Month: July 2004


Topical Heat

This Sean Collins post brings the week that was into focus, and I thank him for that, because my blogovision has been awfully blurry of late–I’ve been attempting to spend as much time with the people in my neighborhood as I can, before I have to move…

Two things:

1. on the newest wave of “THIS IS COMICS AMERICA”–personally, I don’t think we’ll be able to say that the medium has “come of age” until critics can discuss (specific) comics without having to discuss “Comics”/”Comix”/”the potential of the artform”… Fuck the “artform”–the art is out there, so just dig in!

2. on Eightball #23–I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve been enjoying the discussion. My friends Jamo & Anjo are coming into town for a visit next week, and they’re bringing the issue with them, so I should have something to say about it then…

See you soon friends!



The Players Are the Thing

I wish I had the time to formulate a proper response to J.W. Hasting’s wonderful post on film acting, which features insightful comments like this:

Rather than thinking of good actors as people who can convincingly “be someone else,” I’d argue that good actors are people who can convincingly find themselves in the roles they play.

Yes. Exactly. It’s no accident that this statement follows a paragraph on the career of Jimmy Stewart. And I would argue that a director’s most important task is to facilitate these inspired “self-insertions” into the text of the film (Stanwyck, Arthur, and Stewart’s work with Capra; Hepburn in Stevens’ Alice Adams; Hepburn, Rogers, et al in LaCava’s Stage Door, etc.)

J.W. deplores the fact that not enough film critics pay attention to the acting in the works they study, and I agree with him (Ray Carney’s American Vision–particularly the chapter on “Deeds, Words, Gasps, and Glances”–and Elizabeth Kendall’s The Runaway Bride are two magnificent exceptions to this rule!)

J.W. also has some very interesting things to say about Anthony Hopkins’ (whom I loved, along with Debra Winger, in Attenborough’s Shadowlands, which you often hear discussed as if it were just another damned Merchant/Ivory “ahc-ting” fest, but man, it’s not!) varied career, and this prompts me to go completely off the rails in search of your advice, dear blogosphere:

You may remember that Hopkins played fibre impressario Dr. Kellogg in The Road To Wellville…and it just occurred to me that I am on the verge of moving to a location that is within an hour’s bus ride of Cereal City USA! My question–has anyone been there? And is it worth visiting? (Keep in mind now that I eat various forms of cereal three times a day!)

Good afternoon friends!


Stations of the Ross

(Soundtrack: The Muffs)

Marc Singer offers up some interesting thoughts on the life, death and rebirth of genres (building upon an article by music critic Alex Ross, and this piece by Peter Coogan, who’s also been very active on the Comics Scholars Discussion List lately).

Since everyone seems to be using Thomas Schatz as an authority on genre, I thought I would trot out my own candidate for “scholarly precursor most likely to lead comics criticism out of the wilderness of auteur-worshipping babytalk”–yes, I’m talking about Stanley Cavell (whose Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage is absolutely indispensable to anyone who wishes to treat pop culture as something more than superstructural dross).

Anyway–here’s a Cavell quote that speaks to the point Marc raises, and which has heavily influenced my own thinking about the development of superhero comics (i.e. while Miller + Moore work overtime to isolate, reify, and deconstruct the genre, Morrison and Gruenwald elaborate upon it, with far more interesting results–in my opinion, of course!):

To assess my claim that the Hollywood sound comedy of remarriage begins with It Happened One Night, in 1934, one will have to know more definitely what I mean by a genre and what I mean by its having a beginning. I have already said that my date may be off–an earlier film may present itself for consideration, or it might be argued that It Happened One Night is not a true member of the genre, so that it only begins later, say with The Awful Truth. But I have also said that I am not writing history. My thought is that a genre emerges full-blown, in a particular instance first (or set of them if they are simultaneous), and then works out its internal consequences in further instances. So that, as I would like to put it, it has no history, only a birth and a logic (or a biology). It has a, let us say, prehistory, a setting up of the conditions it requires for viability; and it has a posthistory, the story of its fortunes in the rest of the world, but all this means is that later history must be told with this new creation as a generating element. But if the genre emerges full-blown, how can later members of the genre add anything to it?

This question is prompted by a picture of a genre as a form characterized by features, as an object by its propoerties; accordingly to emerge full-blown must mean to emerge possessing all its features. The answer to the question is that later members can “add” something to the genre because there is no such thing as “all its features”. It will be natural in what follows, even irresistible, to speak of individual characteristics of a genre as “features” of it; but the picture of an object with its properties is a bad one. It seems to underlie certain structuralist writings.

