Month: October 2004


Do or Dieterle!

(Soundtrack: Prozac+ —3Prozac+)

I’ve often ranted about William Dieterle in this space. He, along with Frank Borzage, is one of the cornerstones of the “soft-boiled noir” tradition I hope to write something substantial about one of these fine days… So naturally I’m pleased that the good folks at MGM DVD (who seem to have acquired the rights to all of the Selznick International films) have seen fit to release two of the unacknowledged master’s mistier forties fantasies (now if only they’d put Love Letters, The Accused, Rope of Sand, Paid in Full, Dark City, Volcano into circulation–to say nothing of the insane
Juarez and Fog Over Frisco–which I must see before I die!–we’d really be getting somewhere!)

Anyway, for right now, put down that motherfuckin’ Star Wars Box Set and do yourself a favour friend–
I’ll Be Seeing You (a holiday melodrama starring Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten that Dieterle didn’t get a chance to finish himself–and it shows!–but there are more than enough brilliantly characteristic scenes–most of them involving Joseph Cotten’s attempt to deal with nerve-damage–to make up for that! The scene in the cafe with Chill Wills is, if you’ll pardon me, absolutely chilling–and the scene after the fight with the dog [“you’re in for it now, Zack…”] is unbelievable! Quite apart from this, the film does a magnificent job of forcing the viewer to participate in the intimacy of the “charmed interval”–blips of “tangible ephemerality” that humans build together and then savour until the inevitable “tragic word” or action dispells them…) and Portrait of Jennie (which is indescribably great–well, maybe I’ll try to describe it soon, but I doubt my powers! Among other things, the film is cinematographer Joseph August’s liebestode: he was so satisfied by the images he brought to light that he decided it was time to die just as they wrapped the shoot–and I, for one, think his judgment was sound. For now, let’s just call POJ Somewhere in Time to the power of ten and leave it at that!) await you in the classics section (assuming the store you buy DVDs from doesn’t suck, which is unlikely! I just laugh when comics people whine about their retailers…)

Also–I just read The Princess Casamassima! Henry James writing about anarchists! And brilliantly! Despite my love for his work (The Wings of the Dove would definitely place highly in any prose fiction top ten list I might assemble), I had always avoided the Master’s “social novels”, figuring that his genius simply could not accomodate itself to the demands of that genre… Suffice it to say–I was wrong!

Good Afternoon Friends!


Consider Yourselves–Warned!

(Soundtrack: Public Enemy — It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back)

The Rubicon is crossed! The books have been ordered! Next semester, my intro to American radical thought course will have a much more contemporary flavour! Inspired by the readings and research I’ve been doing for my own graduate courses, I’ll be zeroing in on questions of power & responsibility–particularly “radical”, “liberal” and “reactionary” approaches to the use of violence as a political tool. Is there any doubt that superhero comics deal more directly with these issues than any works of mass culture ever have? The texts I’ve chosen are Animal Man, vols 1 to 3, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and Squadron Supreme. I’m nowhere near done the syllabus, but I know I’m throwing Emerson into the mix, plus viewings of I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Meet John Doe, Moby Dick, Fight Club, and, quite possibly, Pola X!

Now, I ask you, what more could any freshman want?

Good Night Friends!


Is this a Shit-Knife I see before me?

(Soundtrack: New Kingdom–Paradise Don’t Come Cheap)

Question–has anyone written anything about “anti-fanboyism” in comics? I’m thinking about the distinctly complicitous relationship that exists between a site like Fanboy Rampage and all of those superhero-centered messageboards that I would never in a million years even think about visiting if people like Graeme didn’t link to them…

Now, you might think that this is just Fiore trying to start trouble with “elitists” again (the only reaction to my comment on the latest Rampage post was “Motime was here”–I have no idea how to take that, but I know it ain’t conversation!), but it’s nothing of the sort! What it is, my friends, is a serious invitation to the more enlightened members of the North American comics community to consider what the figure of “the fanboy” means to them–and, furthermore, to ponder whether they can do without “him”. Why do people like Daniel Clowes waste their time parodying superheroes? (and, perhaps more importantly, why does Alan David Doane focus so obsessively upon this aspect of Eightball #23?) Why does every comic book fan who hopes to be taken seriously by her or his peers have to come forward with a “conversion narrative”, with the moment that they “realized that there is a whole world of art beyond the confines of the Marvel Universe” standing in for “God’s caress”? I understand that there are problems with the direct market and the public’s perception that “comics=superheroes” (although, on second thought, scratch that! I’m pretty sure that, if you conducted empirical research, you’d find that the average North American equates comics with the newspaper strips) Still, I don’t think this fully accounts for the pathological imperative, on the part of comics cognoscenti in general, to construct “Marvel Zombiedom” as a stage on the road to aesthetic maturity.

