Month: November 2004

Stay Where You Are

Stay Where You Are

(Soundtrack: Sleater-Kinney — Call The Doctor)

1. Scott Pilgrim progressed into my mailbox yesterday (thanks for the graphic inscription Bryan! feline references are a sure way to my heart!), and, like Ed Cunard, I’m looking forward to blogging about it in the near future (soon as I get a fifty page burst of essay-writing done + grade the inevitable flood of final papers!)…

2. Matt Rossi wants in to the corporate storytelling “sandbox”–let him play America! (also–expect some discussion of Matt’s novel in this space–again, once the aforementioned academic chores have been dealt with…)

3. Meanwhile, my own novel has jumped over a million “Amazon sales rank” positions in the last week or so! This hardly makes me a major player in the literary world, but it does mean that at least a few more people are (or will soon be!) reading Darkling I Listen–and for that, I am truly thankful! And just think–Chimera Lucida (starring Roberta Flackjacket, lead singer of “New Model Barbie”) is coming! Someday!

Good Afternoon friends!


Brill is the Cream of the Crop

Brill is the Cream of the Crop

Just checking in to direct your attention to a wonderful post on “declension” in the superhero game (and in art in general) by Ian Brill.

The rest of this post is just a comment that got too big for Haloscan’s liking, so definitely go read, uh, now, as they say…


Beautiful, Ian!
(Byrne as a hairy racist Norma Desmond? I love it! “I’m ready for my retcon, Mr. Demille…” I wonder if Byrne’s butler plays all of the other roles on the Forum?)

I second Johnny’s full concurrence!

I yield to none in my appreciation of the superhero titles of the sixties and seventies, and the reason these things are so good is that none of the creators involved allowed themselves to get locked into an idea of how they “should be done”… (as the lettercols demonstrated, the market was expanding too rapidly–into unprecedented demographic groups!–for such petty concerns to enter into the debate)

You hear a lot of talk about the Silver Age at Marvel, but, really, this “epochization” (the “aging process”?) is counterproductive. A Marvel comic from 1962 is very different from its 1965 descendant. And, once Roy Thomas and the epigoni took over most of the writing chores in 1966-69, things changed even more drastically. The process of continuous revolution is so rapid that you can almost see it from month to month!

I believe that this continued into the seventies, and even, in some regions of “mainstream storytelling”, into the eighties… Aside from the usual suspects that Ian mentions, I would add: Conway’s explorations of memory and identity in Amazing Spider-Man and Firestorm, Thomas’ insanely detailed ventures into “thick description” of the WW2 homefront in both corporate universes (All-Star Squadron is where this really blossomed!) + his underrated re-invention of Dr. Strange late in the decade, Cary Bates’ decision to abandon his fun puzzle plotting in favor of a God-like plot against Barry “Job” Allen in the last 75 issues of Flash (aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino, who, along with Gene Colan, was perhaps the only Silver Age “master” that refused to settle into a definite style–impaling his own “smooth” rep on the stalagmatic visions served up in Spider-Woman, Supergirl, and “The Trial of the Flash”) and delving into problems of morality and government service in Captain Atom; Gruenwald’s experiments with Cap as the embodiment of the “infinitude of the private man” and “metahuman momentum” in Squadron Supreme… you can tell when an artist is moving forward–which is not the same thing as “moving comics forward”–and when they’re just paying homage…especially when they’re paying homage to themselves!

Okay–back to my research!

Good Night friends!




(Soundtrack: Glenn Miller Orchestra — In the Christmas Mood II)

Tony Isabella tips his thanksgiving cap to Roy the Boy Thomas, and, along the way, provides some insight into the “Marvel method” of assembling a lettercol (among other things), back in the early seventies…

Now, obviously, anytime anyone mentions a comic book letters page, I will be there, taking notes! Take this passage, for instance:

The first thing I did on my first day at Marvel in 1972 was to write a letters page for TMWOM. Sol gave me a package of fan mail from England. Out of the fifty-plus letters, there were maybe six or seven that were usable. Clearly, our British readers were much younger than our American readers.

