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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Friday, October 31, 2014


Another quickie BEAT-post, again on the same Sarkeesian thread:


Can one find a lot of aggro comments by gamers? Yes, one can.
Can one find a lot of aggro comments by comics fans? Yes, one can.
This correlation led the first poster on this thread to conflate the two groups. But is it accurate?
I googled "death threats" and "wrestling fans": one of the first links led me to a piece about wrestler Ric Flair getting death threats.
I googled "death threats" and "sports fans," and the first ones up referenced Flair, Kyle Williams and Josh Morgan.

It is not a rationalization to point out that this kind of crap goes on in many, if not all, walks of life.  There are apparently thousands upon thousands of dumbasses in all those arenas who have nothing better to do than vent their aggressions with cowardly death-threats.

All such offenses should, indeed, be met with the full force of legal retribution, regardless of whether they spring from "nerd rage," "sports rage," "politics rage," or whatever. But the big reason such offenses happen so often is that you usually can't find the schmucks.

So yes, if you personally overhear someone making a death-threat to anyone for any reason, you ought to report it, or maybe even, in some circumstances, tell the sucker what you think of him.  But if the sucker pulls a knife on you, maybe you will find out that some kinds of subculture are a good deal more toxic than what Dana Stevens is pleased to call "fanboy culture." 

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I watched the 10-29 broadcast of Anita Sarkeesian's appearance on the Colbert show twice, trying to see if this newest media critic had anything pertinent to say. But first, I'll jot down today's Beat post, responding to another poster who disputed Sarkeesian's claim that no one but female critics of gamer culture had received threats and harassment.

Thanks for listing the names [of male critics who suffered harassment], Johnny.  I'm not into games and had no acquaintance with any of these cases.  I've seen some pro and con on the gentlemen listed, particularly Cernovich. But even if none of the three might be deemed a poster boy for Equal Harassment by Feminist Frequency, even one is enough to put the lie to Sarkeesian's claim.
It would appear that in Sarkeesian's haste to construct a "poor pitiful me" narrative, she allowed herself to forget the rich heritage of harassment of males, by males.  Has everyone forgotten the sixties (insert predictable pot joke here), when a guy with long hair was like a red flag, waved in front of the noses of buzzcut Minotaurs?
This is not to say that women don't practice their own brand of harassment.  It's just more subtle-- like Sarkeesian's misinformation.

I don't game and don't personally care about gamer culture.  But as I listened to Sarkeesian's interview, I thought that she had one good point: that *maybe* gamer culture could benefit from fewer "damsels in distress" and more female characters with "agency."

I hasten to add that it's only a good point if it's true.  On Reddit I uncovered this comment responding to one of Sarkeesian's attacks:

It's nice that Sarkeesian attacked Dragon Age Origins (DAO) for being sexists because:
  1. DAO allows you to be a male or female lead character
  2. DAO allows you to pick whatever sexuality you want to pursue
  3. DAO put in dedicated gay, bi and transgender chacters (Shale though he was a guy but he was actually a girl)
  4. DAO develop female NPC's are villains, heroes, martyrs, leaders, rule breakers

But let's say, for sake of argument, that Sarkeesian is right in broad (heh) terms: that there aren't enough "empowered" female characters in current games.  The simple plea that there should be more is entirely legitimate, and unless one believes that the entire game-making industry is blinkered by Zizekian "ideology," the game-makers might be willing to take more chances on such characters, simply because of this sort of protest.

In my essay LITERARY EQUITY, POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE, I ventured this comment upon the different effects of attempts to promote an equality of status in art and literature:

... "positive equity" is achieved when someone points out a genuine abuse of fairness, while "negative equity" is achieved when someone uses the concept of fairness incorrectly, to be unfair to someone else.

Since I've started with the assumption that Sarkeesian's analysis is correct, that there aren't enough empowered female game-characters, then I'm advancing the assumption that she has achieved positive equity by that statement.  It's not quite as pro-active as actually creating such heroines, a la William Moulton Marston and Trina Robbins, but it could, in theory, have positive results, encouraging a game-maker to take a chance on something that proved to be noteworthy.

And yet, in the Colbert interview Sarkeesian tainted even the good points in her narrative.  Colbert lightly satirized his own gender by talking about how he enjoyed seeing big-busted women wearing armor that barely covers their nipples. But, going solely by that interview, Sarkeesian flatly believes that all such depictions are "objectification." I'll have to investigate Feminist Frequency to see if she's ever advanced any more nuanced arguments. But even Kelly Thompson, much as I abhor her one-sided ideology, admits that it's entirely logical for exhibitionistic characters, such as the White Queen, to exhibit themselves all over the place.

