Monday, June 21, 2004


Note: The following column has been subcontracted to a talking milkshake

What the hell, people? What is going on here? I am supposed to be doing important things in my life, important beyond the comprehension of your puny brains. This is the best my booking agent could get me? Answering e-mails on a website, and what is more, a website without naked ladies on it? I do not know what I have done to deserve this, I really do not.

"'what they are and were always intended to be'

"cheese Tim I have read both yours and Dave's back and forth and I just wanted to pipe in with the fact that you may have stepped into more than you realize.

"Artistic intent has got to be the watch word of most of what has been labeled post-modern crit in the past 20 years. After a certain fashion who gives a rat's arse what Alan Moore intended with the Watchmen for the pleasures of discovery are not found in unlocking a grand design devised by the genius who more likly than not doesn't know what he is doing anyway. If anything came out those years and tiresome papers then let it be that there is some equal good in art tha also operates from the unconscious. I am not saying that intent is valueless just that it is not as important as you suggest. I also think Dave wins me over just on the merit of a treasure found rather than the eat your vegetables approach to art.

"sorry - keep up the work I still enjoy reading you often"

I would answer your questions but I will not on the grounds that you and your petty concerns bore me. And this Tim of which you speak - he is not talking to anyone now. I had to get my own pudding cup out of his refrigerator because he was curled up in a fetal position in the corner of the room, apparently too scared to breath.

And as for eating vegetables - I personally do not think that eating vegetables is in any way proscribed by the law or Almighty God. After all, if God had wanted us to eat vegetables he would not have given us legs with which to hunt and kill deer and cows, now would he have? So what I am trying to say is that you should not eat vegetables, it's just a terrible, terrible thing . . . there are children in India who want to eat carrots, and to this I say we should let them have at it. I am a humanitarian.

"Mr. O'Neil,

"I have no problems discussing the relationship of Superheroes and Fascism. As much as I claim they are 'The New Mythology' and agree with most of the 'Literature of Ethics' arguments, I will be the first to admit - even point out - the inherent Paternalism in the idea in an individual with all the power choosing what is right. But you are painting with too wide a brush. In trying to make 'Great Power' come from Mussolini, you essentially dismiss *all* power as Fascist. It makes a nice bumper sticker - like 'All Sex is Rape' - but it is as brain dead and one sided as simply mouthing 'Literature of Ethics'. Or never questioning authority. (Or never questioning those that insist we should always question authority, for that matter.)

You accuse your detractors of 'intellectual laziness', and yet you resost to the knee-jerk, superficial arguments. 'Power Corrupts' is not an absolute. The original phrase is 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' More likely than not, perhaps, but not a tautology. Are you going to insist that *every* police officer, every soldier, every politician will eventually abuse their power? That regardless of who they are, they will all sink to a level of corruption equivalent to their rise in power? Are you saying that were you to wake up one morning with 'the power to change the course of mighty tivers', you *would* become a mass-murdering world tyrant, simply because you could? Before you worry that comics never analyze their assumptions about morality, perhaps you should analyze your assumptions about the lack of it.

"'Just because we can do a thing does not mean that we *must* do a thing' is another nice moral bumper sticker. But one that is perhaps more appropriate. The ideal that superheroes pose is not in what they do, so much as what they choose not to do. Everyone assumes the 'Great Responsibility' is to use the power, to abuse the power to enforce one's personal ethics on the masses. (But then, don't we all?) But it is actually the realization that with the power to do things comes the responsibility to use that power wisely. Since you have the ability to do more, you have to be more careful in what you do. Superman is not Superman because he could take over the world, but because he doesn't. Paul Dini made it explicit in the recent 'Peace on Earth', but the idea that Superman cannot be there for every one goes back to Superman #352 with Destiny, and further. The early comics were pretty two-dimensional, sure. But they were merely a product of their times. Post-Watergate, there are plenty of stroies that question those in power, or question the need to apply that power. 'Spider-Man no more!' wasn't created just for this summer's movie, but has been a constant theme in Peter Parker's life ever since he took on 'Great Responsibility'.

"The claim that '99.9% of all superhero books' never examine the ethical dilemma is as vacuous as the statement '99.9% of mystery novels never question the protagonist's ability to come to a solution through careful detective work.' Literary genre's are defined by their convention, not their exceptions. And in this case, it's even more false as well. While a few mysteries are solved - and crimes comitted - by luck as much as careful planning, nearly every superhero story has the collary to 'Great Responsibility', the person that decides that great power is to be used any way they choose: the Super Villain. And just like the Hero, we have seen an evolution of the Villain. Luthor started as just a nut, a vaguely Russian nut as if that explained everything. Then he was a nut with a really silly hatred of Superboy. Then he was a businessman distrustful/jealous of people with superhuman abilities. For a time he was even a hero, in an environment without a Superman to hate. We have seen Villains who feel they are doing the right thing, and Heroes for whom the ends justify the means. About the only place that the strict Black/White 'Comic Book Morality' really applies anymore is in arguments about why comics are 'just for kids'.

"Now, one aspect of comic book morality that does go unquestioned a little too oftn for me to recommend them as social primers is the question of vigilantism. The 'Voluteer Fireman' argument tries to explain it in terms of Good Samaritainism. I tend to fall back on Nietzche's Ubermensch, having 'gone over' traditional morality and being the only one capable of dealing with others of his kind. (In other words, superheroes can't follow 'normal' rules because those rules were not written with them in mind. But as Kurt Busiek showed in the recent Astro City, the Law is a dance, and it will adapt to new situations.) Many heroes do end up hunted by police at one time or another, or gain official sanction at still another. But since you insist that any sanctioned superheroics is nothing more than facism, they can't win. Either they commit anti-social acts by seperating themselves from societies rules, or they abuse their power by enforcing the rules that society has created for them. (Gosh, ethics is not a collection of absolutes, but requires a balance between the ideals of governance and the realities of personal interactions. A 'Never ending battle' if you will...)

