One, Two, Three…

One, Two, Three…

1. We watched Bamboozled in class yesterday… man that’s a great, disturbing film! I’ll be very interested to see what the students have to say about it… The thing that struck me, this time, was the conspicuous absence of Sullivan’s Travels from the heartbreaking “Burn Hollywood Burn” montage that brings down the curtain… Is Lee exempting Sturges’ film from his ire? Maybe–it is one of the great achievements of the Studio Age, after all…and yet, Wayans’ closing lines (“always leave ’em smilin”) and uncomfortable dying gasp/laugh seem to be offered as a direct attack on Sturges’ gospel of comedy as a healing force (and it must be said that, as moving as the big chain-gang-in-the-church scene from ST is, it’s not exactly the most groundbreaking representation of Black Americans either…certainly, Sturges’ film incorporates a racial critique of its own–how else can you construe the movement from the slapstick abuse of the cook which occurs during the course of the land-yacht derby to the dignified portrayal of the people in the pews… However, Sturges still pigeonholes these “good” black characters as infinitely forgiving of white society’s tresspasses against them…)

2. We’re starting on Squadron Supreme next week! Here’s an interesting essay that relies–far too heavily, I think!–more upon a priori political conviction than textual analysis in order to make its eponymous case–The Libertarian Message of Squadron Supreme. (but there’ll be plenty of time to get into that one in the next couple o’ weeks! I wonder what–if anything–Jim Henley would make of this piece?)

And what can I say about Chris Allen’s review of Gruenwald’s book? Clearly, we disagree upon the merits of the work…and yet–I don’t know how to engage his argument, because there really isn’t one in that piece… How am I supposed to reply to this:

Keeping with the ’80s notstalgia theme for a moment, I finally read Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme from over 20 years ago, one of the first “maxi-series”. A respected if not particularly popular editor and writer of the ’80s, Gruenwald was given a lot of freedom here — a full year to tell dark superhero story with little impact or interference from the Marvel Universe proper. On the other hand, he was saddled with ugly, uninspired artwork from Bob Hall, occasionally spelled by the more polished but dull Paul Ryan (John Buscema breaks down and Jackson Guice finishes one issue, subpar work from both that is still miles above Hall). Add to that that the Squadron — originally just a paper-thin sendup of the Justice League pressed into service by the House of Ideas to try to wring some commercial return out of them — are one of the weakest, ugliest-looking superteams Marvel has ever foisted on the public. The worst of ’80s excess is here, from male perms to female flattops, moustaches to asymmetrical costume monstrosities that make a reader think this era’s four-color process was entirely too liberating.

I mean–ugly costumes? Complaining that the series “rips off” the JLA? Or that it “doesn’t change the status quo in the Marvel Universe”? Later on, Allen expresses dismay that these characters are making “bad decisions”… well, at least that’s kind of a substantive comment–but I don’t see how anyone can read this book and argue that Gruenwald hasn’t done a brilliant job of really thinking through the implications of world-stewardship…without providing a facile resolution like “oh, we’ll leave it up to the United Nations”, or  even “we’ve got to work together now, because psychic aliens could take out the rest of New York any day now”…

The very concept of “working together for the common good” comes under painfully intense scrutiny in Squadron Supreme…and I think Gruenwald asks exactly the right kinds of questions (but then, I am still coming down from writing a seminar paper on the book). And he doesn’t flinch from showing  (without debunking the impulse itself) the more frightening side of utopianism either (it certainly frightens Chris enough to make him lament the fact that these superheroes have become mean criminals–with corny dialogue! and sure–the dialogue is corny, but just about all superhero dialogue is corny–it’s a melodramatic form… does anyone seriously believe that Alan Moore and Grant Morrison–to say nothing of Jack Kirby–are exempt from this “criticism”?)… Nor does he take the easy way out–as Watchmen does–by making his super-utilitarians demonstrably insane… this is not an “absolute power corrupts absolutely” situation–it’s more like an affirmation that there is no such thing as “absolute power”–and that politics will last as long as humans do… Which is not to say, as many libertarians would, from the comfort of their suburban homes, that “it ain’t broke because you can’t fix it”… I believe in what Emerson called “permanent revolution”–despite the fact that no revolution has ever succeeded…

3. Has there ever been a Legion of Superheroes story called “Science Police, Arrest This Girl (or Boy, or Lass, or Lad, or Kid)”? If not–there really should be, don’t you think?


More Cerebus soon! The Day of the Roach is at hand!

