Friday, 26 November 2010

The Man Who Lost The Horizon: Gail Simone's Catman, The Secret Six & Revolutionary Character Change (Part 2 of 2)

Continued and concluded from yesterday;

7.

It's the fact that Thomas Blake has so successfully turned himself into a formidable super-powered mercenary while completely failing to attend to the root causes of his personal failings that makes the character such a beguiling one. No matter what he attempts, and no matter how hard he tries, he's always going to fail in the end, because, as we've discussed, his psychology is that of a dangerously obtuse, self-obsessed, self-pitying and irresponsible child. It's hard not to empathise a touch, and on occasion far more than just a touch, with a character that captures our most despicably childish qualities just as it's impossible to ever completely take his side. And so the fascination of watching him chase down one chimera after another is as strangely moving as it's often both amusing and, and on occasion, rather repellent. Catman's adventures are marked far less by the enigma of whether he's going to achieve his goals so much as how badly he's going to screw up along the way, and the more physically impressive he becomes, the more frustrating it is for him that all that strength and ferocity won't bring him the things that he's always wanted.


Everything that promises to liberate Catman simultaneously oppresses him. And so, although Thomas Blake might earn the respect of some of his once-fellow super-villains, and although he may occasionally achieve a substantial pay-day through craft and violence, he can't ever be generally respected for being a good man, because the costume he's using to try to earn that respect also marks his own mental flaws and ethical corruption.


8.

Ms Simone has been careful to constantly underline the fact that the identity of "Catman" constitutes an ideal for Thomas Blake of all that he could be if he just worked to make the most of himself. That costume, those powers, those compromised achievements, all serve as facets of an exemplar of the very best that Thomas Blake is capable to dreaming for himself. When discussing with Batman the state that Catman had allowed himself to degenerate into, prior to his rebirth in the hills of South Africa, Blake refers to a period "when I wasn't myself", implying that he's now very much himself. Fitting into that silly costume, with its soft blunt ears and its kitty-scratch emblem, fighting with some of the most dangerous characters on Earth-DC, living his wretched life on his own confused and compromised terms; all that constitutes for Blake the essential business of being himself. Catman is his better self, and without that, he seems to feel that he isn't a person at all, so much as waste of potential and life, an absolute loser. And the more he tries to live up to the ideal of being Catman, it seems, the more he assumes he'll one day perhaps become a better man, a more respected and admirable man. He confuses Catman with the whole of his potential, being ignorant of the things he might achieve if he could think in a clearer and more moral fashion. He assumes that the business of being Catman will polish and illuminate the true "Thomas Blake", so that he'll no longer have to be ashamed or confused or wretched, but shining up "Catman" just makes a better fighter out of an incompetent human being.


On occasion, Thomas Blake will sense that there's something exceptionally wrong with him that leads him into behaving in troubling ways. We see him trying to talk to Deadshot, for example, about his suspicion that there's some quality missing in the pair of them that causes them to do terrible things, but Blake's solution isn't to stop and identify that problem so much as to throw himself again into the business of being a better lion-themed super-mercenary. And in that, he's a recognisably late 20th century, early 21st century man; he unconsciously identifies his - shudder - inner self with virtue, and associates not being "myself" with betraying his own potential. If only he could be truer to himself, he seems to believe, everything would be far better than fine.

But, as we discussed yesterday, this identity of "Catman" is nothing more than the wet dream of a deeply flawed psychology. Thomas Blake's ambition to be an admirable force for good, while still being free to do whatever he wants, will always and inevitably be short-circuited by the fact that he's concentrating on his fighting skills and tracking abilities rather than his flawed cognitive processes. And his membership of the Secret Six of course only drags him further and further away from any possible moment of crisis when he might see himself for what he is. Being with the Six is as counter-productive a business for him as hanging out in "Cheers" would be for a chronic alcoholic, because living with his troop of vicious super-comrades reinforces all his delusions and provides him with the short-term pleasures and sense of purpose that obscures his inadequacies.


