Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Halftime Show, Part 2

X-Man '96 (1996) by Terry Kavanagh, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Robin Riggs

It would be wrong to assert that there weren't any crossovers in the early 90s. There were plenty. But for a good five years at Marvel, there weren't any of the massive line-wide crossovers that readers became accustomed to in the late 80s. In 1988 and 89, respectively, Marvel launched two humungous crossovers - Inferno and Acts of Vengeance - that impacted almost every title published by the company. (Inferno had fewer crossovers, as I recall - the Punisher, the Silver Surfer and the West Coast Avengers sat that one out, but they were all in the house [sort of, in the Surfer's case] for Acts of Vengeance.) Inferno, because it originated in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, and because it represented the culmination of a decade's worth of loose plotlines in the three main X-books, was very popular. Acts, while a better crossover than most probably remember, suffered sales-wise for its Avengers-centric focus, as well as the fact that the X-books were all three in the middle of long-term storylines that precluded heavy involvement in outside crossovers. Although the Avengers have been the dominant franchise for almost a decade (which is weird on the face of it for anyone who started reading comics before the advent of Nu-Marvel), any crossover built on the Avengers franchise in the late 80s without heavy participation from the best-selling X-Men titles was probably not going to perform beyond expectations.

When Acts was over the calendar ticked over to 1990 and for a while the crossovers became smaller and more focused. Operation: Galactic Storm, Maximum Carnage, and X-Cutioner's Song were all big crossovers by any standard, but they were also focused within a relatively small set of closely related titles. The Infinity franchise launched three crossovers - Gauntlet, War, and Crusade - but amazingly, Gauntlet didn't produce many tie-ins (mainly Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange and a handful of stragglers). War and Crusade did produce an excess of tie-ins, but almost exclusively among the company's lower-tier books - lots of Moon Knight, Alpha Flight, and Darkhawk, with no X-Men anywhere to be seen. There was all of one War tie-in produced by the Spider-Man office, and when Crusade rolled around Web of Spider-Man was already considered enough of a tertiary title to qualify for the (probably negligible) sales boost provided by participation in a second-string crossover. This was the beginning of the an of era of editorial separation: the X-Men titles sold better than anything else at Marvel, so they didn't need to participate in surplus crossovers with lower-selling books. Similarly, the Avengers and Spider-Man family of titles were left alone with their own considerable audiences. (This was a time when both Wonder Man and Quasar were able to support their own solo titles, to give you an idea of how fertile the sales environment was at the time.) The exception to this was 1993's Bloodties, an Avengers / X-Men story that was designed to celebrate the shared 30th anniversaries of both franchises, as well as serving as a direct sequel to Fatal Attractions. But that was a short crossover, only five issues long.

This worked well for as long as it did. But as the salad days of the early 90s faded into the rear-view mirror of the mid-90s, as the bubble began to burst and retailers started to (slowly at first, and then frighteningly fast) disappear from the landscape, crossovers lost some of their luster. This was problematic. As much as variant covers, retailer incentives, holograms, die-cuts, trading cards, and foil-stamping all did their part to sell (and oversell) comics in the early 90s, crossovers were still the most dependable method available for selling comic books, as they had been for decades previous and as they have remained in the decades since. There were no more dependable money-making devices throughout the rocky 90s than X-Men crossovers, and there was no bigger X-Men crossover than the Age of Apocalypse. Comics readers of a certain age will still remember the "shocking" news story in Wizard magazine in late 1994 that Marvel was canceling the X-Men books - a patently absurd assertion that nevertheless sent a ripple of alarm through a gullible fandom. The following month, Wizard announced the real reason the X-Men books were being "canceled" - the books were being shuffled over to an alternate universe for four months, the duration of the new crossover. Back in the day Wizard covered Marvel news with the same selfless attention to rigorous objectivity that Fox News uses to cover the Republican party, and the slow roll-out of info regarding the crossover did a fantastic job of building anticipation.

