Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spiderman...the Musical?

I've been sick for a few days now, but if I wasn't, this might have done it: Spiderman, the Musical? With music by...Bono and the Edge? Mom, we need more Flintstones Chewable Morphine...

Bono and the Edge of U2 are the latest mainstream musicians to pen songs for a Broadway show. They have teamed up with visionary director Julie Taymor to bring "Spider-Man" to Broadway next year. The show — titled "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" — will tell the story of the superhero's origins. Beyond that there is no word as to which villains will appear, nor is there any official news of casting, though Evan Rachel Wood ("The Wrestler") may be starring.

I this on Sam Raimi and Spiderman 3. Damn Peter Parker and his Bob Fosse "jazz hands." Didn't we learn our lesson with It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman!"?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Capitalist Heroes: Rick Santelli and the Chicago Tea Party

 Atlas is shrugging: CNBC's Rick Santelli has made quite a stir with his call for a "Chicago Tea Party" in July as a reaction to the Obamanation's stimulus package. I've been saying it for years, myself! But Rick, an admitted "Ayn Rand-er," has put himself on the line by firing, to my ears, the first "shot heard 'round the world" for a return of laissez-faire capitalism. He's already being trashed by the White House as "not knowing what he's talking about," but we know what that really means: they're scared. And so, Mr. Santelli is our Capitalist Hero of the Day. Let CNBC know what you think here. 


And Rick's reaction to the White House: spot on. "I'm not a fan of decaf, I think I'll have some tea." Brilliant.

Tribute to our Fallen Philadelphia Police Officers

Philadelphia's Fallen Officers

Again, it is time to honor our real-life heroes, but, sadly, as a memorial. Officer John Pawlowski is the seventh officer to die in the line of duty in Philadelphia this year.

Officer John Pawlowski was shot and killed after responding to a dispute between a cab driver and a man.

Officer Pawlowski and his partner responded to the Logan section of Philadelphia after a cab driver called 911 to report a dispute. During the dispute, the cab driver had told the suspect that he was going to call the police, to which the suspect responded "'If you call police, I shoot you plus the police"

When the officers arrived, the cab driver pointed out the man he was having a dispute with. Officer Pawlowski and his partner approached the man, who was dressed in a black, three-quarter length coat. The suspect had his hands in his pockets. Officer Pawlowski ordered the suspect to show his hands. The suspect did not comply, and immediately opened fire with a .357 handgun, shooting through the pocket of his coat. One round struck Officer Pawlowski in his bullet resistant vest, and a second round struck him in the chest, just above his vest.

Officer Pawlowski was able to return fire, striking the suspect once, before falling to the ground, mortally wounded. Officer Pawlowski's partner and a third officer engaged the suspect in a gun-battle, in which one officer was grazed, and the suspect was shot numerous times.

Officer Pawlowski was taken to Albert Einstein Medal Center, where he died from his wounds.

The suspect was arrested and charged with murder, attempted murder and narcotics possession.

Officer Pawlowski had served with the Philadelphia Police Department for 5 1/2 years. He is survived by his expectant wife. His brother also serves with the Philadelphia Police Department, and his father retired from the agency.
The Philadephia Police Department has had a troubled past, and as an Objectivist, I often object, in principle, to their interference in some so-called "crimes." But our police DO have a legitimate job to do: to protect the society from those who would initiate force. "To serve and protect." They put themselves on the line every day, and never know what will happen. They do not have superpowers, and often have more restrictions than the criminals. So let us honor their service today and remember the fallen as they should be: as heroes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

From Rebirth of Reason: Acknowledging a Hero

In the wake of another plane crash in New York, this one tragic, and possibly due to pilot error, I want to offer readers another take on the previous crash and the heroism of the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, authored by Teresa Summerlee Isanhart on the site rebirthofreason.com. As Teresa rightly says, "It wasn't a miracle, however. It was so much better than that. What transpired was an example of pure excellence, and a timely reminder of the heroic nature inherent in all men, if they choose to exercise it."

Heroism in Music:"Does That Make Me Crazy?" Possibly...

I was watching VH1 early this morning (5 am early) and what did I see? Gosh, a video! WOW! I didn't know they still showed those...