Thus, Sarkeesian giveth only to take away.  Let's have more female characters, but only the types that Anita Sarkeesian deems worthwhile. I continue to insist, as with the essay-series beginning here, that feminine exhibitionism is not inherently disempowering. If, as the interview suggests, Sarkeesian can only see it negatively, then that means that even when she encourages one form of equity, she discourages another form, the artist's right to show whatever he wants to show-- whether his motives are those of Robert Crumb or those of Roger Corman.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Whenever you hear a public discussion of comic books, you will hear sooner or later an advocate of the industry say with a triumphant smile, "Comic books are here to stay." I do not believe it. Someday parents will realize that comic books are not a necessary evil "which, but their children's end, naught can remove." I am convinced that in some way or other the democratic process will assert itself and crime comic books will go, and with them all they stand for and all that sustains them. But before they can tackle Superman, Dr. Payn, and all their myriad incarnations, people will have to learn that it is a distorted idea to think that democracy means giving good and evil an equal chance at expression. We must learn that freedom is not something that one can have, but is something that one must do.-- Frederic Wertham, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, p. 395.

"I held the plane long enough for the crime leader to jump. He chose to die rather than submit!"-- Wonder Woman, SENSATION COMICS #21.

I've answered Noah Berlatsky's offhand condemnations of the Superman character in respect to two of his three objections. I've pointed out that Lois Lane treats the hero like crap more often than the reverse, and that Berlatsky's "bullying" charge only works if one ignores the text completely, to say nothing of giving Wonder Woman a pass for the same behavior.  I haven't dealt with the third charge: that Superman "occasionally engages in extra-judicial killing."

I'm aware of only one story in which the Man of Steel appears to have deliberately killed a couple of criminals, though the story-- which I mentioned in this essay-- doesn't decisively state that the characters involved have died. Just to give the apparent killing context:

Of course, Superman/Christ is not a perfect fit, if for no other reason than that Superman's adventures are a lot less about "turning the other cheek." Nevertheless, the dominant image one gets with Superman is that of a god striding among mortals, a god almost constantly forbearing to strike with full force even against the evil.
I say "almost" because at times even the creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster yielded to the temptation to let their hero be as wildly violent as the Greek Heracles. In ACTION COMICS #25 (1940), the hero is rushed by two men-- one of whom, admittedly, has the power to freeze the Man of Tomorrow via hypnotism-- and Superman throws a plane at them.
Yes, that's right. THROWS A ****ING PLANE AT THEM! (You don't see the bodies get mangled by the impact but the villains aren't mentioned as having survived, either.)

Wonder Woman is also acting both in self-defense and the defense of others in SENSATION #21 when she too commits plane-icide, holding the propeller of the villain's plane so that the plane-body spins in a circle and finally crashes.  Wonder Woman's villain-murdering is accompanied by a little more rationalization, but at base the two feats are covalent.  Both are "extra-judicial" insofar as neither hero is legally empowered by any real-world government. Berlatsky claims that Wonder Woman is more responsive to authority-- albeit one of a religious nature-- because the Amazon is occasionally seen talking to Aphrodite.  But would he validate another of Jerry Siegel's creations, the Spectre, because that hero also had his "talking to God" moments? I sincerely doubt that the Grim Guardian would get the same benefit of the doubt.

In the end, while rationalizations both intrinsic and extrinsic to the narrative are natural enough, they're beside the point. Adventure-tales frequently conclude with a villain's violent death not because the stories are coded to incite vigilante violence, as Wertham clearly believed, and as Berlatsky may or may not believe-- but because the villain's death provides closure. For serial entertainments it must be a temporary closure, of course, for another threat must appear on the horizon with the serial's next installment-- and of course, the more popular villains have a habit of bouncing back from their apparent deaths. This supports my frequent assertion that escapist works are understood by their audiences to be "vacations from morals," where villains either die, so that they're never thought about again, *or* they simply appear to die and then pop back up with some piddling excuse.

For an extreme moralist like Wertham, there could be no such vacations into the world of fantasy. The above paragraph from SEDUCTION's last chapter-- not far from his famous closing lines, in which he hypocritically exculpates inattentive parents from blame re: their children's corruptive reading-choices.  I am still amazed that the good doctor justifies his recommendation for not just censorship, but the eradication of an entire genre, as part and parcel of "the democratic process." But then, Wertham has unilaterally decided that all depictions of violence are indicators of a bent toward fascism-- and though he harps most on comics due to their largely juvenile readership, he makes the same objection with regard to other media. He may have sincerely believed that he was able to parse out "good and evil" so completely that he need not extend to "evil" the courtesy of "an equal chance at expression."  SEDUCTION certainly does not manage to solve the problems of identifying good and evil; philosophically it's exactly on the level of a SUPERMAN comic book.

