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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...

Monday, June 29, 2015

1001 COMIC-BOOK NIGHTS: A RESOURCE

I labeled a number of posts with the tag "1001 myths," even if those posts didn't contain actual myth-analyses. By so doing I ended up making more work for myself, since my current project requires a numerical list of said analyses. In addition, there are many posts in which I did myth-analyses not originally labeled as "1001 myths. If, in retrospect, any of these fit my current criteria, they will be added to the list after the fact.

I'll pursue the same logic with regard to listing my "inconsummate myths," in that I'll look at earlier analyses of comics that failed the "mythicity test." At one point I conceived, but did not make much use of, the term "null-myths," coined with reference to mathematics' "null sets." All of the analyses that deal with works that utilized something with mythic potential but failed to "consummate" said potential

Here's the original twenty-six:

1. ACTION COMICS #1-2, first appearance of Superman.

2. BLONDIE #150.

3. CEREBUS #298-300.

4. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

5. ELFQUEST 1-20.

6. FANTASTIC FOUR #8.

7. GREEN LANTERN #16.

8. "Judgment Day," HEAVY METAL (1981).

9. INCREDIBLE HULK #1.

10. JAR OF FOOLS.

11. KAMANDI #30.

12. LADY SNOWBLOOD.

13. "Mickey Rodent," MAD #19.

14. NEW MUTANTS #62.

15. "The Lamb, Resurrected," ONE POUND GOSPEL.

16. "Woozy Winks Detective Agency," POLICE COMICS #20.

17. QUESTION #17.

18. RED SONJA #1.

19. "The Curse," THE SPIRIT.

20. "Lower Berth," TALES FROM THE CRYPT #33.

21. "A Good Catch," URUSEI YATSURA.

22. VOID INDIGO 1-2.

23.WONDER WOMAN #1

24. XENOZOIC TALES #8.

25. YUMMY FUR 1-18

26. ZATANNA 1-4..


And here are the new inductees:

27. JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #59.

28. "The Enchantress and the Executioner," JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #103.

29. INCREDIBLE HULK #142.

30. VISION OF ESCAFLOWNE 1-8.

31. "The Sea Circe from Space," THE JAGUAR #3.

32. CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.


Now here's the "null-myths," which may or may not ever reach 1001:

1. BLACK PANTHER #1 (Kirby), in part 1 and part 2

2. "The Secret of the Sorcerer's Box," SHOWCASE #6.

3. THE MAGICMAN ARCHIVES.

4. WANTED.


Only 969 to go...




Saturday, June 27, 2015

RE-ASSESSING THE ARCHIVE

I've been maintaining THE ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE for a little over seven years now. I've never expected it to be popular on the Internet, given that in many ways it's been a notebook in which I could work out my unabashedly abstruse theories.  Even my waspish challenges to various 'Net critics have been,  for me, elements in necessary elements in the grand scheme.

While I haven't precisely formulated any "Key to All Mythologies and Literature," I have made significant inroads in the construction of such an inclusive theory. I anticipate that I could go on for years, exploring the intricacies of thought that have been borrowed from, or influenced by, such giants as Schopehauer, Nietzsche, Jung, Frye, Cassirer and many others.

But theory alone isn't enough, if the theory can't be put into practice. And for that purpose, I need to create more reviews to illustrate various aspects of my theory. 

About four years ago, I posted JUST THE FIRST MYTHIC MONDAY, a prelude to a series of 26 comics-stories. I had played with the notion that I ought to be able to discern at least 1001 comics-stories that possessed the symbolic complexity of archaic myth. Just for the fun of it I decided to see if I could do one for each letter of the alphabet, before deciding whether or not I would do more. I certainly had some thought about attempting to garner new readers through the use of a regular "special feature:"

...Monday will be the day that any interested party can check in and be reasonably sure that something will have been added. I have no idea whether or not any 'net readers will be interested enough to do so, but I'm cognizant that periodicity is just as important to online readers as Wednesday is for comic-shop customers.

When I didn't get many posted responses, I decided that either (a) the topic, or my presentation of it, did not attract comics-fans to check out this feature, (b) such fans didn't really want to read summaries and analyses of comics-stories, usually with no more than one illustration-excerpt. To the extent that fans wanted to explore such narratives, they wanted either to read the whole stories, or enough excerpts to make them feel like they'd read them. Since I didn't get the response I coveted, I didn't bother to go back to the topic, except on rare occasions, like my recent analysis of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. This was to some extent a response to a comment here from my correspondent AT-AT Pilot had wondered if I might try to apply my NUM theory to comic books. I responded to him on this particular point in NUM-INOUS COMICS, asserting that it might be tough to say anything meaningful about the comics medium in terms of that particular theory. However, in recent months I've been debating about reviving the "1001 myths" project as a means of illustrating many different aspects of the Gene Phillips "Anatomy of Criticism."

I have to admit that another influence is THE HOODED UTILITARIAN. The theories expressed on that site hardly ever stray from those two comforting critical teats named "Karl" and "Sigmund." But if a reader wants a site full of comics-reviews that are rooted in ultraliberal politics, HU has a lot of them. I argued here  that I don't conceive of "plenitude" in terms of political correctness or even debates about ethical values:

Plenitude for me is the interdependence of [human] senses with the [human] mind's first attempts to understand [sensory input] through symbolic action.
So, if I really want to demonstrate that my view of human plenitude is superior to that of HU, the Comics Journal, and others, the best response is probably not through my argumentative attacks-- fun as those may be-- but through focusing upon the texts themselves, the texts that the "bloody comic book elitists" feel free to misread.