Anyway, I saw, for the first time, the video for Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." A song many of us have heard a million times by now (literally; I counted. Yes I did, shut up...). But now that the hype around this song has died down, I can stand to listen to it again, with fresh ears. Anyway, the timing could not have been better, a moment of serendipity, even...Because the lyrics not only contain an interesting bit about heroism, but the video itself combined with the lyrics and the theme could have been a trailer for the upcoming Watchmen movie.

Music aside (I love the music, it sounds inspired by Ennio Morricone, and I love his soundtrack for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), lyrically I have a problem with the attitude of the song for the same reason I have a problem with Watchmen. But as a piece of art, again, like Watchmen, it is well-done. The lyrics could have been written by Alan Moore. And the video, well...Rorschach, anyone? (The video is clever, very well done.)

And this verse bears a closer look:
My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done
The last line there, "I can die when I'm done," really brings the Rorschach comparison home. But the whole verse reminds me of the attitude of The Venture Brothers (which riffs on popular comic book icons), where we see Johnny Quest, for example, as psychotic from all the "adventures" of his childhood (a foreshadowing of things to come for our "Princes of Venture"...). On this, I'm conflicted...As I write this, I have my Rorschach figure for meditation, to see both arguments. On the one hand, the idea of dragging children into exotic adventures where violence and death are common would probably send many children into therapy. On the other hand, the Western world are pretty kind to its children compared to what children throughout history have had to handle, and as a result, many children grow up naive and soft like marshmallows to the horrors of the world. Teen sidekicks have had a place in comics since the beginning; Robin and Bucky come to mind. The sidekick was meant as an access point for the kid audience, as well as a "softening" tool for dark characters like Batman. As "adolescent male power fantasies," there's also the idea of using these stories to toughen kids up for manhood. But at what point does it become ridiculous to drag a kid into battle...is it, say, World War II, hanging from a rocket, only to be blown to smithereens? (a la Bucky?). It's one thing for a child in the suburbs of post-war America to read these stories with a longing for adventure...it's another to see a child in the Middle East, or an African country, being kidnapped and forced into the military...

So maybe it's just a little crazy? Possibly...

Anyway, without further ado...

"Crazy"

I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly
[radio version]
probably
[album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control

Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done

Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
Probably

Uh, uh


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Contextual Hero


Recently I saw a cult classic for the first time. It's a film that was released the year I was born that has a sizable following and an interesting back story. This film is The Warriors.

It's a movie about gang violence but it has several elements to it that keep it from the simple evil vs. evil or evil vs. slightly less evil conflicts that plague this type of film. It has its basis in
Greek history/literature as well as what the director called a comic book aesthetic. The latter comes from the fact that the film was originally going to go with a more realistic tone and casting but the studio vetoed this idea.


So with reality thrown out the window stylization became the big factor. What a gang usually uses to identify itself is a particular way of wearing a normal article of clothing like a baseball cap or a certain color. In this film the gangs go all out. You have a gang of mimes, a gang of lesbians, a gang that wears baseball uniforms uses bats as weapons and wears KISS make-up etc... The titular gang has a native American theme and all wear the same vest and their primary adversaries the Gramercy Riffs have a bit of a Persian feel to them (not surprisingly).


But the whole idea of the story is that there is a universal truce across all the gangs of New York City for the purpose of a great conference where a messianic leader named Cyrus outlines a plan for all the gangs to unite and take over the city. Each gang sends nine men unarmed to this conference as representatives. But a gang called the Rogues has a different idea. One of them sneaks in a gun and uses it on the man who brought them all together, and in the ensuing chaos implicates the Warriors in his crime.


So you have eight men (their leader is one of the first lost in the shuffle) unarmed who have to make it thirty-one miles from the Bronx to Coney Island with every cop, and every other gang in the city gunning for them.


It's a thrilling story and it's fair to say that it highly romanticizes the idea of being in a gang. This is especially true in the character of Swan, the ad hoc leader who makes numerous statements about the idea of everything having been about finding a way to improve his life, and is faced with a painful realization when he finally makes it home.


"This is what we spent all night fighting to get back to."


But the simple truth is that you cannot look at the events of this film and see the Warriors as anything other than heroes who have an impeccable code of honor and an amazing degree of bravery.


Recently this film was adapted into a video game, which in the opening levels manages to destroy this. This is a gang, so on some level you're aware that these people do some pretty terrible things in their day to day lives. In the opening level of the game it points out that the Warriors need money to take care of their needs, and they get that money through robbing stores, mugging people, and stealing car stereos. Such heroism.


