Wherever there's a bang-up.
June 14, 2006 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Superman marries Lois Lane. Superman dies. Batman's back is broken. Robin dies. Spider-Man gets married. But one storyline taboo, revealing one's secret identity, has never been broken with a major comic book character. Until now (big-time spoiler alert).
posted by solid-one-love (125 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Haven't the FF been 'out' from day one? It's a stupid convention anyway. If you're a superhero, just be a superhero, why hide it?
posted by empath at 9:25 AM on June 14, 2006


The unmasking comes as ----- ------ signs on in support of the Super-Hero Registration Act, joining with Iron Man, Reed Richards, Henry Pym, She-Hulk, and other super heroes who have sided with the government.

What kind of story line is that, some parallel to a National ID Card program everyone wanted here after 9/11?
posted by mathowie at 9:28 AM on June 14, 2006


but, i already KNEW peter parker was spiderman!! =p
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 9:28 AM on June 14, 2006


underwearpervert... lollercopting
posted by cavalier at 9:33 AM on June 14, 2006


(My first ever FPP. Be gentle.)

The FF never had 'secret' identities, so there's no revelation there. And the FF are unique: none of them have family to protect (except for each other; all of their parents are dead or time-travelers or, in the case of Ben's aunt Petunia, never seen on panel).

This, at least, is the usual reason given for why superheroes have to keep their identities secret. But the storyline in question has made a pretty compelling case that this reason is bunk: is a superhero's family any more or less safe than the family of a judge or politician, particularly in a world where the bad guys shoot lasers out of their asses?

I think, though, that this is a brave move on the part of the publisher: the secret identity has been central to the character in question for more than forty years, and this is a genie that'd be difficult to put back into the bottle.

Matt: yeah, that's pretty much exactly the parallel being made. IMHO, it's a good story (so far) because both viewpoints in the "civil war" have some merit. It's a story with a lot of shades of grey.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:35 AM on June 14, 2006


Eh, next year there'll be some big Marvel "Event" that results in a reboot, hiding his secret identity once more.

This can't last. More than most heroes, Spider-Man's alter ego isn't just a plot device, but an integral part of the mythos (like Batman; Clark Kent, on the other hand, is little more than a running sight-gag).
posted by mkultra at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2006


It will turn out to be a dream sequence.

But seriously, what other big-name character has had as dramatic conflict between their superhero and civilian lives?

on preview: yeah.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:41 AM on June 14, 2006


What kind of story line is that, some parallel to a National ID Card program everyone wanted here after 9/11?

This has been a long-running conceit in the Marvel Universe, since before 9-11. It started as the "Mutant Registration Act", a running storyline in the various X-Men-related titles, and was meant to parallel more closely to German Jewry in the run-up to the Holocaust (and racism in general).

To its credit, Civil War (n.b. I haven't actually read any of it, but I follow comics news) is meant to be a fairly explicitly political comic, especially for a mainstream publisher. Kudos to them for not having yet another "heroes unite against the Big Bad" epic.
posted by mkultra at 9:45 AM on June 14, 2006


I'm really unsure what the positives are for this move by Marvel, other than to use the limited amount of storylines that might be construed in a "post-secret identity" world for Spidey.

Also, is there more information on this Super Hero Registration Act? It sounds...silly.
posted by Atreides at 9:47 AM on June 14, 2006


A note to teh unwarey would-be comics buyer: Avoid big company wide cross-overs like the plague. Unless Grant Morrison is writing them...
posted by Artw at 9:47 AM on June 14, 2006


Avoid big company wide cross-overs like the plague.

Don't hate on Secret Wars!
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:49 AM on June 14, 2006


Wherever there's a bang-up? I thought it was "wherever there's a hang-up." Actually, I thought it was "Life is a great big hang-up/Wherever there's a hang-up" but various lyric sites have it as "bang-up/hang-up." Of course, those sites tend to crib off each other anyway, so maybe they're wrong.

How about "Wherever there's a booze-up"?
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 9:49 AM on June 14, 2006


I guess it doesn't matter as long as we can all agree that the Hulk is unglamor-rays.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2006


but, i already KNEW peter parker was spiderman!! =p

Is this like gaydarspydar?
posted by Mr. Six at 9:54 AM on June 14, 2006


To its credit, Civil War (n.b. I haven't actually read any of it, but I follow comics news) is meant to be a fairly explicitly political comic, especially for a mainstream publisher.

I hadn't really picked that up in the first ish of Civil War, but its companion book, Civil War: Frontlines, which follows two journalists covering the events of the main book, is refreshingly and brutally honest about the world we live in today.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2006


What kind of story line is that, some parallel to a National ID Card program everyone wanted here after 9/11?

Sort of, yeah - a third-rate super-team, the New Warriors, who had their own reality TV team following them around, carelessly let a villain called Nitro (whose power was to create huge explosions) get near a local primary school. One blast later and with 600 or so adults and children dead, the public mood's rather turned against masked heroes who can't be held accountable for collateral damage caused by their negligence.

The registration act doesn't actually mandate that heroes have to reveal their identity to the public - just to the government. But given that Tony Stark's such a public figure and is supporting the Act, he's revealed that he's Iron Man to foster goodwill. Peter Parker's working so closely with Stark these days that it looks like he felt obliged to follow suit. Mary Jane and Aunt May live in the Avengers tower these days, so it isn't as if they're really at significant risk of retaliation from villains.

I love that Marvel are doing this - Spidey's secret identity might or might not be 'integral' to his character, but there've been so many stories with things the way they were that I'm prepared to welcome any reasonably well-reasoned change with open arms.
posted by terpsichoria at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2006


Man. I always knew spider man was a punk. Batman would have never gone out like this.

However, I recently read somewhere that Marvel released a comic where its most famous superheroes had turned into zombies and gone on a super gory killing spree... Spiderman eating brains and what not. Can anyone confirm this?
posted by bernard@knowmore.org at 9:56 AM on June 14, 2006


Marvel Zombies. Spinoff of a storyline in Ultimate Fantastic Four. It is distilled awesome.
posted by kafziel at 10:00 AM on June 14, 2006


Yeah, that's Marvel Zombies - it was pretty funny for the first couple of issues, but six was probably too many to drag the joke out over.
posted by terpsichoria at 10:00 AM on June 14, 2006


mkultra: "This can't last. More than most heroes, Spider-Man's alter ego isn't just a plot device, but an integral part of the mythos (like Batman; Clark Kent, on the other hand, is little more than a running sight-gag)."

Maybe you haven't read Superman since the Golden Age, but in modern Superman, Clark Kent is the real identity and Superman is his crimefighting superhero persona. He grew up, after all, having no powers.
posted by Plutor at 10:05 AM on June 14, 2006


Yeah, that's Marvel Zombies - it was pretty funny for the first couple of issues, but six was probably too many to drag the joke out over.

It cannot possibly be as ridiculous as the 3-book series where Batman turned into a vampire.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:13 AM on June 14, 2006


Huh? No more baby Supes lifting the car off of Pa?
posted by NortonDC at 10:17 AM on June 14, 2006


It cannot possibly be as ridiculous as the 3-book series where Batman turned into a vampire.

Great, here comes the Kelly Jones bashers... ;)


And yeah, Marvel Zombies would probably have been more enjoyable had it been a 64 page special. Or a What If... ? one shot. Or a two panel joke strip, with a rhyming/alliterative title, a la Archie. Man, that comic reeked of bad fanfic.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2006


So long as there is a continuity to retroactively adjust, there will be retcon in comic books and franchise speculative fiction. Still, I'd be interested to see how they deal with the repercussions of Mary Jane being outed as Spiderman's wife.
posted by crataegus at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2006


That sounds like the "Keene Act" in Watchmen.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


More Spiderman taboos (nsfw; language).
posted by brain_drain at 10:28 AM on June 14, 2006


The "secret identity" conceit goes all the way back to the first superhero comics, and it's driven by fan fantasy wish fulfilment.

