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April 20, 2004

Comments

Pete

All I know is, I've read both writers, and I'd much rather read a Chuck Dixon book than an Ian Edginton book. (Although Dixon does seem to be moving towards Mel Gibson creepiness in some of his comments...for instance, his allegation that John Severin had been tricked into pencilling last year's Rawhide Kid miniseries. You know, the one where they gave him the gay. The Rawhide Kid, not John Severin. I'll stop now.)

David Van Domelen

I've generally given up on Chuck Dixon. I realized years ago that he can write one good comic a month, but seems to randomly pick which one will be good that month, the rest being hackwork.

Just a Guy

"a hopefully now-dead wartime jingoism"

I really wish people like you would stop dismissing other people's sense of patriotism with such a broadstroke of dgeneralization. Even if you don't believe in such a thing as faith in one's country, do you have to belittle it so much that you don't even bother dissecting what you perceive as wrong with it, but just throw out a dismissive word like "jingoism"?

Sigh. Anyways, the draft might be coming. Better start plotting out your path to Canada.

Ken Lowery

Just a Guy -- I believe you have missed the point. He is not belittling "faith in one's country," he is belittling, as he said, JINGOSIM, defined as such:

"Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism."

That is, Marc has a problem with patriotism abused and taken to its major, unreasonable extreme. NOT REGULAR PATRIOTISM. I have my doubts that this distinction will even register with you, but it was worth a shot.

As a sidenote, the draft bill in question was put forward by two Democrats to see if the Republicans could put the money where their mouth is. Let's see how fast it gets shot down.

Jess Nevins

"I really wish people like you would stop dismissing other people's sense of patriotism with such a broadstroke of dgeneralization."

Yeah! That's a right-wing gimmick! No fair stealing their ideas!

Dixon-v-Edginton...oy. I'll go back to reading Wilkie Collins, I think.

Shane

Stop arguing!!! Do it for THE CHILDREN!!! :P

Marc

Thanks, Ken, but I suspect "Just a Guy" knows perfectly well the difference between genuine patriotism and jingoism; it's just easier to disagree with anyone who isn't a flag-waving, Toby Keith-buying hawk if you can dismiss them as unpatriotic. Frankly, I think genuine patriotism - true love of one's country - means being willing to stand up and speak out when you think your country is doing something terribly wrong and terribly self-destructive.

And of course, the whole point of my post was that we should "dissect what we perceive is wrong" with such jingoism instead of taking the easy shortcuts of people like Edginton.

Finally, at thirty-one years old I sincerely doubt I'd need to worry about a draft (although my students, nearly all of them young and black, had better worry A LOT). Anyway, if worst came to worst, why should I run all the way to Canada when I could just join the National Guard and then go AWOL for a year?

Oh, wait, except now the National Guard and the Reserves are being asked to risk their lives just as much as the regular troops, by a Commander-in-Chief who couldn't even meet their safer obligations back in the 1970s.

Well, thank God major combat operations have been over for a year. Mission Accomplished!

Matthew Rossi

Marc is in his 30's, I believe. Both he and I are exempt from a draft until much later... it will be the 18-25 year olds who get drafted first.

"I wish people like you..." I can't put into words how much "people like me" would like to bash your face in, you anonymous gobshite. I wish whiners would stop attempting to usurp patriotism to mean belligerent warmongers and then, when they're called on it (as is the case of American Power which is clearly a pile of self-important, glib, exploitative tripe) yell "OOh, you're oppressing me, you're oppressing me" the way you did, Just a Guy.

"Even if you don't believe in such a thing as faith in one's country, do you have to belittle it so much that you don't even bother dissecting what you perceive as wrong with it, but just throw out a dismissive word like "jingoism"?"

Jingoism, as was already pointed out, isn't some dismissive buzzword used to tar all patriots. Marc is a patriot. I've had long discussions with him on the ideals of Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington... he fully supports faith in the great documents that gave birth to this country, in the liberties and beliefs enshrined to our posterity at the birth of this country. Even if you don't believe in such a thing as watchful participation in the process of our country, as Jefferson advised, Marc does: his love for America is so great that he will not stand by and see her lied to by petty bureaucrats who've forgotten their oaths or weasels who depict her as a hobnailed boot in a gimp mask. Calling such a portrayal jingoism is dissecting what he thinks is wrong: he's done so many times now on this website. Read the posts, if you have the capacity, before accusing him of glibly dismissing without examination.

