Dick Giordano passed away on 3-27-10. He's not quite the last of the old-time "blood and thunder" comics-creators, since people like Denny O'Neil, John Severin and Russ Heath are still kicking, but he was one of the best at pulp action, as this cover to SARGE STEEL.
A detailed obituary appears on Mark Evanier's site, but mine is simply an appreciation for his talent as an artist in the "blood and thunder" style. I pattern my use of the term after that of Richard Slotkin's in REGENERATION AFTER VIOLENCE, using the term to portrary a host of "tough guy" writers ranging from Jack London to Raymond Chandler.
The influence of this school of pulp action on early comic books is hard to gauge. Both the costumed and non-costumed heroes of the late 30s were a little too "softboiled" to have belonged to any tough-guy clubs: that is, while physically tough their characters usually followed the pattern of eternal white knights like the Lone Ranger. One occasionally sees early comics playing with the hardboiled approach, as with an early Eisner experiment, "Muss 'Em Up Donovan," but in comic books the blood and thunder doesn't really get going until the late forties, with the rise of the crime genre and TWO-FISTED TALES. The approach probably reaching its last high point in mainstream comics with the Kanigher war books at DC Comics.
"Blood and thunder" didn't mean simply violence: any number of costumed heroes were as violent as the crime comics, which is probably why Frederic Wertham lumped them all together. But in the blood-and-thunder aesthetic there was usually a strong naturalistic vibe, a mood uncomfortable with the wild excesses of fantasy seen in the superheroes, the SF/horror books and even Conanesque fantasy.
Giordano perhaps had the misfortune to be one of the last advocates of this vibe. One notices that most of his Charlton "action heroes" eschewed most of the fantasy world-building one saw in contemporaneous costumed heroes at DC, Marvel and others. Pulp naturalism was clearly Giordano's orientation, as shown in his work at DC, from the remodeling of WONDER WOMAN into a superspy-type to one of his later projects, an adaptation of MODESTY BLAISE.
I don't imagine he ever really had much in common with the fans who loved the worlds of Jack Kirby and Gardner Fox, much less the virtual takeover of the superhero genre by the spawn of the X-Men. But for a time, his work provided an interesting contrast to the dominant superhero meme: a return to simpler days when casual buyers picked up comic books to read about tough detectives dueling it out with sexy temptresses, with not a ray-gun in sight or an angst-crisis in sight.
I've sometimes thought about writing more essays here in which I analyze this or that story (whether in comics or another medium) along my chosen myth-critical lines. With comics, however, visuals are so much a part of the story that one almost has to invest in the time, trouble and expense of using a scanner. That's not going to happen just now. For the present I'll probably continue scavenging fair-use pictures from the web, like the one I found recently in this entry for THE MASKED MAYHEM.
But before getting to the scavenged subject, here's more theoretical stuff.
Though I define the quality of mythicity in narrative as that of symbolic complexity, not everyone uses the word "myth" this way. Often when the average person describes Superman or Batman as a "myth," they simply mean that they are extremely popular with many people, as some myths in the archaic world undoubtedly were. However, since not all archaic religious myths had widespread popularity-- some being confined to this or that isolated tribe of "fanboy" worshippers-- it follows that not all literary myths are going to be world-beaters either. On some old messboard I wrote:
'As I said on a recent thread that didn't go anywhere, "Unpopular Myths," I don't deem it necessary that a myth be widely known to have mythic qualities. Even in archaic times, there were "real myths" that were confined to small enclaves or sub-societies, so widespread popularity is not my base criterion.'
I do consider that even a little-known myth, religious or literary, can be exemplary to its audience and to those scholars who study such things long after the original audience is either gone or fading.
And so here we come to Archie Comics' character The Jaguar.
This series had been cancelled for a few years by the time I started collecting comics in the late 1960s. It was far from being a favorite, though occasionally I thought the base concept-- hero with the powers of the animal kingdom-- has some potential. I mention this to assert that The Jaguar wasn't something for which I had particular nostalgic affection. Aside from the aspect MM mentions in his blogpost-- that the feature had a high ratio of female cast-members-- The Jaguar was pretty unexceptional, though not bad in a "hold-your-nose-as-you-bag-it" way.
What I did find exemplary was one story in the Jaguar's 15-issue series, "The Sea Circe from Space," which Masked Mayhem referred to on his blog.
Now, a simple reference to an archaic myth, like the one to "Circe" in the title, doesn't make a modern narrative mythic, any more than its popularity or lack of same. What makes such a narrative mythic is its ability to tap into one of the four Campbellian functions that I expounded upon here.
"Circe," cover-featured on JAGUAR #3, scripted by SUPERMAN writer Robert Bernstein and drawn by John Rosenberger, doesn't remain confined to the Circe motif it references, which involves a sea-witch with a propensity for changing human beings into animals. Instead, the character of Kree-Nal (yes, the name does sound like them Kirby alien dudes) positively hates humans for their "imperfection and ugliness."
But as the story's ending reveals, Kree-Nal's rage against ugliness is your basic Jungian projection: Jaguar finds out that when she and her people are underwater, they become bestially ugly. If this wasn't a comic book one might wonder why they don't consider their natural selves beautiful, but the upshot is that Kree-Nal ceases her campaign against humans once Jaguar learns her secret.
(On a side-note, Kree-Nal makes repeated appearances in the series attempting to romance the Jaguar. Whether she ever bags him is lost to the mists of time but one can be sure they never go on dates underwater.)
The psychological symbolism incarnated in "Sea Circe of Space" might owe less to the specific myth of Circe than to the mytholgies involving Medusa, Hera, and even the medieval "Loathly Lady." All of these myths turn upon the notion of an offense, or possible offense, to female vanity (while the myth of Circe doesn't). Hera is best known for persecuting her rivals for Zeus' affections, whom she, as Circe Writ Large, usually changes into animals. According to one version of Medusa's origins, she's a mortal woman cursed to become hideously ugly by Athena, and her ugly snake-heads give her powers of transformation, though of a different order than the powers of Circe. And here's handy Wikipedia on the Loathly Lady:
"The theme became a staple of Arthurian literature; the best known treatment is in the Wife of Bath's Tale, in which a knight, told that he can choose whether his bride is to be ugly yet faithful, or beautiful yet false, frees the lady from the form entirely by allowing her to choose for herself."
