Month: June 2005



Are you Beginning Again?

Did I ever mention that I hate origin stories?

I must have–in a blog post long ago and far away–but, after seeing Batman Begins (along with the atrocious trailer for The Fantastic Four) last night, I am rarin’ to reiterate this point. It’s not enough that we’ve gotten nothing but endless corporate “reboots” from Marvel and DC for the past decade or two–now there’s a second Hollywood Batfranchise to deal with (it’s like a cinematic “Crisis on Infinite Earths”… too much backstory? get rid of it! the psychopath’s mantra… although, to be fair, Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s respective works weren’t nearly as dear to me as Krypto and Earth-Two had been before they were sacrificed upon the altar of Millerian “seriousness” in the mid-1980’s)

Then again, the reason that Batman is my least favourite superhero is that he is, basically, all origin. I’ve written enough about “dynamic stasis” to bore even my own narratologically-fixated self, and I’ll try to avoid that pitfall today, but the crux of the matter has always been that I am most interested in the existential “middle passage” traversed by superheroes like Spider-Man, Animal Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange, etc… Of course, each of these guys were assigned “origins” (although, interestingly enough, Lee and Ditko tried to get away without laying bare the good doctor’s roots–if only J. Michael Straczynski had shown similar restraint!), but none of those tales (not even good ol’ “with great power comes great responsibility”) can be described as the “last word” on the character. The Batman story is too airtight (and there’s nothing I hate more than a tidy story)–the unreasoning fear of bats + the murder of the Waynes always adds up to the same thing–and once Bruce dons that costume, all he lacks are the foes/confederates (and they’re not hard to find) that will enable him to reenact his origin story until the end of time. Spider-man’s origin, on the other hand, provides a crucial break with the character’s past that serves as a foundation (rather than a narratological morass) for the story proper. “Dynamic stasis” cannot be consubstantial with the origin–it sets in later, emerging out of the conflict generated by the encounter between (always-)already empowered characters and the world. Otherwise, what you get is a “person” that is incapable of recognizing the world at all (i.e. “stasis, hold the dynamism”)…

So, yeah, I think Batman Begins gets the character exactly right–and all it manages to prove is that this character sucks (sort of helps to explain why everyone that works with him winds up turning, in desperation, to Robin–the only person that Bats could ever get close to would have to be a mirror-image of himself)

I did find the film’s valorization of welfare-capitalism interesting–i.e. Neeson’s Marxist assumptions about a truly “free market” are not questioned, which kind of implies, if you think about it, that the “good people”, like daddy Wayne (not to mention Bruce himself), are really only saving themselves and their ancestral holdings.

For a different take on all of this, see Mark K-Punk and John Pistelli’s reconsidered entry. I do like Mark’s decisionist/excess-of-good interpretation, and I would recommend that he give the Squadron Supreme a try sometime! (now that would make a great film–and no origins necessary!)

As for the FF–well, I’m actually considering not going to see it… Why the hell didn’t they do the Silver Surfer/Galactus story?

Cerebus? I’ve decided to read the whole thing before I make any more posts… I am now at issue #194, and I have to say:

1) Mothers and Daughters is even crazier than I expected it to be, and

2) I am more sold than ever on my own Cerebus/Pierre, or the Ambiguities analogy… this is the incredible record of one frightened and unbelievably prideful man’s attempt to stand in the eye of a storm of romantic, social, political, and aesthetic pressures that no human being could (or should want to!) withstand… “the baker and the bread”….wow!!!!!

more on this later–obviously!

good evening friends!


Cerebus Part XI–issues #26 to 28

Cerebus Part XI–issues #26 to 28:

“What’s so special about lots of black with strange grey scenery”?

(continued from this post)

In High Society (Cerebus #26-50), Dave Sim took his exploration of the arbitrariness of subjectivity to a new level. Why is Cerebus so important? It’s the first question on everyone’s mind–when they aren’t busy demonstrating that he just is. He’s the idol o’ millions (of obscure cultists), his movements (both on the corporeal plane and in the astral regions beyond it) are scrutinized by a variety of secret societies, and, once he reaches Iest, at the beginning of this storyline, he becomes the bullseye in a game of special interest darts. Issue #26 depicts our hero settling into the role of influence peddler (aka “Famous the Aardvark”).