I am a patriot. I find the insinuation that anyone who doesn't just fall lockstep in with brutal and pointless military adventurism that will do nothing to safeguard the freedoms, lives and pursuits of Americans is somehow lacking in faith for our country to be repellent and un-American. If you wish to live in a nation where questioning the leadership is unpatriotic, may I suggest Communist China? How about North Korea? Do you find my insinuation that you are unpatriotic unpalatable? Then don't suggest it of me.

I love the America that Thomas Pain fought to help create. I love the America that stood up twice in the past century to oppose tyranny. I love the America that created the Declaration of Independence, that sent men to walk on the moon, that offered a dream of liberty from oppression to millions of men and women. Don't you dare say I don't love my country because I despise a pack of warmongering liars who dragged us into a conflict that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack they were supposedly protecting us from, a religious sect who wouldn't mind bringing on the rapture with tactical nuclear devices and whose idea of sober geopolitics is to call our allies names if they don't march lockstep with them.

I am a patriot. I'll stand with De Toqueville and Adams any day, I'll be proud of our glorious past and be willing to admit our mistakes. I'll love America for what she is and what she could be. But I'll be damned if I'll act like a communist and pretend that all is well when it isn't. I'm sure Nixon would have liked it if Americans behaved that way, but we didn't then, and we sure as hell shouldn't now.

Ken Lowery

Speechless.

Bravo.

Dave Van Domelen

Okay, this is goofy and running counter to the mood (but then again, the mood could probably use a little lightening up), but the phrase "a hobnailed boot in a gimp mask" makes me wanna go out and get some boots, some zippers, and start sewing. Hmmm, ventilating the toes of the boots via gimpmask zippers, for those hot summer days?

David Fiore

By jingo! What a strange thread...

I couldn't agree more with the post though... I really don't understand the ostrich school of dealing with catastrophe... Reshoot Spider-Man? So that no one has to see the towers? Ludicrous. Are we hypnotized or something?

Yeah I know ignorance is bliss, but once you start fighting to remain ignorant we call that repression, and there's nothing blissful about that.

I was really looking forward to reading people's reactions to American Power. And maybe criticizing the hell out of it myself. Now all we've got is that cover.

Dave

JJMcC

See now here's the thing. You look at the cover you see Osama being punched out by a gay sex slave. But it's not such a stretch to _squint_ a bit, dim the lights and turn your head and see Superman punching out Hitler. Or Doc Savage punching out Hirohito. Images in many ways MORE jingoistic, particularly the nasty visual charicatures to go along with the written one.

And yet we can freely, ok I can freely, accept the distortion and enjoy the tale. Camp value, childlike simplification, irony, whatever -- does that safety spring from a feeling of "oh we're better than that now"? Don't think so, possibly, but don't think so.

In a mileau where good is good and bad is bad, political insophistication isn't so _interesting_, but isn't so shocking either. Even Englehart (was it Englehart, am I mis-remembering?) Cap A was at best 2-D against a 1-D background.

See, in this light, something this obviously reductive isn't so much jingoistic, or patriotic, as too small to approach either. It's two guys around a water cooler "Man I'd like to punch Osama in the face, heh-heh" and they're briefly entertained by the mental image, then go about their business with complex, adult political views. The Dixies Chicks' treatment was jingoistic; rampaging against American Muslims is jingoistic (or, say, anyone who matches someone's mental image of Muslim); toilet paper with funny pictures provides a grin during downtime, and is quickly flushed away.

Though, not having read it or been plugged into the debate we are certainly living in coarser times. As one-sided and reductive as the pulps were it's impossible to hang "mean-spirited" on them. Again, the coat rack is too small for that coat.

Lastly having kids of my own, these are incredibly savvy little creatures, particularly regarding media. Art, even crappy not-really-art art needs to be unfettered, a moment's conversation parent-child is plenty to undo whatever possible damage these conceptually trivial works can do.

Ken Lowery

Everyone wants to invoke Cap punching Hitler to defend American Power.

You know what?

That was the 1940's. We've grown a lot since then, or at least most of us like to think so. That kind of stuff, good for its time, quaint to us now, is no longer acceptable as serious mainstream art.

It really is that simple.

JJMcC

#1, if 'defending' is calling something trivial enough to wipe your ass with, you don't want me as your Public Defender!

#2, I think my point was lost. I was rejecting the "we've grown...it's that simple" argument, so simple reassertion of it doesn't engage me.

