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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, August 10, 2013


A follow-up post to DEAD-ALIVE HAND OF THE PAST PT. 3.  I posted an early version of that essay elsewhere; this is my response to another party's response.

I've certainly had the same experience you cite: you go back and reread something that held a lot of magic for you as a kid or a young teen, and as an adult you can't see it in the same light.

OTOH, I've also had the experience in which I go back to an early favorite like a Lee-Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR, and even though as an adult I'm aware of more flaws, I'm also aware of subtleties that the younger me missed. So I would say that while the youngster and the adult don't always see the same story, there are some important points of overlap. And those points IMO exist because youngsters and oldsters still desire a lot of the same things out of their fiction: they just desire them in different ways.

I stated it before, but let me emphasize that I don't expect younger critics to idolize earlier work. However, if they have a sincere idea to understand the roots of a genre like the superhero, IMO they need to adopt a methodology like that of the anthropologist: to understand something like THUNDER AGENTS in terms of how it tried to push "entertainment buttons" in its own time. This is hard to do without being reductive and condescending, but I think that it can be done.

Even if Grant Morrison isn't totally successful in translating a juvenile sense of wonder into adult terms-- and that lack of success itself is arguable-- to call it simply "reconstructionist" is the sort of thing that oversimplifies what's being done. The same thing applies to the use of "revisionist' as a mental shorthand for a view critical of genre conventions,. There's already a word for that: it's called "satire." The Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN, however, doesn't really criticize genre conventions: it bends certain conventions in order to convince the reader that he's seeing a brand new realistic take on those conventions.

The idea of "revisionism," in other words, cannot exist without an appeal to verisimilitude. "In real life a superhero couldn't cash a check at a bank because he couldn't show his ID." "In real life a superhero would get his fancy cape stuck in a door and half kill himself." However, verisimilitude can exist quite easily without a revisionist attitude. The Silver Age GREEN LANTERN structures its hero's acquisition of powers with far greater attention to logic and motivation than one sees in the Golden Age GREEN LANTERN, where the hero just gets hold of a barely explained magic lamp and ring and then goes to town.

I can understand critics using specialized terms for periods of creativity. Maybe one could speak of a "reconstructionist" period in comics as academics speak of a "Romantic period" in poetry, even though none of the Romantic poets used such a name for themselves. But I felt Darius was taking his specialized terms too far, transporting them into the realm of abstract concepts rather than historical denotations.

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