While I won't go into great detail about the symbolic significance behind these archetypes entwining feminine vanity and transformational power, I regard that "Sea Circe" is the sort of story which, despite being targeted at an audience of kids, does tap into those archetypes in an exemplary fashion-- though obviously not (even when the comic itself was on newsstands) one that was particularly popular.
While I've always admired LOST for not spoonfeeding its viewers tons of exposition, I think the show's writers have stayed away from that narrative strategy so long that they've forgotten how to provide exposition when they have to, as seen in the last episode, "Ab Aeterno."
1) PROBLEM 1: The Black Rock ship, impelled by a storm that may have been conjured up by Jacob, the island or just Mother Nature, smashes the statue of Tawaret to smithereens, but is not itself smashed and zooms all the way into the jungle. This really strikes me as a desperate writer's ploy: "Hey, we've got to explain both of these things: let's combine them. Two great tastes taste better together!"
2) PROBLEM 2: Jacob seems somehow responsible for the ship being there-- at least he admits to having brought others to the island prior to Richard's ship-- but not only does he do nothing to prevent the killing of the slaves by the ship's officers, Jacob seems unaware of Old Smokey's invasion of the ship, his killing of the officers and the Temptation of Richard. The result is that everybody aboard the ship is dead except for Richard, and Jacob seems to conceive of Richard's potential usefulness at the last moment, rather than having planned things out as he did with the Oceanic castaways. Assuming that Jacob is some sort of deity who has a jones for experimenting with humans in an island/ant-farm, you don't learn much from the ants if you let them be killed off so quickly.
3) PROBLEM 3: The God of Ricardo's faith lays down laws and then expects his flock to take the moral superiority of those laws on faith even when the god doesn't come to his worshippers' defense at the drop of a burning bush. In contrast, Jacob brings his ant-subjects to the island and then-- what? Tells them nothing about why they've been brought there? Apparently the Others are an experiment in which Richard goes forth and recruits people from the outside world instead of trying to build a society out of stray Egyptians or Spanish slaves or whatever. But all the Others get from Jacob via Richard seem to be oracular commands rather than moral laws. Does a god who dispenses no moral laws have any moral high ground to judge the choices his followers make?
4) PROBLEM 4: And Nemesis seems to be even stupider. He's trying to convince Ricardo to go after Jacob and kill him. To that end, he materializes the spectre of Ricardo's lost love Isabella, and then makes it seem like the Smoke Monster abducts her. (Can Smokey's split off parts of himself, like DC Comics' Clayface??) THEN-- Nemesis tells Ricardo that he IS the Smoke Monster, but hey, all that roaring from me and that screaming from Isabella had nothing to do with one another: she was really captured by "the devil," who is Jacob. Of course the main reason for this odd strategy is that Richard in 2007 knows that Jacob's unnamed enemy is the Smoke Monster, and so someone's got to tell him. And since Jacob's character can't be allowed to break his super-secret "I'm too cryptic for my shirt" attitude, the writers had Nemesis do the reveal instead. Brilliant!
I'm perhaps crabby because I miss seeing the ensemble, and really didn't care that much about Ricardo/Richard and his problems, but I really thought the writers flubbed this one. Plus points: Hurley as "ghost whisperer" continued to be awesome, and it was interesting that the destiny mapped out for Ricardo by the slave-trader-- that of a servant/factotum-- is the one he accepts from Jaocb. I hope this sloppiness doesn't mar the Big Ending.
This month the heirs of Jack Kirby, in accordance with copyright law, filed for many of the Marvel properties which Kirby co-created with Stan Lee, and for one which I judge to be little more than a reworked "swipe."
The usual use for the term "swipe" in comic-book circles is to indicate when Artist B has swiped, with minimal if any changes, some artistic rendering by Artist A, to the extent that one cannot doubt that Artist A's work was the model.
However, the term "swipe" has been used more broadly at times, and on occasion certain artists have been known to "swipe" even from their earlier selves, recycling configurations or designs they themselves have used for newer work.
However, the latter use is not the case with the claim being made by Jack Kirby's heirs to the Marvel property SPIDER-MAN. The complicated history of Spider-Man's genesis has been told best in Greg Theakston's 1990 zine PURE IMAGES #1, but as its contents aren't available on the web, this writeup by Al Nickerson (going on memory here) seems to substantially agree with Theakston's analysis.
As detailed therein, the sequence of events goes like this:
1) Joe Simon, together with writer Jack Oleck and artist C.C. Beck, conceive a proposal for a new character SPIDERMAN, which they present to one publisher, Harvey Comics. Simon creates a logo for SPIDERMAN but at the last minute the name of the character proposed is changed to THE SILVER SPIDER, probably in emulation of such long-running heroes as THE GREEN HORNET and THE BLUE BEETLE.
2) Harvey Comics rejects the proposal, which has very little "spidery" about it (as a letter from the editor notes) and which looks, thanks to Beck's art, much like a reprise of the artist's most famous comics-work, CAPTAIN MARVEL. The proposal then languishes in the Harvey offices for years.
3) Roughly around 1959 Simon reclaims the original proposal from Harvey and brings it to Jack Kirby. But instead of using either "spider" name, the duo decide to rework the Oleck-Beck-Simon- material into a new concept, THE FLY. Harvey Comics *does* accept this proposal and they publish the Fly's flights until cancelling that first series in 1964, though Simon and Kirby only collaborate on the first four issues. This entry by the Kirby Museum shows points of comparison between the Beck-Oleck-Simon work and the Simon-Kirby work on THE FLY's first appearance.
4) A few years later, Kirby, no longer teamed with Joe Simon, is working regularly for Marvel. Stan Lee asks if Kirby has any ideas for new features, and Kirby pulls forth the original concept of SPIDERMAN, complete with Simon's logo.
5) Kirby submits five rough pages to Lee. Lee allegedly doesn't like Kirby's take on the character, and reassigns the project to artist Steve Ditko. Lee and Ditko proceed to make SPIDER-MAN (now with 100% more hyphen!) into Marvel's best-selling feature.
Now, the legal suit of the Kirbys vs. Marvel today will unfold as it will no matter what I say about it.
