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Another Critic Attacks "Culture and Comics"

Note: If you haven't read Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective, read it first. Then return here to continue.



>> The lone hero theme is explored thoroughly (and better than I could ever do it) in Joseph Cambell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces." Gilgamesh, Hercules, Beowulf, David, Gautama, Jesus, Yojimbo, and countless others throughout time and in the majority of cultures <<

Sure, we can find lone heroes throughout the world's literature. Writing about one character is often the best way to tell a story. But you missed the thrust of my argument. It's not that Western literature features lone heroes and non-Western literature doesn't. It's that Western literature tends to feature lone heroes...defeating...the forces...of evil. And non-Western literature doesn't.

The differences between a Western myth and a Native American myth make this clear. In the prototypical Greek myth, for instance, a demi-god like Hercules slays terrible monsters to win honor for himself. In the prototypical NA myth, a trickster like Coyote (yes, a "lone hero") either outsmarts an opponent with a ruse or outsmarts himself and is ruined. These are the patterns even if you can think of exceptions.

Who controls the media?
>> White males 30-60. So who gets the majority of sponsered media directed at them? That same group. <<

I think studies have shown that blacks watch more movies per capita than other races. That may be true for TV, too. And TV, at least, has responded with a spate of black-themed shows.

More clearly, blacks and Latinos are a dominant force in music, radio, and sports. The obvious question is: Why are these forms of entertainment reaching out to minorities and seeking their dollars? Does the comic book industry know something they don't? Or do they know something the comic book industry doesn't?

>> This is Classism more than racism. <<

See above.

>> 95% of all broadcast or printed media is controlled by five companies <<

No doubt. Nevertheless, there are plenty of minority radio stations, magazines, and CDs. What there aren't are a lot of minority comic books.

>> Actually "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" hasn't been on the air since 1985. He may be talking about the "Spider-Man" series that recently ran for about four seasons on Fox <<

No, I meant what I said. I'm not sure how you'd know what every network and cable channel is broadcasting, but a station was broadcasting Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends here in LA when I reported it. I gather the episode was a repeat, but that's immaterial to my argument. If it was on the air, it conveyed what I said it did, regardless of its origin.

>> As for the X-men, they were one of the first comics to feature more than just one tolken woman <<

As someone who has a complete run of the All-New, All-Different X-Men series, beginning with GS X-MEN #1, I'm well aware of that.

>> How much more multicultural can you get? <<

A lot more. See Multiculturalism in the X-Men for details.

>> Today's pop culture? How about the Warner Cartoons of the forties that featured War Gardens and Bonds? <<

How about them? So comic books and cartoons were an influence then and are still an influence now.

>> Cartoons are the reflection, not the original image, and that's been going on for a while. <<

If people bought war bonds because of cartoons, cartoons were an influence, not just a reflection. That's what influences do: influence you to think or act.

No minority title characters
>> But few of them are leaders or stars. No Native American—indeed, no minority hero except the Black Panther (a holdover from the '60s)—is on the title of a major comic. <<

>> "Steel", "Zorro", "GI Joe", "Preacher", "The Invisibles", "The Project", "Stuck Rubber Baby", "Maus", "Star Trek", "Viper", "Hardware", "Icon", "Static", "Fade", "Black Lightning", "Luke Cage", are all recent comic title that have featured minorities in either starring or title roles. <<

Wonderful. Too bad none of these contradict my point. No minority character except the Black Panther is on a major title today. The only possible exception is SPAWN, which counts if you consider a black man's corpse a minority.

Let's go through your list quickly. STEEL, GI JOE, HARDWARE, ICON, STATIC, BLACK LIGHTNING, LUKE CAGE: All canceled, some a decade ago. PREACHER: Huh? The main character is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Texan. ZORRO: A movie spin-off and not what I'd call a major comic. INVISIBLES: No Vertigo title counts as a major comic, since they're all niche products for mature readers. MAUS: A graphic novel, not a comic book...published several years ago...and Jews are arguably part of the majority today, not a minority. THE PROJECT, STUCK RUBBER BABY, VIPER, FADE: See INVISIBLES. These aren't even mid-level comics, much less major comics. STAR TREK: No character is a title character in ST. No minority is the lead character in any ST series except DEEP SPACE NINE. The minorities are all secondary characters (unless you count Spock as a minority). Sorry, but I don't count a DS9 comic as "major," either.

In short, if I had meant to say minorities had never appeared in comics or had never been title characters, I would've said that. Instead, I said something else and you haven't contradicted it. Please stick to my argument rather than raising another one that's only marginally related to mine.

>> Superman, Batman, Zorro, Shadow, Captain Marvel. The first five super heroes. Not a tall thin blonde among them. <<

Note that I said heroes are "often fair-haired." That encompasses hair ranging from platinum blond (white) to strawberry blond (orange), not just yellow. More important, the five characters you named have little or nothing to do with what "often" appears. What often appears is what has appeared throughout 60 years of superhero comics.

But let's examine your claim. First, neither Zorro nor the Shadow are superheroes. If they were superheroes, they'd have to share billing with Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and Doc Savage. If you're wondering, the Lone Ranger, Paul Bunyan, the Three Musketeers, King Arthur, and Odysseus aren't superheroes either. Superman is widely acknowledged as the first true superhero.

Second, a host of other superheroes appeared at the same time as Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel. Among the first were the blond Captain America and the Human Torch, whom you conveniently omitted. Steranko lists Cap and the Torch 3rd and 4th after Superman and Batman in his seminal history of comics, just ahead of the Justice Society. Captain Marvel doesn't even make the first volume.

