Monday, September 07, 2015

The Superheroes are having a rare moment of recreation. Jarvis opens a bottle of wine.

"Who would have thought, seventy years ago" says Superman, "That we'd all be here in Stark Mansion drinking  Ch√Ęteau de Chasselas."

"We were poor in those days" says Captain America. "I grew up in a one room tenement on the Lower East Side at the height of the Great Depression; and every night, my father would come home drunk and beat me."

"Father?" says Spider-Man "You were lucky to have had a father. The only Father I ever knew was my uncle, and he was murdered when I was still a schoolboy."

"Luxury!" exclaims Batman "Both my parents were murdered before my very eyes when I was a small child. I had to bring myself up. With only a stuffy English butler for company. In a cave. Full of bats."  

"Cave!" interjects the 1950s Superman. "You were lucky to have had a cave! My entire planet exploded when I was a toddler, vaporizing my parents, my grand parents, my dog, and everyone else I had ever known or loved!"

"Well, of course, I had it tough" chimes in the 1980s Sperman. "I came from a planet where parental love was prohibited by law. And my whole planet exploded, vaporizing my entire family and everyone else I ever knew, before I was even born." 

"Yes" said Captain America contemplatively. "And try and tell that to superheroes nowadays, they just don't believe you." 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Captain America 1980 - 2000

Captain America # 250 (Oct 1980)
"Cap For President"

Some people try to persuade Cap to run for President. He decides not to.

Captain America # 275 (Nov 1982)
"Yesterday's Shadows"

Captain America is walking home with his Jewish girl friend and his Jewish landlady when he finds that a nasty symbol has been painted on the door of their synagogue.

It’s…a nazi swastika!” he helpfully explains.

Fairly unusually for a 1980s “issue” story, there is no villain called “Zion Smasher”. The outbreak of antisemitism was not caused by the Hate Monger or a Madbomb, but by some rather pathetic neo-nazis. Cap is, throughout, the voice of reason: Captain Liberal.

"I agree that these neo-nazis are a vile breed —  but if we deny them their rights, where would we draw the line? Who decides which beliefs are acceptable and which aren’t? A free society has to allow all ideasboth noble and ignoble!" 

I despise what you say, but will literally defend to the death your right to say it.Believe it or not, that was how we liberals still thought in the Olden Days.

But in case we thought that "liberal" means "soft on Nazis", Steve Rogers (who is working as a commercial artist) rips up some pages of art when his prospective employer makes a mildly antisemitic remark. He goes on protest against a Nazi rally, but realizes that the counter-demo is counter-productive. (We’re handing these fools free publicity").

The Nazis and Commies of the 40s and 50s were cardboard villains; and in the 60s and 70s this kind of thing would probably have been handled through thinly disguised metaphor, but writer J DeMatties depicts racist rhetoric directly — too directly, perhaps, for what was still supposed to be kid-friendly book.

"Does that mean that the blacks — with their delusions of equality — and the Jews — with their my of the six million holocaust victims — should be allowed to walk beside us on the street? To control what we read in newspapers and see on the television?” 

When someone in the audience starts throwing bottles, Captain America has to jump in and play mediator and devils advocate

"Can’t you see that in stooping to your enemies level, you’re being made over in his image”.

All quite nice and earnest and well-done, I have to say. I like it best when Captain America wins the day by being honest and sensible and good, not by having serum boosted muscles.

But the most notable thing about the issue is episode is the final panel in which something happens which hardly ever happens in a comic books....

Back in issue 237, with Sharon Carter dead once again, Captain America had gone off in another of his bold new directions. He moved into an apartment; got a job as an artist (even drawing Captain America for Marvel Comics at one stage) and acquired a kind of supporting cast.

"I’ve done a lot of thinking these past few days — and I think its time I stopped hiding behind a blue and white mask. And maybe; just maybe; I’ll even settle down one of these days, marry and raise a family.”

Ten issues later, John Byrne gave him a new neighbour, Bernie Rosenthal, who everyone, including Steve, recognize instantly as the New Love Interest. (Just look at the fear in his eyes when he first sees her.)

The romance staggers on for a number of issues, with Bernie intermittently spotting that there is something odd about her new boyfriend — he lets slip that he can remember when movie tickets only cost ten cents —  and Steve suffering from the usual Marvel Comics commitment aversion. 

The neat thing about issue 275 is that Bernie, while listening to Captain America speech-making, realizes that he has the same voice and mannerisms as Steve Rogers. She just spots that they are the same guy, as one presumably would. There is no big unmasking scene: the two characters just catch each others eyes, and she knows that he knows that she knows. After a couple of false starts, Bernie announces that she loves Steve even more now that she knows about his double life.

