Featured Post

NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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, December 21, 2013

A SHORT HISTORY OF HEROIC FANTASY-ADVENTURE

An adequate history of what I have called "the superhero idiom"-- and which *might* be loosely conflated with "heroic fantasy-adventure" in colloquial terms-- has not yet been written.  For that matter, there isn't even a broad history of adventure as such.  I have heard of an ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ADVENTURE FICTION but I have not sampled it as yet.

If one were to speak of "adventure" in the largest possible sense, such a history would have to begin with the earliest form of human literature: that of mythology.  Not all myths are relevant to the concept of adventure-fiction, but many myth-tales were transformed into epic literature-- the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Odyssey-- and so these stories are at least morphologically relevant.

In the Hellenistic world at least, the epic influenced the related genre called "the romance."  However, most of these are no longer extant, and readers today know best the forms taken by both epic and romance in Western Europe during the medieval and Renaissance periods: the Song of Roland, the cycle of King Arthur stories, and the Norse epics whose roots extended back to the pre-Christian era.  The Wikipedia essay on "chivralric romance" comments that this form lasted until the Renaissance era, where it manifested in famous literary works like Malory's MORTE D'ARTHUR and Ariosto's ORLANDO FURIOSO, but that "by c.1600 [such works] were out of fashion."  From what I can discern, the subject matter of fantasy continued to appear in poetic epic-like forms following 1600 AD, but little of it followed the models of heroic adventure.  Perhaps fittingly, Edmund Spenser's ultraviolent FAERIE QUEENE appears near the end of the 16th century, while the best-known "epic poem" of the 17th-- going by this list-- is indisputably Milton's PARADISE LOST, which deals with many fantastic beings but no "heroic adventure" as such.  In my opinion the most prominent example of a "heroic adventure" poem following 1600 would be Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1855 HIAWATHA.

In these eras plays and prose literature were generally frowned upon in Europe as lesser arts in comparison to poetry.  But while one could find fantasy in many works of the 18th and early 19th centuries, little fantasy seems to appear in stories with a heroic theme.  Examples of such naturalistic adventures include Defoe's 1720 novel CAPTAIN SINGLETON, Walter Scott's breakthrough 1814 historical epic WAVERLEY and Schiller's 1781 play THE ROBBERS.  Even some poets began to emulate these more or less naturalistic "swashbuckling" themes, discernible in some of Byron's long poems of the early 19th century, like CHILDE HAROLD (1812) and THE CORSAIR (1814).  And undoubtedly there were many forgotten novels that trod the same basic territory, particularly the anonymously written "highwayman stories" popular in the 1700s. 


In contrast, fantasy-content did appear in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th, but mostly in satires (Swift's 1726 GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, Voltaire's 1752 MICROMEGAS) and in such newly minted traditions as "the Gothic" (Walpole's 1765 CASTLE OF OTRANTO) or the "modern fairy tale" (Beckford's 1786 VATHEK, Hoffman's 1814 THE GOLDEN POT).  But as I move into the 19th century I still find little that combines the content of fantasy with that of heroic adventure.  The best known adventure-stories of the 19th century's first half tend to be naturalistic, as with Cooper's Leatherstocking saga (beginning in 1823), or Alexandre Dumas' best known works, THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) and COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (1845).  I might make a modest exception in the case of Dumas' CORSICAN BROTHERS, since it deals with twins who feel one another's sensations, but it doesn't seem to have sparked much in the way of imitators.

In the second half of the 19th century, one begins to see an increase in heroes who have at least some loose "uncanny" aspects, as with the 1866 novel LE DERNIER MOT DE ROCAMBOLE, in which the titular character-- not always a "hero" in every sense of the word-- encounters a cult of Thuggee.  But it would seem that the success of Jules Verne's "scientific romances" had the greatest effect in terms of combining the elements of fantasy and adventure, though one may argue as to how much "heroism" appears in novels like 1864's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. 

In Peter Coogan's critical work SUPERHERO: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF A GENRE, Coogan sees the strongest precursor to the superhero in the fictionalized adventures of so-called "real monster," Spring-Heeled Jack.  Not all of Jack's fictional appearances were in a heroic mold, however. 

My own nomination for the greatest influence on "heroic fantasy adventure" in the medium of prose would be the so-called "edisonade," a genre associated with heroic young boys using new technological weapons in their adventures-- and of which the earliest example is 1868's THE STEAM MAN OF THE PLAINS. I confess I have not read this dime novel, but here's a section from the Project Gutenberg transcription, in which the titular Steam Man is used to disperse a horde of hostile Native Americans menacing the heroes:

'When it blows up, run!' was the admonition of the boy.