But the most important element in the crossover's success was the fact that it was, well, very popular. For evidence of this popularity, how many 18-year-old crossovers can you think of that are still spawning spin-offs today? How many people even remember the Phalanx Covenant or Blood Ties, and how many people can still cite the AoA chapter-and-verse? Inasmuch as we can gauge the objective "quality" of massive 54-part crossovers, the AoA was good - people liked it, they bought it, they talked about it, and the story has remained in print fairly consistently since its original publication - or, leastwise, as consistently as Marvel has kept anything in print.

The problem is that the AoA was, if anything, too popular. It was essentially the biggest story ever told in the history of the franchise, and not only that but the alternate reality setting allowed the creators the freedom to end storylines. One of the problems with the X-books in the early 90s is that, after Claremont left, it became very obvious very fast that the books were treading water. When Claremont inherited the X-Men in 1975, they were an almost-certain-to-be-canceled afterthought; when he left the books in 1991, the X-Men were the premiere franchise in comics. It only made sense that Marvel's approach to the franchise was deeply conservative - the post-91 status quo was basically a bunch of people living together in a mansion who lived in a constant state of low-level crisis where nothing actually happened.

To his credit, Claremont had done a very good job of keeping the book fresh under his tenure by upsetting the status quo every few years. As unpopular as the latter third of Claremont's run is, it's worth noting that during the late 80s Claremont was still doing his level best to keep the book fresh, and even if some of the ideas didn't quite hit with fandom - exiling Professor X to space, replacing him with Magneto, "killing" the team, splitting off some of its longest-running members, sending the survivors to Australia, destroying the team entirely and scattering the members to the four winds, devoting half a year (!) to the adventures of an X-Men team composed primarily of Forge and Banshee (!!!) - there was at least a consistent and commendable effort to keep the book from stagnating into the mere exercise of formulae. As the book became more and more popular and the temptation to produce more and more spin-offs became too powerful for Marvel to resist, Claremont fought a long rear-guard battle to keep the book from devolving into the kind of capital-F Franchise that the higher-ups at Marvel already assumed it was. Even at the time it was hard to avoid the realization that the X-Men post-Claremont almost immediately became a stultifying, predictable, positively staid brand name. For all of Claremont's problems, he had managed to maintain a cohesive, idiosyncratic brand identity that disappeared the moment he walked out the door. The occasional changes that swept through as a result of periodic crossovers in the early 90s - Cable "dying" and receiving a new origin every other week, Wolverine having his adamantium sucked out and temporarily leaving, Sabretooth "joining" the team - were incremental changes without even the illusion of permanence.

The strength of the AoA was that - in stark opposition to the mainline books - things could actually happen. Magneto could marry Rogue. Wolverine could marry Jean Grey. Cyclops - no one ever liked Cyclops, remember - could be the most despicable villain. Morph (the one from the cartoon!) could be a fan-favorite character, as could Blink, who first appeared and died during the aforementioned Phalanx Covenant. Mystique and Nightcrawler could finally confirm their family ties. The story had a legitimate ending - and what an ending! Magneto killed the villain right before nuclear bombs fell and North America was reduced to cinders by atomic fire. (Sorry to spoil a 17-year-old story.) Is it any wonder that when the X-books reverted back to their original 616-incarnations, there was more than a little feeling of disappointment with the resumption of the status quo?

The creators themselves appeared to have been blindsided by the story's success. The best evidence for this is the simple fact that, once the story was over and the creators realized just how popular it was, they were completely dumbfounded as to how they could possibly follow it. So they did the only thing they knew how - immediately following the AoA they began to seed hints for a new plotline involving the introduction of a new heretofore unseen ultra-powerful bad guy with amazing powers and shadowy motivations. When Uncanny X-Men returned following the crossover, the cover teased a mystery that wouldn't be answered for another year. The answer to the question of how to follow up the AoA was, as we all know, Onslaught, an attempt to improve upon the previous crossover by going even bigger, upping the stakes by expanding the storyline to encompass the entire Marvel Universe. The problem was that Onslaught was terrible, a bad character and an even worse event, an idea that Scott Lobdell admits to having made up on the fly because they needed something to run with after the AoA, even if they had no idea what that something was. Over the course of the months leading up to Onslaught the X-books could barely make up their minds as to what exactly Onslaught was, so is it any wonder that the final storyline was such a mess? Because the AoA was so popular and Onslaught remains so enduringly unpopular, people like to forget that the latter storyline was intended to serve as a direct sequel to the former. It's hard not to see why people like to forget that association.