But as much as I sympathize with Jack Kirby's treatment at the hands of Marvel and publisher Martin Goodman, I could only sympathize with his having significant rights to the SPIDER-MAN character *if* that input, as it appeared in that lost proposal, came directly from Kirby himself.
And though it's chancy to put much faith in reminiscences of some fifty years ago, it looks like whatever Kirby pulled out of his files was little more than a reworking of the Beck-Oleck-Simon SILVER SPIDER, with maybe a touch of the Simon-Kirby FLY-- in other words, a swipe.
I don't mean to be overly judgmental of the practice of swiping as an artistic survival skill. I'm sure everyone in the business does it and that it harms no one anyone as long as it's used minimally and with discretion.
But a swipe from Artist A seems a pretty weak basis to use in a case revolving around Artist B's rights.
What I have argued consistently is that there is a domain of literary quality that one may call, following Cassirer, the "expressive," because it deals with that part of literature that expresses emotional tonality. Expressivity is manifestly not some sort of loosey-goosey "get in touch with your feelings" attitude, nor does it have anything to do with dismissing all questions of objective quality as they pertain to literature. Expressivity is, for Cassirer, the fundamental rock on which the house of man's intellect is built:
"Whatever we call existence or reality, is given to us at the outset in forms of pure expression. Thus even here we are beyond the abstraction of sheer sensation, which dogmatic sensationalism takes as its starting point. For the content which the subject experiences as confronting him is no merely outward one, resembling Spinoza's 'mute picture on a slate.' It has a kind of transparency; an inner life shines through its very existence and facticity. The formation effected in language, art and myth starts from this original phenomenon of expression; indeed, both art and myth remain so close to it that one might be tempted to restrict them wholly to this sphere."-- Cassirer, THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE, p. 449.
Note that though Cassirer says that one might be "tempted" to restrict art and myth to the domain of expressivity, he does not say that one should do so; merely that they both remain intimately bound up with the expressive modality. More on that in another essay.
Now, I suppose some might look askance at phrases like "inner life" and judge Cassirer some sort of fatuous Romantic. But I would say that Cassirer's logical description of emotional states is not itself emotional, certainly not to the extent that the following quote (supplied by Mssr. Reece from Karl Marx's POWER OF MONEY) is:
"Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune."
Given that the materialist Marx would probably qualify as one of those to whom Cassirer imputes "dogmatic sensationalism," I find it interesting that a comparison of the two quotes shows Marx to be more reliant on a subjective position. Cassirer gives us an "is" proposition with respect to the way human emotion has been the foundation of language, art and myth. Marx gives us an "ought" as soon as he proposes that the only proper "exchange value" should be "love only for love, trust for trust, etc." He, it seems, is just as concerned about the "inner life" of man, but paradoxically he's the one proposing an economic theory of man's civilization that marginalizes everything that is not economic.
I suggest for this reason and others that even though many of Marx's disciples worship at his fane because they believe he has thrown some objective light upon the status of mankind (as well as man's art and myth), Marx is actually successful with his disciples because he is a master of a subjective metaphor that stirs emotion.
True metaphors, according to Paul Ricoeur, are "alive." I may not like a lot of things Marx or his disciples chose to bring to life with their invocation of the evil-conspiracy metaphor, but I can't doubt that the central metaphor's got a great range of expression.
However, it's perhaps not much better off in its real applications than was the Greek nymph Echo in her quest for Narcissus-- that is: to be forever a subject looking for its object.
Inasmuch as I typed a long example of adaptation for one respondent, who failed to respond to it, I may as well transfer it here as a basis for further exploration as to why Marx Got Everything Wrong:
'I sometimes wonder if Marx's education went any further back than the 18th century. I can't see how anyone who had a classical education-- as I gather was given to almost everyone who got to the higher rungs of learning in his day-- could come up with this stuff.
I assume he knew, at least as a raw datum, that literature was oral before it became written, but possibly back then studies of oral literature were in their infancy. Today, however, we know that wherever you have traveling bards, they alter their stories to fit whatever audience they encounter.
I don't imagine the ancient bards had a word for it, but I'd call it "adaptation" sooner than "commodification."
And the practice hasn't died out, even in its oral manifestation. Here's a real-world example for you: in the 80s Harlan Ellison-- who had some background as a stand-up comic, BTW-- spoke before a packed auditorium at a Houston SF con I attended. I forget what led up to this bit, but at one point he said something like, "And I know you Houstonians will appreciate such-and-such, because everyone knows that Houston... is batshit crazy!"
Appreciate laughs and applause from the audience. Probably everyone there, contra Michael Fleischer, was pleased to hear Ellison call them crazy.
Did Ellison mean it? Probably not. He probably knew next to nothing about Houston.
Did he later go to Austin and use the same routine on Austinites? I'd bet the farm on it, because that's what traveling comics do. They tell jokes to suit one audience and then modify them to suit another one."
In many ways Karl Marx is the perfect example of the intellectual who can't see the Moira for the Themis. Here's a man who was exceptionally well-read but whose most sustained piece of literary analysis was a short essay on Sue's LES MYSTERES DE PARIS, a book which might interest some comics-fans in that the novel contains a crusading aristocrat who in general description bears some resemblance to a certain scion of the Wayne Family. Why is this man's etiology of what was later called "mass culture" so persuasive, given that he gives no evidence of knowing anything about the subject?
Marx seems to have known nothing about the demands placed on artists by their audiences, whether those audiences were seen directly, as they were for traveling bards and are still for traveling comedians, or whether the audiences make their pleasures and displeasures known indirectly, as through letters, letter-bombs and other gestures. Instead Marx elides the audience to a greater extent than did any aristocrat or petit-bourgeoise, by the simplistic stratagem of supposing that the ignorant masses have no tastes of their own, but are simply responding according to their training by their moneyed overlords.
Most Marxist literary critics have continued to follow the path of elitist paranoia, with Adorno going so far as to say that even "light art" like folksongs are but a substitute for the authentic art that the bourgeoise keep for themselves. So, even long before the printing press or the television tube, the masses were huddled before their fires, yearning (though they did not know it) for the authentic art of Nabokov, but *forced* to endure the curse of "light art."
"Socrates: In like manner, I want you to tell me what part of justice is piety or holiness, that I may be able to tell Meletus not to do me injustice, or indict me for impiety, as I am now adequately instructed by you in the nature of piety or holiness, and their opposites.
