Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Ten Most Harmful Books

The conservative journal Human Events recently published a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Here’s what their panel of judges decided, in order:

1. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx
2. Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler
3. Quotations from Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong
4. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (commonly known as The Kinsey Report), Alfred Kinsey
5. Democracy and Education, John Dewey
6. Das Kapital, Karl Marx
7. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
8. The Course in Positive Philosophy, Auguste Comte
9. Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes

Some of these are hard to argue. Mein Kampf, for one. Nietzsche is often lumped in with the fascists, and he had a gawdawful moustache, so okay, I guess its inclusion isn’t so crazy. I’d like to quibble with the inclusion of the Marxist books, but it’s hard.*

Keynes is a bastion of liberal economic thought. Including him was the judges’ way of saying “neener neener” to the liberals of the world. I can appreciate the snark evinced by including it.

But the rest? There lay exposed…scary monsters.

The Kinsey Report? Science, it appears, terrifies the judging committee. “His research doesn’t back our ideology! The truth frightens us! The truth should remain hidden if we don’t like it! Eeek!”

Democracy and Education? Dewey advocated teaching kids how to think, not to memorize stacks of facts, and that to “learn by doing” was the best way. “Think for themselves, rather than only do what we tell them? Eeek!”

I’m not even going to comment on the inclusion of Friedan. You can hear the judges: “Feminism! Uppity women! Eeek!”

Auguste Comte created the discipline of sociology and greatly advanced the philosophy of positivism. In short, he advocated the idea of applying the scientific approach to the study of humanity, rather than adhere to traditional (i.e., strictly religious) explanations and methods. Say it with me: “Eeek!”**

They had a couple of other books that didn’t crack the top ten, but merited “honorable mention.” Some highlights: The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno),*** On Liberty (Mill),**** Coming of Age in Samoa (Mead), Unsafe at Any Speed (Nader), The Second Sex (de Beauvoir), Silent Spring (Carson), and Introduction to Psychoanalysis (Freud).

Going by this list, they find terrifying: communism, fascism, feminism, environmentalism, consumer rights, any form of social science, and…um…anthropology.

There are curious omissions from the list. For example, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book written by the Czar’s government to discredit Jews by labelling them as masters of a vast world conspiracy. The Protocols were used to justify pogroms and the Holocaust, and are still used today to libel the whole of Judaism. I’d call that a harmful book.

They also left out The Turner Diaries, a favorite of American militia nuts. There are a few hundred families in Oklahoma City who would probably argue that Alfred Kinsey exposing the American people’s propensity for unusual sexual practices doesn’t quite compare in impact to The Turner Diaries.

But hey, what do I know? Maybe bringing to light the commonality of homosexuality and promsicuity is, indeed, more dangerous than car bombs blowing up day care centers.


No it isn't. It really isn't.

I digress.

There are other harmful books. Other books that present grave dangers to this world. Books that the conservatroid mulletheads of Human Events ignored or overlooked. I do not.

Thus, I present to you:

The True Ten Most Harmful Books of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child
Responsible for more bad meals than any other book in history. How many lives have been lost eating the horrors perpetrated by deluded fools thinking they could replicate her sole meunière?

2. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Early editions of Great Expectations contained a large spring-loaded steel knife blade that impaled the reader upon reaching page 210. Dickens's "literary device" has slain thousands and horribly wounded tens of thousands more. (Modern editions use a plastic blade, reducing deaths significantly. Still, it remains a dangerous book.)

3. Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary
This mammoth tome has crushed untold numbers of people, mostly children, beneath its elephantine bulk.

4. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson
Modern bad poetry began here. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is also at fault, but the greatest share of blame goes to the Poet of Amherst.

5. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Countless lives have been hopelessly dorkified by Tolkien’s pseudo-epic. When will the madness end? With the slaying of the ORCS and the QUESTING for the MOUNT DOOM and the hoiven with the pain, and the stabbing, and the finger biting off, glaven!

6. Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley
My neighbors are building a homunculus out of corpse parts this summer. The entire DC area is overrun with these unnatural half-men, sewn together from cadavers and infused with life drawn from the heavens. Goddammit, Mary Shelley, I blame you for this.

7. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
A key element of maturity is the ability to recognize the motivation of others. A child thinks his father makes him mow the lawn because his father hates him. A grown man sees there’s more to it: the old man hates to mow, and dammit, the game’s on. Rand’s binary logic and inflexibility of mind has stunted the intellectual growth of millions by creating an asinine theory of “Reason” based upon a child’s view of the world. "Objectivism" does not survive even the slightest contact with adult reality.

8. The Man Who Knew Too Much, G.K. Chesterton
This nefarious volume encourages people to know too much.

9. Where’s Waldo, Martin Handford
Psychiatric wards contain thousands of victims of Handford’s evil. The Bosch-esque tableaux, the torment of the puzzles, the infernal cruelty writ across the face of Waldo, I swear, if hell itself were ever committed to paper, it would resemble nothing so much as Where’s Waldo.

10. The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown
Not for its crackpot theology or specious history does this book make the list. No. Instead, it cracks the top ten purely on the power of its sucking. Lord, what a crappy novel. Save us all from one-dimensional characters and prose that should embarrass a ten-year old. The power of its suck is so mighty that it infuses nearby objects with suck-waves. If you own a copy, wrap it in aluminum foil to insulate your other books, as well as yourself, from the suck-osity.

Protect yourself and your loved ones from these truly dangerous books.

You have been warned.

*Part of me thinks that since Russia was a violent, repressive, backwards police state before the revolution and a violent, repressive, backwards police state after the revolution, blaming the lights of the revolution for the evil seems overkill. Ditto China. Was it a free and open place before Mao took over? Uh, no. It was a repressive empire. Is it now? Uh, no. It’s still a repressive empire and emperors still run the joint. The big difference is that now the emperors wear boring clothes.

Still and all, the Communist flavor of the tyranny can’t be excused or written off.

**Amusing sidenote: Comte invented the word “altruism.” (Insert rude joke about the reason his book is considered dangerous here.)

***They hate this book because it describes them. Really. It does. Heh.

****Mill had the crazy idea that folks should be free to do what they want, provided it doesn’t hurt anybody else. For a group that likes to legislate who can get married and who can’t, Mill advocates treason. For everybody else, Mill makes a lot of sense.

Hell, I’m surprised the Human Events judges didn’t include the Gettysburg Address on the list. ("Government by, of, and for the people? Sounds like a big-government weirdo to me!")

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Nerd. Geek. Dork. Dweeb. Spaz.

We know the terms. We've all heard them. But what do they mean?

Lacking a solidly established taxonomy, my friends and I have developed a Nerd Taxonomy. Not a hierarchy; one sort is not "higher" or "better" than the other, necessarily. We felt it useful to assess particular values to the words, as there are many kinds of nerdery.

Our effort began with a quote from Roger Ebert: "A geek is a kid who's got everything going for him, but he hasn't grown into his personality yet. A nerd is a nerd until the day he dies." We liked this. It makes an important distinction. Both geekery and nerditude denote social maladroitness. However, some outgrow or escape this condition, while others...don't.

From there, we pushed ahead and forged The Official Nerd Taxonomy:*

GEEK: A socially-maladjusted person who will probably someday grow out of it. The cutoff age for "geek" is not firm, but if the person hasn't grown out of it by twenty-two or so, they may never.

NERD: A socially-maladjusted person who will never adapt to conventional social mores. Often defiant about it, particularly as the nerd ages.

DORK: Generally, a person obsessed with non-culturally approved things. The term should never be used on its own, but rather in concert with the person's object of obsession (e.g. "comic book dork," "Star Trek dork.") Should the person be obsessive about something deemed culturally acceptable, such as baseball or film, the label of "dork" can only be applied if the obsession is strong enough to interfere with the person's social interactions. ("He won't shut up about the Philadelphia Flyers! Jeebus, it's just friggin' hockey!")**

DWEEB: A socially inept person who attaches him or herself to large crowds and/or socially successful people in an effort to "join the group." The dweeb tries hard for acceptance but seldom succeeds. Frequently eager to please and the consummate "joiner."

SPAZ: A person whose inability to contain sudden outbursts of emotion mars their efforts at socialization. ("Yeah, I remember Ohio. HOLY CRAP, IT WAS AMAZING!! Oh, sorry...did I startle you?")

As an example, yours truly is certainly a comic book dork who fancies himself a recovering geek. (Perhaps a tragic delusion, I know. I accept the possibility that my nerdosity may be greater than even I think, and that if you cut me, I might bleed tiny images of Eddie Deezen.)

