Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ALAN MOORE, ELITIST NEOPURITAN PT. 2

In my essay STALKING THE SYMBOLIC SNIPE, I offered a view as to how a given reader of a given corpus of works-- specifically, Alan Moore with respect to Ian Fleming's James Bond books-- could form an "untrue response" based on "true causes."  I observed that some elements in those books-- such as the "masculinist" attitude of Fleming-- could have caused Moore to jump the gun in terms of judging the character of James Bond to be filled with "utter hatred and contempt for women."  I also noted that Moore's opinions of Fleming's misogyny could have been triggered not by the books themselves but by Moore's own experiences with "real world misogyny," which he then proceeded to project onto the books.

In the same fashion, it should be obvious from PART 1 that I rate his opinon on superheroes as yet another "untrue response:"

I hate superheroes. I think they're abominations. They don't mean what they used to mean. They were originally in the hands of writers who would actively expand the imagination of their nine- to 13-year-old audience. That was completely what they were meant to do and they were doing it excellently.

Here as well one can discern a "true cause" behind Moore's untrue response.  Moore has often praised the comic books of the so-called "Silver Age," in addition to pastiching them in features like SUPREME and TOM STRONG.  In a 2009 interview, cited here, he went so far in his liking of this period as to divorce it from the "age" that followed: the 1970s, which he was good enough to re-christen "the mud age."  Moore doesn't critique the comics of this period in any detail, except to say that he found them "dull." But perhaps the "true cause" behind this dismissive opinion was that comic books of the 1970s were moving away from the "nine-to-13-year-old audience."

I've stated many times that I think mass-market juvenile-oriented comics lines have gone the way of the dodo. Yet I can appreciate the desire to see more young people enjoy comics in the semi-innocent, imagination-expanding manner characteristic of Comics' Silver Age.  This attitude, I must admit, is more characteristic of the Populist Neopuritans, whom I described here as distinct from their Elitist brethren in that the Populists were still invested in the superhero genre but wanted it to return to the standards of "all ages" entertainment.  That said, I tend to think that Moore, who has foresworn all interest in the superheroes of this age, is not all that concerned with whether or not modern kids are exposed to what he once called "the funny uncle Batman."  Rather.he uses the inappropriate adult-ification of superhero comics as a rhetorical bludgeon against corporate comics-companies, though as I noted in Part 1 he has continued to write adult-ified characters whom some would view as "superheroes by any other name."

But there's a darker side to Moore's panegyric to the Silver Age.


At the end of Part I I noted that Moore's targets of "emotionally stunted readers and corrupt comics companies" were nothing special next to his comments upon the success of superhero films with a general audience.  Those remarks were as follows:

I think it's a rather alarming sign if we've got audiences of adults going to see the Avengers movie and delighting in concepts and characters meant to entertain the 12-year-old boys of the 1950s.
One hardly knows where to begin.  The easiest place, I suppose, is to wonder why in the world he would speak of "12-year-old boys of the 1950s," when most of the successful superhero films of the past ten years were based on characters created either for the 1940s (Superman and Batman) or for the 1960s (Spider-Man, X-Men).  I suppose this lapse could be explained if Moore himself started reading American comics in the period of the 1950s.

The most egregious aspect of Moore's rant, though, is that he tries to extend his condemnation of non-juvenile comics-superheroes to non-juvenile film-superheroes.  While he spends a little time on tarring all adult superhero fans with the same brush-- that they are unilaterally trying to "validate their continued love of GREEN LANTERN or SPIDER-MAN"-- he expends no energy trying to fathom why mass filmgoing audiences, few of whom experiencd any hardcore fascination with comics-characters, should spend their hard-earned dollars on bigscreen versions of kiddie characters.

The obvious solution-- one that I'm sure will never occur to Moore-- is that superheroes are not fundamentally juvenile in nature.  He might, for all I know, choose to agree with those critics who believe that the public's current infatuation is merely a fad, perhaps a reaction to the advancements in CGI technology. But I don't think that the enthusiasm is so transitory.  I think that since the advent of "spectacle films" in the Silent Era, audiences have always embraced larger-than-life heroes and adventures.  Some of these would fit my defintion of the "superhero idiom," while others hew closer to heroic idioms of the isophenomenal mold.  Either way, the film-audience's love of the wildly escapist is nothing new, and Moore offers no reason as to why a GREEN LANTERN film deserves any more censure than a film-- or a comic book-- adapting Jules Verne's  20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

The aspect of Moore's remarks that I find particularly "dark" is the way he has so cavalierly forgotten how marginalized the comic-book medium was because of its association with juvenile entertainment.  For many years comics-fans hungered for films that would translate the icons of their beloved medium into forms that the mass American audience might appreciate.  This transformation of the cinematic landscape finally took place, instituted-- in my opinion-- by Tim Burton's 1989 BATMAN.  That's not to say that acceptance of superheroes in film has brought about universal validation of superheroes generally or even the comic-book medium.  But it has given both more of a cultural cachet than they ever had in the Silver Age, a cachet on which Alan Moore has drawn more than a few times in his career.  If superheroes had remained confined to juveniles as Moore apparently wishes they would have, I find it unlikely that an author as talented as Alan Moore ever would have crafted any works in the superhero idiom.  He might well have become successful for some other works, of course.  But we comics readers would have been denied a substantial number of good "adult superhero" stories.  Which, I guess, would have been okay with Alan Moore.









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