Month: February 2004


Weekend Update

I’ve been thinking about Cerebus quite a bit lately…I’ve resolved to read the whole damned thing straight through, which will necessitate the purchase of the last 150 issues–in “phone book” form, I guess, and that’s unfortunate, because the trades, like the Marvel reprints, omit the letters pages, and I’d have to say that “Aardvark Comment” (in its’ own crazy way) plays just as pivotal a role in its’ series as the Silver Age Marvel lettercols did in theirs… None of this is gonna happen though, until after my assistantship money comes through, and that’s quite a ways off yet!!!

Anyway, I’ve been doing some Googling…

If you’re interested in the series, but don’t know it very well, or have been as out of touch with it as I’ve been, there’s a good overview here (it begins with the question: “when did this series get good?”.)

And here’s the closest Cerebus-related analogue of Neilalien (of course, no one really compares to Neil!)

Plus there’s always Cerebus

Oddly enough, it was my latest re-reading of The Dark Knight Returns that convinced me to just check my political/philosophical reservations at the door and deal with Cerebus on its’ own terms… Honestly, fifteen years ago, the idea that I wouldn’t be around for issue 300 would’ve made my mind swim! I’m particularly intrigued by the news that Sim has gotten so heavily into Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Biblical Exegesis… I know that a lot of folks have been put off by that stuff–but given the fact that I’ve spent years obsessing on Puritan sermons and romantic/modernist/post-modern literary theory, it sounds great to me! Of course, Sim is not going to convince me that there are any essential differences between the genders, or that liberalism with an “economic bill of rights” isn’t a good thing!

Okay, gotta go–I’m a little tied up with Archibald Lampman stuff right now, but tomorrow night I should be ready to start talking about “Superman’s Dark Knight of the Soul”…

Good night friends!


A Link and a Prayer

Just checking in to direct your gaze Blogfonte-ward, where Mitch H. has joined our Dark Knight/Heart of Darkness disccusion…

No time tonight for anything more than a quick note on nihilism in Conrad:

Mitch, I’ve never read Heart of Darkness as a “cautionary tale”… I think it’s one of the best accounts we have of a subjective encounter with the sublime. Personally, I find The Dark Knight Returns far less rewarding, because, in treating the sublime as an “abyss of nothingness” that the subject can dive into, if he/she so chooses (and Batman surely does), rather than an absolute barrier, that will either make or break the person who runs into it, Miller’s book offers nothing to a reader interested primarily in the relationship between self and Other (or self and world)…

DKR is almost entirely given over to a Nietzschean quest for solipsistic “mastery” (quite unneccesary, and, in my opinion, soul-destroying–because the soul cannot feel itself at all if it cannot feel the pull of another). I say “almost entirely” because I’m on the verge of coming up with a reading of this book that places Superman at its’ center–it may not come to much, but I think it’s the best point of entry for a person with my Kantian/ Kierkegaardian/ Edwardsean understanding of the sublime! I’m gonna sleep on it!

The weekend beckons!

Good night friends


Board Simple

Yep, I admit it, I caught the fever on the Comics Journal Messageboard. But can ya blame me? Take a look at what happened here… That’s no excuse though, is it? As Eli Bishop has noted: “You’re making an ass out of yourself [, Dave]- not that you’re the only one, but you’re putting an unusual amount of energy into it.” No question about that. He’s right. Anyway, as Wilford Brimley says in The Thing: “There’s nothin’ wrong with me–and if there was, I’m alright now…”

Now, on to better things!

1. Don’t miss Rose Curtin’s piece on Animal Man!

2. Babar, at Simply Comics has come up with a great way for people to keep track of what’s going on in the Blogosphere. Thanks man!

