Month: March 2004

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For Every Action (Comics #1) There is An Equal (and Opposite?) Reaction


For once, I agree with Tim O’Neil on a subject other than Cerebus:

Which is why superhero books are such a canard in this respect: there’s no moral vagary in the why’s and wherefor’s when the Avenger’s stop the Kree from destroying Earth with a death ray. Even something like Millar’s “Ultimates,” which I do accept as satire from a left/liberal point of view, ultimately fails to make any sort of convincing argument against current policy. Where is the ambiguity when it comes to stopping the Hulk from smashing Manhattan or stopping the Chitauri (or, as we like to call them, the dirty Skrulls!) from making Earth into a giant pinata? Again, superheroes are inherently reactionary because, at their core, they exist to prevent change. Now, most of that change would be a bad thing – no-one wants the Hulk to flatten Manhattan (hey, that rhymed) – but when you boil it down, superheroes are really only any good when they are stopping things from happening. They can’t actually work for change because A) in most cases they can’t change the framework of their fictional universe that drastically from our own and B) whenever a superhero or heroes tries to change the status quo, it never ends up good. Just look at the Order (who only tried to conquer the world because they were being – wait for it – mind controlled!), or Force Works (whose premise was to try and root out evil before it reared its head, if you recall), or the Authority (is there any doubt that they are currently the Bad Guys in the Wildstorm U?). Admittedly, there are more effective ways to change the world than to conquer it, but most of those ways aren’t very interesting to read about (who would buy a comic with 22 pulse-pounding pages of the X-Men handing out gifts to kids in the leukemia ward? That’d be pretty damn depressing, if you ask me).

Of course, all he proves here is that expecting “realism” from this genre is a very, very bad idea. As a matter of fact: expecting any artist to deal with actual political issues is damned foolish! This is just one of the many reasons why The Blithedale Romance is my favourite novel… Hawthorne says: “Hey guys! here’s my book about my experiences as a worker on a Utopian commune–but don’t expect political satire or a social critique from me because that’s not what artists do! What’s that dude? You ignored my preface (probably thought I was just testing you, right?) and went hunting for my opinion on the women’s movement anyway? Fine. Whatever. What am I gonna do about it? I’m dead. But you just had a bad reading experience for no reason because you expect every novel to be a political tract/rant about what’s wrong with society! Jesus I’m happy I died before they forgot the meaning of Romance!”


This doesn’t mean that you can’t feature political issues as story elements–Morrison’s Animal Man demonstrates pretty clearly that you can; as do the works of Charles Dickens and Frank Capra (anyone know who Frank Capra voted for back in the thirties? anyone care? I hope not, because his films, even the ones that take place in Washington, don’t really have anything to do with politics)–you just can’t make them the point of the story, otherwise your work will suck.


As anyone who has read this blog at all knows, I’m a psycho when it comes to defending liberal values and the question of animal rights–but even I know enough never to write a novel about these things… If I have something to say about a specific issue, I’ll just say it… When I write fiction, I deal with the kind of stuff that nobody conducts polls on–like epistemological conundrums and the magic of inter-subjectivity.


The Forager understands what I’m talking about here–and so do most of the rest of you. Either you find works in this genre interesting to read (& write about!) or you don’t… That’s fine. But you will never prove that this mode of storytelling is “limited” in any way that matters. Okay–I’m pledging right here and now never to discuss the validity of the superhero genre again! Join me, won’t you?


I’m about to sleep for the first time in 40 hours! Wish me luck!

Good night friends!
Dave

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Steep Thoughts


I know this is not good for my head, but lately I’ve been wondering:

whaddya think

Dave Sim

& Courtney Love

would have to say to one another, if they ever met?


Wouldn’t their kids be interesting?

Time to go deliver my presentation!

Good aftanoon friends!

Dave

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Canadians on the Verge of Nervous Breakdowns (not me!)


There’s a very impressive piece on Cerebus waiting for you at Long Story, Short Pier. If you have any interest at all in Mr. Sim’s opus, I humbly suggest that you check it out!

Anyone care about “nature poetry”?

