Hark!

Hark!

1. Our classroom discussion of Squadron Supreme will conclude this week–and the new discussion-prompt (in which I take extreme issue with this facile libertarian reading of the book) is up! Please–join in the fun! (unless you’ve got nothing better to offer than a critique of the characters’ uniforms and hairstyles…)

2. Darwyn Cooke explains, in his own words, why I hate his writing so much!


Most importantly, I suppose, was my personal attachment to Green Lantern and Hal, coupled with the Mercury and Apollo Space programs. These were the stuff of my childhood imagination. It is almost impossible to explain to someone what it was like to be a kid during that era unless you were there. Today we worship fey actors and millionaire children who throw or hit balls. But the Astronaut — good fuck, they strapped in on top of huge jerry-rigged tubes of unstable fuel and fired themselves toward the heavens!

Listen to any athlete today crying about his sore arm or the way the press treats him and then listen to the radio tapes from the Apollo 13 Astronauts as they try to find a way home before they run out of air or freeze to death. So Hal and the whole space program became a symbol of something that has vanished from our society. The man with the daring and the balls to put it on the line for the sake of it. For the thrill of it. Risk your life to feel an extra 100 mph of speed. Gamble everything to fly that much faster or go that much further. And these men… Jesus, they were like ice. Pilots heading straight into the runway at 500 mph — they’re 100 feet from exploding on the pavement and the tower asks, “Do you wish to declare an emergency?” Invariably, the pilot’s response is something like, “Negative. I think if I can just — ” and then you hear the explosion. And unbelievably, the very best of them did it for peanuts. Air Force pay and whatever perks that came with being a hotshot pilot. No million dollar paydays or private jets or summer homes in Monaco.

So the persona of Hal offered all the romance and mystique you need for a great hero. From a character point of view, Hal is a fairly regular Joe who doesn’t really fit in. He’s perfect in every way I suppose, except he has nothing to believe in that is any bigger than he is. And New Frontier is a story of his discovery of that higher power that he can put his faith in. Once Hal is able to graft his courage and values to a purpose, he becomes a complete person.

Uh…”fey actors”? Becoming “complete” through the discovery of one’s “relationship” to a higher power? Sick! And the idea that this kind of indoctrination is supposed to be “good for kids” is what makes it sickest of all!

Also (and this applies to a wide variety of people–but if you read that entire interview, you’ll understand why I’m mentioning it now), if you’re going to use the word “deconstruction”, try to develop  at least a minimal understanding of what the term really means, okay? It’s not a synonym for “debunking exercise”.

I had no problem with the idea of an altruistic hero when Rozakis and DeStefano did it properly in ‘Mazing Man (which I just re-read yesterday…what a beautiful series!)

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see–the great thing about ‘Maze is that he contributes to his society through sheer force of goodwill–but no one “looks up” to him (and he certainly doesn’t participate in the grotesquely masculine discourse of “heroism” that the Cooke interview exudes…) They just love having him around! (and so did I! Why not bring the whole gang back, hunh DC?)

3. Finally–I  was saddened to hear that Rosie–S.W. Welch‘s celebrated bibliofeline–died recently… Jack Ruttan has posted the story–along with a fine visual tribute to this wonderful beast… Bye Rosie!

Good Afternoon Friends!
Dave

41 comments

  1. >>Uh…”fey actors”… becoming “complete” through the discovery of one’s “relationship” to a higher power… Sick!

  2. Larry,

    I don’t think I was linking them, exactly–just parsing the syntax of Cooke’s male panic… clearly, the “fey actors” (and maybe the “deconstructionists” too?) lack the “purpose”/”virility” that he is privileging in this interview…

    Dave

  3. That’s what makes for horse races. Me, I didn’t see anything of the sort, much less see it “clearly.”

    But I wouldn’t link “male panic” to his use of a specific adjective nor link “fey actors” to the “deconstructionists,” either.🙂

    –Larry Young

  4. well, okay–but surely you must see that Cooke’s anti-continuity (and anti-introspection) stance has a lot to do with an attachment to a thoroughly reactionary (and very explicitly gendered) conception of virtue?

