Month: July 2008

A Clean, Well-Lighted Getaway

A Clean, Well-Lighted Getaway

            Larry Young & John Proctor’s The Black Diamond is a splendid romp, as the capsule-reviewers are fond of saying. It’s also a very interesting meditation on the intersection between genre, desire and the quotidian in contemporary America. The nominal story revolves around a putative cross-continental rescue mission (Don McLaughlin, D.D.S. must find a way to save his architect wife from muddle-headed kidnappers!), but, in fact, almost nothing that happens fits into that plot scheme. Graeme McMillan, in his fine intro to the book, advises the reader not to worry too much about the plot, but, at the risk of contradicting that erstwhile fanboy stampeder, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that you take scrupulous note of the plot.

        Because it’s interesting! Even better–at every turn, it thwarts the analytical efforts of two of this narrative’s most amusing denizens, a pair of Tarantino-esque kidnappers on a meta-fictional kick. These guys, whose endless refrain is that there are only TWO stories (“stranger in town” or “trying to find your way home”), get it half right–in fact, if you’re an existentialist like me, there’s only ONE human situation (“stranger at home”), but an infinite number of plots swirl around that non-center. None of them take us anywhere we want to go (i.e. a home we can return to), but they’re all that we’ve got. No wonder we cling to them. So I say yes, by all means, pay attention to the plot(s) of this book (there’s a new/different one erupting on every page, right under the noses of its (Joseph) Campbellian chorus!). This may not make sense to the “character is plot” brigade (characterization is decidedly not the creators’ main goal in this book)–but, to me, plot is atmosphere. The air that we breathe.

           And what crazy air this is! Filled with laughing gas I’d say. This is a wonderfully good-natured book–considering its Road Warriorish premise. I hope I’m not giving too much away when I say that everyone in this story is nicer than you expect them to be. There’s certainly no shortage of menace (Proctor’s amazing Blast-era Wyndham-Lewis style art does most of the work on that front–and I do mean front–doncha know there’s a lovely war on up top?)–but it’s all maya. This book is about the good that men and women do, when they drive like loons down a thieves’ superhighway in search of people to save and the appropriate shirt. Yes, vehicles and corporate logos might take a beating along the way–and it might become necessary to stage a maniacal ballet of armed insurrection in order to set the proper mood for a kiss–but it’s all in the service of demonstrating what illegal velocity and dialed-to-eleven explosions  have to do with the denizens of the “lower world” (that’s us, my friend–unless you’ve got a black diamond near you).

       You can keep the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stuff (although it, too, makes for good atmosphere–“hoo hah”), for me, the key exchange in the book is this one:

Cammie: (who can’t believe that a mere dentist could take all of this multiplex mayhem in his stride) “Former military. I got your secret.”

Don:     “Most of the patients you see as a dentist are somewhere on a continuum between mild apprehension and pee-their pants terror. Nobody, but nobody, likes going to the dentist. And going to the orthodontist? Forget it.  And as your patients get more and more apprehensive, you get more and more frustrated and disturbed. I can’t tell you what the mechanism is, but I can tell you those mental states are contagious.
            So you either quit, or deal. I found a way to deal. Being up here isn’t any worse than being down there.”

        The world–the real, everyday world–is a chaotic mess, and we’re all of us dealing.A dentist might have a little more face time with fear than most of us do, but then again, s/he also gets to do something more literal about it. Straighten something out. Under antiseptic fluorescents. You know where I’m going with this–Don’s got a “Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” (as do we all, in our analogous ways) and, since it’s the attitude that matters, not the accessories, it’s only natural that he, Kate, Cammie and the rest of the gang (on both sides of the divide) should enjoy a clean, well lighted getaway, every once in a while. I’m not talking about “escapism” here (although this book certainly delivers on that level as well)–the getaway IS the “place” of clarity. Hemingway’s place. He must have been in Europe too long at the point he wrote this particular story to remember that there’s no place anything like “home.” For an American, fulfillment, such as it is, always lies out there on the “open road.” At least, that’s what most of the country’s great literature argues. Isn’t it a shame that the black diamond concept–the idea of quarantining all of that great, creative, soul-scrambling energy at the heart of the American project–is pretty much the stuff that Republican wet dreams are made of? As above, so below. We’d all do well to remember that.

that’s my review–we don’t do grades here–but I’m sure you can tell that I liked it.

good night friends!
Dave


Advertisements

Watch Out!