Here’s the intro to my Archibald Lampman essay– “Disordered by ‘Personality’ (“Personality” is a poem): Lampman, Emerson, and the Limits of Impressionism”

Richard Arnold claims to discern, in the works of Archibald Lampman, a “transcendental-visionary development” which culminates in a “frightening, direct vision of nature and human nature” (33). Arnold’s essay constructs a model for understanding Lampman’s career as a prolonged “wilderness retreat” in which the poet sharpened his mind to an existentialist point by chipping away at the pantheistic excrescences that marred his juvenilia. Along the way, the author takes egregious liberties with the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a strategy which, conscious or not, enables him to obscure a central fact about all “nature poetry” after Wordsworth—namely that the genre is more accurately described as a literature of the “self-in-nature” (or, the self abstracted from society), and, as such, is almost predestined to express wild oscillations between moods of exultation and despair. Lampman is no exception to this rule—the themes of communion and alienation coexist in his work from the start and carry on in lockstep for the rest of his life. Lampman’s very real philosophical development did not result, as Arnold would have it, from the adoption of a skeptical stance toward the idea of divine immanence, but rather from the visceral discovery that “Nature”, hitherto merely an “aid to reflection”, could actually return the poet’s gaze—unimpressed by his impressionism.

See ya later friends!

Dave

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What to Do ‘Til the Essay Gets Done

(Soundtrack: Excuse 17–Such Friends Are Dangerous)

I’m supposed to be writing an essay on Archibald Lampman right now. I’m sure I’ll get to it, but for now I thought I would toss a few links at you good people…

1.David Allison’s Cakes & Money 2.0 is up and running! Right now he’s looking for positive reviews of Courtney Love’s America’s Sweetheart, and of course he has posted one of his own! Personally, I loved the album! And David, you might want to check out “Courtney Love:
While In My Gut the Creature Writhes and Snarls and Tells Me What I Need”, a great review by Tim Byrnes
, in which the author asks the poignant musical question: “Do (many) rock critics hate women?” I think the answer is pretty obvious…


2. Marc Singer discusses Jonnathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, Rick Moody’s (& Ang Lee’s) The Ice Storm and the bronze age Fantastic Four. The post contains the immortal line: “Well done, Roy Thomas. Well done.” Look for it. This guy never disappoints!

3. If you haven’t already read Jim Henley’s Gaudy night: Superhero stories and our own at Brainwash, I suggest that you do so! And don’t neglect the comments–particularly Kip Manley’s important question:

With great power comes great ethical questions, yes: but must capes and masks and noms de guerre necessarily come along, too? It seems they must, to play by these rules. So why? And what do we lose by acquiescing? And what would we lose by breaking them?

To his credit, Kip doesn’t deny that there might be good answers to these questions. Although he does use the term “superhero apologists”, and I object to that. Quoth Dennis Hopper & Christopher Walken in Search and Destroy: “Don’t apologize. You don’t have to do that.” Anyway, my candidate for a viable explanation is that the superpowers (+ the costumes) serve as an “existential spotlight”… If these protagonists really are latter-day Puritan Saints and/or Antinomians, then it only makes sense that they would have to draw attention to themselves and their spiritual struggle. Calvinists are strange creatures: yes, they’re obsessed with individual morality and a relationship to God unmediated by social factors–and yet, for all intents and purposes, the “conversion” doesn’t happen until the “conversion narrative” is written and performed!


4.Alright, time to get back to Lampman!

He’s known as “Canada’s Greatest Nature Poet”–but luckily he’s more than that. You don’t have to like what you write about in academia, but it sure helps…

“Personality”

O differing human heart,
Why is it that I tremble when thine eyes,
Thy human eyes and beautiful human speech,
Draw me, and stir within my soul
That subtle and ineradicable longing
For tender comradeship?
Is it because I cannot all at once,
Through the half-lights and phantom-haunted mists
That separate and enshroud us life from life,
Discern the nearness and the strangeness of thy paths,
Nor plumb thy depths.
I am like one that comes alone at night
To a strange stream, and by an unknown ford
Stands, and for a moment yearns and shrinks,
Being ignorant of the water, though so quiet it is,
So softly murmurous,
So silvered by the familiar moon.



Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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Guerillas in the Missives

(Soundtrack: Julie Ruin)

(Disclaimer: This post would’ve been much better if there were a greater variety of images available out there–but we work with what we’ve got here at Motime!)