The question then becomes, what is the best means to address the plenitude of comics? After being a fan of the medium for over forty years, and after reading widely in both fiction and non-fiction, I have no doubt that I'm capable of creating the comics-medium's version of "the Library of Apollodorus." I'm capable of devoting time to the project-- but what's the best approach?

I still like the format I premiered here, in which I summarized the narrative to be discussed and then launched into a "mythanalysis," devoted to sorting out the subtler symbolic elements of the stories. However, this format is very work-intensive, and I anticipate that I might get burned out on it pretty soon, especially since there probably won't be a lot of response, if any, to the project. I'm contemplating something more along the lines of the popular TV TROPES, though maybe with a wee bit more critical analysis.

Starting the week of June 28-July 4, I will start posting at least one review of a comic book that meets my criteria for being "mythic." I would like to do two, but that may not be realistic. It's also occurred to me that it might be instructive to post not only an analysis of a consummate "myth-comic," but also one of an *inconsummate* story. Such stories make good counter-examples, in that they will possess myth-elements-- as do all narratives, by virtue of being narratives-- but the story uses them poorly or not to their greatest potential. It might also serve to make clearer that I don't regard "mythic complexity" as some sort of rapture that descends upon the writer as from heaven. Some raptures result only in babbling, while others culminate in a poetry that transcends all the Babel-like confusions of language. 

The very next post, however, will be devoted to enumerating just how many stories I've covered in the "1001 myths" mode, even if they didn't appear in the 26-part "Mythic Monday" project. Also, this time I'm not going to worry about whether they appear on a particular day of the week


ADDENDA, 7-9-15: For each forthcoming "mythcomic" essay I'll include a tag that references which Campbellian function are invoked by the mythic elements, so that each essay will sport at least one of the following: "cosmological myths," "metaphysical myths," "psychological myths," and "sociological myths." This is the same critical regimen I adapted for my movie-reviews on NATURALISTIC! UNCANNY! MARVELOUS!, where I explained my rationale in more detail. As for the 30-plus "mythcomics" that I've listed in the following essay, even I'm not obsessive enough to assign Campbellian functions to these.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

ULTRALIBERAL LYNCH LAW




The only pleasant thing about ultraliberal lynchings, as compared to ultraconservative lynchings, is that the former are generally content with killing nothing more than reputations. (Here is an example of one from 2013, albeit one better known to the general public.)

Of course, if you're in a financial league with Joss Whedon, you can afford to ignore the Internet's hanging-judges and their sycophantic juries. Going by Whedon's own remarks, he's been attacked many times by all sorts of  nutbars, presumably ultraconservatives as much as ultraliberals. However, in recent months the comics-related blogosphere generally-- and the Hooded Utilitarian particularly-- have conceived a new fascination for finding ways to take superficial pot-shots at Whedon. In all likelihood this "meme," as I choose to call it, has come about because of Whedon's alleged marginalization of the Black Widow character in AGE OF ULTRON, which I discussed somewhat in CURSE OF THE BLACK WHEDON-TWEETS.

One of the more ludicrous volleys appeared in April: Noah Berlatsky's BE WHITE OR EXPLODE. Given that the essay is two months old, I suppose it's "old news"-- though maybe not quite as old as writing an essay on a single episode of a television series; an episode that debuted a little short of two years ago, on 9-24-13.

In keeping with his standard practice, NB does not analyze the whole episode; only the part of it that he considers ideologically retrograde. The interested reader can wade through it if he pleases, but it boils down to the fact that (a) the show starts out with a working-class black guy performing an act of heroism, (2) NB's thunderstruck realization that the black guy is not the show's hero, but a "schlubby plot point." and (3) NB's criticism of the show for not spotlighting enough people of color.

I consider this muddled argument a "lynching" because hanging-judge Berlatsky conveniently ignores any evidence that might conflict with his prosecution of the show's producers for the crime of not being ideologically advanced. He's particularly annoyed that the episode's one black character is shown as being out of control (hence, ready to 'explode") while the mostly white guys are controlled and in control. (The presence of an Asian female in the SHIELD team is supposedly nullified by the allegation that she's a stereotype, which, even if it were true, would be pretty much impossible to demonstrate in one episode.)

I'm not a fan of AGENTS OF SHIELD (henceforth AOS), for reasons I won't explore here. Nevertheless, it's clear that the show isn't going to get a fair hearing in any court that watches only one episode-- or a court that automatically condemns said show for not having enough POC in one episode to suit the judge. It's significant that even after a correspondent informed Judge Berlatsky that one of the regular, apparently Caucasian characters was actually biracial, he simply inserted that datum into the essay as written but declined to let that fact cause him to reverse his judgment. AOS showed a character named Mike Peterson, who happened to be black, getting pacified with a tranquilizer gun, so therefore this escapist teleseries can be implicated into all the real-world narratives about criminalizing black men (Trayvon Martin is mentioned twice).. Never mind that Peterson, as written, could have been as readily played by a white actor as by a black one. Never mind that the first season's episodes quickly established that Peterson was the only one of several persons who received the destructive super-power treatment. Never mind that SHIELD is responsible for Peterson living through the experience, and that any moral umbrage regarding Peterson's destructive actions is clearly not directed at him acts but at the fiends who experimented on him-- at least some of whom were also white.  AOS is automatically guilty by association-- even though it's an association that's only in the judge's mind, that might read something like, "any disempowering portrait of a black character= automatic racism.".