Watch Out!

I can feel the mad blogs stirring out there in Watchmen-anticipation land!

I’ve got a course syllabus to plan, and Eve Tushnet isn’t helping with her links to analysis-aggregators!

My own writings on Moore’s “bad mood” risen are smeared all over the net–but here’s the blogcritics synthesis of my first kicks at the watchcan–and here are the two entries from our course-discussion of the text, three years ago at MSU–not sure how much of that stuff I would stand by, here in 2008 (I definitely assign the Laurie-Dan relationship a more central role–THE central role, in fact–in my interpretation than I did back then), but it’s out there…

also not helping are

David at Vibrational Match (off to a smashing start with his Filth-blogging–I’ll be jumping in with comments during the week for sure, David!)

and

Jason Powell, whose discussion of Uncanny X-Men #150 is excellent–although I must take issue with his characterization of Morrison as a cynic (ironist certainly–but there’s no necessary connection between the two modes of perception). This too, will blossom into typed words, some time soon!

Good Evening Friends!
Dave


Hope Percolates

Hope Percolates

Just one more thing today–

take a look at this interview (with Zack Snyder) and take heart Watchmen (2009)-doubter!

No, I don’t mean this stuff:

The story “deconstructs heroes. … It kind of takes it all the way,” Snyder says. “How far do you take this superhero thing? Do you take a cat out of a tree or do you create world peace? That’s really the dilemma that they face. Superman has the ability to go to all the world leaders and say, ‘I will kill all of you if you don’t behave.’ He could do that, but why doesn’t he?”

(I’ve already gone on record with my statement that Squadron Supreme asks those questions better than Watchmen does–although, of course, a Watchmen movie must ask those questions!)

I mean THIS:

“The Owl Ship’s got to have an eight-track,” Snyder says. “There’s also a coffee maker. That’s really important to the Owl Ship.”


That sounds like a throwaway comment, but it could, in fact, mean that Snyder reads the book the same way I do–and if he does, then the entire narrative will turn upon the amazing scene in which Dan and Laurie save people from a tenement fire and then SERVE THEM COFFEE… I’m pretty sure I ranted about that scene at some point in this blog’s dim past, but I’ll reiterate here that that one scene makes the book for me… grounds the narrative in the subjective hopes (for the world, for companionship), desires (to be helpful to others, to be sexy to each other) and genuine goodness of those two characters, who are without question the people that the book is actually about.

So–in order for a Watchmen movie to be good–that coffee scene will have to be there–and it couldn’t be there without a coffeemaker in the Owl Ship.

That’s my feeling about it, at any rate.

Are there any scenes that you insist must be in the film, in order for it to work for you? I’d love to hear some opinions on that.

good afternoon–part II
Dave

Random Bulletins…

Random Bulletins…


just a few items today:

1. check out my roommate Maggie’s meditation on Persepolis/Maus + webcomics

2. the estimable Larry Young sent me a copy of the forthcoming trade paperback of The Black Diamond this week… I vow to read it this weekend–the review will be up by Monday…

3. on a related note–I also vow to read and review anything that any of you comics pushers out there see fit to send me… I haven’t been very good at keeping my promises on this blog, since about 2005, but this is one that I will keep!