    It’s not like he’s hiding the fact! (cooke complains: “people care more about how Bruce is feeling than reading a Batman story”… But wait a minute! Can’t a story about Bruce’s feelings BE a Batman story? Guess not–if you’re committed to an aesthetic of pure action…)

    And, obviously, I’m hardly an impartial observer here–I’m interested in the superhero as soap-opera/existentialist romance… and, as such, I’m dead-set against Cooke’s desire to refound the genre upon an action/buddy-movie paradigm…

    Dave

  5. “Deconstructionism” aside, I have to say that this interview has made me more interested in actually reading the series than anything else I’ve ever read on it…

    Dave, you obviously didn’t grow up reading Robert A. Heinlein…

  6. Not sure I see a general “anti-continuity” or “anti-introspection” stance; I just see a storyteller expatiating his viewpoint on a certain story and character.

    I’ve been called “anti-intellectual” by someone before, though, so I may not be the most impartial observer, either.🙂

  7. I think the wish to avoid becoming “entangled” in continuity goes hand in hand with a “Marlboro-man” ethos/aesthetic… and a “self-begetting” mythology is always anti-introspection…

    and you’re right Tim–I never read a Heinlein book until I was forced to–last semester–and I did hate it!

    Dave

  8. I find the whole hero thing to be really tedious as well. Even if we could assume that the heroes of ages past were somehow “better” or closer to some established model of manhood than the heroes of now, it doesn’t solve the problem of what exactly it is that makes heroes (or any “model” human being of any sort) necessary in the first place. I personally don’t see the use except as it applies to the powerful, i.e. if the king can convince his subjects that 1. the heroic person is the ideal model of personhood and that 2. that such a thing is worth obtaining and that 3. the way to obtain this thing is through a proscribed list of appropriately “manly” activities and a striving to “be a part of something greater than yourself” or whatever, that king can basically get his subjects to do anything he wants them to do. This is elementary La Boetie. So with the blessings of the powerful and influential those narratives which celebrate the hero survive the ages, while those who throw this hero business into serious question are conveniently forgotten (or expunged). So much for JoJo Campbell.

  9. And I should probably add that reading something just to have a fun advernturous romp is one thing, and that’s certainly fine. I would hope that I couldn’t spoil it for anyone with my yammering. But to view it as some kind of earnest musing on manly-man heroism, well, I can’t let that slide without comment. That last post was me, by the way.

    -Dan Jacobson

  10. See, Dave, boiling it down to just manly-man heroism is reductive, and while I cannot speeking for Cooke or anyone else, I am pretty sure that you don’t have anything near a keen understanding of what you’re talking about here.

    Old-school sci-fi was very much obsessed with individualism: exalting the power of human rationality over irrationality, superstition and all sorts of humbug. True, Heinlein and all the other avatars of the old guard were very muc hinvested in certain aspects of the “Marlboro Man” thing, at least in their earlier writing… but Heinlein eventually grew out of, at least, such a facile dismissal of introspective thought.

  11. As I have gotten older and hopefully wiser i have come to question many aspects of Heilein’s philosophy, particularly the rabid libertarianism, but the one thing he and you share at base is a steadfast belief in the power of the individual to make the world around them – and while I don’t pretend to have read all of your thoughts on the subject, anyone who idolizes Emerson could certainly find common ground with the man who created Michael Valentine Smith – what is “Thou art God” if not a fairly straightforward encapsulation of half a century’s worth of American transcendentalism?

    So yeah, you are kinda talking out of your hat here if you don’t see how the same kind of impulse that idolizes the early space program as representing the best impulse in man is kissin’ cousin to the impulse towards inward betterment as well.

