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Dance of the Puppets

Like a bat on a hot tin roof since August 2005

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Curiously Bob

If there is one type of comic that is a prime target for ridicule, it's the DC comics from the seventies with a political message. I haven't actually read the Green Lantern/Green Arrow road trip sequence, though I know it has enjoyed a better reputation than most. But that may be due more to the Neil Adams artwork than the quality of the writing.

Other efforts have not fared so well, particularly the "women's lib" issue of Wonder Woman (#203) and Lois Lane's venture into racial awareness in "I am Curious (Black)" (LL#106).

I don't believe the criticism of this comic is entirely fair. I thought it was an honest effort to address the issue from a time when comics were expected to be light entertainment and political stories were virtually unknown. Not to mention that it was written by Bob Kanigher, an old white guy who was more used to doing stuff about haunted tanks and nonsensical superhero fantasies.

To complain about the clumsy politics in a comic from 1970 is like sneering at the poor quality of the computers in the Apollo space rockets of that period. Sure, today's digital watches have more computing power than the spaceships that went to the Moon, but they were the best available at the time, and they still got there. And look at the clumsiness of the social message in original Star Trek - having men who are half black and half white being prejudist against men who are half white and half black is at least as painful as Lois blacking up for a day, and yet it is hailed for its insight.

Rather than denigrate them for their faults, I think we should honour stories like "I am Curious (Black)" as the pioneers that opened the way for the more sophisticated comics we have today.

15 Comments:

Blogger RAB said...

Beg to differ on one point. The "People who are black on the left side of their face are better than people who are black on the right side of their face!" "No they aren't!" episode of Star Trek is not hailed for its insight by even the most hardcore and intractable Trek fan. That episode is universally recognized by all as being thick and preachy.

Where Trek earns legitimate respect is in things like going out of its way to cast nonwhite actors of many nationalities as crew members (not just leads like Sulu or Uhura, but one-offs in specific episodes) at a time when networks would still get complaints from local affiliates about that sort of thing, and refuse to air the episode.

(I also have a lot of time for that "Prime Directive" thing, which was a very pointed anti-Vietnam War statement: i.e., we can't interfere with another culture just because we think the evil Klingons will do it if we don't.)

I haven't ever read that Lois Lane issue, but just on the basis of the cover art one can tell DC deserves the same credit for publishing that issue at a time when Southern distributors would still be expected to object to a brown face appearing on a comic book cover...let alone having that face belong to Superman's girl friend. I don't know if any retailers returned that issue, refusing to sell it, but some may well have.

2:04 am  
Anonymous Alex Tucker said...

Just curious as to who, in your opinion, is doing a service to social commentary in current-day comics.

You have Paul Taylor and Phil Foglio listed as two of your faves. What's your take on their writing skills - do they accurately portray women in their work? That's an article I haven't seen yet and am dying to read.

As to this comment: "I haven't actually read the Green Lantern/Green Arrow road trip sequence". Please read it. I'd really like to see your take as to whether it still stands up today. I read the GL/GA storyline in question when it came out originally. For better or worse, it did affect me in a positive manner. I count it as one of the influences, albeit in a small way, that helped shape my political views today.

Full disclosure: I turn 39 in a few days, so I believe I qualify as an "old white guy". Yes, that does sting. Not because you said it, but because it's true.

5:17 am  
Blogger Evan Waters said...

That is actually my feeling on the GL/GA "Hard Travelling Heroes" period (though I can't compare it to "I am Curious (Black)" as I haven't read it.)Not only was it doing something that most comic writers- O'Neill included, probably- hadn't done before, it was also presenting "relevance" and racial issues and such to an audience that was not used to such things in comics. It still had the melodrama and the unnatural dialogue and the occasional sheer corniness of comics of the time, which kept it accessible to a mainstream audience.

5:55 am  
Blogger Marionette said...

Alex, I think Big Bob Kanigher was in his late fifties when he wrote that story. You have a while yet before you qualify.^^

12:29 pm  
Blogger That guy said...

Thanks for the confidence booster. I'll remember that while I'm taking my Metamucil.