Euthyphro: Piety or holiness, Socrates, appears to me to be that part of justice which attends to the gods, as there is the other part of justice which attends to men."-- Plato's EUTHYPHRO, trans. Benjamin Jowett.
In the above section Socrates, who as he says is about to be tried for impiety in an Athens court, attemtps to get alleged religious expert Euthyprho to define impiety for him. As in most other Socratic dialogues the poor chump Euthyphro is outmatched from the first, but though he isn't able to parse his argument finely enough for Socrates' liking, in the section above he does come close to formulating a sound answer regarding the ways that "justice" can encompass both duties to the gods and duties to men. The formulation carries a significant resonance with Jesus' famous "render unto Caesar" pronouncement from Mark 12:17, even if in that dialogue it's the religious guy rather than the skeptic who wins the argument.
One of Charles Reeces' responses on the comments-thread to SHADOWS AND FOGGY NOTIONS PART 2 brought up a concept that I've always thought seemed partial and poorly conceived: that of "commodification." I asserted that I thought that I thought that what Marxists call "commodification" was better seen as a wider process I term "adaptation," by which I mean the sum total of all actions taken by artists-- or those making artistic works available to any audiences-- that in any way alter or slant the works to make them acceptable to those audiences.
Reece brings up an example of what he calls commodification, but as I told him, I found it suspect, and so won't consider it here. I think I have a substitute example with which he should logically agree, though, since it concerns an injustice done in the name of conservative interests. This example is the story of how representatives of DC Comics squelched an attempt to create the company's first black superhero in TEEN TITANS #20.
The story's told in great detail here, and of course various interviews have come out in the fan press in which no one named seems to want to take the heat for the decision to de-blackify the character of "Joshua." Here's Len Wein's summation of the controversy:
"At the last minute Carmine got gun-shy and was afraid that we wouldn't be able to sell the book in the South and that all these terrible things would happen. So he just pulled the issue and said, 'Nope, we're not going to do it.' This was less than a week before the book was supposed to ship to the printer."
Now, I don't see how any Marxist in his right mind would not consider this an act of reducing a work to what Reece calls a "homogenous substance." Whether Infantino's actions were exactly what Wein said they were is not my concern here: I wasn't there. But someone made it necessary that a character intended to be a black man was made into a Caucasian, and that person was probably motivated by fears of economic retaliation by buyers in the southern United States.
Marxist rhetoric is replete with many, many examples of such hypothetical commodification, a few as worthwhile as the one above, though most are drivel, like Theodor Adorno's ravings against Donald Duck.
However, let us flashforward to 1993, and a different medium. Much racial rhetoric has gone down the pike, and now the company of Walt Disney-- not exactly a stranger to questions of racial impropriety-- puts out a film version of Mark Twain's HUCKLEBERRY FINN, directed by Stephen Sommers.
There was of course no question that the novel's major black character would be played by a black actor, one Courtney B. Vance. No replacements by a Caucasian pinch-hitter here. But how does Vance play the character?
Does he play the runaway slave Jim with the same authentic "Negro" dialect given him by author Mark Twain?
HELL NO he does not. There's not a "massa" or "whuffo" to be heard in the Sommers adaptation of the Twain novel, which is also illustrative of a different type of "adaptational" process. Just as Carmine Infantino may have feared reprisals if he published a black superhero in 1969, in 1993 Walt Disney most likely feared another sort of economic reprisals if they came out with a film with a black man talking in dialectic, no matter how accurate to the times that dialectic would have been.
So my question to Euthyphro Reece is as follows:
Is the latter example also commodification?
Or is it not a greater part of a process of adaptation to a hypothetical audience, even as service to the gods is a portion of the category of just actions?
The insubstantiality of shadows in Plato is his metaphor for the fundamental unreality of the phenomenal world.
For Charles Reece their insubstantiality is the metaphor for the unreality of commodified art.
In real life, however, though shadows are insubstantial, they are not unreal, any more than they correlate only with the bodies whose images they replicate.
In real life, there are no shadows without bodies to cast them--
And there are also no shadows if there is no light. Darkness, yes, but not shadows as such.
What Plato's cave-prisoners see when they behold a shadow is the result of these two real-world phenomena, as it is for anyone else. Plato represents the light's presence as a given, but of course it is not. Every shadow ever formed of the phenomenal world is the result of the interaction between a thing we can see, which blocks the passage of light, and an event we cannot see: the deflection of perhaps millions of light-particles rebounding from the seen thing, thus creating the rough outline of the seen thing.
The shadow thus is what I choose to call an indirect indicator of both the seen thing and the light being blocked by the seen thing.
Does this neglect of a second correlate for shadow-phenomena affect Plato's argument? Not really. From my brief research of the subject it seems Plato had a theory of the visual not entirely removed from ours, though of course he would not been responsible for associating the phenomenon of light with anything like Democritus' particles.
Charles Reece, however, knows of the association, and so he unquestionably knows that any shadow is the product of both light and a body blocking the light. So, whether he would call a shadow an "indirect indicator" or not, he knows that a shadow isn't technically "unreal." He would be on solid ground if he claimed that it was only a poetic metaphor, that he *feels* that commodified artforms are unreal. But given that he's locating the etiology of these artforms as stemming from a "socio-epistemlogical" phenomenon of material "market forces," poetry doesn't solve the problem.
I said earlier that I would rewrite Charles' rewriting, and for that I'll draw on my essay GATE OF THE GODS 4, where I quoted Richard Slotkin's quotation of J.L. Henderson:
"..Henderson (developing a Jungian thesis) characterizes the basic psychological tension [of archetypal myths] as a conflict between "Moira" and "Themis"-- between the unconscious and the conscious, the dream or impulse and the rational idea, the inchoate desire and the knowledge of responsibility"
For Plato and Reece, the things they compare with shadows-- a range of phenomena, a range of artworks-- are rated as insubstantial reflections of something with substance. The irony of the comparison in Reece's case is that one of the two factors necessary for a shadow-- that of light's operations at the particle level-- is itself invisible and insubstantial to common human perception.