In addition to considering only one episode as proof of retrograde racial tendencies, this judge also threw out of court any evidence that might have mitigated the verdict. Evidently NB decided that parallels with Trayvon Martin were the only reason that Whedon's team would have had for casting a black actor, one J. August Richards (formerly a regular on Whedon's ANGEL teleseries) as Peterson. The fact that the Peterson character was based on a Marvel character of color was not explored by His Dishonor, because such a consideration would have impeded the all-important "rush to judgment."

While I don't have any more experience than NB in the actual production of AOS, I offer for those interested my take on how this episode of alleged bigotry probably came into being:

______________


AOS WRITER 1: OK, we've decided we're going to have one guy, Peterson, survive the Project Centipede experiment. SHIELD will save Peterson, and their investigation will bring them into conflict with the architects of the project. Are we gonna make the survivor a one-shot, or bring him back?

AOS WRITER 2: Let's make him a reference to one of the Marvel characters we have the rights to adapt. We may work into later stories or not, but using one of the old familiar characters is good for keeping the attention of the hardcore Marvel fans.

AOS WRITER 3: OK, let's do that. Who do we have rights to use? Moon Knight... Two-Gun Kid... Doctor Droom-- jeez, who bought this package?

AOS WRITER 2: Hey, we got Deathlok. He works, 'cause he was already the subject of an evil experiment. Let's make Peterson our version of Deathlok.

AOS WRITER 1: That works, and for a bonus to Whedon's Buffy fans, we could cast one of the Buffyverse actors in the role. What's Boreanaz doing these days?

AOS WRITER 2: Are you crazy, man? You can't have even an off-brand Deathlok played by a white guy. Original Deathlok is black!

AOS WRITER 1: He is? I read the seventies Deathlok; I thought he was a white guy whose skin turned grey.

AOS WRITER 3: No, man, it was kind of buried, but that version was black, too.  Number Two is right. If you have one of Marvel's black super-guys played by a white guy, the bloggers will bury us in shit.

AOS WRITER 1: All right, already; we'll get a black actor to play off-brand Deathlok-- and then, everybody will be happy---

_______________________

(Fortunately the three writers were spared execution by hanging-judge Berlatsky, thanks to the appeals-court, presided over by Judge Phillips, who voided the lower court's verdict as insubstantial and not based in the rudiments of good literary crticism.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

SWORD, MEET CHALICE PART III

"Sugar and spice and everything nice,
"That's what little girls are made of"-- familiar nursery rhyme.

""When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news."-- Alfred Harmsworth.

In Part I and Part II of this essay-series, I referenced a transformation of will that must take place for real or fictional human females to personify the "feminine will:"

A male human being does not have to transform himself radically in order to become a vessel of all those things I associate with Nietzsche's "willingness"-- receptivity, romantic ardor, and so on. A female human being must undergo such a transformation, in order to make what I have called "the feminine will" possible.
Since I had been focusing upon the "Athena archetype" in fiction, this assumes that any fictional character subsumed under this archetype must be, like the Greek goddess, a female able to master the arts of war. This means, in the "dynamicity-terms" I introduced here, that I've been addressing megadynamic archetypes, whether they were dominantly armed or unarmed types.

However, I would be remiss if I did not follow up on the refinements I made in COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS PART 4, to wit:

The terms "combinatory mode" and "dynamicity mode" are new extrapolations from the established terms "combinatory-sublime" and "dynamic-sublime."

What this means is that although functionally the "Athena archetype" should only apply to female characters who undergo a transformation into a megadynamic mode, some audience-members may evince similar reactions to less dynamic versions of the archetype, which is to say any "girls" who show themselves to composed of something other than "sugar and spice." Thus even characters whose power of action is less than exceptional (either "mesodynamic" and "microdynamic") can inspire a fascination in that it's perceived as unusual that female characters can utilize violence at all. In other words, for most audiences, "man gets violent" is the equivalent of "dog bites man," while "woman becomes violent" lines up with "man bites dog."  In this review of a pair of film serials which atypically featured female protagonists, I noted:

Very few serials of the period depicted heroines who could fight.  It was a commonplace notion that any time a fight-scene broke out, any female characters would get shoved to the ground, where they would bump their heads and immediately pass out for the length of the scene. 
This may have been an extreme form of chivalry, implying that in most cases women had to be got out of the way of a real man vs. man fight, and that a bump on the head was a small price to pay to keep them from more serious injury. And yet, few if any persons of that time-period, male or female, would have really believed that women could not raise any kind of defense of themselves, either from men or other women.

Perhaps inevitably, specialized fetishes arose in reaction to the portrayal of "violent femmes." In my opinion, the three most popular at present are:

(1) BALLBUSTING. Though this fetish doesn't always concern only violent encounters of males and females, it certainly takes its cue from the real-world practice by which women, unable to equal male opponents in strength, can resort to kicking or kneeing the opponent's vulnerable nut-sack in order to discourage an assault. Since the fetish by itself does not place any priority upon fighting-skill, most fictional characters who practice this form of assault are likely to be *microdynamic*-- though of course there are a fair number of exceptions.





(2) CATFIGHTS. This fetish is by definition a violent encounter of two women. All three dynamicities can be represented here, ranging from characters who have no intrinsic fighting-skill, those who can fight with some modest skill, and those who are genuinely exceptional. While I'm not precisely a catfight enthusiast, it's my observation that a number of the hardcore fans tend to favor either the microdynamic or mesodynamic types, rather than the megadynamic types. Although their fetish depends on a trope in which women do not "act like ladies," there seems to be a sense in which the enthusiasts do not want these encounters to stray too far from the familiar associations of femininity.