An alternative idea, which I take to underlie the discussions of this book and which I hope will be found worth working out explicitly, picks up up a suggestion I broached in Must We Mean What We Say? and again in The World Viewed, that a narrative or dramatic genre might be thought of as a medium in the visual arts might be thought of, or a “form” in music. The idea is that the members of a genre share the inheritance of certain conditions, procedures and subjects and goals of composition, and that in primary art each member of such and such a genre represents a study of these conditions, something I think of as bearing the responsibility of the inheritance. There is, on this picture, nothing one is tempted to call the features of a genre which all of the members have in common. First, nothing would count as a feature until an act of criticism defines it as such… Second, if a member of a genre were just an object with features then if it shared all its features with its companion members they would presumably be indistinguishable from one another. Third, a genre must be left open to new members, a new bearing of responsibility for its inheritance; hence, in the light of the preceding point, it follows that the new member must bring with it some new feature or features. Fourth, membership in the genre requires that if an instance (apparently) lacks a given feature, it must compensate for it, for example, by showing a further feature “instead of” the one it lacks. Fifth, the test of this compensation is that the new feature introduced by the new member will, in turn, contribute to a description of the genre as a whole …So while the genre may not care, so to speak, in what order its instances are generated, a book about the genre is affected at every turn by the order it imposes upon itself. The essays [in Pursuits of Happiness] are quite different from one another and it is clear to me that each of the readings would bear a different countenance had its order in the composition of the essays been different. Does this impugn the objectivity of my readings?

Gotta go!

Bonjour les amis!


Questionnaire For Fire

(Courtesy of Milo George)

–What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

America’s Next Top Model

–Where would you like to live?

I wish I could just stay here in Verdun.

–What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Just being here is pretty good.

–To what faults do you feel most indulgent?


–Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Miles Coverdale, Pierre Glendinning, Eugene Gant, the Continental Op, Peter Parker, Buddy Baker, Mr. Pickwick, Linus Van Pelt, Syd Orr.

–Who are your favorite characters in history?

Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, Eugene Debs

–Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Anne Hutchinson, Margaret Fuller, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Kathleen Hanna, Corin Tucker.

–Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

Dorothea Brooke, Hester Prynne, Milly Theale, MJ Watson, Lucy Van Pelt.

–Your favorite painter?

Edward Hopper

–Your favorite musician?

Well, my favourite band is Sleater-Kinney.

–The quality you most admire in a man?

bemused compassion

–The quality you most admire in a woman?


–Your favorite virtue?

compassion again

–Your favorite occupation?


–Who would you have liked to be?

nobody else but me

–Your most marked characteristic?

inability to forget anything

–What do you most value in your friends?

the way they make me feel

–What is your principle defect?

My inability to progress (I’m attempting to turn that into a virtue)

–What is your dream of happiness?

cats with much longer life spans, free access to Cracklin’ Oat Bran

–What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?

if human callousness cannot be eliminated

–What would you like to be?

maximally aware

–In what country would you like to live?

again–wish I could stay right here, but Rome beckons, and that’ll be interesting too…

–What is your favorite color?


–What is your favorite flower?


–What is your favorite bird?


–Who are your favorite prose writers?

Hawthorne, Hammett, Jean Toomer, Thomas Wolfe, Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Dickens, Henry James, Stephen Vincent Benet, Dawn Powell, Paul Auster, Robert Benchley

–Who are your favorite poets?

Frank O’Hara, Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Emily Dickinson.

–Who are your heroes in real life?

I don’t have any heroes–oh, maybe Frank Capra, just because there’s no question about filmmakers…

–What are your favorite names?

Jefty, Pyewacket, Dashiell

–What is it you most dislike?

the food chain

–What historical figures do you most despise?

Machiavelli, Robespierre, Andrew Jackson, Pope Pius IX, Hitler, Stalin

–What event in military history do you most admire?


–What reform do you most admire?

the advent of rights discourse

–What natural gift would you most like to possess?

the ability to get by on 1 hour’s sleep a night.

–How would you like to die?

Is that some kinda threat?

–What is your present state of mind?


–What is your motto?

“Yes, you can eat cereal three times a day.”

Enjoy the rest of the weekend friends!