3. Okay–we ain’t done with the Dark Knight here–not by a long shot!–but I’ll admit I’m having a tough time with it (have I been avoiding Frank Miller by battling the likes of R. Fiore? Shades of Woody Allen in Annie Hall, using conspiracy theories to fend off Carol Kane? Sadly, there may be some truth in this…)

One interesting idea that’s come up (via yesterday’s commenter, Marc) is that Bruce Wayne himself (as distinct from “Batman”) is the Marlow/narrator, dealing with the sublime fact of his own madness… It’s a good theory, one which really plays up Miller’s book as a precursor of Palahniuk/Fincher’s Fight Club (another apocalyptic work that I have trouble with), with the Dark Knight as Tyler Durden…

Still, I don’t think I can go along with Marc on this one… I don’t see any evidence of a split personality here. I mean–Bruce/Bats is more notable for the absolute single-mindedness he displays from beginning to end: right down to the first-person “call-and-repsonse” of “this would be a good death…but not good enough”/”this will be a good life…good enough”.

A little while back, at Peiratikos, Steven and I kicked around the idea that, while Spider-Man’s origin/conversion precedes the trauma of of Uncle Ben’s murder, Batman’s power derives from trauma itself… After re-reading DKR, I’m not sure if I’m down with that proposition… Bruce’s childhood encounter with the bat appears to be the true source of his obsession–and, yes Marc, the creature definitely partakes of the sublime: “eyes gleaming, untouched by love or joy or sorrow”… but there’s a strange gap between this experience and the decision to become Batman. The kid sees the Bat, and he wants to be like it–be sublime–but, of course, as a subjective being, this constructed non-self is inaccessible to him… It’s as if the kid reaches a bizarre variation of the “mirror stage” in that cave–he thinks he’s the bat, but he also knows what his own terror-stricken face must look like…and this leaves him at an impasse!

Read this way, the book becomes the record of a sick man’s search for mirrors that reflect both his own (ersatz) sublimity and the fear it evokes, which brings him back, always, to that initial encounter with the true–the unreachable–sublime… that crazy Bat! By adding this piece of backstory to the Batman origin, Miller changes it completely! Bruce doesn’t become radicalized by the murder of his parents… he merely uses this event as a bridge across the abyss between his child-self in the cave and his Bat-self.

The key to all of this is the killer himself, who is both sublimely terrifying and (as Miller takes pains to emphasize) terrified–he’s the boy and the bat all rolled into one… and he is the source of Bruce’s epiphany!

Throughout this story, Batman needs the fear he inspires in others–when he doesn’t get it, he has to anesthetize himself with booze… He will always be that scared child–but when he’s facing down a criminal, delivering his best impression of the sublime, gauging the performance that he finds reflected in terror-stricken eyes, he can be the Bat too! It’s not schizophrenia–quite the reverse: it’s the weirdest sort of “integrity”–an overcompensatory fusion of diverse selves; an unnatural dropping of the anchor into the flux of identity…

more on this over the weekend, obviously!

Good night friends!


TCJ Rampage?
(being an attempt to come to grips with the hyperbolically inane, after the manner of Graeme McMillan)

So what did I hope to accomplish, when I launched this thread on the CJ messageboard?

Two things, I guess:

1. it was offered in support of Sean Collins’ call for a Comics Journal that actually takes itself as seriously as the thinking comics community wants to; and

2. I wanted to gauge the Journal’s readership’s openness to a more scholarly level of analysis in the magazine… after all, it’s not as if I’m the only one who thinks that plot summary and vague musing won’t cut it.

As far as I’m concerned, the proof of whether a work of art is worth talking about is in the pudding of criticism–assertions and “appreciation” are cute, but that’s not what I expect from “The Magazine of News And Criticism”…

Unfortunately, according to the vast majority of repondents (including a representative or two of the CJ itself), it seems that genre and/or publication history are the overwhelming standards for determining whether a text is worth discussing.


“Any critical act is, first & foremost, a subjective one. So while you, Dave, might read Silver Age super hero dramas with admiration, some might read them entirely as narratives of power, doing little more than enforcing hegemonic assumptions about the heroism & ‘humanity’ of, almost exclusively, white bourgeois America.”

