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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...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


  1. A child living is in esse, but before birth is only in posse.-- from Your Dictionary's definition of *in esse.*
I should qualify one aspect of my recent screed against the ideological critics who so often cry "fascist" against superheroes, "crime comics," or whatever they find ideologically suspect. Though I think that Frye's "wall of play" usually throws a veil of unreality over popular fiction's usages of violence, there may be cases where the ideological critic's tendency to "cry fascist" may luck onto the real thing.

In my essay TORTURED, PROSAICALLY, I largely defended the trope of inquisitorial torture from the usual attacks on it, but noted two exceptions, in which the television programs 24 and HAWAII 5-O indulged in the trope purely for the sake of showing the hero in the position of doling out violence without restraint. These shows were in part bad because there was no sense that the authorities involved might face any consequences for their actions, and in part because they were, in Sadean terms, stupid and unimaginative. At least when a Mickey Spillane hero tortures someone, there's a sort of brain-fevered fascination with the act itself, and I've often thought that Spillane's ideological posturings were just an excuse to bring about retributive violence. In other words, Spillane, like Sade, esteemed violence for its own sake, not as a means for preserving the police state.

Now, given that I myself unleashed the *in posse, in esse* distinction in this essay, I wondered whether or not this logic could apply in any degree to the argument of the ideological critics cited in WORKING VACATIONS.  Naturally, Adorno, Wertham and the rest don't admit of any exceptions in their characterizations of the American pop-hero. Superman, Sherlock Holmes and Donald Duck (that one's from Adorno) are fascist power-fantasies *in posse,* and they never had the option of being anything else.

I prefer the reverse formula. Batman always employs violence and occasionally utilizes torture, but as long as that "wall of play" is there, he's only a fascist *in esse.* Frank Miller's twist on the theme, in which Batman quite obviously enjoys inflicting pain ("The scream alone is worth it"), plays a darker form of the pulp-hero game as articulated by Bill Finger and his contemporaries, but there is, in my opinion, still a sense of freewheeling fantasy in the mix.

Given the philosophy I've expressed here, is it possible for Batman to be a fascist *in posse*?" I would say yes, though the only story known to me that comes close to being an overt jeremiad is Andrew Vacchs' heavy-handed BATMAN; THE ULTIMATE EVIL, in which the Caped One goes on a crusade against child pornography-- but even this doesn't seem quite as much of an advertisement for the benefits of a police state as the aforementioned 24 and HAWAII 5-O.

My conclusion, then, is that *in posse* fascism is a possibility within popular fiction, but in contrast to the insistence of the ideological critics, it's a rare phenomenon, and occurs only when the creator of the character forgets that he's playing a literary game, and enters the mental state of someone who's using fiction as a means to promote particular means and ends.

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