"If you want to engage in a discussion about the application of power, or ever the morality of applying it in the first place, then by all means, take an extremist position and defend it with rational arguments and a rigid code of ethics. That's exactly the way that morality and government should be constantly analyzed and hopefully improved. But if all you have is some sophmoric, 'I hate my parents so I dress up in a black bandana and trash a McDonalds to "denounce" the G8 summits' pique of adolescent rage, then don't for a second try and point fingers about whose literature is 'just for kids'.


"David Oakes"

I gave up trying to read this letter because, in all honesty, it did not interest me. These people know too many big words and that is a frightening fact of life. I do not know who these people are, that have the time on their hands to write such long and boring letters. Do they not possess television sets? Is there no cable TV? The farm report was on the television once and I swear to God I was so bored that I felt my life slipping away from me, seeping out of my body and into a small puddle on the ground.

Now, I did skim the last part of your letter and it seems to me that you are accusing this person of being a Hippy. If I were him, I would challenge you to a duel in order to reclaim my honor, because there is nothing worse on this planet than a dirty hippy. I saw one of them on TV once and I think it scarred me for life, it really did. I like bathing, even if I don't get to do so as often as I would like, because, frankly, I am a busy man, and life does not always play out as we would like, and that is why I am talking to you today.

I have a slip of paper here that says I am supposed to tell you that some comic book company declared bankruptcy. To which I say: we are all safer for it. There is really nothing to be done about the fact that our society is being slowly destroyed from the inside out by traitorous, disease-carrying Chinamen -

(Editor's Note: The views expressed by Master Shake do not necessarily reflect the views of The Hurting or its editorial staff.)

- and these Chinamen are all reading comic books. I was in the supermarket the other day and I saw them on the shelves, some sort of strange books that read from right to left. So, to top it off, the cannot read correctly either. If comic book companies are going bankrupt, then I say the Republic is safer on account of that.

What was that? You want me to talk about the comic books?

I have been given a pile of books to "read" and comment upon, but I do not think I shall do this. Rather I shall burn the books and inhale the fumes, and form these ancient signs shall I foretell the future.

I have been given something with people on it, people drawn in some sort of pose around a coffin or something, perhaps a cooler with cold beverages inside it. There are breasts on a skinny child with long black hair.

What is this crap? This is crap. This was written by an old, old man, for the consumption of other old men. I have been told that this is the "comics event of the year." So you are telling me that the comics event of the year is a flimsy paper pamphlet designed to launch a Stretch-Guy limited series, or whatever this douchebag's name is? I mean, killing someone's wife to make a third-tear character more interesting really isn't a new idea, didn't they do that on Manimal or something?

And what is this? This was actually pretty good. Not good enough to pay for it, but better than that first piece of crap . . .

But then again I would not pay for any of this. My money has many more valuable things to pay for than this. But anyway, I enjoyed this, this reminded me of a movie I saw once, I don't remember what, maybe something with Richard Grieco. This is fun because I know that at some point people are going to get blown up, and perhaps even set on fire at some point in the future, and that is a good thing because most of these comic books are just boring.

So, the book that seems to have been copied from a late night Cinemax heist fick is definitely better than the book that seems to have been written by Dr. Boring, the Mayor of Boringville, USA. If I had to read but one comic book for the rest of my life, it would not be either of these, but then again, I would be thrilled with joy at only having to read one comic book for the rest of my life.

I need to lay down, perhaps in a darkened room. My sciatica is causing me great amount of pain, and I do not care enough for any of you to continue speaking when I am clearly in massive amounts of work-related pain.

Travels With Larry Part XI

Demo #6

During my previous round-up of Demo #1-5, I maintained that the series seemed to be improving with every issue. I am pleased to report that this trend continues with issue number six, probably my favorite of the series so far.

First of all, the MVP for this issue would have to be Ms. Becky Cloonan. Just in the space ofthese six months, her skills as a storyteller have improved by leaps and bounds. This is perhaps her most confident issue yet, and that probably has as much to do with the fact that, from a storytelling sense, this is her most straightforward work on the series.

There's nothing flashy here, no big high-concept storytelling gimmick or elaborate stylistic departure. Just well-composed panels, one after another, that add up to an incredibly solid story. Her use of gray to balance her compositions is something that definitely sets her above many of her AiT/Planet Lar stablemates, some of whom draw B&W no differently than they would a color illustration (this has been a weakness of books such as Abel and Giant Robot Warriors. I particularly like her stylized use of zipatone (or, I imagine, computerized zipatone). But on that same note, I think she could also profit from using some gray-washes in future issues, which do allow for a more subtle range of effects than the artificially stippled computer tones.

Of particular note is the sequence of wordless panels on page seven, a sequence that manages to communicate both the events and the emotions of the scene with perfect alacrity. If I had one complaint it would be that sometimes Cloonan forgets one of the most important rules of storytelling: never leave a big reveal on the bottom of the right-hand page. She does this with a particularly important scene - I won't give it away if you haven't read it but it involves the puppy (if you have you'll know which one I'm referring to). It's the most dramatic reveal of the series but it's on the bottom of a right-hand page, so it's telegraphed long before you actually reach it.

But aside from these brief quibbles, Demo #6 is the confident work of a team at the height of confidence in their growing prowess. They seem to be growing past the stylistic twitches that may have marred earlier issues of the series. I look forward with growing anticipation to seeing how the rest of the series plays out.

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