This one’s not so bad, really–at least it’s an argument, although it is not supported by any discernible process of reasoning (or link to same)

“Reading superhero comics when you’re grown up is like reading Winnie-the-Pooh when you’re grown up; it’s a juvenile taste that you may still have the capacity to enjoy in adulthood, particularly if it’s particularly well done. Furthermore, because so many that turn their hands to it there’s all the more chance that there will be some whose work you’ll find interesting, if you’re not alienated or overly embarrassed by the subject matter.”

this one was actually lauded by many respondents as “fair-minded”! Again–just because R. Fiore read super-hero comics as a kid, and still gets a childish kick out of them, does not mean that there isn’t anything more to these texts than he is aware of… Previously, when I had asked the man to read what I’ve been writing on Animal Man & Watchmen–this is what I got in response:

“Goodkingwenceslaus look out,
Your comparisons are pretentious
Inappropriate contexts
Soon become tendentious . . “

(see, if you use any philosophical or narratological terms in reference to “children’s books”, you are being fatuous… it’s a nice, circular argument, and it has the added benefit of allowing Mr. Fiore to carry on with his lame “comix-chat” without engaging my ideas at all–good one!)

but nothing prepared me for this magnificent bit of foolishness:

“[super-hero stories take place within an] immensely, [BOLD]stupidly[/BOLD] complex narrative frame. I refuse to believe that any of the continuity “crises” that have afflicted the DC Universe should be examined seriously, except as attempts to boost sales or protect market share. I find myself agreeing with much of what Andrei Molotiu says on this subject. I especially like the house-of-cards analogy. In a way, it shows the difference between corporation-owned mythos and culturally shared myth (whatever myth is).”

refuse to believe is the key phrase here–“refuse to think” is the meaning I infer from the statement…

Let’s get one thing straight–a critic cannot concern him/herself with the manner in which a text is produced! I understand that corporations often treat their employees badly, and that they do evil things like think of the bottom line, instead of ars gratia artis! But come on! Once the text is out there, judge it on its’ merits…

Believe me, I have all the respect in the world for self-publishing auteurs like Dave Sim (aka: the reason I got into comics in the first place, in the mid-eighties)–and that reminds me, look for a critique of the whole 300 issue run of Cerebus in this space, sometime before the year is out!–but I maintain that some very interesting things have been done by creators who have “souled-out to corporations”, and I construct my arguments out of material present in the texts themselves… Anyone who wants to dispute my claims is welcome to do so–but they’d better support their cavilling with close-reading, or I’m going to write them off…

A question for those of you who are so dead-set against “corporate comics”–do you adopt the same stance with regard to fiction? Are you going to boycott/pooh-pooh anything published by Vintage? Are you going to buy my self-published book instead? I have no doubt that it is better than most of the novels out there on the market–but the quality of the work has nothing to do with the fact that I chose not to submit it to any “corporate” publishing houses… It could be “indie” and good–it could be “alternative” and bad. I can’t believe that I have to point this out to adults, but I guess I do–you can’t judge a text by its’ publisher. Evaluate works on their intrinsic merits–or keep mum…

In the long run, I’m not too worried about this–we’ve seen these kinds of battles before…in the realm of film-criticism. First, we were “allowed” to treat auteur cinema based upon its’ formal properties, and then, ever so gradually, we got around to admitting that studio age Hollywood “products” could be interesting as more than mere cultural indices… I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang anyone? Just “bread and circuses”, right?

If I can help to do for super-heroes what Stanley Cavell and Ray Carney have done for romantic comedies and “weepers”, I’ll feel pretty good about all of this!

Of course, in defense of the Board, there were many reasonable responses, by people like Ken, Andrei Molotiu, etc, and their contributions were much appreciated!

Dark Knight is gonna have to wait until tomorrow, it seems… but I’ll leave you with this: I think that Sean Collins is right when he argues that “Miller is painting Batman in much the same way that Kubrick paints the stargate in 2001: immense, alien, beyond good and evil…”, and I do think that the sections in which the city dwellers and media heads comment on Batman support this–the problem is that Miller undermines all of this effective stuff by domesticating the sublime (always a no-no!)–giving us access to the brain waves behind “the voice”, drowning us in first-person narration, when that “roar” ought to come out of the void of a dry shell… A psychological profile of the abyss? A force of nature haunted by memories? That “smells the fear” it inspires–and loves it? Anytime we are made privy to Batman’s thoughts, his sublimity comes into question–and I don’t think that this book can afford that! Why didn’t Miller focalize the whole story through Gordon? I’m still thinking about this stuff–tomorrow I’ll get back to the actual text!