Not only was the AoA one of the most popular X-Men storylines of all time, but for many readers it was also their last major X-Men storyline, at least until 2001. After Onslaught the books began a long downward slide, as the attempt to capitalize on the goodwill garnered by the AoA was squandered on rapidly diminishing returns. Readers fell away in droves as the industry contractions became a full-scale implosion. Marvel bought Heroes World in December of 1994, and by the summer of the following year that company had become Marvel's exclusive distributor. The AoA finished up only a few months before Marvel went exclusive with Heroes World in the third quarter of 1995, and based on the success of that storyline Marvel would have to have felt pretty confident going forward that their business would remain solid, as long as they could continue to produce mega-hits like the AoA. But rather than serving as a new baseline for future successes, the AoA was actually the era's high-water mark: although the crossovers kept coming, the sales kept dropping. Heroes World was completely unable to deal with the volume of product they needed to move every month as Marvel's exclusive distributor, and the fact that Marvel sales were growing steadily softer from 1995 on certainly didn't help preserve a business model that was obviously designed around ludicrous, unsustainable growth projections.

After the AoA, every Marvel line was remade in the image of the AoA in an attempt to keep revenue from flagging. Spider-Man's then-popular Clone Saga was elongated to absurd proportions - not only was there a superfluous crossover with chromium-covered "Alpha" and "Omega" bookend issues (Maximum Clonage, I shit you not), but they even "canceled" all the Spider-Man titles to replace them for two months with Scarlet Spider books. Marvel staffers have said that the success of the AoA was one of the main reasons why the Clone Saga lasted as long as it did. It's easy to forget - very easy to forget - that the Clone Saga was initially very popular. (To give you an idea: the Clone Saga began a full half-year before the AoA and ended two months after Onslaught.) But when things started to go sour, when the story was extended for no apparent reason other than the desire to keep sales at artificially inflated crossover levels, fan reaction became brutal. The Avengers line had their own AoA with The Crossing, which - you guessed it - was kicked off with a chromium-covered one-shot. Nick Fury was killed by the Punisher in the Double Edge crossover (and yes, if you guessed that this story had chromium-covered "Alpha" and "Omega" bookend issues, you'd be right), which I remember for the dubious honor that it was the cover feature of the first post-Marvel Heroes World distributor catalog.

The still somewhat popular 2099 line was demolished when editor Joey Cavalieri was fired during a round of budget cuts that accompanied the downturn one of many long-time staffers whose departure hurt Marvel. Ongoing storylines were suddenly changed to fit the line's new direction, with longtime writers such as Peter David and Warren Ellis quitting in protest. The 2099 line had already weathered their AoA, the surprisingly well-received 2099 AD crossover. (Shockingly, this crossover did not feature chromium-covered "Alpha" and "Omega" bookend issues - instead, there were chromium-covered "Apocalypse" and "Genesis" bookends.) But with budget cuts and creator mutinies, the line would be dead within another year.

Heroes World could only succeed for so long as Marvel comics still sold at peak early-90s levels, but that didn't happen despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that almost every title in their stable was taken over by constant, terrible, completely gratuitous crossovers designed explicitly in the mold of the AoA. When sales grew even softer, Marvel brought two of the Image founders (Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld) back into the fold to take control of four of the company's moribund core non-X titles (Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America). The first issues of the "Heroes Reborn" titles were cover-dated November of 1996. Marvel declared bankruptcy in December of 1996.