I never really bought the idea of Captain America living in a bachelor pad in a tenement building. The only secret identity I’ve really believed in is the hopeless U.S Private being yelled at by the Sergeant; although I think the New York cop being yelled at by the police Sergeant should have been given more of a chance to take. The best idea, actually, is the one which pops up during the unfairly reviled Rob Liefield issues, where Steve Rogers is an all-American dad in a suburban house with a nice lawn and a nice fence and a nice wife and two nice kids. If I’m-loyal-to-the-dream lives anywhere, that’s where he should live. But that turns out to be a fake identity created by SHIELD; the wife and kids are robots. And the whole thing is actually a bad dream Franklin Richards is having.

Could we have bought into Steve and Bernie living happily ever after? Perhaps. We've accepted Lois and Clark and Mary-Jane and Peter, after all. In the event, Bernie decides to make the logical career step from glass-blower to criminal lawyer; and the relationship comes to a more or less amicable ending. Cap leaves the apartment and moves back into Avenger Mansion in # 317. We see Bernie a few more times, generally when Cap needs a walk-on lawyer, but it's taken for granted that they have Grown Apart. Although he’s had flats and apartments since, there has never really been another attempt to give Captain America a life.

Captain America #300 (Dec 1984)
"Das Ende"

Almost the last genuinely good instalment of the first "volume" of Captain America. The Red Skull has been reconfigured as a full scale gothic villain, complete with Germanic castle and redefined —  no longer as Hitler’s bellboy, or a Nazi revivalist but a force of nature who fights Captain America because it's his destiny to fight Captain America. 

“The fire of cosmic loathing, of divine madness! You finally see that this is the way it must be, two gods locked in raging battle, for all eternity…” 

“Shut up! We are not two gods! We are just two old men.” 

The Skull's "plot" to bring Captain America down to his own level by making him kill him has been done before. The resolution, where Cap refuses to kill the Skull at the very last moment, but the Skull obligingly dies of a heart attack anyway, has been done seventeen or eighteen times before. But there was a pretentious importance to it, as if something really big had just happened. We see the Skull’s daughter unceremoniously burning his body in the next issue, and the twisted-attractive Nazi aesthetic felt about right.

If only comic books allowed stories like this to stand. If only this could really have been the final final final appearance of the Red Skull. But we are still in the Marvel Universe, where only Bucky dies forever.

Daredevil #233 (Aug 1986)

This comic re-defined Captain America far more than many of the self-proclaimed changes of direction in Cap’s own title did.

Everyone remembers the scene where the officer appeals to Captain America’s loyalty, and Cap replies “I’m loyal to nothing general —  except the Dream.” "Loyal to the dream", which has actually been used as a tag-line once or twice, is actually a summary of the speech from #250 where Cap turned down the chance to be President.

"I have worked all my life for the growth and advancement of the American Dream. I believe that my duty to the Dream would severely limit any abilities I might have to preserve the reality."

But for me, the real defining moment is a descriptive caption (implicitly written by Daily Bugle journalist Ben Ulrich) when the Avengers appear in Daredevil’s down-and-dirty Hells Kitchen environment.

“Out of nowhere they come: a soldier with a voice that could command a god … and does”

(Thor is in the Avengers, geddit?)

From this point on, Captain America started to walk away from being Metaphor Man. The point of Captain America became more and more that he was Captain America (exclamation mark exclamation mark). Where Spider-Man and the Hulk are just folks or at best celebrities, Captain America is a mythical figure who stuns people by the sheer force of his Captain America-hood. (When the Avengers and the Justice League have a war, Captain America and Batman leave the others to get on with and go away and quietly sort things out between themselves.) Everyone else would say that the essence of Captain America resides, not in the shield, not in the super-soldier serum, not in the years of training but in the person of Steve Rogers. Steve, on the other hand, is increasingly convinced that Captain America is merely a symbol that it is his job to embody. 

“I am not Captain America" he would say, many years later "I’m just the guy who wears his costume.”

Captain America # 313 (Jun 1986)
"Mission - Murder Modok"

Captain America comes into some money (40 years of back pay from the US Army!) and decides to set up a phone hotline so Ordinary Americans can call on him when they are in trouble. He is overwhelmed by more cries for help than he can cope with, and finds that his computer is being tapped. It turns out that the culprit is a young man who styles himself “the biggest Captain America fan in New Jersey.” Cap decides to recruit the young scalawag, so he can use his computer expertise to filter the calls and pass the important ones on to him. (A sort of call-back to Rick Jones "brigade" of radio hams in the earlier Avengers, which was itself a call back to Kirby's teen-gang comics like Newsboy Legion.)

This is another valiant attempt to give Captain America something to do which isn’t following up rejected Avengers and Agent of SHIELD story lines. It doesn’t take. But it’s rather lovely to go back to a time when home computer’s were an arcane piece of technology which required explanation. (A MODEM is a device linking computers to the telephone, apparently, and “hackers” are “computer enthusiasts".)

Captain America #314 - #443 (1986-95)

Not more  bloody Serpent Society?