For a perfect example of this, see Bart Beaty’s essay on Cerebus in the latest TCJ (on the whole, I’m enjoying the issue immensely, by the way)… R. Fiore’s essay is even more mindlessly locked into this mode, while seemingly protesting against it (we won’t even bother to get into the question of what you “can” or “can’t do” with a narrative involving a “giant squirrel”!!)–imagine treating Sim’s Marvel parodies as anything like the heart of the graphic novel’s achievement! Sure, these little performances may have brought in some readers, but anyone who isn’t blinded by the weird politics of this subculture can see that they’re more important for what they reveal about the Roach than for what they say about “corporate comics”… Fiore is asking Sim to take the fall–unjustly!– for the entire North American comics community’s tendency to muddy the critical terrain by overemphasizing every work’s relationship to superheroes… (I’ll get back to Cerebus as soon as I can, friends, believe me!)

So! “Marvel” is something you “outgrow”. When you turn twelve. Or (as many of these folks like to put it) when you “discover girls”. And there is no going back! Oh, you can wax nostalgic about superheroes in an ironical way, and even buy all of the new issues of whatever titles you followed when you were a stupid punk who didn’t know any better, as long as you are careful to maintain an “oh, look how much money I’m wasting now” smirk on your face. The “fanboy” is the “mudsill class” of the comic book world–the “body in the foundation” of any enlightened fan’s self-respect. If “he” didn’t exist, they’d have to invent “him”. And, quite frankly, when I do glance at those Newsarama boards, I can’t help thinking that someone has! Extra copies “in case the pages stick together”?–get real!

Good Night Friends!


Ay oh, let’s go
Shoot’em in the back now
What they want, I don’t know
They’re all reved up and ready to

(Soundtrack: The Ramones)

(image courtesy of the extraordinary Silver Age Marvel Comics Cover Index, where you can find Mike Costa’s Bullpen Bulletins Page!)

There’s no contradicting Paul O’Brien‘s basic point that the Big Two Comic Book companies are now catering exclusively to hardcore fans. The problem with the article is that it fails to deal adequately with the fact (certainly since the dawn of Marvel–with DC quickly following suit–for what else does the rise of the Legion and its fandom represent, other than the “Marvelization” of creator-reader relations at the older company? The people actually voted for team leaders for Christ’s sake! That is major “fan entitlement”, no?) that this is exactly what has always set superhero comics apart from the other “popular arts” that O’Brien brings into the discussion. Things have come full circle–in more ways than one.

O’Brien laments the “near-total absence of anyone else” (other than hardcore fans) in the readership of these titles. But does this explain the perceived drop in vitality within the comics themselves? (and isn’t the massive expansion beyond the committed fanbase of the late-eighties/early-nineties usually cited as the (or, at least, “a”) point of no return?

From the beginning, Marvel explicitly demanded (in the caption boxes, in the footnotes, in the lettercols, in the Merry Marvel Marching Society publications) “total commitment” from all of its readers. Their strategy (both aesthetic and economic) was absolutely dependent upon the overnight construction of a rabidly loyal interpretive community. It was a newstand blitzkrieg–fan letters provided the backbeat. And DC was forced to adopt similar methods.

Does this compromise “aesthetic integrity”? Hell yes!–and thank God for that! Better to be honest about these important facts of life. And what’s the trade-off? An incredible infusion of vitality from interested narrative partisans, and a built-in defense against the type of “pandering” that has undeniably plagued less responsive “mass culture”. Can fans pander to themselves?