    Just read “Methuselah’s Children” and “Stranger in A Strange Land” before jumping to conclusions in this matter… there is both evolution and consistency in Heinlein’s ideas on the matter, and Heinlein definitely represents the hard backbone of (at least part) of what Cooke is referencing here.

  12. I never said that Heinlein was just about “manly-man heroism”, Tim–we were talking about Cooke, remember, and that interview is 100% pure buddy-movie philosophy…

    Heinlein–hey, I read one book (Starship Troopers), and an early one at that, so I’m not even gonna comment… although, certainly, ST is a great argument in favour of a politics (and an ethics) of search (for the Other) and destroy (but not until you’ve got another Other lined up!)… and, in that book, at least, the true enemy, clearly, is introspection…

    Dave

  13. ah–we seem to be composing at the same time here Tim–but yeah, again–I’m not qualified to discuss Heinlein’s career… on Emerson though–well, the Emerson that I love is the one that you find in “Experience”, “Circles”, and “Fate”… a radical subjectivist, sure, but one whose agonies lead him toward the conclusion that–despite the fact that we have no proof that anything exists beyond the confines of our own minds–“Let us treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are…”

    also–I always alloy my Emersonian moods with a strong dose of Hawthorne’s very different (and, ultimately, more congenial to my own mind–which is only natural, because Hawthorne is an actual romancer, not just a thinker) subjectivism..

    Dave

  14. “I think the wish to avoid becoming ‘entangled’ in continuity goes hand in hand with a “Marlboro-man” ethos/aesthetic… ”

    As a big fan of pop culture as well as of good advertising, I feel constrained to point out that Marlboro was originally the Virginia Slims of the 50s, and the “Marlboro Man” aesthetic was Media Manipulation 101. One day, Marlboro was a “woman’s” cigarette; the next, it was all sandpaper and pistons.🙂

  15. that’s awesome Larry!

    so Marlboro is the Teddy Roosevelt of cigarettes, hunh? (from “dandy” to “roughrider” in the blink of an eye! Anyone ever read Bederman’s Manliness and Civilization? there’s a whole chapter in there covering T.R.’s decision to make drastic alterations in his image after discovering that most of his political contemporaries thought he was “fey”…and you just didn’t–and, I guess, still don’t–stand a chance of winning the Big Job with that kind of a rep following you around…)

    thanks!

    Dave

  16. That certainly supports your contention that “I think the wish to avoid becoming ‘entangled’ in continuity goes hand-in-hand with a ‘Marlboro-man’ ethos/aesthetic… ” in that if one desires to make a 180 like that, embracing a continuity of line becomes counter-productive and possibly even internally counter-intuitive.

    –Larry Young

  17. indeed–you’ve gotta start “building the mystery” somewhere–and, in practical terms, that always means burying the real mystery!

    Dave

  18. the whole point was that Cooke’s discussion of idolzing the Apollo program does not go hand in hand with intellectual laziness and a lack of introspection, as you implied. I merely pointed you in the direction of a few things that would help you understand the connection better.

    And “Starship Troopers” – eh, agitprop, not his best, especially from a left of center perspective. But don’t think that Heinlein was a fan of any false binaries – he was a product of the Cold War, and for him that meant loathing the ideology behind Communism while extending compassion towards the victims of that system. He was actually visiting the Soviet Union during the U-2 crisis in 1960, and he wrote an interesting essay on the differences between the two systems thereafter. Totalitarianism is the enemy of most all philosophies, even yours, Dave…

  19. Tim,

    I never claimed that “Apollo=intellectual laziness”… what I’m reacting to here is the religion of “unselfconsciousness” (or, anti-self-doubt) that, for sure, is rooted–just like almost everything else in contemporary American pop philosophy–in Emerson…

    Ayn Rand is a debased Emersonian. So, it seems to me, from I know of him, is Heinlein (but again, what I know is mainly hearsay)…