But the film itself offers a number of clues to the fact that when all is said and done, these guys aren't actually good people. At one point in the story Swan begins a sort of courtship with a girl he meets along the way named Mercy. This leads to some heroic moments where the two of them unite in battle, they share an amazing kiss in a moment of relief after a daring escape, he defends her honor on a train with nothing but a single look, and she stays by their side to fight when she could leave and save her own hide. Of course one of the first things he said to her was a threat to pull a train on her (if you're not familiar with the term, in this context it means gang rape). On top of that the bravest Warrior Ajax, who valiantly saves his brothers and fights more

aggressively than anyone else, makes it pretty clear more than once that he is a rapist.


So we're faced with a paradox. Through the course of the film's events you can't view the Warriors as anything but heroes, but up until the very moment before and very soon after those events they go back to being the villains they always were.


I think that there are a number of lessons here. The first being that there is a hero in the soul of everyone but it must be nurtured, valued and respected and never sacrificed. Not to convenience not to the comfort of a group, never.


Another lesson is to remember that great moments of heroism can be found everywhere and from everyone even those you least expect. But when judging such events, remember the character of the person whose act you admire, and if necessary value the act but not necessarily the actor. One moment of heroism doesn't automatically make someone a hero, always remember that the capital gained from an act of heroism can be spent with corruption but likewise the only price high enough to pay off a debt of corruption is heroism.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Doing What's Right No Matter the Cost

I recently saw the movie Wanted. The physics were RIDICULOUSLY BAD, honestly this movie makes the original Richard Donner Superman (complete with turning the earth backwards to reverse time) seem like it was written by a physicist. But that's not what struck me about it. By all accounts the graphic novel of Wanted was meant as a legitimate Elseworlds pitch much like Watchmen. The idea was kind of a reverse Kingdom Come, the villains won the war and their costumes became something that was just a relic of the past.

The filmmakers went to a lot of trouble to make it much less morally ambiguous than the comic. They were assassins but they took their hits from a list written by fate. The protagonist Wesly Gibson resists blindly following the list and killing who it says at first until Fox, his mentor who showed a bit of a romantic interest in him , tells him an anecdote of her past. Her father was a tough judge who was executed by a hitman who made her watch and branded her with his mark. This hitman was assigned as a target to the order of assassins the two belong to weeks before her father was kill. Fox never hesitates and follows every order she's given because she knows it's just that important.

The big turn to the plot is that Gibson is sent after the wrong man. The target defected from the Fraternity, but he was justified in doing so. The leader of his branch of the group found his own name on a kill order and hid it, at which point he started selling his services and making up his own targets.

When this is finally revealed he tells all his underlings that not only was his name on a kill order, but each one had their own as well. The leader assumed the Fraternity would go on in a new and corrupt fashion, selling their services to the highest bidders and ignoring any inconvenient kill orders. Fox decides she'll have none of this and in a spectacular fashion she carries out as many kill orders as she can on her colleagues and finally herself.

I found this dedication to a principle, no matter what it actually was, very laudable.

It reminded me of another movie called Frailty. It was the story of a father who is convinced he is on a mission from God to destroy demons who look exactly like normal people. He does so using a pair of gloves and an ax which his visions lead him to, and gets his orders from a mystical list of names that just comes to him.

The story is told from the point of view of the eldest son who is dismayed to see his father executing innocent people regularly. That is until you find out that this son was actually one of the demons he would later be called on to destroy, who simply "hadn't made the list yet."

Again, you could say it's total mysticism and dedication to a questionable or even evil idea, but I have a respect any person that dedicated to their ideals. Willing to stick to them even when they seemingly are working against them. I can't count the number of times I was asked "where my $200,000 was" during the election when I mentioned that I wasn't voting for Barak Obama. The truth of the matter is that by not voting for him I'm avoiding getting a government handout, but the very selfish reason I was against this because I value the freedom that would be lost with such policies more than any concrete thing which could be offered to me.

Sometimes I'm very disturbed to think of what would happen if these people had lived during the time of slavery. "Are you just hellbent on giving up free labor?" "Why would you want to give up your property?"

So you'll forgive me for admiring people who are so dedicated to their ideals that they'll follow them even if it seemingly leads to something bad for them. It leads to something bad, but to the person willing to go that far, the alternative would be much worse.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Superman's Vote: "Red" or "Blue"? More like "Yellow."