The steam man was turned directly toward the wall, and a full head of
steam let on. It started away with a bound, instantly reaching a speed
of forty miles an hour.

The next moment it struck the bowlders with a terrific crash, shot on
over its face, leaving the splintered wagon behind, and at the instant
of touching ground upon the opposite side directly among the
thunderstruck Indians, it exploded its boiler!

The shock of the explosion was terrible. It was like the bursting of
an immense bomb-shell, the steam man being blown into thousands of
fragments, that scattered death and destruction in every direction.
Falling in the very center of the crouching Indians, it could but make
a terrible destruction of life, while those who escaped unharmed, were
beside themselves with consternation.

This was the very thing upon which young Brainerd had counted, and for
which he made his calculations. When he saw it leap toward the wall in
such a furious manner, he knew the inevitable consequence, and gave
the word to his friends to take to their legs.

All three dashed up the bank, and reaching the surface of the prairie,
Baldy Bicknell took the lead, exclaiming:

'Now fur the wood yonder!'

As they reached the grove, one or two of the number glanced back, but
saw nothing of the pursuing Indians. They had not yet recovered from
their terror.

Not a moment was to be lost. The experienced eye of the trapper lost
no time in selecting the very best Indian horses, and a moment later
all four rode out from the grove at a full gallop, and headed toward
the Missouri.

In this scene I see an interesting parallel to the superhuman character of Talus, a sort of magical "iron man" who appears in Book Five of Spenser's FAERIE QUEENE and slays adversaries right and left.  But STEAM MAN is even more suggestive as an anticipation of the thrill later readers would gain from fantasy-stories portraying similar scenes of heroic chaos--  Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 PRINCESS OF MARS with its superhuman hero, the space operas of the science fiction magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, and of course Siegel and Shuster's SUPERMAN.

This is not to say that I'm defining all "heroic fantasy-adventure" with scenes of marvelous technology, given that I've included both THE CORSICAN BROTHERS and ROCAMBOLE as relevant figures as well.  Other relevant-but-not-marvelous figures of the 19th century would also include  1885's Allen Quatermain, 1886's Nick Carter, and 1887's Sherlock Holmes.  But I've covered my rationale for these inclusions in other writings upon the topic of "the metaphonomenal" and won't repeat myself here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

THE CANONIZATION OF SAINT JACK



I suppose the Lee-Kirby debate is one of my hot buttons, given that I've so often criticized the tendency of fans-- and some pros-- to always assume the worst of Lee and the best of Kirby, no matter what the circumstances.

On the same Alan Moore thread that got me started on his neopuritan tendencies, one fan enthusiastically echoes Moore's (largely ignorant) putdowns of Stan Lee in a separate panel-interview.  That fan then went on to rave about how awfully Lee wrote women, with particular reference to FANTASTIC FOUR and the portrayal of the Invisible Girl.

This incredible lapse of logic having been a bone in my throat for some time, I responded-- despite knowing the hopelessness of arguing with a righteous fan:

Say that I agree to the proposition that Jack Kirby wrote everything in FANTASTIC FOUR and Lee added nothing but dialogue. That means everything drawn on the page follows Kirby's storyline, not Lee's.

That means that when we see Sue storm away from Reed in a snit because she's sick of being a superhero, that's all Jack Kirby.

When we see See faint dead away before an adversary even hits her, that's all Jack Kirby.

When we see Sue in an apron, serving all the guys at the breakfast table instead of telling them to serve themselves, that's all Jack Kirby.

But please-- by all means regale me as to how Stan Lee manages to change all of Kirby's art-sequences with his evil misogynistic dialogue. I can't tell you how fascinating I find such reasoning.

As of today, I got no substantive responses, nor do I suppose I will get any in future.  The tendency to make Jack Kirby "the hero" and Stan Lee "the villain" will probably continue, world without end, until no one reads comics of any kind any more.  Until that time, it doesn't matter if it's some barely educated forum-fan pissing on Lee to make himself feel powerful, or a pseudo-intellectual telling people talking about "the Logocentrism of Stan Lee."  History, as Captain Kirk famously said, has made its judgment-- and yes, it's not even as sophisticated as the theme of a STAR TREK episode.