    The fact that I understand this “full speed ahead” mindset so well is what keeps me so alive to its consequences… it’s about applying knowledge to the world (as Tom Thumb, to cite a non-testosterone drenched avatar of this same ethic, does in Squadron Supreme), never about exploring the “enervating” contradictions that await within the minds/experiences of anyone who dares to take a look at themselves (and who then wonders what the hell a “self’ really is!)

    the reason I like Emerson so much is that he doesn’t flinch from truly following out the subjectivist position to its most radical conclusions…and when he gets there, he asks (in “Experience”) “where do we find ourselves?”–and what does he answer?

    “Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping, if it were not. God delights to isolate us every day, and hide from us the past and the future. We would look about us, but with grand politeness he draws down before us an impenetrable screen of purest sky, and another behind us of purest sky. `You will not remember,’ he seems to say, `and you will not expect.'”

    in the end–all of Emerson’s big talk about “self-reliance” is reduced to naught–and what he really winds up preaching is a doctrine of razor-sharp alertness to “few herbs and apples” that come to us in the “Days” that we are afforded… that’s a philosophy which accepts alienation as a fact of life, and does not try to assuage the feeling with “power of positive thinking” mantras…

    in other moods, Emerson does sound like a “can-do” American–but that’s what makes his more introspective moods deeper, and more valuable–he sees both sides (although never, as Hawthorne does, at the same time–only narrative can reconcile contraries that way!)…

    do you think that Cooke does? does Heinlein?

    I’ll tell you one thing–I think Rozakis & DeStephano do! That’s why I brought out the ‘Mazing Man image…

    Dave

  20. “In other moods, Emerson does sound like a ‘can-do’ American–but that’s what makes his more introspective moods deeper, and more valuable–he sees both sides (although never, as Hawthorne does, at the same time–only narrative can reconcile contraries that way!)… ”

    This is the main thing most folks miss about my stuff (that, I must tip my hat, you did not, Dave), that you can absolutely do both introspection and “Manifest Destiny” at once: that “what does this mean?” and “bend to my will!” is not necessarily mutually-exclusive.

    The answer is in the American Literary Rennaisance: Hawthorne, Melville, those guys.

  21. Well, there’s only so much self-exploration you can do. We’d still be stuck in the caves if our ancestors had never wanted to actually do anything. Heinlein is all about getting off your ass and doing something, because the only crime in this universe is the destruction of energy – that’s the first law of thermodynamics. There’s more to life than sitting in a room and thinking… someone’s got to build those space stations!

  22. Dave,

    I can’t tell if you’ve actually read The New Frontier or not (from this post at least), but I’ve been somewhat surprised by the attacks this book has received from people who haven’t read it. A few comics bloggers seem to “know what it is” without even having to, you know, actually look and see what it is. It’s by no means a perfect book, but its critics seem to have really mischaracterized it. (I think the books flaws have been exaggerated partly because of the high pricetag and the “prestige”-“special event” format–people probably would have cut it more slack if it wasn’t setting itself up as an “important” super-hero comic).

    For now though, I’d just like to point out that I think you’re missing something in the way Cooke is talking about Hal Jordan. To paraphrase, Cooke says that Hal Jordan needs to find out that there’s something “bigger than he is”–a “higher power that he can put his faith in.” I know you cringe at this kind of faith based talk, but Cooke seems to be using “higher power” in the relatively generic recovery/new agey sense. And, from this perspective, Cooke’s description of Hal’s “growth” as a character isn’t that far from some of your own descriptions of the “growth” of protagonists in Grant Morrison’s comic books.

    cheers,

    J.W. Hastings

  23. I did read it, JW (given my financial limitations, there was no way I could have bought it–I still haven’t been able to come up with the cash for Seven Soliders!–however, I was able to borrow #1-6 a few couple of months ago)

