Archive for the ‘comics’ Category


Almost Daily – 31/3/07

March 31, 2007

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Four weeks on Monday everything will be over. Well, University will be over. I’m in an essay-oriented state of limbo for the time being, which is acceptable, and with 6’000 words of the 10’000 written, I’m feeling good about it. This weekend I’m turning to Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent to explain the grand hammering the comic book industry took in the 50s, before putting it to bed for a couple of weeks as I plough through Modern Film Theory (Film as an artistic vs philosophical discourse), Photography U.S.A. (Mythmaking in Gonzo, the AMMO press book of Hunter Stockton Thompson’s photography) and Movie Music (the diegetic and non-diegetic disctinction).

In other news, the flat hunt continues. This may worry me if we don’t find somewhere in the next two weeks, but I’m quite blase about it at the moment. I also visited the new soungenerator offices, and got a peek at the soon-to-be-relaunched website, both of which are swish, crisp, easy to navigate and terribly cool. Very much looking forward to starting that off properly in May.

I’m no longer heading to ATP, but am heading up the the Bristol comics convention on May 12th and 13th, and the Bestival line-up continues to look brilliant – more announcements coming from that camp this weekend I believe. But in the meantime, the internet continues to happen, so here are some links:

* “The trouble with being human” an essay on ‘liquid modernity’ and relationships

* Resonant Frequency #45 (@ – an editorial about mystery in music



Almost Daily (Special Edition) – 9/3/07

March 9, 2007

Dissertation Conclusion: World Without Superheroes

“Captain America Is Dead. The Marvel Entertainment original has been a staple of comic book culture for more than 65 years, but this morning he bleeds to death on the steps of a courthouse building, yikes!”

– ABC News, March 7th 2007

Less than a year after the national debate that surrounded Superman’s apparent renunciation of ‘The American Way’, the comic book industry found itself swamped once again by a deluge of press interest. From The New York Times to The Guardian , The Colbert Report to The Onion , over 175 individual news outlets had carried the story of Steve “Captain America” Rogers’ assassination after 48 hours . Jacob Heilbrunn’s editorial in The L.A Times made one of the more impassioned statements about the shooting:

“Forget the endless congressional debates about Iraq. The most telling measure of America’s current distemper can be found in a more mundane place — in the gory assassination of Captain America”

Captain America #25 is the culmination of Marvel’s ‘Civil War’ storyline, which saw heroes divided over what Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada called “something that’s really near and dear to all of us Americans, and really all of us around the world, which is the idea of civil liberties versus personal freedom.” In Civil War the destruction of the town of Stamford results in a proposition by the American Government to register all super-powered vigilantes, hero and villain, requiring all identities to be known by the authorities so that training and monitoring can prevent such future catastrophes. A line is drawn between the registered heroes and unregistered, fugitive heroes, and a violent war breaks out before Captain America realises he has led the opposition against the will of a public afraid that Stamford will be repeated. After his arrest, as he is led towards the steps of a courthouse for a judicial hearing, Captain America is gunned down by sniper fire and by the end of the issue is unequivocally dead.

But is there a real ideological motivation behind rogue heroics and public retribution? Last summer Marvel were keen to look to Civil War as an “important allegory” but by the time the dust settled on the series writer Mark Millar claimed

“Obviously, there’s a certain amount of political allegory in a story where a guy wrapped in the American flag is in chains as the people swap freedom for security, but I really made an effort to just make that stuff the gravy. Above all else, this was a beat-em-up featuring every hero in the Marvel Universe…Who cares what I think of current U.S. foreign policy? People just want to see Hercules braining Thor with a fake Mjolner.”

There’s an uneasy, reductive quality here, at its heart the notion that people want to see superheroes’ internecine warfare more than a political message, a graphic pictorial moment for the fans and creators that uses real-world concerns to sell copy. DC Comics have done the same thing in recent years with Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters and the inaugural story arc of Superman/Batman , both of which see the titular heroes fighting government approved forces to rid America of unlawful Presidents. Both of these titles sold fairly well, though had none of the publicity that Civil War and its fallout generated. Contemporary comic books then are being allowed to play with contemporary concerns, but often at the expense of political commentary. It is perhaps a far colder, cynical motivation, that sees the superheroes chasing the trend of concerns to increase the profit such ‘relevancy’ will generate.

At the same time, Steve Rogers is no Clark Kent. Clark Kent died during the 1993 Death of Superman storyline, which saw the Kryptonian fall to an alien menace by the name of Doomsday, only to return within three months. While his death generated headlines and enormous revenue for DC, the manner of his passing lacked entirely the grim horror of Rogers’ shooting. His killing is brutal and ungainly, his last-ditch heroics unclear and unsuccessful. He isn’t trying to save the world: He is approaching the courthouse disgraced and ashamed. This is far removed from the spectacle of superheroes at war. The American flag, his uniform, is being gutted before the eyes of the public, a dramatically political statement as America finds itself locked into what some commentators are calling “Our Children’s Children’s War On Terror”.

The ideology of the issue may be difficult to frame, but the mood is certainly not. On the back cover of the issue in question a U.S. Army advert declares “There’s strong. And then there’s Army Strong.” Following 22 pages dealing with the assassination of Captain America, it is tough to see which is the greater fiction. The shining example of American national pride has been cut down, the realities of the modern world he “no longer lives in” overtaking him, rendering the idealism of his old heroics (portrayed in flashback throughout the issue) naïve. The simple advert attempts to use those same ideals as recruitment draw, but America’s ideological divisions, represented by Civil War, overshadow the advert’s message. The irony is palpable.

Superheroics lend themselves to oppositional morality, the power of gods held by men who ‘do the right thing’ to stop those who don’t. The complexity of icons like Superman and Batman in their 70 year history has made my attempts to establish a consistent ideology impossible. They were born of a depression era mentality that is reinvented by each new generation of writers, capturing the public with endless battles against criminal masterminds while occasionally providing a social commentary than transcends this binary opposition. “Truth, Justice and The American Way” may well be good for stopping drug-dealers, but how does it win the ideological struggle between conceptual differences and social stratification?

One of the first single issues I bought was Young Justice #43. It dealt with terrorism and its aftermath upon innocent citizens, and was produced as an immediate response to 9/11. It linked the persecution of Muslim school-children to the internment of the Japanese during the Second World War, suggesting that the strands of public bigotry often have their roots in political policies. To this date it’s one of the best issues of a comic I have read, and though it aimed for a ‘youth’ market (the team consisted of sidekicks Robin, Superboy and Wonder Girl among others) it dealt with the issues with maturity that many other reactions to the event lacked entirely. While it didn’t directly attack governmental policy, the over-riding message was one of peace and co-operation, an avenue that the impending invasion of Afghanistan would sweep away. Bereft of publicity and spectacle, it simply told a story that the writer, Peter David, felt needed to be told, managing to propose an alternative ideology without simply praying on a nation’s fears. The best fiction is able to raise questions, to exist within conceptual grey areas and provoke thought. American identity is not confined to colourful comic book pages in black-and-white morality, it is instead as varied as the costumes these mystery men wear.

© Matthew Sheret – 2007


Almost Daily – 9/3/07

March 9, 2007

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Captain America #25

The best thing to happen to my dissertation since Scott McCloud.–captainamerica0307mar07,0,7045870.story?coll=ny-region-apnewyork,2933,257398,00.html,,2029004,00.html