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My spidey-sense is not so great.

Like just about everyone else, I’ve seen Spider-Man 2, but since everybody else has already taken the opportunity to comment, I’m not sure what to say. Well, maybe I am: Peter trying to use “The Song of Hiawatha” as a seduction tool may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Ok, not ever, but I was amazed and giggly for a good while afterward. But most of the things that struck me were absences rather than actual scenes.

Maybe it’s because the script went through so many authors’ revisions that it just didn’t mesh well or maybe there’s a lot more that will be in the DVD’s deleted scenes or maybe it’s because everyone knows there will be a sequel that no one bothered to tie up any non-MJ plot, but I found all of that somehow disappointing. There were plenty of campy scenes I expected and while they might have annoyed me had they arrived, I missed them when they didn’t.

Where was the bang/whimper joke when Doc Ock rejoins (or doesn’t, depending on his/your view of any afterlife) his beloved wife? If it wasn’t setup for a bang/whimper joke, why was there so much talk about T.S. Eliot?? (As an aside, I still think his last words, “I will not die a monster,” leave open the possibility for his return, because it’s quite possible that he won’t die, not that he won’t be a monster any longer.)

What, did Peter somehow magically pay the rent while not having a job but doing better in school? All of a sudden his previously obsessed landlord stopped asking for it. And why, when Mary Jane escaped her own wedding and ran dramatically to Peter’s doorstep, did the landlord not spoil the moment by accosting her and demanding Peter pay him? Or, worse, why didn’t he send his besotted daughter in to coerce Peter to pay and get her heart broken in the process? I don’t know; they just disappeared.

And Aunt May makes her huge speech and then disappears to her new apartment, which is maybe a good thing since while her husband gets to return from the dead, his comeback is far from a highlight. I’d say that deus ex machina runs in the family except that I’d have to assume they’re not blood relations. Maybe it’s why they were so well-matched?

And then there are general quibbles. Why does the generically Slavic landlord have a daughter named Ursula? (Yes, name issues always bother me, as I’ve said here previously. If you’re going to bother to give your characters some kind of ethnic identity, it’s really not hard to follow through. I swear. It’s easy, and it makes you look bad if you don’t bother, even if only to me.) And how did Peter and MJ and Harry all end up at the same high school anyway, since they’re not from similar economic backgrounds and they wouldn’t exactly belong at an academic magnet school or anything like that? And while I’ve complained, too, about the inappropriately high-stakes danger plots in comics-to-movie adaptations, it seemed a bit odd that having more than the power of the sun causing problems in New York twice wouldn’t generate much attention at all. All part of the superpower-heavy world, I guess.

And all this makes it sound like I didn’t like the movie, which isn’t the case at all. It was enjoyable, though uneven (and outright annoying when heavy-handed) and I had fun and would have had fun even if there hadn’t been Longfellow jokes. I would have liked it even if it hadn’t had a particularly goofy and tacky rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest. I liked the way Peter has trouble finding a balance between power and responsibility, particularly in the way he dealt with both in relation to the people he cares about most. And now that MJ has crossed his boss and complicated his life, what next? Will he be able to manage normalcy, when it’s the normal day-to-day life that has been draining him so far? What will MJ’s third wet-tshirt scene look like, and will she ever realize that Spider-Man’s girlfriend is better off choosing pants over skirts? I have no idea, but I have no doubt I’ll be willing to find out when the time comes.

My End of the Shelf

So Steven has filled an imaginary bookshelf, but I assume there’s still a bit of room at the end for me to toss in a few titles. And the bookshelf can remain imaginary, becuase the plan when books are unpacked completely is (I think) to stick with alphabetical order, rather than any kind of idiosyncratic personal-resonance filing system. But here are the books that have been core for me, leaving out all the ones Steven already tackled. In thinking of “me” I tend to start counting at around age 11, so I doubt anything older than that will show up on the list. I’m sure I was basically the same person, but 11 was a core year for descent into self-doubt and fury, and so it always seems like a good turning point.

David Fiore got to it first, Robert Benchley’s My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew deserves a prime spot as the first book I remember making me laugh aloud. (The story in question was “Talking Dogs,” which I still find funnier than it probably is.)