(3) MIXED-GENDER FIGHTS: Fetish-scenes of this type can also encompass all conceivable combinations of dynamicity-types, but the most familiar type here will be one that opposes two megadynamic types, since this is the one that evokes the greatest sense of the feminine will that "swims against the current." As one example, I cite scenes from the 1992 film LADY DRAGON, in which Cynthia Rothrock takes out villainous Richard Norton, despite the fact that he probably outweighs her by over a hundred pounds.





I may develop these matters somewhat more in a separate essay. For now, I'll just note in passing that this argument references my definition of "impure states" in which the usually opposed phenomena of sex and violence join with one another in what I've termed "impure states."
In CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT 5 I specified that these states took two distinct forms: "erotic violence" and "violent sex." Only the first of these applies to archetypes that prioritize violence: the latter apply better to archetypes of *eros.*


Friday, June 19, 2015

SWORD, MEET CHALICE PART II

In Part 1 I recapitulated some of my earlier musings about the division of male and female roles in biology and culture, and the expression of the "feminine will" in its literary form of the "Athena archetype." At the end of the essay I specified that the charisma of weapons did have a positive manifestation comparable to the manifestation seen in male heroic archetypes.

The negative charisma is not so pronounced. As I mentioned in THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD OF VIOLENCE,  fictional male heroes are often constructed as being so tough that they can outfight enemies who have the advantage of being armed with a non-projectile weapon, such as a sword, whip, or knife. This manifestation certainly does not contradict the positive charisma of, say, two sword-experts dueling one another, as seen in films like 1935's CAPTAIN BLOOD; it's simply a different variation on the theme of proving superiority through violent conflict.




Without mustering any statistics as such, I would say that the variation of unarmed heroines choosing to fight, or being forced to fight, armed opponents (be they males or females) is not as pervasive as it is with male heroes. Certainly there are numerous examples where the same scenario takes place; in KILL BILL, Uma Thurman's heroine initially pits her sword against Gogo's spiked "yoyo-weapon,"  but Tarantino disarms the heroine rather quickly, forcing her to fall back upon her personal resources (notwithstanding some improvised weaponry). Still, on the whole I believe there's less of an emphasis upon using the "unarmed vs. armed" trope as a proof for martial toughness.




Still, if I am correct regarding this lesser emphasis of this scenario with respect to female characters, it may have come about because any "Athena archetype" who has mastered the arts of combat-- thus, as I said, swimming against the current with regard to biology and culture-- really does not have to *prove* toughness in quite the same way that males do.

The theme of the human body's superiority to weapons receives a different emphasis, as well.  A male who avoids being penetrated by a weapon only avoids injury and/or death. A female who performs the same action *may be* avoiding the indignity of a figurative rape as well. I've argued here that male characters certainly suffer humiliation through violence as well. Yet in the same essay I also stated that the trope is certainly better known with respect to female characters, whether they are heroines as such or not.

However, the other side of the coin is that the female capable of exerting "body violence" (as opposed to "weapon violence") usually gains an image of superior sexual attractiveness in addition to the fact of her innate toughness. This is by no means inevitable with regard to male heroes: Bruce Willis' toughness may enhance his sexy repute, while Arnold Schwarzenegger's toughness does little if any good for his image as a "sex machine."  In contrast, even a female actress who is not conventionally attractive, such as Melissa McCarthy in the 2015 film SPY, obtains greater sexual allure through her ability to kick butt and take names. In this particular film this transformation is referenced by the attitude-change of Jude Law's character once he's seen her fighting (admittedly, with a substantial amount of gun-play as well).

SWORD, MEET CHALICE

In THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD OF VIOLENCE, I pointed out that the charisma assigned to weapons could assume one of two values. One is positive, ranging from Thor's hammer to Dirty Harry's magnum handgun. The other is negative, but only in contrast to an emphasis upon the superiority of the human body's resources, as illustrated by the film ENTER THE DRAGON and the teleseries KUNG FU.

It may be noted that all of the examples cited deal with male characters. There would be no need to philosophize about exceptions if I subscribed to Nietzche's dichotomy, detailed here, regarding males and females as representing "will" and "willingness" respectively-- or, as I reworded it: "masters of violence" and "mistresses of sex." But I specified that these social and cultural roles, though they came about due to the evolutionary predispositions of the two genders, did not determine the full range of possible roles either for real persons or fictional representations. In Part 4 of SACRED AND PROFANE VIOLENCE,  I showed how either dominant role could undergo a boulesversment, and gave examples, respectively, of two "turnabout archetypes" that I termed the "Adonis type" and the "Athena type." 

Yet, when these types are realized in real persons, the nature of the reversal involved has different physical permutations. A male human being does not have to transform himself radically in order to become a vessel of all those things I associate with Nietzsche's "willingness"-- receptivity, romantic ardor, and so on. A female human being must undergo such a transformation, in order to make what I have called "the feminine will" possible. In WHAT WOMEN WILL PT. 3 I wrote:

...when fictional action-heroes do their kickass thing, they are in essence "going with the flow," conforming to an archetype of male behavior based in both culture and physical nature.  When fictional action-heroines kick ass, they are in essence "swimming against the current"... [Action-heroines] align themselves with a reverse-archetype that describes not real experience but a gesture toward desired experience.  That implies a greater level of conflict in this reverse-archetype in that it contravenes (albeit in fiction, where nothing is impossible) both physical law and cultural experience.

Having established this line of argument, I must next inquire whether or not the "charisma of weapons" applies to the "Athena archetype" as it does to the normative "male warrior archetype."