When Stan Lee created the FF, he was in a period in which he was trying to break molds and break into new territory. The big change in the FF was precisely that they made no attempt to hide their identities.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2006


Is there a comic-book story arcs disambiguation page somewhere? I recently began the Ultimate reframe, and I'm starting to get confused. Was The Other in the same boot version as the Civil War/unmasking? Also, is this likely to show up in Spidey's film career anytime soon? That'd be sweet.

That sounds like the "Keene Act" in Watchmen.

This just goes to show that we need a 9/11 Godwin's law. We keep on confusing our political allegories.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:34 AM on June 14, 2006


John Stewart gave up his Green Lantern mask eleven years ago.

Rest assured that this unmasking/revelation is only temporary. After all, the Marvelverse is still suffering the after effects of House of M. With a blink of the Scarlet Witch's eye, it could all change again. I mean, isn't resurrected Gwen Stacy still around somewhere?
posted by grabbingsand at 10:35 AM on June 14, 2006


The comic market is a tiny fraction of what it was even ten years ago, and Marvel and DC are so desperate to promote their characters that they'll pull anything to drag in readers and get news outlets talking about them, even if just for a few issues. These stunts are just going to get more and more outrageous and stupid until people stop buying into them and stop talking about them.

My only solace as a longtime fan is the realization that all of these tales are all imaginary anyway, and I can just ignore the ones that I don't like, official continuity be damned. The crappy stories of today have no effect on the great stories that have already been told, and the new approaches will probably be undone years down the line anyway after they fail. The fact that DC killed Superman and brought him back with a mullet in the 1990s doesn't have an impact on how much I enjoy those goofy silver age Jimmy Olsen and Superman tales, nor will this misstep have any impact on my enjoyment of those classic early Lee/Ditko issues of Amazing Spider-man.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:40 AM on June 14, 2006


He grew up, after all, having no powers.

They changed Supes' past? Bastards.
posted by NationalKato at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2006


I agree, MegoSteve, although I do love a lot of the actual books that are coming out of these attention-grabbing crossovers. There'll always be an overwhelming amount of crap in mainstream comics - it's what a lot of the remaining fans want - but if the editors deciding to shake up their universes every couple of years means the most talented of the writers in their stables have their imaginations sparked, that's a fair trade as far as I'm concerned. Books like 52, Catwoman v2, Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol and Animal Man, Peter David's X-Factor, Generation M and so on have all arisen from big crossover-chaos events that've run the gamut from reasonable to hopeless, and they've been amongst my favourite examples of the medium.
posted by terpsichoria at 10:49 AM on June 14, 2006


Marvel Zombies, even though it went on too long, was still a fun read. The fact that the heroes zombies were still in posession of their minds and personalities, and able to communicate and plan if they'd recently fed and weren't consumed by hunger, made for some fantastic moments.
posted by truex at 10:50 AM on June 14, 2006


The unmasking comes as Peter Parker signs on in support of the Super-Hero Registration Act, joining with Iron Man, Reed Richards, Henry Pym, She-Hulk, and other super heroes who have sided with the government.

Wow, that's really sad that they've turned some important characters with a history of integrity and fortitude into a bunch of pansies bending over willingly for invasive and prejudiced government policy. What perfectly apt role models.

/haven't read a super hero comic since 1990
posted by effwerd at 10:52 AM on June 14, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste : I was gonna waltz in here with my Watchmen cred and you had to go and ruin it. Good on ya...
posted by nadawi at 10:53 AM on June 14, 2006


The More SpiderMan Taboos that brain_drain posted have me on the floor.

Also, really, this whole different universes thing...really it should stop.
posted by Brainy at 10:56 AM on June 14, 2006


anotherpanacea- Wikipedia actually has really good articles on various comics characters and story arcs.
posted by mkultra at 10:57 AM on June 14, 2006


I was gonna waltz in here with my Watchmen cred and you had to go and ruin it. Good on ya...

And I too, as well, in addition, also. I was gonna make some reference to Spidey being a pansy and that Hooded Justice took the honorable route by just disappearing. Fuck 'em if they don't want your anonymous help.
posted by davelog at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


I've been reading the Civil War titles, and to my surprise, it doesn't suck. I suspect that B.M. Bendis being a major player helps this quite a bit. As a rule, I find most crossovers really annoying (Infinite Crisis sucked).
posted by doctor_negative at 10:58 AM on June 14, 2006


I thought it was implied that the Comedian killed Hooded Justice? Or did I just assume that?
posted by yhbc at 11:03 AM on June 14, 2006


Oh, and: Was The Other in the same boot version as the Civil War/unmasking?

Yup. Spidey's just not wearing his new costume at the press event because the older one's better-known and more iconic (not everyone even recognises 'Iron Spidey' yet - he's scared the crap out of a couple of people who know him lately). There are only (!) the three versions of Spider-Man around right now - the mainstream version (the same one we've been reading about since time immemorial - the 'real' one), the Ultimate version and the Marvel Adventures one (Marvel Adventures being a sort of simplified, continuity-light series aimed at new readers and kids).

I'm loath to get into the whole 'are they pansies for capitulating?' thing. If forced to choose I'd come down on the side of registration - having thought about how fucking terrifying it must be to live at ground-level in the Marvel universe, where the completely untrained godlike beings who claim to protect you regularly demolish city blocks in potentially avoidable or containable fights - but I must admit, that's at least partly because it's damned easy to be for anything that Captain America's against.
posted by terpsichoria at 11:05 AM on June 14, 2006


Hooded Justice took the honorable route by just disappearing

It is strongly implied that The Comedian killed him. (On preview, yhbc beat me to it.)
posted by solid-one-love at 11:06 AM on June 14, 2006


Marvel has always taken their story cues from social issues, and good for them.

I'd be a lot more jazzed about the "bravery" of this move, though, if comics in general (and Marvel in particular) weren't so notorious about undoing history and ignoring continuity.

This is either a brave committment by Marvel to change the paradigm, or more evidence that nothing is sacred. In ten years, we'll know which. Right now, I think the odds of either are about 50-50.
posted by JWright at 11:07 AM on June 14, 2006


Clark Savage, Jr. didn't have super powers and he didn't need to hide his identity.

I never cared for the secret identity aspect of any of the heroes. I think I stopped reading Superman when it was revealed that he used unconscious super-hypnosis magnified through his spaceship window glasses to convince everyone Clark didn't look like Superman.
posted by ?! at 11:11 AM on June 14, 2006


FWIW, there are a few ways that they could put the genie back in the bottle. One of the more popular ideas going around is that Loki owes Spidey a favour. Ragnarok's come and gone, and all of the Asgardians are dead, but the buzz is that they'll all be coming back by the end of this crossover. I am amused by an idea to recache Spidey's ID that would require bringing dead heroes and villains back to life. It's almost geekily poetic with the multiple layers of retroactive continuity that'd be involved.

And I forgot: The Flash (Wally West) had a public ID for years...until his ID was recached by The Spectre using some big magic mojo. So there is precedence.

In any case, what I'm most looking forward to is J. Jonah Jameson's reaction.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:17 AM on June 14, 2006


super-hypnosis magnified through his spaceship window glasses to convince everyone Clark didn't look like Superman.

LOL! That was indeed a memorably inept issue.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:19 AM on June 14, 2006


but, i already KNEW peter parker was spiderman!!

Karl Rove leaked this long ago.
posted by lathrop at 11:29 AM on June 14, 2006


Didn't Marvel also have a whole storyline not too long ago where Matt Murdock was outed as Daredevil?