9.

Suffering as he does with a chronic inferiority complex and what looks like serious attachment issues, it's no surprise to note how quickly Blake decides that the Secret Six is his family and its members his precious friends. By his second adventure with the team, he's already decided that Deadshot might be the very best friend he's ever had, which is both a terribly sad and an absolutely insane judgment, no matter how bereft of decent company he's been. But Blake obviously needs to feel that he's loved by those around him, and so Deadshot is his worthy if worrying buddy. Similarly, it's noticeable how Catman declares himself willing to risk his life to rescue Scandal Savage from her insane and immortal father, despite his having fought with her for little but a few months, if that. These intense thoughts, feelings and actions are all way out of proportion with common sense, but Blake doesn't know how to contextualise his emotions or recognise his insecurities. And so, his need to belong over-rides whatever little common-sense he has. In truth, for all his taciturn nature and his appearance of being self-reliant, he's terribly needy. Deadshot's slaughter of Catman's precious South African pride, for example, is quickly swept under the carpet with a pathetic haste. And Deadshot's habit of, for example, driving cars into Blake and expressing a lack of concern for Catman's emotional and bodily well-being can't do more than faintly and passingly dent Catman's fondness for Lawton. It's a naivety about his colleagues that appears again when he declares that he can't believe that Ragdoll would ever betray them after that seems to have very much occurred. Any man who can't believe that Ragdoll might betray them has surely missed the point that Ragdoll, for all of his apparent loyalty and good humour, has very much got his own peculiar psychology too.


But Blake has a quietly desperate need to belong, and so Ragdoll must have absolute integrity and Deadshot must be a true comrade and mate. And so Catman lives in a state of constant denial, although occasionally troubled by thoughts which, for example, suggest that Deadshot and he might end up fighting to the death one day. It's a nightmare that most would regard as being worth remembering, but it never seems to inspire Catman to be any less trusting of Deadshot.

Indeed, such is Catman's neediness that he'll ignore the evidence of betrayals that anyone else might at the very least be lastingly upset by. The Huntress may stab him in the leg while seeming to flirt with him, but that can't affect his warm judgement of her. And even the loathsome Cheshire, who uses Catman as nothing but a walking sperm donor before betraying the Six to Luthor's Society, is defended by Blake when he's reminded that she triggered a nuclear bomb above the capital city of Quirac; "we don't know that she's blown up a country" he says, because he doesn't want to have to know that she's undeniably done so.


And so this drive to belong somewhere keeps him where he is, as part of a dysfunctional group that he chooses to regard as his pride even as they fail to achieve any so ordered and stable an existence. His observation that the Six don't talk to each other in the absence of the kidnapped Scandal Savage explains something of his fervour to rescue her. In her absence, his new family isn't just missing a member so much as it's missing a matriarch who constantly establishes and reestablishes social relations between otherwise alienated individuals, and the illusion of family means a great deal to Blake, even though the family he wants to believe in doesn't truly exist at all.

It's one of the aspects of Blake's personality that most endears him to us, of course. He may not be able to recognise, let alone articulate, his desperate need to belong, but everything he does is coloured by it. And at times it's almost as if he were an abused child that's moved home and school so many times that even standing at a bus-stop becomes a frightening process of hiding from anxiety and searching for reassurance among folks that must surely be his new best friends.


10.

Whatever doubts Blake has about being Catman and belonging to the Secret Six, the distractions and pleasures of his costumed identity provide him with more than enough moments of intense activity and sensation to stave off any fundamental questions about his objective situation. Like all social groups, the Six have their shared rituals which bond them. They meet across the table while Scandal Savage discusses missions and outlines where their fees have been invested. They change costumes together, as in "Dead Of Winter", where the team can't bring themselves to rush off as is absolutely necessary into combat without pulling on their fighting togs. And of course they're completely reliant on each other in the field, whether they're being hunted down by Black Lanterns or ambushed by a force of 50 or so super-villains outside Gotham City, a gang of costumed killers rather poignantly described by Blake as "mostly d-listers and losers". In the self-interest of protecting each other during their missions lies the illusion of close relations based on common and fond values rather than self-interest and need.