Who among us would say no to an offer of 700 crowns in exchange for entertaining the notion that gold plated streetlamps might be a good investment? The pleasantness of the thing is only increased when Cerebus learns that the person he’s supposed to influence is Lord Julius (this would be roughly analogous to me accepting bribes from people who want to see a change at The Comics Journal)… ah, the joy of being an ex-Kitchen Staff Supervisor! All of this furnishes the author with a wonderful opportunity to poke fun at sleazy business practices (are there any other kinds of business practices?), and, when it comes to naming names, Sim delivers the Dickensian goods (i.e. Hadden, Hadden, and Dipp; Scorz, Scorz and Sons, and, best of all :Greely, Bleaker, and Spleen!) But all of this works on a more sophisticated (narratological) level as well–it reminds us that, while Cerebus will always occupy centerstage in Cerebus, he is very far from being  a major player.  Unlike the protagonist of a traditional bildungsroman , Cerebus is only the symbol (or sign) of will and decision-making power, never its referrent. We learn in issue #28 (“Mind Game II”–a magnificent issue which served notice of Sim’s intent to recombine images and text in new ways) that the grey stuff in the “eighth sphere” is “mental clutter”–and I think this constitutes a fine two-word definition of personhood/subjectivity itself…

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To be is to be a mess, so to speak… a peephole (in Cerebus’ case–a “ruthless peephole”…entirely appropriate, don’t you think, given the fake kidnapping story in issue #27?) onto a world that none of us has any jurisdiction over… Whenever we are placed in a position to make a choice, or exercise even a modicum of power over our lives, it’s always an accident, and it’s probably an illusion… To use Suenteus Po’s terms, without replicating his meaning, it’s the clutter that’s important, not the housekeeping. Cerebus is never healthier than when admitting that he can “live with” the distortion effect produced by his own subjectivity. It’s the decision to gain “perspective” on his life, by making “short- and long-term plans” (the seed of which is planted in issue #28) that sentences him to an extended sojourn in the pitch-black void…and one of my pet theories (and a guiding assumption of this criticial project) is that Dave Sim has taken the fall with him.

good afternoon friends!

Crazy With the Heat

Crazy With the Heat

An atrocious wave of humid weather has temporarily fried my brain, thus delaying the return of my Simian musings…but, thankfully, the new, definitely improved Comic Book Galaxy has been there to keep from me from melting down completely!

With any luck, it will rain soon and I can get on with this thing!

Until then–enjoy Ed Cunard’s interview with Tom Spurgeon, Mike Sterling’s new column, and the promise of more Johnny Bacardi and Ian Brill!!

Good Afternoon Friends!

Hear Ye Hear Ye!

Hear Ye Hear Ye!

So here I am all settled into my new abode, at long last! Which means that I can finally get on with my massive Cerebus read/re-read! Here’s where I left off, lo those many months ago! But the updates’ll be comin’ fast and furious from now on, starting tomorrow night, with Cerebus #26, the first issue of the acclaimed “High Society” storyline.

I’m excited!

I hope you are too!

Bon weekend les amis!


…and we’re back!

…and we’re back!

How could I stay away any longer, with discussions like this goin’ on????

First we’ve got John Pistelli:

I don’t wish to be naive about this: there’s nothing inherently progressive, inherently of the left, about this enlarged imagination of the possible. The very form of much current far-right discourse takes the form of: See, I said [women are inferior/Mexicans are dirty/Arabs ought to be tortured/etc.] and nothing happened; you can say it too, and then we can act on it! A teenager’s first encounter with the broadened possible is usually an encounter with this version of it in libertarian/latentyly fascist science fiction books, movies or comics, in Frank Miller or Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand or whoever the kids are reading these days. You are special, you are Batman, thou art God, these books and writers say, and the horizon of what is possible for you is bounded only by communal standards, collective man, the valorization of altruism or some other manifestation of society (which doesn’t, on this view, exist).