How To Brood

(Soundtrack: Public Enemy — Revolverlution)

“Tell wind and fire where to stop–don’t tell me!”
–Madame Defarge, in A Tale of Two Cities

“If you want to fight the power you have to be the power.”
–Chuck D

Tim O’Neil has some very interesting things to say about Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run, and promises to discuss Quasar shortly! Sounds good to me! As some readers may remember, I did tie in one Filth-post to the cosmic Avenger’s adventures, but I haven’t done anything else with the series, because (as in the case of Doom Patrol) I’m missing way too many issues…

But to get back to Cap–I wish to apologize to Tim, because I completely misunderstood his point yesterday, when he argued that the character, ideally, should never “brood”… Here’s the paragraph that cleared it up for me:

Gruenwald’s Cap didn’t brood. He thought a lot, yes, but he had those thought balloons sticking out of his head while he was doing stuff – riding his motorbike or clobberin’ baddies or something like that. I think I recall a few times when Steve Rogers was laying awake in bed and thinking, but that’s hardly brooding. Brooding is sitting atop of gothic Gargoyle and musing about how you will never have a healthy sexual relationship because you keep thinking about those pearls around your mother’s neck when she was shot and where oh where is my sidekick in the shortpants? I don’t like this whole girl Robin thing because they aren’t anywhere near as sexy as prepubescent boy-children.

Exactly. Cap’s problems are never personal (although, mid-way through Gruenwald’s run, the protagonist’s relationship with Diamondback did explore a very important question–i.e. is Steve Rogers’ “old-fashioned” liberal individualism truly universal, or is it hopelessly tangled up with a middle-class, white, male identity?) However, this doesn’t mean that Captain America always “knows what’s right”–or that Gruenwald makes things as easy for him as Tim implies. Sure, blatant law-breakers cross Steve’s path fairly often, and Cap never hesitates when lives are in danger, but you always get the sense that these altercations are the easy part of his job.

An analogy: I happen to have very strong–bordering on maniacal–animal rights sentiments, coupled with a horror of imposing my will upon others. I spend an inordinant amount of time just wishing more people would agree with me–and I take every chance I get to express my feelings on the subject in unconfrontational language–but if I happen to see my neighbor beating his/her dog, I’m going to stop them. What a luxury! To confront a situation that allows one to act purely on principle! Doesn’t happen often, does it? Well, traditional superheroes get one such opportunity to cathect their moral sense every month–and maybe they need it! After all, I hate hunting with a blind passion, but I know that I can’t stop it singlehandedly. If I could, there might be some Squadron Supreme-style trouble in the boreal regions of North America. Unless, of course, I had some way to let of steam by stopping certain even more obvious offenses.

That’s what superhero fights are–these characters don’t restrict themselves to the capture of criminals in order to “perpetuate the status quo“, they do it in order to save the dream of sustainable, popularly-based progress from their own supermoral radicalism.

I liken superheroes to Calvinists because it seems to me that they face exactly the same set of choices that Protestant sectaries do. The extreme right-wing Puritan’s (theocrat’s) sole imperative is to align the world with the Word as he/she conceives it. Setting the house in order, if you will. The extreme left-wing Puritan (antinomian), on the other hand, wishes only to proclaim the Word–even if in doing so they set the house on fire. In reality, most American sectaries (and most superheroes) have adhered to a middle course between these two poles. But they’re all radicals (they are all concerned with pushing society toward some Ideal state)–and the interesting thing about American radicalism is how moderate it has been when compared to its European analogues.

Most superheroes–and Gruenwald’s Cap preeminently–have tendeded toward “come-outerism”. In issue #336, Brother Nature (a sympathetically-portrayed superpowered eco-terrorist) and the newly defrocked Steve Rogers engage in a struggle that results in the destruction of the very Redwoods that the ex-forest ranger had been trying to save from developers. All of this leads to a very characteristic page of Gruenwaldian introspection (which, as Tim rightly points out, leans heavily upon the now-verboten use of thought-balloons):

Rogers (thinks): This man’s situation parallels mine in certain respects. We’ve both devoted ourselves to higher ideals…he, the sanctity of nature–me, the American Dream! “Brother” found he could not accomplish his goals within the legal system, so he went outside of it. Way outside, to hear him tell it… In my case, the government I once worked in harmony with made it so I could no longer work with them! The question is…do I follow Brother Nature’s route–become an outlaw–a guerilla–in order to further my ideological pursuits?

(A panel reveals the extent of the destruction)

Brother: Oh mother! Look what I did! Look what you made me do!

Steve: Don’t blame me for your actions! You didn’t have to lose your cool like you did… I don’t have the power to disrupt nature–you do. Everyone is responsible for the consequences of their own actions, regardless of circumstance!

Brother: You’re right man! I blew it! I did the very thing I was trying to prevent!