Oh, is there never to be an end to it?

Captain America vol 4 #1 - Jun 2002

There was always a danger that the 11th September 2001 attacks on America would send Captain America off into a new cycle of gung-ho patriotism. This directly post-911 issue begins with Cap digging survivors out of Ground Zero with his bare hands and punching Nick Fury when he suggests his powers would be better employed fighting the Taliban directly. He walks home, and sees some white thugs about to stab an American Muslim: in a genuinely arresting image, the knife breaks on his shield. “I understand you want justice. This isn’t justice. We’re better than this.” As would-be attacker and victim shake hands, Steve walks off in full Captain Soliloquy mode.

"We’re going to make it through this. We, the people. United by a power that no enemy of freedom could begin to understand. We the people. We share... We are... The American Dream.” 

Captain America Muslim Smasher remains firmly in a parallel dimension.

Having said that, I have to admit a sneaking liking for the gung-ho Captain America of the Ultimates Universe. 

"Surrender? Surrender??!!

"Do you think this letter on my head stands for FRANCE?"


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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Why Jonathan Jones is a Whey-Faced Coxcomb (Redux)

1: He thinks that choosing books is a zero-sum game.

The good is not the enemy of the great. Suppose that Jane Austen has a quality called “greatness” which Terry Pratchett lacks. (I think this must mean something like "the ability to stand up to multiple re-readings" and "the capacity to mean different things to different readers.") It does not follow that any time you are reading Pratchett you are somehow depriving yourself of a reading of Austen. I suppose some people might live on that elevated a plain. A holy man who wants to read the Bible ten thousand times in his life may have sworn to read nothing else. A concert pianist might conceivably listen to nothing but great piano concerts. F.R Leavis famously reduced the canon of English literature to four authors: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad and D.H Lawrence. (Modern English literature courses have reduced it further, to To Kill a Mocking Bird.) Leavis' idea Middlemarch has such depth that you will see things on the tenth or twentieth reading that you can’t see on the first. That being the case, there is no excuse to waste time re-reading Oliver Twist or reading the Mayor of Casterbridge at all. 

Leavis is not much respected in English literature departments today. 

Most of us use different books — and music and art and food — in different ways. We read Mort for one reason and Malone Dies for another. Parsifal certainly has a quality called “greatness” which the Birdy Song lacks. But it doesn’t follow that you want the dance band to play the overture at your wedding. 

2: He thinks that there is a thing called “literature”.

That is, he thinks there is some essential quality that makes some things “literature” and some things "not literature".

But surely, the only workable definition of “literature” is “what they study in English Literature departments.” 

It comes down, as everything always seems to, to  canon. Hamlet is definitely literature because it has been around for a long time; because lots of people have read it and seen it and appeared in it and even denounced it. It’s important. You’ll probably enjoy it, actually, but you need to read it even if you don’t, because it matters. Same goes for Pride and Prejudice. But Pride and Prejudice wasn’t "literature" when it was published. It was just a very witty book that ladies liked. 

At one end of the list is the Bible (so important you have to read it even if you don't enjoy it even a little bit). At the other end of the list is The Soldier's Rebel Lover (so unimportant that there is no point reading it unless you enjoy it.) Everything else comes somewhere in between.

Pratchett may become literature. Or he may not. The reasons that some things become literature and some things don’t is one of the things they study in English literature departments. 

3: He thinks that there is a thing called “style” which is distinct from plot, characters, setting or ideas — that determines whether or not a book is “literature”.

People who don't understand Art sometimes ask “why on earth should I be interested in that particular bowl of fruit?” They think that a painting is about telling you information — that it’s a rather old-fashioned form of photography. But the true art lover hardly perceives the work of art as a bowl of fruit at all. It's all about colours and form and composition and negative space. 

Un-artistic people sometimes think that some painter is a genius because he can paint kittens so accurately that you'd think that they were photographs. The art-lover hardly regards those kinds of paintings as Art at all. They don’t tell you anything about the artist. The art-lover would prefer six sketchy lines that capture the pussy cat in an unexpected way. 

Jones is an art critic, so he may think that books are like that as well. But it's obvious bullshit. A book might talk about something quite ordinary in elegant prose. But it might use the most ordinary, cut down prose in the world to talk about something amazing. It might be a great book because of the clever story. Or the convincing characters. The list of great writers who were not particularly great stylists is legion. Daniel Defoe wouldn't past the Jones test ("I flicked through a few pages in the bookshop to see what all the fuss was about, but the prose seemed very ordinary") for one moment. We read him because of his imagination and narrative ability: because we want to hear about prostitutes being shipwrecked by pirates during the plague year. 