For me, the definitive statement on society's need to provide that "equal chance" appears in the works of John  Stuart Mill, as per this famous quote:

“...the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.” 

I can't be positive as to just what Mill meant by "character of mind," but I would gamble that it means looking at a given subject from more than one mental angle.  Thus, if one looks at SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN, and THE SPECTRE expecting to encounter incisive thoughts about the nature of good and evil, one is bound to view them as deficient while one is in this "character of mind." However, if one can move one's mind into the "character" of the purely visceral, then it seems obvious that these "crime comics" were meant to satisfy this type of entertainment. And the radical element of the mythos of adventure is that of the *agon,* a crucial battle in which the stakes are often those of life and death.  And the most visceral way of expressing such a combat is one in which the hero not only thwarts the villain but kills the evildoer, whether in defense of self or in the defense of others.

Yet even within the bailiwick of those who provide the visceral entertainments, we see instances in which real-world morality asserts itself.   Experienced comics-fans will know that the Golden Age Batman used a gun once or twice in his earliest years, and that later DC's editors forbade their popular hero from carrying firearms. I can imagine a scenario in which 1940s DC editors "had kittens" when they saw Superman apparently slay two crooks by hitting them with a plane. It seems unlikely that the editors of that time-frame would think the incident would harm young minds, but they may have been afraid of catching crap from kids' parents about such incidents. I'm not sure when DC Comics began to promote the idea that "Superman never kills," but this trope was very likely an attempt to make Superman seem safe for kids.

Of course, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were all pikers in terms of dispensing lethal retributive violence. That's why I find it so comical that Berlatsky would object to Superman's "extra-judicial killing" as if these few deviations from the hero's more societally responsible exploits were an indicator of the character's capacity for "bullying." Such minor sorties into extreme retribution cannot begin to match the body-counts racked up by characters like the Punisher and Deathstroke, or even some of the more violent heroes of the pulps, like the Spider.

I have no idea whether or not John Stuart Mill would extended his antipathy for censorship to comic books, had they existed in his time.  But the logic of his argument should extend to even the most violent modern media. Violent comics, movies and video-games are meant to give their audiences a vacation from the workaday world- a world where most people are aware that things don't work out as neatly as they do in fiction.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison.

The Break-Though... is also marked by the promulgation of a theory of revolution as a good in itself, and most notably perhaps, by a new concept of inwardness... Quite as influential as Diderot (or Richardson or Rousseau) in the bouleversement of the eighteenth century is the Marquis de Sade, who stands almost emblematically at the crossroads of depth psychology and revolution-- Leslie Fiedler, LOVE AND DEATH IN THE AMERICAN NOVEL, p. 32--33.

Obviously Jefferson and Fiedler are talking about two very different forms of rebellion/revolution, the first as purely political, the second as literary and cultural, though both of the latter are inextricably influenced by political developments, as per the American and French revolutions. Both authors are weighing the benefits of a revolutionary *bouleversement,* though Jefferson speaks of occasional attempts of the citizens to rebel against "encroachments," while Fiedler addresses a change in the history of cultural values, which he terms "the Break-Through"-- a change that transpired within one particular time-frame and influenced a variety of Western cultures.

Given my many admonitions against reading literature along overly politicized ideological terms-- seen prominently in a series beginning here-- it should be obvious that I'm concerned with art and literature, not with politics as such. In the OVERTHINKING THE UNDERTHOUGHT series, I took issue with what I called "adversarial criticism," which specialized in creatively misreading literary narratives in order to take aim at supposed political boogeymen. Nothing that I write here contradicts that philosophical stance.

However, because I am a real liberal rather than an ultraliberal, I find it necessary to situate even wrong-headed comic book elitists within the history of revolutionary concepts.  I don't believe there's any substance to Berlatsky's claim that the Superman character is a fascist or a bully, as he's stated in separate essays. In this essay I refuted Berlatsky with much the same way that I refuted Reece earlier:

I might understand your queasiness about "extra-judicial violence" if we were frequently seeing Superman descending on African villages to make the natives obey the colonial powers. But Superman's first heroic deed in ACTION #1 is to prevent an act of bullying, beating down a man who is beating his wife (can't remember if the text calls her that or not). Yet in your view Superman becomes a bully even when he stops bullying. How many real-life bullies do that-- unless, of course, it's for some ulterior motive?
I don't buy your objection to vigilantism because you're applying it only to narratives you don't like for whatever reason. Wonder Woman is just as much a vigilante as Superman; she acts with no authority save that of the goddess Aphrodite, whom I suspect would be considered extra-legal in American courts. Any number of WW stories have scenes in which WW slaps down bully-boys with the same ease that Superman does, so is she a bully? Is she therefore "not good" for the same reasons? Or does she get a pass because you agree with Marston's politics?