Now that these terms have been clarified, let us go forth and combat ignorance! Mmmheyhey, with the learning and the VERBiage and the hoiven-glaven!

*It's official to me, goddammit.

**Hockey sucks. Accept this fact and move on.

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We'll Need a Bigger Foreman Grill

"I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around."
--James Beard

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Let’s All Go to the Lobby: Tim Burton and Freaks

Tim Burton’s remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has guaranteed me a miserable evening. His casting of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka means that Mrs. Jerkwater insists we see it. That Tim Burton directed it virtually guarantees I’ll loathe it.

Burton has a number of talents. He’s visually inventive. He’s capable of telling a (semi-) coherent story. He has a sense of humor, of sorts.

But he also has one trait that makes most of his movies insufferable.

Allow me to ‘splain.

Tim Burton has said in the past that his favorite movie is Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). Freaks was about life in a sideshow, with actual sideshow freaks playing most of the roles.

The central story involved a dwarf in love with the beauty queen of the circus.* She finds out that the dwarf is quite wealthy, and feigns interest in him. She plots to marry him, then murder him and take up with her lover and confidante, the strongman. She pulls off the plan but fails to murder the dwarf. The freaks find out about this and exact a hideous revenge.

Freaks is not a great movie, but it has a lot to recommend it. Despite its melodramatic plot and, let’s face it, exploitive subject matter, the movie has an undercurrent of honesty and humanity.

Why Tim Burton sucks ass can be explained by imagining what would happen if he remade Freaks.

Let’s review his oeuvre. In the miserable Edward Scissorhands, Burton tells the story of a freakish young man tormented by the normals. In the somewhat less miserable Beetlejuice, he tells the story of a group of unusual people (either dead or Gothy) tormented by the normals. In the excruciating Batman Returns, he recasts the Penguin as a tragic villain, a freakish young man tormented by the normals.

Okay, so he has a favorite theme. In and of itself, that’s not a problem. It’s how he interprets the theme that transforms him from “artist” to “major director most in need of Harvey Jerkwater forcibly shaving his head.”

Are the outsiders of Burton’s pictures misunderstood normal folk? Nope. In Burton’s eyes, they’re better than normal folk. The normals are shallow, silly twits who lack the special depth of the protagonists.

The stories ask not for tolerance of difference, but rather demand that the different be held in higher esteem than anyone else. They’re twee revenge fantasies.

What makes Burton a halfwit instead of an artist is that he doesn’t seem to understand that oppression doesn’t constitute righteousness. If A is stepping on B, then yes, that sucks. But that doesn’t mean B should be stepping on A. For some reason, while affirming the humanity of the outsiders, he feels the need to strip that humanity from the insiders. What a cockhead.

Timmy, if you were as sensitive and perceptive as you believe yourself to be, you’d understand that nobody should be stepping on anybody. You’re just another jackass who wants control, same as the people you mock and loathe.

Getting back to Freaks, let’s compare the endings we’d see.

Tod Browning’s ending: The sideshow folk discover the plot against their friend, who nearly dies of the poison his wife gave him. Late one night, the freaks come out of the darkness for revenge, and close in on the beauty queen and the strongman. The scene is horrible. It fades out as the freaks reach them. When it fades back in, we see what happened: the freaks deformed the woman and made her into the hideous “Chicken Lady.” The tone is one of horror and brutal justice.

Tim Burton’s ending: Same story, different tone. When the freaks emerge from the darkness, dramatic music swells. For theirs is a righteous cause! Triumphal music blasts as the oddly cute freaks (several of whom would have impossible, fantastical deformities rendered by CGI) close in. Their freakishness will be abstracted and fanciful, creating a storybook flavor. When we see the Chicken Lady, the tone will be one of victory and vindication.

Bitch, ain’t no vindication in this story.

Browning’s story boiled down to “Freaks are people, goddammit. Mess with them and they’ll mess with you.” Burton’s version would most certainly boil down to “For daring to oppress those who are truly beautiful and special, you shall pay for your impudence, you unworthy tramp!”

I hate this guy.

I’m still pissed off at having to sit through Big Fish. A man asks his dying blowhard father to stop telling the same tall tales he’s always told and finally tell the truth about his life, so the man can finally get to know his father. The father doesn’t. The son eventually forgives his father anyway. Now, that’s not the bad part. That could be a good movie. The suckass portion comes from the movie suggesting that being a lying sack of shit who was never around is okay, provided you’re interesting. How deliciously self-serving.