Still, all these characters were tall and thin. And if we look at the key superhero teams (e.g., the Justice Society, the FF, the Avengers, the JLA), about half their members were blond. I'd say that qualifies as "often fair-haired." (Most of the rest were black-haired, which is a related stereotype.)

If half the characters were blond when only 20% of the US population was blond (these are all rough estimates, mind you), the stereotype holds. You're looking at isolated examples and not the overall pattern, hence the flaws in your arguments. You can't prove anything with isolated examples because a stereotype is a pattern by definition.

Shoot first, ask questions later
>> Super heroes are usually responding to an emergency situation. <<

The emergencies usually aren't that drastic. A crook snatches a purse. Someone robs a bank. Are you suggesting heroes like Flash with his super-speed, Green Lantern with his magic ring, or Iron Man with his built-in electronics, never have time to alert the police when they go into action? Feel free to explain why not.

In contrast, Native characters in stories frequently seek help when tackling a problem. They consult with and often enlist a wise man or woman, their animal friends, or spirit beings. This is so common that, again, I'd call it a pattern of the culture. It's a different mindset from that in the Western story.

>> Was Superman seeking glory when he died protecting Metropolis from Doomsday? What glory did Batman receive when Bane picked him up and shattered his spine over his knee? <<

Um...yes, Superman (or his writer) sought glory by going toe-to-toe with Doomsday, trying to beat him in a macho slugfest. Supes didn't even try to call some of Earth's extant superheroes for help. Nor did he try to use strategy or his other superpowers (especially super-speed and flying).

But did I fault Superman or Batman by name? No. I'm looking at the entire sweep of the comic book industry and you're nitpicking with exceptions. Until you can show that a huge number of comics (I'll settle for half) don't feature glory-seeking heroes, you haven't addressed my arguments. Isolated exceptions don't cut the mustard.

Naturally, we'd have to define "glory-seeking" before we began. Peter Parker has shown he can fight crime in street clothes with a web mask over his face. Given all the grief being Spider-Man has caused him, why does he continue to operate in a bold costume that attracts the police and assorted villains? Why not fight crime anonymously?

Heck, he'd make a great police officer. Then he'd be fighting crime constantly, not just once a week or so between science projects. But an anonymous police officer wouldn't be the American way, would it?

>> To find the true face of superheroism read Alex Ross' staggering "Kingdom Come" <<

I read it. It's one comic book among several thousand. I'll read it again if you read the several thousand.

>> [Talking] works real well among honorable men. How many honorable men are a threat to society? <<

The issue is what Westerners and Native Americans tend to do, not what tends to work. Two different subjects.

Of course, you'd have a tough time proving conclusively that either fighting or negotiating works best. These are matters of conjecture and opinion, not fact.

>> Negotiations haven't gotten Saddam Hussein out of office, or Slobodan Milosevic. <<

Neither have frontal attacks, which is the typical Western approach (a la superheroes). And let's note the point you glossed over: Americans wanted to attack while the rest of the world wanted to negotiate. The pattern holds.

The success of either party's approach is irrelevant to determining the party's dominant mindset. What proves the mindset is how one party conceptualizes a problem or obstacle. America: An evildoer to be defeated. Everyone else: A human being to be met as an equal.

Does violence solve anything?
>> Whoever said violence doesn't solve anything has never read history. <<

Since I didn't say it, you've raised another irrelevant argument. Savvy "straw man"?

>> Let us only hope that the person who wields that violence is a just and fair man- like Superman. <<

And not the Punisher, Ghost Rider, Lobo, or any of a thousand other "heroes" who have graced comics in recent years.

>> Batman comics include Arkam Asylum, where supervillains are given therapy and counseling. Catwoman, no longer a theif, fights alongside the Dark Knight now as he patrols Gotham City. Marvel Comics also features an asylum. <<

More isolated and atypical examples. When therapy and counseling are depicted in the majority of comic books, give me a holler.

>> Even the Hulk has gotten control of himself and his anger. <<

Has he? It isn't obvious in the latest HULK series.

>> Keep in mind that Supervillains are usually meant to be a fear personified. <<

As portrayed in American comics, the supervillain is as much a Western archetype as the superhero. You won't find many such villains in the comics of other countries. These heroes and villains paint a picture of the world that's peculiarly American—which is exactly my point.

>> Superheroes teach us to stand up to our fears, not because we can make them go away forever, but because it is what defines the hero in us. <<

Standing up to our fears...being a real man...mastering whatever confronts us—these are again Western approaches you won't necessarily find in other cultures. Jesus, who comes from a Mid-Eastern tradition, didn't tell us to smite our enemies. He told us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies as ourselves. Which comic book superhero embodies that belief, hm?

>> But the arguments presented in this composition seem to be those of someone who has given comics only a cursory examination. <<

Really? Since you haven't touched one of my points, I'm not sure why you'd say that. Fact is, I've been reading comics for almost 35 years and own more than 10,000 of them. With all the rereadings, I've probably examined comics 50,000 or 100,000 times. How about you?

>> I recommend to all to do a little delving into what is quite honestly the mythology of our culture <<

"The mythology of our culture"...which is basically my thesis. I'm glad you've finally come around to my point of view. Comics reflect and reinforce our American mythology.

Among those myths are that progress is more important than harmony with nature, individuals are more important than community, and the majority is more important than minorities. It's precisely these views that led to our conquest of America, our commitment to Manifest Destiny, and our continuing despoilment of the environment. Comic books reflect the prevailing American attitude and they reinforce it. They influence it, in other words.

Thanks for playing, Dan. Better luck next time. <g>

Rob Schmidt

Round 2:  The conflict escalates.

Related links
More evidence of Rob's thesis
Another take on this argument:  PEACE PARTY #2's Author's Forum (extended version)
Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000
Why write about Native Americans?

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