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May 04, 2004


David Fiore

Needless to say, I agree with you Marc.

It seems to me that a person who argues for Giffen/DeMatteis' Justice League as the pinnacle of superhero comics achievement is on pretty shaky ground as a critic of an admittedly faltering genre. What she's really saying is, the only way to do superheroes properly is to parody them, or "restore their lost grandeur/innocence", a la Alex Ross, whom many Ninth Art people seem to have a soft spot for...

I don't want to see any "patriotic" nonsense out of Marvel or DC, but that message will never get through to the Big Two if the only intelligent people talking about comics persist in viewing honest superhero efforts as incapable of serving the needs of "introspective" creators. This is why I rant about the Gwen Stacy clone stories, Animal Man, Doom Patrol & Gruenwald's Cap with such fervor--these are great pop cultural Hamlet stories. And I agree with Alex--I want more!


Dave Van Domelen

Hmmm, the Don Quixote bit makes me wonder how many comicbook writers have essentially tried to "stealth adapt" Cervantes's tale to comics. In other words, tell a tale of a character who considered himself a hero, but was really more of a fool, eventually realizing in the end that he was a fool...just as he'd finally convinced his down-to-earth companion that he really was a hero?

Aside from Easily-Discovered Man and Lite, of course.


Thank you thank you THANK YOU!

It's almost sad how much the 'indignant elitism' of artists can be traced to career envy, and not some sanctified appreciation for 'authentic' art. I remember recently I read an article where this obscure writer/artist in the medium responded to a question about storytelling in superhero comics with a snide, "Superhero comics are NOT art." I went around to my comics reading friends with her name - they never heard of her. I did a bit of research and discovered that she is very obscure and doesn't sell too well. Now, months later, I've forgotten both her name and the title of her most recent work.

On the flip side and in another medium, there's sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card who whines endlessly about how writers like Toni Morrison and James Joyce aren't 'real' storytellers, all because ultimately Card hates being labelled as a 'genre writer' and envies their critical attention.

Anyone who happilly condemns or ignores a good writer's work and goes as far as claim they're not 'real' deserves not only a slap in the face, but needs to have their supposedly 'pure' motives put under a microscope. (Sorry if I rambled on a bit, but this is a topic that never fails to irk the crap out of me.)

Dave Intermittent

You forgot one box. Internally inconsistent? Let's see. Even assuming that Turgenev's take on Quixote is applicable to comics, how does she get from the "pursuit of justice" to RNC sanctioned nationalist talking points? Couldn't a "liberal" superhero also pursue justice? It doesn't make any sense to set up a binary which makes--not simplicity--but the simple pursuit of justice the opposite of nuance, and then claim that this is the hallmark of simple conservative fairy tales. Last I checked, liberals had rather valid claims on certain simple notions of justice, and were (properly) tied very tightly to certain ideas and principles....

So then. Internally Inconsistent? Check.



Well spotted, Dave. Perhaps the willingness of so many liberals - at least the pseudointelligentsia liberals of the Ninth Art variety - to concede concepts like "justice" and "moral authority" over to the conservatives without a fight is what allows Bush and co. to get away with their abuses of power. Or, as Mr. Fiore writes in his take on this same column,

most liberals these days seem to want to cut themselves off from the main current of the liberal tradition in the West, and that's an excellent way to strand yourself in an intellectual backwater.

And a political one.

And to that other Dave, I too wanted to make some kind of snarky reference to Giffen/DeMatteis and Waid being held up as pinnacles of the genre, but I just couldn't work it in. Isn't it odd how, for all their oft-recycled criticisms of the superhero genre, the Ninth Art set's tastes generally run straight to the middlebrow?

Matthew Rossi

Any love for Ambush Bug over at Ninth Art? Only good thing Giffen did after The Great Darkness Saga, back when he could still draw.


But how do you tell what brow superhero comics hit?