4: He thinks that this thing called "style" can be spotted by glancing at a few pages of a book

Maybe an art critic can tell if a painting is “art” or “just drawing pictures” at a single glance. I guess an opera critic does not need to hear more than three lines to be able to say “this fellow can’t sing” --in the sense of "can’t produce the right notes in the right key". In pop music or folk music that might not be the last word on an artist, but in opera or classical music, there’s nothing more to be said. But books contain effects that build up over pages, over hundreds of pages, in Pratchett’s case, over multiple volumes. Isn’t the point of Granny Weatherwax that she starts out as a one-note joke and grows into a rounded out character? 

It might be that a single glance can tell you that a writer is so bad he’s not worth bothering with. Some people say that you can tell the Da Vinci code is going to be a bad book on the basis of the first word. But a humane person would draw the conclusion “Gosh! If the prose is that bad and it still got published, the story must be an absolute humdinger.” 

5: He is responding to an argument that no-one ever made.

A.S Byatt wrote a long, intelligent essay on The Shepherd’s Crown explaining what she thought Pratchett’s strengths were, and why this book wasn’t his best. I have long suspected Byatt of over-praising Pratchett — of imagining the book that she would have written based on his ideas, and giving a glowing review to that. But she doesn’t particularly claim that it is Great Literature. 

I don’t even particularly like Pratchett. I’ve read half a dozen of his books. I don’t think he is a master of the comic sentence, like Wodehouse; and I don’t think he is anywhere near as good as coming up with comic ideas as Douglas Adams. I do think he can produce a fine one-liner and no-one can not respect the way he dealt with his illness. (No-one except J.C Wright, who compared him with Hitler.) I don’t specially like Jane Austen, either. Give me a manly tale of oakies trekking to California or mad puritans hunting white whales any day of the week. But what I really don't like is inane, illogical journalism. One wonders how Mr Jones would feel if someone said that, while they themselves had never been to a modern art exhibition, they knew perfectly well that modern art was not really “art”.

Oh, but actually people say that sort of thing all the time, don’t they? 

Captain America 1970 - 1979

Captain America #122 - Feb 1970
“The Sting of the Scorpion”

Stan Lee drew the words. Jack Kirby wrote the pictures. But what would Stan Lee have been like with no Jack to bounce ideas off? The question was most famously answered in the first issue of the Silver Surfer, when Lee was teamed up with John Buscema, a fine artist, but no story-teller. The result was that the Surfer spent an entire double-sized issue delivering industrial sized speech bubbles about Man's Inhumanity to Man. It was the summer of love. Silver Surfer #1 shared shelf space with many a copy of Sgt Pepper.

Two years later we see Stan "writing" Captain America alongside legendary horror artist Gene Colan. There is lots of writing: lots and lots of writing; but nothing very much happens. Captain America spends fully half the comic walking the streets, talking to himself.

“I’ve spent a lifetime battling — for liberty, for justice — but is there never to be an end to it?” he asks on page one. It's only five or six years since he was resurrected, so chronologically he's only about 30, but Stan is scripting him as a much older man — as a world-weary veteran in his forties or fifties. [*]

He is still at it on page 2 “There are those who scorn love of flag, love of country, those to whom patriotism is just a square, out-moded word! Those who think of me — as a useless relic — of a meaningless past!" 

And page 4: “I think it was Mathew who said — 'what is a man profited if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' Where am I to find the soul of — Steve Rogers?”  Most people's internal monologue would have said "didn't Jesus say...?" or "doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible...?" but if Cap wants to refer to specific Gospels I suppose he's allowed to. Perhaps Stan still thinks of him as a nice Jewish boy, relatively unfamiliar with the New Testament. ("For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Matt 16:26 and  Mark 8:36)

It reaches a cringe-inducing climax on page 5 “So I belong to the establishment! I'm not going to knock it! It was that same establishment that gave them a Martin Luther King  a Tolkien  A Mc Luhan (sic) and a couple of brothers — named Kennedy!” Cap has been doing a lot of reading since coming out of the ice. 

By this point he has gone to bed, which might have been expected to give the reader some respite. But, of course, he carries on talking in his sleep. "Why must the girl I love — risk her life daily — when I long to protect her?" 

It's clear enough what is going on. Stan Lee provides the artist with a vague idea for a comic. "Cap is staying in a hotel, feeling miserable about Sharon. The Scorpion gets out of jail and decides to pick on a civilian...but the civilian he picks on is Steve Rogers!" Jack Kirby would have expanded that into a complex epic, with explosions, Nazi villains, three new cast-members and a flying saucer. (And decided that it wasn't the Scorpion after all, it was the Beetle.)  Lee would have taken Kirby's crowded panels, assumed that must be what he had asked for,  and typed out with witty exposition so the reader could tell what was going on. Gene Colan, who's an illustrator but not a story-teller, takes the plot Lee actually gave him, and does the only thing he can do with it: pad it to 20 pages with big atmospheric panels of Cap walking through moody moonlit streets. Lee has often jokingly said that his comics are the modern equivalents of Shakespeare; and that the things he most loves, apart from comic books, are Broadway musicals. So he fills the big panels in which nothing is happening with what are basically song lyrics. Captain America can't so much as put his pants on without delivering an aria:

No matter how I KNOCK it, 
it's always a KICK 
getting back in costume!
It as though
I'm becoming the REAL me!
As though I'm shrugging off
Some FALSE identity!