And in those brief moments of adrenalin-rush and attention-focus encountered during the Secret Six's usually-disastrous missions, Thomas Blake can over-ride all his demons and fully concentrate on those things that he really can do well. Whether it's determining battlefield strategy or trying to survive against armies of human killers and battalions of super-powered ones, Catman can not only live in the moment, but gain credit for doing so. He's the one who flies his colleagues in, the one who advises them on how to stay alive, and the one they can probably most rely on when the punch- ups start. It's no wonder he associates the role of Catman within the context of the Secret Six with success and fulfilment, because compared to what Thomas calls "The old me", the fat loser whose "milk and cookies" would probably have been "whooped" by Batman every time, as he admits, his new self at his teammates side has at least some status, some purpose and some measure of achievement.


And in this way, his membership of the Six constantly delays the moment when he'll have to come to terms with himself. At the beginning of "Unhinged", for example, Blake rather futilely confides to Deadshot that he's "lost the horizon", that's he lost faith in what we might call the "Catman project", and that he's even "thinking" about going straight. He's grasped that there's a fundamental quality of restraint and regret missing from his thinking and his behaviour, and that it's not his conscience troubling him so much as the awareness that his conscience isn't doing any such thing. It could have been a fundamental turning point in his life, but it's one that's lost as soon as the Catman costume is pulled on again and mayhem indulged in. And by the end of that misadventure, Blake is so consumed by costumed identity and so lost in the moment of trying to survive that he's found his horizon again. He is, he declares to the Huntress, no more unworthy of being saved from hell than all the other super-villains around him, and the fact that it's actually his own flaws that he should be concerned with, rather than the possibility that other reprobates might share them, has quite escaped him again.


11.

But of course, the business of being Catman and fighting with the Secret Six isn't ever going to inspire the transformation of Thomas Blake into a self-aware, well-adjusted, benign member of society. Belonging to the Six is for Blake a process which functions somewhat like methadone to a heroin addict; the very worst of his problems are temporarily controlled, but the treatment's no cure while the programme's addictive in itself. And as a consequence, Thomas Blake can't ever quite delude himself enough to feel entirely secure in his own skin, no matter what the Six achieve or who Catman out-slashes. It's a fact that can be observed in how he behaves with his colleagues when the bullets aren't flying, for he's usually seen sitting quietly and looking on whenever there's no fighting or planning to be done. Like a shy guest at a party who takes on kitchen duties in order to mask their awkwardness, Blake flies planes and drives cars, establishes strategies and worries about coming disasters, but he never seems socially at ease. Indeed, placed in the midst of these people who're supposedly his nearest and dearest, he often seems unable to handle casual conversation with anyone beyond Deadshot at all. In the "road trip", during "Compound Fracture", for example, everyone else has something to discuss, but Blake's quite silent and focused on the road. No wonder he misses Scandal, the social nexus of the group, when she's absent in "Six Degrees Of Devastation".


And no matter how Thomas Blake transforms himself, it's never enough to ensure that he's as respected beyond the ranks of the Six as he longs to be. He's constantly insulted by the folks he meets as well as the people he fights beside. He's "Captain Cat" to Tarantula, an "imbecile" to Batman, "a perpetual bile-stained amateur" to Dr Psycho, and even Ragdoll unkindly laughs at the idea that Blake might be mistaken for the Dark Knight. To Bane, Catman is nothing more than Batman's "pale brown shadow". In fact, it often seems as if Blake has only to walk into the presence of another super-villain to find himself being referred to as "Kitty" and "Catface", just as he was once the "cowardly lion" to Green Arrow before he remade himself. Even so, the respect he gets these days is a far more substantial brew than he ever earned before. Folks may still on occasion laugh, but they mock less as time passes, and so the costume and the codename and the colleagues all combine to make his long-term problems more tolerable in the short-term.