And if you ever meet me, don’t mention his brainless remake of Planet of the Apes. Why did he have to take a big steaming dump on one of the great cheesy movies? Aigh.

*I forget her exact job. Horseback rider, maybe? Anyway, she was the designated pretty woman of the circus.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Larry Young Is Wrong

Larry Young, the head of AiT/PlanetLar Comics and patron saint of self-publishing comics, has a famous saying he directs towards wanna-bes:

“You want to make comics? Go ahead. Nobody’s stopping you.”

Good advice: Straightforward. Uncomplicated. Wrong.

Larry, of course there’s somebody stopping me.


A four-character scene plays in my head whenever I set to work on my own comic. If you would please allow me the indulgence to set the stage and describe the players.

Physically, there’s just me. Slouched in a chair and staring at a computer screen, or hunched over a table, scribbling into a spiral notebook, I write in solitude.

The three devils who haunt me will here be named Archie, Jughead, and Reggie. Below is a recreation of the scene between your humble weblogger and his demonic triplets during a stint of writing a few days past.

HARVEY: Okay, where did I leave off last time?

REGGIE: Well, there’s “Trite Story #1,” “Trite Story #2,” and my personal favorite, “Giant Steaming Bowl of Crap.” That had promise.

HARVEY: Bite me. Okay…[looking in notebook] I like how this particular story’s been going, so I’ll plug more on this script today.

JUGHEAD: Do I smell ham?

HARVEY: No. Besides, we just ate.

JUGHEAD: I swear I smell ham.

ARCHIE: Are we gonna do this, or are we gonna be a pathetic collection of wanna-bes who talk a lot and get nothing done?

HARVEY: I’m here, right? I’m getting it done.

REGGIE: Badly.

HARVEY: That’s beside the point. The point is that I’m doing it.

REGGIE: So says the hack. That logic is what fills the world with bad novels, bad movies, bad art, all that stuff we hate. Do we want to add to that? Does the world need more junk?

HARVEY: I might create something good. Besides, this is good practice.

JUGHEAD: We should get Chinese takeout for lunch. Now.

HARVEY: We’re fat enough, thanks.

ARCHIE: We should compose these stories while we jog! That’d be great! We’d get in better shape and the stories would distract us from the running!

REGGIE: Remember when we tried jogging last week?

HARVEY: Oooh, yeah, that was bad.

REGGIE: So is this “script” we’re working on. Monkeys? Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, every halfwit comic guy puts monkeys in his story.

HARVEY: Monkeys are funny!

REGGIE: Monkeys are overused! Would it destroy what little remains of your brain to come up with something that gave off even the faintest aroma of creativity?

HARVEY: Like marmosets?

REGGIE: No! Not just switching animals! Stop thinking like everyone else!

ARCHIE: The tools aren’t important. It’s the outcome. Monkeys aren’t the issue. People have written love stories for millenia, and good ones can still be made.

HARVEY: Maybe I am too pickled in current comic thought…maybe I should stop and reassess where I’m going with all this.

JUGHEAD: The air conditioning isn’t turned up enough in here. Kinda stuffy. We need doughnuts.

REGGIE: Are you ready to write something decent? You know what comes out today will be nothing but tired clichéd garbage.

HARVEY: You may be right. -sigh-

ARCHIE: No, he’s not! Sit down and write! You don’t know what’ll come out until you start writing!

HARVEY: I’ll research today, and get writing in a few days.

ARCHIE: NO!! You keep saying you will, but you don’t. Man, you sound like a Keith Sweat song: “I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna.”* Sit down, shut up, and do the work now, or you never will.

JUGHEAD: We can’t work hungry. C’mon…General Tso’s Chicken…mmmm…**

HARVEY: Okay, okay, okay, I’ll work for a half-hour, then break for lunch.

REGGIE: Three-quarters of a page worth of drivel, coming up!

HARVEY: Zip it. [Starts to write]

ARCHIE: Yeah! Excellent! Do it! Do it! WOOO!!

REGGIE: Sure you don’t want to change that panel a bit, so it’d be, y’know, um, good?

HARVEY: No. I’m committed. [Scribbles more.]

REGGIE: You sure?

HARVEY: Hm. You're right. If I altered this line here, that’d make for a better story. [Rewrites a panel]

ARCHIE: NO! No editing! You’ll never finish if you stop to fix holes!