I don't know how this fell under the radar, that I'm only discovering it today, but I came across DC comic's mini-series Decisions in the store today. It's basically a story revolving around the DC heroes and the recent Presidential election, and the pressure on the heroes to reveal their vote.

From DC Comics:
Election season is upon us, and the stakes have never been higher! An unknown villain is attempting to assassinate the presidential candidates, and only the heroes of the DCU stand in the way. As Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Superman, Batman and more try to learn the killer's identity, they are faced with the difficult task of reconciling their own personal ideals with the mission at hand.
(Apparently the series was a dud, and Judd Winick is quoted as saying , "Frankly, we knew this mini-series was screwed from the moment we heard two words connected to this project.”)

Political issues aside, I had my own "issue" when I looked through issue #4 and went to the page where Superman is about to "reveal" his vote. What he "reveals" is that he does, in fact, have an opinion, but that he would NOT share it. This I can understand. But his full reasoning? Well, let's here is from the Man of Tomorrow himself:
It is my hope that the focus of this election will now return to the issues, and the cadidates who will address them. And with that, I do feel compelled to answer a question that has been posed to me. Who do I wish to see as the next President of the United States? I do have a choice. There is one among these four fine elected officials who I believe will best lead this nation. But it would be unconscionable of me to share that with you. As I feel it has been wrong for any of us who battle injustice, we so-called “heroes,” to allow our opinions to be known on this most important of occasions. To begin, whoever is elected to the highest office in the land to not think they that they will not have our full support. That our allegiances are stronger with defeated candidates. You understand, and have always understood, that our mission is to protect not only this nation but this world...and all the worlds beyond the stars. We answer to no one…therefore…we do not govern. We are heroes and we serve. The privilege of choosing who will lead you is, I believe, a sacred right. One that should forever remain unmolested. We don’t take sides. The battles we fight are larger than those on the political spectrum. It would pain me to think the President would believe that he or she couldn’t count on us, turn to us, or rely on us. But more important…most important, for us to involve ourselves in this election–in any election–betrays you whom we have dedicated ourselves to serve and protect. There is an unspoken covenant between you and us. You allow us to serve outside the laws of any land. Our actions are governed by no one. We are given no reward for our success or penalty for our failure. You choose. You decide. And we will always… protect.
And, as usual, what we have here is an example of "package-dealing." Superman has a choice, yet he honors an "unspoken covenant?" between "you and us?" You "allow us to serve?" "We are heroes and we serve." I'm glad to know that when our Constitution is rotting away, Superman refuses to "choose sides." But then again, this is what's to be expected from heroes in a culture of self-sacrifice.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: what is needed is a heroes' bill of rights.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Show and Tell: Rorschach

Today, for show-and-tell, I brought in my Rorschach figure, just released as a tie-in to the Watchmen movie. I bought this figure as a meditative tool for when I write about heroes as they are in our culture. Like the inkblot test that adorns his mask, Rorschach reveals to us our own attitudes about heroism.

Originally, I wanted to buy this to rub it in Alan Moore's face while I appropriate Rorschach for my own purposes; it's no secret that Watchmen is his takedown of superheroes in the real world, claiming that they would be "nutcases." He's also said some pretty nasty things about Ayn Rand and Steve Ditko, claiming that they stand for a type of fascism. It should also be noted that he's for anarchy himself, as he claims in an interview about V for Vendetta:
Anarchy is, and always has been, a romance. It is clearly the best way, and the only morally sensible way, to run the world. That everybody should be the master of their own destiny, that everybody should be their own leader.
Well, I agree with the last sentence, although I sometimes sympathize with him on the first, when I see the shenanigans in our government. But Rand is no fascist, nor Ditko, who Moore attacks for his "black and white/no shades of gray" stand via the Mr. A character, on who Rorschach is based. But if Moore believes what he does about anarchy, it's strange that he would come down so hard on vigilantes and Ayn Rand, when she wrote that would lead to vigilante "justice"...I do sympathize with Moore's warning about vigilantes and superheroes being about power-lust (not the idealized superhero, but superheroes as they have been presented so far).