Being Catman in the Secret Six is certainly a more effective palliative for his feelings of inadequacy than his previous strategy of dying his hair black because he hoped it'd make him look "tough", but at least that option had the virtue of doing less harm to others.


12.

Finally, it's well worth noting how Ms Simone shows us how Blake's mind working to protect itself from the truth of his rather squalid, rather wretched existence. For example, when he's faced with circumstances which are particularly disturbing to him, Blake untypically calls on God or refers to religious concepts. It's usually a sign that he's ashamed of his behaviour or deeply concerned for someone else, or, usually, a mixture of the two. When he stabs Scandal for the second time, for example, he declares that "I sincerely hope to God you can heal from this.", as if he's somehow showing goodwill of any substance despite just having seriously wounding her. (Not stabbing Scandal twice in two separate occasions would've been the more godly approach to take, of course.) And when he's driving away from a host of freed North Koreans prisoners and effectively dooming them to death in the snow, he grasps at Deadshot's declaration that "It's only five miles to China. They might make it" with a shamed reply of "Christ I hope so." Of course, Deadshot's pathetic attempt to not feel guilty works on no rational level at all; five miles to weakened prisoners in hostile country might as well be five hundred miles. But Blake's desperate to find something that will assuage his guilt that he's calling on Jesus to help him feel better, if not help the prisoners themselves. Finally, in one of the series most touching and yet most stomach-turning scene to date, Blake is moved to assure Scandal that she still has a "soul" even as she's horribly torturing Pistolera, displaying the fact that he associates the sacred with the people he cares about rather than the things they do. Scandal has a "soul" because Blake doesn't want the Six's matriach upset, although it's hard to see what's soul-strengthening in the act of cold-blooded and protracted torture.


There's no thought that Blake can't turn into a defence against self-knowledge. Cheshire mocks him for wanting to be respected by "men of virtue", but the truth is that he wants to be respected as being a virtuous without having to behave in any coherently virtuous fashion. He's got a string of excuses that kick into gear whenever he feels he's being called upon to defend the morality of his actions. It's a fact that's best expressed in the speech he gives to the Doom Patrol in order to distract them before a super-powered brawl. Why should you be trying to arrest us, he asks;

"For petty little robberies and for stealing people's hats? ... Do you guys really care if money goes from some rich people to us, only to be replaced by insurance ... Look ... you all and us, we're in the middle. On the far end of one side, there's the Justice League, all shiny and sweet. On the other far end, there's people like Joker and Darkseid, who'd kill everything and everyone if they could. Us, we're in the grey zone. Neither side approves of either of us."


It's a speech full of what criminal psychologists have termed "techniques of neutralisation", or ways of convincing oneself that bad deeds haven't really been committed. And for all that the speech an attention-distracting ploy, the sentiments are too well-expressed and come too easily to Blake's mouth in stressful circumstances not to reflect his real thinking. Take a second glance at his speech and it's saturated with excuses such as;
  • we only steal a few little things. We're not serious criminals. Crime is relative and not absolute. Stealing a few things isn't really bad, especially compared to what others do.
  • the things we do don't financially harm our victims. They're always compensated, one way or another.
  • our crimes don't really involve violence or threat and they don't inspire upset and trauma; we're just thieves, and so thieving is all I need discuss here
  • other people want to kill everyone! We're not really bad when you compare us to them.
  • you're not liked either, you know, and you ought to throw in with us because morality is really a popularity contest. The more of us who're disapproved of, the less questionable our actions must be.