In WHAT WOMEN WILL and elsewhere, I've drawn attention to the appearance of "warrior goddesses" in archaic cultures, including not only Athena but also Anath, Ishtar, and (to stretch the definition of "goddess" somewhat) Celtic war-maidens like Badb and Scathach. However, I am not aware of any strong tradition in which the weapons of the war-goddesses are given particular names or properties. That doesn't mean that there never were such weapons, since it goes without saying that many oral traditions have been lost to the mists of time. But for whatever reason, there seems to have been more narrative attention paid to the concept of male warriors using weapons that have actual names like Excalibur and Mjolnir. It's inevitable to draw comparisons with modern men who choose to give a name to one particular organ, though of course no one can prove, or should assume, that this male quirk has a history stretching back to the gods of Asgard.

In contemporary pop culture, it's become standard to produce female versions of every male heroic archetype, ranging from a "Lady Terminator" to various types of "Dirty Harriet." Fictional heroines, however, seem to be somewhat less *attached" to their weapons than fictional male heroes. One can't make too much of this, though, since for every Dirty Harry there are dozens of cinematic cops who don't generate any special "gun-myths."



But even if one could demonstrate that the weapons wielded by female characters were statistically less "charismatic," one certainly cannot say this about the females wielding them. This page of links from GirlswithGuns.org isn't devoted exclusively to the subject of girls and their guns, for the page also links to sites that simply concern overall "tough girl" fiction. Still, on the whole, there are a lot of pages that focus only on girls-and-guns. I'm not aware of any other weapon that has received this much Internet attention, though I have come across one devoted to female swashbucklers and their swords.

Thus, I conclude for this part of the essay that the positive charisma of weapons certainly occurs with respect to fictional female characters, even if it does not follow precisely the same paths seen with male characters. In Part 2 I will devote some attention to what happens when weapons are given a secondary status in comparison to the superiority of the body's resources.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

HALF A HISTORY LESSON

I've often written about the tendency of modern fans to take a dim view of Stan Lee's accomplishments. While I myself have questioned some of Lee's more careless and/or extravagant statements, I've observed a tendency among fans to judge Stan as if his Marvel work was solely the creation of his most notable collaborators, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

One rhetorical mode of attack is to point out that not much of Stan Lee's work prior to the Marvel period set the comic-book reading world on fire in the 1940s and 1950s. This by itself is a fair enough assertion, as long as one applies it across the board to both Kirby and Ditko as well. I for one don't think either Kirby or Ditko would have created anything like their Marvel works had they been given free reign at some other comic book company. But even if one believes such a situation would have inevitably have taken place, one should still hold Kirby and Ditko to the same standard as Lee, as I attempted to do in this Classic Comics forum-post.

_________________

 Keep in mind, though, that if you're going to judge Stan only by his pre-Marvel work, Ditko also didn't garner a lot of fan-attention prior to Marvel. If for some reason he'd gafiated from comics up to that point, Ditko would be remembered as no more than a crafter of eccentric horror/SF stories-- and MAYBE for working on Captain Atom. Like Basil Wolverton, Ditko's early work appears all over the place, so he wouldn't benefit in fannish histories from being associated in a strongly edited format, as did the artists of EC. Of course this is no knock against Ditko; he was much younger than both Kirby and Lee. But still, it's impossible for a modern fan to look at his work for DC or Charlton, or his self-published works, without both falling under Marvel's large shadow. 

Pre-Marvel Kirby does have more successful series to his credit than Stan Lee does, no question. But it's also hard to see some of that without the "spillover effect," and more, Kirby does not appear to have been a double-threat, able to write and draw the whole product, like Jack Cole. He *seems* to have benefited from the quality control of working for a studio, so it's hard to say who did what. We have Joe Simon's testimony that he provided the basic template for the most popular Simon-Kirby creation, Captain America. Should Kirby get full credit for later successes, like Boy Commandos and Newsboy Legion, or is his creativity also compromised by having input from a partner?


Also, I'm not sure that most Kirby-fans would be interested in many of his lesser ideas if it weren't for the spillover effect. The 1950s series Fighting American is fun, but there were a lot of rather tongue-in-cheek superhero concepts pervading the superhero boom of the 1940s. Is Fighting American really better than Quality's Spirit imitation MIDNIGHT, or does FA get more respect simply because it's wedged between Golden Age Cap and the Marvel Universe in Kirby's career-- and also, because there are no definitive collections of MIDNIGHT?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

CORRECTION TO "FIGURES OF QUAGMIRE"

In "Figures of Quagmire," I wrote:


I'll pass quickly over {J. Lamb's] complete misrepresentation of the [theme of WINTER SOLDIER]. While I observed that Captain America's diffidence about the monstrous hellicarriers "reflects an ethos of fair play that doesn't hold with attacking supposed enemies before they attack you," Lamb can only paint the Captain as a fascist for defying weapons "authorized by American policymakers." And yet, as if to prove that superheroes can't win in Lamb's book, the Captain is also a hypocrite because he attacks the hellicarriers but doesn't attack "the floating nuclear version [of the hellicarriers] at sea." The Hydra conspiracy, by the way, is referred to "an ad hoc terrorist conspiracy," which only goes to prove that Lamb does not know what the phrase "ad hoc" really means.

Today on the "Figures of Empire" response-thread, Lamb correctly pointed out that he had not used the phrase "ad hoc terrorist conspiracy" for Hydra, and that it was meant to connote the film's three heroes, who unite to stop Hydra in what I suppose is technically an 'extra-legal" action.  So I will say a small mea culpa to having misread one of Lamb's sentences, though as my response below shows, I'm even more incredulous that the phrase was ever meant to apply to WINTER SOLDIER's protagonists.



