Month: December 2004


I’m So Ec-Site-ed
Just a pair of things going around (other than the flu) that you might want to catch:

1. have people seen The Comic Pit? This is an awesome fan site–a fan-of-fandom site, in fact! Now, you might consider this navel-gazing of an unprecedentedly twisted sort, but for a person with my proclivities, let me tell ya, it’s heaven! There’s an extensive (and annotated!) visual agglomeration of lettercol headers from years past…

like this one–from Gruenwald’s tenure on Cap (which Rose–the site’s creator–apparently hates! sniff!):

and this one (from everyone’s favourite world-war two comic):

She’s also got a fun collection of letters from my dearly departed countryman–T.M. Maple:

including this fondly-remembered gem:

Power Man And Iron Fist #85

Dear Editor,

It’s obvious from POWER MAN/IRON FIST #81, particularly the cover and the dancing “girls” sequence, that you people have been watching those old Hope-Crosby movies (or perhaps the SCTV parody of same.) The mind boggles at the motherlode of riches of which you have just scratched the surface. And why stick to Hope and Crosby’s “team-up” efforts for inspiration? Why not look to their solo pics? I mean, Imagine the stuff you could do working with White Christmas, Going My Way, I’ll Take Sweden, Paleface, Casanova’s Big Night, Boy’s Town… oops, that last one was Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, wasn’t it? But, speaking of Mickey Rooney, what about all those Andy Hardy Movies? I can picture it now:

JERYN: Well, Heroes for Hire is really in a bind. We’ve just got to raise some money…somehow…

DANNY: Say, let’s put on a show.

LUKE: Yeah, we can get the whole gang together. The Beast and Daredevil can do their high wire act, and maybe we could get Rom to do his C3P0 impersonation…and I wonder if the ex-Avengers glee club is still going…

Sorry, I guess I just got carried away. (Say, what about Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life? Y’see, Luke gets real depressed because they’re closing his favorite movie theater-you know the one-and he wonders what good his life has been if he can’t even save a louse building from the wrecking ball…say, what if they put on a show to raise funds-you see how everything fits in?…)

Yours nostalgically,

“T.M. Maple”

Now where are the Lon Wolf & Uncle Elvis archives? That’s what I wanna know! (Oh yeah and Mike Bannon + Connie Lingus from Cerebus too!)

Go check it out for yourself!


2. Tom the Dog clearly does not like Essential Amazing Spider-Man #6. I can’t say that he’s wrong, but–given my own feelings about ASM #120-150–I just had to speak up in favour of these books, in the comments-section, just as Tim O’Neil predicted that I would!

Good Day Friends!



The (New) Frontier (Anti)Thesis; or, one spaz in East Lansing tests the hypothesis that he has no audience by punning on the minutiae of American historiography! (anyone else got a Frederick Jackson Turner joke to share?)
(Soundtrack: Bikini Kill — Reject All-American)

So! You ask New Frontier to (boldly) go to Hell, and you get talked about, apparently! It’s not good talk–but it is talk, nonetheless! On the other hand, it is kind of liberating to know that a lot of the people who stop by this blog are only doing so in search of (further) proof of my insanity! What more could a writer ask for?

But let’s be cheezy and ponder what “little epiphany” we can derive from this particular “story arc”, shall we? Really, the best answer I can give to that question is that the “superhero genre” is a chimera that has outlived whatever usefulness it ever had. My initial contention was that Darwyn Cooke had given us Top Gun in superhero drag–but I’m forced to reconsider this statement by the fact that, for an awful lot of intelligent people (and I certainly include ADD and Chris Butcher in that group), New Frontier does represent something like the quintessence of the “genre”. I can only infer from this that they are talking about a completely different genre from the one I make a habit of discussing here (the most impressive recent exemplar of which is certainly The Filth… and that reminds me! I really do want to know how Chris plans to align Morrison and Cooke’s respective works–cause I don’t see it at all!)

I think I’m going to stop using the word “superhero” entirely. Criticism is supposed to be about precision, after all, and this term causes nothing but trouble. How about neo-existentialist romance? Don’t know ’bout you–but I like it. It eliminates the “heroism”–which is all to the good. Getting rid of the “super” is good too, because the “powers” manifested by the inhabitants of the genre that I’m interested in are not “super” at all–they’re an existential spotlight. They don’t separate the strong from the weak, or anything like that; they sharpen our focus upon the plight of the human subject. To introduce a familiar dichotomy from romantic literature–these are representative figures (as in Emerson), not “heroes” (to be worshipped, or deferred to–as in Carlyle).