And I agree solid-one-love, Jameson's reaction will make this totally worth it.
posted by sbrollins at 11:35 AM on June 14, 2006


In the past Superman also used his super-speed to vibrate his face so as to blur his features and foil photographers.



He only does it for Lois now.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:37 AM on June 14, 2006


The net result of the Keene Act was forcing Nite-Owl II and Silk Spectre II to retire, the only two costumed vigilantes at the time of its passage that weren't either:

crazy (Rorshach, Dr. Manhattan) or,

sociopaths (Comedian).

Big accomplishment, senator!

As a side note, I've often wondered why, given their government contacts, Mr. Indredible and Elastigirl didn't simply move on to knocking over banana republics and killing commies alá Comedian and Dr. Manhattan. Seems crazy to make a guy who can rip apart a tank with his bare hands toil away in insurance when he could be sabotaging shipyards or something....
posted by Scoo at 11:42 AM on June 14, 2006


In any case, what I'm most looking forward to is J. Jonah Jameson's reaction.

Oh my god yes!

Wikipedia actually has really good articles on various comics characters and story arcs.


I've been reading them, but frankly they're very uneven. It gets the arcs fine, but I already know the arcs. What I don't know is which continuity each arc occurs in, and I need a handy-dandy reference. The revelation that there are only three versions going right now helps a little, but I'm mostly troubled by my half-remembered recollections of Uncanny v. Amazing mixed with current the Ultimate and all the crazy retroactive continuity and Time Crisis/Secret War/House of M stuff. I've given up, though. I figure if wikipedia can't do disambiguation right, nothing can.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:57 AM on June 14, 2006


I thought it was implied that the Comedian killed Hooded Justice? Or did I just assume that?

Implied. For what it's worth, I think Comedian killed Rolf Mueller as well, but that still didn't change the fact that he refused to expose his secret identity to the panel, and just quit the biz. Comedian got to him after that, but the refusal of acceptance of the Keene Act was still HJ's doing.

Rorshach would have gotten along well with Hooded Justice. No compromise, ever, even in the face of defeat or death.
posted by davelog at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2006


...

Uh, I'd have to check the book, but didn't Hooded Justice vanish and (assumedly) subsequently get killed by the Comedian after refusing to appear before the HUAC, in '55? And wasn't the Keene Act in '77?
posted by kafziel at 12:27 PM on June 14, 2006


Ut, you're right - it was the red scare, not the Keene Act, that got HJ's refusal to out himself. Good call!
posted by davelog at 12:34 PM on June 14, 2006


Is this like gaydarspydar?

SPYDAR! He is our hero!
posted by JHarris at 12:47 PM on June 14, 2006


Spiderman? Unmasked? Makes for a good headline, but it kind of takes away one of the building blocks of the character. Plus, won't he get arrested now? Aren't the cops after him half the fime? I'm sure as soon as Civil War and Son of M are both over, there'll be some other giant crossover that rights the wrongs of this one.

Daredevil's had his identity revealed at least twice.

As for Iron Man, now that everyone knows it's Tony Stark, can they arrest him for FWI (flying/fighting while intoxicated)or something? That drunk bastard causes more trouble than he fixes.
posted by graventy at 12:49 PM on June 14, 2006


This is why I think Marvel should've booted its "main universe" and just handed everything over to the Ultimate line. The two line thing drives me nuts when it's obvious the Ultimate storylines have more creative legs.
posted by frogan at 12:50 PM on June 14, 2006


No offense, (overwhelmingly) guys, but...who cares? About any of it, I mean.

[The following is intemperate and uncharitable, which is not to say wrong. That's for comic fans to decide, I suppose. I'm just a bit stunned by this thread, juxtaposed with the Stephen James Joyce thread, in which almost no one has read the books about which so much loud opining is daily done.]

The amount of care and detail lavished on comic book recaps by Wikipedians (compared to the woefully impoverished treatment of any number of scholarly/historical/cultural topics) is one of the best pieces of evidence that the half-canard of 'collective intelligence' loses its power the further it gets from the absolute lowest common intellectual denominator. If the people who put together the House of M page or the even more comprehensive Crisis on Infinite Earths summary would expend their intellectual energies on something fucking worthwhile we'd have teleporters and nuclear-powered spacegoing sharks in no time.

I know it's considered churlish by many to point this out, but there's almost nothing whatsoever good about most such comic book attempts at relevance. Look at a book like The Authority: arguably as smartly-written and politically savvy as any superhero comic ever, yet ultimately it came down every issue to a slugfest, some witty banter, the threat of anal rape (weirdly enough), a few gorgeous panels depicting how neat it is to be able to fly around the moon, and...one-liners substituting for sustained political consciousness. The idea of superheroes becoming politically involved is there, and is fascinating, but the idea is practically as far as the book goes. (I haven't read Transmetropolitan yet so don't mention it.)

Alan Moore has written some fantastic political stuff (V For Vendetta not least among his long, long bibliography), but Moore's a bit sui generis. We know that the best comic books are among our time period's most interesting art (I nominate Cerebus as the medium's demented, disagreeable, ludicrous, hilarious, poignant, numbing, far-and-away crowning achievement - and politically-minded in its way). But people simply don't look to superhero comics for searing social insight. It's antithetical to the way the field sees itself.

All of which is mostly separate from another few facts: the writing in the average superhero comic is absolute shit. The art is tits-and-biceps boilerplate, effective and praiseworthy as craft but stupefying. It's not just the generic norms that are questionable but even books' success within those norms - the on-the-nose blandness of the characterization, the inability to render recognizable human forms, the dismissal of basic emotional and narrative continuity and believability, the constitutive inability to deal with the aging process (Frank Miller in DKR and Kurt Busiek in Astro City, along with Moore in a bunch of books, have dealt beautifully with the subject, which only points up the total incapacity of 99% writers when it comes to moving characters through mere daily life)...it's remarkable how little we demand from a medium that's supposedly so dear to us.

More remarkable still that adults continue to spend time with this transparently adolescent genre, and attempt to justify it on aesthetic grounds.

(Let's leave aside the crass commercialism and company-wide creative bankruptcy of today's big comic book companies, and the gullibility of consumers who post-Death-of-Superman continue to place faith in the narrative/characterological integrity of said companies.)

Now I'm a longtime lover of good comics. Really! And only a couple weeks ago I read a recent superhero book that actually had things to say (the first half-dozen issues of Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men - the Danger Room arc is compelling too, but sillier and more speechified than the 'mutant cure' storyline; I prefer Whedon's X-Men to Morrison's). But in this thread there are actually literate grownups unironically praising Silver Age comics. On what grounds? The writing is more insightful? The characters more fleshed-out? Fewer exclamation points? Less ham-fisted internal monologue punnery? More lasting, nuanced relationships? More social consciousness?

I've never, ever heard a convincing argument that reading so-called classic comic books is worth the time - and I say this having studied in grad school with Henry Jenkins, a well-known champion of popular (children's) culture in academia and unapologetic comic book fiend. 'With great power comes great responsibility' is not philosophy, nor is it an insight into the human condition. It belongs in fortune cookie, not a work aspiring to the status of literature, or even the status of 'Don't put this at the bottom of the parakeet's cage.' We're more than 15 years old - what is it that we claim to get out of this pabulum? (I'm unable, try as I might, to read early X-Men books, or any Superman titles, or most Batman books - though the Long Halloween guys have done good with Bats as demonic detective again.)

So I guess I'm wondering: can anyone here seriously recommend an old superhero comic (by 'old' let's generously say '70's and before') that's actually worth bothering with? One that actually depicts, say, even a single human relationship with anything approaching the complexity of the marriage of Archie and Edith Bunker?
posted by waxbanks at 12:50 PM on June 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


'With great power comes great responsibility' is not philosophy, nor is it an insight into the human condition.

