix fact:

Did you people realize that Mark Evanier is the one who came up with the idea for the Ranks of Marvel Fandom (in the Merry Marvel Marching Society), not to mention many of the actual terms that eventually gained currency? (my favourite has always been “Quite ‘Nuff Sayer”, although “Real Frantic One” is great too!) It all happened in the August 1967 Bullpen Bulletins page. I think I did know this, once–but now I know it again! And so do all of you! It’s 36 years late, but thanks Mark! I’ve been meaning to get into some analysis of the rhetorical strategies at work in the editorial scaffolding of the Silver Age Marvels, and this little find has just gotten me more revved up to do it.

Good night friends


Soundtrack: The Muffs — Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow

Tonight, I thought I’d return to my wonted method of exposition through lettercol citation. The following letter appears in Captain America #333. It’s written by a guy named Dean Shomshak, who’s all over the web, actually–just try a Google-search and you’ll see! Anyway, while I don’t exactly agree with a lot of what he says, I think he provides a very clear picture of how carefully Gruenwald went about preparing the ground (structurally) for the tour-de-force of issues #332-350. And keep in mind, this letter had to have been written before the bombshell events of Cap #332. Okay, here goes:

Dear Marvel,
I’ve noticed that the character conflicts from the last several months of CAPTAIN AMERICA have been rather heavily symbolic. More precisely, the principle characters Cap has interacted with have been distortions of Cap himself. Nomad has become an unheroic hero, breaking the law in the name of the law, and lacks Cap’s high ethical standards. Flag-Smasher serves a cause like Cap does, but he interprets the cause in a narrow, fanatical way and commits crimes as heinous as any government’s. Scourge was another ruthless villain who thought himself a hero dispensing true justice. Finally, the Super-Patriot is indeed a “living symbol of America” like Cap–but where Cap represents the highest ideals of America, the Super-Patriot seems to represent America’s lowest follies: jingoism, anything for a buck, image over substance, arrogance toward other societies, and so on. And of course the late Red Skull remains the ultimate villain, who pursues evil for its own sake as fervently as Cap pursues goodness.

All these funhouse-mirror versions of Cap (note from Dave: sadly, Dean seems to have left Madcap out of his calculations, and that’s a shame, given that Cap is, in my reading, before everything else, the ultimate liberal-democratic rationalist, but that’s enough from me! On with the letter!!) are evidently one of your ways of exploring Cap’s identity as a hero (Dave:would it have killed him to have written “Saint”? Just once? okay, okay, excelsior!), by showing what he is not. Cap is not a murderous Scourge (although he shot the Ultimatum agent–I’m surprised no one has drawn a parallel), not a chauvinist as Flag-Smasher thinks him to be and Super-Patriot actually is, nor a callous vigilante like Nomad. I thought that you would like to hear that someone understands what you’re doing and on the whole approves.

I must say however, that while the Flag-Smasher, Nomad, and Super-Patriot storylines have been more than competent, they seemed a little stiff compared to the search for Scourge (which, by the way, was over entirely too quickly), the Serpent Society storyline, or the wonderfully spooky “Haunting of Skull-House”. I’ve also missed supporting characters, like Bernie and the Brooklyn Heights renters. They gave a lighter everyday element to balance the heroics.

In the future, I’d like to see the symbolic aspects of Cap and Co. kept more in the background (Shades of Darren Madigan! and really, I’m substantially in agreement on this point). Now that the thematic relationships of Cap and Super-Patriot, Flag-Smasher, etc. have been established, let them interact more freely. Ram and Demolition Man are good supporting characters. I hope to see them again once in a while. The Serpent Society is also a group I’d like to see more of. It is both a formidable opponent and an interesting mix of characters, with a possible thematic subtext: what does the American Dream mean to criminals? Finally, let Flag-Smasher met Super-Patriot with Cap caught in the middle. The ensuing conflict should be most entertaining. (Amen to that!!!)