And while I wholeheartedly agree that serious mainstream art deserves critique reflective of our 'newfound sophistication', neither pulps in the 30's nor comic books now monolithically represent serious mainstream art. That McDonald, Lovecraft and Chandler came out of the pulps; that Eisner and Moore came out of comics doesn't change that to the culture at large. Specifically, these mediums have belligerently avoided art more often than not.

Certainly there are different cultural contexts then and now. I happen to agree that by and large we have improved (if such assessments have meaning on the macro scale). But the 1930s had sophisticated thought, art and entertainment, every bit as sophisticated as we have today. It didn't appear in "Doc Savage, Science Detective" any more than today's art appears in "American Power."

Pete

It's not, though. I'll be honest with you, I wouldn't mind seeing a comic about superheroes dealing with the current world climate. I also don't think a book with a guy in a pervert suit playing Osama bin Laden some chin music is the way to go.

The Superman-punching-Hitler argument doesn't really work, because that was a different situation. There were no mitigating factors there. A crazy bastard has an entire country under his sway, he's looking to conquer Europe, and about six million people have gone missing. Let's get the fucker. It's a little different from A crazy bastard killed 3000 Americans and has been squirreled away somewhere in the Middle East ever since. Let's bomb Afghanistan, then forget about him and concentrate on conquering Iraq. It's hard to write a "WA-HOO! C'mon, Easy Company!" story about this war for the same reason you didn't see Superman punching out Ho Chi Minh; because it's more complicated than that, we as a people are completely divided on the issue, and most of us aren't sure how we got to this point.

At the same time, the stories we've had so far that have touched on 9/11 and Iraq have hardly dared to show a glimmer of patriotism. For cryin' out loud, they relaunched Captain America in the wake of 9/11 and the story was more about how SHIELD equipped the terrorists than it was about the terrorists themselves. I'm not saying that's not a story worth telling; it is, but it's not the same thing.

What I'd really like to see is a book that covers both sides of the issue, an All-Star Squadron type book. Let's say the JLA basically gets drafted to fight the war on terror. Do the left-wing heroes refuse to fight, or do they go along with it because they're Americans? Do some of the heroes get overzealous because of what's happened to their country? (Ah, the Green Arrow-Hawkman arguments alone would be worth the price.) Science fiction is a powerful allegorical tool, and I'd like to see it put to use in this case.

Marc

"I wouldn't mind seeing a comic about superheroes dealing with the current world climate. I also don't think a book with a guy in a pervert suit playing Osama bin Laden some chin music is the way to go."

"Playing Osama bin Laden some chin music." What a beautiful phrase.

I think this is exactly right, and I also think Pete is exactly right when he talks about the differences between Cap (or the Escapist, for that matter) clocking Hitler and the Gimp punching Osama being more about differences between the wars than about our relative levels of "sophistication" then and now. Whether we're more sophisticated or not (I think not), we know the politics this time around aren't that easily reducible. (And we also know that, because of its author, American Power was likely to reduce them in the service of a political ideology that ultimately has nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden.)

Pete also says there were no mitigating factors back then. One might just as easily argue that there are no mitigating factors, vis-a-vis Osama Bin Laden, now - that it's just as imperative that we hit back at him, to prevent future Al Qaeda attacks and to bring them to justice for past ones, as it was that we hit Hitler in 1941. I wouldn't disagree with that.

Yet the two wars, and the two covers, are profoundly different. First of all, no matter how widespread the patriotism was back then, no matter how easy it was to jump on the wartime bandwagon, printing an image of a superhero punching Hitler in 1941 was a lot ballsier than printing one of Osama is today. For all they knew back in '41, Hitler might have won. Surely Kirby and co. had to be wondering, if the war didn't work out, if they'd be lined up against a wall somewhere and shot for printing that. Then again, as they were mostly Jewish, they were probably already wondering that anyway... and that too points to the much higher consequences. Publishing an anti-fascist comic book may have been no less easy then - at least, post-Pearl Harbor - but it was far more brave.

American Power is another beast entirely, and oddly enough, I think it's for reasons that have nothing to do with Bin Laden or Sept. 11th. It's impossible to read that cover and the book's concept without thinking about the most recent exercise of our American Power in Iraq, and Iraq is what belies all of Dixon's assumptions about how great it is to flex our muscles.