Bullshit.

/me waves hand, walks away from waxbanks
posted by frogan at 12:52 PM on June 14, 2006


*ahem*


/taps mic


*ahem*


"suck it, hater."
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:54 PM on June 14, 2006


Waxbanks, let me try to distill what you're saying: A few comics (such as DKR, anything by Alan Moore or even Cerebus, which I consider utter crap) and comic artists are really great -- truly genre defining and thought-provoking, a few (such as that amazing Transmet) are said to be great but you haven't read them so you don't know, and the great majority suck. Plus comic book publishers just want to make a buck.

Tell me now, how is that any different from contemporary fiction? 99% of comics are crap? Sure! 99.99% of contemporary fiction is crap? Absolutely -- if not more. And if you think for one second that Marvel and DC are any more money-grubbing than the major publishing houses, well . . . you're wrong. It's that simple. They are all just businesses trying to make a buck.

So I guess my question is: what's your point? Have you forgotten Sturgeon?
posted by The Bellman at 1:16 PM on June 14, 2006


So, Waxman, are you saying that comic books that were aimed at children are childish?

Looks like Loeb didn't just make Batman a great detective again!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:26 PM on June 14, 2006


I refuse to take seriously any argument coming from someone who thinks that Cerebus is the crowning achievement of anything other than boredom and/or misogyny.
posted by mkultra at 1:32 PM on June 14, 2006


waxbanks: Your argument is flawed. First off, you claim a lack of 'serious' scholarship on Wikipdia is proof that Joyce is understudied and comics are overstudied, at least by internet nerds like the Mefi and Wikipedia community. This is wrong and irrelevant. Joyce is heavily studied, as noted by the hundreds of books on the subject. He's not in any danger of disappearing.

However, comics are basically ephemeral in pop culture, brief splashes of color doled out montly. For most of their history, they weren't studied at all and we've lost massive sections of their history because of this. Compared to the literary canon, there is little study on comics at any level and I believe that the Wikipedia summaries are a useful history of them. One hundred years from now, the Wikipedia entries will probably still be around, providing an accurate record of them.

Also, you assume that there's a clear hierarchy of what's 'good' and what's 'bad'. Critical study of virtually any cultural product can be enlightening. You should read Barthes :)

Furthermore, regardless of your ideals, people will continue to buy and read comic books. Preaching about their supposed inferiority is not going to win you any converts. In fact, it seems like you're more concerned with positioning yourself as an iconoclastic intellectual prodigy who's evolved beyond the culture industry. What do you consume on a regular basis?
posted by clockworkjoe at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2006


Dude, but Cerebus had Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a carriage!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2006


Ya know, waxbanks, there was a time when I would have agreed with quite a bit if not all of what you are saying... Then some funny things happened. I went to grad school and started studying what I call "altered anatomies" of which the superhero is one prominent type. And I started reading things like the Tain Bo Cualnge. And I started watching shows like The Visions of Escaflowne.

And I noticed/realized something - these types of stories and characters are not designed to have the verite style of personal interaction you seem to be craving. Cuchulainn, for example in the Tain talks in rather a strange way and episodes are often told in an abrupt, abbreviated form. Or to take a more obvious and widely-read example, I could say "gee, I sure don't feel like I get to know Odysseus as a person, really, do I? He's kind of one-dimensional, right? Strong leader, tough, but what's he like to play cards with?" I don't even mean to say that Stan Lee is Homer (although I'm sure that joke's been made by Lee on some splash page or another), but rather that mythical narratives seem to have a certain construction. There's a need for a certain abstraction of particular character traits so that the reader does some work in constructing the creation.

To me, I'm less interested in whether a writer gets Peter Parker's character "right" or an artists draws Spider-man "right", but rather how a creator (be it artist or writer) can make an interesting story working with the mythic clay of a certain set of principles that is a superhero. For that reason, I'm not sure about this latest move by Marvel, because the Peter/Spider-man split is a major part of the mythos, and this move was likely done for the exact reasons you've inadvertently described : to make it somehow more realistic.

I guess, in summation, I think you're making an understandable mistake which is to match up a continuum of realistic / fantastic with a continuum of childish / adult and therefore bad / good. None of those three necessarily have anything to do with one another.

PS - please don't go thinking that Ditko, Kirby, Romita (either), Heck, Steranko, Tezuka and others are 'boilerplate' in the way that McFarlane, Lee and Liefeld are. In fact, I'd much sooner say Cassaday (from Astonishing) is 'bland' than any of those I've mentioned. I mean, have you ever seen a Steranko book?

PPS - Honestly, your comments didn't make me mad at all, but why does a professor have to convince you to read a comic book? As someone who completed grad school and is about to be a professor, let me say, please don't go down that path of looking to professors for advice on how to have fun.
posted by Slothrop at 1:35 PM on June 14, 2006


Waxman, try out the Denny O'Neil / Neal Adams run at Green Lantern / Green Arrow back in the late 60s and early 70s.

Bear in mind also pop culture is very much a product of its time. Very few comics made today would probably be not worth reading 5 - 10 years from now. Same can be said of movies or even TV shows.

That said, I am looking forward to J. Jonah Jameson's reaction to Spidey's announcement.
posted by mgatela at 1:37 PM on June 14, 2006


The unmasking comes as Peter Parker signs on in support of the Super-Hero Registration Act, joining with Iron Man, Reed Richards, Henry Pym, She-Hulk, and other super heroes who have sided with the government.
Am I the only one who sees this as propaganda? Or am I the only one who's shocked by that fact?

When will the superheroes start torturing people because torture is ok if you're one of the good guys and you're torturing people who might be bad guys.
As in the series 24.

Does the Pentagon have meetings with Marvel and with the television channel behind 24? Are these meetings secret?

Or am I paranoid?
posted by jouke at 1:39 PM on June 14, 2006


Am I the only one who sees this as propaganda?

jouke- Captain America is on the other side, so I'm going with "no".
posted by mkultra at 1:41 PM on June 14, 2006


When will the superheroes start torturing people because torture is ok if you're one of the good guys and you're torturing people who might be bad guys.

DC hit on this in Identity Crisis with memory-erasure in lieu of torture.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2006


waxbanks, re-reading your comments, another thing comes to mind - you speak only of the writing of comics, both in your criticism and what you like in comics you've read. Are good comics (to you) simply Julian Barnes with pictures..?
posted by Slothrop at 1:45 PM on June 14, 2006


"I don't think people should talk about hobbies or other things they find enjoyable. No trivial pursuit is worth discussion. No trivial pursuit should be pursued, either. All spare time should be spent writing pastiches of Barthelme or researching new alloys." -- waxbanks
posted by solid-one-love at 1:55 PM on June 14, 2006


mkultra: so Captain America did not sign the act and did not side with the government on this?
Well then my interpretation probably was paranoid.
posted by jouke at 1:55 PM on June 14, 2006


Captain America did not sign the act and did not side with the government on this?

It's been a longtime staple of the character that he stands for the ideal of America, not the government. They've touched on this aspect several times during the character's history.
posted by frogan at 2:05 PM on June 14, 2006


When they want to go back to "classic" spiderman, they'll just say the entire civil war happened in an alternate universe. Nothing is permanent in comic universes.
posted by slatternus at 2:13 PM on June 14, 2006


so, if JJJ knows that Parker is Spider-Man, and that every Spiderman exclusive shot of his was a result of Peter taking pictures of himself, does that mean that he'll sue for back pay?
posted by heeeraldo at 2:15 PM on June 14, 2006


What is the price of these things nowadays?

No wonder sales suck..
posted by Chuckles at 2:18 PM on June 14, 2006


The art is tits-and-biceps boilerplate, effective and praiseworthy as craft but stupefying.