Another benefit of looking at this stuff through the lens that I’m proposing here is that it liberates me (and maybe you too–if you can stop thinking about the comics industry) from having to act as if it’s more important for me to know about “Comics” (and manga too, apparently!) than about the history of literature, film and philosophy, when I want to speak about specific stories that have been conveyed to us in the guise of sequential art. I make no bones about it–I practice narratological criticism. I’m interested in stories as stories, and I don’t particularly care what “medium” they reach me through. There are, to be sure, comics artists whose work impresses me as fine art (Infantino, Schulz, Ditko, Colan, Sim, Barks, Simonson, Steranko, Wood, Eisner, J. Hernandez, and, yes, Darwyn Cooke, etc.)–but I’m not really qualified to say much about that, and, unless these folks happened to participate in the telling of a fascinating story (and, happily, many of them have), you won’t hear much about them from me!

Should all “comics criticism” be narratologically oriented? Of course not. Although it would be nice to see some of it outside of old lettercols and the blogosphere! The lack of “narratological awareness” (which is sort of like the reverse of “cosmic awareness”) amongst the canonizers has led us to inadequate genre-categorizations based upon purely visual elements (which can be reduced to one annoying, all-pervasive term: “spandex”), when, again, it is clear (to me at least!) that there aren’t many similarities between Cooke’s epic and the kinds of stories that I enjoy thinking about.

New Frontier, as I say, is Top Gun. It’s Star Wars. It’s Joseph fucking Campbell. I have nothing against these things except that I hate them all. (Which does not mean that I hate you, dear reader, if you happen to like them!) I can’t help it. I was born hating them, and it’s not gonna change. These are narratives that tell the story of a hero’s progress toward awareness of his/her role in the universe. They’re about finding your place in society, and, upon reaching this (dubious) place of “enlightenment”, acting decisively in accordance with the dictates of the universe. It’s a premodern narrative which presupposes that there’s a reason for everything, and that “happiness” lies in figuring out where you fit into the “big picture”.

The “superhero” stories that I’m interested in proceed from the exact opposite assumption–i.e. that there isn’t any order except that which we impose upon the world. Moreover, our awareness of our own subjective role in this production of meaning short-circuits our ability to believe in anything as “absolutely real”. All truths become provisional truths–which does not mean that we can do without them! By the same token, all decisions become provisional decisions (which, again, doesn’t absolve us from the duty to make them, it merely deprives us of the satisfaction of ever feeling that we’ve made the–objectively–“right” decision) It’s pretty obvious where I’m going with this right? In New Frontier, there’s only one decision to make, right? Destroy the monolith! All of the supporting characters agree that this is what the heroes must do. There is no inner conflict here. Does Peter Parker ever have the luxury of so clearcut a choice? No way. He chooses–but there’s always some residual responsibility left undischarged. Right?

A big part of my problem with New Frontier goes way beyond a silly disagreement about comic book genres and into the realm of the political. This series is like a crazy nexus where the American passion for “innocence” in the political, aesthetic, and religious spheres all collide. There’s the fucked-up myth of Kennedy (“if they hadn’t killed him he would have kept us out of Vietnam and preserved the American Dream”–uh, no…and, obviously, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have voted for Kennedy in 1960–I’m just saying, the guy was a machine politician like any other, not the “good daddy” some people want to make of him); there’s the weird TCJ-fanboy obsession with the oppressed craftsman-gods, chained to their desks like ink-stained promethei, their beautiful pages ripped from their groins by corporate vultures every morn; and then there’s the whole “superhero-as-myth/symbol-of-uncorrupted-goodness syndrome”. Each of these ideas are linked by the will to believe in an Edenic time before the “horrible present”, a time in which “good and evil” were easy to distinguish from one another, and every decision was final. And, again, my contention is that this is a “retconjob”. The silver age was never actually like this… Not in my reading anyway. It was more like The Filth than a lot of people seem ready to accept. And, as always, I maintain that the “shortest distance” from “now” (Morrison) to “then” (the sixties at Marvel–and even at DC) is through Mark Gruenwald’s work.