For the same reason I Capture the Castle would be there, except that every time I buy a copy I give it as a gift. Luckily this is an imaginary shelf, though, so the only Dodie Smith book I’ve ever read (and I’d gladly read her diaries but plan to keep avoiding 101 Dalmations) gets a spot for its incredible voice and consistency and just plain fun.

Notes from Underground was my version of The Catcher in the Rye, a book that seemed to incorporate all of the idealism and agony of my adolescent experiences into one slim volume in a way that made pure sense to me at the time. Fyodor Dostoyevsky probably deserves more spots on the list, but this is the clearest winner.

Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch is probably my favorite collection of retold fairy tales, but she hit my life first and hardest with Stir-Fry. I used to have a little piece of paper (maybe still do) with all the quotes I found meaningful scribbled all over it with page numbers. I have not reread it as an adult, since it’s the only of her books I’ve never found in a used book store, but I’ll go back to it someday, when its meaning will be a bit different.

For maybe five years afterwards from high school into my early college years, I had an answer when someone would ask what my favorite book was, though the answer changed. I went from Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I don’t think I ever gave the last as an answer, because when I figured it could supplant The Satanic Verses I decided I might as well give up on that listed favorites thing.

For poetry, I need Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and probably her Sappho translations, too, with the lovely facing Greek. I’m not sure yet what else, as I’ve been gone from poetry for so long. Some Zbigniew Herbert, certainly. I have a collection of poems I love by Forough Faroughzhad, but can’t think of the title right now; it was salvaged from a trash can when a professor was unloading unwanted books. Jorie Graham. Marge Piercy, maybe Early Grrl.

Perhaps I like short stories best, but for now I’ll leave them off my list for now. It’s getting long enough. And no non-fiction, either, reference books and Montse Stanley’s guide to knitting and lots of histories and biographies and anthropology and criticism! This is why I can’t have a shelf, because I wouldn’t know where to stop until I had practically all the shelves I have anyway. But since I don’t feel a deep need to have all my meaningful texts nearby to harness their talismanic power or anything like that, it’s fine that the shelf is imaginary.

Fascism Victims

In all this talk about superheroes and fascism, I’m struck by an obvious question I haven’t seen addressed. If we read superhero comics and these comics are so harmful, who has been hurt personally by the ideologies or politics or narratives of superhero comics?

I have a story of my own, but I think I’m in the minority. I think of it as being more about the dangers of interpretation than with any problems in superhero stories anyway, but I want to see if I can get any other responses before Monday, when I’ll have time to write about myself.


I’ve been too busy with cleaning, packing and crankiness to write about comics this weekend, and you can expect that to continue for the next few days at least, though I promise to get back to The Filth and hope it will be sooner than expected.

However I didn’t spend my whole weekend being productive and cranky. I saw Saved! yesterday, and it was much more effective and affecting than I’d expected. Since about age 21, I’ve been fascinated with the way being a teenager is being presented to teenagers, though I no longer think I’ll ever get around to writing this up formally. As a result, I still read some YA and am willing to watch movies that aren’t just standard romances. Because I went to a single-sex Catholic high school and because of who I was while there, I didn’t have anywhere near a normal high school experience, so I’m interested to see what Hollywood thinks normal is, but I’m not well-equipped to judge its relation to reality. I assume that a high school in an area as wealthy as the location in Mean Girls seems to be might have that much conspicuous consumption, and even our uniforms didn’t keep some girls from having visibly nicer cars or haircuts than the rest of us, so I think that’s clear enough. I asked Steven whether couples made out in the halls as in Joan of Arcadia, and he thinks so but wasn’t really paying attention. We had people change clothes basically in the hall after school and probably more offers to lend people tampons than his school did, but I don’t expect to see that in the movies.

Anyway, my point is that the realistic details don’t matter as much as the politics and the heart when I’m looking at these things. Saved! has more heart and better politics than I expected. I know it’s got an audience problem, trying to appeal to Christians and anti-Christians or former Christians alike. But basically it’s not about God any more than Joan of Arcadia is. It’s about what you’ll do to fit in and how that differs from belonging. and the ending, in which everyone remembers that Jesus spoke out in favor of forgiveness and kindness and even those who don’t care about Jesus think that sounds like a good plan, is perhaps predictable but not a cop-out, and each character had to take time and make a decision to love or to reject love. As far as messages go, I’m comfortable with that one, but there’s even more going on.