    I think my problem with NF comes not so much from the discoveries that its characters make –but the way in which they are presented… After all, it’s true–“we’re HEROES and we we were meant to wage eternal war on Starro and friends” sounds a lot like, I don’t know, Roy Thomas’ The Last Days of the JSA, or something… but what bugs me is the way that the recognition of the Other/enemy becomes a kind of galvanizing moment for these characters (and it seems as if the climactic events impose a moratorium on all thought)…

    let’s face it though–it’s the speech that drives me insane…and the feeling that you get that the story has been pushing you, all along, to accept these characters as THE new Gods who will lead us all to glory…

    see, what bugs me is–who are these figures supposed to remind us of? the real test pilots and astronauts? (“courageous men and, I guess, women” of all descriptions?) … That’s how I read it–“you know what’s right ’cause you’ve got balls, and you know whom to punch…” well, I guess George W. does too!

    that doesn’t sound like any superhero book that I’ve ever been interested in, and it’s not nearly as complex as the political sketch of Kirby’s 4th World that you tossed out, way back when– because there are no Forever People in the equation… the only people that matter are the ones on the front lines–kickin’ ass!

    NF is a neocon wet dream (whether it understands itself as such or not is difficult to say)…

    I should add that the first issue’s Losers storyline–which presents jumping into the maw of an “evil” dinosaur for no fuckin’ reason (there’s no one left to save–it’s “courage for the sake of courage”) as the epitome of heroism–neatly encapsulates the larger meaning of the story…

    it’s well done, in that respect–and there’s more to the book’s structure than I, at first, gave it credit for…but it’s still expressing a philosophy of life that I don’t like, and that’s been my focus during this round of commenting!

    thanks–as always–for the interesting contribution JW!

    Dave

  24. Tim wrote:

    “Well, there’s only so much self-exploration you can do. We’d still be stuck in the caves if our ancestors had never wanted to actually do anything. Heinlein is all about getting off your ass and doing something, because the only crime in this universe is the destruction of energy – that’s the first law of thermodynamics. There’s more to life than sitting in a room and thinking… someone’s got to build those space stations!”

    Tim–the problem with this kind of thinking is that it breaks the connection between instrumental logic and morality (or, between what Emerson–or Coleridge–would call “the understanding” and “Reason”–which is pretty diferent from “rationality” as it is generally understood…)

    to zero in again on the problems that I see in NF (and certainly in Starship Troopers)–the protagonists are given one decision to make–“choose an enemy”… everything else that they do–for the rest of their lives–follows from that…

    by contrast–the kinds of superhero stories that I love are nothing but endless pile-ups of decisions that solve nothing, and don’t pretend to…to translate it into real world terms–if more people were like Peter Parker or Buddy Baker, or, in my reading, Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme–which is an uncertain group-mind, not a collection of discrete individuals (obsessing over every single choice that they make–under the “existential spotlight” shed upon their lives by the unique elements of the genre), we’d live in a much better world… on the other hand–too many people in the world we actually live in actually ARE, or, at least, aspire to be–like Cooke’s Hal Jordan…

    the very idea that anyone could see Cooke’s icons as symbols of what humananity ought to strive toward is what I’m taking issue with here!

    Dave

  25. That’s all well and good, but at some point even Hans Castorp had to eventually come down from the Magic Mountain. Perhaps the “pick an enemey, fight and enemy” school of thought is too reductionist for you – and, in the world at large, it is, certainly – but not all fiction can always satisfy all of your particular ideological preoccupations, and you need to realize that sometimes an orange is an orange. Not better or worse than an apple, just different, and if you can’t enjoy an orange on its own merits, you will be very unhappy trying to view everything through the prism of apples.

    To put it another way: my God man, how the hell do you relax if you hold all your escapism to such high ontological standards? Have you ever watched “Taxi”?

  26. Tim,

    surely it must be apparent by now that–for better or for worse!–I just don’t believe in escapism… I have a tremendous love for stories (no matter what medium I encounter them in), and I expect a lot from ’em!