I suggest, going along Jungian lines, that what he calls "commodified art," and what I call simply "popular art," only appears as insubstantial as a shadow from the standpoint of "rational ideas," of "Themis." The truth is that for humanity there would be no "rational ideas" without the world of "dream and impulse," the world of Moira, no more easily tracked than the naked eye can track the rebounding of light particles, or, for that matter, see the hurricane wind that bends or breaks the tree.
I suppose I can see some of the appeal of an ideology like that of Marx and his kindred. Marxism gives one the structure that all "rational ideas" seem to impart, but doesn't seem to be dependent on metaempirical entities or principles.
Unfortunately, just as Plato's rational principles undermined his intutions of art, the same applies to Marxism, metaempirical entities or no.
And both, in thinking they have triumphed over shadows, simply become lost in a self-referential fog.
So Widmore found his way back to the island after three years of searching. The writers may not bother with many explanations here, knowing that the Lamppost is a convenient enough explanation. The more important question is, what does he want?
Ben tossed out a cock-and-bull story about Widmore wanting to use the island for profit. But everything Widmore himself has said speaks to a real passion to be back on the island again, presumably as ruler of the Others. By coming back after roughly fifteen years since his exile, does he plan to be judged by "the Monster?" Or is that sort of thing a ritual that has come to an end now that Smokey's making plans to be free? Widmore may be part of those plans, though when Jacob first says, "They're coming" in the Season 5 closer, Nemesis doesn't exactly look thrilled. But was that "they" the same "they" he mentions to Hurley later? (Just to prove the writers are really screwing with us, sometimes Jacob says "he" is coming, sometimes "they.")
One poster on a certain LOST board said he didn't think Ben could reform due to the malign influence of the rebirth pool. I can't prove it but I think Ben is capable of reforming despite the pool's influence, for which we only have Richard's word-- and he may have been going on faulty info given him by Jacob. It's an interesting mirroring: Sayyid, who wants to believe he's a good man but is fairly easily sucked back into the assassination game by Ben, finally gives up and surrenders to Darkness, implicitly for his heart's desire. But Ben, whose protestations of being a "good guy" always have an ironic tinge, may be the one capable of reform. The fate of "Doctor Linus" would imply as much. Also, if Timeline-A Ben is beyond redemption, why did Jacob (according to Miles) hope that Ben wouldn't be corrupted by Nemesis?
Miles seemed to have become less self-interested in earlier episodes, but it may be that we saw his better side because he was working with a guy whose leadership he respected (i.e., Sawyer), but he's still no angel. As with many LOST characters, he has a humongous revelation (hey, my dad was a noble soul and not just an uncaring deadbeat) but you'd never know it. If the Brits invented stiff upper lips, I think LOST has one-uppered them.
I definitely approve of both "crazy Zen Jack" and the notion of Ilana strangely gravitating toward the killer of her surrogate father, insofar as he is forgiveable due to the manipulations of "evil incarnate."
it's almost guaranteed that in the next episode or so we'll finally tie up the last loose end of Season 5, wherein the Locke-Sawyer group of 2004 come across the deserted camp, find an Ajira bottle (Ilana's), steal an outrigger and get pursued and shot at by the group in the other outrigger (Ilana's people).
"...nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to you in life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the whole."-- Marcus Aurelius.
As I've always considered the term "realistic literature" to be an oxymoron, I've naturally taken exception to Charles Reece's overly-simple opposition of the real and the image. I critiqued that GHOST WORLD essay here, and now here's the next (and probably last) sentence from the essay with which I'll concern myself.
"There are plenty who’ve given up the fight, claiming that the shadows on Plato’s cave are reality."
In this sentence Reece rewrites Plato's famous "cave metaphor" in order to illustrate the condundrum of anyone finding "real" meaning in a commodified and hence "unreal" world, and how this paradox leads GHOST WORLD's central characters to affect a pose of ironic detachment. It's unclear from the essay as to whether Reece is criticizing Dan Clowes' characters for purportedly giving up the fight to know Reality from Unreality, but I'm less interested in his interpretation of Clowes than in his rewriting of Plato for the purpose of Marxist dialectics.
There's a certain irony (though not a hypocrisy) in Reece rewriting Plato, particularly part of a Platonic dialogue focused on demonstrating the logically-deduced existence of Archetypal Forms. Whatever Reece's take on Plato generally, his postings on that infamous messboard GoneDowntheTubes.com make clear that he rejects Plato's concept of the Forms, such as this post, where he explicitly claims that the early structuralists "solved Plato's problem" by translating hypothetical metaphysical structures into structures within a "socio-epistemological realm." In short, Charlie don't play those Plato Forms.
The reason this rewriting *isn't* a hypocrisy is simple: every philosopher good or bad rewrites his forbears, and Plato himself was no exception to that rule. However, that rule means Reece's rewrite is equally open to further re-inscription, to wit:
Shadows-- though perfectly workable as a metaphor for "illusion" in poetry-- make a poor metaphor when used in concert with that bloated mass of preconceptions known as Marxist dialectic. According to Stoics like Marcus Aurelius (and possibly Mister Spock as well), one should be open to examining "methodicially and truly" every object one meets in reality, even that which may seem to be an insubstantial phenomenon, like a shadow.
For the fact of the matter comes down to this: shadows exist, and therefore are not unreal.
Certainly one can *feel* that shadows are unreal (within the context of poetry) because shadows are liminal phenomena that have not one but two correlates in the world of consensual experience: one correlate that is easily seen and one that is not. I'll address the one that is not easily seen after analyzing how Reece, following Plato, sticks to a one-correlate system.
In THE REPUBLIC Plato's cave-shadows-- created when creatures or objects pass in front of a fire outside the sightlines of some chained-up prisoners-- have but one correlate: those selfsame creatures or objects. In Plato's schema these shadows align with the ordinary consensual phenomena which all humans experience, while the objects/creatures that create the shadows are a deeper reality behind that apparent reality. That "deeper reality" comes down to Plato's theory of Archetypal Forms.
How does Charles Reece rewrite this metaphor to support his earlier notion that modern society has become a "Society of the Spectacle?" First off, Reece's essay is not concerned with philosophy or phenomenology, but with art. But what kinds of art? Well, "commodified art" is the only kind about which Reece theorizes in this essay, and he directly compares its works to "the shadows on Plato's cave." Again, it's a short essay, so there's not going to be any attempt to define whatever art is contrary to the commodified kind, though the existence of such non-commodified art is certainly implied. Still, even in the absence of such a definition, I feel justified in assuming a parallel:
For Plato, the shadows are the apparently real "things" with which all humans live, and the bodies that cast the shadows are the Archetypal Forms behind those things.