Steve: That’s the danger of crossing the line and becoming a renegade. There’s no telling how far you may be obliged to go to accomplish your wnds. You might even end up harming that which you most want to protect!

Steve (thinks): In my case, if I were to wage war against the commission for the right to be Captain America, I too may have to go so far that I would hurt the ideal I serve. No matter what the personal cost. I must not declare war on appointed officials of my nation’s government!

It sounds like the hardening of a protean respect for process into a quietist creed. However, this is not Steve’s final thought on the matter by a long shot… The thing I love about Gruenwald’s Cap is that he is always more concerned with the dreaming than “the dream”. Idealism must remain molten–fired by a respect for other minds… And let’s not forget that we’re headed for this!

Good Day Friends!


“Was it grown up to come to the realization that oneself did not matter, that nothing mattered but a kind of consciousness of the wonder of life outside oneself?”
(Sherwood Anderson, A Storyteller’s Story)

I’ve been awfully busy of late–prepping myself and my feline friends for the journey south, but if Sherwood is right, then linkblogging is a sign of maturity! One thing’s for sure–there is plenty to wonder at out there on the web:

Spider-Man 2 has generated quite a bit of intelligent commentary already, most notably by Jim Henley, starting here. Once you’re done with Jim’s high-octane posts, you would do well to check out John Commonplacebook’s quiet rumination upon the chocolate cake scene (and I agree with him that it’s a standout!); Dave Intermittent’s treatment of the famous Spider-Maxim as the beginning of a discussion, not the end of one; and Henry Farrell’s speculative foray into Spider-Man 3 territory (also, in the comments, a guy named “Moleman” argues that the Peter-MJ relationship loses a great deal of the nuance that it has in the comics without the fact of Gwen Stacy’s death–and, I would add, her resurrected clone!) There’s a lot of other stuff out there too, of course, and a lot of it is very interesting… Oh yes–and I doff my cap to Sean Collins for using a picture to express his negative sentiments about the film, rather than wasting a thousand foul words on the subject! (I’m serious–if you really dislike something, it ought to be enough to just say so…nothing interesting ever comes of criticism unless the critic is able to form a symbiotic relationship with the aesthetic object!)

Also–Tim O’Neil has an excellent piece up about superhero continuity and “template runs” + an essay about Robert Morales’ recently concluded Captain America run which features some statements about the character that I disagree with quite strongly, largely because, for me, the Cap “template” is Mark Gruenwald’s tenure on the series… and, of course, this means that I’m looking forward to the post-Morales era. Steve Rogers should brood! After all, it’s not easy being the ideal private individual, unless your handlers simplify your life by sicking Nazis and other fascists on you all day long! America doesn’t “become itself” in these struggles–it loses itself in them… A true liberal-democrat never thinks of anyone as “them”–and there’s no “us” in “U.S.”.

In other news, Adam Stephanides is back on the Bendis beat, and he makes his fair share of good points in part one of his reply to critics of his initial critique of Daredevil #56… personally, I’m just going to sit back on enjoy this one from now on–I had no business butting into this discussion in the first place, since I haven’t read the comic in question (the only Bendis I have read is Powers #1-6, which did not interest me in the least…)

Last, but not least–I wish to express my gratitude to H and Mag at The Comic Treadmill–their selection of this blog as “July pick of the month” means a great deal to me!

Good Night Friends!


Call and Response

(Soundtrack: Public Enemy — Apocalypse ’91)

Rick Geerling got things started:

So every writer – hell, almost every person – has that bookshelf. That one. The one where all the favorites and good picks and really cool looking books go. Mine is right on top of my desk. I got out of bed this morning, looked over at it, and thought…well, what better way to get some insight into a person? We’re always doing favorite movie lists and favorite CD lists, but no one ever just talks about what they’ve got lining The Bookshelf. I’m going to jump out into the pool a bit and do mine and we’ll see where it goes from there. Remember – no cheating and grabbing the cool books that aren’t on your shelf, no saying you have books on there that you don’t…it’s okay if you haven’t rearranged it in a while and have some crap on it. I do. That’s just how it goes.

I know exactly what Rick is talking about here–in fact, for the past week, my mind has been almost wholly given over to the problem of how to transfer “the shelf” to Michigan… The way I see it, there will be room in the car for three boxes of books, and here’s the packing list:

The Complete Novels and Selected Tales of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Modern Library)

Mosses From An Old Manse — Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library again)

The Complete Novels of Dashiell Hammett (Library of America)

Winesburg, Ohio — Sherwood Anderson

Selected Writings of Stephen Vincent Benet

Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Finca Vigia edition) — more on my mind than ever, especially “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Snows of Kilimanjaro”, which features the original Gwen Stacy Clone moment, “outside the regence”!