The X-Men titles never recovered from the success of the Age of Apocalypse. Who remembers Operation: Zero Tolerance, the crossover that followed Onslaught and is infamous for featuring, as its climax, Iceman talking the villain out of wanting to kill mutants? Or how about when Joe Kelly and Steven T. Seagle were brought in as a team to revitalize the franchise? The Hunt for Xavier? The Twelve? Claremont's first, disastrous return? In 2000 the X-Men starred in their first feature film, the movie that (following Blade) jump-started the still-going-strong superhero movie trend and eventually led to the revitalization and eventual purchase of Marvel by Disney in 2008. The X-books had a brief renaissance in the early 2000s when Grant Morrison took over the adjective-less X-Men, turning it into New X-Men and symbolizing the change of regime represented by the new editorial reign of Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas, but never fully recuperated from the many years of terrible stories that followed the AoA and Onslaught. Just a few months after Morrison's last issue of New X-Men, Brian Michael Bendis began his run on The Avengers, a run that would see the Avengers almost completely supplant the X-Men as Marvel's premiere franchise.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Halftime Show, Part 1

X-Man # -1 (July 1997) by Terry Kavanagh, Roger Cruz, Bud La Rosa, and Wellington Diaz

If you weren't around and reading mainstream comics in the mid-90s, it might be hard to understand now just how big a deal the Age of Apocalypse actually was. It wasn't just the biggest X-Men crossover of the era, it was possibly the biggest X-Men crossover ever, and by extension one of the biggest crossovers - full stop - of all time. It came in a year - 1995 - when the industry was already feeling the negative consequences of the excesses of the early 90s, but had not yet become quite so desolate as it would be following the Hero's World debacle and Marvel's bankruptcy. Stores were disappearing but people still didn't fully understand the extent of how poor the retail fundamentals behind the early 90s bubble actually were. The X-Men had long since weathered that storm and, after a brief period wherein Image comics had wrested some of the attention away from Marvel's flagship franchise, reasserted their unquestioned dominance as the number one commercial force in the industry. It was enough that anyone on the ground floor of the industry - that is, a regular Joe reading Wizard and buying their comics at the local comic shop (assuming your local comic shop hadn't already gone broke the year before) - could still convince themselves that all was well, and the industry was as hale and hearty as it had ever been.

Looks could be deceiving. The years immediately following the Image exodus may have seen the X-Men continue to maintain their industry dominance, but the books themselves floundered. It took them a long time to recover from losing Chris Claremont's guiding hand - without one single creative vision (and really, it was only obvious in hindsight just how much of Marvel's success in the 80s and early 90s was due to his specific and particular talents) the books lurched from story to story with little in the way of consistency or even a solid narrative thru-line. It didn't help that, in the years immediately preceding the split, the Image creators had birthed a plethora of purpose-less characters and plotlines, most of which were left completely hanging when the creators vacated in 1992. So the people left holding the bag - journeymen like Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza - were stuck telling years worth of stories for the purpose of cleaning up other people's messes. (By which I mean: Cable's origin, Stryfe, the Six Pack, Bishop, the X-Ternals, et al.)

Sean Howe's recent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story details the chain of events surrounding the Image founders' departure, and the picture that emerges with twenty years' (!!!) hindsight is, while not surprising, still sad: the Image founders left at the last possible moment before work actually began on 1992's big X-crossover, X-Cutioner's Song. That crossover set the tone for the first couple years' of post-Image X-Men books - needlessly convoluted, weighted down by dozens of superfluous characters at every turn, lacking anything even remotely resembling Claremont's deft hand at long-term characterization. Still, it was enough of a success to convince the industry that Marvel and the X-Men remained dominant commercial forces even after losing every marquee creator associated with the franchise. It didn't matter that the folks in charge were essentially making it up as they went along - the trains rolled on time, the characters remained popular, and for the most part the fans didn't seem to care that the books were terrible. (Not that the post-Claremont, pre-Image exodus books had been great shakes, either, but they at least had the virtue of being produced by the creators fans actually wanted to read.)