Even the villain gets in on the act

I've stayed out of sight for month's since my parole
testing my powers, regaining my strength! 
But now
the time has come for the final test
when I must effortlessly defeat a live victim! 
Then, and only then, will know that the Scorpion is ready to assault mankind once more!
This unsuspecting fool, so blindly approaching me, will serve as a perfect test!

Zemo has died several times since the Avengers, and Cap has transitioned from Bucky-Guilt Guy to Soliloquy Guy.

Oh, is there never to be an end of it?

Gene Colan’s art is utterly gorgeous.

[*] If you believe in Marvel Time, then Cap was defrosted in Spring 2005 and this story takes place the follow Autumn. Which is why you shouldn't.

Captain America #128 - Aug 1970
“Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels”

Captain America #139 - June 1971
“The Badge and the Betrayal”

Captain America buys a motor bike, which has absolutely nothing to do with Peter Fonda stealing his name and decides to trek around America for a while. (He has avoided motorbikes since his resurrection because Bucky was killed on one “but I must learn to bury the past, to live for today and tomorrow”.)

Captain America worked fine as an Avengers supporting character. “A stuffy old Golden Age Hero tries to get three teenage ex-villains to behave like a team" is a far more dramatic proposition than “Four mighty heroes grimace at each other." But dump him in his own comic and he still feels like an Avengers supporting character. Send him over to help Nick Fury and SHIELD fight Hydra, and suddenly the Captain America comic looks like the SHIELD comic.

No-one has ever been able to figure out what a Captain America solo gig is meant to be about. Cap doesn’t have a supporting cast. His best mate spends most of his time being dead and his girl friend, Sharon Carter, is pretty much a place-holder Shalla Ball. Good for agonizing about in your sleep, but not much else. 

"Cap hobos around America on a bike, fixin' everyone's troubles" could, in fact, have been quite a decent premise for a comic. But no-one commits to it. He spends more time fighting Hydra agents than he does on the road. A year later, Stan has a different idea.

This time, Cap decides to settle down and get a job as a New York Police Officer. And it seems to me that if we could persuade ourselves that Captain America was a New York Police Officer and had always been a New York Police Officer, that would be a pretty good thing for Captain America to be. It gives him an off-stage life, and it provides an endless sources of crimes to investigate. Sgt. Muldoon (drawn as a cigar-chewing Kirby-alike) is an explicit call-back to the un-named Sarge from Steve’s Army days, the only time he properly had a secret identity. But some sort of narrative gravity drags him back to the SHIELD helicarrier, the Red Skull, agents of Hydra. His police career amounts to a few comedy scenes of Muldoon chewing him out for never showing up to work. 

“Once I decide” screams Cap on the the cover “There can be no turning back”. About 20 issues later, the idea of Captain Policeman is quietly forgotten about.

Captain America and the Falcon # 134 - Feb 1971
"They Call Him….Stone Face "

Captain America never properly acquires roots  or anything to do when he's not been being a superhero, but he does acquire a sort of sidekick.

Yes, we remember him swearing that he'd never take another partner, but he's so over being guilt-man now. Rick Jones even got his turn at being Bucky for four or five issues between #110 and #115.

This was the era of the Defenders who, to start with at least, weren’t a Superhero Team, but just what happened when Doctor Strange and the Hulk an the Sub-Mariner found themselves doing stuff together. No-one ever formally declares Cap and the Falcon to be a double act, but it happens.

Very probably, this is Marvel’s riposte to the socially aware Green Lantern / Green Arrow pairing, but although Sam Wilson is prone to say thing like “It was outtasite working with Cap again...but my jobs in the ghetto, helping my own people” it never becomes quite so self-consciously socially aware. 

Black Panther beat him to the title of first black superhero, but Falcon is almost definitely the first superhero who is an African American. Maybe in retrospect his costume could have been less “ethnic”. And maybe it was a bit obvious for him to be a social worker in Harlem, where the globe trotters come from. He’s down wid the kidz and can out-soliloquize Cap “Where do they go, Cap? What do they do? What chance do they have? Kids who’ve lost faith in the the world around them..and in themselves?”  But he wasn't meant to be Captain America's Partner. He and Cap just became good friends. And so naturally, they worked together, sometimes, on and off. It can feels like two different comics under one cover. The Falcon worries about drugs and gangsters and Cap carries on moonlighting for SHIELD. 

The comics masthead said “Captain America and the Falcon” for seven years; and he remains a major part of Captain America's life afterwards. I doubt that Stan Lee ever said "Wouldn't the best civil rights message we could send out be for Captain America’s best mate to be a black guy?” But it was.