Hmm…from what I’ve seen of the past ten-fiften years worth of comics, it seems clear that they can. I love to place the whole blame on Marvels, but the truth is that Busiek and Ross are a symptom of the problem, not the true cause of it. They did play the decisive part in determining the form this pandering would take–the pathological return to “the origin”–but they could never have done it if a whole bunch of inept artist/writers hadn’t washed out the bridge between the current issues and the past that had sustained the “Marvel Story” from the beginning. This is one of the reasons I’m so interested in seventies/early-to-mid-eighties Marvels–these texts scrupulously avoided taking this route! And they were able to do it because they took it for granted that the readers knew–or knew where to access–every detail of the backstory. Whatever you think of their individual merits, it’s pretty clear that John Byrne (you could argue that it begins with the FF, and breaks into overt mutiny with Man Steel) and Frank Miller (Year One) began the assault upon the principle of “dynamic stasis”.

Now, far be it from me to tell people how to write their books, but it seems to me that Geoff Klock could have worked Bloomean wonders with Byrne and Miller’s respective powerplays, if he had been at all interested in exploring the superhero narrative as it existed before the “strong works” he zeroes in on. Is there any doubt that Byrne’s FF is in oedipal conflict with Jack Kirby? Or that all of Miller’s projects are driven by the anxiety of his influences? And these guys merely opened the floodgates for the Image crew a few years later. “Dynamic stasis” simply can’t survive this kind of treatment–instead of dialogic melodrama, narrative is appropriated as a weapon to be used in the struggle against the “honoured dead”, and the idea of superhero storytelling as a “relay race” (a philosophy adhered to by Walt Simonson–pretty much the only writer/artist who has used his “powers” responsibly, in this context) falls by the wayside.

So dynamic stasis evaporates. The treadmill (happy blogday, by the way H & Mag!) shudders to a halt, and all the hardcore fans are left with is a memory.

Which brings us up to date. Instead of an “eternal present”, kept vital by fan interest, we’re stuck in an “eternal past”, rendered impotent by completely unreconstructed fan nostalgia.

Good Night Friends!


Stuart Smalley Would Be Proud

(Soundtrack: Everclear–World of Noise)

I feel that I am growing–as an “online personality”. Apparently, the best way to prevent pernicious binaries like “genre comics”/”artcomix” or “children’s fiction”/”adult fiction” from exerting their baleful influence upon sincere discussion of superhero comics is not to deconstruct them but to ignore them! I owe this “change of heart” to the good folks at The Comics Journal Message Board, who’ve been delighting me of late!

I’m especially gratfeful, at this moment, to Robin Bougie, who initiated a very interesting thread dealing with gender assumptions in the work of Stan Lee–especially in the “romance titles”. (as an aside, David Welsh has recently approached this topic from an entirely different perspective).

Anyway, my position is that:

Stan showed a great deal of wlllingness to “break the rules” by dealing with romance in a way that “adventure fiction” (which had always been coded as a “male” genre) rarely had–and it’s an interesting fact that many of the letters in the sixties/seventies Marvels are from women–but the (you can call it unconscious if you want to) kind of gender complications unleashed by a figure like “pining Parker” (for instance!) completely disappear from the “female-coded” love comics, and here I think you can easily make the case that, although the superheroes comics are very ambiguous on the subject of what it means to be “a man”, the romance comics leave almost no room at all for doubt about their construction of “femininity”.

In a strange way then, you could say that Stan, as a writer, had a great deal more success in reaching actual women with his superhero work!

Now, I’ve got a really high fever tonight, and cannot seem to focus on the book I’m supposed to read for tomorrow’s seminar, so I thought I’d try to develop this a little bit, building upon Robin’s insight that:

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed about love comics of the era, and this isn’t specific to Marvel, but to DC and Charlton as well – was the constant overpowering notion that women (even the heroine of the tale) are confused and have no idea what they want in life, whereas men are always wise, understanding, and ready to make things right if their girlfriends would ONLY listen to them. I have about a dozen love comics where, to get his girl to listen to him, the male lead takes a ‘Daddy role’, and puts her over his knee and spanks her as if she were a spoiled toddler.

When you compare this ‘perfect’ male character to the confused, insecure and flawed male characters in Marvel’s superhero titles of the time (Peter Parker, etc) you get an idea that two sets of rules are in place.

Maybe I’m connecting dots that don’t exist, but I’m seeing male love comics writers like Lee not wanting female readers to see men as weak, flawed, or anything other than right 100% of the time. How else can you explain it?