HARVEY: But this tiny change is so much better.

ARCHIE: That’s not important! You just have to finish!

HARVEY: Excuse me?

REGGIE: What’ll really sting is when we read this later, this script we poured our hearts and souls into, and realize it’s mediocre.

HARVEY: I’m not listening. [Scribbles more.]

JUGHEAD: We should play “Madden 2005” instead. And get a pizza.


[Mental fistfight breaks out. Ends with a little work done, doubts increased, and an unhealthy lunch of fried meat. At least Jughead ends up happy.]

On occasion Archie wins, and I produce. On others, Reggie convinces me that the talent deficiency I’ve demonstrated thus far is, in fact, incurable, and that I would be better served to spend my days mooning over the work of my superiors. Most of the time, Jughead wins. Mmmm…General Tso’s Chicken…

Sorry, Larry. I do not mean to make a liar of you.

La lucha continúa.

*My favorite motivational quote, from Do the Right Thing. No other quote stings quite so much. No other quote is quite so accurate. Damn you, Spike Lee.

**A close bud developed a working philosophy of life. “You know what’s good? General Tso’s Chicken. You know what sucks? That movie 'Point Break.'” Passing years have only proven my friend’s wisdom. Cling to these truths, my children, for they will ease your pain.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Borrowing from Evan “The Dork” Dorkin

On Evan Dorkin's webpage, I ran across a wee meme he'd created. And I dug it.

So here's my take on the meme. Please respond to my take or replicate the meme as you folks see fit.

1. Favorite comic book or graphic novel?
2. Least favorite comic book or graphic novel?
3. Most overrated cartoonist?
4. Most underrated cartoonist?
5. Least favorite thing about the comic book industry.

1. Favorite comic book or graphic novel?
The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke. Dynamic art, a rich and interesting story, a broad scope with personal touches, the whole damn thing was great. Rejecting both the dippy optimism of early comics and the dippy pessimism of most modern comics, Cooke created something with a hint of substance, and, dare I say it, resonance. It also happened to contain dinosaurs, rocket ships, and the Challengers of the Unknown. The New Frontier impressed the hell out of me.

2. Least favorite comic book or graphic novel?
The last two decades of the X-Men books. The X-books contain the worst excesses of modern mainstream comics. They are insanely confusing, as the writers keep mistaking “complication” with “complexity.” Assclowns, adding four new characters, three of whom are alternate-timeline versions of one another, with the fourth being a clone of one of the other three, is crap. The X-world is so damn overstuffed and convoluted that no outsider can penetrate it, nor do they want to. Other sins of the mainstream reflected by the X-books: skeevy cheesecake, a lunatic adherence to continuity, adolescent self-pity taken to levels seldom seen outside of the letters page of “Sassy Magazine,” oh, so many things that suck.

3. Most overrated cartoonist?
To be contrarian, I’ll say Chris Ware, since he’s hyped beyond belief. He’s an amazing technician and I have respect for his ability, but c’mon. Perhaps it’s my low tolerance for cartoon portrayals of ennui; just thinking about his work makes my temples throb. Of the standard big names in art comics (Spiegelman, Clowes, Los Bros. Hernandez, and Ware), he’s the only one I don’t recommend to non-comic folk. Yes, I’m a heathen. No, I don’t care.

4. Most underrated cartoonist?
Evan Dorkin. His Milk and Cheese comics are magnificent tales of lactic anarchy. “Dairy Products Gone Bad,” the Carton of Hate and the Wedge of Spite run around destroying places and beating the crap out of people for no reason. The jokes, they are sweet. Dorkin’s occasionally-produced title Dork is one of the best books on the market. Funny, emotionally honest, interesting, and jammed with more stuff than any three normal comics. Great, great work.

5. Least favorite thing about the comic book industry.
I call it “The Star Trek Effect.” As fans have grown into positions of power, they have directed the industry towards their own tastes. That satisfies the dedicated fans already in place and alienates those outside of that group. Early “Trek” was created by folks who wanted to make a show people would like. The last waves of “Trek” were unwatchable, finely-crafted bits of twaddle of interest only to those steeped in years of Trek-iana. The inmates run the asylum. Comics are a closed circle that grows tighter and tighter each year. And that, dear friends, sucks ass. I can understand how it got to that point. This is the path of least resistance, both commercially and artistically. But it's a dead end.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Like Jesus, But With Fisticuffs

Captain America is kinda like the Jesus of Comic Books. With fisticuffs.