That about uses up my time for tonight folks. But be here tomorrow as I take the plunge into specificity!! (And if you liked Dean’s letter, maybe you should check out this Shomshak-Gruenwald exchange from ‘Mark’s Remarks’)

Good night friends


Soundtrack: The Young Fresh Fellows– Because We Hate You

Just to clarify: the only reason I ripped into Steve Englehart’s Captain America run, a couple of days ago, is that you will often find comments to the effect that the John Walker storyline covered the same ground as the “Nomad saga”, and was therefore redundant. Darren Madigan, in one of his Martian Vision pieces, calls Gruenwald “creatively larcenous” (I’m sorry Darren, I couldn’t find the exact passage, but I swear it’s in there somewhere!!), and I imagine he had Captain America in mind when he wrote this (and if I’m wrong, I am sure Darren will let me know–I expect no less!!!).

The late Mark Gruenwald has acquired a strange reputation, over the years. Yes, he liked working with established characters, and avoided adding new ones to the continuity, whenever possible–in fact, his grasp of the “overpopulation crisis” in the Marvel Universe led him (and Scourge) to take drastic measures in 1986… Indeed, Gruenwald’s role as Marvel’s “continuity cop” has become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years. His detractors act as if that’s all he was…

But he was so much more. For one thing, he may have been the only creator working in the industry in the eighties who understood just how wrong the “grim n’ gritty” trend was, and had the deep structural knowledge and wherewithal to critique it effectively (although, obviously, since Cap never became a huge seller, the critique had its’ limits). And his vision of Steve Rogers as the exemplar of Emerson’s notion of the “infinitude of the private man” was so exactly right that I really can’t read anything that came before without finding it wanting somehow (how’s that for a Bloomean triumph of misprision?). I know that Jack Kirby & Joe Simon didn’t conceive the character this way–back in the forties, Cap was an anti-Nazi whirlwind, pure and simple. I also know that Stan Lee didn’t write him this way once he was revived–the sixties Cap often got forced into the role of “old fogy” and straight-man for upstarts like Hawkeye. Yeah, everyone always wound up loving Steve, because his “professionalism” and never-say-die heroism were awe-inspiring (amongst his comrades, I mean–I don’t get too excited about it) and often won the day for the good guys. But Stan’s Cap was pretty freakin’ stodgy, and, really, at least for me, not very interesting. His role, it seems, was to serve as a reminder of how easy it had been to be a liberal back in the “good old days”, when Fascism threatened to engulf the earth. All of his thought bubbles (when he wasn’t pining for the dearly-departed Bucky) concerned the question of whether he was an anachronism. Stan channelled all of his middle-aged “nostalgia” issues through Cap, and, as a result, he did nothing with the character, at least nothing that makes sense when you try to align him with Peter Parker, or Dr. Strange, or most any other Marvel protagonist of the Silver Age.

Now, Englehart did something with the strip, but I’m convinced it was the wrong thing! The “disillusioned hero” bit is fine, but it just doesn’t suit a liberal paragon like Cap–the whole point of liberalism (as I’ve defined it, and will go on defining it) is that it is impervious to disillusionment… Gruenwald’s “Cap no more” storyline differs from Englehart’s on precisely that point!

Okay, as usual, I’ve gone on for too long trying to place my argument in context, but I hope it’s worth it. I think I can safely dispense with my assault on DeMatteis’s take on Cap–I’m prepared to say “it sucked” and just leave it at that (although, if anyone cares to debate the matter with me, I’ll be happy to oblige). Now, I’ve got to go to bed! But I’ll leave you with this Gruenwald fun-fact (and keep in mind that I’m no fan of post-modern punning, but it does complicate the picture of Gruenwald as a staid continuity nut):

the title of Captain America #309 (which takes a look at the world though the eyes of three very distinct–and yet strangely linked–characters is:


I don’t know what it means, but there’s food for thought in those three lines, no?

And there’s a lot more (of greater substance) in that issue and the subsequent hundred or so that Gruenwald wrote. I’ll get into Madcap tomorrow. And maybe Flagsmasher too. It’ll be fun.

Fall Back!!