I’m sure that there’s a great deal of truth in this argument. The only proviso I would offer is that, again, the superhero books often take situations from the love books and expose them as the conventional shams that they are. Is this Stan’s way of “getting back” at female reader expectations that may not have even existed? My assumption is that Stan, whose desire to change the way superhero were written (and make money in the process!) is common knowledge, simply would not have bothered to rock a romance title boat that was perceived as a relatively stable source of income for the company. And even if he had wanted to “innovate for innovation’s sake” in this area, I don’t think he could have, since it’s pretty clear that he was saving all of his best “love stuff” for the superhero titles themselves.

Which brings us back–as usual–to Gwen and Mary Jane. It’s easy to see Gwen, especially in the last few years of her pre-clone existence, as very much a replica/possible critique of the standard “Our Modern Love” protagonist. She may show some resourcefulness on occasion, and even an “independent streak”, but there’s no denying the fact that she is “father-fixated”, and that Captain Stacy’s death in issue #90 frees her to refocus all of this submissive desire upon the unassuming person of Peter Parker. From that point on, the relationship is doomed, because Parker is nothing like the patriarchal males that Robin correctly sees everywhere in the “romance comics”.

I don’t wish to imply that Stan Lee thought about these matters in those terms. I don’t think that’s the important thing. Everything we need in order to understand this situation is right there in the text–and so is Mary Jane Watson!

Now, MJ is a different story entirely. One of the first things that we are told about her is that she has no (living) father. More importantly, she shows no desire to find a surrogate. From the beginning, her function is to “speak truth” to “with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility”. Lee does an absolutely abysmal job of getting inside this character’s head, but the important thing is that he brings her into the equation, and leaves her characterization sufficiently open to reinterpretation by Gerry Conway. Conway’s most distinctive achievement was to recast MJ’s “flightiness” as a choice, rather than a “primary characteristic”–a praxis, in fact. After Stan left the title, MJ continues to be “her own woman”, but this is no longer interpreted as a “condition” which renders her “unfit” to participate in a genuine romantic relationship.

Of course, complications ensue when Gwen’s clone comes back, but I’m too delirious to revisit that situation at the moment! I feel I should add, however, that Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz’s revelation (prepared for by the work of Roger Stern) that MJ has always known that Peter is spider-man is really the only thing that makes sense, given the facts that we know about their relationship, and deserves the (dubious?) title of “greatest retcon of all time”! It fits with the spirit, if not all of the details, of the sixties and seventies backstory. MJ’s attraction/repulsion to Peter is rooted in her sympathy for a fellow-creature that is far too busy/troubled by his own demons to ever run patriarchal power moves on her combined with the fear that, by his very nature, Peter will always strive (unsuccessfully!) to take “responsibility” for anyone that gets close to him. I would argue that her decision, at long last, to show her cards, speaks of a new resolve to confront Peter’s “responsibility issues” head on, rather than attempting to escape from the orbit of their unspoken gravity. (Let’s not forget–she disappeared from the title for FIVE years!) This is not to say that the two characters should necessarily have renewed their romance in the aftermath of this revelation, and, in fact, DeFalco refused to cheapen the ambiguities of this uniquely charged situation by rushing to a facile denoument! Sadly, Michelinie/McFarlane (and their successors?) did not share his scruples!

Good Night Friends!


There’s Another (Three) Boy Geni(i) Fuckin’ Gone…

(Soundtrack: Bikini Kill–Reject All-American)

What a sad weekend–Derrida, Christopher Reeve, Ken Caminiti–I have fond memories of them all…

Derrida, obviously, is the least distressing of the departures. He made it to 74, and he wrote a million awesome books. That’s definitely a good enough life, right Batman?

Nearer and dearer to most readers of this blog, I’m sure, is Superman himself (I wonder how Christine’s feeling right now? Reeve is a personal obsession of hers–along with Alan Alda and Judd Hirsch…not sure where I fit into that love-equation!) Now, the Superman movies have never been particularly dear to me. They don’t come anywhere close to giving me the Superman stories I want. I’m much more interested in Weisinger/Bates/Maggin craziness/super-pet fun than I am in Siegel & Schuster’s original conception of the character–Krypto! Bottled Cities! Spending Christmas in the future with the Legion! Finding the weirdest, most roundabout way of solving a problem, without actually punching anyone with your superfist! Meeting alternate versions of yourself! that’s what I like…

Still, the first two Reeve Supermans are unquestionably superior members of their species–the superhero-story-as-action-film. I’ve often voiced my displeasure at this genre-shift, so I won’t bore you with any more of that. Instead, I wanted to say a word about my favourite Reeve vehicle: Somewhere in Time.