Unlike in Mean Girls, the gay character actually gets to have a relationship, not just remain a comedy figure checking out all the hot guys. This is an important distinction.

And like in both Mean Girls and Joan of Arcadia, there’s a somewhat androgynous (at least by movie standards) nonconformist who ends up in a romantic relationship with the male nerd character. While in Saved! no one intimated that Cassandra was a lesbian, I think this setup works for several reasons. For one thing, none of them ever denies that bisexuality is an option or that you have to define your orientation for good in high school, which seems like a minor point but will be meaningful to the people who need to hear it, I think. It’s also interesting that nerds (and I count Roland in this group even though Saved! entirely lacks classroom scenes, but I’m working with stereotypes here) are now getting realistic girlfriends rather than none at all, ever, or fantastically attractive airheads, as either comedy or wish-fulfillment fantasy. And it’s good to see that (at least implied) bisexuality isn’t solely the realm of drunken sorority girls looking for attention, which seems to be a common representation.

And the Christians weren’t evil and weren’t perfect. Yes, many things were dumbed-down and mocked, but that’s how it goes in high-school comedy. All of them were struggling and trying to make sense of the world. And that can mean being a gung-ho Christian but not knowing the difference between Moses and Abraham, or being willing to lie to a superior to protect a student’s privacy, or doing bad things in hopes of getting bad people brought to justice, but none of the characters were zombies. They were all trying to do what’s right but first to figure out what’s right and how you can tell.

I realize this probably isn’t much to recommend the movie, but I did enjoy it. The teenagers looked like teenagers, with a few beauties among a lot of awkward classmates. The adults had foibles and blindspots but weren’t hopelessly irrelevant. There were some very funny lines and even though the ending is in many ways ambiguous, it’s more satisfying than if everything had been resolved in explicit detail. The future is open, and that’s the point. It’s time to graduate and move into the real world, where things generally don’t get tied up nicely. And that’s a good thing to know.

Turn Your Quivering Nerves in My Direction

What’s up with Scots and psychedelia anyway? I decided to take a night off Grant Morrison to seam up the shirt I’ve been knitting and generally lounge around, which meant I finally got to watch my new copy of The Incredible String Band movie, Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending. My mother watched, alternately amused and chagrined by her own memories, since it was her records that had made me a fan of the band in the first place. In fact, I’m not only a fan of the String Band, but I think many of the musicians I’ve come to like since share common traits with them, most notably Robyn Hitchcock and Rose Polenzani.

But I felt like a fool watching a movie that far predates me of a band that disbanded before I was born, because my first thought was, “They look so young!” And they were young and blooming with exuberance and honesty and songs I love, making it an endearing movie. One thing I noticed quickly was the way my relationship to The Psychedelic has changed since I was a teenager. Then I was mostly put off by the idea of drug use, which hasn’t particularly changed, but there wasn’t any of that visible in the film anyway, and I don’t know to what extent it was a part of their reality. Instead what I realized is that I’d been intrigued and repelled by psychedelic imagery because some of the ideas resonated with me but they were couched in what seemed to be nonsense gibberish. And at that point I realized I hadn’t avoided thinking about Morrison at all.

See, stories in which magical drug insights give a character (or author, I suppose) insight into reality-as-it-is always seemed unsatisfying to me. Morrison seemed to undercut the sincere spirit journey version in Animal Man with all the scenes in The Invisibles that suggest that while you can believe you’ve taken a drug, you can never trust yourself to believe you’re in reality. New X-Men has an awkward anti-drug slant, and drugs other than sex and reality seem to be basically absent from The Filth, which is odd. OK, they’re not absent, but they’re not consciousness-altering either. Tony needs his cat medicine, though what medicine and for what condition is both unclear and crucial. And the president has to take drugs to become a crack whore, so I’m not sure if that means the drugs he takes bring him into closer contact with his real self or not. And then there’s the medical marijuana sequence at the end, in which a guy who nearly killed himself while stoned prolongs his painful status quo (and maybe dulls the pain) with more drugs. So apparently I was crazy in thinking drugs don’t figure in much, but it still seems odd to me that drugs don’t show up more in the filth of the world than they do. I guess it’s still significant that they don’t seem to bring any extra awareness or sensitivity and that just living “normally” clouds your mind too.