And giving Captain America a confidante went a long way to humanizing Steve Rogers.

Captain America and the Falcon # 155 - Nov 1972
“The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America”

I expect that some comic book fans assume that the murder of Bucky by Zemo actually happened in a 1940s comic, rather than being a 1960s retcon. Similarly, the 1950s Captain America, introduced in this story, is so much a part of the Legend that it is hard to remind ourselves that the 1954 Captain America was originally just Captain America, fighting Uncle Sam's foes after a short hiatus.

And it is strange to go back and read the comic which introduced the idea that that Captain America was a crazy impostor. It comes across as an intellectual exercise; a weirdly post-modern solution to a continuity problem that no-one apart from Roy Thomas cared about. 

If Captain America was frozen in 1945 then the Captain America of the '50s must have been an impostor. Run with it. 

I only wish it could have been called “The Credible Origin of the Other Captain America.” Seems that what really happened was that in the 1950s, a history teacher became so obsessed with Captain America that he researched his life, discovered a lost tome which revealed the formula for the Super Soldier serum (written down after all), legally changed his name to Steve Rogers and, er, had plastic surgery so he looked just like his hero.

Oh: and he had a rather unprofessional friendship with a student called “Bucky”. Who looked just like Bucky and was equally obsessed with Bucky...

I don't believe it for one minute. 

We get two issues of the 1950s Cap and Bucky running around saying things like “We can take a darkie and a frail!” while the real Cap is on holiday; an issue explaining the ret-con (which goes so far as to cut and paste the actual artwork from Young Men #24) and one very good issue in which our Captain America and the 1950s Captain America have a fight. Seems that the imperfect Super Soldier Serum has gradually driven Fake Cap and Fake Bucky mad, to the extent that they see Commies where there are none. It also makes them use racist epithets in ever sentence, although they stop short of the actual n-word.

Fake Cap honestly believes that Real Cap died in the war and therefore honestly believes that Real Cap is a Fake. He is genuinely shocked when he finds out that the person he's fighting is his big hero — the one he altered his face to look like. ("He knows he know the awful, terrible mistake his has made. He knows he has loathed what he should have loved”). I think this would have worked better if he had been a well-meaning individual who truly hated Communism rather than a raving loony who calls the Falcon a darkie. If Fake Cap is simply mad, then the metaphor which writer Steve Englehart wants to draw out — that 50s Cap is the dark reflection of 40s Cap; that communist paranoia is the flip side of American patriotism — is rather spoiled. 

This is one of a stream of 70s episodes that try to sort out minor continuity glitches. But in retrospect, what it introduced was a new take on what Captain America was about. The continuity thing was pernickety and fannish; but the idea that 1970s idealism and 1950s paranoia could have a stand up fight was hugely appealing. Over the next few years, Cap would be fighting enemies with names like Flag Smasher and Everyman; and would respond to the Marvel Universe’s thinly veiled Watergate analogue by giving up being Captain America for ever [*] and becoming Nomad The Man Without A Country. 

Monologue Man has regenerated into Allegory Man, or at any rate Unsubtle Political Metaphor Man. 

[*] Forever = 4 issues.

Captain America and the Falcon # 163 - July 1973
"Beware of Serpents"

Captain America and Peggy Carter drop in on Dave Cox, a Viet-Nam vet turned C.O. “This is a nice place you’ve got here” says Cap “Thanks. Its my little piece of the world so I keep it as best I can” says Dave. 

This scene sticks in my memory, because there is no sense of the civilians saying “It can’t be…. It is! The great Captain America Exclamation Mark” or on the other hand of saying (as Stan Lee pretended that everyone said all the time) “What are you doing in those silly clothes?” It’s like, in 70s Marvel, a superhero costume was just a uniform. Being a “superhero” was lifestyle choice, like being punk or a member of the Salvation Army. 

Actually, what it feels most like is Sesame Street: a sort of vague analogue to the real world where brightly colored puppets hang out with the inner city kids because, hey, you got a problem with that, man?

Captain America # 200 - July 1976
“Dawns Early Light”

By a nice coincidence Captain America #200 fell in 1976, which was the 200th anniversary of the United States. 

By an even nicer coincidence, Jack Kirby had come back to Marvel with his tale between his legs the previous year, so the special Bicentennial issue was done by Cap’s original creator. 

Kirby still looked a bit like Kirby. There's a cartoony joy to Captain America propelling himself feet-first into a room full of goons that hardly anyone else, then or now, could have carried off. And Kirby drawing Captain America felt like a really, really big deal. (When Steve Ditko did some work for Marvel in the '80s, he specifically asked not to be assigned to either Spider-Man or Doctor Strange.) But where Jack’s self-created titles of this period — Eternals, 2001, Devil Dinosaur — still crackled with continuity wrecking originality, his Captain America offered us evil monarchists in wigs launching “madbombs” to destroy America on independence day. It felt old fashioned. Silly. And Cap felt like a generic superhero in a Captain America suit, not the character who’d grown up over the last 140 issues. 