For Reece, the shadows are the insubstantial artworks that support "mass culture," and the bodies that cast the shadows are what Adorno calls "serious art."
More on shadows and the second correlate in Part 2.
Thanks to this post by Sean Collins, I was made aware of two recent online essays on the subject of Jewish fantasy, one by Michael Weingrad at the Jewish Review of Books, where he asks "Why There is No Jewish Narnia," and another by Spencer Ackerman, who replies that "Jewish Narnia is called Marvel Comics."
Sean then asks for responses from critics knowledgeable in fantasy. As most comics-critics try to remain ignorant of the complex histories of the metaphenomenal genres for fear of being labelled nerds or geeks, I guess it falls to me.
Short answer: Weingrad's mostly right, Ackerman's mostly wrong.
As some of Ackerman's respondents do point out in his comments-thread, Weingrad never says that Jews don't write any fantasies at all. He gives ample evidence of other areas of metaphenomenal fiction in which Jewish creators have excelled, not least science fiction, but he stresses that until fairly recently there have not been many who were known for doing so-called "high-fantasy" after the fashion of Lewis, Tolkien, or even (though Weingrad doesn't mention this one) Robert E. Howard.
I would fault Weingrad for not defining his terms for "fantasy" a little more closely, though. Basically "high fantasy" is defined by what J.R.R. Tolkien termed the presence of a "secondary world" which is necessarily based on the author's experience of the "primary world" but which allows greater access to magical phenomena and numinous presences. Secondary-world works fall into three categories:
TYPE 1: the secondary world exists within the remote vestiges of the primary world. This is the type one sees in most ancient epic and romance, ranging from the Gilgamesh Epic to the Arabian Nights to the Morte D'Arthur.
TYPE 2: the secondary world exists completely apart from the author's primary world, having its own independent history and never coming into contact with the primary world. This is the domain of Tolkien and Howard.
TYPE 3: the secondary world has its own history that is independent of the primary world but exists alongside the primary world, and it's possible for characters in one world to 'cross over' into the other. This is the domain of Lewis' Narnia.
Now, even a quick comparison between the generic domain of the superhero-- whether the spawn of the Golden Age or of today-- shows no real points of comparison. Then and now, most costumed superhero stories take place firmly within the primary world shared by authors and readers. Further, though a fair percentage of superheroes invoke magic and numinous beings as sources of power, even magicians like Doctor Strange don't hang their hats in the otherworlds full-time. If Doctor Strange is like any of the high-fantasy types mentioned above, he probably most resembles Type 3. But the wild fever-dream worlds of Doctor Strange are really not secondary worlds with their own histories, as Narnia is.
Science-fictional superheroes like Superman, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, whom Akerman invokes, are even less related to the high fantasy genre. They take their chief inspiration from American SF's articulation of the concept of the mutant or freak given super-powers by science, and have no more relation to any secondary world than does Wells' INVISIBLE MAN.
Comic books in turn took this sci-fi trope and melded it strongly with the trope of the crimefighting crusader as exemplified by earlier ancestors like the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, the Phantom, the Shadow, et al. However, Golden Age heroes dominantly keep their adventures confined to the readers' primary world. Ironically, only one creator of a major superhero figure has his hero come from a Type 1 secondary world, a world he imbued with some consistency of thought like that of the prose authors mentioned, and that creator happens to be a goy: William Moulton Marston of WONDER WOMAN fame!
Further, given that the model for most superheroes was one most strongly influenced by the pulp crusaders and related types, I find it hard to give sole credit for the superhero's development to that small collection of unquestionably talented Jewish writers and artists of the Golden Age. I don't dispute that it's *significant* that these Jewish creators expressed themselves through the genre of the heroic crimefighter. But one cannot see that expression in its own little "pocket universe," so to speak. Unless one can demonstrate that every significant creator of the pulp crusaders was also secretly Jewish-- that means Fran Striker, Kenneth Robeson, Lee Falk, and many many others-- then the genesis of the superhero has to be seen less as a unique Jewish creation and rather as an adaptation of an ongoing pulp aesthetic. Perhaps one can see the comics-superhero world as having been born from the death-throes of the pulp-world, as the antediluvian world is born from the one that God destroys in that other Genesis.
Offhand I can't think of any superhero fantasies that have taken place in Type 2 secondary worlds. The Marvel adaptation of CONAN is almost certainly the first one to have sold well, but most attempts to do original high fantasies in the comics have had at best marginal success.
DYNAMIC (noun): An interactive system or process, especially one involving competing or conflicting forces.
"The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place."-- Aristotle, POETICS.
The "interactive system" of conflicting forces I'll discuss here are "plot" and "character," which Aristotle deems the two most important elements of "tragedy." Certain sections of the POETICS imply that the dynamic between the two applies to other forms of art as well, so I see no barrier to the idea of applying the dynamic to all narrative art, with the caveat that plot may not *always* be more significant than character: just that it is dominantly so because the plot is so often the structure within which the characters' acts are determined, rather than the characters imposing "their" will upon the structure.
In keeping with Aristotle's privileging of plot, Frye's formulation of literary categories is dominantly based upon plot-elements shared by works in the same category. At the same time, it should be noted that one of Aristotle's earliest points in the Poetics-- one which Frye reiterates and reformulates-- is that characters act within the plot according to expectations set up by their power of action, which connotes whether they are average, better than average, or worse than average. So even within Aristotelian theory it's easy to see plot and character joined in an interdependent pas de deux. Thus, despite the natural inclination toward plot-evaluation, the evaluation of character has unquestionable relevance if one desires to separate the dancers and see what each contributes to the dance.