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

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9 comments

  1. well yeah… in the 31st century they call ’em the science police though…

    oh well…

    the first rule of verbal clowning, which I learned from Dick Powell, in Christmas in July, is that if you have to explain it, it isn’t funny, no matter how hard you protest…

    Dave

  2. hey, no, Marlon!

    it was MY lame-ass joke that got it all started!

    I don’t think anyone should ever refrain from doing anything in these here comment threads!

    Dave

  3. Chris Allen goes on to list a lot of reasons why the comic’s bad, but you just won’t accept them. I find his conclusion too obvious to argue about. You tend to talk about comics that fit some theories you find interesting, irrespective of whether the comic is welldone. I think that approach is far from satisfactory, but oh well.

    Charles

  4. Charles wrote:

    “You tend to talk about comics that fit some theories you find interesting, irrespective of whether the comic is welldone.”

    I have to disagree with you there Charles–the theories that I work with have emerged directly out of my engagement with the works of people like Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald, and Grant Morrison…it’s not the other way around!

    In the case of Squadron Supreme–it’s just a brilliant narrative structure that manages to keep every single erg of the undecidable tension generated by the first issue in play until the climax–and beyond (because the finale solves nothing, and doesn’t pretend to–a point which is reinforced by the sequel that Gruenwald and Ryan did)

    again–I think Allen (and possibly you) are the ones applying the wrong criteria to this genre…but, of course, that’s what makes criticism the (wonderful) Babel that it is–if we all started from the same first principles, we’d all agree!

    but where do you see real arguments in Allen’s piece? Basically, he’s saying that he doesn’t like this representation of superheroes because they’re “dysfunctional” and mean… nowhere does he give any real indication of what he does expect Gruenwald to do with his “raw material” (unless he’s actually saying that something like Kingdom Come is a better attempt??!)

    and again–anyone can zero in on some dialogue from a melodrama and make the text look stupid! I can do it with Watchmen, I can do it with Melville too! But what’s the point of that?

    the hypercharged, insoluble dilemmas posed by these works make “realistic” dialogue (not to mention the kind of “characterization” that Allen seems to be craving here) an absolute encumbrance, as far as I’m concerned… when we say “realism”, what we really mean is–art which cuts the big questions out of the equation… I’m sure you know this Charles–but the whole thrust of the realist reaction against gothicism and romaniticism was to bring literature into the parlor at tea time…

    well, a “revolution is not a dinner party”–and neither is Squadron Supreme… ya know?

    Dave

  5. Dave: I like Squadron Supreme, and agree with your response to Charles, but I can see Allen’s point as well. He is, of course, reviewing the book, not criticizing it, so he’s probably not going to go as deep into it as you’d like. However, I wonder if some of his objections come from: the art <>is<> inconsistent, and sometimes lousy; it did cross-over into the Marvel Universe, which I think was a mistake, and I think he wants heroes. Just like your students not liking <>Watchmen<> because the gang wasn’t “heroic” enough, perhaps Allen wants the Squadron to act more heroic in their mission. That’s his problem, however (and I don’t want to speak for him). I think Marvel did a poor job with this series (I wasn’t buying comics back then, but I get a sense from reading others) in the marketing and, obviously, the art teams, while over at DC, they were doing a good job promoting <>Dark Knight<> and <>Watchmen<>. I wonder how much of Allen’s negative review stems from comparing it to those works rather than looking at it on its own.

  6. Greg–you’re right, of course…the art on Squadron Supreme is far from memorable…it’s not Ditko, or Colan, or Infantino, Simonson, or even Richard Case or Don Heck (who is pretty goddamned awesome!)…but I truly don’t consider it a negative either (as I do consider, let’s say, Alex Ross’s art a negative–and an eyesore, whenever I am forced to look at it…)

    Both Hall and Ryan do decent jobs with facial expressions, and there are some really interesting formal experiments in there–the one I always point to is that page in which the dialogue balloons form into an impenetrable wall between Lark and Archer… it’s quite effective…

    your point about the lack of promotion is a good one… but, on the other hand, one of the reasons that I prefer this book to Watchmen–as a commentary on the superhero genre itself, I mean–is that there is no attempt, in SS, to package the book in a way that plays up its exceptional nature…the narrative is forced to carry the entire burden of the critique…and, while that’s probably the biggest reason why a lot of people who aren’t in the habit of close-reading miss what’s going on in the book, it’s also the source of its greatest strength–i.e. that it truly is channelling the existential crisis that has driven all superhero narratives since the launch of the Marvel U… And I’d say that goes double, in some ways, for Gruenwald’s run on Cap!

    Dave

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