What I found revealing about Be Glad was that contrary to what I’d gathered from their songs, The Incredible String Band didn’t believe there were lots of gods in the world. They believed they were gods, creating for their own enjoyment and amusement, and audience was of little concern. I like being ignored like that, because it means they don’t bother to pander to me. It might be that this is what Grant Morrison does too. Some readers think what he does is just playing with whatever he finds intriguing at the time, and I can’t totally disagree. I just think I have enough overlap that the ideas remain interesting without so much that I find them trite, but I guess the question is whether this matters to Morrison. It only matters to me inasmuch as I’ve described; the way he writes is interesting to me, and so I stay interested, not very exciting. And sometimes I think he fails completely at synthesizing things, and that’s interesting too. But while The Incredible String Band was not commercial (or at least I hope they didn’t have commercial aspirations, since their fame was fleeting) and could stand to say heartfelt but unhelpful things to Newsweek interviewers, beaming while their girlfriends embroidered tunics in the background, Morrison is making a real living writing comics and doing fairly well. Does this mean he has an obligation to give his audience what it wants? My standard answer when this question arises in comics is that that would be a horrible idea, because I really don’t want to see Wolverine battling a set of breasts the size of Connecticut. But obviously Morrison has to take audience into account to some degree if he wants to make any money, and I really don’t know how he or others manage this.

So I didn’t talk about The Filth much, but that’s because this was a night to think about what it means to be creating a good world in art and in life. I’m never sure I’m up to it, but there also doesn’t seem to be an acceptable alternative. And there’s another gnomic statement you can use to sum up The Filth. Perhaps I ought to start collecting them, and maybe that would be a start.

And I bid you good night.

Gunk and Gender: Preliminary Filth Thoughts

Jim Henley wanted to know what women think of The Filth. I finished it last night and I think it’s Grant Morrison all right, and you’re not going to get much more out of me tonight, because my head is rebelling and I need medicine that works or, failing that, sleep. Ok, and what I need most of all is pictures of little kids with superimposed ants’ heads. Lots. I very much need this. I suppose pictures of rotund fellows with eye-bellies would be acceptable, at least the utopian sort, but not as good.

Anyway, the reason Jim Henley wants to know what women think is that he’s worried (or perhaps not worried) that The Filth is a guy thing. I don’t have a good answer to that question. I’m not comfortable with the idea that women deal with filth and bodies more or earlier than men (speaking of course in huge generalizations) do. Yeah, yeah, we’ve got menstruation and the awkwardness of breasts and having to deal with being an object of attraction, and I’ve managed to make my peace with the first of those things at least. But even as a young adolescent when I wanted to be anything but feminine, I wouldn’t have wanted to have to deal with random erections and wet dreams and all that hideously sexual guy-stuff. Also booger jokes. Ugh.

I think maybe a keener difference lies in ownership of sexuality, though this probably relies on even grander generalizations. Especially when it comes to sexuality, men are trained to think they’re in control of themselves. I don’t know to what extent they believe this, but that seems to be the paradigm, and that makes it really difficult to have sexual assault training for men (and here I’m talking about college guys because this is all I’ve had to deal with) who think they could never be assaulted and are sure they and all their friends are nice guys who would never assault anyone else. One way people get around this problem is with a horrible, offensive program that says to men, “Think how much you’d hate yourself if a man raped you! And imagine how you would feel if someone raped your girlfriend!” If the only way to remind men that they’re not in control is by calling on their ick-factor homophobia or urging them to be mindful of people they’re supposed to own, that’s not a good state of affairs. But that’s to some degree what’s going on in The Filth. Male desire (and I think Jim’s right that women aren’t fleshed out in the story, but mostly in that they’re not protagonists even of their subplots much) has gotten out of control. Desire for control is taking over the world, and it’s up to the members of The Hand to be Super-Men, to assert control over the sexually power-mad men. Whether we’re dealing with bad guys releasing hordes of super sperm that seem to destroy rather than impregnate their targets or goodish guys who don’t bother to close the window when masturbating to copious porn and don’t notice the porn in the street, or even possibly unreal has-beens who while away the hours watching their wives engage in hardcore sex with all their old friends and foes, we’re dealing with some ugly stuff and unpleasant guys. So what makes this a Guy Book? Is it because it’s a chance to explore otherwise hidden frailties while still sympathizing with the powerful main character(s)? Is it because it’s a chance to say, “Hee! Erection jokes! Prison rape jokes!” without noticing that their unqualified acceptance isn’t really supported by the text?