Readers of this blog may refer to the aforementioned thread to see if they find Berlatsky's response any more informative than I did. Still, even though I think the assertion itself is nonsense, it stems from a powerful, possibly archetypal motif:  the Reversal of Values.

Leslie Fiedler does not reference either Sigmund Freud or Karl Marx in his opening chapter of LOVE AND DEATH, though they are referenced elsewhere in the book, and I deem it axiomatic that both Freudianism and Marxism inform most if not all of Fiedler's judgments.  I've remarked elsewhere that these two "titans of tedium," as I like to style them, have enjoyed their dominion over much of Western thought because of their affective, rather than their cognitive, appeal.  Freud shocked Europe by asserting that the purity of the parent-child relationship was sullied by the brute mechanics of sexual stimulation and emotional entrainment. Marx preceded him, though, not only by "turning Hegel upside-down," as the saying goes, but more importantly, by promoting his secular revision of the archetypal concept that "the last will be first."

Of the two, Marx has been much more influential than Freud in terms of producing an overall "theory of revolution," to which many of Marx's latter-day fellow-travelers-- Adorno and Foucault, for two-- have subscribed. But there's a huge difference between the Marxist theory of revolution and that of Jefferson, much less that of how reversals work in literature.

Political comparisons first: Jefferson envisions a republic in which there will always be discontent, which will be expressed through assorted forms of rebellion, but which can be ameliorated through education and pacification of the electorate.  Marx is certainly aware that even in his imagined workers' paradise, there will continue to be conflicts within the body politic. But most later Marxists do not deal with this practical aspect of life. For them, every defense of an allegedly mistreated or marginalized subject is a step toward paradise, World Without End.

In literary studies this can become even more fatuous. Frederic Wertham remains the go-to guy for Reversing Values in the comic book medium. In his view, every hero is a bully and a fascist, irrespective as to the nature of the villains upon whom he wreaks violence.  In this Berlatsky is his earnest pupil, except insofar as he esteems Wonder Woman for promoting the politics that he Berlatsky agrees with.

In our exchange Berlatsky accuses me of wanting to promote some sort of "one truth" hermeneutic simply because I advocated giving every narrative a fair, close reading. In addition, I've consistently asserted that one of the cornerstones of my criticism is Schopenhauer's theory of will. For me the very appeal of literature is reducible to one form of "will" with "another," not a "politically correct will" with a "politically incorrect will."  Obviously this would apply to a literalist "mainstream" reading as much as to an adversarial one.

I'm also heavily invested in Bataillean transgressivity-- also produced through the influence of Freud and Marx, albeit with an artful mediation via Nietzsche. So I can only approve when Fiedler writes of his "Break-Through" that "whatever has been suspect, outcast, and denied is postulated as the source of good." But aside from some of the more hectoring practitioners of literature-- and Sade would be one of these-- most authors would not be comfortable with a single great revolution. Most authors take pleasure in being able to rebel even against rebellion, if it means telling a good story.

 Elitists, however, want only one revolution, one story-- and sadly, just one truth.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


In QUICK SUPERMAN DEFENSE I took issue with Noah Berlatsky's justifications for considering the Superman character to be an insufficient representation of goodness. Berlatsky's justifications for this verdict were posted on October 8 on the aforementioned thread:

He treats Lois like crap, pretty much. He’s a bully; he occasionally engages in extra-judicial killing

I'll deal in more detail with the second charge later. At the end of "Defense," though, I cited some reasons as to why I thought Berlatsky's reading of the Superman-Lois relationship, as articulated by their creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was erroneous.

I don't have at my disposal all of the Siegel-and-Shuster stories of Superman's Golden Age period. So I admit that the survey I'm presenting here will be incomplete, as it's based only on the stories reprinted in DC's Archive editions of the first eight issues of the SUPERMAN title. As many comics-fans will know, these issues are mixtures of new material and reprints of material from the title's predecessor ACTION COMICS. But though this is an incomplete survey, I think it's indicative of the mindsets of the character's creators in the earliest period.  It's possible that the stories in which Superman "treats Lois like crap" dominate later issues in the Siegel-and-Shuster, but it's just as possible-- if not more so-- that Berlatsky is remembering stories he didn't like from later periods of the feature. Most of the modern scorn toward the Superman-Lois relationship has been founded in fannish dislike of Lois' frequent humiliations during the Silver Age, when editor Mort Weisinger wielded almost incontrovertible power over the Superman titles.  I naturally invite Mr. Berlatsky to offer more detailed proofs of his position, but he won't find much in the issues I'm surveying.