I never received what I would have considered enough useable letters from the U.K. In retrospect, I should have run more of the letters I did receive and aim the columns directly at those younger readers. Instead, I tried to “elevate” the columns to the level of our American comic books.

It eventually became easier to write the letters myself. I’d take a first name from this British reader, a last name from that one, and bug Glynis for the names of likely cities from which these letters could have been received.

Oh, the irony. Roy Thomas knew of me – first and foremost – from the many letters I sent to Marvel as a fan. Now I was getting paid to write fan letters.

There came a time when my duties expanded to the point where I could not continue writing the British letters columns and handed them off to the London office. This issue’s edition of “The Mighty Marvel Mailbag” doesn’t read like anything I would have written at the time. The use of words like “bookstalls” and the inexplicably- hyphenated “Bull-pen” confirm this conclusion.

I love it!

Ever since I started telling people that I wanted to write a dissertation on silver/bronze Marvel lettercols, I’ve gotten three types of responses:

1. utter stupefaction

2. mildly bemused approval

Or (and this one is kind of a combination of the first two)

3. “You know, a lot of those letters weren’t even written by fans”

Ah, but isn’t the most interesting question, when it comes to “shared universes”: where is the line between “professionalism” and “fandom”? Do you cross it when Marvel starts paying you? Certainly not according to the folks that deride Jack Kirby’s fan club for exhuming his corpse (corpus?) in “inferior-reprint” zombie form and raping it with a “retcons” (oh Comics Journal, what’m I gonna do with you?)…

I, of course, agree with Matt Rossi’s contention that it’s the fans (and Roy Thomas, more than anyone) that made my Marvel. And, no, they never stop being fans, whether they’re writing letters to the editor, or (surreptitiously) as the editor. That space at the back (or–and perhaps more appropriately–as it often was, in the seventies, in the middle) of the book is an abyss in which the line between creator and audience is irretrievably lost. It’s an invitation to “otherness”–even if it is sometimes filled by the writer/editor herself. They still aren’t writing as themselves. And this opens up a far more important question–can you write anything as yourself? Do your stories “belong” to you, or to the world? You know where I come down on that point. Irreverence toward the traditional notion of the author is built in to the merry marvel metatext. This was no “age of innocence”, unless you were too young when these books hit the shelves to do anything but project your own naivety onto Kirby and Ditko’s artwork (and, as I’ve often argued, these are the “fanboys” that are “killing” the superhero, by clinging to an “innocence”–either through “nostalgia” or “cynicism”–that was never there in the first place).

In Marvel we see the beginnings of “deconstructionist mythmaking” (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one! And remember, contradictions are good for you!)–the emergence of a massive narrative structure that is “always already” (I threw in that bit of theoretical jargon just for you JW!) divided against itself! (Is it any wonder that I consider Morrison the greatest heir of this tradition?)

How seriously are we meant to take the dire events depicted in these pages? The answer is “very”, and “not at all”–as seriously, in fact, as we take our own triumphs and tragedies, whilst offering them up as compelling jokes to the only “gods” that really matter–our interlocutors. Right Tiger? (who is this “Tiger”? Who is this narrator?) The important thing is not to “destroy evil”, but to go on conversing in as exuberant a manner as possible, despite the sure knowledge that “evil” isn’t going anywhere! It’s a deritualized call and response–or rather, the ritual holds, but no one is sure, any longer, who is doing the “calling”, and who the “responding”. No letters page, no “Marvel” (at least as I learned to know and love it)

Anyway, thanks Tony–good stuff!

Now let’s all give thanks friends!

(shouldn’t we be saying that every day? Without the goddamned jingopiety? I think Audrey Totter put it best, in the film version of The Lady in the Lake: “I’m scared, but it’s wonderful”… She was wasn’t speaking about America at the time, of course, but I am! This place is sublimely fucked!)


Why Are You So Critical?

Why Are You So Critical?