In BUFFY THE MYTHOS SLAYER, my argument was largely plot-based. I focused on the plot dynamics of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER TV series as a means of demonstrating why I believed that it was best placed in the category of the "adventure" mythos, even though the series also demonstrated that it contained substantial elements of the other three *mythoi*: of drama, irony, and comedy. I also made brief mentions of three other serial works which each represented one of the other three *mythoi*, and compared some of their plot-functions to those of BUFFY. These, too, I discussed in terms of how the protagonists functioned within plots typical of those *mythoi.*
However, after I examined the concept I term "myth-radicals" in SUBCATEGORIAL IMPERATIVES, and discerned that there were certain subcategories within these four divisions, it further occured to me that many of the irregularities could be explained as irregularites of either plot or character with respect to the dominant dynamic of a given mythos. As mentioned earlier I chose to focus upon the adventure mythos because (as I can't stress too much) so little of worth has been written about it, but I think my mediations on categories and subcategories apply across the board to all four mythoi.
Explanatory preamble done, I move on to two specific examples of works that seem to belong to the adventure genre but which I label "subagonistic" because they have what I called a "less agonistic value." Here for the first time I'm explicating why the difference may be one either of plot or of character.
My example for character is DOCTOR WHO, as portrayed in his initial 1963-89 series and in the current BBC version. (I disinclude the American-made TV-movie because I just don't remember much about it.) Clearly, in terms of the general range of plots used on both serials, one would tend to believe that it falls within the category of adventure. Like BUFFY, DOCTOR WHO borrows liberally from other *mythoi," most obviously from that of the comedy. But since the generic WHO plot would probably boil down to something like "Those Damn Dirty Colonial Alien Overlords," it's obvious that elements of physical peril take precedence over the dynamizations of the other three *mythoi.*
Yet against the galaxy-spanning might of Sontarans, Cybermen and Daleks we get...
In DOMINANCE, SUBMISSION I concluded with another comparison of Haggard's SHE and KING SOLOMON'S MINES, with the verdict that KSM was a true agonistic work due to its focus on the heroes' winning their battle through armed combat and perservance, while the heroes of SHE, despite a certain formidable nature, basically "get lucky" because their opponent destroys herself. The Doctor is typically portrayed by a male actor who is, for one reason or another, not meant to resemble the typical he-man of adventure-fiction, which is one element that signals the serial's intent to avoid the pattern of dynamization set by those more typical stories. The Doctor, though, does not triumph over his many foes solely by luck-- though on many occasions he is considerably outgunned, and luck is at times invoked as a force that keeps him from being vaporized. But typically, the Doctor fights his foes with the centuries-spanning knowledge of a Time Lord, not with martial abilities. His doctrine is *froda,* not *forza.* This puts him very close to the territory of the typical dramatic protagonist of mainstream science fiction, but in the end DOCTOR WHO is still about external peril rather than internal instabilities, and so it still falls within the category of the adventure mythos, for all that its protagonist lacks the *dynamis* of an adventure protagonist.
Moving on to STARGATE, the comparison of the two strikes me as felicitious, since when I first saw the 1994 feature films I thought of its "colonist alien overlords" plot as being "Doctor Who without the humor." And its plot, too, seems to belong to the category of adventure by virtue of the emphasis on physical peril, while its characters, unlike Doctor Who, are definitely typical agents of *forza:* gun-toting American soldiers and their alien allies who are out to clean up the territories dominated by various overlords-in-gods'-clothing. Indeed, one of the articles in the essay-collection SUPER/HEROES:FROM HERCULES TO SUPERMAN even refers to the star of the first TV series, the Richard Dean Anderson character, as a "superhero."
Yet I find it hard to see these rather unremarkable soldier-boys (and girls) as belonging to the idiom of the superhero.
I considered that this might simply be a matter of taste-- the fact that I didn't care that much for the movie and less for the TV show(s)-- but I dismissed that idea. I'm aware of many, many unremarkable protagonists whom I do see as belonging to that idiom, who possess roughly the same *dynamis* as the STARGATE soldier-boys. To use two othe SYFY-channel serials as counterexamples, I'm not hugely fond of the characters on either SANCTUARY or WAREHOUSE 13. But I can see both of them as having stronger ties to the superhero idiom, even if the heroes are not superheroes per se.
My final verdict, then, is that there's something about the execution of the generic STARGATE plot that edges a little too far out of the bounds of the adventure-story and into those of the dramatic story with adventure-elements. Over time the first serial and its epigoni took on an increasing resemblance to the "starship melodramas" of the STAR TREK franchise. I don't think STARGATE was ever as much about what Faulkner called "the human heart in conflict with itself," as all of the TREKshows have arguably been. But in the STARGATE franchise the adventure-mythos became somewhat dennatured. I view this as a lack of heroic *dynamis* within the overall plot-structure, rather than within the concept of the characters, as it is for DOCTOR WHO.
As I've said before, this basic rule of character-irregularities and plot-irregularities would apply across the board to the other three categories and their subcategories. At present I don't think it's possible for *both* plot and character(s) to be irregular and still deserve to be labeled a part of the regular mythos. For instance, a DOCTOR WHO without the adventurous plot-elements would probably look something more like HITCHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, and so would be more properly termed a comedy.
In this comments-section Charles Reece declined to respond to my criticisms of Adorno and the Frankfurt School, but mentioned that he had done an essay adapting some of Adorno's thought for an essay. Certainly I've no reason to respond to his essay if he doesn't respond to mine, but I will review one sentence from his brief meditation on GHOST WORLD here:
'Just like the rest of us, Enid was born into the media-saturated “Society of the Spectacle,” which makes it damn hard to distinguish the real from its image (“spectacle”).'
Shortest possible response:
Speak for yourself, Charlie.
Elitist critics to the contrary, the "Society of the Spectacle"-- in large part just another take on the term "mass culture," which Reece also uses in the essay-- has always been coterminous with human society. The real elitist objection to this supposed "society" is that because of the rise of a marketplace for popular culture, "spectacle" becomes more central to culture as a whole once the less educated classes are able to choose what cultural artifacts they will support. This is why Adorno and his fellow travelers sought to marginalize the contemporary articulation of popular culture into a "mass culture" supposedly forced upon the masses from above.
And yet, even though Aristotle's POETICS rated "spectacle" as a marginal element of narrative art, scarcely any famed author of the pre-industrial periods-- when aristocratic patronage usually filled in for the mass market-- really scorned the use of spectacle. An author like Jonathan Swift, whom I assume Reece would find agree antedates the rise of Adorno's mass culture, certainly earned his greatest fame by channeling his satire into spectacular forms.