4. I’m about to begin re-reading the Gruenwald Captain Americas. When I’ve built up a reasonable head of steam (and pre-written posts), you’ll be hearing from me (although it may not be on Motime)

5. and, over on Geoff Klock’s blog, Jason Powell is on the verge of discussing X-Men #150, which, even to my somewhat Claremont-indifferent mind, looks like quite a milestone issue indeed, in retrospect–so I’m gonna re-read that one over the weekend too…

and

6. I’m still puzzled by the amazing outpouring of love for Dark Knight, especially by all of the “it redefines what a superhero movie can be” stuff…

how on earth does it do that?

it’s got one great performance (by Ledger); careful visual design, well-choreographed action sequences; and…what else?

the political philosophy was pedestrian (and reactionary); the performances were mostly competent, but unmemorable; and the Two-Face stuff didn’t make one damned bit of sense (not that I require movies to make sense–you know me better than that!–but it made no sense in a completely uninteresting way–unless you count Nolan’s assumption that the audience would accept Dent’s transformation into a maniac bent on attacking Gordon because there were some corrupt police on the force????????? as a fascinating cultural phenomenon?)

oh well–no one understands why I love D.O.A. either…

(p.s. more Bat-talk, with Jim Henley, over at Tor.com)

good afternoon friends!

Dave

Throwing Stones at Kubrick’s Shit House (From My Blog Fortress of Glass)

Throwing Stones at Kubrick’s Shit House of Cards:
(From My Blog Fortress of Glass)


It’s been just like old times around here lately, no? I rant about the philosophical/political implications of pop culture,  complain about Frank Miller, and get into drawn out discussions in comment-threads with Charles Reece (except that I never used to be able to hyperlink to the Holy Texan’s home)!

Our latest bone of contention? Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. See, Charles interprets the film as an uncompromising assault upon a certain tendency toward “moral management” and the instrumentalization of art/culture in modern liberal society (a kind of Orwellian/Chomskyan critique of fascistic/homogenizing media influence–with a dash of Foucauldian anti-institutionalism), while I see it as a thuggish celebration of aesthetics triumphant over intersubjective ethics–which is my working definition of “Fascism” as an historical phenomenon, from its Renaissance blueprint in Machiavelli’s Discourses (traveling under the deceptive name of “republicanism”) to its practical realization in Nazi Germany; built upon a (to me) naive (and dangerously aestheticized) conception of “Will.”

Charles’ analysis builds toward the following crescendo:

The film isn’t, therefore, a desensitizing excuse for violence based on a cynical view of society (although Kubrick was certainly a cynic). The violence demonstrates to the audience, like it does for Mr. Alexander, the need for free will in determining responsibility. Nor is the film a right-wing fantasy as other critics have maintained. When the government fails to contain the challenge Alex’s willfulness has proven to be to the ruling management theory, it does what managers do best, and makes a deal with him to maintain a semblance of control. If anything, the film is a civil libertarian parable warning of the dangers of our tendency towards bureaucracy, where treating every aspect of culture ( from people to morality to art) as mere means will ultimately serve to justify any choice, belief or action so long as it perpetuates the system itself.

This is good stuff, but does it tally with the film as I remember it?

Of course, you may recall that my work on Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme proceeded entirely from the assumption that a certain instrumentalization of culture is unavoidable, and, in fact, desirable (what, after all, are schools?). The true drama comes at the level of the “programmers,” if you will. Is foundation inevitably solipsistic? (with the proviso that even solipsism isn’t ever “simple,” because a “founder’s” consciousness is always founded upon something else).  And, if it is, is that any argument against it? Ultimately, I concluded that it isn’t “being brainwashed” that sticks  in our mental craws (we are ALL brainwashed–that’s what being a part of a culture means), it’s doing the brainwashing–and living with the predictable outcomes of that act–that we cannot face (and that, in fact, no one has ever been, or probably ever will be, crazily confident enough to enact in toto).

Given that backstory, I’m sure you can understand why I see a thing like Clockwork Orange as fatally compromised by its attachment to an untenable psychological model (i.e. the protagonist’s love of violence and Beethoven are twin aspects of his “REAL” nature). Alex’s easily-discernible environmentally-determined taste for the “ultraviolence” is no more “real” than the recessed cultural gene which tells him that “Ludwig Van” wrote beautiful music. In making this argument, I am by no means discounting the incredible power of the aesthetic experience, I am simply taking a stand against the sentimental notion that this experience can bring about an impossible alignment of the subjective and the objective realms. Of course it’s supposed to make you feel that way. That’s what we have these days, instead of god… but an aesthetically-enraptured hooligan is no more worthy of celebration than a divinely-enraptured one. Both are merely thugs enjoying a culturally-prescribed moment of euphoria–and neither is doing anything like “rising above/against” his/her cultural context.