Hrmmm... I'll leave Moore to work out his own contradictions. But back to Rorschach: Moore's made a joke about Steve Ditko, upon hearing Ditko's reaction to Rorschach. Supposedly Ditko said, "Oh, yes, Rorschach, he's like Mr. A, only he's insane," to which Moore responds with a "knowing laugh," as if to say "Steve, you missed the joke, and you're the punchline." And yet, Rorschach did get away from Moore enough to steal the story; even if Moore thinks he's "mad," he does admit to his popularity being based on his "ferocious moral integrity."

Moore does have some praise for Ditko, despite his misgivings, noting the "tormented elegance" of his work, his nine-panel layout, and his incorporation of the landscape into the story itself. But it seems that Moore's "love of Ditko" centered on the more disturbing aspects of Ditko's work, the paranoia of the characters, the way that they "always looked highly strung...on the edge of some kind of revelation or breakdown." But Moore is not (totally) wrong; these things are all there, and from the stories about him, were probably there in Ditko himself. A highly secretive and private man who has broken (most, if not all) ties with friends, his Marvel work, and society, he has taken Rand at her word and, for all intents and purposes, has went "on strike." (Whether or not this is "martyrdom" or "self-sacrificial" is for Ditko to decide for himself.) Hrmmm....

Now, as far as I know(!), Ditko has never killed anyone or broken fingers while eating sugar cubes. But his characters in his post-Marvel work have no compunction about extreme justice. But I don't know that his characters ever went so far as Rorschach! It is Moore's interpretation that for someone to be that morally certain, one must be a traumatized child wearing a mask, like the psychotic versions of Batman, reliving the past over and over and over...and yet, Moore does believe in morality, based on the quote above about anarchy. So one has to ask, how far would Moore go in defending his morality? Hrmmm....

But at the same time, I do sympathize with the notion of accountability; who watches the watchmen, indeed! (I stress accountability, not to society in general, but to the principles that make society possible, meaning objective rules for society.) I, like Ditko, am an Objectivist. I do believe in self-defense, and heroes as protectors of "what is right." But without an objective basis for liberty, "right" becomes "because I said so," or "because God said so," or "because the State said so," and so on. And even if it can objectively proven that one is right and the other wrong, freedom does require that we leave others to make their own mistakes, as long as others aren't infringed upon.

Earlier, I said that Moore was attracted to the "creepier" elements of Ditko's work. But, to be fair, and because this is a good segue for what's next, I should add another quote from Moore:

I at least felt that, though Steve Ditko's political agenda was very different to mine...I would basically disagree with all of Ditko's ideas, but he has to be given credit for expressing these political ideas.
Moore has stated that he doesn't want people to mindlessly agree with him, but simply "to think" about these things. To that, I say, great. And that's what makes Rorschach a great character; not the actual Rorschach, the tragic figure, abused as a child into psychotic vigilance, but the "question" of Rorschach himself, the "questions" asked of him that make you think. The character of Rorschach, through the lens of Moore's take on Rand and capitalism, is just another fascist, imposing his will. He is what Moore sees when an inkblot of Ditko/Rand is presented to him, and what Moore sees is a psychopath. But that is not the only possibility. When I see an inkblot of Rand, I see achievement, purpose, productivity, creativity, defended by moral certainty that one's life is one's own, no apologies for living. And yet, I have seen what Moore is talking about; one isn't immune just because he calls himself an Objectivist. If I don't see it in Rand, or maybe not it Ditko, I've seen it in other self-proclaimed "Objectivists" who would straddle the border between defender and vigilante, or "radical" and "psychotic."

It is the question of Kira in Rand's We the Living, that makes her say to her Communist foil:
I loathe your goals. I admire your methods. If one believes one's right, one shouldn't wait to convince millions of fools, one might just as well force them. Except that I don't know, however, that I'd include blood in my methods.
It is the question of Rand herself, who, in a revised edition, removed this section entirely, except to say "I loathe your goals."

Rorschach, like the inkblot, is a test for what we want and choose to see: do we want to protect what we value, or destroy what we hate? Do we fight because it's necessary, or because we take delight in breaking our enemy's fingers and spirit? Do we regret the battle, or relish the death of our enemies?

So, in the end, I didn't buy this figure to "rub it in" Moore's face, but to serve as a reminder that heroism is a choice, one that brings great power and responsibility...to one's self. The responsibility to NOT become the very thing that we set out to fight. To not lose sight of the purpose of heroism: not the fight, but the defense of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." What do you see in Rorschach's face? That's for your own "show-and-tell" to reveal.

(Alan Moore as Lego)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Superman: "It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's a Choice..."