I dunno. I’m sure that’s not why Jim liked it, or Dave Intermittent or David Fiore or Steven, but I’m not sure if they have peculiarly gendered responses. I liked The Filth, too, though I think I prefer the pretentiousness of The Invisibles. That I’m not entirely sure may be a sign I’m skewing toward the center of the mind/body scale, our Little Rose growing up! Not hating my body was an important, difficult lesson to learn, but I still don’t love or privilege it either.

And thinking of hating my body brings me back to my impending migraine and thus departure, with assurances that more commentary will come in time. That Animal Man stuff is still in my head, too, while I’m making rash promises, but no more for tonight nor tomorrow, when I watch my brother test his physicality in the all-star game, the end of his high-school football career. He spent four years wallowing in sweat and bruises and bashing, and that’s all Filth to me. I’ll be the bitchy one aching in the bleachers.

My Troy

As Steven said, we saw Troy this weekend, and my response is close to his. I’ve read portions of all the pertinent epics in the original, so I had strong feelings going into the movie and mixed feelings coming out.

My favorite part, as everyone knows, is when Hector was racing down the stairs To His Doom and was met by his stern-faced wife holding their lovely son. Poor heartbroken Hector peers down at tiny Astuanax, who promptly bursts into tears, terrified by his father’s hair-capped helmet. Hector takes it off for one last cuddle before suiting up again. Of course, this wasn’t in the movie, because somehow it doesn’t matter to other people as much as it does to me, but I was expecting that. At least all three of those characters got appropriate depth and screentime.

What impressed me most was the way all the characters who were relatives managed to look alike. I’m not sure about making Achilles and Patroclus cousins, but it explained the necessary resemblance well and allowed a palatable reading of Patroclus’s adoration, although the parallel to the similarly retconned Briseis cousin status seemed weird. The women were all excellent, which was a comforting surprise. I went in a Rose Byrne fan, which helped me avoid being too troubled by some of the stereotypes Briseis played out.

And the fighting! Well, all the one-on-one stuff wasn’t too impressive to me, but watching the shields collide and the blood flowing out to make the earth wet was just amazing and saddening. I know this is how it works, but it was hard to watch and harder to ignore. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such compelling battle. We watched like Priam’s family, gauging the trends while keeping our eyes on the heroes. The desecration of Hector’s body was similarly captivating and all the more poignant because I wanted Achilles to follow his lead and be a hero, treat him with respect and felt myself mentally urging him on to honor, even knowing how the story would go.

And then there’s all that stuff about not knowing how the story goes, but it wasn’t too much of a problem. It’s not as if I think Homer wrote a definitive history, and I’m quite sure there wasn’t a Homer, so while I think some of the changes didn’t work on a story level, I wasn’t hoping for a fully accurate translation. In fact, my favorite scene actually in the movie played on some of the ambiguity and conflicting stories and implications of choosing a focus. Helen tells Paris something like, “Every day I was with Menelaus, I was a ghost. Only now am I real.” And certainly that’s the sort of thing people say when they’re in love and when it’s true, but it’s made even better and truer by the story that Helen never went to Troy but was spirited off to Egypt while a war was fought for the sake of her ghost in Troy, and only later was the deception revealed. This made up for some of the lack of ambiguity and subtlety in much of the rest of the plot dealing with the motivations for war, and so I choose to believe it was intentional.

“Don’t you want to inherit the earth?”

So we finally got to read New X-Men:Here Comes Tomorrow, written by Grant Morrison and penciled passably by Marc Silvestri. I don’t have the book to do a close reading now, so I’ll do an impressionistic reading of my own responses to it, I guess.