Again, as many comics-fans already know, Siegel and Shuster's earliest surviving Superman continuity was originally designed as a comic-strip proposal, which then had to be cut and pasted when the feature was sold as a first-time comic book. ACTION #1 does not reprint the entire continuity of this first sample, but SUPERMAN #1 does. Most fans also know that in her first appearance, Lois Lane accepts a date with stodgy Clark Kent with an attitude of "it's against my better judgment, but..."

This sequence-- which did make the cut in ACTION #1-- presents Lois as no kind of shrinking-violet.  She has a high opinion of herself: she's giving Clark a "break" by accepting a date with him. On the dance-floor she doesn't specify why she avoids Clark, until after an altercation with a pushy mobster.

An interesting line of speculation occurred to me as I re-read this sequence. There's no question that Lois unquestioningly accepts the morality of violence: that she thinks once the goon has intruded on their date, Clark ought to "be a man" and at least attempt to fight the goon. But does she expect this behavior in part because Clark, despite his demeanor, is obviously a big strapping fellow, almost the same size as the goon?  It's a speculation for which I admit there's no evidence either way, given that Jerry Siegel doesn't investigate his characters' motivations in any depth. But the sequence does show that long before Lois meets her ideal Superman, she already has her ideal of masculinity formed as to what men should or should not do-- and obviously, it isn't OK with her if her date asks her to dance with an obnoxious bully.

In that same issue Lois has her first encounter with Superman, who saves her from the mobster and her buddies, who abduct her, possibly-- though a juvenile comic would not say so-- with the intention of raping her. In the second part of the story, Superman saves Lois from a firing-squad.

Several ensuing stories don't include Lois at all. It's possible that these stories represent an early stage of Siegel's plans for the character, in which he would simply bounce about solving people's problems, with no ancillary cast. In SUPERMAN #2, Lois pops up in "Superman Champions Universal Peace." Her only function in the story is to comment on his recent scoop, telling him that he only got the scoop through "pure accidental luck."

In SUPERMAN #3 Clark Kent, investigating an orphanage that mistreats its charges, takes a little precipitate action in his continuing pursuit of Lois. He suggests that the editor send Lois along with him, and much to her chagrin, she's obliged to keep company with the despised wuss. However, they bond a little as they work together to throw off some rival reporters dogging their trail. Lois displays her first evidence of rash action as she sneaks into the orphanage on an intuition that the administrator isn't kosher, and she does find the villain beating a child with a belt.

The same issue reprints the story from ACTION #5 that I mentioned earlier. Lois' editor refuses to let her report on a dam failure because "this is no job for a girl." He wants Kent, so before Clark finds out about the assignment, Lois sends him on a wild-goose chase, so that the editor is forced to give Lois the job. The editor fires Clark for being unavailable, but as Superman the hero saves Lois from the peril of the breaking dam. For the first time the relationship turns amorous as Lois rewards Superman's efforts on her behalf. Clark gets his job back because he gets the story on the dam before she does, but Lois isn't shown being one-upped in the story; instead, she scorns Clark as a "spineless worm" in comparison with the new "he-man" in her life.

Lois is once more the manipulator in the next story, where she accepts a date with Clark because she thinks it's going to lead her into contact with Superman.  Once Clark escorts Lois to her destination, she takes an action that goes further than her usual hijinks: she slips a sleeping-pill into Clark's drink, so that he'll fall asleep and she can take his place at a rendezvous. Naturally, the drug doesn't affect Superman, who once again intervenes to save Lois' ass.

 The last story shows Lois in an even worse light. She steers Clark into taking her on a date to a toughs' hangout, where she hopes to make contact with a source for a new story. In order to make contact with a gangster, she winks at him while dancing with Clark, so that the gangster shunts Clark aside and dances with Lois. The girl reporter swipes a document from the mobster and then tries to leave, this time using her contempt for Clark's cowardice as a means of disengaging from their date. The result of this foolhardiness is that the gangster and his pals take both Lois and Clark prisoner, though of course Superman intervenes to save Lois while protecting his own identity. Clark also scoops Lois again, and this time she's explicitly shown being flummoxed by his getting ahead of her.