J. Lamb,
On the specific point of using the term "ad hoc," I agree that the sentence as written connotes the teaming of the film's heroes, not the actual terrorist conspiracy represented by Hydra. I have to say that I might have been thrown off the course by the quantity of prepositional phrases, but it's still my bad: you didn't say what I believed you said.
I would still question the use of the term in its actual context, though. Here's Wikipedia's description of the action of what is at stake when the three heroes form what you call a "terrorist conspiracy:"
"[the heroes] force [Hydra agent Sitwell] to divulge that Zola developed a data-mining algorithm that can identify individuals who might become future threats to Hydra's plans. The Insight Helicarriers will sweep the globe, using satellite-guided guns to eliminate these individuals."
Given that Cap, Widow and Falcon cannot trust anyone in SHIELD, and that there is a clear and present danger to human lives by an organization that has usurped the purpose of the helicarriers, I don't see that the heroes have any alternatives, nor do I see any logic in deeming their prompt action to be un-heroic. Should they have waited for a congressional investigation to be convened after Hydra's victims were killed?
I don't think that any real-world parallel to these actions would have been that of an "ad hoc terrorist conspiracy," either. If a group of private citizens had stumbled across one of the CIA's plots to assassinate Castro, and those citizens believed that Castro would be killed unless they intervened in some violent manner, would their actions be terrorist actions?
Early in TWS, it's made clear that Steve Rogers doesn't approve of the helicarriers, recognizing them as what you correctly call "gunboat diplomacy." But in the film I saw, he takes no action against the helicarriers until it's clear that their purpose has been usurped by an actual terrorist organization. Once this has happened, it doesn't matter that the weapons were made legal by American policymakers; they are going to be used in an illegal manner by terrorists. In contrast to real life, where comparable crimes are often discovered after the fact, the film's heroes are lucky/skillful enough to discover the plot before lives are lost.
So, while admitting that you did not refer to Hydra itself as an "ad hoc terrorist organization," I find that there's still no  logic in using the phrase to refer to the film's protagonists.

Additionally, I've posted this addendum to my statements elsewhere regarding what I believed to be a threat of deletion on the HU site:

ADDENDUM: As of 6/9/15 Noah Berlatsky has stated that the "MRA nattering" remark was not directed at me, but at a poster who had been deleted. This does not invalidate all of the rhetoric regarding Kashtan's essay and other related matters, but I acknowledge that I may have been somewhat precipitate in my response.

More to come, perhaps.


Friday, June 5, 2015

THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD OF VIOLENCE

In the series JOINED AT THE TRIP, beginning here, I refined some of my earlier statements about the nature of fictional sex and violence. My interpretation of these categories through the lens of Francis Fukuyama's thymotic system goes something like this: violence and sex in their "pure states" represent *megalothymia* and *isothymia* respectively. However, there are "impure states" in which sex can assume a function of dominance, and in which violence can assume a function of egalitarianism.

If you ask the average person what most separates sex and violence, the most likely response-- assuming you can get a coherent one on such a volatile subject-- would be that sex can produce progeny, and violence cannot, except through the medium of sex.

But, in the words of Yoda, "there is another."  In both activities human beings in their identity of *Homo habilis* have evolved dozens of artificial tools and devices that can be used either to enhance the activity (all manner of offensive weapons, sexual enhancement devices) or to curtail some aspect of that activity (all manner of defensive weapons, such as shields and armor, and pregnancy prevention devices).

Yet, when one enters the sphere of art and religion, one finds that both activities may be validated through both gods of war and gods of love, the tools don't receive equal representation.

Archaic culture is rife with the veneration of great weapons. King Arthur wields the most famous sword, Excalibur. Odin wields the spear Gungnir, Thor wields the hammer Mjolnir. In some cases an ancient culture has become so remote from us that it's sometimes unclear as to what Cuchullain's "gae bolga" was, or what it could do, but there's little question that it had some supernormal status.



In contrast, archaic culture invests a lot of items with sexual significance, but most of these are things that do not actually function as aids to sexual performance-- the Holy Grail, the Paschal candle. Some cults involved with sexual ritual, such as the Tantrics, have specialized names for emissions, so they may have names for sexual tools as well. But it seems more typical in most archaic cultures to invest sexual charisma not to objects that enhance sexual activity, but to objects that aren't usually involved in the matter.



Jumping ahead to contemporary popular culture-- in many ways the inheritor of archaic folklore's modes of communication-- we see that outside of fantasy-works that explicitly imitate archaic stories, most heroes don't name their weapons. Still, a cult of charisma still enfolds many weapons, usually referring to them not with cultic cognomens but by brand-names. Wild West heroes are often identified with their "Colts" and "Winchesters." Dirty Harry is so identified with his Magnum firearm that the second movie in the film-series is entitled "Magnum Force," as if to suggest an equivalence between the hero's power and that of his weapon-- roughly in the same way Arthur and Excalibur become mythically covalent.

In contrast, sex tools, many of which are by their nature disposable, don't receive special names. The only notable exception is a comic one; that of the sexually neglected woman who gives a man's name to her favorite dildo. But wherever this trope appears, it's invariably done As a Joke, and so even dildos with names like "Bruce" or even "Mjolnir" are comic exceptions that prove the rule.