I have to go in a sec, but think about what I’ve said in relation to DP 7. Or The Pitt. Or The Draft. Or almost any of the “New Universe” stuff. Are these “superhero comics”? DP 7 is a “32-issue limited series” in which the “superteam” spend their entire lives on the run from a Foucaultian Clinic, whose representatives play havoc with their memories and (para)personalites. At one point, Dr. Semple (a psychotherapist) observes that “the goal of all psychotherapies is attitude and behavior modification.” (this quotation could easily serve as the epigraph for a collection of Gruenwald stories!) These characters don’t wear spandex. They don’t have secret identities. And yet, the storyline they inhabit does share fundamental similarities with all of the “superhero” stuff that I’m interested in–from Ditko to Morrison.

Gotta go! But here’s a page from DP 7 Annual #1 that really cuts to the heart of what I’m talking about!

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Good Day Friends!



It’s A Wonderful(ly fucked) Life

Oh yes. It really is!

Great post here on the subject of my favourite film (or, one of ’em anyway–right now it might be tied with Mulholland Dr.! and the two works are far more similar than you might think!), by Daniel Green.

A sample:

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the few Hollywood films, maybe the only one, to show its protagonist going through an authentic existential crisis. He’s forced not just to think about what his own life has been about, but he confronts the prospect of annihilation itself, literally looks into the void of his own nonexistence. The extreme close-up of Jimmy Stewart’s terrified face, looking in utter despair from side to side after his own mother has denied him, as if he’s looking for some other universe to inhabit than the nightmarish one in which he’s currently trapped, is, to me, one of the most frightening and truly emotion-provoking images I think I’ve ever seen. This is hell indeed.

My own net-borne thoughts on the film can be found here

Okay. As you were. Resume merriment!

Good Afternoon Friends!



My Mouth’s Bleedin’ Stegron! My Mouth’s Bleedin’

It’s like I keep tellin’ the cats–this might be the worst Christmas ever, but at least we probably won’t have to face anything like this:

And my mom sent me a coffeemaker (and Weetabix)!!!! Things are looking up!

Have a great holiday weekend friends!



“Here they come now! It’s going to be okay”…
(Soundtrack: New Kingdon — Paradise Don’t Come Cheap)

I just read Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier… Jesus! Is this really what the pundits want from their superhero narratives? A drawn-out origin story (if I had my way origin stories would be forbidden!) that smoothes all of the most interesting properties out of the genre in favor of a straight-ahead Star Wars-style charge at the fuckin’ Death-Star, or island, or center, or whatever? With good cinematography?

This series gives up where Squadron Supreme begins. It’s all well and good to jump into the maw of the dinosaur, but it’s pretty stupid too, no? Is there anything admirable in these acts, unless you’re the kind of person who believes that human life is worthless until that big moment where all doubt can be cast out of the mind in favor of “pure action”. Is that what the vaunted “sense of wonder” is all about? Not from my standpoint, anyway. The real wonder is in the fact that no frontier can ever be crossed, no challenge can ever be met, and that, as I think Gruenwald and Morrison’s work demonstrates most perfectly (but they are very much in the tradition of Marvel’s Silver/Bronze ages, as I read these texts, at any rate!), no decision can ever be made–at least, not with the kind of orgasmic certainty that Cooke’s figures radiate.

The superhero narrative isn’t about mustering the “courage” to accept the dictum that “with great power comes great responsibility”, it’s about the Hamlet-style consequences of embracing such a motto, in a world in which our “responsibilities” are so radically unclear!

Cooke’s work is incorrigibly golden age in its orientation–longing for an “axis of evil” to combat, on autopilot… Those Nazis had a “wonderfully” tonic effect upon the existential drama, didn’t they? Is it any wonder we’re still so obsessed with them? Awful. And I’m sure this was not Cooke’s intention, but the fact remains that he presents a great (pragmatic) argument in favor of the current Bushite construction of world politics as a struggle against “Islamofascism”. Don’t you think?

Good Afternoon Friends!



Truth in Advertising
(Soundtrack: Squadron Supreme Radio
–I’m not kiddin’!!!!)

Kudos to Greg at Dead Chicks and Mayhem for bringing us this delicious bit of self-analysis-cum-double-entendre:

Someone mentioned spoilers in the comments. I’m not going to put spoilers in every post, this whole site is a spoiler by nature.

Yes it is Greg. Yes it is….

Check it out–according to Greg, Identity Crisis poses a threat to our little sweetlings because, in the seven issue series:

the killer wasn’t evil and the heroes weren’t good. It was a giant sadistic story about nothing. To believe in everything is to believe in nothing and to believe in nothing is to believe in everything. That’s a terrible thing to push on a child whose main purpose at that stage in life is to be looking for something.