Bonjour les amis!

Dave

The Favourite Game — Comics

The Favourite Game — Comics
(après Klock–but sans graphics)

in vaguely chronological order–and please note that I gave up buying comics regularly in 1990, and have never really made it back… I am a far far cry from being an expert in this field…

George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (all)

Will Eisner ‘s The Spirit (and also the Wally Wood stories)

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (all)

Lee & Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man

Lee & Ditko’s Doctor Strange (in Strange Tales)

Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (and preceding issues of Strange Tales)

all of Carmine Infantino’s work on The Flash (especially the last few years of the    Barry Allen series, with unhinged Cary Bates storylines!)

Ditko’s The Question

Colan’s Daredevil (written by Stan Lee and, later, Roy Thomas)

Thomas & Colan’s Dr. Strange

Roy Thomas’ Avengers (with Buscema(s), Colan, Adams, etc)

Steve Englehart’s Avengers (with Buscema(s), Bob Brown, Cockrum, etc)

Gerry Conway and Ross Andru’s Amazing Spider-Man

Englehart, Brunner and Colan’s Doctor Strange

Dave Sim’s Cerebus

Stern & Rogers’ Doctor Strange

Hernandez Bros’ Love and Rockets

Roger Stern’s early-’80s Spider-Man books (much of it with Romita Jr.)

Roy Thomas’ Earth-Two Books (All-Star Squadron, Infinity Inc., Jonni Thunder, Secret Origins, Young All-Stars, etc.)

Gruenwald’s Captain America (with Neary, Morgan, Dwyer, Lim, etc)

Englehart & Milgrom’s West Coast Avengers

Miller & Mazzuchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again

Gruenwald and Ryan’s Squadron Supreme (with Buscema)

Moore & Gibbons’ Watchmen

Morrison & Truog’s Animal Man

Morrison & Curt Swan’s “Ghosts of Stone” (JLA story) in Secret Origins #46

Roger Stern and Kevin Nowlan’s Power of the Atom

Gerard Jones & Eduardo Barretto’s The Shadow Strikes

Messner-Loebs & Larocque’s Flash

Morrison & Case’s Doom Patrol

Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan

Spain Rodriguez’s Nightmare Alley

Morrison & Weston’s The Filth

Morrison & Quitely’s We3

Morrison & Stewart’s Seaguy

Good Afternoon friends!
Dave

Has NeilalieN Scanned This?

Has NeilalieN Scanned This?

    So I had an opportunity to watch Jonathan Ross’ In Search of Steve Ditko (a BBC doc) last night. I’m not sure if there’s much in it to thrill the initiate (other than “comics writer and magician” Alan Moore’s spoken rendition of his band’s song “Mister A”–written to be sung to the tune of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”), but it did get me thinking about a number of things–all kind of related. Like what? Well–authorship, integrity, imagination, alterity and the politics of refusal. Pretty heady issues for a self-professed fanboy and (my impression) yobbo to have broached, and, to his credit, Ross doesn’t seem to realize that he is doing these things… But those Ditko pages get the brain rolling–and the host did speak to a lot of the right people.

    So–and here you can imagine me doing my Polito Miller’s Crossing voice–authorship, integrity, imagination, alterity, the politics o’ refusal…

    Much of the documentary focuses upon the linked problems of 1.Stan Lee’s inability to declare, unequivocally, that he and Steve Ditko co-created Spider-Man and 2. Steve Ditko’s departure from Marvel. The interview with Stan, which comes right near the close, is by far the most interesting part of the show. In it, Lee attempts to express his deep admiration for the brilliant (and, Lee admits without prompting, practically solo–for the last 20 issues or so) work that Steve Ditko did on Amazing Spider-Man, from 1962 to 1966, without actually acquiescing to his erstwhile comrade’s demand that he be credited with co-creating the character. Many in the industry, and in fandom, are disgusted by this–but the fact is that Stan is right.