Whereas SUPERMAN #3 is rife with a whole lotta Lois, her appearances in issue #4 are nugatory for my purposes.  In SUPERMAN #5 Clark sees a little boy in danger and, since he has no time to change to Superman, he must save the kid in Lois' full sight. Her words to him are revealing vis-a-vis my earlier theory about her response to Clark: "I've always hoped you'd be like this-- brave, daring-- not frightened of your own shadow!" This strongly suggests that in author Siegel's mind, Lois has contemplated Clark as a possible suitor, but any physical appeal he might have for her is mitigated by his lack of bravado. Lois then proceeds to get them both in trouble again, which Superman has to sort out. In this issue and the subsequent one, most of Lois' other appearances involve the same dichotomy-- Lois admires Superman's courage and despises Clark's cowardice-- until we get to the last story in issue #6. In this untitled story, Superman arrives on the scene of a collapsing stadium, and must choose between saving Lois or a group of children from being crushed by falling debris. Lois, who courageously tells the hero to save the children first, is injured when he does so. However, her injuries vanish like magic when Superman gives her a blood-transfusion. Gerard Jones, among others, believes that Jerry Siegel was floating a narrative that might have made it possible for Lois to become a superwoman, since it concludes with the recovered reporter saying, "I feel stronger than I've ever felt." But if the idea was proposed, clearly the editors, preferring a status quo, rejected it.

This sampling suggests that, contrary to Berlatsky's unsupported verdict, Lois is actually the one treating Clark Kent like crap. Granted, given his pose he doesn't have the right to expect her to give him the time of day, but her rejections are laced with unnecessary contempt and sarcasm. And while I believe Siegel wanted readers to think that Lois' femininity did not keep her from being a good reporter, he also wants them to see that she's also going too far when she drugs Clark or maneuvers him into a possible fight-- though these shenanigans may be justifiable if I'm right that Siegel also meant their relationship to be a combative one.

I imagine that none of these findings, though, will impress the sort of bloody comic book elitist who can only see things ideologically. To do this, said elitist must perform the gymnastic feat that the French call the *bouleversement*-- which I'll discuss further in Part 2.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Though the meme "Superman is a dick" has entered whatever immortality the Internet may confer, on this HOODED UTILITARIAN thread I've been arguing with Noah Berlatsky as to the inherent goodness of the Man of Steel.

The discussion is probably winding to a close, so for future reference I'll print my latest comments here, largely in line with my frequent admonitions against "overthinking the underthought."


In other words, you're saying that your only rejoinder to Marston is to say, "I don't agree with your interpretation," rather than trying to prove false logic on his part. Anything to avoid close reading, eh?

You're missing part of the quote, too. Wertham doesn't just say that WW is lesbian propaganda, he specifically says it's "anti-masculine," as if Marston were kissing cousins with Valerie Solanas. Not, I emphasize, just a "critique of masculinism," in other words, but taking a philosophical position that despises all things masculine.

It's my contention that *you* are the one interpreting Superman as "something else" when you resort to superimposing the morals of the stories with your own. Few if any of your comments about his dickishness can be justified from the context of the stories. If you just don't like the character of the S&S Superman, that's fine, that's a matter of taste. But you didn't state "Superman is not a good person" as an expression of your personal taste.

I might understand your queasiness about "extra-judicial violence" if we were frequently seeing Superman descending on African villages to make the natives obey the colonial powers. But Superman's first heroic deed in ACTION #1 is to prevent an act of bullying, beating down a man who is beating his wife (can't remember if the text calls her that or not). Yet in your view Superman becomes a bully even when he stops bullying. How many real-life bullies do that-- unless, of course, it's for some ulterior motive?

I don't buy your objection to vigilantism because you're applying it only to narratives you don't like for whatever reason. Wonder Woman is just as much a vigilante as Superman; she acts with no authority save that of the goddess Aphrodite, whom I suspect would be considered extra-legal in American courts. Any number of WW stories have scenes in which WW slaps down bully-boys with the same ease that Superman does, so is she a bully? Is she therefore "not good" for the same reasons? Or does she get a pass because you agree with Marston's politics?

I don't say accept the ideals of the comic at face value. But critics should at least ground their extrapolations in the words and pictures on the page, rather than imposing upon them ideologies that bear no relationship to the original work.