(Soundtrack: Joan Jett — Fit To Be Tied)

Our story so far:

Steven lamented the phrase “it took me right out of the story”

The Forager (whose return to near-daily posting is always welcome!) spoke out in favour of “old-fashioned” appreciation

Steven returned, chiefly to wonder what the hell consitutes “old-fashioned appreciation”

and then

Marc Singer leaped onto the stage and pointed an accusing finger at the “real enemy”–not any specific type of critic, but lazy criticism in general

Along the way, Steven admitted that, of course, he never believed that, when people say “it broke the illusion”, they really meant that they thought they had been “called back” from Earth-2 or anything like that. I never believed it either. The problem is that people like to pretend that this is the case. How many times have you heard someone say they were “transported” by a work of art? I’ll bet you any money that they didn’t go anywhere. Unless they happened to be reading on the subway.

And that’s the crux of the problem. When I fall in love with a book or a movie, I don’t lose myself in it, I become thoroughly engaged in conversation with it. And my friends (which includes you, dear reader!). That’s not “immersion”. Or “absorption”. I’m still me. That’s a sad fact of life, and devotees of the cult of aesthetics are loath to admit it.

Which brings us back to JW Hastings–who seems to cherish a notion of the critic as “witness” to the “divine” products of aesthetic genius. I know, I know. Where the hell does he say that?

Well, maybe you could start with this:

I’d be a lot kinder to the academic variety (a) if I didn’t see its influence everywhere–having a trickle down effect on all kinds of criticism–and (b) if I didn’t think this theory-driven analysis seems to have completely replaced the kind of basic, nuts-and-bolts technical analysis, boring but useful, that used to be the focus of scholarship.

In general though, I have nothing against interpretation of art that grows out of an actual aesthetic experience of the art work and builds on a solid understanding of the technical-craftsmanship involved in the work’s creation.

So let me get this straight. The critic’s job is to use her/his inner “aesthetic sense” to determine where “greatness” resides, and then to bore the reader with an analysis of the technical virtues of the work. This is the perfect way to convince the reader that aesthetic creation really is the new prophecy, because no technical analysis ever thrilled anyone, and yet, the works under discussion are undeniably thrilling! The “remainder” must therefore be of divine origin. Right?

Bollocks to that! My theory of aesthetics works completely differently. It’s a domino effect. The only way to do justice to a work of art is to engage in a rousing conversation with it (and anyone else who might be in the vicinity!) I may not always succeed, but that’s always my intention. Criticism is not “caducous”, an unnecessary supplement to the holy work of art! No criticism, no work of art… The terms depend upon each other!

JW says:

Dave: I don’t doubt that you love the stuff you write about, but you generally seem to like stuff because of what it says–its contribution to an ongoing philosophical and political conversation–and because the stuff happens to be beautiful, moving, pleasurable, etc.

I object!

I like the things I like because I like them! Most of the stuff I write about at Motime is stuff I’ve loved since my mid-teens! And I wasn’t reading “literary theory” back then–in fact, until my mid-twenties, the only “critics” I was reading were people like Parrington, Brooks, Perry Miller, F.O. Matthiessen… (and I still love these folks, by the way!) But waitaminnit! There’s an important question in there–do you dislike New Criticism too JW? I mean, there’s certainly nothing “new” about it at this point. But it may not be “old-fashioned” enough to meet with the standards you outlined in your post! I myself write criticism that is much closer in spirit to the mid-twentieth century zeitgeist than to the kinds of unimaginative “debunking” exercises that seem to have driven you out of the academy.

As for academia building canons to suit its purposes! I need examples! From what I’ve seen (and by your own admission) theorists can apply their methodologies to any “cultural artifact” (even a tube of toothpaste), so where does the “privileging” come in? Most critics are still writing about the things they love, just as they always have–they just aren’t hiding behind the cult of aestheticism any more. I know that what interests me in criticism is the same thing that interests me in any other product of the human mind–a unique and moving invitation to thought and discussion! And if you think that sounds cold and theoretical then you’ve got a different understanding of how powerfully emotional thought and conversation can be!