It’s a time-travel fantasy, clearly inspired by Jack Finney’s books. Reeve plays a writer who wills himself into the past in order to make the acquaintance of the subject (played by Jane Seymour) of a painting that he’s obsessed with. My first encounter with it was a midnight showing on the local CTV affiliate when I was eight, and it really freaked me out. The film has its flaws, but it also features a perfectly appropriate Rachmaninov score and gauzy cinematography, which entice the viewer into its ephemeral-yet-intimate embrace. I haven’t seen it for years, but I seldom go very long without flashing back to an image of Reeve, sitting by himself in a retro Hotel Room, trying desperately to fool himself back out of phase with a reality he can no longer bear, after his experiences in “the past”. And Teresa Wright’s in it too!

As for Caminiti, well, although he was the youngest of this group (only 41), the really sad thing is that his death comes as no surprise. His problems wth cocaine and steroids have been well documented, and cardiac arrest is pretty much the only possible result of that lethal combination. Still, I hadn’t heard about him in a few years, and you always hope that, somehow, people are getting their acts together behind the scenes… Anyhow, he was an important member of several of my NL rotisserie teams in the early nineties–you could always get him cheap, and he always seemed to contribute a little more than expected… By the time he entered his prime (even winning an MVP award in 1996), my interest in (real) baseball had waned, but I always kept an eye on the performance of my little “discoveries” (Edgar Martinez, who only just retired, was his American League counterpart). I have never lost my passion for Strat-O-Matic however! And if I had the game here, I would salute a 1993 Caminiti Houston Astros card! The guy basically gave his life for that MVP award! Now, that’s (misguided) devotion…

Good Night Friends!


“The Art of Producing Something Out of Nothing Has Always Been A Most Delicate One”

(Soundtrack: Red Aunts–Bad Motherfucken 40 oz.)

Pardon my enthusiasm, but I’m a little bit overwhelmed today! Just watched Anatole Litvak’s The Long Night for the third time! It’s a remake of Carne’s Le Jour Se Leve (which has been on my list for a while–more than ever now!), but I think some of the reviewers have let this fact cloud their minds… Oooh, they changed the ending! Aww, Henry Fonda’s not right for the part! Barbara Bel Geddes is “bland”… Come on! Wake up people! Personally, I can’t help relating this film to It’s A Wonderful Life–the two works run on parallel tracks, strafing each other with alternate beams of gloom and light that each, in their turn, help to bring the human situations at their respective cores into sharper focus.

The Long Night begins with a murder. Elisha Cooke, playing a blind ex-G.I., literally collides with a body as he feels his way up the staircase to his flat in a cheap boardinghouse in a town “somewhere on the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania”. A shot has been fired. When the police arrive to question the presumed shooter, another ex-G.I. named Joe Adams, he tells them to take off. When they insist upon coming in, he sends indiscriminate bullets through the door and they scurry back down to the street, there to ponder the best means of smoking him out… We still haven’t seen Adams, only heard his plaintive voice, demanding to be left alone.

We get our first glimpse of the outlaw when we plunge into his dim apartment with the tommygun spray unleashed by the S.W.A.T. team. It’s a brutal scene. Fonda retreats into a corner as the cold shower of bullets rinses away the few poor fetish-tokens of relationality that he’s been able to steal from the world. Then, of course, he flashes back…

Astonishingly, given the build-up, we find that this isn’t a “crime melodrama” at all! There’s no heist scheme. No femme fatale. There is a scuzzy magician/dog-trainer (Vincent Price, in an unbelievably good performance–I don’t even understand how you could describe this character!–maybe, uh, incompetent, venal, Svengali?), but he’s no criminal mastermind, not in the normal sense of those words, anyway.

People aren’t too concerned about money in this film–although they all live in squalor. The harshness of their “poverty” manifests itself in a sense of isolation, not in any lack of worldly comfort. In fact, the wonderfully dingy flophouse and tavern sets are strangely welcoming, whenever Fonda finds himself in conversation with Charlene (Price’s ex-assistant in the magic act–played by the amazing Ann Dvorak) or Jo-Ann (a confused and lonely young woman who, like Jimmy Stewart in IAWL, dreams of being “drawn out” by the exoticism of the world ouside of the crusty steeltown flowershop in which she works; she’s played by Barbara Bel Geddes–so different here from Midge in Vertigo–although, if you really think about it, similarities do come to light–at any rate, I think she’s perfect in both roles).