Soundtrack: Beck — Mellow Gold

The GREs are done! It was a close call–the instructions called for a picture I.D. and I brought my university card, but they wouldn’t accept that! I had to run home and get my medicare card. I just couldn’t believe it! Did I look like some ninja GRE-taker for hire or something? Or like someone who actually has the ability to forge a Concordia University ID card? If I had really been attempting to put one over on the man, would I have shown up unshaven and visibly sleep-deprived? No. Of course not. But they demanded an official government picture ID, and, as I’ve discussed before on this blog (a long time ago), it just doesn’t pay to argue with bureaucrats…

I had been awake for 24 hours (that figure is considerably higher as I write this) by the time I began the exam, but it went extremely well, so there’s no reason for me to complain (although I did have to miss an important appointment with a professor…) I was a bit peeved when all of this happened, but I must admit, they didn’t have to let me come back and write it later (they already had my money), and I guess I owe the good people at ETS a big thank you! Yeah right. Come and get it.

I did intend to plunge into Captain America #307 tonight–Gruenwald’s first issue on the title–but my brain is failing, and I want to do this Cap series properly, so be here tomorrow as I lay out my interpretation of Gruenwald’s grand scheme, and start in on specifics, like the bankruptcy of Dematteis’ run on the series and the debut of Madcap!!

Good night friends!!


Soundtrack: Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song

Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America series brought a lot of the issues I’ve been discussing (regarding Silver Age Marvels) to a head. I’ve done more than enough alluding to that fact in this space lately. Time to start analyzing!

Issue #1: What’s so special about another “CAP NO MORE” storyline anyway? Englehart did that in 1974.

Yeah. That’s a big one. But I’ll tell ya, anyone who wants to argue that Gruenwald just rehashed an old plot is going to have to contend with one simple fact:

The seventies Cap quit, because he lost faith in the American polity. Why? Because the people in power at that time were, umm, let’s just say, “lacking in virtue”. So he gives up and becomes the “Nomad”–a man without a country. It’s a fine storyline–I’m not saying it’s not. But as a contribution to liberal democratic political thought, well, it’s a complete disaster. Or, to be fair, we can just say that Englehart took a reactionary leap right out of that particular conversation (and into a Machiavellian virtu-based Republican discourse), for the length of this saga. (that didn’t sound fair did it? oh well) Why am I saying these things? Surely, if Jack Kirby thought his predecessor on the title had tarred his patriotic paragon with a pink-hued brush, we oughtn’t argue with him, should we? You can stand with him. Or you can stand against him. But you don’t argue with a “King”.

Er… Yes, you do. And that’s the problem with Englehart’s story. It suffers from exactly the theoretical virus that liberalism was designed to stamp out. It’s none other than that old wish (and that’s all it is folks) for “government by the best”. This problem has been with us, in the West, since (at least) Plato. The argument goes like this–yes, there are corrupt men at the helm right now, and maybe it’s impossible to insure against it, but isn’t that too bad? And let’s try, at least, to get our most “public-spirited” people into positions of power, whenever possible. We can measure our polity by how close we come to the ideal of “The Philosopher King” (or, in the case of a democracy, a “philospher president” chosen as a stand-in by a sovereign “philosophical people”).

Fine. Plato was a smart guy. And anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps isn’t necessarily a moron, but he/she sure as hell isn’t a liberal! Here’s the bedrock of a liberal-democratic polity, in a nutshell: the people form a social contract in order to ensure that everyone’s individual rights are protected, and who are they to be protected from? From the very types of people who run for political office, actually! Plato called them “thumotic souls”, Augustine just called them “Wolves”. Plato’s idea was to, somehow, weld the thumotic soul to the philosophical soul, and come up with a super-motivated person who always makes the right decisions, and can be trusted to do our thinking for us… Well, that’s never worked out now has it? Augustinian thought (which later flowered anew in Calvinism) deals with the dilemma of the “sheep and the wolves” by diverting attention away from the question of “who shall rule the sheep?”, asking, rather, “how shall lupine agression be contained?” The amazing answer: make sure the most intelligent/aggressive/dangerous wolves go into politics, and then design all of your laws so that they can’t do much damage once they get a hold of the reins of power, because they’re going to do that anyway! As a proud sheep, I heartily choose door number two.