At the core of the story is the same event in two alternate futures, since the real “present” of the story is the moment of Jean Grey’s death. In the same page repeated twice, Emma Frost, resplendent in one of the worst excesses of Silvestri’s quirky art, tries to bring the grieving Scott Summers away from his wife’s grave and back to the X-Men. “Don’t you want to inherit the earth,” she asks? And so we reach a defining question. Is milquetoast Cyclops meek enough to do just that?

If he says, “Yes, that is what I want,” that’s just standard superhero bravado, and superheroes aren’t supposed to admit they’re saving the earth for themselves. It’s all about the little guy, or in this case the little guys and mutants (and mutants are guys too!) living in harmony. And so if Scott wants to inherit the earth alongside Emma, he can’t do it through meekness. He has to take on a new role leading the school (acting as a surrogate father to atone for the phantom future children Jean’s death means they never had together?) to ensure the survival or success of the X-Men. This move means decisiveness, strength, courage, fortitude are his future, but he’ll be too tired to enjoy any inheritance.

Instead initially he chooses the meek route, denying that he wants any part of a future with his almost-lover or the mutant ties they share. The earth he then inherits is the Tomorrow of the title, and neither Cyclops nor Scott Summers is anywhere to be seen within it. The X-Men of 150 years in the future, who have a remarkable amount of overlap with the New X-Men of today, are fighting for control of a dying world. And Judgment Day is coming in the form of Scott’s former wife, who finally remembers herself only to see her friends destroyed and destroying each other. This is not a future she wants, in which the X-Men are being systematically wiped out, where humans are almost nowhere to be seen, where sentient bacteria with extinction agendas can destroy one of the finest minds of the previous century. What’s more, Scott wouldn’t have wanted it. If he rejected the X-Men, it was because he was tired of death and fighting, unwilling to continue grappling with longing and love and hopeless expectations, frightened of failure and continued loss. He has his time for grief, but being a superhero means instead doing what his wife did, making The Ultimate Sacrifice for the team. Jean’s initial sacrifice is meaningless if Scott’s rejection of the earth and his duty as a steward of it allows everything to be destroyed anyway. And what both of them, all of them really want is not to be meek but meaningful.

Scott can’t see this, can’t see anything beyond himself and his pain and fear as he stands in the cemetery. The sturdy diamond White Queen doesn’t understand the weight of her question, asking it as if it’s rhetorical, but she wears her worry on the outside in the form of her ridiculous breasts (unless she keeps her spine in permanent diamond form to avoid the pain they must cause, in which case I suppose they’re acceptable) and the dead bear of a coat that covers her less important bits. This is the moment of truth for a man who had avoided decisiveness, put off making a real, clear commitment to either of the women in his life, someone who doesn’t realize that the fate of the world is in his hands, as it is all the time. Can he inherit the earth if that means not being meek but being strong enough to hold onto it? Can he bear a suffering greater than his own? Can he take the weight of everything onto his own shoulders even if he doesn’t realize that’s the choice he’s making? And will he choose to carry it alone or share the burden with others, including his snow-white questioner? Scott pauses in both versions of this present, hesitates briefly before giving a steady answer that will change his life and change the world.

But this time around there’s Jean, who’s seen Tomorrow and in a touching, tender flashback to the present, urging Scott on. This raises the question of whether she’s actually kinkier than the White Queen, encouraging her husband to make out with Emma on her own grave and whether this is then an act of selfless love or spite. I’m sure the answer is both and hope to talk later about which is harder to give up, life or love. “Live, Scott, live,” she begs with her last breath, and Scott meekly obeys as best he can.

“You’re too young to remember all that nonsense.”

I don’t have time for a real review, but I have to say I’m smitten with Seaguy. For one thing, it may well be the first comic I’ve read that uses the word boustrophedon, always one of my favorites. In fact, I hope it’s a telling plot point. This is a story that’s not going to be told directly, but each turn it takes, each stopping point will require passage back across what came before to continue.