That's something I struggle with often. It sometimes seems to me that there are incredibly few highbrow pop culture endeavors nowadays and that the things that get marked as highbrow just have greater pretensions than happily middlebrow works. I think this is also a case of setting my expectations too high, but I don't know how other people figure it out.

Matthew Rossi

But how do you tell what brow superhero comics hit?

To be honest, I've never worried about what brow any of my entertainment hit. Some of the dumbest tripe I've ever read came out of those thick, single-named tomes James A. Michener foisted off onto the world (and which my sophomore lit professor foisted off on me as 'breathtaking genius' - I swear, that guy was so full of it he could get an enema by accidentally working some shampoo into his ears while showering) and some of the most effective art has come from guys like Lee or Levitz or even DeMatteis, when he's on. (I liked Moonshadow a lot.) For that matter, how do you even define highbrow vs. lowbrow? Is Neal Stephenson doing highbrow or middlebrow or what with his Baroque Cycle? What about Thomas Pynchon? Is Catch-22 lowbrow? I'd argue no... I love that particular book and think Heller did an amazing thing with it... but it's certainly a book rooted in the ordinary bullshit of existence.

I think comic books of the superhero or non-superhero variety would do well to simply aim to tell a good story and treat their tropes with respect. They're tools, ultimately. Worrying about where the work fits in some imaginary spectrum of intellectual quality is just handicapping yourself before the race begins, and worrying about it while reading them is divesting yourself of the primary joy of reading, to be told a story.


A simple troll of the Fantagraphics catalogue or the TCJ message board will yield no shortage of candidates for "highbrow" comics - some given that accolade on their merits, many more assigned it because of their genre or their publisher or their method of production or their authors' own declarations.

The system of -brow designations may no longer function as a perfect system for ordering the whole of artistic creation into a great chain of taste, but it still has its uses. While "highbrow" and "lowbrow" might seem tied to an outmoded elitism, "middlebrow" may be more relevant than ever, especially with regard to comics. Something has to designate the timid experimentalists and the sanctioned rebels, the shallowly intellectual and the pretentious but lazy. That is, the people who want to transcend the narrow limitations of a frequently depressing genre, yet look no higher than Planetary or Stormwatch.

Dave Van Domelen

Marc, when you talk about transcending the genre, do you mean superhero stories, or are you talking about the medium of comics? Because most "highbrow" comics eschew the genre of superheros entirely, when they're not actually attacking it.


Well, first of all, I was talking about transcending the limitations of the genre, not the genre itself. "Transcending the genre" all too often means a denigration of genre - or rather, it sustains an extant denigration by removing the most exceptional works from a given genre, as a prerequisite for saying the genre has no exceptional works: "superheroes suck, even despite New X-Men, because New X-Men transcends the genre."

And I agree, most "highbrow" works in any medium appear to operate outside of genre - I stress appear, as the conventions of, say, epiphanic fiction are every bit as ossified as those of 1970s Marvel Comics. But in this case I was thinking of the comics to which so many of the online intelligentsia (I'll stop picking on Ninth Art alone) are particularly prone. For all the derision this set likes to heap upon superhero comics, the works they hype tend to be... superhero comics, only this one's got people in leather jackets or business suits. They aren't necessarily any better than any other superhero comics - some, I think, are quite a bit worse - and their innovations are directed mostly towards seizing the surface trappings of nongenre credibility. "Middlebrow" seems pretty apt.


I'm sorry- its been a long day, and I'm very tired, and i generally speaking have pretty poor reading comprehension skills, but is she saying the cancellation of the third Stormwatch trade is somehow indicative of ... anything at all?

DC has decided not to publish a book that, uh, they weren't going to publish to begin with. Oh and they decided to not publish a book by a huge liar- i didn't expect that to be construed as a poor publicity move, but...

This is indicative of ... what? stalin did what? s-stalin?

i generally like paul o'brien's writing for ninth art, though, so...

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