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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...

Friday, September 11, 2015


In Part 1 I grappled with the problem of establishing "standards" for Golden Age comics, even with the knowledge that most of them were produced without formal standards in mind. Many creators simply cranked out features as quickly as they could, of course. And even artists and writers who showed conscious care in their work-- Reed Crandall and Fred Guardineer for the first, William Woolkfolk and Bill Finger for the second-- may have been primarily motivated by creating a reputation for being able to produce quality work so as to earn sustained employment.

Yet even with this in mind, I still disagree with the tendency of the bloody comic book elitists to value only the Golden Age work that simply suggests greater sophistication; i.e., the sophistication found in "good literature." This leads to a tendency to lionize, say, PLASTIC MAN, as a sophisticated satire-- which it is not-- and to ignore talents who were formally Jack Cole's equal, but simply didn't come up with a famous character like Plastic Man.

Using Jung's "four functions" as a guide, it's possible to validate Golden Age comics along any of the axes Jung provides: sensation, feeling, thinking, or intuition. Comic book elitists are usually impressed only by works that show evidence of rational activity: hence their general enthusiasm for EC comics, which is strong in both the thinking and feeling departments. In Part 1 I mentioned in passing two Golden Age stories that I found noteworthy from a historical crossover-standpoint: an AIRBOY issue from Hillman and a DAREDEVIL story from Lev-Gleason. No reader could accuse either story of being heavy in terms of thinking or feeling, but both are extremely strong in producing sensational effects. However, though they both boast some interesting myth-motifs, neither one would quite come up to my personal standards for a really complex symbolic discourse, unlike this recent Golden Age selection.

Even with the most pluralistic will in the world, it's likely that one could find within the corpus of Golden Age comics a cornucopia of works that emphasize either the didactic, dramatic or mythopoeic potentialities. So if I were to attempt a list of "the hundred best Golden Age comics," and wanted to keep faith with my system of four potentialities, I'd probably have to list 25 comics that provided the best sensations, the best thoughts, and so on-- much as I did back in 2009, when I decided to list a series of "best movies derived from comics," but wanted to arrange it in line with Frye's theory of the four mythoi, the better to test out that particular line of thought.

However, the fact that I might have search pretty hard through the Golden Age for examples of good symbolic discourse-- far more than I would in the Silver Age-- suggests to me a reigning principle about the priorities of comics-readers in that period-- and perhaps those of all readers of popular fiction in general-- more on which in Part 3.

On a side-note: I'm tempted to mention the high quality of Quality's early BLACKHAWK title to the fellow doing the survey of important Golden Age comics. I will predict here that if I do so, the fellow will either be non-committal on the subject of that Quality title, since so few elitists have investigated it, or disdainful for some non-aesthetic reason-- like, say, because the Blackhawks' uniforms are reminiscent of certain Nazi outfits.


A. Sherman Barros said...

Hi there, Gene,

You wrote "I will predict here that if I do so, the fellow will either be non-committal on the subject of that Quality title, since so few elitists have investigated it, or disdainful for some non-aesthetic reason-- like, say, because the Blackhawks' uniforms are reminiscent of certain Nazi outfits.", and as I was reading it, I was thinking along the same lines. That's how predictable I believe the "elistists" you so eloquently speak of, are.

Anyway, it would be a valuable sociological experiment. And if you do, my bets are entirely on you being right.



Gene Phillips said...

I'll give it a try and report back!

Gene Phillips said...

Well, FWIW, Martin claimed to be familiar with the Blackhawk material, but said that it struck him "cold"-- which isn't a non-aesthetic reason.

A. Sherman Barros said...

Well, can't say I'm really surprised, can I? That bunch have no really aesthetic criteria beyond that of the politically correct mindframe. I bet some of them enjoy some other "inferior" works, but are too hypocrit to admit it in public.

What I find more infuriating is their sanctimoniuous preachings and self-perceived moral superiority. The way they posit their profered values as being unaffected by Time.

Even in a comment in his most recent weekly post, Martin has this to say about racism in Golden Age Comic Books: "I find the racist imagery in Caniff and Eisner irksome for reasons that go beyond the general ugliness of it. You look at how accomplished their work is in every other respect, and you know they’re better than this. When you look at the covers above, the expressiveness of Caniff’s drawing is startling. It puts even the design chops in the Walt Kelly covers in the shade. You get mad at him for bringing down his work in this manner."

It never crosses his mind to see it as an (unfortunate) sign of the times. No, even cultural traits translate a will of the creator to diminish is own work. (Berlatski is no better, expounding tirelessly on how THE BIRDS are a symbol of Hitchcock-as-stalker (patriarchy assaulting women - Tippi Hedren), without bothering to do the leat effort to check the validity of his thesis. If the main actress in BIRDS were to be some other blonde (like Hitchcock's favorite Grace Kelly)would the film be radically different in terms of story, plot or imagery? Not forgetting that Kubrick subjected Shelley Duvall to a similar treatment in THE SHINING - another stalker?)

Well, keep up the good work, as give us something with real content to read, as is your usual standard here (and in your other blogs).



Gene Phillips said...

Hi again, Sherman,

I'd been thinking about posting the following on HU in response to Martin's earlier comment, and your CT decided me to go ahead:

Martin said:

"“As for Blackhawk and ’40s-era Batman, to each their own. They leave me pretty cold. I find the stories even more meh than the stuff from the heroic-adventure features I’ve included.”

So I said:

"So would it be a fair statement to assert that the “heroic-adventure” genre in general doesn’t float your boat much, unless there’s something really exceptional about it, as per WONDER WOMAN and TERRY AND THE PIRATES?"

I don't see how he can deny this, given how much comedy stuff he features, but I can't claim to be a great prophet. I wasn't quite right in saying that Martin would be either totally noncommittal-- as in "I haven't read much of it"-- or oriented on extraneous political concerns, like the uniforms or maybe Chop-Chop. Given the comment you just mentioned, I'm surprised he didn't mention Blackhawk's politically incorrect Asian. At the same time, I wonder how much of the Blackhawk work Martin's actually read. I find Crandall's work on the feature gorgeous, so I can't understand anyone who can appreciate Caniff-- comical Asians notwithstanding-- finding the Crandall work to be "meh." One possible explanation: Caniff may also be more appealing in that his adventure-strip is laced with lots of clever Hollywood-style melodrama, while the Blackhawk stories are more in the vein of straight heroic-adventure-- although one can see Eisner and his collaborators using almost the exact same story-tropes in Blackhawk that Eisner used in the early SPIRIT tales.

That's on a par with your Hitchcock-Kubrick comparison. Sometimes critics aren't aware that they're just repeating the long-held prejudices of their forbears. Hitchcock and Kubrick both use the same tropes-- stories about women in peril-- but only Hitchcock takes the hit for it. SPIRIT and BLACKHAWK use the same tropes, but only SPIRIT is worth looking at. Of course, a lot of critics let the SPIRIT into their canons only on the basis of the postwar work, so if the feature had died in 1944, maybe it wouldn't made anyone's canon on that basis.

I'll probably take a shot at the racism comment in a separate post.