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!


  1. [Marc writes] Think of Bruce Wayne (not Batman) as the narrator, hijacked by the sublime. From the start he is a genie voice, trapped in caption boxes watching and rating his own life and death )”good enough”.)
    If Batman is the monolith, DKR is an alien abduction narrative.

  2. Looking forward to your take on Cerebus. I only read it for a brief time back before it hit issue 100, so I’ll need to get the trades or a box of back issues to follow along. Thanks for the excuse to bring stuff home!


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