 An artist (as, for instance, the sculptors of Ancient Greece) who presents man as a god-like figure is aware of the fact that men may be crippled or diseased or helpless; but he regards those these conditions as accidental, as irrelevant to the essential nature of man--and he presents a figure embodying strength beauty, intelligence, self-confidence, as man's proper, natural state. An artist (as, for instance, the sculptors of the Middle Ages) who presents man as a deformed monstrosity is aware of the fact that there are mean who are healthy, happy, or confident; but he regards these conditions as accidental or illusory, as irrelevant to man's essential nature--and he presents a tortured figure embodying pain, ugliness, terror, as man's proper, natural state. 
 -Ayn Rand
 The above quote would be a fair summation of the reason and purpose of Superhero Babylon. And it's not for nothing that Superman's cape is the chosen symbol. Superman, more than any other character, represents everything that is right with Rand's quote. So when I accidentally discovered a graphic novel called It's a Bird in the bookstore, well... Superman doesn't appear very often in DC's VERTIGO line of comics, which are given over to darker, more adult-themed stories. So it's not surprise that when he finally gets the spotlight, it's the kind of spotlight one finds used in an interrogation scene. I was surprised, however, by the ending...

 An interrogation; indeed, that's how Steven T. Seagle approaches the "Man of Tomorrow." No mindless hero-worship here, which makes the ending that much more remarkable. As Grant Morrison writes on the dust jacket, "this is Superman for grownups." The story is actually NOT about Superman, but a "semi-autobiographical" look at the writer's inability to write about Superman. When offered the chance to write the Superman comics, "Steve" initially declines, unimpressed with an opportunity that any other writer would leap tall buildings for. Why?
The truth of the matter is, I have no Superman stories. There's no access point to the character for me. For anyone if they ever really thought about him. Too much about him makes no sense.
So why does the writer feel this way? Steve's got "issues...back issues..." (and begins the part of the story that Grant Morrison describes as "part savage deconstruction.") We see the writer give every excuse under the yellow sun, from political, ideological, and practical. But the real issue is personal; the story starts off with the young Steve's experience in the hospital where his grandmother lays dying of Huntingdon's Disease. Steve is given a Superman comic to read, which becomes forever associated with "the smell of rubbing alcohol and sick people with veins showing through their legs." Even the shield on Superman's chest becomes associated with the "S" at the end of "Huntingdon's." And that is the real story of this story, the author's inability to identify with an invulnerable Superman in a world of mortality. The fact that Superman is an alien just makes the concept that much more...alien. Like the "artist of the middle ages" in Ayn Rand's claim, it's not just the fact that Superman is an outsider that bothers Steve. His girlfriend points out that Steve, like Superman, is an outsider, too. But Superman is strong, and Steve is...well, Steve doesn't want to talk about that right now...
***************************************************
 They convince him that to be like Buck Rogers means to wear a space helmet and blast armies of Martians with a disintegrator gun, and that he'd better give up such notions if he ever expects to make a respectable living. And they finish him off with..."Buck Roger--ha-ha-- never gets any colds in the head...Do you know any real people who never get them? Why, you had one last week. so don't you go on imagining that you're better than the rest of us!"
-Ayn Rand
 "They" have certainly convinced Steve, who wants to convince everyone that Superman does not work as a symbol of human achievement, precisely because he IS super, and, therefore, unreal. Steve objects to the "contradictions" of Superman, and the resultant call to "suspend disbelief," because he "likes  things to be believable..." For him to write Superman, he would "have to believe he could live in our world. But he can't," because everything about him is "ludicrous." (Rand, a "Romantic Realist," would call Steve a "naturalist.") And so the savage deconstruction" begins...

 According to Steve, Superman as "alien outsider" can't relate to the "real" outsiders at the Daily Planet, outsiders such as the Jewish accountant who endures the water cooler jokes about "her people" and money, or the black janitor who's main power is invisibility...until money goes missing...or the lesbian or the handicapped. These outsiders can't just take off their glasses and hide their true identities...or reveal their true identities...Superman as outsider can't compare to other aliens who left their homes, like Columbus or the Challenger astronauts who never reached their intended destinations. Superman made it to Earth, therefore his story is not as important as the "tragedy" of the others. Superman as invulnerable is only valid in fantasy; and even then, Achille's had his unprotected heel, the Great Wall of China had "vast, indefensible gaps." Even Alexander the Great was felled not by the enemy army, but a fever...

