Laundry List

Christopher Butcher has been on a roll lately, generating quite a bit of notoriety for himself, and that’s all good, but am I the only one who was shocked by the aggressive tone of this post?

It’s (sort of) a reply to Steven Berg @ Peiratikos, and not a very polite one… Maybe it was just a bad day? Anyway, I’m loathe to throw fuel upon this particular fire, but I can’t help myself–I disagree with Mr. Butcher on almost every particular of this post!

In the interests of diplomacy, I will restrict myself to the man’s observations and ignore his tone.

1. Steven is “talking out of his depth” when speaks about Tim O’Neil’s take on superheroes because he hasn’t read TCJ #258.

No–you don’t need the Filth review in order to gauge Mr. O’Neil’s (sadly unnuanced) opinion of the genre, all you need is this post he offered up as a reply to an e-mail I sent him last month

2. Steven is not allowed to compare the X-Men to Alice in Wonderland, because the two works are offered in different media

Come on! Art is art. And certainly, narrative art forms are narrative art forms! (storytelling is storytelling) Obviously, there are special criteria appropriate to the judgment of prose fiction that don’t apply to the judgment of comic books, but this is not an apples and oranges situation!

3. Maltese Falcon vs. Citizen Kane–studio produced film vs. auteur film. Butcher says it’s “obvious” which one is better.

These are both great films, but I’ll go on record right now with the opinion that Huston’s freshman effort will eventually outdistance Welles’, in terms of critical respect. As Christopher Butcher demonstrates daily, there are a lot of intelligent people out there who still belong to the “cult of the maverick artist”, and these are the folks who continue to give Orson extra brownie points for running a closed set and telling RKO to fuck off. Stick it to tha man! Meanwhile, Huston quietly sneaked into the director’s chair, took note of the resources that Warner Brothers had to offer, and steered a brilliant adaptation of one of the twentieth century’s most important novels to port.

Beneath the pyrotechnics, CK is a very ordinary tale of hubris. The way that Welles’ hammy performance and relentlessly intrusive direction actually serve the theme of overreaching ambition is uncanny, I’ll grant you. But Huston’s quiet insistence upon facing Hammett’s stark narrative dead-on, without any embellishment, also creates a perfect marriage between form and content in the Falcon–a film which asks: how does a human being deal gracefully with a no-win situation? Again I say, these are both great films, for very different reasons, and only philosophical inclination can account for a clear judgement in favour of one or the other…

Don’t get me wrong–we owe Welles a lot! Citizen Kane broke down the linear storytelling mode that had dominated Hollywood films up until that time (although Welles derived this technique from Sturges’ screenplay for The Power and the Glory), giving people like Edward Dmytryk the freedom to perform unheard-of narrative gymnastics (flashbacks within flashbacks within…etc) There’s no bigger fan of forties film noir than me! (which reminds me–everyone go out and get Murder My Sweet right now! And then watch Crossfire, if you wanna see some real narrative magic… Dmytryk takes a simple plea against anti-semitism and turns it into a masterpiece, merely by shuffling the sequence of events!)

And if anyone thinks I’m down on film auteurs, I just want to remind people that my favourite director, bar none, is Frank Capra–a man whose directorial philosophy was “one man, one film”. I just don’t happen to believe that Orson Welles is in his class, is all. Or that a film created by committee cannot be, on principle, just as good as a film created by one person–anyone ever see I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang? That’s a producer’s film!

okay, okay–back to Christopher Butcher!

4. writing for Marvel is bad because the suits won’t let you blow up the Vatican, even if you really, really want to!

Well, that’s too bad isn’t it? I guess you’d have to find some other way to make your point then, hunh? You would be doing such a thing to make a point, right?

5. Planetary shows us that you can comment on established characters without actually having to write the characters themselves.

Yes. I agree. So does Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme. However, this does not mean that you cannot do excellent work by going the old-fashioned route. It’s true that you probably cannot “debunk” Captain America whilst writing Captain America, but then, the opportunity to debunk is to the artist what a box of matches is to a bored child… In that kind of situation, either everyone gets burned, or a little brat gets sent to bed.

6. And here’s the piece de resistance: “But the one thing that you and Sean need to both learn is that this isn’t “repetitive predictability”, it’s an ongoing discussion about what corporate superhero publishing’s effect is on the North American comics market.”

Here we’ve tripped over the major fault line that divides us in the sphere and tends to set blogger against blogger–some of us are more interested in creator’s rights than in the works themselves. Steven is not one of these. Neither am I. Let’s not forget that I’m a creator myself, and I’m not exactly getting rich off of the proceeds of Darkling I Listen. I do it because I love it–and because I hope, in time, to receive more feedback like this… Still, I’m also a critic, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to factor the artist’s struggle/life into my appraisal of the text at hand. If it’s interesting it’s interesting. If it isn’t, it isn’t. And it doesn’t matter what anyone wanted to do. Or what they were prevented from doing. What did Mick Jagger say?

Good night friends




  1. As big as you are on solipsism, I’m surprised to see you characterize Citizen Kane as “a very ordinary tale of hubris”. The ending can be read as a rejection of the idea that a man can be understood through biography, or art, for that matter.

    the Maltese Falcon, on the other hand, struck me as a fairly pedestrian adaptation of a brilliant book.

  2. First-time visitor to your blog and am glad to see someone else loves comics and Capra as much as me.

    –Tim O’Shea
    SBC Q&A Guy

  3. Very nice response. Well done. I too thought he was harsh in his response. His other responses were somewhat less harsh.

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