I'll add here one extra thought that I omitted, knowing that Mr. Berlatsky wouldn't give it any credence. He asserts that the Siegel-and-Shuster Superman is frequently seen treating Lois Lane shabbily. While this is a well-trod trope during the Silver Age, I don't think that it appears very often in the period when Siegel and Shuster had some degree of control over the feature. Only a "close reading" of the type I advocate to Berlatsky would prove whether or not Lois gets regularly trashed during those years. But even so, some terms would have to be set.  Is Superman/Clark "bullying" Lois when he scoops her? It might be a tad unfair that Clark Kent frequently scoops Lois because he can call upon the powers of a godlike Kryptonian-- but is it bullying?  In ACTION COMICS #5, in the story retroactively entitled "Superman and the Dam," Lois gives Clark a false message so that he goes for a story to the wrong address. The editor fires Clark, but nevertheless Clark dons his costume and goes on to rescue Lois from the bursting of a colossal dam. The story never depicts what happens off-panel so that Clark gets his job back, though naturally he's back on the payroll, without explanation, with the next Superman story.

What I think Berlatsky overlooks in the Superman-Lois relationship is that by nature they're combative types. I said on the thread that Superman is an alpha-male, but Lois is no less an alpha-female. At worst Siegel and Shuster depict her as foolhardy in her quest for news, but I don't think she's ever less than clever or gutsy, in contrast to the version of Lois that prevailed in the Silver Age, when editor Mort Weisinger called all the shots.

Verbal jousting between males and females as an expression of chemistry was certainly old when Shakespeare had Beatrice clubbing Benedick with snappy comebacks in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. The relationship of Lois and Clark borrows its structure from THE MARK OF ZORRO, but Zorro's lovers don't challenge him as Lois challenges Clark. Since fans have only spotty evidence regarding Siegel's earliest version of Superman, one can only say that the published 1938 version is right in the tradition of smart lady-reporters like Torchy Blane.

If I find time maybe I'll do a close reading of early S&S Superman comics, to demonstrate the superiority of close reading to over-ideological interpretations.

ADDENDUM: Upon re-reading the "Dam" story, I find that I was wrong on one point: when Clark calls in his scoop regarding Superman's activities at the dam, his editor promptly re-hires him over the phone.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Well, I would not have thought that in just a little over a month, the comics biz could generate another silly sex-controversy equal to that of "Spiderbuttgate." But I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The original image, from JUSTICE LEAGUE #12, was a pretty uncontroversial cover showing Superman and Wonder Woman making out in mid-air.

At some point, a T-shirt company used the image thusly:

This probably seemed only mildly provocative to the shirt-makers, whose business is come up with weird shit that people are willing to wear on their shirt-fronts.  Unfortunately, the idea that a male hero might want to shout "score" when he's gettin' some incited various netheads to view the shirt as yet another marginalization of femininity.  It also spurred artist Bill Siekiewicz to do his own version.

I'm indebted to this column on Robot 6 for reproducing the Siekiewicz image; it also features a particularly lively discussion of the moral issues regarding both the original shirt and Siekiewicz's response.  It's a better than average discussion, though I don't imagine that any of the "victimologists" convinced any of the "mansplainers," or vice versa.  The final poster as of today notes that contrary to Siekiewicz's interpretation, the original illustration isn't showing Wonder Woman closing her hand into a fist with the intention of belting the Man of Steel; it's because she's holding her magic lasso.

The selective reading of the image is on a par with the deliberate misreadings of the Manara Spider-butt, comparing it with another image in which a Manara female was "presenting" her butt for a sexual encounter. However, the shirt doesn't just present an image, but also text, and it's certainly the text that got some knickers twisted.

So what are the objectionable features of that text? If it had only featured the word "Score!," then I hypothesize that it would have been viewed as tacky, but not a marginalization of all things feminine. It seems likely that the other phrase, "Superman does it again," is what twisted the panties. The shirt might have even escaped condemnation had it left off the word "again," for with the addition of that word, the shirt as a whole implies to some minds that Wonder Woman has been reduced to a notch on Superman's bedpost.  And according to Siekiewicz, being a Lothario merits a punch in the face.

Obviously, there are creepy Lotharios out there, even when they don't resort to illegal actions like using date-drugs, etc. But the image doesn't show Superman either forcing himself on the Amazing Amazon or even using any sort of psychological tactics to get into her pants. Even with the text, all it says is that Superman is successfully seducing an entirely willing Wonder Woman. If this is a crime, then it's one of which a great many men are guilty, ranging from actors like Errol Flynn and Warren Beatty to sports figures like Wilt Chamberlain.