I don't even think they are praiseworthy as craft. Of the three contemporary artists Slothrop mentioned, McFarlane, Lee, and Liefeld, only McFarlane is any good. Jim Lee has obvious skills but from what I remember he had bad design and no sense of depth or clarity (which could've been the inker's fault though, it's been so long I can't recall). And Liefeld was the worst. I used to always laugh at his ongoing attempts at hiding his characters feet. He was such a lazy artist.

I think some of the best super hero comic book art ever was Bill Sienkiewicz's run on the New Mutants. Barry Windsor-Smith is one of the greats, as are John Byrne, Neal Adams and JR Jr. I also loved Ron Frenz's work on Spidey in the 80s, it was so perfectly suited to both the medium and the stories.

I blame Jim Shooter for the decline in quality comic book art.
posted by effwerd at 2:28 PM on June 14, 2006


Dude just sat down and shat on this threat. Awesome. Plus he tarred the entire industry without ever mentioning Sandman.

expend [your] intellectual energies on something fucking worthwhile


Right backatcha.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:47 PM on June 14, 2006


Any thoughts on Bill Willingham, effwerd? How about Miller in his Sin City incarnation -- or better yet, Ronin? Just curious about your views as you seem well-informed. I agree 100% about Sienkiewicz and particularly loved his work with Miller on Elektra and Daredevil.
posted by The Bellman at 2:49 PM on June 14, 2006


Oh, and Matt Wagner too. Back when I was reading comics regularly I'd say Grendel and Mage (along with Willingham's Elementals) were among the high points.
posted by The Bellman at 2:51 PM on June 14, 2006


So I guess they’ve pretty much given up writing characters and plots and such.
Pesky stuff anyway. Why not turn storyboards straight over to the marketing department, cause it would be cool if Spider Man drank a lot of Coca-Cola to recharge his powers.
Then reboot when you get a better offer from Pepsi.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:03 PM on June 14, 2006


"Sort of, yeah - a third-rate super-team, the New Warriors, who had their own reality TV team following them around, carelessly let a villain called Nitro (whose power was to create huge explosions) get near a local primary school. One blast later and with 600 or so adults and children dead, the public mood's rather turned against masked heroes who can't be held accountable for collateral damage caused by their negligence."

This could be a little off since I haven't been reading this series, but isn't there a bit of Kingdom Come similarity there as well? The Justice Battalion vs. Parasite thing?
posted by litlnemo at 3:14 PM on June 14, 2006


The next thing you guys are going to tell me is that Superman is actually some nerd, like maybe that dork who works at the paper... Clark something.
posted by eperker at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2006


The Bellman, I look at Frank Miller in the same way I see Mike Mignola, obviously skilled, way into panel design and a much more graphic approach, but ultimately not my cup of tea. Kinda like Gil Kane, but I thoroughly hated Gil Kane. But bringing up Miller reminded me, David Mazzuchelli was awesome on that Daredevil run. (And there are obviously a lot more great artists than on my quick list.)

I didn't get exposed to Willingham so I can't really say, but Wagner was definitely great. Aside from Dark Horse, I never really found much from the smaller publishers that impressed me too much. I was very poor back then so I spent my money very carefully. :)
posted by effwerd at 3:38 PM on June 14, 2006


eperker - That's impossible. Clark Kent wears Glasses.
posted by Artw at 4:05 PM on June 14, 2006


So, I heard Spidey came out of the closet.
posted by cellphone at 4:07 PM on June 14, 2006


Does the Pentagon have meetings with Marvel and with the television channel behind 24? Are these meetings secret?

Why would they even need to be secret? I've seen people here on Metafilter enraged at each new revelation of torture, and yet the very next day their swooning over 24, completely oblivious to the connection.

But not to derail, of COURSE comics are propaganda. Always have been. The concept of Peter Parker signing on with the government is just...so wrong. Nothing at all like the Parker I grew up with. I feel insulted by the whole premise.
posted by slatternus at 4:40 PM on June 14, 2006


I've seen people here on Metafilter enraged at each new revelation of torture, and yet the very next day their swooning over 24, completely oblivious to the connection.

24 seems pretty neutral on torture's benefit. Last season, for example, an innocent man was tortured and nothing was gained but lost time. It's a show more subtle than its critics give it credit for.
posted by Mr. Six at 4:55 PM on June 14, 2006


I've seen people here on Metafilter enraged at each new revelation of torture, and yet the very next day their swooning over 24, completely oblivious to the connection.

Are they the same people?
posted by sonofsamiam at 5:00 PM on June 14, 2006


Didn't you see Unbreakable, waxbanks??? These are heroic myths! HEROIC MODERN-DAY MYTHS!!!
posted by you just lost the game at 5:24 PM on June 14, 2006


waxbanks writes "I know it's considered churlish by many to point this out, but there's almost nothing whatsoever good about most such comic book attempts at relevance. Look at a book like The Authority: arguably as smartly-written and politically savvy as any superhero comic ever, yet ultimately it came down every issue to a slugfest, some witty banter, the threat of anal rape (weirdly enough), a few gorgeous panels depicting how neat it is to be able to fly around the moon, and...one-liners substituting for sustained political consciousness. The idea of superheroes becoming politically involved is there, and is fascinating, but the idea is practically as far as the book goes."

This deserves a serious response, because the dismissals of your view do not really rise to it. The problem you're expressing is not that the comics do not work toward substance, but that they essentially "come down to" a handful of straightforward plot devices. I would argue that this is perfectly fine. A television show does the same thing, whether or not it is relevant; the whole modern wave of serious, well-respected TV dramas is precisely as formulaic as the comic book is, and for the same reason. And if you accept that a television drama can tell a meaningful story, then the same standard should compel you to accept that a comic book can as well.

Basically, comics are written and drawn under intense time constraints, in a serialized format; this is not substantially different from a television drama. An audience tends to prefer familiarity over total variation. A comic book is what it is because it has an identifiable logo on its cover and this describes to the reader the basics of what he will find. If I opened the copy of Green Arrow that I bought today and it was a zombie horror story, I would feel rightfully cheated, even if the Blackgas I bought a couple of weeks ago was a zombie horror story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. (The examples are not particularly important.) This predictability is central to the medium; although the story arc has become de rigeur and opened up the plot and characterization possibilities quite wide, any given issue should have the basic action ingredients that feed the superhero genre of comics. This creates an agreeable consistency for the reader, who then chooses books based on what they enjoy.

It is not important, in my mind, that comics seek to actively break from the formula. Probably my favorite book of all time, Alan Moore's Miracleman, is still a superhero work in every important sense of the word; it is also an amazing story wonderfully told. I enjoy the earlier volumes of Cerebus because Dave Sim was at some point a master storyteller and was doing incredible things with panel design and motion and the combination of words and text that changed the medium in a significant way. But Cerebus was a single book, and a highly independent, experimental one at that. Sim could do Jaka's Story and Melmoth only because he had earned the right to with High Society, I would argue, which was innovative but still followed a comprehensible formula. He won his fans by hard work, and he lost most of them with the self-indulgence and misogyny of Mothers & Daughters. He remained an excellent storyteller and comic artist, but no longer had the ability to so capitvate an audience. But most works are not so personal, do not have the fanbase, do not have the ability to take the risks that Sim did.