And so, after X-Cutioner's Song the X-Books settled into a predictable pattern of jumping from crossover to crossover. Readers got used to the fact that nothing important usually happened in non-crossover books, and the creators actually got to be pretty good at playing to these expectations. Both Uncanny and the adjectiveless X-Men book developed a pretty clever rhythm, where a big event was followed by a handful of issues devoted to smaller melodramatic character studies and less consequential plot points, all the while laying the groundwork by foreshadowing whatever the next crossover would be - X-Cutioner's Song into Fatal Attractions into Bloodties (a crossover with the main Avengers books designed to celebrate the 30th anniversaries of both franchises) into the Phalanx Covenant, with a brief stopover along the way for the wedding of Cyclops and Jean Grey. It was not, perhaps, the most graceful or subtle method of publishing comics, but it worked, and this business plan to a large degree dictates the way superhero comics are sold and published to this day.

The "problem" - and I am hopefully deploying these scare quotes in a sufficiently judicious manner - is that these crossovers just weren't big enough. Fatal Attractions was only six issues long, and while it featured a number of significant plot developments (Magneto's return, Colossus's defection, Wolverine losing his Adamantium), it was still - in publishing terms - a small crossover. The Phalanx Covenant was only nine issues long, and while it helped launch the highly anticipated (and inevitable) Generation X spin-off, it also featured the Phalanx - maybe not the least popular X-villains, but surely nowhere near anyone's top pick. All of which is to say - at some point, despite the fact that the books remained popular, someone somewhere took note of the fact that the line - by restricting itself to relatively restrained intra-line crossovers - was seriously underperforming. Add to this the fact that sales were dropping across the entire industry - due to the mass exodus of readers and mass extinction of retailers that followed in the wake of the early 90s implosion - and the ingredients were all assembled for what would soon become the perfect storm of mid-90s crossovers, the era-defining, immensely popular, critically acclaimed, industry-malaise-defying mega-juggernaut Age of Apocalypse.

I don't think it's possible to exaggerate just how important the Age of Apocalypse was to mid-90s Marvel. At a time when the industry was beginning to look very pallid indeed, the story represented a serious and sustained shot in the arm. But, even if we didn't know it at the time, the story would also be the era's high water mark. Not only would the success of the Age of Apocalypse lead directly to the subsequent overexpansion and commercial implosion of the X-Men franchise, but the attempt to capitalize on the success of the storyline would soon metastasize across the entire Marvel line. The Age of Apocalypse was Marvel's biggest hit in years, and the company soon sought to replicate that success across every other franchise. The results would be disastrous.

And of course, no character better exemplifies this era than our friend, Nate Grey, the titular X-Man himself.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

The Idiot Stick

The absolute best thing about the election results this last week was the complete and total humiliation of so many of the worst people in the world. It isn't just that they were defeated - people lose elections all the time and somehow manage to retain their dignity, or at least some semblance of their composure. They were caught completely unprepared. The Republicans were stunned by the events of last Tuesday. You would imagine that most people in the position of potentially losing a close race would make some sort of allowance for the possibility - regardless of their confidence - that they might not win. Because when you lose and it's obvious to everyone else that you weren't expecting to lose, or even ever entertained the possibility that there was a chance in hell that you might lose, you risk looking like an unmitigated jackass.

So it was one of life's rare pleasures to see the "Golden Boy" himself, Karl Rove, humiliated on national television, in the friendliest forum possible. An unsympathetic playwright could not have concocted a more satisfying denouement to Rove's career if they had tried. Not simply to be forced to confront the inescapable evidence of your own colossal personal failure on live TV - and not just any live TV but the house organ of your own political party - but to have the precise moment when you realized that you lost a bet placed with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of other peoples' money recorded for the endless joy of your enemies - that, Conan, is what is best in life.