Good afternoon friends!


Ragnarok and Roles Are Here To Stay

Ragnarok Is Here To Stay

(Soundtrack: Cruisin’ 1961)

Tim O’Neil has an interesting post up about the most recent “end of Thor”, in which he praises the work’s creators for their admirable mercy-killing… Do I even have to tell you what I think of his position?

Well, I’m going to anyway!

Tim–you are death-drivin’ me crazy!

All of this talk about “dying with dignity”, “the grandeur of cosmic devastation”, “true swan songs”, and the general “inferiority” of life as an open-ended project reads like an ad for hara kiri.

Tim is “longing for catastrophes” in the worst way. But that’s the thing. The longing is as close as you can ever get to the catastrophe! No one can experience their own death. And no story can ever end. The dream of finality is pure wish. And we all know that “truth” begins where wishes leave off.

Tim makes an interesting excursion into the “recurring nightmare” of Ragnarok in Thor through the decades. But he derives a very strange lesson from his musings. Implicit in everything he writes on these matters is the idea that the “first time” you have a nightmare is the scariest instance of it. Is that how it is with you Tim? With me it’s the reverse. Everything hits me harder when I think to myself “oh no, it’s happening again“…

Okay, fine, so we’re no longer talking about Thor now, are we? Well, sure we are! We’re talking about everything all of the time! J.W. Hastings seems to disapprove of this! And he is certainly right to place me on the side of “interpretation” in any fight against “immersion”–characteristically, my true involvement with art begins when I “replay” it in my head, not while I’m “experiencing” it… He is NOT right, however, when he places me in the camp of the “decoders”!!!! See my post on “subtext” for what I think of this type of critic… My position on texts is not that they exist to be explicated, but rather that they (and me and you and the lamppost) defy explication!!! Which doesn’t mean we can’t talk about them! In fact, talking about them in as detailed a fashion as possible is my definition of appreciation. What else could appreciation be?

Put it this way–I’ve never gotten so “lost” in a text that I didn’t want to share it with anyone! The more I like something, the more I want to discuss it–we don’t have feelings about anything until we attempt to articulate them. The proof is in the pudding, as they say…and the “pudding” is what we say! Intersubjectivity fuels all thought/affect…

When I fell in love with Mulholland Dr. recently, that love manifested itself in the various ways I began thinking about expressing my appreciation of the film to certain people that I know! You can’t keep these feelings bottled up, because, in a very real sense, they don’t exist until you pop the cork!

So yeah, back to Thor… I will certainly grant Tim his argument that goldilocks is the “odd concept out” in the Marvel Universe. He’s right about the uniqueness (again, in the context of this corporate universe) of Ragnarok as an apocalyptic horizon too. But my interest is not in the exceptional aspects of the title, but in the editorial efforts that were made in order to bring it more into line with the world of “dynamic stasis”. Don Blake, obviously. Being “immortal” is not good enough. For Marvel’s purposes, you have to be a mortal (with flaws!) that doesn’t age. Enter the gimpy M.D. (and, obviously, there is a MAJOR debt here to Captain Marvel/Billy Batson). Anyone can be Thor, and, as Simonson later showed us, Thor can be anyone (even a frog)! And it still won’t make quotidian life any easier!

So the thunder god becomes just another superheroic identity. A role to be played in a neverending cosmic battle. A sort of “spring break” from this mortal coil. What’s that you say? Ragnarok IS an ending. Well, yes and no. After all, if there’s someone left to say “the end”, then it isn’t really THE END, is it? Conversely, if there were no survivors, then the whole point of an end becomes mute. Humans both fear and crave endings. Remove humans, and you remove finality itself.