You can't blame other comic authors for not breaking the formula as much as Sim did. Most of them would probably love to do so, but don't have the means to. And as Sim proved, doing it without going off into self-indulgence is not guaranteed. So at best I'm skeptical about formula = low quality.
posted by graymouser at 5:46 PM on June 14, 2006


holy fuck
posted by shmegegge at 5:54 PM on June 14, 2006


to quote the lovingly re-captioned Spider-Man strips, from whence I do not recall (but at least I copied that one):

"Holy penis! What a scoop!"
posted by trigonometry at 6:08 PM on June 14, 2006


"I'm here, I'm 'super', get used to it."
posted by dawiz at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2006


It makes perfect sense that Spider-man would be on the side advocating registration of super-powered beings with the government. Spider-man is all about responsibility. The entire concept of the character is soaked in guilt and duty and the weak being protected from the strong.
I may not personally agree with the stance, and it is somewhat sad that I don't see eye to eye with my (fictional) hero on this, but I understand that it makes perfect sense within the framework of the character.
posted by nightchrome at 7:04 PM on June 14, 2006


greymouser, effwerd, slothrop, bellman: thanks for your comments and suggestions. I'll take at look at the stuff you suggest. Those who dismiss Sim: actually read the stuff you're dismissing. He's one of the five or ten best (humour) writers, the best letterer, the most committed long-form storyteller, one of the handful of experimentalist layout artists, and (when he was able to surpass himself) one of the most generous characterizers of women in the history of comics. Period. I disagree that the later Cerebus stuff is bad - I think it's wrong but brilliant and funny - but that's OK.

I've seen a Steranko book and was impressed. There have been very talented visual artists working in comics. I would suggest, politely, that in the main they've been wasting their fucking time on meaningless drivel. (Talk of the mythical resonance of superhero comics is largely self-congratulatory bollocks - and I say this having written scholarly papers about the shit.)

But I've got to say, guys: I'm not making a general argument about the nature of art and generic devices. I'm making a specific claim about the creative poverty of superhero comics and just want specific rebuttals. Those who've provided them: you do the community credit as always! :)
posted by waxbanks at 7:35 PM on June 14, 2006


If you don't like it, don't read it, and let those who do enjoy comics continue to read them in peace.
posted by nightchrome at 8:18 PM on June 14, 2006


I haven't read Transmetropolitan yet so don't mention it.

Well, poop. Transmetropolitan is about the only comic I've read in decades, and I thought it was splendid.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:35 PM on June 14, 2006


Transmetropolitan was indeed fantabulous.
posted by nightchrome at 9:53 PM on June 14, 2006


waxbanks, don't you mean was? Unless he's begun another project I'm unaware of, which is possible.
posted by shmegegge at 10:16 PM on June 14, 2006


Am I the only one who sees this as propaganda? Or am I the only one who's shocked by that fact?

If it's propaganda, it's propaganda the other way. Marvel has always had a pretty anti-facist bent in their stories, and this is just a continuation of that, with spidy on the 'wrong side of history'.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 PM on June 14, 2006


yeah, usually when stuff like this gets all roiling up in the marvel universe, there's a big curtain pull at some point where the guy behind it all turns out to have some less noble intention for the project, and people have to reevaluate their positions and start whoopin' ass.
posted by shmegegge at 10:36 PM on June 14, 2006


shmegegge, you're probably right, and I'm anticipating disappointment when Marvel inevitably reveal some evil, evil villain was behind it all, or the government was planning to gas all the superheroes or something. It'd be a real shame if it happened, though, because I honestly do think there are lots of valid arguments for super-hero registration in the Marvel universe right now. Hopefully they'll explore the arguments a bit more, because a lot of fans seem to be knee-jerking 'government = bad!' right now.

waxbanks: I'm making a specific claim about the creative poverty of superhero comics and just want specific rebuttals.

That's a perfectly valid question, but if you want to talk about that, it might be an idea to construct a new FPP with links specifically about whether or not superhero comics are a creatively bankrupt medium. This one wasn't about that at all - it was those of us who are open to appreciation of comics discussing current plotlines as compared to old ones, and big, permanent changes to characters' situations and so on. I think a lot of the confrontational responses you've had have been perfectly justified, because you've effectively come into an interesting thread about one specific thing and said 'I'm not interested in that, I don't like superhero comics, here's why, let's talk about that instead'. It comes across as personal-blog-ish and arrogant.
posted by terpsichoria at 2:04 AM on June 15, 2006


terpsichoria - That's a reasonable point about etiquette. But there's plenty of precedent for coming back to a thread with comments about what the thread does or doesn't seem to say about a certain constituency - and some of those comments even yield up interesting discussions.

And please, don't mistake me for someone who hates comics as such. I've wasted many hours on them. But specifically I find that (a) the kind of Big Revelation being talked about in this thread isn't actually interesting and generally isn't lasting, and that's worth talking about whether you enjoy the stuff or not; and (b) the whole thing conjures up a nostalgia in comic book readers that strikes me as willfully myopic (as all nostalgia is, at some level) about just how shitty are the things that we long for. I wonder how grownups can continue to care unironically about something like Spider-Man - as if there were any metric, any at all, by which it could keep up with work that aspires to something other than escapism. (Bendis's Spider-Man is actually quite good, or was initially. [Does he still do the title? I seem to think so.] Once the shock of Spidey and co. having fleshed out personalities wore off, the degree of achievement seemed markedly less.)

All that said: I do apologise for pissing on what might have ended up an interesting thread otherwise. But I did write the comment in a spirit of discussion, not just condemnation. Hell, condemnation kickstarts discussions where I come here from! (Maybe I should stop reading lefty blogs all the time.)
posted by waxbanks at 4:57 AM on June 15, 2006


Don't apologize, waxbanks. You're smart, engaged and articulate, and the more of that we have here, the better, whether I personally agree with you or not (and I don't have any horses in this particular race).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:00 AM on June 15, 2006


waxbanks: "Talk about what -I- want to talk about, you uncivil Philistines!" From what I gather, you want to talk about how misogynists understand women best and how bad comics are bad. Yet you refuse to read good comics or consider that your selection bias has somehow eliminated all the reasonable responses to your churlish trollish claims.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:02 AM on June 15, 2006


I'm definitely not meaning to brush you off as someone who hasn't thought his opinions out, waxbanks - I probably didn't make clear enough in that last comment that I think the debate you started has the potential to be interesting, despite (or thanks to) not agreeing with you in the slightest. It just seemed a shame to see the existing discussion die so that this one could live, although there's a good chance it had sputtered out anyway. Regardless, no vitriol intended, honest, just a suggestion that the discussion might be better-suited to a post of its very own :)

I do definitely agree that the Big Revelations in comics are generally not all that satisfying. I probably enjoy them on a similar level to the way an awful lot of people enjoy second- and third- hand celebrity or political gossip, and I think that's where a lot of my disagreement with your standpoint on superhero comics comes from - that I'm perfectly capable of enjoying something that doesn't aspire to be particularly complicated on its own terms, without constantly having to criticise it for not being something it doesn't try to be.

To pull out an oft-used example, I can care about what's going to happen to Harry, Ron and Hermione with the same brain I use to appreciate Joyce, Chaucer, Shakespeare and so on because I can switch mental tracks, and enjoy Harry Potter for the simple, satisfying, reasonably inventive story it is. If I want complexity I can go elsewhere, but if I want a good, solid story that doesn't require any mental effort to unravel - literary relaxation and entertainment, in other words - I'll come back to someone like Rowling every time. The existence of Potter doesn't preclude or diminish the existence of, say, Kafka. You can certainly claim that JK Rowling is wasted writing books about young wizards and that shorn of such wasteful distractions she'd be pulling off great feats of complex literary genius. Even if it was the case that she was capable of doing so, I think the world would be an infinitely poorer place if we condemned all the simple, entertaining stories as wasteful of talent.

I almost get the impression from your earlier posts in this thread that you've been convinced - by talk of mythical resonance in Spider-Man and new oral traditions in Detective Comics - that some element of the superhero-comics-reading demographic actually believes all mainstream comics are deep enough for serious criticism and analysis. If anyone thinks that, they're crazy. Comics are literary and artistic TV, for the most part - no more and no less than this week's Lost or 24 or whatever. They're simple, fun entertainment and while they might wear political or philosophical clothes once in a while, that's as deep as it goes and - crucially - as deep as it claims to go. You were right about The Authority earlier - its political and sociological explorations only really come down to a few pithy lines and the occasional backstory setup (when they take over the US, for example) for another quippy superhero beatdown. That doesn't make it bad in any way. It makes it simple, yes, in the way a good action movie or TV show or paperback can be simple, but simple does not in any way equal bad.