Now here’s Alphonse Von Worden:

The problem is not the superhero superman fantasy insofar as it is a dream of self-expansion and glory; the sickness is not only that this fantasy requires the superman superhero to be surrounded by inferiors; the sickness is mainly inculcated in the consumer through the fact that the superman superhero is celibate, lonely, frustrated; this portrait is accompanied by the conviction that the expansion of human individuality achieved by the superhero superman is consequent to the sacrifice of love – of physical love specifically – and indeed is the reward for and the very form of this sacrifice. Nietzsche appeals to adolescent boys because he chooses to celibrate, in a ludicrously schmaltzy manner, a self-imposed physical isolation which is similar to that imposed upon them externally, and portray this agony and loss as a kind of achievement and triumph.

 Do adolescent boys really want to be invisible, part spider, freakish agents of vengeance and scourges of other people’s wrongdoing, frantic minders of other people’s business, dealing out punishments? I never was one myself, but knew plenty, and it seems to me no, they want to be lovers. Of course. And if only permitted to be lovers, they can do without Aol-Time Warner’s fucking moronic and mean-spirited anthropology of resentful and merciless alpha male freakdom.

 It seems obvious to me that any adolescent boy would have to prefer Casanova’s delightfully written Histoire de ma vie to Beyond Good and Evil. Casanova was a superman too, possessed of one specific superpower and a handful of related better-than-average powers. But this model and this superpower is not one comic books for boys involve. That is, the one superpower which might really concern adolescent boys is the one of which all superheroes are deprived. (Is this a glitch in the market?)

Perhaps that superhero – he’s really unimaginable as such – would be a bit dangerous for the publishers’ stockholders.

In response to which, I say–“Alphonse (and adolescents everywhere!), meet Starfox.” (see, he’s even waving back!)

I’ve always loved this character–particularly as written by Roger Stern in the Avengers in the mid-eighties. Perhaps his time has come?

But seriously (not that I’m not serious about Starfox: The Series–I’d love to write that!)–I must object to the one-pathology-fits-all diagnosis of the superhero that Alphonse puts forward. This ties in with a discussion that took place on The Foragerblog quite a while back–i.e. how did the superhero become linked–culturally–with (to me, hateful) things like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and, you know, all of the other Campbellian fantasies that gross teenage boys enjoy? (In my mind’s eye, Joseph Campbell invariably sports a mullet and a Metallica shirt).

 I know, I know… I can’t wish these associations away. They’re out there. I can’t stop you from thinking that Sam Raimi was the perfect choice to make a spider-man film. You’re wrong, of course, but where does that leave us?

All I can do is insist that the whole genre really went south when Batman (especially as conceived by Frank Miller) became its representative specimen. I hate Batman. He is exactly what van Worden (and the whole “superheroes are fascist” brigade) fears he is–a creepy preemptive strike against loneliness. (“You don’t want to date me? Well, fuck you, I’m too busy smiting crime anyway!”) The really fascinating thing–given the context of this discussion–is that Spider-Man, the most famous character created by an avowed Randian (Steve Ditko), is not a Randian at all. Peter Parker’s (40-year plus!) saga (in the comics) has been a sustained adjudication between the competing claims that intersubjective relationships and intrasubjective “duty” make upon its protagonist. It is manifestly not a choice between “feminization” (personal/physical comfort/fulfillment/accomodation to the status quo) and (alpha male) “integrity”. The best superhero characters have always striven to work for a better future whilst enjoying the present (and by this I mean taking pleasure in their respective human environments). Of course, this is the kind of thing that the expression “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” was invented to deal with, but the point is that Spider-Man, Animal Man, Doctor Strange (especially as written by Roy Thomas–but forget about that now that Straczynski’s Pottersvillean plot is a-brewin’–“you’ve got your wish–you never existed”–talk about thick-headed revisionism!!!!!!!!), Captain America in the right hands (i.e. Gruenwald), the Barry Allen Flash, etc.  never slink away from the table to go eat (and participate in) scraps in the Batcave. These characters are virtually defined by their refusal to embrace the apocalyptic mode (and in this they are much more Emersonian than Nietzschean). Yes, there is a better world to come. And it’s worth fighting for–but always with one foot planted firmly in the ethical/intersubjective realm. Otherwise, what’s the point? If more teenagers actually understood these stories in the way that I read them, there would be a lot fewer soldiers in the world.

Good Afternoon Friends!