The most fatuous aspect of portraying Lee as the arch anti-feminist is, of course, that both he and Kirby, together and separately, did a number of stories that could be equally critiqued in this manner.  To say this is not to denigrate Jack Kirby.  Far from being the plaster saint that so many fans have made of him, he was a human being, and like Lee, a man born before feminism had much influence on the shaping of hearts and minds.  I would think it strange if he were such an angel that he never quarreled with his wife and then wrote a story in which women didn't come off well-- or just made observations about feminine nature that an ardent feminist might not like.



By the way, most of the un-feminist things I describe Kirby's art doing with the Sue Richards character come either from right before her marriage to Reed or right after.  I theorize that when Kirby decided to have Sue rail about not wanting to be a superhero any more because "I'm a woman," that this was his sincere belief that a woman might say something like this close to, or following on the heels of, her first marriage.  Even though Stan Lee wrote the specific dialogue, and might have even agreed with Kirby on that score, there's no reason to think Kirby did everything modern fans liked and Lee, like some sort of sin-eater, simply absorbs the guilt for their joined endeavors.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

DOES PHILOSOPHY HAVE A SHELF-LIFE?: PT. 2

At present I don't know if I'll have time to finish both the Bhaskar and Skidelsky books at the same time, as I suggested I might in Part 1.  However, since in that essay I noted how Bhaskar's take on modern scientific paradigms might undermine Skidelsky's idea of Cassirer being outmoded, I found a second line of comparison that gives Skidelsky the upper hand.

In his attempt to form a new philosophy for science, Bhaskar distinguishes three possible approaches.  One is that of "empiricist realism," spiritually allied to positivists like Comte and Mach. A second is that of "transcendental idealism," a term coined by Kant and which Bhaskar applies to all post-Kantian views of science.  Bhaskar, an advocate of a system he terms "transcendental realism," is sympathetic to Kant's attempt to get beyond the limitations of the empiricists but believes that the Kantians tended to subsume all of nature in terms of human perception.

Both transcendental realism and transcendental idealism reject the empiricist account of science, according to which its valid content is exhausted  by atomistic facts and their conjunctions. Both agree that there could be no knowledge without the social activity of science.  They disagree over whether in this case there would be no nature also. Transcendental realism argues that it is necessary to assume for the intelligibility of science that the order in nature discovered in nature exists independently of man.  Transcendental idealism maintains that this order is actually imposed by men in their cognitive activity." -- p. 27.

But is that what Kant himself actually believed?  Not so, according to Skidelsky.  As a preface to dealing with the philosophy of Cassirer, he provides first a grounding of the German Marburg School in which Cassirer was schooled.

Kant himself had defended Newtonian physics against the skepticism of Hume by grounding it in what he called "pure consciousness..."

 The problem, according to Skidelsky, was that subsequence advances in science could no longer be subsumed under Kantian concepts, causing neo-Kantians-- not Kant himself-- to view the order of science to be one "imposed by men:"

[In the Marburg school] The object-constituting function is transferred from Kant's transcendental subject to the evolving practices of physics.
And:

Thus could the Marburg school reconcile the nineteenth century recognition of radical historical variety with the eighteenth century ideal of absolute truth.

Whether I will come to agree with Skidelsky that Cassirer's Kantianism is similarly conflicted remains to be seen.

On a side-note, I mentioned the philosopher Mach above.  Bhaskar mentions Mach only in passing, but Skidelsky provides a fine overview of Mach's contributions to the philosophy of science, arguing that he, rather than the better known Comte, has far more impact on the formation of positivistic currents.

Friday, December 13, 2013

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRICITY OF THE NARRATIVE

In EGO, MEET AFFECT I adapted the aforesaid terms, presented by C.G. Jung in PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, for the purpose of applying them to narrative:

I suggest that the distinction between a psyche being "ego-oriented" or "affect-oriented" also applies to narratives.

In that essay I illustrated this difference in orientation by comparing two famous Rider Haggard novels, but both novels contain just one focal character who is either the center of all "ego-oriented" or "affect-oriented" narrative attention.

Prior to that essay, I had discussed in some detail the concept of the "ensemble," here and here.

ENSEMBLES ASSEMBLE established simply that it is possible for a work to possess two or more "focal presences," who may work as a team (the two alleged vampires in 1935's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, various superhero groups) or may be utterly opposed (1934's THE BLACK CAT, 1968's WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS).  The latter is an important point in that the concept of "mortal enemies" pervades most if not all literary genres in one way or another. Usually either a "hero" or a "villain" alone is the focal presence, just as one sees with the examples from Haggard: the "heroic" Allen Quatermain and the "villainous" She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. 