    And the most important thing that I expect is a reconciliation of contraries that discursive language simply isn’t able to convey… my theory is–if it were simple, it’d be a tract…or a blog entry! Since it’s a story–it must be complicated! (sometimes I have trouble finding the complexity–and sometimes I give up! but it’s always in there–somewhere!)

    Dave

  27. But, in one way or another, it’s all escapism… how the hell can you enjoy something like Spongebob Squarepants or Godzilla or classical music (three pretty keen things that have a hard time following any rules of narrative but their own)… if you are unable to look back your own expectations for what art should be – all art – under all circumstances? That’s not just reductive, it’s downright psychotic!

  28. Tim–

    music (and, a fortiori, the human voice) is a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I don’t have a clue how to write discursively about it–but my fiction is pretty much driven by an ongoing attempt to make some sense of the effect that these sounds can have upon counsciousness…

    however–I don’t see how my argument that narrative=complexity limits my ability to appreciate stories! I’m certainly not looking for stories to follow logical rules! Quite the reverse! (in fact, my –very pleasant–quarrel with commenter Charles Reece over the interpretation of Mulholland Dr. ought to demonstrate my aversion to any attempt to reduce a story to a set of propositions!)

    I take it for granted that, if I wasn’t able to get into thinking about a story, it’s my own fault (or, let’s just say, I blame it on some kind of radical cultural disconnect between myself and whomever it was that laid down the words, or the images, or the combination of the two)…

    this doesn’t mean that I’m going to compose love sonnets to every story that I read, either…sometimes I find myself cast in a decidedly adversarial role vis-a-vis the narratives that I write about!

    and what’s wrong with that?

    All human experience is intersubjective–and intersubjectivity is often (or perhaps even always) conflictual… fighting with a book is just as good a way of engaging it as declaring your love for it! and neither act will ever exhaust the possible responses that all narratives cry out for…

    Dave

  29. Well, I’m sorry, we have come to the point where I get off the roller coaster with you: not all stories are created equal, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes entertainment is just entertainment, and approaching it with the same rigor you use for something that is honestly interesting intriguing is disengenuous. If you can’t simply appreciate something for being good because it is fun, and refuse to castigate bad entertainment because you blame yourself for not properly communicating with it… well, we really have absolutely no shared ground here, and this conversation is effectively pointless.

  30. what can I say Tim? this is how I feel about the matter…

    I can’t get with a schema which suggests that most art is just stupid fun for the masses or a slumming “elite”–while “true art” is an entirely different animal that is going to help you to get over the fact that God is dead…that’s a Romantic/Modernist hangover…and, I would argue, a far more limited perspective than my own…

    Dave

  31. I’m late to the party here, and perhaps everyone’s moved on, but there are a couple of things I take issue with in Cooke’s interview, and Dave might actually agree. One is this idea that nobody wants to read about Bruce’s feelings, they just want to see a kick-ass Batman story. Yeah, that’s been done. Some of the most interesting Batman stories are those about Bruce and his double life — Cooke wants Silver Age (or even Golden Age) stories, but his audience, I would argue, has moved on. He also points out that writers of the Silver Age didn’t address racism and things that he had the “courage” to address in New Frontier — which i think is totally wrong of him. Those writers weren’t addressing it overtly, partly because they were writing for a younger audience (and yes, kids can handle those sorts of things, but a lot of adults don’t think they can) and partly because the Code wouldn’t let them. I would argue that they did address racism and fear of the “other,” but in a more allegorical sense. Has Cooke ever heard of allegories? Now, I like New Frontier, but I don’t think Cooke has done anything terribly revolutionary. Just showing us that racism existed in the 1950s — so what? The writers in the ’50s and ’60s knew about it too, and tried to get it in whenever they could.

    So that’s my two cents. Again, it’s probably too late. But what the hell.

    Greg

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