If it can be demonstrated that all of the societies which predate mass culture have no less a hunger for spectacle than the society that lives with a multitude of saturating media, then one must conclude that the hunger for spectacle is not something foisted upon humanity by mass media-- no matter what separate verdict one may render upon the producers of that media.
In raising once more this insubstantial spectre of mass culture's supposed effects upon one's perception of reality, Reece is certainly correct in thinking that this is what Daniel Clowes is trying to get across to his readers. What I object to, of course, is not that Reece is incorrect about Clowes' agenda but that Reece validates it as philosophically substantive.
Clowes' GHOST WORLD is certainly more readable than many of his often-overrated artcomics works, and his theme, even though it's one with which I have no sympathy, is much better expressed than one finds in the labored surrealism of DAVID BORING. But whereas a High Modernist poet like T.S. Eliot had well-articulated reasons for feeling that civilization was sliding into chaos, Clowes is all about shadows. He gives up on the quest for reality and then claims that mass culture made him do it. He's the one who's given up the "fight" that Reece mentions in his next sentence.
Damn, I just indirectly reviewed another sentence. For that I may need a second article re: caves and shadows.
Joseph W. Campbell claimed that he had once been approached by a Hindu scholar who had never been exposed to the Judeo-Christian tradition but was making an attempt to read the Bible. Claimed the Hindu scholar: "I can't find any religion in it."
This is more or less the way I wanted to respond to the seven favored critical pieces listed in this blogpost: "I can't find any criticism in it."
I say more or less because I can't quite discount all of the pieces that received the most votes from the five critics polled. Robert Alter's review of Crumb's GENESIS is a solid work, and so is Eddie Campbell's survey of the Will Eisner PS MAGAZINE military instruction manuals.
I couldn't judge the piece credited to Jog: apparently the link no longer works. And I couldn't finish Andrew Rilestone's wide-wandering meditation on WATCHMEN, though the categorizer in me wonders if this essay qualifies as what Frye calls an *anatomy,* given the essay's tendency to wander from topic to topic.
Tom Spurgeon's essay on re-reading comics was OK, but didn't lead to any meaningful conclusions. Dirk Deppey's criticism of Paul Levitz is just a standard JOURNAL harangue of an industry figure, which is *very* courageous insofar as telling someone else how he ought to have put his job on the line to Do the Right Thing-- or what Deppey thinks (but doesn't prove) to be the Right Thing.
There's not much one can say about an essay that boils down to one more sad little attack on nerds and geeks; one more attempt by TCJ reviewers to convince themselves that they're the only ones sitting at the cool kids' table. This essay's title about their real status won't disabuse them, of course, so in Rilestonian manner I may as well use Crippen's drivel as a jumping-off point to attack better targets.
Wikipedia attracts a lot of brickbats, some of which are justified, but here's a quote from a substantive piece on the Frankfurt School that throws new light on a question I raised in my Adorno essays about his astonishing lack of particular examples:
'The Frankfurt School cannot be fully comprehended without equally understanding the aims and objectives of critical theory. Initially defined by Max Horkheimer in his Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), critical theory refers to a social theory oriented towards critiquing and changing society as a whole. It is opposed to "traditional theory", which refers to theory in the positivistic, scientistic, or purely observational mode. While traditional theory can only describe how things presently are, critical theory takes into consideration whether social realities ought to be.'
This attempt to substitute an "ought" for an "is" says much about Adorno's rigid if often contradictory condemnations of popular culture, as well as his disdain for building a case through the use of the inductive "observational mode." THE COMICS JOURNAL probably is not so uniformly ranged against the "observational mode," but where geeks are concerned, it's always enough to say, "we know what THOSE people are like:"
"A computer expert or a health care expert can say she is a geek because the use for her knowledge isn’t right there in the room. A real geek can say he is a geek because he knows Jedi history or Klingon grammar. The two usages are joined at the back by the idea of pointlessness and disciplined mental activity. But I have to believe that health care data is not really pointless."
Buried amid Crippen's sloppy logic is the old "artists don't convey reality" schtick, which philosophers like Plato and St. Augustine did not stint to use against the artistic works of their respective eras. Proponents of canonical art naturally didn't favor this line of thought, but chose, like Adorno, to promote the notion that true art was beneficial for its "ideas" while trash art, which had no such ideas, deserved to become low man on the cultural totem pole. Given the commitment of critical theory to the project of "changing society as a whole," I suspect its proponents weren't simply committed to exploring the totality of human ideas a la John Stuart Mill, but wanted a specific sort of ideas for their own reformist project. The "critical theory" position may not be postivism but it certainly is utilitarianism.
Speaking of the Big U, I'm surprised Crippen didn't publish his essay on THE HOODED UTILITARIAN, as the piece fairly reeks of utilitarianism (among other things). Crippen does, however unintentionally, go much further than Adornite "defenders of high art" like Gary Groth. Nowhere in the essay does Crippen privilege "true art" against "trash art:" only real pointlessness (a love for trash art) and a discipline that merely appears arcane but actually has real usage, as the use of computer skills in collating "health care data." But given the extreme nature of this dichotomy, there's no reason one couldn't replace "SF/fantasy geeks" with "Shakespeare geeks" or "Beethoven geeks." Going by the Crippen dichotomy, Theodor Adorno himself was a geek, because what he prized and became obsessive about was something of no immediate utilitarian value.
Oscar Wilde said, "All art is useless." I doubt Wilde believed that pronouncement as a matter of faith: it's more likely he framed the aphorism to get people to think a little more deeply on the subject of what art was. As our culture becomes progressively more pluralist in nature, extreme dichotomies reveal themselves as relics of old, outworn creeds and faiths, or as manifestations of a nature far more juvenile than any adult's taste for reading superheroes.
And by the way, though it has nothing to do with dissecting the politics of the fool kids' table--
If anyone reading this blog happens to be on speaking-terms with Gary Groth--
Will you PLEASE tell him to stop representing Gil Kane's work on BLACKMARK and STAR HAWKS as hallmarks of his "independent spirit?" Coming from Groth, who has explicitly regarded Image Comics as an aesthetic waste despite the fact that the artists owned their own works, it's close to hypocritical to view BLACKMARK and STAR HAWKS as being anything but the same sort of formula work Gil Kane did for the big companies.