Aside from being a man of notoriously high morality and a propensity for preaching, Cap shares a key trait with Christ: death and resurrection, fraught with meaning. Though, in true comic form, Cap’s done it more than once.

Below is a chronological list of Cap’s deaths, both the physical and symbolic types, and their intended significance.

First death and resurrection (D&R): Cap and his sidekick Bucky are blown up when trying to stop the Nazi super-criminal Baron Zemo from stealing a drone plane. Bucky actually does die.* Cap goes into the icy north Atlantic, turns into a dude-sicle, and is thawed out by the Avengers.

When: Avengers #4 (1964)

Significance: Explains how Captain America could appear in the mid-sixties without being a middle-aged man. His least symbolic resurrection.

Second D&R: Cap grows tired of the constant danger and wants a normal life. He fakes his death at the hands of the secret society HYDRA. But dammit, duty calls, and he “returns from the dead” to administer kidney punches to evil.

When: Captain America #111-114 (1969)

Significance: The first time the Marvel Universe got a chance to mourn for Cap’s passing. Hardly the last.

“Giving up the gig to have a normal life” was a common Marvel plot device in the sixties. Probably every hero did it at least once before 1970. However, I think Cap was the only one to fake his own death to do so. Also, one whole issue during his “death” focused on Cap’s history, giving a little weight to the event.

Third D&R: After thwarting the Secret Empire’s attempt to take over America and discovering that its head was the President of the United States, Cap is disillusioned with his country and ditches the job. Other men try to fill the gig and meet with violent ends. Cap resumes the mask and shield to stomp the Red Skull.

When: Captain America #176-183 (1974-1975)

Significance: Probably the only D&R in Cap’s history to have a lasting effect. When Cap resumed his identity as Captain America, he redefined his purpose. Rather than be a soldier, he dedicated himself to the ideals of America instead. After the Secret Empire, Cap’s loyalties shifted from the army and the President to his conception of what America should be.

I think this was when his speechifying tendencies began to emerge. Also, this was the first of his “symbolic” deaths.

Fourth D&R: Bureaucrats in Washington realize that Cap is technically an employee of the U.S. government and try to bring him to heel. After some thought, Cap rejects their offer and gives up the identity.

A bullet-headed yahoo is put in the costume instead. Said bullet-head proves not up to the task and has a breakdown, leading to his murdering many people. The original cap returns, beats the crap out of his “successor,” and extricates the Captain America identity from the government.

When: Captain America #332-350 (1987-1989)

Significance: Yet another symbolic death and resurrection. The bullet-head becomes a minor jingoistic hero, US Agent, not long after this story. Fittingly, the yahoo gets “killed” in public to be secretly remade as the Agent. Man, even second-string Caps get D&Rs…

Fifth D&R: Loony-toon vigilante Frank Castle, known as the Punisher, is fooled into thinking Cap is part of a major eeevil conspiracy. Frank snipes him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Cap’s armored shirt saves him, but the Feds pretend he’s dead to fool the Punisher.

When: Punisher and Captain America: Blood and Glory #1-2 (1992)

Significance: This faked death, complete with state funeral, is the first of many in the next ten years. Outside of the Blood and Glory three-issue miniseries, this faked death is never referenced.

Sixth D&R: The super-soldier serum that gave Cap his powers back in 1940 breaks down. He withers away over the course of a year’s worth of issues, then dies. The Red Skull swipes his body and restores him, since he needs Cap’s aid.

When: Captain America #430-445 (1996)

Significance: Cap’s third state funeral, by my count. (His WW2 death was hushed up, otherwise it’d be his fourth.) Again, one whole issue was filled with characters discussing Cap’s history and legacy.

Seventh D&R: Captain America, along with the rest of the Avengers, “dies” in battle with the plot device (oh, excuse me, “super-villain”) Onslaught. They disappear into a pocket dimension for twelve issues, then re-emerge into the Marvel Universe proper.

When: Onslaught: Marvel (1996), Captain America, vol. 2 #1-12 (1996-1997), Captain America, vol. 3 #1 (1997)

Significance: Cap’s death was one of many. The Onslaught deaths were meant to evoke the fear of a World Without Heroes, not just a World Without Cap.

The Onslaught D&R does have one redeeming feature: it was Cap’s second death in calendar year 1996. That has to be some kind of record.