And it's a subtly clever touch on Ms Simone's part that Blake's criticisms of the superheroes he meets are founded in exactly the opposite principles to those self-serving ones listed above. If, as he argues, he and the other members of the Six aren't really to be considered culpable because they're not truly as bad as they might be, super-heroes are expected to be absolutely morally perfect or they're worthy of nothing but contempt. Green Arrow, for example, is attacked by Catman for being morally compromised by the programme of mind-wipes revealed in "Identity Crisis";

"You were all great once. You can be that way again .. But you'd better hurry. Before the line between you and us gets too damn blurry to see."

Now, the JLA did indeed cross a significant moral Rubicon there, but the point is that Blake expects those who represent authority to be perfect or they're not worthy of his respect, let alone the right to sit in judgment over him. He can't grasp that the value of the law remains even if those who serve it are compromised. He only sees folks who might limit his freedom and his own good opinion of himself. In that, he's like a child who argues that if her mother can raise her voice, then she can too, and whenever she likes as well. Super-villains, according to Blake, shouldn't be judged by what they do, but by whether they're as bad as "Darkseid" or not. But superheroes have to be utterly spotless or they're worth little at all. It's one rule for Catman and another for those superheroes who might challenge his own view of himself, the "little dictators" he hates so.



Even when Blake faces down Batman, who wasn't involved in the brain-wiping programme, he still has to find a way to neutralise his opponents moral authortity. And so he argues that Batman's only pretending not to be tempted to harm his various opponents, as if it would matter a whit if that were true or not. Batman's only playing a role of being ethically perfect, implies Blake, and somehow that makes Catman his equal. But the point isn't whether Batman is tempted to do wrong or not, but the fact that he doesn't do so. Blake will be Batman's moral equal when he starts behaving ethically and not before. Whether Mr Wayne occasionally wants to kick the Penguin off of a roof is irrelevant; he doesn't, whereas Blake travels the world killing large groups of people and then arguing that the survivors should be allowed to escape execution, as if that makes him a good man.

"I know we're not the Justice League." Blake later declares, just as he states that the Six are a "team of A-Holes". But by that, he doesn't really mean to say that he and his colleagues are immoral recidivists committing a string of appalling crimes one after another. He just means that he's rather hard-done by, but that he tries, and that he's well-meaning, and that other folks are far worse than he is. And then he pulls on the costume and he hides his immorality behind noble-sounding slogans of "honour" such as "I like to face my enemy face on - like a man", and he manages all the time to ignore the fact that he's doing all he can not to face up to himself at all.


13.

It's disconcerting to think that one day a writer might be given responsibility for Catman who sees him as nothing more complex than a previously criminal individual learning how to be a superhero. There's already a huge number of characters whose progress might be taken as a template for such an approach, from Hawkeye to the newest take on Ant-Man, and the assumption of many writers seems to be that everyone loves a handsome rogue who's seen the light. But, as I've struggled to express in these pieces, the true appeal of Catman isn't in his bad-ass-ness, or in any supposed superheroic apprenticeship, but in his deeply flawed personality, and any attempt to make a superhero out of him would require the character to cease being Catman in the first place.

It's the great strength of Gail Simone's conception of the character of Catman that while he can't ever win what he wants to achieve, he's not the victim of his own story either. He's every bit to blame for the things he does even as he endearingly longs for family and friendship and respect.


Yet the sympathy he inspires does at times threaten to overwhelm the fact that he's not just a bloke who's gone slightly wrong so much as a major-league criminal who's ruined the lives of countless folks all over the world. For he can sound so terribly plausible and caring and worthy of our sympathy, such as when he points out that none of the Secret Six has had a parent who cared for them. And then, having absorbed what sounds like a touching declaration of vulnerability, the reader recalls that Blake's not done a thing to rescue his own child from Cheshire since the events of "Six Degrees Of Separation". In fact, I've struggled to find a single reference to Catman's child in the later stories, let alone a sustained campaign on his part to try to find and help his baby. It's exactly the kind of occluded, unempathetic thinking that permits Thomas Blake to self-pityingly discuss the fate of his soul while, as Deadshot points out, utterly ignoring the plight before him of "two defenceless potential witnesses with a gang of humiliated racist scumbags."