Good night friends!


Too Close to the Heart?

Steven Berg’s look at The Dark Knight Returns introduces us to an interpretation of Miller’s Batman as a figure of the sublime (and here I am using the term in the Kantian sense of an object that taxes the rational mind beyond its’ capacity to judge…) The problem, for me, is that the text is confused in its’ exposition. As I stated yesterday, I believe that Busiek & Ross do a better job of conveying the same idea–we are not competent to judge “marvels”… For what it’s worth, I like Marvels much less than DKR (as this post makes fairly clear)–at least Miller has the courage to show us that the sublime is horrific and nothing but; he doesn’t ornament the face of apocalypse with simpering traces of pseudo-beauty, as B & R do…

However, Marvels does give us a spectator-narrator (Phil Sheldon) who fills the role played by Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness… In DKR, on the other hand, we are most often positioned within the sublime, which is the one place that a human subject can never be!

It starts with panel one, in which Bruce Wayne begins his first-person account of one of his habitual runs at a “good death”. Contrast this with the opening of Heart of Darkness: “The Nellie, a crusing yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.” Both stories are headed in the same direction, towards a date with “the horror”; but Miller’s tale begins in psychotic flux, Conrad’s in the eye of the storm–“at rest”. Is that really such an important disctinction? Well–for me–yes!

All of those layers of narration around the core of nihilism in Heart of Darkness are there for a reason! Critics usually interpret Marlow’s failure to dash “the Intended’s” hopes against the rocks of the plain, unvarnished “Truth” as some kind of failure of nerve–like Conrad’s whole book is just a mealy-mouthed indictment of “hypocrisy”. I, on the other hand, believe that Marlow’s fabrication, at the last moment, of a “noble lie” that he knows he’ll never forgive himself for telling, is the only authentic human response to this existential crisis (and, in bestowing this gift upon “the Intended”, at the cost of his own integrity, Marlow anticipates “Grant Morrison”‘s act in Animal Man!) By giving us Batman’s world primarily through the eyes of Batman himself, Miller robs his narrative of a great deal of the complexity that it might otherwise have possessed… I don’t know why he chose to do this–is it just the effect of an addiction to hard-boiled, Hammett-style prose? aping Red Harvest‘s style without grasping the significance of the style? I’m not sure… There may be reasons for it that are not yet apparent to me. Is Clark Kent left in the Marlow-position at the end of DKR? Maybe so, but that wink looks even lamer then, doesn’t it? You can bet that I’ll be mulling this over at the ol’ bookstore tomorrow!

Unfortunately, I’ve spent too much time on the CJ messageboard, and I’ve got some Canadian poetry to read, so I’ll have to cut this off early again–tomorrow I should be free to post more expansively!

Good night friends!


“And this also has been one of the dark places of the Earth”

Well, my excursion into The Dark Knight Returns is going to be somewhat different from the Watchmen and Animal Man posts, because I just don’t like Miller’s book… However, as I’ve been arguing on the Comics Journal Messageboard, there’s a big difference between “appreciation” and “criticism”–texts do not enter the canon, Stuart Smalley-style, because “people like them”, but because people have written interesting things about them… Thus we can say that The Dark Knight Returns has earned its’ reputation merely by occasioning Geoff Klock’s work, not to mention J.W. Hastings’, Steven@Peiratikos’ and Dave Intermittent’s.

