On THE BEAT 5-27-10 I replied to the third question only:
There’s nothing “new” about the question of what superheroes mean, as it goes back to the first hostile commentaries on the genre by Sterling North, Gershon Legman and Doctor You Know Who (no relation to Doctor Who). What WOULD be novel would be to frame the question of what their stories mean in terms of genre considerations, as [other guy who posted on THE BEAT] did above. One can get somewhere by saying that you prefer the way prose sci-fi treats fantasy-concepts to the way superhero comics treat them; that’s a starting-point. But when Spurgeon says that superheroes are being justified only in terms of their profitablity, that’s just a baseless assertion, unless he wants to point to specific comments by fans (“I sure am happy Marvel’s mid-year report was positive!”)
Now, I will qualify the above by saying that though Spurgeon's argument is poorly expressed, I don't interpret his remarks as coming from the old "let's hate superheroes" elitist place. For instance, he says:
Some characters also embody abstract principles that are frequently betrayed by the soap opera elements of twist, turn, shock and surprise. When characters that extol the virtues of great responsibility act in an irresponsible fashion and are rewarded in some way, that can confuse the effectiveness of an idea you're foisting on people as a core strength of said character. If you really think your characters have cultural power, or even iconic status, switching up what makes them that way for some sort of temporary oomph in this year's mega-crossover just weakens your ability to communicate those primary ideas over the long term.
The worst thing about the above passage-- which is pretty much how all the rest of the piece is written-- is the lack of concrete examples to illustrate what he means by "abstract principles," "irresponsible fashion," and "core strength." The rhetorical advantage of providing no examples, of course, is that when one chooses an example, one forfeits generalizing power. If one says, "A good example of this is Ron Marz's GREEN LANTERN," then a respondent can immediately reply that Ron Marz's GREEN LANTERN is more the exception than the rule. Then Spurgeon would presumbaly be caught in a game of "dueling examples" in which, to pursue his paradigm, he'd have to prove that Marz's trashing of GREEN LANTERN is statistically the dominant paradigm.
But though I can understand why Spurgeon might have chosen to avoid getting drawn into this sort of paradigm measuring competition, his argument still collapses if he doesn't provide specifics. Anyone can garner a lot of agreement if he stands in the street and yells, "Things are worse today than they've ever been, right?" But if you want a coherent back-and-forth, you simply have to define terms, no matter how much extra trouble it may be.
Still, in the above quote Spurgeon at least allows for the possibility that superhero stories may actually *possess* "core strength" or "cultural power," which distances him somewhat from the more extreme elitist position of, say, Gary Groth. But here too one needs definition of terms. Spurgeon's next few sentences come closest to doing so:
Santa always stays on message. Superman might consider following Santa's lead.
This isn't much of a definition, of course, though it seems to suggest that Spurgeon associates a character's "core strength" with lack of change of the kind brought on by "twist, turn, shock and surprise." Of course neither Superman or Santa have ever been been icons of Parmenidean constancy; it's just that their changes as icons have been "slow and steady," evolving with the cultural moment, rather than imposed on them by changes in artistic or editorial influences.
Here Spurgeon seems to advocating the tortoise over the hare, just as I showed Theodor Adorno doing in this essay. Here's Adorno favoring the "light art" of archaic times over the "mass culture" produced in his own era:
Whether folk-songs were rightly or wrongly called upper-class culture in decay, their elements have only acquired their popular form through a long process of repeated transmission. The spread of popular songs, on the other hand, takes place at lightning speed.
The logical problem in this preference for slow-changing iconicity over the continual shocks, thrills and chills of "mass culture" (or what Spurgeon calls "soap opera") is that there is no satisfactory way to demonstrate that the former alone can signify "cultural power." From the proper POV, constant Heraclitean change may be as much a part of our culture as Parmenidean semi-permanence. So even though I would not choose Ron Marz' GREEN LANTERN as a fit example of a good Heraclitean soap opera, I think that something like the Wolfman-Perez NEW TEEN TITANS, despite its many flaws, might serve in its place.
In the 1952 essay "Archetype and Signature" (unfortunately not online), Leslie Fiedler explored many of the conflicts between the culture, which seeks to establish icons of semi-permanence, and the artist, who often (if not always) seeks to establish his unique persona through his treatment of said icons. And although Fiedler more or less disavowed the essay in later years, it's the sort of thing that a lot of comics-critics could learn from nonetheless.