Everyone in this film is trying to express the inexpressible. To break out of the “prison of self”, or at least to earn the right to receive conjugal visits. Yeah, that’s more like it. Litvak’s achievement is to really make us feel the importance of these little interviews: they communicate an almost tangible sense of intimacy, while at the same time reminding us that these consensually-built “homes” are temporary–houses of cards…

Meanwhile, Price blurs the line between “honest” and “dishonest” striving in this regard, and there’s one scene in particular, in which he makes a startling confession (to Fonda) worthy of “The Husband” in Dmytryk’s Crossfire, that pretty much annihilates it! You get the sense that, if only Price could sustain his lies, he really would be as lovable as he wants his audience to believe. In the most beautiful moment of self-diagnosis in the film, he tells Bel Geddes: “In a strange way I’m honest, even about my lies.” That’s the whole trouble with him. He can never quite believe himself, even when he’s got others fooled. If love is a lie that two people create together and unleash upon themselves like a Frankenstein monster, then Price somehow can’t bring himself to pump the requisite electricity into the fleshy whoppers he continually digs up.

There’s a lot more to be said about this film–and its connection to IAWL in particular–wish I had more time! For now, let’s just say I think it’s one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen!

Good Evening Friends!


Special “Tribute to The Comics Journal” Edition

Item One–the new issue of TCJ looks awesome! A Cerebus roundtable! (and the Colby Cosh piece on the Canadian sources of Sim’s antifeminism has already got me riled! more on that another time!) Sean Collins on New X-Men & The Goon! Tim O’Neil on Autobiographix! A piece called “The Future of Black Comics”! I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Ed Brubaker, but smart people like Ian Brill seem to love him, so I’m sure he’ll make a fine cover-subject… Needless to say, I’ll be buying this.

Item Two–the William Gaines audio file seems great so far! He starts off talking about letters pages! (and boy am I glad to see the Jules Feiffer interview go! I think Feiffer’s a jackass…)

And–item 3–they’re wondering “When Marvel Jumped the Shark” on the Messageboard…I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (although, in my formulation, the question is not “when?”, but “why?”)–so naturally I had a reply handy!

Good Afternoon Friends!


Sad Commentary

Adam Stephanides expresses his general dissatisfaction with DVD commentaries and–for perhaps the first time ever–I am in complete agreement with him! Personally, I never want to hear another has-been/senile director mumbling, “oh yeah, we had fun shooting that, I think that’s pretty good…” If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating, then you clearly haven’t wasted as much time as I have listening to this shit. The worst offenders in this regard are the Frank Capra films, which all feature misguidedly filiopietist commentary by the great existentialist director’s idiot son, who mouths fuzzy platitudes (which he learned from the decrepit old man’s own nostalgic autobiography) about the “sympathy for the common man” and good-hearted optimism manifested by the films. These commentaries could set back Capra scholarship by decades! I’m about to become ill just thinking about it, so I’d better stop right now!

I feel I should add, however, that there are, as always, exceptions to this rule–most notably the Gondry-Kaufman shadow-war that now lurks just one click out of phase with the text of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the amazingly entertaining/insightful performance laid down (by the Waiting For Guffman people) on the commentary track of the Criterion Edition of Preston Sturges’ masterful Sullivan’s Travels!

Now if only Adam would explain why he thinks Grant Morrison is a misanthrope (I am, of course, on record as having made exactly the reverse claim!) we’d be on the road to some kind of true understanding!

Good Evening Friends!


Innocence Mistake?

(Soundtrack: Magnapop)

Okay–so Straczynski has gone and implied–apparently in a flashback sequence narrated by MJ–that Gwen Stacy once had sex with Norman Osborne, y’now, back before he killed herMatt Rossi has also posted a few thoughts on this subject, and I’ve been keeping up with some of the reader-response (like this and this), but of course I’m not going to buy the issue…

Where to begin? The biggest problem–and it’s one that others have mentioned–is the way this affects MJ’s characterization… Concealing her knowledge of Peter’s dual ID is one thing, but bottling this up just makes her seem like a person who gets off on keeping secrets! But forget about that–I don’t have any clue what they’ve been doing with Mary Jane Watson lately, and I’m sure they’re not writing her the way they did in Gerry Conway’s heyday (or Roger Stern’s…or Tom DeFalco’s…), so I have nothing to contribute on this subject.