Eighth D&R: In his most embarrassing death, Cap is killed by a group of very old Nazi farts in a subdivision in New Jersey who had built some missile-thingy. The story was supposed to be laden with symbolism and weight, but it felt as silly as this recap.

When: Captain America, vol. 3 #50 (2002)

Significance: Not much. There was a bit of “oh, no, the Symbol of America and all that is Good and Peachy is dead!” wailing, as per usual. Captain America vol. 3 was cancelled with #50 and rebooted as Captain America, vol. 4 a few months later, his “death” in New Jersey ignored.

Ninth D&R: The man cannot stop dying. Cap’s best friend and former partner, the Falcon, had unraveled and started pushing people around. One of the men the Falcon slapped around came back with a gun and shot at him. In a fluke, the bullet hit and killed Cap instead. He gets better.

When: Captain America and the Falcon #13-14 (2005)

Significance: I haven’t read CA&F #14 yet, so I don’t know for certain. Almost certainly it will affect the relationship between the two men. Twenty bucks says that the Falcon will get his head together, but he’ll also dissolve the partnership. (The series is cancelled with #14, I think.)

I’ve probably missed one or two D&Rs. But I think these make my point.

Captain America is laden with much more symbolic weight than any superhero, and so killing him is thought to be a bold statement.** Or at least a cheap drama engine. Kacking Spider-Man lacks the oomph of putting America’s Biggest Boyscout and the Living Flag down for a dirtnap.

As a reader and a fan of the character, I gotta say, the man’s been “killed” five times since 1992, with at least three big state funerals. Enough, already.

Lately, Cap has added a wrinkle to his D&R style.

In the story “Ice,” which ran in Captain America vol. 4 #12-16 (2003), it was suggested that Cap’s memories of WW2 had been altered by the US Army.***

The current story running through Captain America also shows Cap having flashbacks of a history that doesn’t mesh with the old-school version of his past.

Either “Ice” didn’t resolve the matter (I didn’t finish the story, due to it being so awful it insulted the memory of the trees that died to print it), or the current writer is rehashing the plot device. Regardless, oy.

Apparently, memory alteration is the new death.

*Or not. I haven’t read the latest issue of Cap, but it looks like ol’ Buck has returned to the land of the living, forty-one years after being declared dead. Ye gods.

**Damn that name and flaggy costume. If he were “Captain Radial Tires With Whitewalls,” writers wouldn’t find killing him so attractive an option.

***You gotta love this attempt to make Cap more grim-n-gritty by stripping away his candy floss, brightly-colored WW2 backstory and adding an X-Files-style conspiracy to his past!

…no, wait…you don’t have to love it.

What a horrible idea: the “Wolverineing” of Cap. Dark past? Check. Uncertain memories? Check. Paranoia? Check. Increased violence in the comics? Check.

Loss of charm as a character? Check.


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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Cool Moments in Comic Book History: The Girl Has Eyes, Dummy

A cool moment brought to you by Detective Comics #472 (December 1977):

Batman was attacked by the villain Deadshot, and their fight spills into a busy convention hall loaded with giant props. In the convention crowd was Silver St. Cloud,* main squeeze of Bruce Wayne for the last couple of issues.

As we expect, Batman kicks the poo out of Deadshot and makes ready his exit. Same ol’, same ol’.

But then something out of the ordinary happens.

Silver sees the tall dude in the Batsuit for the first time and instantly recognizes him. As she pointed out later, she spent a lot of time with Bruce and knew his face well.

So obvious, yet it had never been done before. I think.**

Shortly thereafter, she broke up with Bruce, saying she couldn’t handle loving a man who courted death constantly. She then disappeared into the comicbook ether, never to return.***

For just a moment, The Designated Girlfriend acted like a real human being instead of a plot device, and jarred the very core of the superhero idea by simply using her damn eyes.

That was way cool.

Yes, I’m easily impressed.

*I can’t even type the name without snickering. Even by comic standards, that's a funny name.

**The only other time I can recall it happening afterwards was in Peter Cannon-Thunderbolt, where the primary villain (who was also the femme fatale and Peter’s love interest) recognized Cannon as T-bolt right away. Anybody out there in internet-land know of other cases? There have to be a few others.

***Okay, mostly never. She came back in 2005 in a miniseries. But man, a twenty-seven year absence is a long-ass time.

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