    It’s not “right”, of course, that comics creators aren’t benefiting from the enormous profits generated by the work they did for hire. But wait–don’t we live in a capitalist society? You have a “right” to whatever you can get, by hook or by crook, from your fellow citizens. Nothing more, nothing less. You don’t like it? Join me on the barricade. The financial aspects of this squabble don’t concern me very much–and, to his credit, they don’t concern Steve Ditko either. He just wants the credit.

    But does it make sense to call Spider-Man, as we know him, a Steve Ditko character (as opposed to a character who spent a few fascinating years–and take very careful note of the years in question–in Steve Ditko’s hands)? Of the two models I’ve just proposed, I would have to pick the latter.

    Why?

    Everyone loves Steve Ditko’s run on the title. And I’m no exception to that rule. But could he have sustained it beyond 1966? And if he had–would the character have lasted? More important–would it have been good for the character? 

    Frankly, I don’t see how–and if you see what I see, I don’t see how you can feel that the character was ever a Ditko creation. When called upon to discuss Ditko’s sudden departure, the interviewees trot out the usual three suspects–1. the disagreement over the Green Goblin’s identity; 2. the political divergence between Lee and Ditko and 3. the problem of Peter Parker’s graduation from high school–and, of these three, the only one that I can give much credence to is the third, because it points symbolically to the real problem–i.e. in order to remain in sync with the character, Ditko didn’t need to stop time so much as he needed to stop “The Times” (which, as you may know, were a-changin’). A superhero who believes that “with great power comes great responsibility” is not going to be able to avoid coming into conflict with the established order in the late 1960s, and I think that Ditko (who, as a strict Randian, had to believe something like the reverse of Peter Parker’s dictum–an Objectivist is responsible only to her/himself–and his/her great power actually comes from a refusal to acknowledge ANY responsibility to others)  understood this. During the early ’60s, with its protagonist still in his teens, the distinctions between responsibility to self/society and the power over one’s body vs the power to effect change in the world could be safely submerged beneath a narrative of developing integrity. But that window of opportunity was closing. And the man who built the house was “Stan The Man” himself.

    John Romita beats himself up a little, in his interview, for taking the character in an entirely new direction, for superficially commercial reasons. But, in fact, the Lee/Romita (and the subsequent Conway/Andru) iteration of the character actually restored the Spider-Man concept to its feet, and gave it the legs to march with the times. Had the Ditko interregnum lasted even a year longer, it would have become a cul-de-sac.

  
    Doctor Strange, on the other hand, IS a pure Ditko character, and could easily have coasted through the drug sixties on the strength of his creator’s imagination. One of the good things that the documentary does is play up the bizarre political mismatch between Ditko and his wacky leftist fans (like Moore, Cat Yronwode, Neil Gaiman, and yours truly). The bridge, of course, is imagination–and it leads directly to the demented realms of self-struggle that all creative people understand. Generally, those trips to the astral plane (whether drug-induced or not) tend to expand the social conscience along with the consciousness, but there is no necessary reason why this must be so, and people like Steve Ditko (and my favourite filmmaker David Lynch) seem to exist in order to cut the too-easily-assumed link between altered states and a politics of alterity. Sometimes the journey to Oz merely convinces you that Kansas is the greatest place in the gosh-darned multiverse. And if those farmhands complain–feed ’em to the pigs! The hyper-centered character can either say “NO” to the powers that be or to those who would disturb the peace, and, in either case, do it with a frightening air of certainty. This is why Emerson is just as useful to the anarchistic left as he is to the libertarian right. There’s no fundamental difference between a wacko like Steve Ditko and a wacko like me–we just take our insane black/white stands on different issues.

    Of course, Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart took steps, in the late sixties and early seventies, to associate Dr. Strange with the counterculture and the political left (and I’m quite glad that they did), but, unlike Spider-Man, these steps aren’t mandated by the original concept–which was as purely a product of Ditko’s mind as The Question and Mr. A (both of whom get a fair bit of screen time in the doc–but the ground covered there is pretty well trodden, if you know Ditko at all…)

good afternoon friends!
Dave