Thomas Blake is an awful man, but he's also a profoundly lonely and well-meaning one. That's why we're so interested in seeing what he does next. He can be used to perform the most extreme of heroic deeds as well as the most profane and disgusting of immoral ones, and yet still stay true to the psychological profile that Ms Simone has created for him, which means that he'll never become stale as a character.

Or: Miss Simone hasn't created a heroically tormented bad-ass. She's created a pathetic but lethal bad-ass who can be put to use as superhero or supervillain without ever losing the studied contradictions which make him so compelling. And so, where yesterday we discussed how making a character popular doesn't rely on making them violently able, so today we've chatted about how making a character interesting can be achieved by putting noble dreams before them while ensuring that they're too flawed to ever fulfil such ambitions.

Huzzah!

Now, why aren't more folks writing clever in such a way?



Well, I always end up feeling somewhat dim after writing about Ms Simone's work, so I hope you'll forgive the above if dim is what it's been. Coming next, a piece on Marvel's new Heroic Age compilation. A splendid day to you, dear kind reader, and my best wishes for your sticking together!

.

17 comments:

  1. "And in that, he's a recognisably late 20th century, early 21st century man; he unconsciously identifies his - shudder - inner self with virtue, and associates not being "myself" with betraying his own potential."

    I found this bit quite striking and yet another effective layer or lense through which character can be viewed. As your previous pieces on Cyclops, Deadshot, the dueling Supermen, have all pointed out to one degree or another these takes on characters can be categorized as having dimension or as being completely flat and featureless save for the trite signifier of "bravery" "virtue" "heroism" or conversely "villainy" "wickedness."

    Your assessment of Catman as someone who has looked inside - so deeply - and so profoundly misinterpreted the data is quite the bit of deep reading and thought. I wonder if Ms. Simone has a second "transformative event" in the bank for Mr. Blake? Methinks it likely.

    I find the best writing hits that sweet spot of big sloppy moments and tighter more focused character interaction. This allows characters to still be used "off the bench" for a two or three issue arc in the hands of less familiar writers in other books while still being put on the lathe in their core adventures.

    I certainly hope that more writers pick up on this style and find the "distillation" point of their own creations. That point where, when you take it all away, this is who this character is for the foreseeable future. If you want to change that - As writers throughout history and to varying degrees of success (JMS I'm looking at you!) - you better have a damn good story to make it happen.

    Have a great day!

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  2. Hello Smitty:- I shall inform the Splendid Wife that you've popped in, and she shall undoubtedly send her best.

    I did as I wrote those pieces on Catman have a mental image of myself walking past a woman who turned out to be Gail Simone; You're absolutely wrong about Blake, she says, and I slink away having written too much based on too little. But then, if the writing wasn't so clever, there'd be no pleasure in thinking about it. And I do love the idea, which you put so well, of Catman looking really deeply into himself and then, after all, seeing the wrong true self looking back!

    I too love the way that Ms Simone stabilises and then develops character. Yet I've seen work she's done quickly and counter-productively unravelled by other hands as if she'd not given the DCU a gift of a well-structured character with a clear mission. Of course, that's what creators do; they have their own ideas and they go for it. And I know Ms Simone argues that herself, never complaining about what happens to "her" characters elsewhere. And yet, I don't think I'd be messing with the formulae she develops unless I was VERY sure I'd identified what you call a second "transformative spot" and a clear reason for such happening.

    I think I'm going to have to start to get the Six on a monthly basis. It's got to the point where I think that waiting for the trade rule is going to have to be relaxed. I suspect the book reads differently on a month by month basis and I ought to get into it before she moves on elsewhere and someone perhaps less able is put to work there.