 "Steve" realizes that Superman, of course, IS not invulnerable...there is a little problem of Kryptonite...and this is where we see the real conflict of the author...Kryptonite:
 
Kryptonite is antithetical to Superman! It's the opposite of life. Some sick bastard wrote the word "Kryptonite," and suddenly Superman is vulnerable!

 Steve, who, up to this point, comes off as an intellectual and cynical, and "realistic," starts to show a Romantic streak. But it's too soon; the "savage deconstruction" must continue...including a deconstruction of the colors on Superman's costume...(notably, the story is depicted in earth tones, with the exception of Superman's primary colors.) Steve calls out Superman for being a "phony American":
 You're as much American as jazz, baseball, or the comic book...but you're not red, white, and blue. You're clad in the triad of primary colors: red, yellow, blue, the three hues from which all other colors are created. Is red-yellow-blue some kind of pre-political correctness? Do you represent men of all colors? Or is it more mechanical than that? Did Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster choose red-yellow-blue because of the arcane printing limitations of 1938? Or was there some chromatic alchemy at work? A secret spectrum chosen for its symbolic meanings? 

 This savaging of Superman's "Americanism" becomes an attack on America itself, for failing to live up to its ideals. When challenged that Superman, as a creation of the children of Jewish immigrants, shows us that "anyone with the will can make it here," Steve calls it "crap," with an argument that could have come straight out of The Myth of the American Superhero:
 
That's the myth of America. But Superman doesn't use human virtues, he uses alien trump cards. He beats the crap out of people who don't play the game his way. He fights for the American ideal, but he fights with his fists. He's an alien interloper, and he's after our women. He's not showing us what we can be, because we can't be from another planet, have x-ray vision, flight, or super-strength...

 At this point, Steve is cut off by the recipient of this diatribe, who objects to the vilification of his childhood hero as a fascist, imperialist, and whatever fashionable Chomsky-ite diatribe academics teach their students nowadays. To this, Steve responds...with a fist. This is a development of the conflict arising in Steve, as he represses his latent "romanticism." To really understand what is happening here, one has to look at Carl Jung's description of the hero cycle, which involves the hero becoming the very thing he set out to fight. But to really understand what is happening here, one has to understand that Jung's idea of shadow projection is not limited to heroes, but to anyone who represses their underlying feelings. All the objections Steve has to Superman are based on Steve's own denied lust for power in the face of his own powerlessness. But because he is not ready to admit this, Steve begins to retreat to his own "fortress of solitude," which becomes an airtight cell which suffocates him. And so, Steve begins to finally admit his REAL issue with Superman: he is not Superman because he is confronted with the possibility that the Huntingdon's Disease that has tore his family apart may claim him as well. And this is how Steve finally gains a point of accessibility to the Man of Steel. He remembers the original Superman story that he read in the hospital as a child, and remembers not the plotholes, but the emotional investment, of wanting to "turn the page and know what was going to happen next." Steve may or may not have the disease, this is still uncertain. But he learns that the point is not to give up as long as there is a choice: 
 
That's what Superman is all about. To remind us that we have hurdles...but as long as we keep jumping them...we're in the race.
 And so, this became a story not about Superman, but how a Naturalist become a Romanticist. As the story ends, Steve can look to the sky, with his own children, and see not a bird, or a plane, but Superman, and tells them that "you can see him you look close enough, but you really have to want to." A better example of why the Superman cape is our symbol I couldn't ask for. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Extended Hiatus

I haven't been posting much lately and I kind of feel the need to acknowledge that. Part of why I write at this blog is as a means to alleviate writer's block for my other longer standing and more daunting projects. Lately I've started and quickly aborted a number of articles but one thing I've been consistent about writing is my graphic novel that I'd been stalled on for over a year.

I've been making great progress in that realm and I didn't want to shortchange Superhero Babylon by only going halfway with my writing here. Of course this is why having a partnership on a project like this is good since Joe has produced many great entries in recent weeks and Mr. Vardoulis said something about having an entry ready in the near future.

To be completely honest I think my output here is going to be fairly limited until I finish my first draft, but I've contradicted myself before. Thanks to everyone for being so understanding. Hopefully the Garbageman will soon meet his end and the dancers of the Lion's Den Gentlemen's Club can all sleep easier.