A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, and The Garden of Eden — Ernest Hemingway

Wuthering Heights — Emily Bronte

Pierre; or, the Ambiguities — Herman Melville

The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade — Herman Melville

Of Time and the River — Thomas Wolfe

The Web and the Rock, You Can’t Go Home Again, and The Hills Beyond — also by Thomas Wolfe

Cane — Jean Toomer

Up in the Old Hotel — Joseph Mitchell

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson

My Ears Are Bent — Joseph Mitchell

The Midnight Raymond Chandler — contains a number of the best stories, plus the two most important novels (The Little Sister and The Long Goodbye

My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew and The Benchley Roundup — Robert Benchley

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men — James Agee

Native Son — Richard Wright

The Selected Writings of Jonathan Edwards — edited Harold P. Simonson

The Omnibus of Crime (1929), one of my proudest possessions–featuring “The Gioconda Smile”, Aldous Huxley’s finest hour!

both volumes of The New England Mind, Errand into the Wilderness and Nature’s Nation — Perry Miller

The American Transcendentalists: An Anthology (1950) — edited by Perry Miller

American Vision — Ray Carney, the only great book ever written about Frank Capra

Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage — Stanley Cavell (where neo-Kantian philosophy and romantic comedy meet!)

The Runaway Bride — Elizabeth Kendall

The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara

American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman — F.O. Matthiessen

The Works of John Keats

The Viking Portable Joseph Conrad

Woman in the Nineteenth Century — Margaret Fuller

Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and his Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834-1850 — Aileen Kraditor

The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638: A Documentary History — edited by David D. Hall

Novels of Dawn Powell, Volume One and Two (Library of America)

The Pickwick Papers, Christmas Books, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Great Expectations, American Notebooks For General Circulation — Charles Dickens (I’d like to bring it all, but let’s not get crazy!)

Cakes and Ale — W. Somerset Maugham

Seventeenth-Century American Poetry — edited by Harrison T. Meserole

The Annotated Milton

The Wings of the Dove, What Maisie Knew, The Sacred Fount, The Bostonians, Autobiography — again, I’d like to take all of Henry James’ books with me, but no dice

A Sub-Treasury of American Humor (1941) — edited by E.B. and Katharine S. White

The American Mystery: American Literature From Emerson to Delillo — Tony Tanner

Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln — Daniel Walker Howe

The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570-1700 — Stephen Foster

The Puritan Origins of the American Self — Sacvan Bercovitch

The Flowering of New England — Van Wyck Brooks

The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon — Washington Irving

Pragmatism and Other Essays — William James

The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories — edited by Edward Wagenknecht

The Mammoth Book of Victorian & Edwardian Mystery Stories — mainly for Richard Harding Davis’ magnificent “In The Fog”

The Poetry of Robert Frost

Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Major Works — S. Taylor Coleridge

Poetical Works — Percy Bysshe Shelley

Gothic Tales — Elizabeth Gaskell

The Age of Federalism — Stanley Elkins and Eric McKittrick

Transient and Permanent: The Transcendentalist Movement and its Contexts — edited by Charles Capper

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life — Charles Capper

Hawthorne’s Fuller Mystery — Thomas R. Mitchell

The Trials of Anthony Burns — Albert J. Von Frank

Complete Stories — Dorothy Parker

My Bondage and My Freedom — Frederick Douglass

Animal Man #1-26 — Grant Morrison, Chas Truog, etc.

The Essential Spider-Man, vols 1-6 + Amazing Spider-Man #138-151 — Ditko, Lee, Romita, Conway, Kane, Andru, etc.

The Essential Dr. Strange — Ditko and Lee

Dr. Strange: A Separate Reality — Englehart and Brunner

X-Men Masterworks, nos. 22-31 — Thomas & Roth

The Filth — Morrison and Weston

Captain America #307-383 — Gruenwald, Neary, Dwyer, etc.

The Flash #275-350 — Bates, Heck, Infantino, etc.

Suqadron Supreme — Gruenwald, Ryan, etc.

Essential Avengers, vols 1-3 — Lee, Kirby, Heck, Thomas, Buscema

Doom Patrol #19-63 (with a few gaps!) — Morrison & Case

Cerebus, vol one — Dave Sim

The King James Bible — various

I hope all of it fits!

Good Day Friends!