It's usually easy to identify when a team of heroes- or even demiheroes-- constitutes the narrative's focal presence: they're often the featured characters with whom the reader identifies in an "ego-oriented" manner. Villains and monsters, who are dominantly types set against the welfare of a given community, are usually treated like "She," as fascinating affects, but they don't tend to form "teams" quite as often.

In CREATOR AND CREATED ENSEMBLED HE THEM I set forth my meditations regarding several famous interdependent "creator-and-created" characters from the horror genre: Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Frankenstein and his monster, and Doctor Moreau and his beast-men.  Though all are "affect-oriented" types, I determined that only Frankenstein and his monster shared "ensemble status" in their original appearance. Stevenson's original Mister Hyde was a "created" being who did not share ensemble status with his creator Jekyll, while to the contrary monster-maker Doctor Moreau was the sole focal presence of Wells' novel, with the beast-men rating as no more than "excresences."  However, I also pointed out that any of these narrative arrangements could change in an adaptation of the same characters, and provided the example of the Universal Frankenstein series, which tended to emphasize the Monster far more than the creator.  Other critics have pointed out that the Hammer Frankenstein series pursued the opposite strategy.

Now, as to my method of making those determinations, I must admit that I deem this a "pure deductive" judgment that cannot be proved analytically.  This sort of judgment is not notably different from most judgments about literary structure and/or merit.  The closest I can come to concretizing this abstract process is to say that the thing that makes one or more characters occupy the imaginative center of a story may be best compared to the crossing of a threshold, a metaphor I used earlier here.

During the last year, in my reviews on my movie-review blog, I've been pursuing with some diligence the nature of that subgenre of horror/SF called "the giant monster film."  Almost without exception, any time there is but one giant monster in the narrative, it will be affect-oriented, as I wrote with regard to 1933's KING KONG.  The same dynamic applies to Kong's most successful cinematic imitator, GODZILLA.

However, the original Godzilla series shows far more variability than either of the aforementioned Frankenstein series-concepts.  In the first sequel to the original GODZILLA, the script instituted a practice derived from the 1933 KING KONG but different in its permutations. Just as King Kong battled assorted giant monsters who did not share "ensemble status" with the titular monster, in  GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN the Big G fights a second monster, one Anguirus.  I doubt that anyone would question that Anguirus plays a secondary role in this role, that he does not enjoy ensemble status.

However, the very next Godzilla film creates a team of "mortal enemies" who do share that status, and I remarked on this in my KING KONG review:

Some "affect-oriented" works even offer two focal presences for the price of one, as in Japan's 1962 KING KONG VS. GODZILLA

The same was true of the next Godzilla entry, MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA, even though structurally speaking the film seems more of a sequel to the first MOTHRA.

The next two films in the series presented the first "monster teams" in the series, with the narrative interest in the ensemble consisting of Godzilla, Rodan, and (in only one of the two films) Mothra, as they battle against common enemy Ghidrah. Afterward the original "Showa" series varied between using Godzilla as a "solo star" opposed to some other monster or monsters, or teaming him up with either a new character or with an old standby.  Even Anguirus, who was a simple monster-antagonist to Godzilla and was killed off in his first outing, was revived to serve as part of an "all-monster squad" in 1968's DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and even becomes part of a two-monster team with his old enemy the Big G in 1972's GODZILLA VS. GIGAN.



In contrast to this practice by Japan's Toho Studio, most American studios, when they were doing giant-monster films at all, confined themselves always to the pattern of having just one giant affect-oriented creature who had to be destroyed by story's end.  Only the fantasy-films of Ray Harryhausen and a few imitators attempt to create "monster mythologies," though none of these were employed for more than one.  Arguably the culture of the Japanese, given their polytheistic heritage, may have provided more fertile ground for such mythologies than any comparable attempt from the United States or the handful of European countries that contributed works to this subgenre.

Monday, December 9, 2013

DOES PHILOSOPHY HAVE A SHELF-LIFE?

I've started two books and am tempted to alternate chapters in each to see if they comment on one another.

Edward Skidelsky begins his 2008 book ERNST CASSIRER: THE LAST PHILOSOPHER OF CULTURE by stating how his opinion of the German philosopher altered over time. In his first draft of his book Skidelsky advocated Cassirer's goal of finding the unity of all human endeavors into terms of their value as "symbolic constructions."  However, in the finished version of the book, Skidelsky confesses that he changed his mind: that he somewhat devalued Cassirer because the philosopher "did not see what Heidegger and many others saw so clearly: that the secular idols of humanity and progress were dead."