Ironically, the "victimology" side, in claiming that Wonder Woman has been reduced to an "object"-- e.g, that "notch on the bedpost"-- they actually subtract from her character the ability to choose. In sports, to "score" means to meet a challenge and overcome opposition, not to take something forcefully or, conversely, to take it without effort. And it's arguable that the countless women who "surrendered" to male celebrities did so because the men had gained the reputation for being satisfying on a number of levels.  Since the T-shirt image does not show Superman imposing any force on Wonder Woman, Siekiewicz's response is tantamount to his saying, "A woman has the right to assault a man for making sexual overtures, particularly when that man has gained a reputation for bedding other women."

To be sure, one can see this conceit used for comedy throughout dozens of Japanese manga-series. Whether or not the male star of a comedy-manga is a real Lothario or merely succeeds in attracting a harem of women into his orbit, it's customary for that male to be continually beaten up by at least one woman.

Here's RANMA 1/2:


And finally, CITY HUNTER:

But in these comic circumstances, the beating may be deemed a symbolic displacement for the sex-act, since the female is almost always hot for the male. On the terms of comedy, then, these assaults are amusing and thus stand as positive forces. To the best of my knowledge, there's no political content to these displays-- which is fortunate, since, as Sienkiewicz has aptly shown, applying this sort of sex-and-sadism mix to the real world is the worst kind of bad politics.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Posted this on a WONDER WOMAN forum-topic.


Some of the zeitgeist that made Wonder Woman able to sustain two features at once was a consequence of World War II boosterism.  Both Wonder Woman and the Sub-Mariner were in part popular because even though they were not Americans, they made America's cause their own. In an inversion of the trope in which godlike Americans go to Europe to save the Allies, they're godlike Allies defending Americans and other Allies-- and Wonder Woman even drapes herself in the stars and stripes to reduce any sense of her "foreign-ness." It may not be a coincidence that neither character has enjoyed anything like the sales/popularity they once enjoyed.

Wonder Woman was also at her most popular when she was aimed at kids, the primary purchasers of comic books in the Golden Age.  Her fame and the complexity of her original setup could make it possible for her to enjoy success with an older audience-- but it would have to be in a format that modern adults would buy, and that ain't the floppy magazine format.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


I recently came across this Roy Thomas observation from DRACULA LIVES #1 (1973):

"It's our firm conviction that at least a sizable portion of the future of comics lies in a larger, more expensive, even more mature product than today's color-comics market is structured to allow. In a day when Playboy and other magazines sell for a buck (and more, on such gala holidays as Christmas, New Year, and Hugh Hefner's birthday)--in a day when a forty- or fifty cent cover price is possible only to a magazine of tremendous initial circulation--in short, in a time of creeping inflation, rampant overcrowding of the newsstands--we felt that, even though Marvel's popularity is at an all-time high, we'd be fools and klutzes not to experiment with other prices, other sizes, other formats."

It's my theory that what Thomas was saying in '73 was by then common wisdom for Marvel since about 1970-71. I've always considered the Bronze Age-- which I place in 1970-- to be a new era because that's when the Big Two took their first faltering steps toward "adult entertainment," as represented by Marvel's CONAN and DC's GREEN LANTERN. I must admit that there's a big marketing difference in the two, since the former was aiming for success based on the popularity of the paperback Howard reprints while the latter was a gamble aimed at keeping a failing book alive.  Still, both are predicated on appealing to non-juvenile interests.

That Thomas was thinking in this wise long before 1973 is evinced in the 1971 premiere of SAVAGE TALES, for which Roy is billed as "associate editor." The idea of appealing to an older market would be a logical step since it's commonly asserted that sales in the late 1960s went way down, as the superhero bubble, prompted in part by the BATMAN teleseries, went kerblooey.

Marvel-- which also attempted to corner the underground market with the 1974-76 COMIX BOOK-- seems to have been more heavily invested in developing this market than DC, or even Warren. I've read very little of Silver Age Warren, so I don't know if its horror and war stories were on a par with the more mature stories of EC Comics, nor do I know whether or not the Warren audience skewed older than that of Marvel and DC. Warren did begin VAMPIRELLA in 1969, so that would seem to be a more overt courting of an adult audience by Warren, using sex-and-violence in much the same way Marvel used Conan. 

On a side-note, I'd opine that the Marvel guys never seemed to get a handle on adult horror: most of the b&w horror stuff had the same tone as the color comics.  

In 1973 it probably made all the sense in the world to assume that magazines would be a secure foundation on which a comics-company could build. For one thing, the company could expect to raise prices when other magazines did, and not lose out, as DC allegedly did when they tried to maintain 25-cent comics against Marvel's 20-centers.  But then, who could have predicted that the digital revolution would come close to making all magazine entertainment irrelevant?