The Bush administration has spent the last three years running around like a humiliated child, milking our wounds for its political gain while simultaneously picking fights with the easiest target possible - in spite of, or, perhaps, because he posed no imminent threat to us - in order to reassert its manhood, to convince us that we didn't get our dicks cut off on September 11th. There's nothing noble or brave about that kind of petulant flailing; there's not even anything particularly powerful about it. You only do it if you're afraid you're weak. (To put it another way, beneath every Grenada, there's a Beirut.)

This, then, is ultimately the thing I find most troubling about American Power; it's not a display of American Power at all, but of American geopolitical impotence. You only need to draw a picture of the Gimp punching Osama Bin Laden on a comic book cover WHEN YOU CAN'T DO IT IN REAL LIFE.

Or rather, when you can do it, maybe could have done it already, but your leaders have (to quote Dick Cheney on his Vietnam War non-service) "other priorities."

(By the way, I'm very disappointed that nobody has chosen to comment on the part of my post of which I am most proud, "In issue number 2 Muqtada al-Sadr gets beaten up by a Furry." Alas.)

Matthew Rossi

You know what troubles me the most about American Power?

More than Edginton's think of the children argument for why it shouldn't be published, and more even than the whole what's really going on beneath the surface argument (which is a good and compelling topic of discussion) I find myself wondering: What if Crossgen and Dixon never intended to put it out?

One of the differences between the comics of the 40's and the comics of today is that comics back then, while aimed at children, were written by adults who had on the whole read other stuff beside comics. Gardner Fox, Joe Simon, Siegel and Shuster were writing comic books with sophisticated adult messages. Just a casual look at the Spectre's first appearances in More Fun Comics indicate that no one was worried too much about giving the kiddies too much violence. Jim Corrigan does things that Frank Castle might blanch at. The difference was that they were, in fact, worried about giving everyone a comic book.

Not a gimmick.

Not a publicity stunt.

This was before the days of the polychromatic cover. Before pneumatic bodies. Before the speculation market of the 1990's (where Marvel, for one, seems bound and determined to drag us back, kicking and screaming) and I hate that I find myself wondering if Dixon and Crossgen were not only trying to milk the post-9/11 world for some juicy press, but may have been doing so with no intent to ever produce a comic book at all.

I defend the right of hacks to make repugnant stabs at art. I also defend the right of others to criticize those repugnant stabs. But what I hate is that, in the world of You Decide stunts, of seeing Stan Lee go on CNN to defend making the Rawhide Kid gay and knowing that the only reason they did it was so they could get CNN to freak out for them... can't buy press like that folks... of Quesada's boorish attempt to pick fights with DC comics 'in order to rekindle the rivalry' it's painfully plausible that this was all a lie, and there was never going to be an American Power, just some viral marketing for Crossgen.

matt

Sorry about that missed tag.

JJMcC

Ah, I see now. As prety much disconnected from current comic book zeitgeist, I was reacting cold and stream of consciousness to an image that obviously, I mean yeah, obviously was invoking those earlier classics. And wondering at my own lack of reaction compared to the rest here. I apologize if I inadvertantly wandered down a trodden-to-death path -- it was new to me!

Subtext, subtext, subtext. I agree that a fully explored artistic work, where the Iraq connection is acknowledged as a crucial piece of the narrative would be much more compelling. I don't think I agree that prior conflicts are morally reducable. 'Quaint' is a great word that was used above. I imagine the Hitler/ToJo socking covers were not so quaint to interred Japanese (nevermind Hiroshima/Nagasaki relatives), or Jewish families run afoul of US policy NOT to resettle German Jews. My grandfather told me a particulary horrific story of a trolly full of people assaulting a German-American because of his accent. 3/4 century later it's quaint.

I find "American Power" similarly quaint, without having to wait for time to go by. It's as or more disconnected than its WWII forebears are to us today. Whatever it is: deliberate publicity stunt, horribly skewed political propaganda, love-letter to leather man-on-man action, it seems as relevant as those WWII covers to the much more complex and urgent debate on our Iraq morrass.

Put another way, I differ from Marc in that for me the very resonance of the cover makes it impossible NOT to disconnect it from Iraq. In fact I did, until Pete and Marc pointed it out for me. I do find the Osama 'priority' comment interesting. Getting Hitler and not getting Osama does alter the lighting a bit...

Heh. Furry Chin Music. Hehheh.

David Van Domelen

Marc: Regarding that #2 issue...get Doug Winger to draw it!

Kevin J. Maroney

Let's close that italic, shall we?

Somebody had to say it.

