“Continuity” Revisited

(Soundtrack: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — Take Them On, On Your Own)

Update!: Please be sure to check out Steven Wintle’s discussion of the “chaotic believability” of the early Marvel creative melting pot. This is the kind of believability I can accept–“the marvel universe” as cubist narrative; “the world” as an intersection crossed over by a host of divergent subjectivities!

Okay, so, it occurred to me, this morning, as I read Paul O’Brien’s Ninth Art piece, that the word I was searching for, whilst writing my own mini-essay on continuity last month, was “historiography”. Do people know that term? Personally, I had no idea what it meant until I began my undergraduate studies. I thought a historian’s job was to reconstruct the past. Not so, I discovered. Turns out I had been mired in Rankean naivete. The professionals treated what I had once thought of as “history”–names, dates, quotations, etc.–as mere scaffolding. Here I was trying to escape into the past, into a story, and these damned scholars insisted upon throwing up an interpretative smokescreen. It was hard to get into, at first. But I’ll tell ya–after reading 3 books a week on the “causes of the Civil War” for the entire summer of 1997, I was sold!

Once I became familiar with all of the key events–the virtual end of slavery in the colonial north, the wrangling over the “three-fifths clause” at the Constitutional Convention, the growth of sectionalism–epitomized by things like the Hartford Convention and the Missouri Compromise, Nat Turner’s rebellion, Garrison burning the constitution, the House “gag rule”, the Mexican War, the formation of the Free Soil party, the Compromise of 1850 (Daniel Webster’s Seventh of March Speech), the collapse of the Whig Party, the rise of Nativism, the “caning of Sumner”, John Brown and “bleeding Kansas”, the rise of the Republican party as a pure Northern party, “fire-eaters” in the South, election of Lincoln, South Carolina secedes, etc. etc.–I became sensitive to the subtly different use each scholar made of them. I swear to God, I read about fifty books that described the same events over and over again, and it never got boring! I remember thinking–this is like reading a huge run of Dr. Strange

The same events (or events so similar that they might as well be the same), conflicts with the same characters, the same dilemmas, endlessly retold–and all of the fun emerging out of the different spins Lee, Ditko, Severin, Adkins, Thomas, Colan/Palmer, Fox, Smith, Brunner, Englehart, Colan again, Wolfman, Starlin, Stern, Claremont, Rogers, Golden, Paul Smith, etc. etc. (+ all of the folks in the lettercols!) put on them. You might have a favourite interpretation of a character or historical phenomenon (I like the Thomas/Colan Doc best, I like Gruenwald’s Cap best, I like Aileen Kraditor’s take on Abolitionism best, I like Perry Miller’s understanding of Puritanism best, etc.), but the real thrill emerges out of the juxtaposition of many disparate views, even the ones you actually hate in themselves!

This is why I diasagee with Paul O’Brien when he writes:

The advantages of shared universes are straightforward. They provide a common pool of concepts, characters and settings. Between them, the various Marvel and DC titles ought to be able to define a fantasy version of the world that is richer and deeper than any individual title would manage. Done properly, it should result in a world that’s more believable and, in many ways, more fun.

Fun, yes. More “believable” world? No way! What’s easier to accept on its own terms: a work that is unmistakeably the product of one mind (like Peanuts, say) or a work that participates in what Walt Simonson calls the “team sport” of superhero narrative building? (Morrison calls it a “relay race”, and that’s an even better image) There’s no contest is there? Any Marvel or DC comic compels us to ponder its own textuality (and when a good writer and artist–such as Stan & Jack on the FF–work together, you get a kind of mini-historiographical dialectic between the pictures and the captions/dialogue in every issue!)

Soon: Demo #1-6, and some thoughts on Mickey Eye–I think I’ll call it “Transparent Eye Brawl”!

Also–check out Ringwood Ragefuck, where there’s an angst n’ lego fueled open-Mic competition going on! (I contributed a little something near the end of the comments thread)

Good Night Friends!


One comment

  1. Hey, thanks for the plug. You check out the lengthy spoken word bit? I posted it right above the initial Batman lego one.

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