I knew Obama was going to be reelected. I'm not a wizard or some kind of savant, I just watch the news, listen to NPR, and read. Most of the country knew that Obama would probably be elected - opinion polls throughout 2012 were all fairly consistent in showing that a large majority of voters believed Obama would win reelection, even if they personally did not plan on voting for him. There's been a lot of talk about Nate Silver's impressive prognosticative abilities. Certainly, his record is admirable. But if you leave aside the complex math behind his models, his methodology doesn't seem particularly opaque: compare current national and local polls against their own historical accuracy as predictors in order to identify and eliminate bias and diminish the roll of sample error in skewing results. I'm certain it's a lot more complicated in practice, but in essence what Silver - and a handful of other impressively accurate (if less heralded) pollsters - have done is no different than what any reasonably educated citizen should be be able to do: exercise their critical-thinking skills in order to to judge the accuracy of new data through a comparison with old. This is very little different from what I'm teaching college students right now in my introductory composition class: pay attention, think clearly, and don't get hung up on bias.

I knew that there were strong odds favoring Obama's win based simply on the fact that I paid attention to the news and read a fair bit. I'm not unbiased. I voted for Obama and rooted for his victory, despite the fact that I am deeply unimpressed by many aspects of his presidency, and disenchanted with American electoral politics in general. There was no secret. You just had to pay attention. I didn't think John Kerry was going to win back in 2004 despite the fact that I actually quite liked Kerry as a candidate - the indicators were pretty strong back then, too, even if I despaired of the probability of Bush winning reelection.

If you actually succeed in sequestering yourself so far from the mainstream of American political thought that you believe you've cracked the code of the universe with such confidence that it is impossible to imagine for one second that you might actually be wrong - well, that takes a special kind of hubris. In doing so everyone involved with the Republican campaign confirmed in a single night of awestruck failure the objective truth of many of the worst critiques leveled against Mitt Romney during the campaign: out of touch with reality; raised to believe that high political office is a birthright and that elections are a mere formality; brittle, unwilling or simply unable to deal with the vicissitudes of electoral politics when things don't go precisely his way. Romney didn't just lose, he was humiliated, and it is impossible not to see that he humiliated himself. I despise John McCain for many reasons but when he lost in 2008 he didn't make a fool of himself. He faced his defeat with the integrity and dignity that had eluded him throughout his entire Quixotic campaign. Mitt Romney and his Republican allies faced their defeat with a petulance that bordered on absurdity.

Relief and joy at Romney's defeat does not necessarily also entail enthusiasm for the President's reelection. We must look forward to four more years of prevarication, compromise on core values, drone strikes against civilian targets, and ceaseless capitulation. I know there are many on the left who argue vociferously against the principle that it is necessary to vote for the lesser of two evils. Vote for the candidate who actually represents your beliefs, they say, and do not waste a vote for an inferior candidate simply out of a desire to prevent the worse outcome. I sympathize with this perspective inasmuch as I truly dislike the fact that my vote against Mitt Romney is, perforce, a vote for the mediocre politics of Barack Obama. But my sympathy with the unpleasantness of voting the Democratic ticket only goes so far. I vote Democratic because I truly believe, based on a lifetime's worth of experience as a citizen of the United States, that voting for President is essentially an act of triage.

Would it feel good to cast a ballot for Jill Stein? Sure. But the way our country is structured, there really is no alternative to the two-party system. If you are on the left, you have to vote strategically to insure that the people whose ideas about government and civic virtue are diametrically opposed to your own are not empowered to make your own life and the lives of your loved ones measurably worse. The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that the Republicans are driven largely by the impulses of their most radical and ideologically driven core constituencies, whereas the Democrats assume the support of the left as a given and act with the assumption that they can moderate policies with impunity, because for the majority of those on the left the alternative is simply too horrible to contemplate. For the most part they are correct in their assumption, because the palpable fear among the left of the reactionary right is simply too strong - and too based in fact - to be easily gainsaid. So the left votes out of fear and Democratic politicians dilute their policies with impunity. That's not likely to change any time soon.