Dave Intermittent

I have hanging in my office a war bond poster from World War One. It's a bloody handprint, underwhich is written "The Mark of the Hun." As JJNC points out above, the racial/cultural demonizing that went on during the World Wars has been largely forgotten, but was very, very real. Whole towns in the Midwest changed their names to avoid German connotations. I can't see any principled moral distinction between Superman punching Tojo and the Gimp Osama, insofar as both trade more on gross sterotypes than on the actual person smacked.

Having said that, I think that there is one factor which mitigates in favor of folks in the forties, which Marc alludes to: the fact that that war touched everyone. There was a draft, rationing; it is natural (and partially forgiveable) that under these stresses people turned ugly. Us, now? News from Iraq battles for space with news from Hollywood. I'm less inclined to indulge some rather odious racial caricatures under these circumstances.

As always, thanks for the insightful posts Marc.

Dave

Marc

I was, in my last comment, actually prepared to cut American Power some slack by noting that it seemed to be free of the grotesque racial caricature of, say, 1940s depictions of the Japanese. But then I took another look at that cover and I wasn't so sure.

It certainly doesn't have any of the physiognomic caricature; the Arab characters don't have the bestial, simian features of old anti-Japanese (or anti-Mexican, or anti-Irish...) propaganda, or any of the other exaggerated, cliched racial features. I was fully prepared to say that American Power shows at least a little progress in even our dumbest propaganda.

But then, there are stereotypes and there are stereotypes. Nobody on that cover is simian, but there is a horde of utterly faceless Arab terrorists, with a white hero to set them right.

On the other hand, I'm not sure if that's a fair basis on which to criticize the cover (it would be hard to tell without the complete comic), because, you know, there are a lot of Arab terrorists. Isn't it possible to acknowledge the crimes of a few people without tarring their entire ethnicity?

Unfortunately, the tools our popular culture has developed to skirt around that problem are not exactly subtle. I'm sure, had American Power seen the light of day, it would have had the obligatory Middle Eastern supporting character to show the book wasn't racist. You know who I mean. He'd be the computer tech guy, or the guy who sits in the big room with all the TV monitors. (Nothing too manly.) Maybe, by issue #17 or so, a Muslim member would join the Impossible Gimp Force ("Call him... Saladin!!!"), just to show that the book really wasn't racist.

I don't know of any elegant artistic solution to the thorny problem of representing race in a culture and a medium that have a long history of racism. The usual methods (create a set of good tokens to counter the bad ones; avoid the issue by never showing a minority/racial other who is capable of evil; or just plain ignore the issue entirely) range from the artistically unsatisfying to the downright cowardly. I think the best option may simply be to strive to create worlds as honest, as complex, as complete as our own, so that they at least have the truth to fall back on. But again, I rather doubt Chuck Dixon was up to (or even interested in) the task.

Kevin J. Maroney

One factor which hasn't been noted about the difference between the covers of Captain America #1 and American Power is easy to miss, but not unimportant.

Captain America isn't beating up Germans. He's beating up German soldiers, in uniform. Power Gimp is slugging someone dressed like an Arab (who doesn't even look much like Osama bin Laden).

Marc

I don't think that's a terribly significant distinction, or at least not one we can use to impute sinister motives on the part of Dixon and CrossGen.

Cap is beating up Nazis because that's who we were fighting then; Gimp is beating up Arab terrorists because that's (nominally) who we're fighting now, and one of the many problems with terrorists is that they tend not to wear uniforms or otherwise act like a regular army. Perhaps it's impossible to draw someone "attacking Arab terrorists" without also drawing them "attacking Arabs" (especially in a single, context-free image), which just suggests another way that Pete's right and this conflict isn't reducible to World War II terms. Say what you will about Nazi Germany (he said, channeling Walter Sobchak), it was a conventional military power that could be beaten by conventional military means. Terrorism may simply be a force you can't punch to death, which is part of what makes this cover so dangerously lunkheaded.

Would it be any less creepy if Gimp were pummeling uniformed enemies, like, say, Saddam's Republican Guard? They're clearly punchworthy, but I don't think so. The assertion of power would still seem just as petulant, just as impotent, not to mention pointless and a solid year too late. And in some ways it would be even dumber; at least this way, Gimpy is attacking the people who actually attacked us. Gimp 1, Bush 0.

Shit, I've just realized that American Power had a smarter foreign policy than the President. How the hell am I going to sleep tonight?

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