I plan to explore the relation of this book to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (with a sidetrip into Purloined Letter territory), but it’s gonna have to wait until tomorrow! Suffice it to say, for now, that I think Miller’s book works best when there is an analogue of Conrad’s Marlow at the narrative helm, and suffers when we are forced to inhabit the mind of Batman himself–a Kurtz-figure if I ever saw one, a sublime horror, not a protagonist… The strongest moments occur in Part 4, when various awestruck witnesses recount their experiences of Batman as a commanding voice, rather than a man (of course this echoes Marlow’s “A Voice! A Voice!”). In fact, the more I think about this, the more apparent it becomes that DKR could really have benefitted from a narrative structure similar to the one employed by Busiek in Marvels–the two books are basically about the same thing.

Artwise, I much prefer Miller’s Simonsonian performance in this series to anything else of his that I’ve ever seen (and, of course, any Miller is far more interesting than Alex Ross…)

To be continued!

Good night friends!


Genre & Genius

Tim O’Neil replies to my critique of his article on The Filth in TCJ #258… I want to thank Tim for responding so promptly–and for kindly agreeing to transform himself into a great big pinata for those of us who have an interest in seeing superhero comics receive their critical due!
Christopher Butcher was the first up to bat, although he played it cagey, taking most of O’Neil’s pitches–meanwhile, Jim Henley was swinging for the fences! And here I am again, ready for more!

May I submit, Tim, that your disdain for superheroes (in your “critical capacity”) has a lot to do with the fact that you “grew up living, breathing and sleeping the damn things” and have “never really stopped loving them”? I’m well aware that a good many people read superhero comics mainly in order to get a nostalgia buzz, and of course they’re welcome to do so–but it should be obvious that this buzz seriously impairs the critical judgment of the addict…

At the root of the problem is the word “genre”. This is a real buzzword in the comics community today, and it seems that people are using it mainly as a synonym for “bad”. But the “good comics”/”genre comics” binary just doesn’t work, for a number of reasons, the most important being that many (if not most) cherished “artcomix” fit quite snugly into a generic category of their own (“coming-of-age/slice-of-acute-observation”). Now, you’ll never catch me saying a negative word about the aforementioned genre–how could I, when I’ve written a novel that falls under the very same heading? (and I’m writing another one!)–but it’s time we all admitted that no work of art is sui generis… “Genius” does not “transcend the limitations of genre”, it marshalls the conventions of whatever genre it partakes of in startling ways!

Tim nods to this definition of “genius” in his post:

I think anyone who sits down to write a superhero story should take a long and hard look at just what it is that makes the genre so hidebound, so calcified and almost decrepit in its mannerisms and its conventions. After so much water has been under the bridge, it seems that it almost takes a genius to find some new life in the genre, to find stories tell that need telling as superhero stories, that take advantage of those things the genre can do that no other genre can. Take the unreality, take the genre conventions and use them to tell a story that is uniquely suited to exploit these limited restrictions. It’s not impossible – but as I said in the Journal the amount of effort almost makes you think it isn’t worth the while. That’s what makes superheroes uninteresting.

However, what’s missing from this passage is an understanding that every story must accomodate itself to some generic conventions… You cannot “just tell your story” in a vacuum. Good storytelling is all about playing with the reader’s expectations. It’s about deviating from–and creating permutations of–ur-texts. It doesn’t matter one whit what you are deviating from, as long as you do it brilliantly…

All artists use their precursors to help structure their own work–James Joyce used the legend of Odysseus, Jazz musicians use Kern and Berlin standards, Capra maneuvered within the confines of romantic comedy and melodrama, etc. The big problem I have with your post Tim, is that you seem to have no understanding of how irrelevant your “Cap-beating-on-Batroc” example is… You want us to look at said battle in isolation? Well I’m here to tell you that nothing in a work of art can be isolated from the whole–and, in this case, “the whole” includes not merely that particular issue, but, at the very least, the entire Marvel Universe.

