Thursday, January 06, 2005

Superhero Anxiety at the NY Times 

Something sinister is brewing at the New York Times. First, this sorely-needed correction:
An obituary of the innovative comic-page illustrator Will Eisner yesterday included an imprecise comparison in some copies between his character the Spirit and others, including Batman. Unlike Superman and some other heroes of the comics, Batman relied on intelligence and skill, not supernatural powers.
How could they make that kind of mistake? After all, the paper's cultural critics (or at least Virginia Heffernan) are apparently being browbeaten by oppressive males into reading superhero comics on a daily basis:
"Alias,"... whose fourth season has its two-hour premiere on ABC tonight, is nothing more than a pretentious comic strip: static, allegorical, a pleasure only to addicts, but also headache-inducingly difficult to criticize in these times when American comics have become, through male nostalgia and the canonization of the graphic novel, sacrosanct.

Let's be honest. Many of us don't like comic books and have feigned interest in their jumpy bif-bam fighting scenes and the way they redeem loser guys, only to impress and minister to those loser guys. And now we can admit that while the redemption dynamic - little X-Men boys finding in their eccentricity and loneliness a superpower - is touching, there's nothing duller than listening to someone explain, in all seriousness, the Syndicate and the Shadow Force and the Hard Drive and the Plutonium Lance. And the characters: lame. One is good and the other is evil, and then one is evil pretending to be good, and then one is good pretending to be evil.

Thanks for that tiny window onto your personal life, Virginia. I hope that the loser guys you've wasted so much time on all read your review.

In all seriousness, there has been a lot of superhero-glorifying going on in the literary world these days, what with Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and the contributors to this inconsistent but entertaining book all doing their part. And, honestly speaking, if you go back and read those old "silver age" X-Men comics, they're pretty damn juvenile and simple-minded, just less so then one might have expected given what else was to be found in comic books of the era. And yes, as a host of blogospheric commentaries prove, nerds love to bluster about superheroes. But come on, Virginia: drop the "man bites dog" tone when you're sneering about comic books in the pages of the Times. You're not fooling anyone.

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