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  3. "Do you guys really care if money goes from some rich people to us, only to be replaced by insurance"

    And I think that just about sums him up - this is the argument of shoplifters and doesn't stand up to even the briefest analysis. He has to throw out such paper-thin self-justifications and keep moving because God forbid he ever has a few moments to himself where he is forced to reflect on what he has said, which then cast far too much light on the shaky foundations of his whole self-belief system.

    "Like a shy guest at a party who takes on kitchen duties in order to mask their awkwardness"

    LOL - done this myself, possibly not from shyness but I'm not a big one for small talk ("how's the job", "you're mum OK", etc.) and it does help stave off those awkward quiet moments. ;)

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  4. Hello Emperor:- Yes, Ms Simone has really captured the tone of folks who'll do anything but accept their own responsibility there, hasn't she?
    And of course, Blake has to think that way, or at least struggle to, or he'd have to start living in a way that had few of the releases of costumes and code-names and a great deal more self-analysis and cold hard redemption.

    Ah, thank for laughing. I would imagine we've all done that kitchen duty at one time or another. But it's often hard to realise that everyone does it, although some a great deal than others ...

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  5. In bringing this level of moral and ethical and psychological consciousness to bear on superhero (or -villain, as the case may be) comic book stories, as well as her jealousy-inducing skills as a wordsmith, Gail is a worthy successor to Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart. (I've always seen in Secret Six an echo of Gerber's treatment of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime.) But I can't bring myself to follow Secret Six on a regular basis or grow too attached to those characters, however brilliantly she handles them. Because who needs the heartbreak when they get rebooted or revised or their virtues become cliche through clumsy repetition?

    I want to see Gail's Howard the Duck, or her Omega the Unknown, or her Hard Time; her Coyote or Scorpio Rose; her whatever character you prefer by Don McGregor. A project where she takes all these skills she's demonstrated so well in the land of company-owned characters and corporate trademarks and puts them to use on an equally compelling character that's all her own -- one we don't have to worry about seeing mangled in lesser hands. Welcome to Tranquility is fine and dandy, but too inconsequential; I'd like to see something she truly gives her all, the distillation of the best she has to offer. Perhaps Astro City is a good example: a writer-driven master thesis representing the best work Kurt Busiek can do. Whether or not you're a fan, you know that's where his heart resides.

    Look what Gail accomplishes with these characters she loves but can never really own, always subject to repossession against her will without notice. What might she be capable of reaching if it was something she could really call her own forever?

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  6. When I'm forced to attend a party, I just head straight for the kitchen from the start and stay there till the end. It saves time!

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  7. Hello Richard:- it looks like it's you, me, Emperor and Catman in the kitchen at the next party. Three of us can chat about comics and the other can get suprised by ninjas when they least expect it.

    How I loved those Howard stories about the Ringmaster and the Circus Of Crime. In many ways they were my favourite issues of the whole run. And you're right that the Secret Six and Ms Simone's work as a whole seems to show the influence of Mr Gerber. I'd not noticed it until you said it, generally tending to see flashes of Mark Waid and John Ostrander's work in Ms Simone's scripts, but now you say it, I see it.

    It is true that continual continuity reboots actually inspire longterm readers not to engage with newer work. It's a shame, isn't it, but Alan Moore's prediction from way back in the '90s that endless reboots would wear away a character's appeal often seems to be coming true. Grant Morrison may be right in saying that superheroes are by their very nature designed to be rebooted, but that only works when someone as able as Mr Morrison is doing the work.

    And yet Ms Simone has managed to steer a path for the Six which copes with the effects of events and revamps as well as anyone else might. I don't know if the death of Knockout, for example, was something she welcomed, nor is it my business to ask, but even if she didn't, she used it to drive Scandal Savagae's development in a most touching way.