In a liberal democracy, the governmental structure is specifically intended to be a vast concentration camp for the scariest motherfuckers in the land. These are the people that, if they couldn’t become senators, would be carving out private fiefdoms for themselves in Iowa somewhere. So we, the sheep, allow them to be senators. It’s that simple. A liberal-democratic politican is, by definition, a crook. And the people ought not to be surprised when they catch one at it red-handed. Certainly, Captain America should know this. And that’s my problem with Englehart’s Cap. Mark Gruenwald is the only writer to have written Cap as a rational liberal-democrat, and in doing so, he corrected a terrible mistake on Englehart’s part, and managed to do a lot of other cool things in the process… I’ll dive into the series itself tomorrow (or possibly the next day, because I’ve got my GREs on Friday morning–at NINE AM–and I may try to go to bed as soon as I get home from work tomorrow night. We’ll see!)

Good night friends


Soundtrack: Nirvana — Unplugged in New York

Gosh now. That’s an agressive way to start off a friendly chat, isn’t it? Sorry. Couldn’t be helped. Now, Brian Bolland has done some pretty amazing covers in his time, but Animal Man #17 is the one for me. And let it be said that, at least for this brief moment, I’m spotlighting the artist for a change (and yes, Forager, I agree, this doesn’t happen nearly often enough, but what can I do?). The amazing thing about this cover (considering the emtional charge it packs) is how multivalent it is… Now, as a young, angry, animal rights-obsessed fifteen year-old, encountering this on the stands, I derived a really perverse, Rage Against the Machine style euphoria from it. Motherfuckers did THAT to a monkey! Bet they eat MEAT too! Kill ’em! Kill ’em all! Ooooooh, those wallows in moral indignation. How I miss the comfort they afforded me…

Looking at it now though, I just don’t see it that way anymore. Grant Morrison put Buddy Baker (and his readers) through the wringer in this series–and it wasn’t hard, really. Baker is basically Peter Parker, settled down with a wife and a kid and a dog and a cat AND a sense of responsibility that has time to expand a little bit, because the author chooses not to give him a convenient super-villain to fight every issue. A super-hero’s moral teeth are like a rodent’s–they must be excercised constantly, or else they become dangerous, ingrown fangs. Animal Man begins as kind of a quiet little series, much like Power of the Atom, and both of these series demonstrate very clearly that that’s all well and good, if you’re gonna do comics the (60’s) DC way, where your characters kind of forget each enjoyable little clash with darkness and start anew the next month. But as soon as you add memory to the equation, you get an unstable narrative that cries out for catastrophes and epic confrontations. In the final analysis, Power of the Atom completely failed to withstand these pressures, and even revelled as it succumbed to the temptation, by giving us stuff like a totally ludicrous government conspiracy against Ray Palmer and (for the last 4 months of the series) a gradually-shrinking Atom figure in the little corner-area, which “pops” out of sight for good with the final issue, #18. Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America exhibited similar tensions, but managed to defuse them in very interesting ways, which I’ll get to in the days to come…

In Animal Man, the author seems to have decided to let the series implode just as completely as POA, but, unlike Roger Stern (who didn’t even write the last few issues of his series), Grant Morrison (without recourse to “the governemnt” or some other monolithic entity) assumed sole responsibility for failing to keep the narrative moving forward (and it seems to me that, at the end of Animal Man #26, he signalled to the world that he intended to goof around for the rest of his creative life, and I haven’t seen any evidence in the–admittedly few–issues of New X-Men or The Invisibles that I’ve read that he didn’t follow up on that particular promise…)