It was doomed from the start.

Supergirl’s Daring New series, I mean.

Paul Kupperberg was on board, ready to move beyond the already excellent work he had done with the character in the underrated Superman Family. The “daring” part of the title referred to the fact that these stories would focus on a young woman’s “adventures” as an undergraduate psychology major at the University of Chicago. Kara’s super powers are not at all an end in themselves here, nor do they have anything to do with “empowerment”–as in all of the best exemplars of the genre, the powers serve as a kind of “existential spotlight” upon the protagonist. Superheroes are not about “good n’ evil” Tim!

The “origin story” is a Calvinist conversion experience–the subsequent issues are a record of the putatively “elect” recipient of grace’s spirititual struggle. And if anyone thinks that Puritanism is “Manichean”–I’m here to tell you that you’ve been doing too much Mencken! Take two sermons by John Cotton and get over yourself. The Puritans got “beyond good and evil” two hundred years before Nietzsche…

Ah, but how do you shine a spotlight on a person without fetishizing them? It isn’t as easy it sounds–unless you’ve got artists like Carmine Infantino & Bob Oskner on hand to create a look for the protagonist that is somehow warm, dynamic, and yet, because of its “defamiliarizing” angularity and triumphant rejection of basic anatomy, also wax-proofed against hormonal immersion! I think that this is crucial in a medium like comic books. I’m not a big fan of that “male gaze” nonsense about classical Hollywood, chiefly because I think Barbara Stanwyck refutes this theory all by herself, anytime she looks at you (or speaks!):

However, female characters in comics cannot signify their agency with their eyes, gestures, or voices and I think it does make a lot of sense to apply the “patriarchal camera-eye” critique in this case.

But Infantino & Oskner’s Kara is a personality. A true subject.


Here’s a scan of a page I found from issue #19:

Unfortunately, before she even gets off the ground, she’s buried beneath this Barbie Doll debut cover by Buckler & Giordano:

Issue #1 is entitled “A Very Strange and Special Girl”. I would say that, while the interior artwork (which I couldn’t find anywhere on the net) emphasizes the “special” and “strange” part of the equation, the cover (and, by implication, the marketing strategy) focuses squarely on the “girl” (a far more egregious offender, in this regard, is the cover for issue #13, by Hannigan & Giordano, which features an airbrushed Kara on the moon, heavily made-up around the eyes, sporting her brand-new mini-skirt, and striking a Britney-pose beneath ol’ glory… I wish I could show this one to you, but you’ll just have to imagine it! I think it’s also pretty significant that the “daring new adventures of” was shorn away from the title in #13).


Infantino didn’t get a chance to do a cover until issue #17, and by then the series was already dead (they let it run until #23, hoping that the buzz from the upcoming “Major Motion Picture” would generate some interest in the title–it didn’t…)

The lettercols dramatize the gap between the creators’ ambitions and the expectations the release of a Supergirl book was likely to arouse at that time. Many letters praise the stylized artwork while expressing concern that it is driving readers away. Implicit in this is the idea that a comic book about a female superhero must be capable of doubling as an aid to an adolescent boy’s sex-fantasy life–and there certainly aren’t any letters (a la She-Hulk) from dorks asking for this protagonist’s phone number!

Many readers deplore the fact that the artwork isn’t “mature” enough–by which they they mean that Kara, as drawn, isn’t “sexy”. Never count out the power of wishful thinking, though. A year into the proceedings, some people evidently decided that they couldn’t justify buying the book unless they pretended that Infantino’s stylings were becoming more accessible to appropriation by the male gaze. Think I’m kidding?

In issue #18, Charles D. Brown praises #14 for “Infantino’s more adult art, in which dear Supergirl actually looked sexy for the first time in 14 issues.”

In the same issue, Robert Hagiwara opines that “Carmine and Bob seem to be falling into a more mature mood, which suits Linda and Supergirl much better…”



Frankly, I don’t see it… Are they referring to the mini-skirt?

Meanwhile, Dorothy Lyra Joyce wishes that Infantino would stop: “making Kara look as if she’s slightly hunchbacked: and she’s so short-waisted and has hips so large for someone who is (now being drawn) so waspishly waisted.”

