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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...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THE RETURN OF THE DIMINISHING RETURNS

I stated elsewhere that I was sure THE HOODED UTILITARIAN would give me more grist fot my critical mill. I didn't expect Noah's leaky ark would so soon venture back to the same dead waters it had explored in the post I discussed here. But yes, J. Lamb, not content with having HU link to his elitist and over-politicized reading of the superhero genre, has written his first essay for HU, a 5-12-15 essay with the usual portentous title, "Figures of Empire: On the Impossibility of Superhero Diversity."

I have not yet waded into this Sea of Dead Thought, but I can predict a lot of things I bet I'll find in it.
The mention of "empire" in the title immediately suggests that the author has decided that superheroes represent the extension of the policies of colonial imperialism into post-colonial times, and that this in and of itself taints the superhero beyond all redemption. This means, as discussed in BLACK LIKE ME (HE SAYS), that any person of color who wishes to see himself reflected in a genre made for and by white men is at best self-deluding, at worst similarly beyond redemption.

I will also predict that once again, just as Lamb's earlier arguments did not provide any reason as to why superhero narratives *in particular* required "Whiteness" to function, this one will be the same. There will be no discussion as to why Luke Cage, Superhero, is more inherently demeaning to black people than Shaft, Private Detective or Will Smith's version of James West. Lamb, like his editor, knows that the main readers of HU are comics-fans, not fans of detective stories, westerns, or espionage, so there's no rhetorical advantage in accounting for the other genres. When I tried to point out that lacuna this was a major hole in Lamb's argument, Lamb simply did not answer, while NB simply did what he always did: changing the subject by saying some silly-ass thing about how the other genres were racist too.

A little history lesson:

Back when THE COMICS JOURNAL was a magazine, there was a similar, set-your-clock-by-it condemnation of the superhero genre.  Most of the JOURNAL's anti-superhero arguments were just as superficial as those that have appeared at HOODED UTILITARIAN, and as a onetime contributor I was appalled that Gary Groth, given his claims of intellectual superiority, would accept-- and sometimes write-- such tripe. I couldn't help but assume an ulterior motive. Gary Groth was publishing his own direct-market comic books. The superheroes dominated that market, and so formed Groth's most strenuous competition. Therefore, superheroes were bad.

Yet, given that Fantagraphics did publish several meritorious comic books (EIGHTBALL notwithstanding), I have to say that Groth's elitist tub-thumping may have served a good purpose, even if the essays themselves were full of crap. They were "bad theory," but they made for "good practice," because they galvanized a handful of readers to buy into Fantagraphics' self-adulatory view of its critics as tastemakers. Without Fantagraphics' particular brand of elitist hype, it's quite possible that the company would not have held on to its miniscule niche during the formative years of the direct market.

What "praxis," however, is served by Lamb' simple-minded denunciation of superhero diversity?  In the comments-section to which I linked in BLACK LIKE HIM, Lamb stated that, "Black hero-myths do not inform the superhero concept at all, and that people of color are more than welcome to develop modern narratives from those hero-myths. I'm confident, though, that the characters developed from that process would not be recognizable as superheroes."

Compared to Groth's savage attacks on a genre that he thought impeded the realization of "comics as art"-- an ideal to which he was dedicating his own time and money-- Lamb's ideological position comes off as insupportable pie-in-the-sky (that is, if the pie was filled with ordure). Does Lamb have an example of an ideologically pure Black Hero, or does he have the ambition that he might be the first to create Such a Hero? I think a third possibility the most likely: that Lamb is proposing an unrealized and unrealistic goal simply for the purpose of doing a superiority dance. "Mainstream superhero comics made me feel uncomfortable and marginalized because they always make Luke Cage look like a big dummy, so I'm gonna say that all superheroes are linked to post-imperialist politics, and something no self-respecting person of color should trifle with."

Or at least, I'm predicting that this will be the sum and substance of Lamb's argument. I suppose I'll try to force myself to delve into the discussion soon. But I'll have to hold my nose before I do.

On a side-note, by chance I came across a fascinating condemnation of one of the Hooded Utilitarian essays, written last January. I may force myself to read the original essay under attack as well, though everything that blogger Franklin Einspruch says about the HU writer in question echoes most of the complaints I've been making here about HU's Merry Marxist Marching Society:

someone who doesn't bother to question whether his particularly American and politicized interpretation of the cartoons is correct.
 Unfortunately, the modern tendency in politics is to establish a narrative, presume its truth, and proclaim accordingly. This was perhaps articulated best by Karl Rove when he famously disdained the reality-based community, but liberalism depends on this kind of narrated indifference to evidence as well.
You have revealed grandiose regard for your own interpretive powers, and they have betrayed you. You have demonstrated neither research nor reflection above that would indicate that you ever considered the possibility that something you wrote isn't true. Your political expression is so disengaged from anyone else's actual claims as to be masturbatory. 

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