I'm still curious as to your opinions of Mssrs. Taylor and Foglio. I had the pleasure of meeting Phil in the late 80s. The man wore a badge with the words "Gentleman Pornographer" on it. If you've ever seen his early work on 'XXXenophile', you'd know why.

4:24 pm  
Anonymous Andrew Kaikai said...

I found the lois lane story offensive as a black man because it assumes that just by being black for a day, a white person can understand all the struggles that a lot of blacks have undergone for years. Yes, I have every right to denigrate the story for how half-assed and poorly done it was, kinda like the extremely ineffective faux apology the Senate made for all the lynchings they never saw fit to stop.

4:11 pm  
Blogger Marionette said...

I'm not suggesting it wasn't a clumsy and simplistic story. I'm just saying it was the first stumbling attempt to address the issue, or almost any issue.

At the time the choices were this poorly done story or nothing. That's it. You didn't get the option of a good story or a bad story, you got a bad story that at least acknowledged that the problem existed or NOTHING AT ALL.

Would you honestly prefer the issue to have been completely ignored than to have been addressed in this poor, clumsy way? Because there's plenty of that available if you prefer.

10:25 pm  
Anonymous Andrew said...

OK.I'll concede that for the time period it was published in, it at least made an attempt to address the issues, but in all honesty, sometimes if not much thought or care is going into a project, then maybe it might be better to not do it at all.

12:29 am  
Blogger Thomas L. Strickland said...

Denny O'Neil's run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow is well worth the reading. Neal Adams handles the art like the champ he is, but what gets me is how O'Neil approaches fictional heroes with the real-world in mind. Sure, when you're dealing with a cosmically-enhanced policeman like Hal Jordan, things are going to stray from normal. That's where having Oliver Queen brings balance.

(Oliver Queen: Ultra-Liberal and Filthy Rich -- A Living Oxymoron)

The GL/GA stories (along with Kirby's Fourth World titles and Cary Bates' Flash -- that last one might just be my opinion solely) brought DC out of the funny book business and into the "serious" territory once ceded to Marvel. That doesn't mean there weren't misfires to follow, like the Lois Lane story (heavy with intention, flawed in execution and titled after a experimental soft-porn film) ...

So ... long story short, read the Hard Travelling Heroes arc. I'd be interested to see your opinion what it gets right and what it gets wrong.

1:18 am  
Anonymous Moose N Squirrel said...

You guys are crazy. "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield!" is amazing.

2:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously, Marionette, go read it. It's not fair to pass *any* type of judgement, positive or negative, without reading it first.

3:00 pm  
Blogger Marionette said...

I agree. If you notice I specifically exclude it from my comments because I haven't read it, and only note that it has a better reputation than most.

If I had a copy available I would read it. As I don't, I'm reading Promethea instead.

7:33 pm  
Blogger The Fortress Keeper said...

Not to be blasphemous, but I find Gl/GA just about as heavy-handed as the Lois Lane story.

But, it did try to bring a realism to comics that I find more honorable than the "rape of the week" syndrome that Marvel, DC and others seem infatuated with today.

The Robert Kanigher story is ridiculous, true. But in my mind, comic book superheroes are ridiculous anyway - and I mean that in the best way possible.

Oh, and Alex? I'm 44. So don't talk about Metamucil at the age of 39. We all have a long way to go. :)

10:26 pm  
Anonymous Lyle said...

It probably says more about modern comics than the older ones, but I find the "classic" GA/GL much more readable than more recent attempts to handle social issues in superhero comics. Sigh.

12:16 am  
Blogger That guy said...

One last comment on the subject, and then it's time for me to move on.

Marionette, the story is available in the GL/GA Collection, Volume 2, for a very affordable price. Maybe some kind soul will get you a copy for the holidays. Still, you could do a lot worse that Promethea. Come to think of it, the more I read your blog, the more obvious it becomes that you are doing a lot worse.

F.K., Thanks for the positive comment on Metamucil issue. I'd respond more, but it's my nap time and Wheel of Fortune comes on at 7. :)

4:32 am  

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