Black Panther, who had spent the previous several years being all civil rights and comics-aren’t-just-for-kids spent his first Kirby issue looking for a time travelling frog. Some fans never really forgave Jack for that.

What If...? #4 - Aug 1977
"What if the the Invaders had stayed together after War 2?"

What if...?#5 - Oct 1977
"What if Captain America hadn’t vanished after World War 2?"

These comics are a guilty pleasure, but god, I do love this kind of thing. 

What If…? was supposed to be a series of one-shot alternate earth stories; but unlike DC’s Imaginary Tales they were heavily rooted in Actual Continuity. DC could give you “What if Superman were a hamster?” but Marvel was only interested in “What if the Goblin had not killed Gwen?” 

But issue 4 wasn't an alternate earth story line at all: it was Roy Thomas playing around in the Marvel Universe — stitching together Golden Age comics that no-one apart from him remembered into an official Marvel Comics version of World War II. 

Avengers #4 says that Captain America perished before the end of the war, but as a matter of fact the comic stayed in print until 1949? Well, that’s because the President appointed a very minor superhero called Spirit of 76 to fill Captain America’s boots. He died a heroically and a third hero called the Patriot became Cap, bringing the total number of Captains America up to four (including psycho-commie Cap). 

Remember that Torch Kills Hitler thing? That is totally canon. It turns out he was trying to do the Fuhrer a good turn, as you would: offering him the chance of a fair trial in America rather than being killed by the Russians. He is forced to burn him when Hitler tries to pull a switch which would have blown the bunker and the Berlin sky high. 

Note that Hitler still says "afire" rather than "on fire" because that's what he said in the 1954 comics which Roy Thomas is riffing on. This is rather typical of his approach to continuity. Something which has happened in another comic, however obscure and however silly, has to be treated as really having happened in the Marvel Universe. But any writer is free to add more information; to show a wider context; to tell us about things which happened before or afterwards; in order to allow the scene to make sense or harmonize it with other comics. What if...? #4 "saves the appearance" of Young Men #24; but it takes all the fun out of the idea that a flaming android killed Hitler because Hitler was evil and fighting evil was his job. As a retcon, it's right on a level with Greedo shooting first.

The follow up issue, which tells us what might have happened if Steve Rogers and Bucky had survived Zemo’s trap, is a lot of fun too. (Steve would have become head of SHIELD; "Buck" Barnes would have taken over the role of Captain America and Rick Jones would have become Bucky's Bucky. And then Buck would have passed the shield on to Rick. (And yes, "Buck" does wish that Captain America had adopted him so he could be Buck Rogers.)

I suppose, to a great extent, that was the whole fun of What If…? By pretending to tell us alternative histories of the Marvel Universe, it very much established that the Marvel Universe had a history for there to be alternatives to. Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths and the annual continuity reset have become predictable and impenetrable and probably done more to put general readers off superhero comics than anything else. But in '77 it was still just an aging fan boy having fun with the characters he grew up with.

Captain America # 225 - Sep 1978

"War is neither glamorous nor fun. There are no winners, only losers. There are no good wars, with the following exceptions: The American Revolution, World War II and the Star Wars trilogy." - Bart Simpson

On a good day, Steve Gerber could come up with Howard the Duck and the criminally curtailed Omega the Unknown: two of the best series of all time. On a bad day, he offered evil oil billionaires call Franklin Armstrong Schist. (Really and truly.)

And then there’s this kind of thing. 

Steve Rogers had no back story in 1941: he’s just a weakling who gets injected with an experimental formula. By 1978, it’s a plot point that he can’t remember his childhood. So Gerber retcons one for him.

It turns out that Captain America grew up in a little house in Maryland and had a brother we never knew about. His brother is a cool, sporty, baseball playing jock; but Steve prefers pressing wild-flowers and talking to the clouds. He “pursues his artistic impulse, reads voraciously, and spends much of his time alone” and says things like "I’m the scrawny one, the sensitive one, the family let-down and I don’t apologize”. His brother volunteers for the navy (can you guess what's coming?) and Steve goes to college to study fine art ("and cuddle up to his socialist pacifist scum of the earth friends" explains his father.) It appears that the 1930s and the 1970s were exactly the same in all respects.

If this had been Howard the Duck (which is what it reads like) we'd expect Young Steve to become the Beatnik Painster and dedicate his life to humiliating baseball teams everywhere with a giant sketchbook. In fact his brother is killed when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour, and Steve decides that he had better volunteer after all. “I’ve always loathed the idea of war, or violence of any kind…and as much as I despise the whole military mentality, as evil as I find the notion of organized slaughter…dammit there’s no other way…I’m obligated like it or not.”

