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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...

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Before coming to a conclusion on the nature of freedom, I should elaborate on the remark with which I closed KIRBY'S CHOICE:

...Kirby, in doing what his inner nature bade him, rather than simply adjusting himself to fit the contingent circumstances, showed a "will to freedom" that remains exemplary for its time.
In making this statement, I do not want to give the misleading impression that free will is signified only by Kirby making "the right choice."  Free will must be seen as a spectrum of possible choices, which would include not only choosing to exert oneself to the fullest, but also the possibilities of "sluffing off" or even doing nothing whatsoever, at least in terms of continuing to write/draw comics.

I also stated that Kirby's 1950s work for DC Comics looked more like hackwork to me than his work for 1960s Marvel. I said this with full awareness that at DC Kirby was hemmed in by conservative editors and that he was not free to do his best.  But the DC work still represents the kind of work produced when a given artist is ruled by contingency.

It may also be asserted that Kirby might not be the best example of "free will" given that he was a genius, and most toilers in the comics field-- or in any medium, whether "popular" or "artistic"-- are not geniuses.

Consider then the example of Carl Burgos.

Failing some revelation that Burgos had some great Golden Age work that has escaped fannish notice, Burgos' stellar moment in the history of comic books remains his creation of the Golden Age Human Torch.  The early Torch adventures are raucous, unpolished work, and it could be argued that Burgos never fully exploits the fantasy-potential of a man who can turn into flames.  Nevertheless, there are strong mythic moments in the Torch's oeuvre, worthy to stand with anything created by Jack Kirby.

In contrast, here's a Burgos work from late in his career, where it would appear that he had no intention of exerting himself unduly.


"Human thing-a-ma-jig," indeed. Even apart from the use of the name of Fawcett's Captain Marvel-- which may have been the idea of the publisher or any other collaborator-- the art and scripts for the "M.F. Enterprises" CAPTAIN MARVEL are the very definition of hackwork.  The most one can say for this short-lived series is that some modern fans enjoy seeing such a silly-ass character take form.  This is of course an enjoyment popularized by the celebrated "so bad it's good" meme, but this is a pleasure one takes in viewing a demonstrable lack of competence.  In contrast, as rough and unpolished as the Human Torch work is, the appeal of the character and his raison d'etre show a fundamental inspiration. 

Again, this formalist analysis does not erase the possibility that some readers might enjoy CAPTAIN MARVEL more than HUMAN TORCH.  In the first part of KIRBY'S CHOICE I made it clear that there are some fans who prefer "pure Kirby" at all times, over "Kirby in collaboration." And there is no accounting for tastes:

... I pointed out that there was no objective means by which one could prove any group of comics, superhero or otherwise, to be universally "better." The only objective fact is that if many people like a thing, that liking is objective purely in an *intersubjective* sense, as an agreement of tastes between discrete individuals. 

Every expression of personal taste, I suggest, is informed by what I will now dub "proto-propositions."  In attempting to justify my liking of FANTASTIC FOUR over CHALLENGERS, my mind might initially formulate the proto-proposition, "I like The FANTASTIC FOUR better than CHALLENGERS for the emotions in FF."  With conscious thought I can expand this statement into a full-fledged proposition, one phrased so as to show how the FANTASTIC FOUR characters show many dimensions while those of the CHALLENGERS do not, complete with examples and counter-examples to support my propositional logic.  Equally valid is the proto-proposition of a fan who might not like superheroes of any kind: "I like CAPTAIN MARVEL better than HUMAN TORCH because the first one shows superheroes as silly."  This can be expanded into a formal propostion as well, and buttressed with quotes about "masculine incoherence."  But no matter how good or bad the formal proposition, it remains rooted in a "proto-proposition" that expresses whatever validates the individual subject-- a validation I relate to the concept of "constant tastes," elucidated here.

In short, this is about as far as one can get from Kant's notion that valid judgments of taste can be derived from a "disinterested" state of contemplation.  Contemplation is one means by which the viewing subject seeks to bring a new work into his mental compass of things liked and things not liked, and then to decide whether or not the new thing fits better in one category or the other.  But it is not, in itself, a path to any sort of universal truth-- and even *intersubjective* agreements are significant only to the degree one finds their statistical dominance important.

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