Even to draw parallels with the comparison between JK Rowling and James Joyce (as a random example of the simple against the nuanced), though, is to misunderstand comics. If you expect something like V for Vendetta to stand up to Ulysses, you're trying to compare a sixty- or seventy-year-old medium with one almost as old as language. Compare the best of complex, nuanced comics with the best of complex, nuanced film instead. Does V stand up to Citizen Kane? Yes, I think it does. Come back in a few hundred years, and maybe we'll have comics that match up to Joyce.
posted by terpsichoria at 5:55 AM on June 15, 2006


As an addendum, and in short: Spider-Man doesn't attempt or need to keep up with things that aspire to something other than entertainment (I wouldn't characterise it as escapism as you did). Sometimes escapism is exactly what I, as a reader, am looking for. At other times, I want intellectual fulfilment or complex narrative or emotional resonance, and I know to look elsewhere. If Spider-Man offered those things, I'd have one less place to go for entertainment. What I don't understand, and what strikes me as an odd sort of monomania when it appears with surprising regularity in this kind of discussion, is the assumption that only one kind of literature is worthwhile and is the de facto best in place of a celebration of the infinite variety of human creativity.
posted by terpsichoria at 6:01 AM on June 15, 2006


Sigh.

Good Comics: Maus. The Fixer. Sandman. Transmetropolitan (perhaps a personal bias here). Some Moore, though (again, bias) he's overrated. Will Eisner. Astrocity. A lot of Vertigo titles. Love and Rockets. Maybe 100 Bullets, if you squint hard.

"Bad" Comics: Most everything else.

Good literature: The canon, including Joyce. (Why is Joyce the unquestioned literary dynamo? Because he represents the height of layered modernism. Only elitists like ourselves can understand the heavy referentiality, but this is only one form of greatness.)

"Bad" novels that still get called literature: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Jonathan Franzen, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc.

The difference is principally audience and frequency of publication. Pulp serials are aimed at the vulgate, no matter how wonderful the plot or characterization. By comparing Spiderman to Joyce, you've not jumped mediums (comic to novel) but also genres (serial to "great work.") I'd suggest that -some- of the best work of Busiek lives up to Joyce in Dubliners, and if we're going to have this conversation, I welcome debate on that subject. But the real problem in your argument is that you've suggested that we should -only- devote ourselves to the great works. This is senseless, since we'd never appreciate the gems unless we could read the things that give them context.

Genre fiction, in whatever medium, requires a baselines to give it meaning. Otherwise, you've no idea how an author plays with convention or manipulates expectations. Smart people realize this. Beyond that, the whole critique of lowbrow art has the stink of misplaced modernism. The goal isn't to reread Finnegan's Wake forever, nor to rewrite it from memory. The goal is to read and write anew. And that takes practice, experimentation, and the ability to attend to the present. If literature ended with T.S. Eliot, we're all screwed.

One preview: What terpsichoria said.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:34 AM on June 15, 2006


Marvel's opinion is undoubtedly that their "superhero registration act" is a Bad Thing. Spider-Man's siding with the government and outing himself as Peter Parker cannot possibly be for any other reason than as a setup for a battle between superheroes on either side of the issue, followed by reconciliation, followed by the government being revealed as the bad guys.
posted by interrobang at 6:35 AM on June 15, 2006


Erp. "On" preview, obviously. And "you've not only jumped mediums..."
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:36 AM on June 15, 2006


Don't forget Nexus in your list of good comics, anotherpanacea.
posted by interrobang at 6:39 AM on June 15, 2006


waxbanks: But I've got to say, guys: I'm not making a general argument about the nature of art and generic devices. I'm making a specific claim about the creative poverty of superhero comics and just want specific rebuttals. Those who've provided them: you do the community credit as always!

Well I would fully agree that most superhero comics suffer from profound creative poverty due to their commercial constraints. The point made that this is generally true in arts and letters is a strong one though, and I say that as someone who actually tried to read collections of Lovecraft and Doyle.

On the other hand, now and then the genre supports a few artists who can twist the rules to their advantage. Most of Moore's work is firmly within that genre. Even when he uses it as a narrative frame for dissertations on ceremonial magick (Promethia) or to engage in an extended masturbatory wank on Victorian culture (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

Gaiman's Sandman (which at the very least should get credit for pulling off the equivalent of the Saragossa Manuscript in comics form) started from minor superhero characters. I'll also thow in plugs for Noble Causes and Powers, which I wouldn't consider to be revolutionary but are still a notch above the weekly Spider Man.

I think a big problem with the whole genre is that publishers can't leave well enough alone. What initially got me in love with Gaiman/McKean was the jaw-popping beautiful Black Orchid which was a superhero comic that started with a violent problem and ended with a rejection of violence. Of course, D.C. couldn't leave it as an intact and self-contained story arc and had to turn the characters into a monthly series.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:49 AM on June 15, 2006


waxbanks, I find it funny that you say you want to jumpstart a discussion and then you direct the following short statement to my suggestion that comics share form concerns with mythology - "Talk of the mythical resonance of superhero comics is largely self-congratulatory bollocks." That's a discussion?

It's interesting too that you say Steranko was wasting his time on "meaningless drivel" but never mention whether someone like Gaiman was wasting his time on meaningless drivel during, say, certain issues of Sandman (my point being - sometimes "good" writers are teamed up with bad artists, but you have yet to make any claim as to whether those comics were worthless).

Let me come at the mythology suggestion from another angle : I don't like Star Wars. I've never been into it at all to the degree of most of my generation (which has been good for my wallet). Lucas is clearly one of the most hamfisted writers in modern cinema. But, one day I was watching an interview with Samuel Jackson during which he noted that Lucas consistently asked the actors to de-emphasize their line readings, to remove the nuance from their portrayals of the characters. In the interview nothing was made of this, but what struck me about it was that clearly whether you like Star Wars or not, and I'm even one of those people who doesn't really, Lucas has created a modern mythology. Part of how he does that (and I think he has put some misguided thought into this) is to abstract the characters, to remove the specificity that makes them "well-rounded" and literary. The Star Wars films are seen in too many different cultures, by too many different people, to suggest that they don't resonate, whether that resonance is sophisticated or not.

To come at this from yet another angle - I've read Gravity's Rainbow in its entirety and enjoyed it. Check out my username. Comics do something different and equally important as modernist tomes like Pynchon produces : they bring images together to create narrative.

In the end, I don't care whether you believe comics are mythology or not. I think where you and I are going to disagree most is over whether comics are literature. They're not. I have quite a few comics with no words (running the gamut from Frank to GI Joe #21), but I don't have any comics with no images.

PS - Sidenote : why is referentiality the hallmark of greatness? I've read and understood many Modern and postmodern intertextual works, but after awhile referentiality is not that interesting. So one thing refers to or is a symbol for another thing - okay, so critics and interpreters have something to do. I've read plenty of works (and experienced plenty of visual works) that don't have heavy outside codes that have moved me or been just as important to my development as a human.
posted by Slothrop at 9:13 AM on June 15, 2006


You guys really know how to suck all the fun out of things.
You must be fantastic at parties.
posted by nightchrome at 9:19 AM on June 15, 2006


Someone said:
(Why is Joyce the unquestioned literary dynamo? Because he represents the height of layered modernism. Only elitists like ourselves can understand the heavy referentiality, but this is only one form of greatness.)
I don't think it's to do with referentiality but with integrity, seriousness of craftwork wedded to a nontrivial moral and aesthetic vision, sheer fucking hilarity, and yes, of course - complexity (which gives the critics something to do, yeah). In addition to being a Great Writer he's a great storyteller, he just doesn't tell easy stories. Joyce has the advantage of being touched with verbal genius, but it's his moral genius that matters, the boundlessness of his empathy. Pynchon may well be the greater wordsmith - OK that's questionable - but he's frigid in a way Joyce never, ever was.