What Tim O’Neil craves are not “endings” but eulogies. I prefer the elegiac, thank you. We don’t progress toward an end. We begin too late. It is this belatedness that makes us long for catastrophes–i.e. when “time collapses”, we will, at long last, get a chance to experience our own origins (they used to call this “God”). For a certain type of person, (and for all of us, at certain times in our lives!) this can seem like a very attractive alternative to life on the treadmill! And yet, it’s all wish-fulfillment (unless you actually believe in an ideal realm that is “outside of time”)… Paradoxically, our most “cosmic” ideas are the pettiest constructs of the human imagination–in the sense that they have the least to do with the immense problem of intersubjectivity. Life/consciousness is inherently fragmented (it’s a break-up). An end is always singular. Sufficient unto itself. “The end”. Never “the ends”. Comforting, isn’t it? That’s why we make so damned many of them!

Good evenin’ friends!


A Farewell To Smarm

A Farewell To Smarm

(Soundtrack: The Soviettes — LP)

For 17 glorious issues, Matt Murdock’s obnoxious “twin”–the Marvel plot contrivance to end all plot contrivances: a third identity dreamed up to explain away the second, brought to you by tousled hair, “real-gone” sunglasses, and insult-comic dialogue–dominated the Stan Lee-Gene Colan Daredevil. That’s right, Matt started out (in issue #25) wanting to protect his friends from exposure to the dangerous knowledge that he n’ DD are the same guy, and wound up transforming their cozy law office into a borscht-belt lounge. What’s up with that?

Now, good people have expressed their undying hatred for this character, and I’ve written a bit on the subject before–but I just can’t let go of it! I think it’s a really important part of the Marvel Story.


Well, if you’re familiar with this material, you might have noticed that Stan scripts Matt (as DD) and Peter Parker (as Spider-Man) very similarly. Both characters fill every inch of their word balloons with a mixture of mild invective and kicked-inna-head enthusiasm. Swear to god, I think Stan was using Andy Hardy as a template for this dialogue! Just imagine what Andy would say, if he ever got a chance to face down the Matador, instead of the school principal!

So, putting aside questions of morality for the nonce, it looks as though nine outta ten critics were right! We’re in “power fantasy” territory! The interesting thing is that, for these characters, the fantasy isn’t really about hitting people, it’s about “cutting loose” with an unending stream of lame jokes and semi-effective put-downs. That’s what true freedom is all about, right? Saying whatever the hell you want to, without worrying about the effect of your words. Speaking “truth to (super-villain) power”–even if the “truth” usually reads no more fascinatingly than this (from DD Special #1–1967):

Matador: Caramba!! I have defeated the most deadly toros in a thousand bull-fights!!

DD: Save your breath buddy–I’m no booking agent! You can show me your scrapbook someday!

In sooth, Silver Age Marvel battles are nothing more than confrontations between ham actors (this is even more evident when Lee/Colan introduce The Jester, a failed Shakespearean, in issue #44–but more on him later… Also “Born Again”, which I’ve just re-read and am ready to praise to the stars! Yes, it’s gonna be all-DD all the time here for a little while!) What counts is what happens off-stage. And this is where Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil begin to diverge. Pete and Matt start out with pretty much the same problem–to put it bluntly, they’re socially-awkward. They never say the thing they want to say, especially to attractive women. Putting on the costume gives each of them an outlet–but, ultimately, it’s not a very useful outlet, because the main truth that emerges out of conferences with outlaw pinatas (it’s wrong to exploit asymmetrical power relations) may be important, but it fails to address a lot of fundamental human concerns.

What it is, of course, is practice. If you can tell the Green Goblin how you really feel about him, maybe, someday, you’ll be able to do the same with someone you actually care about. And that’s precisely what does begin to happen, in the spider-man stories. Peter goes from hapless nerd to popular young-man-about-campus without doing any of the things that more simplistic narratives of this type usually give us. He doesn’t “stand up” to his persecutors. He doesn’t adopt an “outsider” identity. He just wakes up one day (the day after Steve Ditko left the strip, in fact!) ready to plunge into social life. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that he always says the right things to the people in his neighborhood. However, thanks to his experience in the magazine’s “starring (sparring?) role”, he eventually comes around to a more just appreciation of his right to take part in the drama of life as Peter Parker as well!