The thing about “continuity” that a lot of intelligent critics don’t seem to get is that, far from being a “straight-jacket”, it’s a perfect ready-made semiotic system, just waiting to be used to good effect by adepts… This is why I agree with Sean Collins’ assertions last week about the relative inaccessiblity of super-hero comics–it’s true, if you just read this stuff piecemeal, you’re going to think it’s sophomoric…but if you happen to have taken the time to familiarize yourself with the “rules”, you can learn to savour those instances in which they are broken intelligently! (naturally, this makes superhero comics an iffy commodity to be relying on, economically speaking–thankfully, that’s none of my concern…)

There’s a lot more to be said here, but it’ll have to wait–or perhaps others will cover it for me… But on Animal Man–if that final scene with the flashlights is such an “obvious and derivative mechanism”, what, pray tell, do you interpret it to mean? Do you agree with me that it indicates that meaning is always elsewhere, and that any attempt to fabricate narrative involves the conscientious storyteller in an “infinite egress”? And if you don’t, is it really such an obvious device? What do the rest of you Animal Man readers think? You needn’t look any further than this very series for a perfect example of “expert rule-breaking”–Morrison takes the “hide-bound” convention of the origin story, splits it in half with a wordquake of gibberish, and basically strands us in the abyss between the “myths”… in a state of permanent “Crisis”! I can’t think of a more thorough demolition of ontological inquiry in any other work of art, and it could not have been accomplished without the conventions of the genre! That’s genius man!

Tomorrow–the Dark Knight, at last!

Good night friends (that includes you Tim–this may be a “fight”, but I hope it’s an amicable one! and, of course, I’m not saying that you ought to start reviewing super-hero comics this way; but I think that someone at TCJ should, just for a change, every once in a while, y’know?)

right! good night!


A coupla swell links

In an established genre like the superhero comic, you can make wonderfully subtle (or gloriously inane) points through strategic deviation from convention; and the same goes for a blog as steeped in tradition as Neilalien’s!! You may be sure that when the palindrome abandons his link’em and leave’em format in favour of more expansive posts, there’s always a good reason!

Neil’s overview of TCJ #258 is no exception to this rule-of-exceptions! It’s essential reading, and the blogosphere would do well to take note of the man’s opinions re: art-comix “cliquishness” (there’s a tone here that reminds me of academic creative writing workshops…and believe me, these are not good memories!), and re: the new “Stan Lee thesis” (I know the “Spurphael” book has many fans, but I’m just sayin’: the Bullpen Bulletins and the Silver Age lettercols weren’t just smart editorial policies in support of Ditko and Kirby’s respective visions, or self-promotion on Stan’s part–they’re crucial pop art texts, and there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough recognition of this fact! Sadly, today’s readers usually encounter the early Spider-Man, Strange Tales and FF in embalmed “Masterworks” or “Essentials” form, and Stan’s rep will undoubtedly continue to decline…)

Also–Big Sunny D has split in two, and you can now find the comics-related aspect of his persona at Insult to Injury, where he has joined forces with comrades Scott McAllister and Graeme Lyon–they’ve already posted some fine things on Morrison’s upcoming Seaguy project and Mignola’s Hellboy–so go enjoy!

Good night friends!


The Comics Journal #258
A (Hopefully!) Balanced Appraisal

Okay, first the self-condemnation–it’s not the CJ’s fault that there isn’t much going on in the way of formalist criticism of sequential art narratives in the Academy, and it was foolish of me to expect “The Magazine of [Comics] News & Criticism” to make up for this lack… In the “Blood And Thunder” section, Michael Dean offers Harper’s Monthly, Esquire, and The Atlantic Monthly as examples of publications that he would like to see the CJ emulate, in quality and in tone; which is fine, but I guess I was looking for a comics version of American Transcendentalist Quarterly, and that was stupid… Anyway, here’s my chastened reaction to the first issue of the magazine that I’ve ever read (point-form, because it’s just about time to dive into the weekend with Christine–and some Dark Knight reading, of course…):

1. I still say that the Journal’s anti-superhero stance is narrow-minded. I think we can all agree that superhero fandom is not exactly the world’s greatest repository of maturity and wisdom, but that has nothing to do with the intrinsic interest of super-hero texts themselves! It is possible to read the “capes n’ cowls” stuff without wondering, “who’s stronger?” or, “who’s got the coolest costume?”, and I’d like to see the genre taken a little more seriously by the Journal’s contributors… Superhero texts are no more (inherently) limited than Hawthorne and Hammett’s chosen forms were–although I freely admit that no one (with the possible exception of Grant Morrison) has even come close to achieving the heights reached by H & H. I guess I’ve said enough on this subject–just stop judging a book by its’ cape and I’ll be happy…