See, Seaguy lives in a world that’s somehow been conquered by The Residents and accordingly commodified into an eyeball-based sideshow where cigars are legal. And because they’re so cool, nobody minds. Or nobody minds because of the seven-second attention spans. I like this world, though. Nice place to visit, yeah, yeah, but it’s a much more fun and palatable (and thus dangerous and interesting) than your average authoritarian dystopia.

There are wonderfully bad puns, though I won’t mind if this is the last “Aye, Aye, Seaguy!” we have to read. I like all the characters, the moon-mad seadog and She-Beard, who seems to be Red Sonja with lower standards but clearly is more both on and beneath the surface, and that lovely gondolier Death, and my new fashion icon Doc Hero. And then of course Wynken, Blynken and Nod themselves, Seaguy and his friend Chubby da Choona, who implausibly seem not to be lovers as well, and a third fellow I’ll leave unnamed.

The art is simple and bright and clear, beautiful and appropriate for such a dark story with a buffed veneer. Everything is disarmingly light and casual, though every bit as depressing as any other story of unemployed ennui. How will I ever manage to wait for more?

One Hell of a Something

If comics publishers went to an iTunes-style distribution, Hellboy Junior would be my first nomination. See, I don’t want the full album. The Hellboy Junior trade has some tracks I really, really love and others that I basically don’t want in my house.

The Hellbaby part is irresistible, a little red fellow in a diaper. I’m sold! But the rest of it has a lot of problems (ok, and so does the Hellbaby stuff, but I’ll get to that) and I can’t resolve them. There’s a certain attitude of Hey, we’re all good-minded liberals, so we can laugh at racist/sexist/homophobic/generally offensive humor because we know better than to mean it, unlike those awful insensitive people! and it bothers me. And unfortunately this means that I’m not at all interested in stories about “Huge Retarded Duck” or “The Ginger Beef Boy,” and so the only non-Hellboy comic I enjoyed was “Squid of Man,” by Bill Wray and Mike Mignola, a dark, inconsequential little story about the ups and downs of love in the home of a mad scientist. Apparently most of these stories take old Harvey comics characters and add in morbid sex jokes, but I’m don’t think knowing the source material would have increased my appreciation. I just don’t think looking at pictures of My Little Ponies having sex is funny, subversive or worth my time. I’m sure in the right context it could be, but I didn’t find that in any of the stories here.

The problem is not necessarily that I prefer my humor to be tasteful. Almost all the comics about Hellboy Junior, whom I prefer to call Hellbaby because it’s as cute as he and doesn’t imply weird paternity issues with Hellboy Senior, prominently feature Adolf Hitler. Idi Amin makes a guest appearance too. Somehow an endless string of tasteless maggot-eating jokes seem palatable to me, and even the story that mocks a transvestite witch redeems itself, but “let’s play shove the retard!” just isn’t funny. I think this is partly because Hellbaby is a recurring character, so it’s funny and poignant to see him try and fail again and again, but also he is a character. He has wants and desires and dislikes (maggots!) and he trusts people when he shouldn’t and then suffers for it. He’s a likeable little guy, gruff and petulant and red and diapered, just what anyone would want in a little devil.

I grabbed Hellboy Junior off the shelf and bought it solely because I’ve been obsessed with Hellbaby for months, and it met my Hellbaby needs all right. I’m just not sure I can recommend it except to people who consider Maakies a bit mild or who have fantasized since childhood about the adventures of “Wheezy the Sick Little Witch.” It’s not really the offensiveness of Hellboy Junior that annoys (more than offends, really) me, but the juvenile pride it seems to take in that offensiveness. If you’re going to revel in your depravity, can’t you do a little better than making incest jokes about poultry? I know from the back of the book that these are supposed to be “some of the funniest and most original comics ever to haunt the shelves,” but I’m not impressed. And I know that they’re only being made so that people like me will say, “Oh, but you can’t joke about that,” which is not quite what I’m saying. You can joke about it all you want, but I’ll be unimpressed and not laugh, unless you somehow manage to be really funny.

But there’s plenty of cutely hideous art with spectacular facial expressions. The Hellbaby stories do manage to get in a Nuremberg joke, which is one of my specialties, as well as a horrible, horrible, excellent Bob Dylan joke I didn’t get until my second read. I think I may just not give the stories I disliked another read, but the ones surrounding them should still hold up fine.