Which brings me back (still with me Forager?) to the cover of Animal Man #17. What/who is Buddy angry at in this picture? The people who actually sewed up those eyelids, thus arrogantly, and symbolically (as they had already done in fact) declaring that this being has no subjectivity and need not be accorded the same rights that all “rational citizens” are due in our society? Sure. He’s angry at them. However, he’s also angry at: himself, because the only thing he can think of to do to ease the situation causes the death of some innocent firemen (yep, he does);the reader(well, readers like me anyway), for jumping on this little animal rights bandwagon and gettin’ a cheap “hate-on”–which shouldn’t feel good, but you know it does; “God”/”Fate”/”Whatever” for creating a world in which moral quandaries such as these even exist. And, last but not least, he’s angry because there’s just no cathexis for this rage. He’s angry at himself for being angry–and for not seeing any way not to be angry… And that’s how it is on planet earth. The moral aspect of our being (which is what super-heroes–as I interpret them–represent, abstracted from the total person, which, luckily, also includes things like an aesthetic sense and a rational faculty, from which we derive, respectively–our appreciation of the real beauty in the world and in each other, and an ability to create provisional systems that allow us to slog through it all with a modicum of self-satisfaction, so long as they continue to explain things, in their minor way) should never be anything but outraged. And there really isn’t any way out–at least, not until they cancel your series, or your writer takes off to do something more fun…

It’s a good cover.

Good night friends


Soundtrack: Le Tigre (Self-Titled), which features the immortally-titled tune, “What’s Your Take on Cassavettes?”(which is not as interesting as it sounds though… How could it be?) and “My My Metrocard”, one of my favourite songs of all time.

Captain America & The Popular Front

This post takes its’ cue from Jim Henley’s recent statement that he’d like to see Cap portrayed as a New Deal Liberal. It makes a lot of sense, because, as far as I know, Steve Rogers still came of age in the late thirties (thank goodness for naturally occurring spontaneous cryogenic stasis, hunh?), and, unfortunately, all most writers ever do with that juicy tidbit is make him an “old-fashioned guy” who doesn’t understand the “crazy kids”.

But, umm, there were crazy kids back in the thirties too… In fact, there were some really crazy upstarts over in Europe, called “Nazis”, I believe–and their challenge to Bourgeois Liberalism was far more extreme than any pink-haired, polymorphously perverse “lifestyle radical” of today ever thought of mounting. So! Cap knows (or ought to know) more about the foundations of Liberal Democracy than any Marvel super-hero. Now, good ol’ American liberalism can plainly co-exist with lots of things that set themselves up in opposition to it, like, oh, the toothless Foucaultian “critiques of power” that, even as we speak, are dominating an “American Studies” conference near you; and the equally ineffectual yearning for the old days of “republican virtue” as practiced by J.G.A. Pocock and younger people who should know better like my friend Mark Proudman. What Liberalism Cannot deal with, obviously, is naked force… Something like Nazism. Or militant Islam…

Now, here’s the fascinating thing: in the thirties, when Americans saw a monstrous atavistic storm brewing in the Old World, and turned to each other to figure out what they valued–what you got was the Popular Front, which was (somehow) populistic, individualistic, skeptical, creatively energized (rather than blandly propagandistic, except in cases like Steinbeck’s lame-assed “contributions” to the cause) and very rationally grounded, all at once! And what do we have to compare with that in today’s crisis? Well, we’ve got the idiotic blithering of Dubya, and the equally idiotic blathering of Michael Moore–both of whom clearly lack the requisite faculties to carry on an adult conversation. The result of this moronic dyad?–a screaming match that can’t do anything but hurt people’s ears and make them stick their teary, sensitive little noses ever further into their “Life Strategies Workbooks” for solace…

What’s the answer? Why, a popular front icon like Captain America, of course! (That and the films of Frank Capra) And has anyone ever written a Cap with the above-mentioned political instincts? Why, yes, of course, Mark Gruenwald!!! Actually, I think the entire Silver Age at Marvel was powered by a core of (vestigial) Popular Front Liberalism–but it took Gruenwald to bring it out into the open. Tomorrow, I’ll get more into how he (and Grant Morrison), developed the political potential of the old Lee/Ditko/Kirby creations, with the help/hindrance of a detour through Englehart, and maybe some discussion of Stephen Vincent Benet. (perhaps I needn’t even add that this is why I hate Frank Miller. The broken-telephone line of influence that runs from Hammett through Kurasawa to Miller resulted in anything but comics the “Marvel Way”, as I define it, and F.M.’s work is the poorer for that… Now Dashiell himself, I’m certain, could’ve written a brilliant DD!)

Good Night Friends