1. On "Fear Itself" # 3 by Fraction, Immomen, Von Grawbadger & Martin
I don’t know how to care about any of the characters on show in “Fear Itself” # 3, and that’s as true for the story’s headline-gathering superhero sacrifice as it is for the comic's wider cast of psychopathic super-villains, wilfully uncaring super-fathers, and battalions of super-people. I should be shocked by Skadi tearing off Bucky Barnes’s mechanical arm, for example, I should be horrified by her smashing the handle of her ‘mystic hammer’ through his rib-cage, I should feel pity at the sight of his mutilated body, and I should certainly be misty-eyed and mournful when I’m reading his final words. I should have been made to care.
But since neither the script nor the art for this issue have given Barnes a single distinguishing thought or feeling beyond the most generic air of bravery and doughtiness, I find that his apparent death passes with no more a sense of occasion and loss than might the sight of an abandoned car left to rot on the verge of a little-driven road. It’s a shame, there’s no denying it, but there’s little if anything there to move us in Mr Barnes's death, nothing to snare our attention, nothing that suggests that someone individual and distinct and irreplaceable has been lost.
“Fear Itself” is the ultimate expression of Marvel’s “show don’t tell” storytelling philosophy. Characters are constantly doing things, but we’re rarely if ever shown how any of them think or feel about their world beyond the broadest of behaviours. Skadi is very, very angry, Bucky is very, very brave, Steve Rogers is very, very dashing, Loki is very, very cunning, and so on. They all exist in a dulled and by-the-numbers-like world where their motives are incredibly straight-forward, where their actions are obvious and entirely predictable, and where the pleasures of their company are assumed to lie in the business of their rage and their violence and their melodramatic suffering. And so, just showing a celestial hammer being thumped through someone’s rib cage while godly lightning is conducted into their body – “Aaaaaaaa -- !” – is presumed to be compelling and moving and satisfying, as if the spectacle of suffering is fascinating and entertaining in itself.
It’s a measure of how beguiled this story assumes we are with the very existence of superheroes that Bucky Barnes isn’t even allowed to die in the act of saving anyone or anything specific. He's simply defeated in yet another assault on Washington by a world-conquering lunatic complete with flying Nazi robots. And when he’s found dying, the grand war around him simply ceases and his be-costumed comrades abandon the fighting against Skadi and those robots in order to cluster round their broken-bodied colleague. None of them thinks to run over to Skadi, who is perhaps 50 yards away and simply walking in the opposite direction, just as none of them thinks to realise that they’re suddenly presenting a phenomenally convenient target for their opponents, who luckily seemed to have forgotten that there was ever a big punch-up going on too. But then, this isn’t a story that’s intended to make sense, or even to present its characters as anything other tha props for a melodramatic indulgence. When the script calls for the superheroes to provide the reader with their dose of jeopardy and costumes and energy beams, the superheroes are there fighting for the survival of the world on the streets of America’s capital. When it’s time for the reader to be shown the traditional scene of mourning, with the fallen hero prone but conscious on the floor, his lover bent beside him, his friends gathered around him, his final words echoing meaningfully out, then the battle inexplicably ceases and super-warriors are transformed into the to-be-expected chorus of grieverss to cluster around the poor and apparently doomed Mr Barnes.
Yet Bucky Barnes has already faced death before and disappeared into the darkness not expecting to ever re-emerge. What thoughts and emotions must have passed through his mind as history appeared to repeat itself? We’re shown only a man warning his comrades of a coming catastrophe and exhorting his lover to ‘save ‘em’, whoever that "‘em" may be. But any heroic figure might have been shown saying those characterless words. What would Bucky Barnes have said and thought and felt that nobody else ever could have, because nobody else ever was, of course, Bucky Barnes?
2. This Week Your Blogger Has Enjoyed ....
- Firstly, your life will be made all the more worth the living should you follow this link and experience Fred Astaire dancing in a sequence from "Yolanda And The Thief". I begin every day with it, just to remind myself what folks are capable of when they're focusing on the worthwhile business of making each other's lives more joyous.