@KirkJob: Gaiman is overrated. He brings unbelievable verbal sensitivity and storytelling chops and wastes them half the time on sheer pap. I've never been able to figure out why. More talent in his little finger than almost everyone who's ever written comics, but Sandman is at times intolerable. (At it's best, it's deservedly legendary.) Plus American Gods was tiresome, as far into it as I was able to get.

And Promethea is really, really stupid.

@terp:
To pull out an oft-used example, I can care about what's going to happen to Harry, Ron and Hermione with the same brain I use to appreciate Joyce, Chaucer, Shakespeare and so on because I can switch mental tracks, and enjoy Harry Potter for the simple, satisfying, reasonably inventive story it is. If I want complexity I can go elsewhere, but if I want a good, solid story that doesn't require any mental effort to unravel - literary relaxation and entertainment, in other words - I'll come back to someone like Rowling every time. The existence of Potter doesn't preclude or diminish the existence of, say, Kafka. You can certainly claim that JK Rowling is wasted writing books about young wizards and that shorn of such wasteful distractions she'd be pulling off great feats of complex literary genius. Even if it was the case that she was capable of doing so, I think the world would be an infinitely poorer place if we condemned all the simple, entertaining stories as wasteful of talent.
I adore the Potter novels but they have nothing to do with this. Rowling is telling a story that's both easygoing and meaningful. She's also paying attention to pacing and some level of dialogic realism, has thought through her setting, doesn't violate continuity every five pages, doesn't drop plot threads whenever she gets tired of them, doesn't blindside the reader with unsupported and unjustifiable narrative suckerpunches...all standard fucking techniques in superhero comics not only today but at every point in their disreputable history. You're misinterpreting me completely if you think I'm dismissing escapism as such. I'm criticizing escapism as a default mode, escapism in a medium incapable of supporting deeper aims. In other words: I'm saying superhero comics aren't serious, are very very rarely capable of being serious (cf. Watchmen even if it's unpalatable, and other things I've mentioned, plus Top Ten for good measure), and are lacking because of basic lack of craftsmanship and sensibility in construction.

@anotherpanacea: What's wrong with Franzen, again? The Corrections is a beautiful shaggy dog of a novel, bursting with sympathetic portrayals of real humans. Other than the wannabe Pynchon 'Systems' stuff, what's bad about it?

You're right about Moore. I dig Love and Rockets though I can't bring myself to really care about it, only appreciate and be amused by it.

As for misogyny and trolling and 'selection bias': huh what now? To quote Oz on Buffy, you're making 'the kind of sense that's...not.'

I'd love to hear someone argue that modern superhero comics are worth the time and money. Even as mere escapism (seriously now @Terp, what is today's Spider-Man if not a billionth of a Joss Whedon show with arthropods and 'mythology'?).
posted by waxbanks at 4:44 PM on June 15, 2006


@nightchrome: You're not having fun?
posted by waxbanks at 4:45 PM on June 15, 2006


Seriously, dude. You're taking up too much space. I know you like to see yourself in print... but get your own blog.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:02 PM on June 15, 2006


I know real estate is at a premium here in, um, mathowie's hard drive. And I know it's taxing to read more than a speech bubble or so of text at a time. ;v)

So fair enough - no more chatter here, after 1.5 last paragraphs: I just reread your 'if lit ended with Eliot we're screwed' comment. Please, from now on: don't give me 101-level lectures about genre conventions. And when you're unable to address a specific request for recommendation/rebuttal except with hand-wavy generalizations and mini-lectures, consider the possibility of simply not answering. By way of eating my own dog food, I will endeavour to do the same.

Your Colbert post on your blog, by the way, was good. Better by far than your responses here. (No offense, seriously.) Is the format stifling? (That was a rhetorical question.) Ta. (2 England - Trinidad 0!!)
posted by waxbanks at 6:42 PM on June 15, 2006


Apologies for snarkiness. Long day. Points stand but tone was unnecessary. Ta for real.
posted by waxbanks at 7:01 PM on June 15, 2006


"What I'm most looking forward to is J. Jonah Jameson's reaction."

Death by cardiac infarction. Film at eleven.

"More SpiderMan Taboos.."

AND THAT BEAR WAS MY FATHER! BLAMM! hehehe

"Don't hate on Secret Wars!"

Secret Wars bit big donkey donuts. Jim Shooter is a gaywad. Not just for Secret Wars but for Disco Dazzler as well. The Beyonder was Jim Shooter in Mary-Sue drag.

"Infinite Crisis sucked"

Back in '85, Crisis on Infinite Earths was the best comic book maxi series ever, and since. It was the cross over to end all cross overs. I pretty much bowed out of collecting comics after that cuz for me the story had been told. MY DC Universe's story had been told. Soon after that series was over I graduated high school and went into college... I followed the Vertigo line for awhile, especially Sandman, Constantine, and Swamp Thing, but the Silver Age of comics was over. John Byrne introduced a Superman I didn't recognize. The Teen Titans weren't the same after Crisis. Firestorm stopped being funny. The multiverse was gone but they didn't replace it with a better solution. Hypertime? WTF was that about?

Infinite Crisis just indicates to me that the editors have decided rather than decide whether there are multiple realities or not, they're gonna just waffle. The Crisis is now Infinite so they can sell more comics. What causes more potential conflict than to have your entire universe(s) eternally, infinitely in disarray. The modern day writing staff at DC are like kids who refuse to clean their room though their moms (metaphorically the fans) tell them to clean it up.

Y'know what I really wish they'd do? Stop making comics about characters that have had their fifteen minutes of fame. Stop keeping characters who shoulda died of old age decades ago just this side of over the hill. Peter Parker used to be like twice my age. Now I'm older than him. What's up with that? And why the hell is Aunt May still alive? The woman's gotta be pushin' 200! Kill the bitch!

...what were we talking about?
posted by ZachsMind at 8:35 PM on June 15, 2006


...Marvel 1602 looks interesting. Too expensive though. If comic book publishers really wanted people to get interested in comics again, they should start by making them cheaper. That'd help. So long as they don't? I'll just read about them in wikipedia, keep tabs on the plots and not spend a dime on them.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:37 PM on June 15, 2006


waxbanks- I appreciate your apology, but it's misdirected. I'm the one who accused you of shitting on the thread, so some snarkiness is appropriate. The real people you should be apologizing to are those of us who were enjoying some pleasant nostalgia for adolescent heroes. The real reason you should be apologizing is for hijacking that enjoyment for your own ends: pretentious dismissal of our crude enjoyment. It's okay to occasionally huck your academic phallus onto the table for others to measure and compare. Here, it was out of place and impressively long, if flaccid.

You accuse me of supplying basic arguments in the face of your demands for attention. This is fair, and I apologize if I wasted any of the copious hard drive. But it is good to return to basics, whether these be the stories of the comics Silver Age, or the canons of our trade. Critical theory has too few basics, and suffers for it. To you, I recommend (re?)reading Benjamin's essay on Baudelaire, and Adorno's book on the culture industry. Either might have saved you the trouble of having to relive genre 101.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:32 PM on June 15, 2006


"I'd suggest that -some- of the best work of Busiek lives up to Joyce in Dubliners"

Well said anotherpanacea.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:08 AM on June 16, 2006


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