Matt Murdock, on the other hand, gets off track somehow–and that’s why Mike is such a train-wreck! By importing his DD banter into “real life”, Matt threatens to turn “all of life into a stage”! As H has noted, if the only way that you can think of to interact more spontaneously with your friends is to make fat jokes at their expense and hit on them in swinger drag, then you aren’t a very good friend! So many crazy things happen in DD #26-41, and I wish I had more time to write about it (especially the big trip to Montreal’s Expo ’67, in #34), but let’s just fast-forward to Mike’s “death” a’ight?

It happens in #41, and it just can’t be a coicidence that, as the issue begins, DD is trapped “out of phase with reality”, in good A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life , Carnival of Souls fashion! Look at that cover up there! This is a man that has fooled himself clear out of the intersubjective realm. Or almost, anyway.

One of the most interesting aspects of this series is the tiny cast. There are really only three characters (not counting all of Matt’s extra identities), and here, more than in any other Marvel Comic, we really feel the impact of the protagonist’s swashbuckling upon his peers. “Mike Murdock” certainly helps to drive home the point. Whenever he is present, Matt obviously can’t be, but Mike isn’t really there either (the most powerful expression of this idea comes on the last panel of page 5, issue #28–it’s a simple, but very moving, Colan close-up of Karen Page, hemmed in by Mike’s thought balloons: “she’s staring at me–trying to figure me out! Even a blind man could feel…could sense…the burning intensity of her gaze!” as usual, this puts me in mind of The Blithedale Romance, and a similar scene in which Zenobia asks Coverdale what he hopes to discover through his scrutiny of her eyes: “The mystery of your life,” he replies, “and you will never tell me”… This particular panel is occasioned by Mike’s weird announcement that Matt will be lecturing about UFOS at a nearby university. Karen fumbles over her words, wondering: “Were you…joking before…when you said that Matt was going to lecture at College… about flying saucers? I don’t understand! Why would they ask him?” Why indeed? It’s a tour-de-force! If you ask me, I think Stan put more of his real feelings about the genre he had helped to recreate into this series than any other! He literally pummels the reader and the supporting cast with outrageous non-sequiturs and coincidences–all of them, it seems to me, designed to showcase the unbelievable toll the protagonist’s commitment to his own legend takes upon his friends, without putting Karen and Foggy in physical danger all the time! As usual, in a superhero comic, physical danger is not the real issue! The more I read of the sixties Daredevils, the more comprehensible Karen Page’s desperate situation in “Born Again” becomes. She really gets put through the wringer here…)

Anyway, back to issue #41! Immediately upon making his escape from his place of exile outside of the temporal continuum–which is, quite rightly, depicted as the most horrible of predicaments–Matt realizes that he can’t continue down this path, no matter how much he enjoys being Mike, the “unholy ghost” in his belief system’s particular trinity. An exorcism is in order. But is the damage he’s done to his relationships irreversible? (guess so, hunh, if Miller/Mazzucchelli were still crawling through the wreckage 20 years later?) I’m looking forward to volume three!

Next time! The Jester! Check out Pierre Comtois’ excellent discussion of Colan’s Daredevil at the Silver Age Marvel Comics Cover Index (direct link doesn’t work, but it’s the 6th in the series of “in-depth reviews”, which you can reach through the side-menu on the homepage! it’s really worth the extra clicks!)

Good afternoon friends!



The House That Who Built? (with apologies to Bob, Tom, and probably every other Silver Age Marvel aficionado, except for, possibly, Neilalien…)

(Soundtrack: Le Tigre — This Island)

So, I’ve been spending some time lately with the newest issue of Roy Thomas’Alter Ego (featuring entries on Werner Roth, Don Heck, and Paul Reinman by Nicholas Caputo) and the second volume of Essential Daredevil, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this Jack Kirby stuff has just got to stop! Wait a sec now–I don’t wanna fight! Hear me out!