    I've got the Welcome To Tranquility trades beside my bed, actually. I suspect they may be Christmas reading. I certainly would welcome seeing her on a problem with some considerable history and yet an independence from continuity. And yet I suspect that like Mr Gerber himself, she can draw inspiration from the very discipline and difficulty of navigating a worthwhile path through continuity, as she shows in the Six and he showed particularly in The Defenders.

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  8. Can we see a follow-up after you read Cats in the Cradle? :D

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  9. Hello stealthwise:- most certainly! I have a rather daft ambition to update, complete and self-publish these pieces, actually. Not because the world needs or wants such a book, but because I'd rather like to hold a copy of such a thing, while 49 other copies sit outside in the shed as a symbol of the "vanity" component of vanity publishing. It would be a distracting project for the not-so-very-very-distant future, and so I'll be keeping updating the pieces as I go until then.

    As a teacher, I quickly learned that a physical object can carry a great deal of meaning when it’s the product of the learning process; a painting, a piece of well-worked coursework, a certificate of completing an endeavour. In that spirit, it'd be nice, if the use of that word is ever forgivable, to produce a small private volume one day about the Six. This blog, is, after all, just an example of my attempts to gain some small grasp of how these marvellous comics are created; an education of sorts, as it were. I don’t write because I know, of course, but because I don’t.

    That’s all a testament to the quality of the characterisation in The Secret Six, I'd say.

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  10. I would certainly be interested in buying such a book, although I guess the appeal would be limited for those who aren't familiar with what you're discussing (Secret Six is a niche book in a niche market, and while I find it fascinating, it might be a tough sell to some other people). I agree about the meaning of physical objects though, which is why I prefer to read physical comics rather than download as so many others I know have started to do.

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  11. Hello stealthwise:- I hope I didn't give the impression I was trying to give the impression that such a book would be anything other than a small, private print-run at some point in the relatively distant future. It's just that I think it would be a pleasing experience to look at a little book with those essays and perhaps a few on characters from Birds Of Prey - which I've never really read and do intent to catch up on when I can. It's not a matter of thinking that folks would want to read it, but rather the idea of having some of the blog pieces as a book, no matter how small a print-run and how tiny an audience. I'm absolutely with you about the primacy of physical objects. Still, I suspect that if it ever happens, my shed will be full of the unshiftable things, so I would be happy to send one on in your direction, stealthwise!

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  12. hi, colin--

    i did get around to writing a bit about Dexter and Catman. and then Batman got into it, too. and it turns out i have so much more to say about all of them that i can see myself writing about them every month and still not covering it all. which means, in part, that i probably cut out 4 pages of material to get around 900 words.

    anyway, thank you for helping me think about Catman (and Dexter and Batman):

    http://theculturalgutter.com/comics/born-in-blood.html

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  13. Hello Carol:- And a fine piece it is, if I may say so. Of course, that might sound like blogosphere sycophancy, but in my defense, I might say I already linked to said piece of yours last Thursday! By which I mean nothing but I'm pleased I can offer you that objective measure of my regard :)

    (http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.com/2011/06/on-fear-itself-3-judge-hamida-kate-bush.html.)

    Nothing has made me want to write more about the SeSi since their cancellation than reading your piece, Carol. I hope as a piece it gets the Statcounter turning as it should.

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  14. thank you, colin! i really appreciate your linking to my piece. it's nice to know the mental conversation is two-way :)

    i hate to point this out, but my last name is "borden," rather than "bowden." it makes it seem as if i'm not as pleased as i am, which is very much!

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  15. Hello Carol:- please do be assured that the corrections have been done, and I do apologise.

    I hope the day has been a splendid one, and I look forward to your next piece on the Cultural Gutter.

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  16. thank you, colin--

    i did in fact have splendid day--in fact a splendid weekend! i hope yours was equally good :)

    carol

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  17. It was indeed splendid, Carol. I feel obliged to enjoy such times :) There are worse obligations ....

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