2.Donald Phelps’ “Letter of the Law: Ditko’s Mr. A Era” was welcome indeed! The man can write, and he compares Ditko, at different points in the essay, to Gregg Toland, Lee Garmes, Hawthorne, and Dickens’ X-Mas ghosts! This is not a scholarly essay, but it is good Ditko appreciation, crowded with fertile juxtapositions, and it leaves you thinking…

3.On J.W. Hastings’ “All or Nothing: Ditko’s Didactic Comics”–all I can say is: The Forager‘s piece is the only one in the issue that pursues an actual argument, and for that I am grateful, although I don’t necessarily agree with him… I haven’t read the texts that he bases his conclusions upon, but I would be willing to argue that Plato’s Dialogues are just as “rigged” as Ditko’s faux-binaries, and they manage to be entertaining, enlightening, and maddening all at once… I don’t say that Ditko’s achievement is on a par with Plato’s (that would be crazy-talk from a person who’s only seen a few excerpted panels!), but I don’t agree that “wiggle room” is a necessary component of great art! Of course, I am a big proponent of indeterminacy in my own creative work–so maybe I’m being unnecessarily broad-minded in this respect.) It’s a good article!

4.The rest of the articles offer a few pleasures: R. Fiore is an engaging writer, but he doesn’t really take us anywhere in his discussion of Shade The Changing Man–although he has piqued my curiousity about the series… Maybe he just wanted to show us those psychotic panels of the Demolisher on a rampage? They’re definitely worth studying! Bill Randall is right: Ditko’s hands are interesting–I only expressed dismay with this essay (and Craig Fischer’s) because they made me feel the lost opportunity of a more profound engagement with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange most keenly… And what of Larry Rodman’s characterization of the doctor’s adventures as “deep escapism”? Don’t they engage wordly issues? Or at least existential ones? Are Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress works of “deep escapism” too? What do you all think? (those of you who have read these articles, I mean!) Paging Neilalien!!!

Good night friends!


Ontology & Paranoia

Not too much time tonight–but there’s always time for stuff like this:

In a comment-thread from a couple of days ago, Rose asked:

I’m really interested in your argument about ontology, now that I can go back and really read what you said. There was a scene when Buddy and Grant are talking in which Grant, for no apparent reason, kicks a stone into the water, which gave me two impressions:

1. He’s being motivated by an external agent to do things. This action is a mimetic support to his argument, not that he needs to make a good argument when he literally ‘controls the discourse’ anyway.


2. He’s secretly saying, “I refute you thus!” I think it would be a good allusion under the circumstances, but in some sense Grant is contra Samuel Johnson, because he’s not kicking a real stone and so his action doesn’t prove anything at all. It proves, by loose analogy, that the world is not real at all.


How can I resist an invitation like that?

The incident in question occurs on page 9 of Animal Man #26… “Grant” doesn’t kick the rock, he throws it–but that doesn’t mean we can’t think about who made him do it! Unfortunately, this way, we don’t get as perfect a segue to Doctor Johnson, but since we’ve got the interpretive conch at the moment, what say we just pretend he kicked it, hunh Rose?

Alright then! Where is the ontological ground of “reality” in Animal Man? For my money, it’s in the lettercol… In issue #26, “Grant” tells Buddy: “Of course you’re real! We wouldn’t be here talking if you weren’t real. You existed long before I wrote about you and, if you’re lucky, you’ll still be young when I’m old and dead… You’re more real than I am.”