Yep. She looks strange all right.

I wish I had more time to devote to this (I also wish I had all of the issues of the series–I seem to be missing a bunch! I used to have them. I don’t know what happened!)

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

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Wow

(Soundtrack: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers– Greatest Hits)

Johnny Bacardi was right–Milk Plus is an incredible site! Sure enough, one of their panelists has a great essay up about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Nietzsche’s concept of the “eternal recurrence”. As you probably know, I’m kind of a contrarian, but I am thrilled to be part of this consensus… It’s an epoch-making film!


In other news, I’m done with Lillian S. Robinson’s Wonder Women… It wasn’t bad–it’s a very engaging read–but it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s very much in the “superheroes as (potential) empowerment fantasy” camp… I think Robinson really misses the boat by spending so much time on Byrne’s asinine Sensational She-Hulk and none at all on Infantino’s Spider-Woman and Daring New Adventures of Supergirl! (I would tell her so myself tonight–she’s giving a talk at our University–but I’m working and I can’t get out of it, goddamnit!)

The author laments that instead of “teaching that sisterhood is powerful… [this series teaches] that power is powerful, and power is most often modified with super” (104). More importantly, Robinson is unhappy with the character as an examplar of “third sex” pseudo-feminism that doesn’t do real women any good (“She-Hulk’s feminism is so one of a kind that she does not–cannnot–share her strength with other women and therefore empower them”) Well no kidding! This is John Byrne after all…

Of course, I’m dead-set against this construction of the genre anyway–and I think Robinson’s work makes my case for me! Good superhero stories deal with existential or epistemological issues…not socio-political ones. In the final analysis, Wonder Women can’t do anything but hearken back to the golden age of Moulton’s Amazons…and it’s significant that Robinson cringes whenever she has to discuss the fact that Diana left her feminist niche for the great wide world and had to adopt a mousy secret-identity.

More understandably, she also deplores the fan reaction to Byrne’s She-Hulk:

the She-Mail letters from fans–most of them presenting themselves as terminally horny adolescent boys–provide monthly reinforcement of the notion that Shulkie, as she is nicknamed, is not only the top female in comics, but also the most desirable woman on (at least) this planet.

Yep. That’s gross. In the final analysis, She-Hulk is way more of a Madonna than a Corin Tucker, Carrie Beownstein, or Kathleen Hanna (or Courtney Love, for that matter), and that is a shame…

But see, this is why I’m so much more interested in Infantino’s female superheroes. If Robinson had read those letters pages, she would have seen that those same fans were writing in to complain: “what the fuck man!, where’re the curves you bastard! I can’t even jerk off to these comics. You mean I’m supposed to treat these women as subjects instead of objects? Quit messin’ with my head!”

As far as I’m concerned, subjectivity-for-all is the only true feminism… This sisterhood nonsense is a creepy throwback to the Harem.

I’d better go now, but I’ll type up a few of those letters later tonight, just to show you what I mean…
Good day friends!

Dave

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Movie Movie



Okay so I’m starting to locate some film blogs!

You got yer Masked Movie Snobs (these guys even have a philosophy!); you got Howard Owens (who appreciates the magnificence of In A Lonely Place and thus has instantly earned my respect); then there’s John Lars Ericson (whose nominees for Greatest Films of all-time are basically the antithesis of mine–he’s a Kubrickian & clearly not a fan of screwball–but hey, that’s cool…); and that’s just the beginning!


On a related note: Aaron Haspel breaks out master-Blaster Wyndham-Lewis in support of Terry Teachout’s assault on the sham that is Charlie Chaplin’s reputation! Teachout also gets in some good jabs at James Agee’s overrated film criticism! All I can say is: “me three!” Seriously, there’s nothing behind Agee’s anti-bourgeois sneer…he’s completely lost: those aren’t reviews, they’re cries for help out of the bottom of a solipsistic well! Oddly enough, this same quality is what makes Let Us Now Praise Famous Men so damned fascinating!

And I’ve joined Blogcritics.org! I kicked things off with modified versions of my posts on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and It’s A Wonderful Life

Back to comics tomorrow!

Good night friends!
Dave