And here I thought the problem with Identity Crisis was that it was poorly written, advanced a reactionary notion of superheroes as the “Harlem Globetrotters of goodness” (complete with mindwiped New Jersey Supergenerals), and engineered the “character assassination” of one of the DC universe’s most interesting supporting cast members–Jean Loring! But I don’t suppose Greg would’ve minded that, if only Meltzer had made sure to drill into his readers’ heads that our antagonists are always “evil”, and that, oh yes, there is somethin’ to believe in out there kids, so just keep lookin’ until you find a “responsible” “grownup” who is eager to indoctrinate you!

Meanwhile, I haven’t stopped hating Identity Crisis, of course, and I thought I’d close this little post with a couple more scenes from Ray Palmer and Jean Loring’s pre-Meltzerian days–from Power of the Atom #9… (and no, despite what our pair of onlookers infer–the divorced couple are not getting back together here)


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I wonder what Greg would make of this? Divorced people–behaving lovingly toward one another? Becoming friends!!!! The “cuckolded” Atom confiding his troubles to an “adulteress”? What has become of morality? Christ! Next we’ll be killing each other with boomerangs! That hurts…y’know?

Good Afternoon Friends!



O Blogosphere!

We’ve got a beautiful thing here, don’t we? And, from my perspective, the greatest thing about it is that it’s a massive, open-ended, and unedited conversation–complete with typos, sleep-deprived grammar, and the occasional ugliness generated by misunderstandings (and, yes, sometimes generated by very clear understandings indeed!)

If we lose this “anything goes” attitude–man, we’ve got nothing left!

Now look. I disagree with Johanna Draper Carlson on almost every point she makes on her blog (even her frequent wheedling of “bigots”–of whom I’m no fan, I assure you–is so censoriously offputting that I find myself wanting to see their side of things!). Her brand of “feminism for women only” seems to me to participate in an essentialization of the feminine that hearkens back to Victorian “separate spheres theory”, and her disavowal of any interest in “sordid” subject matter gives me pause. On top of which, she judges works of art based on their “worth”, which is a far more defensible position than essentialist feminism or a devotion to bourgeois escapism, but still, I think you know where I stand on that question too! So yeah, I don’t think her ideas are helpful ones, and I want to combat them.

But I have never attempted to do anything to interfere with her ability to make her points, and if, as she claims, I have often been guilty of misinterpreting what she has said, I’m just idealistic enough to want to leave the decision on that matter up to the reading public (it’s immaterial what she or I think she is saying, isn’t it?)

Anyway, the latest incident between us is an extremely unpleasant one, and, frankly, I think she ought to be ashamed of herself. If I am wrong, well, too bad for me right? You will be the judges of that, my friends!

Question: is it ever okay to tamper with the comment-threads attached to your posts? I would say no. If you can’t deal with comments, don’t invite them. I will never delete anything that comes up here, I can assure you of that! Perhaps, you might argue, a blogger would be justified in taking this action if the comment in question contained truly objectionable (maybe Johanna would call it “tricky”) material (and you see how this feeds back into the question that spawned the debate, right?) Fine. But what’s objectionable? Threats. I can see that. Swearing? Less justifiable, but I’ll even grant the censors that one, if they want it. How about accusing a blogger of avoiding the issues at hand? Or, even, just being guilty of “mischaracterizing” their arguments?

Apparently, that’s enough for Johanna Draper Carlson. Check it out. What does that look like? That I showed up and threw a crazy fit right? Well, I did nothing of the kind, and hopefully the people who saw what I wrote before she removed it will testify to that fact. It was not a “friendly” post, but it was not threatening or vulgar in any way. If I had ever dreamed that she would stoop to this level, I would’ve kept a copy of the text, just to show you what I mean. If I recall correctly, what I said was that I was not going to apologize for seeing some affinities between her position and good ol’ “dead chicks and mayhem”‘s, because I see the affinities more clearly than ever now, and that if she wanted to change my mind on this subject, she would have to stop browbeating me and attempt to persuade me instead. I also accused her of being ruled by “editorial pique”, and, on that score, it looks like I was more right than I knew!

Anyway, I’m not enjoying writing this entry, I can tell you that! I love debate, and it’s impossible to rile me, unless you start playing these kinds of games. I had nothing “personal” against Johanna Draper Carlson before now–and I still don’t, I suppose… I mean, we’re not actually acquainted, right? We’re just so many words to each other!
Unfortunately, I am now a few less words to her–and her readers!–than I ought to be. And that’s just sad…

Good Night friends!