What does he mean by that? Well, presumably that Buddy’s continued existence is made possible by the readers. “Reality” is consensual… There is no first cause. If people stop caring, he’s gone! That’s a precarious situation, certainly–but what other options are there? When you’re alone (I don’t mean for a day or a week, I mean ALONE), you might as well be dead, no? That’s why we invented “God” in the first place. So you never have to be alone. It’s in all of the brochures…

But it’s not enough just to meet up with God. It doesn’t become “real” until you make the encounter known to others. Their belief ratifies your experience. That’s why the Puritans made such a big deal of their conversion narratives. Anyone can go off into the woods hopped up on zeal and have themselves a “Yahweh” old time! The hard part is convincing others that it actually happened–if you do, then it did…it’s as simple as that.

Of course, no one likes to be so dependent upon empirical Others, but it can’t be helped. And it’s no accident that those religions which place the greatest emphasis upon the individual’s personal knowledge of the Divine are also the most evangelically-inclined! Catholics can afford to be more chill about this stuff, because the faith is grounded upon baptismal certificates, not ravishment by Grace… in either case though, the principle is the same–if I believe you are a member of the true Church, then you win a trip to Heaven!

But even the minimal commitment to the idea of a Deity that Catholicism requires of its’ adherents has become unthinkable for most people in the modern world, and the search for a new organizing principle is on! Very few people seem to want to face the fact of their dependence upon each other so nakedly–it’s so much easier to proselytize than to relate! So now, instead of God, we’ve got conspiracy theories. The “Marxist-Feminists”, the phone company, the Masons, the “liberal-rationalists”, the “Media”, and, of course, that old reliable, the “military-industrial complex”. You just choose one that suits your animus, start ranting, make yourself a like-minded friend, and voila, you’ve established a little church for yourself–and the world has structure again. Sure, it’s an “evil” structure, but I’ll tell ya, I’ve read most of Jonathan Edwards’ theology, and his God was far nastier than any Masonic cabal ever dreamed of being…

This all goes back to Moby Dick, I think… That whale? A honcho in the Bavarian Illuminati–for sure! Ahab’s syndrome is a pandemic by now. We’re born flailing at the “pasteboard mask” of “false consciousness”…
Morrison has some fun with all of this in Animal Man, throwing a series of totalizing schemes at the protagonist. We get the yellow aliens–with their absolute dominion over the fabric of reality; we get the monstrous government plot against Buddy; all of which collapses into the idea that the world is merely a spectacle orchestrated by that arch-conspirator and puppet-master, Grant Morrison… Why does he throw the rock? I’d say he does it to produce those circles on the surface of the lake on the following page. You can send out your metaphysical sonar all you want, and “consciousness” might even “expand”, but those waves are never coming back, and those circles are never gonna harden into anything “real”–eventually, they just dissipate… If you’re looking for “feedback”, you’d better make do with what you get from other peoples’ sonar, and that’s where the lettercols come in! It’s an epistemological crossfire: in becoming an Object, the Subject is “grounded”–at least provisionally, which is all we have any right to expect, really…

The use of “vast conspiracies” as narrative scaffolding for entire comic book series was rampant in the eighties–in Watchmen, in Power of the Atom (a particularly unsuccessful example, I think) and Gruenwald’s Captain America (where the Red Skull’s activities, behind the scenes, in issues #307-350, rival Morrison’s in terms of sheer omnipotence, although the face-to-face showdown between Cap & R.S.–and they’ve got the same face!–doesn’t turn out so pleasantly as Buddy’s meeting with “Grant”, mainly because the Skull can’t let go of his desire to screen his pain on another, while “Grant” elects, finally, to ground the electrical charge of loss within himself, thus abandoning his role as a conductor, passing on the shock to his creations, and making possible one of the only truly satisfying endings that I know of in any work of art); later on, of course, The X-Files and The Matrix would make use of the same device, and, from what I’ve read of The Invisibles, it seems that Morrison himself lost the ability to live without faith in a grand scheme! Luckily, we’ve still got Animal Man–in which a man sustains a terrible loss, and that loss becomes real, because we care… nothing more, nothing less…

tomorrow: more on Ditko & The Comics Journal (you’re right JW, that Donald Phelps piece is great!!–In my rush to judgement yesterday, I somehow managed to skip over it!!!)

this weekend: The Dark Knight Returns

Good night friends!