I truly believe that the Founding Fathers of the United States were among the most intelligent, best educated, and literate men of any period in history, and the proof of their abilities is found in the endurance of the United State Constitution. What was the Constitution intended to do? Not necessarily the establishment of a perfectly egalitarian representative democracy. The purpose of the Constitution was to create a stable nation, one that would neither be helpless in the face of exterior invasion or vulnerable to internal fracturing of the kind that demolished the previous Articles of Confederacy. And so the country was established on the principles of checks and balances and separation of powers, a system specifically designed to prevent drastic systemic change, limit the ability of any one individual or branch of government to dictate policy, and maintain continuity of government through any conceivable crisis. They were smart - too smart for our own good. They built a binding contract that has managed to survive over 220 years despite its many, myriad flaws.

The Framers' one great oversight - not slavery, since most of them knew very well the significance of slavery to the nation's future - was the establishment of political parties. The Constitution makes no allowances for parties, even though parties sprang into being at the moment the Constitution was ratified. The government doesn't work properly when our political parties operate with the top-down efficiency of a European-style parliament. But even this type of legislative and deliberative gridlock can't really threaten the stability of the government, because the continuity and legitimacy of government is maintained regardless of how little or how much is actually accomplished by the government. Just examine the semantics of how many Parliamentary systems discuss the change of administration: they say that the government has been dissolved, that the country awaits the formation of a new government. For the United States, the current government is the same government that has existed since 1789, and that fact carries a kind of totemic authority.

In the long term, the United States is in a great deal of trouble. In the short and medium term, however, we are and will remain a stable country, no matter how bad things might get. The Founders knew what they were doing, for better or for worse. The idea of amending the Constitution is only slightly less crazy than simply wishing for the South to secede peacefully of their own free will, but if we were serious about fixing at least some of the problems with our electoral system we might think about abolishing the direct election of members of the House. Since the lower house of our Congress insists on running itself like a less-functional version of a European Parliament, why not simply call their bluff and institute some kind of proportional party balloting system, similar perhaps to the German Bundestag. Keep the upper house of Congress to maintain the Founders' (possibly deluded) dream of providing a venue for aggrandizing oratory in the self-styled mold of the Roman Republic, if you absolutely insist, but spare the ignominy of every congressman needing to run a separate reelection campaign every two years.

But that's just pie-in-the-sky. In the here and now, we should remain content that the country is relatively stable. As much as the admission may tarnish my reputation as a committed leftist, I'm not quite ready for the social upheaval of a Proletarian revolt quite yet. (To say nothing of the fact that a social revolution, if it does come, may very well come at the hands of our constantly-expanding lumpenproletariat, a group that Marx himself dismissed. He couldn't imagine a future where industrialized capitalism survived as long as it has, even if he did a pretty good job of predicting how that future would eventually look.) Soon, perhaps, the matter may very force itself. Neither political party is willing to question the primacy of capitalism as the driving principle of our economic, social, and ethical ideologies. When it comes to the function of business in relation to the responsibilities of the state, there is very little daylight between Obama and Romney. Occupy dissipated because the group made a conscious decision not to become a standard political interest party, to remain localized and rigorously egalitarian in every aspect of its organization. This is all well and good, but with a year's hindsight it's hard not to judge the movement as less a beginning and more a bubble. The United States of America isn't going anywhere anytime soon - even if the country is falling apart, the structure is too stable to topple. Maybe the disorganized left needs to exert itself more forcefully on the level of electoral politics if we want to ever have any chance of influencing the course of national policy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

This is a repeat from four years ago. Not quite as jubilant a celebration now as then, but still pretty good.

Friday, November 02, 2012

50 Shades of Nate Grey

25. -- in this city unto a world.

X-Man #20 (October 1996) by Terry Kavanagh, Steve Skroce, and Bud La Rosa

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

50 Shades of Nate Grey

24.The five-year-old has it together tighter than I do.

Onslaught: Marvel Universe (September 1996) by Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Andy Kubert, Joe Bennett, Dan Green, Tim Townsend, Jesse Delperdang, and Art Thibert

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