This, then, is one side of the double-edged blade of violence. Weapons, perhaps because they allow human beings to extend their spheres of influence over other ingroups and territories, are venerated. Sex, despite being important to the furtherance of the species, is in some ways regarded as merely personal, and so the tools that extend pleasure to two or more participants "don't get no respect." The correlation between Durkheim's definitions of "the sacred" and "the profane," as explained in this essay,  should be obvious.

However, although modern pop culture sometimes evinces great respect for weapons, they can also be viewed as tools that are inferior to the primary means by which humans extend their power: the body itself. This, then, is the other side of the double-edged blade.

If there are many Wild West sagas in which a Colt .45 or a Winchester rifle are invested with positive significance, there are also many instances in which weapons register as negative markers. Whenever a narrative wants to show a character as villainous, one of the easiest ways is to have him resort to using a weapon, often-- though not always-- when his sympathetic opponent is unarmed. When the sympathetic character is a hero, rather than a victim, he usually wins out over the armed villain by the demonstration of such a high level of hand-to-hand skill that it negates the supposed advantage of the weapon.



The modern martial arts film often evinces the same disdain for the armed villain. In my recent review of 1973's ENTER THE DRAGON, I drew attention to the film's depiction of the villain Han. Han is able to use one of his weapons-- a detachable metal hand-- to kill one heroic character, in part because the hero doesn't suspect the weapon's presence. However, when Han is defeated by the superior fighter Lee-- who does use weapons in other scenes, but not against Han-- it is as if Han is a "human beast" thwarted by "the morally superior Lee." 



The teleseries KUNG FU reflected this same anti-weapons tendency. Although it was clear that the protagonist Kwai Chang Caine had been trained in the use of weapons, it was a commonplace event during the series' run to see the hero snatch away a villain's weapon and then discard it, as if its use polluted the purity of his body's superlative fighting-skill. As with Lee, there were occasions on which Caine did use weapons in battle, but an "anti-weapons aesthetic" was clearly in place.  In these and similar narratives, it is the unarmed human body that is "sacred," and weapons are "profane."








Thursday, June 4, 2015

FIGURES OF QUAGMIRE

Oh, god. This thing called FIGURES OF EMPIRE-- I gave it too much credit in the preceding essay.

I was right in thinking that author J. Lamb would trump up some connection between the empires of colonial days and modern-day "white power fantasies." But Lamb doesn't even establish the connection in the sloppy, half-assed fashion beloved by Noah Berlatsky and most of his acolytes. Lamb puts forth no proofs at all. As Franklin Einspruch proclaimed of another HU contributor, Lamb's sole rhetorical posture is to establish a narrative, presume its truth, and proclaim it without modification.

Lamb feels so little need to buttress his racially divisive philosophy of superheroes that he spends the first ten LONNGGG paragraphs discussing a 2013 novel about British colonialism, and some of the art of the period. It's only after he's made this leaden attempt to communicate the evils of colonialism that he deigns to assert a connection between the "white power fantasies" that existed in the colonial period and those that he finds in modern superhero comics. I speculate that he chose to focus on British colonial art-- which, according to him, consistently portrays black people as servile-- because he wants his readers to perceive that the same visual tropes of a "master-slave" dialectic infuse not some, but all, appearances of "people of color" in American superhero fiction.

And what does this analyst of empire begin with?  The many "Sambo" images from the Golden Age of comic books? Adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs?

No, Lamb's first example of the master-slave dialectic is a scene from a superhero movie, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, which I reviewed here. In essence, because "Steve Rogers literally runs rings around Sam Wilson," this is automatically an image of black subservience to white values. To Lamb it does not matter that super-soldier Rogers had been given unfair advantages by super-science, and that he could just as easily run rings around any other non-enhanced human being, regardless of color, Though for the scriptwriters the scene was probably just a "meet-cute" to set up Wilson's initiation into superheroics-- which would put him the same footing as Captain America by giving Wilson super-scientific attainments-- for Lamb the scene is an indictment of American racial politics. To call it an indictment, though, is too broad-minded, given that the word suggests a formal accusation in a court of law. Lamb's accusation follows the logic of Lewis Carroll: "Sentence first, evidence afterwards." Or, in most cases, "evidence not at all."  I'll pass quickly over his complete misrepresentation of the film's theme. While I observed that Captain America's diffidence about the monstrous hellicarriers "reflects an ethos of fair play that doesn't hold with attacking supposed enemies before they attack you," Lamb can only paint the Captain as a fascist for defying weapons "authorized by American policymakers." And yet, as if to prove that superheroes can't win in Lamb's book, the Captain is also a hypocrite because he attacks the hellicarriers but doesn't attack "the floating nuclear version [of the hellicarriers] at sea." The Hydra conspiracy, by the way, is referred to "an ad hoc terrorist conspiracy," which only goes to prove that Lamb does not know what the phrase "ad hoc" really means.

Following this demonstration of laughable intellectual sloppiness, Lamb goes into rhetorical overdrive with a series of purple-prose condemnations of the superhero, showing that he's learned his sense of style not from Ishmael Reed but from Stan Lee.  After this extravagant effulgence, Lamb pretends to ground his next arguments in weighty citations regarding the politics of integration, which are supposedly compromised by the attempts of mega-corporations like Disney and Time-Warner to appeal to customers across racial divides, creating what Lamb calls "business models regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation." For Lamb this is tantamount to racial erasure, though he can't be bothered to analyze any text in detail, choosing to lump together "Black Panther, Black Lighting, Bishop, Mr. Terrific" and others as endemic of this erasure of racial difference. (Sexual difference is presumably erased too, though given the attention he devotes to the subject, Lamb apparently considers this of secondary importance.)