If you’ve read this blog at all then you know that I consider the whole Marvel superhero line (and every editorial/fan transaction published therein) from 1961 to the late eighties to be one giant masterwork, and, obviously, the Fantastic Four is the first chapter of the metanovel. I think Jack Kirby is great. I agree with everyone from ADD to Seth that the King’s neo-vorticist style is fascinating to look at. However, were I to name my favourite “Marvel moments” of the 60’s and early 70’s, I’d have to get through a lot of stuff drawn by Ditko (ASM #1-38, Strange Tales #110-146); Gene Colan (DD, Doctor Strange, Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-mariner); Frank Brunner (Dr. Strange with Englehart); Don Heck (Iron Man, Avengers), John Romita (ASM), Gil Kane (ditto), Ross Andru (again), Steranko (SHIELD); the Buscemas (Avengers with Roy Thomas); and Werner Roth (X-Men, also with the Rascally One) before I made it to mid-sixties FF and Thor, and we’d be near the bottom of the list before his Captain America made it onto the radar. Of these artists, I would say that only Steranko was influenced by Kirby! Yes, the rest of them worked under almost continuous pressure from Stan Lee to conform to the “house style”, but don’t you agree that it’s a good thing that they mainly resisted this pressure? Have there ever been two superhero artists more different from Kirby than Ditko and Colan?

The King’s world is at right-angles to the stars; Ditko’s art–even when it goes psychedelic (or didactic!)–is fleshier and more humanistic than most humans can bear to look at; and Colan’s figures are passionate waxworks that melt instead of move. As for Don Heck and Werner Roth, well, I just think those guys were better at telling the kind of story that I like… I’m not interested in BIG epics, I like little ones… I want the emotions turned up to the max, I just don’t think the stakes need to be any higher than who is going to wind up dating whom. Otherwise it’s distracting. Because the real question, for me, is: how badly is the villain’s arrival going to screw up the romance? Not: can the world survive? Guess that’s why I love the Thomas/Roth X-Men so much!

I understand the appeal of “The Coming of Galactus”, and I like it fine, but it sure ain’t my synecdochic Marvel story.

What say you Merry Marchers? Am I off my nut?

Good night friends!



Subtext? What’s Subtext?

The latest issue of one of my home-town alternative weeklies features a jokey interview with Phil Jimenez. There’s nothing too exciting in there, but I thought I’d bring it to your attention anyway.

Here’s an example of what I dislike about the piece:

[Jimenez asks, rhetorically:]Why isn’t Batman bi? This is part of a constant need by people in their 30s and 40s to apply complex sexual and emotional ideas upon these characters. Batman was not designed to talk about man/boy love, he was designed to beat up bad guys. There have been some wonderful adult comic book treatments of these ideas, but I would ask how much further we need to deconstruct these characters. What needs are we fulfilling when we mix childhood fantasy with real-world concerns? Anyway, so long as Time-Warner owns them, we will never see Batman go down on Robin.

They even pull out the old “politics and ‘sexual stuff’ cannot be incorporated into a superhero narrative” chestnut! Uh…sorry, but politics and “sexual stuff” are part of every narrative. For exhibit “A” of what happens when you try to pretend that this isn’t the case, see Kingdom Come.

Whilst reading various KC/Incredibles discussions over the weekend, I was struck, once again, by the artificial barriers people take such pains to erect between “story”/”entertainment” and “subtext”. Now, I have nothing specific to say about The Incredibles, because I haven’t seen the film and don’t plan to anytime soon, but I do think it’s odd that anyone would insist upon either “enjoying” the film or “analyzing” it. You see this all the time though: “Oh, it was great entertainment, but if you start to think about it, it’ll make you sick!” [In a hushed voice] “It’s Nietzschean…” (or Randian, or fascist, or whatever) Well, you know what? It doesn’t become Nietzschean just because you decided to pay attention to this fact. It already was (unless you don’t know what you’re talking about–in which case it probably wasn’t). And you enjoyed it! So what does that say about you? Well nothing of course! Oh, I guess it means that you were capable of being “entertained” by a piece that participates in an objectionable philosophical discourse. But so what? Is that such a terrible thing to learn about yourself? I think Plato is an extremely dangerous thinker. But I still love reading the Dialogues! There’s a lot to object to/think about in any text (even Emerson! even Amazing Spider-Man!), and you don’t have to go spelunking for it either–it’s all right there on the surface! There’s no such thing as subtext.