While I can admire Skidelsky for having subjected his early enthusiasm to further analysis, I have to ask: are such ideals as "humanity" and "progress" capable of being entirely superseded?

As a countervailing opinion, here is Roy Bhaskar in his REALIST THEORY OF SCIENCE:

...in one science after another recent developments, or in some cases the lack of them, have forced old philosophical problems to the fore. Thus the dispute between Parmenides and Heraclitus as to whether being or becoming is ultimate lies not far from the center of methodological controversy in physics... Sociologists are making increasing use of the allegedly discredited Aristotelian typology of causes.  And the problem of the universals has re-emerged in an almost Platonic form in structural linguistics, anthropology and developmental biology.

My readings into both books thus far indicates that both authors are experts in their respective fields, with, I confess, far greater knowledge than I regarding the history of philosophical developments.  But Skidelsky's contention that a given concept can be disproven and shown to be outdated strikes me as one that runs counter to my convictions regarding intersubjectivity.  I cannot personally verify any of Bhaskar's statements about the revivification of archaic philosophical concepts within the context of modern science. But it seems logical in that human intelligence cannot be quantified as a set of either/or propositions; rather it is a continuum, one fueled by the endlessly variety of human enthusiasms.  To the extent that Aristotle is a human being, and so is a given sociologist, it is always possible that a concept of Aristotle will find resonance within another human being's conceptual apparatus.

This is obviously relevant to me in that my critical project takes considerable fire from intellectuals who are no longer in fashion: Frye with his myth-criticism, and the Cambridge myth-and-ritual school that influenced Frye.  Obviously I do not think that they are "outdated," as I imagine most comics-critics would contend, to the extent that they would think about the matter.  But the more salient point is that no structured concepts-- even those I don't like, such as the Marxist myth of equality-- ever truly die.

Until the day that everyone thinks and perhaps looks alike, all of us will forever whore after gods our fellows consider "strange."

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.









Tuesday, December 3, 2013

ALAN MOORE, ELITIST NEOPURITAN

On 11-20-13, Alan Moore gave an interview to THE GUARDIAN in order to advertise his upcoming work FASHION BEAST.  I for one would have preferred that the interviewer leave out all references to Moore's opinions on superheroes, since they're generally ill-informed.  But of course the question was asked and Moore responded in his usual fashion:

When I mention that Geoff Johns has done a whole series of Green Lantern based on his story "Tygers", he gets tetchy. "Now, see," he says, "I haven't read any superhero comics since I finished with Watchmen. 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. These days, superhero comics think the audience is certainly not nine to 13, it's nothing to do with them. It's an audience largely of 30-, 40-, 50-, 60-year old men, usually men. Someone came up with the term graphic novel. These readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal. This is a significant rump of the superhero-addicted, mainstream-addicted audience. I don't think the superhero stands for anything good. 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."

I'm not sure that I recall Moore having gone on record as to saying superhero comics were intrinsically juvenile, but it's hardly surprising.  I must assume that he's using the term "superhero" in a restrictive manner, as in "only the characters with costumes and/or powers."  Only with such a definition would he be able to make that statement while continuing further problems with various "science heroes" in his LEAGUE-related books, whose principal phenomenal difference from superheroes is that they do not wear costumes.

In any case, this position allies Moore with a subspecies of "Neopuritan" that I described in this essay:



On one hand, we have Elitist Neopuritans like Gary Groth and Dirk Deppey. Their base conviction is that superhero comics should not include adult levels of sensational material because superhero comics are for kids. Extreme usages of sex and violence should be for the sort of reading material aimed at actual adults, though to be sure the usage of such sensationalisms in "trash fiction" aimed at adults, such as Mickey Spillane, will usually reap the same contempt shown to the "kiddie" superhero stories.
Moore's animus for "adult pulp" superheroes clearly follows the same line of thought.  Superheroes can only be for kids, because form follows function: all that they can do is"expand the imagination of their nine-to-13-year-old audience."  Older superhero fans are therefore abnormal in their attachments to the genre. Naturally Moore does not dwell on the extent to which older superhero fans purchased his works within the "formal" superhero genre: not just WATCHMEN, but also VIGILANTE, WILDCATS, SUPREME, and (arguably) TOM STRONG. 

What most astonishes me about this fulmination, though, is his issue with the success of superhero films with a general audience, which would seem to have little if anything to do with his usual targets: emotionally stunted readers and corrupt comics companies.  I'll expand on this topic in Part Two.