- Out in the blogosphere, I've thoroughly enjoyed Carol Borden's piece discussing Dexter and Gail Simone's Catman, and Julian Darius's discussion of what well may be lost when DC's new no-superheroes-before-Superman policy comes into play. I'd also recommend that folks hurry over to the site of writer Andy Mangels, where he's placed a link to his quite-literally peerless articles on "Gays in Comics". First published in 1986 in "Amazing Heroes", these essays include material gathered from interviews with the likes of John Ostrander, Howard Crusise, Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, and a host of others. Just follow the link, scroll down to the reference to Amazing Heroes 143/4, and there's your chance to read one of the most inspiring and informed examples of comic book journalism I ever did have the privilege of reading.
|Anyone looking for a starting point for a new take on Wonder Woman might consider beginning with a cache of photographs of Kate Bush. (From Classic Rock # 160, image from Lichfield/Getty Images.)|
- The briefest of heatwaves saw your blogger spending an exquisitely quiet and skin-sizzingly Sunday afternoon in a deckchair in the gardens of the Splendid Wife's country estate, drinking chilled teeth-destroying diet drinks and reading Alistair Cooke's remarkable "American Journey". A previously-unpublished account of Mr Cooke's journey across the USA in the early months of the Second World War, it offers a portrait of the nation coming to terms with war that I've never seen matched anywhere else. The detail of the everyday lives of American citizens from all across the Republic is fascinating; all of a sudden, 1942 seems as if it were yesterday rather than almost three-quarters of a century ago. And the narrative doesn't shy away from racism and the wartime sexual economy and a whole string of social issues which so much of the journalism of the time chooses to ignore. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
- In between visits to the early Forties, your blogger thoroughly enjoyed luxuriating inTom Spurgeon's "The Romita Legacy". Page after page of comics art from Sr and Jr Romita, interviews and commentary and the like is, of course, a wonderful thing, babe.
- The House of the Splendid Wife (c) is in mourning following the last episode of "Game Of Thrones", which the Wife of Splendidness (tm) is refusing to accept, beginning each day with the question "So when's the next episode then?", as if I might have spent the previous night bodging one together from old action figures and sound effects CDs. Your blogger has also been watching old episodes of Gerry Anderson's UFO for a possible chin-wag with the redoubtable A Trout In The Milk blog; if there is a more wonderful and quite bananas TV sci-fi take on the Phony War of 1939/40, I've not seen it. (It's the only such take, mind you, but it's certainly first in that field of one.) And of course, all gentlemen, and quite a few ladies too, of a certain age will be able to imagine the sigh that has inevitably accompanied each new appearance on screen of the highly professional Lieutenant Ellis.
3. On Judge Hamida from "Judge Dredd: Scream" by Gordon Rennie & Lee Carter
With the disappearance of "Nikolai Dante" from the weekly pages of 2000ad, I've found myself once more allowing my subscription copies to pile up unopened. What a pleasure to come across Mr Rennie and Mr Carter's "Scream" while finally flicking through those poor unattended issues, because I really did need a good reason not to entirely disengage from "The Galaxy's Greatest Comic". Though in some ways a typical if energetically-told Judge Dredd serial, "Scream" is marked by what I take to be the first appearance of Judge Hamida, a Muslim woman of colour openly practising her religion under the special dispensation of the Justice Department. The presence of a partner who, for example, insists on stopping to pray while hunting down Brainbloom bootleggers infuriates Dredd, and helps to kick off something of a loveless screwball comedy between one Godless fascist cop and another of the far-less-common devout wing of the party. Nothing shows up Dredd as the irredeemable Blackshirt that he is as a principled, strong-minded and highly competent partner who's capable of matching him sneer for sneer, though Hamida herself is every bit the dedicated authoritarian Judge too.
In a comic which has been screaming out for a greater measure of diversity, Judge Hamida is a substantial step forward. Of course, had the character been worthy and dull, politically correct and, grud help us, relevant, then I'd not be tipping my hat in the direction of Mr Rennie and Mr Carter. But it's the fact that she's an impressive individual in her own right, as well as an important example of a smart-minded and decent-hearted inclusiveness, that makes me glad to have made her acquaintance. I very much intend to come back and discuss the conflict between Dredd and Hamida at a later time, so for now, I'd just like to recommend the tale, in 2000ad progs 1737 to 1739, and to point you to a far more telling and comprehensive review over at the Everything Returns To 2000ad site.
Tomorrow, it's Friday With The Champions! Well, why not?