But let’s get back to Gwen. One of the things I hated about Spider-Man: Blue is the way it casts Gwen as merely a symbol of innocence/purity/what-have-you… This problem, a recurrent one in Spider-historiography, has become genuinely pathological in post-Marvels Marvel as a whole, and in super-hero comics in general these days, from what I’ve seen… Yes my friends, nostalgia is the disease, not the cure!

Neurotic obsession with the unrecoverable past has been at the thematic core of many, many great works of art over the years–but only when this emotion (which all of us can understand!) is carefully scrutinized, certainly not when it is merely exhibited, and especially not when it provides the occasion for creators and readers alike to make exhibitions of themselves.

We’re back in “lost innocence of the Silver Age” territory here, and Gwen Stacy’s grave is probably the most prominent landmark in this wasteland of impotent yearning… Kurt Busiek is the ultimate high priest of this necrophiliac religion, and Marvels is its Holy Book. But no matter what Busiek, or ADD, or Seth, or Doc Nebula tell you, the Silver Age at Marvel was not some “green world” of inspired adventure untouched by (corporate?) sin. Think about the books for a second! They’re filled with alienated teens, monsters, wholesale destruction, and very hip self-knowing, and conversational narration/editorial content. This was never “storytime for baby”, it was dialogic melodrama! And perhaps the greatest thrill of all was that, no matter how many years passed, or how few academic credits Peter Parker seemed to amass, the story was eternally ongoing. When I started reading these stories in the mid-eighties, the Marvel Universe was a going concern. Everything that had ever happened in the comics was on the record in the various Gruenwald/Sanderson projects, and there was no sense of a chasm between the books that were on the stands and the issues in the bins. That’s how I wound up getting so absorbed in the whole thing! I wanted it all, because it all seemed relevant.

But something went wrong somewhere. Maybe it’s because the people who took over the authorial reins were too young, when they started reading the early Marvels, to recognize the real sophistication that characterizes Lee’s negotiations with the readers. They just loved the pretty pictures, which they eventually came to worship as Henri Rousseau-style naif masterworks, little realizing that it’s their own youthful naivete that they long for back there in the past.

And that brings us back to Gwen Stacy, who has suffered far more grievously, in the years since her death, from the machinations of the twelve-year old boys who cried when she fell, than she ever did at the hands of the Green Goblin. Until now, that is. Yes, my friends, those boys and her killer have now joined hands to wreak the most childish revenge ever perpetrated upon an immature symbol of “purity”. It’s the old cynicism/idealism tag-team. If you spy a crack in your Idol, cover it up with shit!

Kevin Smith must be delighted.

I agree that the “myth of Gwen Stacy’s purity” had to be dispelled. But not this way. Not by forcing her into bed with a gross old psychopath and shrieking “ick!” The most galling thing about all this is that Gerry Conway had already negotiated a magnificent armistice with the problem of nostalgic obsession in 1975–and it just didn’t take! I’ve written a fair amount about this–how Conway actually outdid Hitchcock in maturity, if not artistry, by reworking Vertigo into a romantic comedy–here and here, among other places…and I’ll do more of it soon! For now, let’s just say that when an Object of Desire loses her iconicity, you don’t throw her off of a bridge (or a bell tower) and then work on curing yourself of your lingering obsession by retroactively imputing a “dirty” sexual past to her! Moreover, if you do take that route, and you happen to be living in a world in which cloning is possible, you’d better bring her back right away and let her get on with her life! And that’s what Conway did–he thwarted Parker’s desire to destroy the fading symbol of purity (the better to preserve it for his own alternately worshipful and sacreligious pleasure) and forced him to watch that symbol walk away to begin a life on her own terms, in a storyline that has nothing to do with Peter Parker and his problems.

Which is just a long-winded way of arguing that, as a storyteller/narrator-of-your-own-life, you don’t “de-idealize/de-objectify” a character (or a real-life person) by making her (or him) an Object of Derision, a negative cypher fornicating with the Devil (unless you do this in order to make a real point–and here I’m thinking of the moral lesson taught by Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”); you have to make the leap into her/his subjective position.

Good Night Friends!