Having made this tendentious point, he then belabors it for several more windy paragraphs, without saying anything new-- except that he asks his readers to imagine a world where "the superhero has outlived his usefulness." Given that Lamb has defined the superhero as a representation of whiteness, one can only assume that he looks forward to a day when all the legacies of white colonialism will be gone. One wonders how this miracle will be accomplished. He's apparently advising all persons of color to boycott superhero works of any kind, but if one buys into his supposition that superheroes are white power fantasies anyway, then neither big-budget films nor the smaller arena of direct-market comic books would be substantially affected by this boycott.

I sometimes wonder if radicals like Lamb really think their "rainbow coalitions" are capable of a moral rectitude beyond the capabilities of white people. If something caused the miraculous disappearance of all persons of Earth who appeared to be, or believed themselves to be, dominantly "white," can even someone as ideologically driven as Lamb believe that the remaining rainbow-hues would NOT (a) start fighting over the same bones that white people did, and (b) use the exact same tactics.

I know that there's a word for a person who believes in racial superiority, but at the moment, I can't seem to think of it. Let's see-- did it begin with the letter "R?"


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. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

ANGELS DIE WHEN LIBERALS LIE

And why would this be the case? Why, it's because the liberals are the "angel's party," and it crushes little angel hearts when liberals play fast and loose with facts.

In contrast, as Al Franken has so peerlessly documented, the sulphurous figures behind the conservatives suffer not at all when their minions fib, deceive and prevaricate. It's possible that their hooves get a little less shiny when conservatives tell the truth, though.

A brief glance at my blog might make someone deem me to be a conservative, since I've so often attacked one species of liberal, what I've called the "ultraliberal," as I defined the type here.

I identify myself as a liberal, but I distance myself from all those who let liberal ideology do their thinking for them.  I consider such people to be “ultraliberals.”  Their responses to any sustained argument invariably comes down to quoting chapter-and-verse of whatever manifesto they favor.  This rote response renders them common kin with their supposed enemies, the “ultraconservatives.”

The truth as I see it is that liberals-- even the "ultra" subspecies-- deserve to be held to a more rigorous standard than the conservatives, given that many liberals have frequently aligned themselves with what they deem "hard facts." There are potential disadvantages to the fetishization of perceived facts, as I've argued in THE DEAD ALIVE HAND OF THE PAST, and that's why my version of liberalism isn't entirely defined by facts. However, if one is going to claim to base one's ethos in recorded fact, then one should stick with that, and not ground one's philosophy in statements that "ought to be true"-- which should be the exclusive domain of the conservatives. That's why I've so often taken issue with online critics who have demonstrated various levels of liberal tendency: Gary Groth, Julian Darius, Kelly Thompson, Heidi McDonald, and of course the always doubtable Noah Bertlatsky.

I can remember being much more of a hardcore liberal in high school, though I'd like to think I never descended to the low level of the ultraliberal. As "proof" of this assertion-- though it's a proof that's unverifiable by anyone else-- I find myself turning to my memory of the 1968 television special, "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed," voiced by noted black celebrity Bill Cosby and written by noted white celebrity Andy Rooney.



I saw the special not on television but shown to my high-school class, probably somewhere between 1970 and 1972. I was righteously offended by the many sins laid at the door of White America, not least being the way black people were made to act like fools for the pleasure of white audiences. (On a side-note, one of the black comedians of Old Hollywood, Stepin Fetchit, was offended at this characterization of his work, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to sue the production.)  Yet, though I validated the basic thrust of the special, I was shocked that the script included a major distortion of factual history, as follows:

Now if you tell the history of slavery right, you got a big problem on your hands. The slave traders didn't take some savage out of Africa; he took a human being-- sold him, like an animal, separated him from his family. America invented the cruelest slavery in the history of the world-- because it broke up black families.

I was far from a history expert in those days, but I was incredulous that a respected celebrity would voice such an absurdity.  Didn't Cosby and Rooney know that slavery went back to the Greeks and Romans, and existed in some form in most if not all human societies? Upon reviewing Rooney's wording, I see now that he tried to play games with the word "invented" by implying that the American version of this practice was somehow worse than any other version. Yet, if Rooney's sole criterion was that American slavery was evil because it broke up families, what was his conception of the way slavery worked in the ancient world? Did he have the idea that ancient Romans or slightly less ancient Arabs would take someone a slave for a little while, and then let them go tripping merrily back to their families? Or did Cosby and Rooney seriously mean to suggest that breaking up black families via the taking of slaves was somehow worse than breaking up the families of other races?

What annoyed me most about this stupid rhetoric was not only that it flew in the face of known facts, but also that it was so unnecessary. The rest of the special threw the cold light of reason upon long established practices of racial discrimination in American culture, and even though I might not validate every single thing Cosby and Rooney pointed out, they had a preponderance of evidence to prove their points.

I see the same rhetorical excesses today in most of the writers I mentioned above. They aren't content in proving that problems of racism and sexism exist. To gain the greatest rhetorical advantage, they think that they must show that racism and sexism are implicated in every facet of American society. This is the argument Noah Berlatsky presents in the quote given here, when he alleges that a given genre of comic books is not "open" to black experiences. None of his ruminations have anything to do with making a fact-based determination of a particular genre, assuming that one could do so in the first place. Rhetoric is simply a club being used to pound on something the author thinks to be objectionable-- so objectionable that it's OK to lie about it.

Because I've scanned, but not read, one of the current HU pieces, I anticipate I'll be seeing a lot of crappy rhetoric that have already put many angels into their premature graves.