Good afternoon friends!



Building The Sepulchres of the Fathers

(Soundtrack: Rage Against the Machine– Evil Empire)

The conversation on the “Giant-Size Avengers #2” thread on The Pop Culture Bored has switched over to pretty much all-Kingdom Come all the time, beginning with this Scott Tipton post…

I’ve been pushing an interpretation of the book as a participant in the Machiavellian Republican tradition (a good place to begin reading about this tradition, and its place in American historiography, is J.G.A. Pocock’s massive The Machiavellian Moment)… The cornerstone of my argument is my perception that “stability” is presented as a good in itself in this text. As far as I can see, Waid/Ross argue that power/sovereignty is to be used, primarily, to safeguard precarious (republican) balances against the historical process, which is always seen as degenerative… Thus, “character”/”virtue” is seen as the only bulwark against catastrophe/anarchy.

As a corollary of this argument, I’ve begun feeling my way toward an interpretation that places Squadron Supreme in the opposite historiographical camp. There is an ongoing debate, amongst scholars of the period, about the exact nature of American Revolutionary discourse. On the one hand, you’ve got Pocock, Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, etc., who insist that the revolution was a “conservative” movement, intended only to preserve rights, and to create a state that would resist “corruption”. These theorists have come under fire from people like Joyce Appleby and Isaac Kramnick, who argue that the uprising was a more open-ended affair: an invitation to “permanent revolution”. Of course, both sides can find historical evidence for their interpretations, and it seems to me that, back then, just as now, there were people making making use of both idea-sets, sometimes simultaneously. The important thing, though, is to recognize that the positions are distinct. The “cult of the founders” is a different thing from the kind of American millenialism that I associate with figures such as Emerson and Whitman. And I’m not interested in “Americanism” that isn’t, at bottom, universalist, and dedicated to eternal progress/redress of inequalities on a world scale (and that includes, of course, justice to animals!)

Anyway, Squadron Supreme fascinates me because that book is about the dificulties that proponents of radical change must confront. That’s all I care about, politically. Our age, like Emerson’s, may be “retrospective”, and Kingdom Come certainly reflects this (just as the recent results at the polls do–on Presidents and “Proposals”), but that’s not good enough for me (nor was it good enough for Emerson)! The world is FAR too fucked up for us to look back upon our “fathers” with anything but regret. There’s no need to judge dead people. And understanding is always a virtue–but anyone who puts the past on a pedestal is also condemning most of the world to the gallows.

Good night friends!



I Got Yer “Print Moment” Right Here Warren (too bad I couldn’t find a better image on the net! It’s from Avengers #66, and it’s by Roy Thomas and Barry [Windsor]-Smith)

(Soundtrack: Spectropop’s Girl Pop)

Just checking in to direct your attention to a really fun discussion (initiated by Abhay Khosla) about silver/bronze age comics storytelling on The Pop Culture Message Bored (which is more like a group culture blog than a messageboard, and that’s a compliment!)… Ian Brill has also made some essential contributions, and, of course, I’ve added my own 12-15-20-and-25 cents’ worth! The discussion so far has dwelled upon the inadequacies of Warren Ellis’ recent distinction between modern and archaic superhero narratives, specifically on the question of the importance of “plot” to Silver/Bronze Age storytelling… (not that Ellis’ piece isn’t interesting! And I’m pleased to see him bringing Phil Spector into a discussion of page-by-page storytelling innovation–I tried to do precisely the same thing a couple of weeks back, when I described certain Quitely layouts in We3 as “walls of violence”… “immense presence of information” is right!)

Anyway, I’ve used up all of my blogging time now, but it was worth it!

Good afternoon friends!