Silly David! These Are For Kids!

(Soundtrack: Elvis Costello Extreme Honey: The Very Best of Warner Brothers Years)

Heidi MacDonald wonders:
“I would like to know why superheroes are so very, very important to this guy.”

Meanwhile, Tim O’Neil wants to know:

Why are we even talking about these books? The superhero genre is such a tiny, insignificant corner of the comics medium that it is simply galling on the face of it that so much literal and digital ink is wasted on the subject. Yes, wasted . . . because I’ll be damned if I think that bad 70’s Spider-Man comics deserve this kind of rigorous explication while Louis Riel or Quimby the Mouse or even The Boondocks are never discussed. Love & Rockets makes 99% of even the best superhero books look like dog puke, and I never see anyone discussing it. I’d love to see Fiore tackle a book like that, something I think could actually reward such a deep examination.

But Tim! I think of criticism as an art–and wouldn’t you agree that the worst thing an artist can do is worry about how people will perceive their creation? (Which does not, of course, mean that I don’t want people to fuel up on what I write! I make no bones about that–of course I do!) But I have to write about what interests me. And my primary interest is in a tradition of Puritan existentialist romance storytelling rooted in 17th century sermons and poetry…It’s a tradition that, as a novelist, I feel myself to be a part of (an insignificant part to be sure–but a part nonetheless!) This is why I’m so interested in romanticism in general–especially in its Transcendentalist guise. And Hawthorne. And Capra. And Frank O’Hara.

And it’s my sincere belief, as a student of American Culture, that, in the latter half of the twentieth century, the purest avatars of this tradition are Marvel Comics and Paul Auster’s novels. It’s that simple. You don’t have to believe me, of course. But I do confess that I’m a little saddened when people respond to my arguments/glosses by saying: “well, I don’t know why Fiore’s doing this, because the stuff he’s talking about isn’t worth discussing…” Where would I be if I let that kind of reasoning influence me? After all, Aaron Haspel (whom I respect a great deal!) doesn’t think Emerson, Keats, or Frank O’Hara are any worthier of discussion than Spider-Man! I have no choice but to trust in my compulsion to write about these works!

What does it matter what Gerry Conway’s intentions were? My goal in writing about the Gwen Stacy Clone Saga is not to convince you that these comics are sheer genius, but to convey to you a sense of the effect these books have had on my mind! And how on Earth can I do that if you’re too busy focusing on the limitations of the material in question to pay attention to what I’m saying? Of course, if you want to tear my writing apart, be my guest! I welcome that kind of discussion!

Okay, just a couple of quick hits before I have to take off:

1. Seaguy #2–am I crazy or is this series turning into Joe Versus The Volcano? (I love that movie by the way!)

2.The only interesting information I gleaned from Ronin Ro’s Tales To Astonish (aside from the fact that Vince Colletta was an asshole!):

According to Mark Evanier (quoted on page 165): “[Jack Kirby] didn’t like losers, he didn’t like dead people, and he chose not to dwell on failure and defeat and death in his work.” No wonder I find Kirby problematic–he’s like the anti-Morrison!

Good Afternoon Friends!



  1. One might just as easily ask Tim why he wastes time answering online criticism, since he could be discussing Edmund Wilson or Cyril Connolly or Jacques Barzun.

    It’s clear that Tim’s just coming up, post-facto, with reasons to justify his hatred of the superhero genre.

  2. Why did Tim post on Millenium and Secret Wars II if he could have been posting on Boondocks or Louis Riel?


  3. I’m kind of along with Jess on that one: he dismisses the entire Superhero ‘genre’ (which is really a lot of genres thrown into a blender and set on frappe) by using its worst stories as examples of why the whole thing stinks. Sure, if you mention the clone saga from the early 90’s, that’s crap. But it doesn’t make *all* superhero-based stories crap… likewise, while ‘Love and Rockets’ may indeed be superior to almost all Superhero comics on the market (It’s markedly inferior to Watchmen, in my opinion, but opinions of course vary) but that doesn’t mean all such comic books are great art merely because they don’t contain superheroes. He makes a couple of facile arguments, dismisses everything in the field based on its worst examples, and expects it to be enough. To me, it isn’t.

    Sure, there are a lot of bad comics out there, and a lot of them have capes and costumes in them. But what he seems to miss is that the superhero comic can, if used properly, approach the level of epic: it’s the one place left in our culture where you can get storytelling on that scale. Once, all our great literature was tales of gods and heroes and monsters and grand battles… I’ve never heard anyone call the Iliad facist even though it celebrates the pointless militarism of a whole lot of greek folk and a whole lot of trojan folk who are larger than life characters doing battle over a woman, and what else is the Odyssey if not the epic tale of Odysseus’ magical adventure to get home? You could easily see it as a superhero comic, with Odysseus as the thinking hero.

  4. And yet I discuss them.

    Write about what you damn well please. People who tell other writers what to write about are busybodies, and O’Neil is a snob besides.

    Criticism as art though — I’m afraid I can’t let that foggy notion pass. I will discuss the uses of criticism on my blog today.


  5. I’m not interested in epics at all Rob–but I’d like to know your definition of the term!


    Bring it on!


  6. Thanks, Rob, it’s not like I made a brief (if cursory) attempt to list some epic elements in the initial comment or anything.


    Of, constituting, having to do with, or suggestive of a literary epic: an epic poem.

    Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size: “A vast musical panorama… it requires an epic musical understanding to do it justice” (Tim Page).

    Heroic and impressive in quality: “Here in the courtroom… there was more of that epic atmosphere, the extra amperage of a special moment” (Scott Turow).

    Hey, look. If you hit a dictionary, you’ll see that #2 and #3 are quite suitable for discussing superhero comic books. Who knew? It’s like I bothered to read before making a statement.

    -Matt (on the other computer)

  7. the Great Darkness Saga certainly qualifies, as does just about anything Jack Kirby put his mind to–not to mention Superman’s late-eighties “Exile in Space” by Stern, Gammill, Ordway, et al, which Matt has promised to discuss forthwith! What’s your counter-argument Rob?


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