So. Captain America was a very reluctant solider: the sort of milk-and-water pacifist who says that we are allowed to fight but only if we do it with long faces and pretend we're ashamed of the whole idea. As you can easily tell from the joy with which he and Bucky dispatch Nazis in those early issues. 

Apparently, no-one in the 1970s could imagine that the Universal Soldier could be interested in anything other than putting an end to war. Before you are allowed to fight Hitler you have to say how much you hate fighting. Whatever happened to going with songs to the battle?

I get that some of these second generation Marvel writers had seen friends killed in Vietnam and were reluctant to say that war, any war, even the war against Hitler, was heroic. But surely this is a very inept way of dealing with it?  Either Cap needs a sudden epiphany, like Tony Stark, in which he renounces war once and for all, or (better) he needs to retain his Greatest Generation military mindset and hookup with a hippy side kick (Rick Jones, say) who sees things differently. The notion that Captain America was a 1960s college boy in 1941 is beyond ridiculous. 

Fortunately, this nonsense was ret-ret-conned way a couple of years later. They were false memories that a villain had implanted in his brain because yadda yadda yadda.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Captain America 1941 - 1969

About two years ago, I set myself the task of reading every issue (not necessarily every appearance) of Captain America.

Even five year ago this would have been an impossible task: the old issues are collectors' items worth hundreds of dollars and many of them have never been reprinted. When I was a fanboy I used to think that if I had three wishes; the first would be to spend a month in Marvel Comics' archives, reading all the comics which I had heard about but never seen. (The second would have been to spend a month in the BBC's Doctor Who archives, obviously.) But with the advent of tablet computers, wi-fi and Marvel Unlimited I can sit Cafe Kino with a flat white and a beetroot muffin and literally call up literally any Marvel Comic from the last seventy five years.

This also holds true for Frank Sinatra records, back numbers of the Times, and the early Christian fathers. Remember this the next time you complain  that young people are glued to their screens all day.

Having come to the end of this Proustian voyage, I thought it would be fun to make a list of episodes that stuck in my mind and write down what I thought about them. It's quite a random list. Very likely there were good episodes that weren’t memorable, and memorable episodes that weren’t very good. 

What I've ended up with is a set of notes. It is not a biography of Captain America. It isn’t a history of American comics. And it certainly isn’t a history of America. 

Although, come to think of it...

Captain America # 1 (Dec 1940)  
"Meet Captain America"

Tales of Suspense # 63 (March 1964)  
"The Origin of Captain America"

On the cover of Captain America #1, Captain America punches Hitler. That's pretty much all you need to know. Superman never punched Hitler. (I believe he once gave Mussolini a smacked bottom.) 

Captain America #1 came out as much as a year before Pearl Harbour. It wasn’t just the Captain who was delivering a sock on the jaw to the Fuehrer, it was Jakob Kurtzburg and Hymie Simon punching isolationists in the mouth. There are stories of copies of Captain America #1 being burned at Bund rallies. When some isolationists turned up at Timely Comics offices to protest about the comic, Kirby had to be physically restrained from doing the Captain America thing himself.

Or so the story goes. 

The first few pages of the comic tell the origin of Captain America. Although seventy five years of retellings have created a more and more complicated context for it, the foundational myth has never really changed. (At the age of 98, Joe Simon got to see a preview of the 2011 Captain America movie. He would have clearly recognized it as a version of his story.)

  • Skinny recruit, rejected by the army. 
  • Volunteers to be the guinea pig in an experiment to create a new breed of super human soldiers. 
  • The experiment works fine, but Nazis assassinate the chief scientist, who never thought to write his formula down. 
  • So Steve Roger is America's one and only Super Soldier.

Cue the patriotic music:

In 1965, Simon's partner Kirby recreated the story with his new partner, one Stan Lee. It's worth glancing at the differences between them.

The 1941 origin story begins with a crowd of young men queuing to enlist in the US army. You can just hear the patriotic megaphone blare from the caption:  

"As the ruthless war mongers of Europe focus their eyes on a peace-loving America the youth of our country heed the call to arm for defense".

Oh, we don't want to fight, but by jingo, if we do...

The Lee / Kirby version also began with a group of young recruits, this time queuing for their medical; but the newsreel voice has given way to Uncle Stan regaling the young people with his war stories. 

“A standing gag during the draft days of World War II was — anybody who could make it to the draft board under his own steam was healthy enough to be in uniform! For those were desperate days!” 

For Stan, the war is already something to be looked back on with fond nostalgia, hanging out with the guys and maybe being made to peel potatoes by a barking sergeant. Not for the last time he misunderstood the artwork that Kirby gave him. Kirby shows us healthy young men who really want to join the fight against Fascism; before introducing us to Steve Rogers, who wants to fight too, but is so puny he isn't allowed to. Jokes about the army taking anyone (the whole point is that they don't) and banter between the doctor and the hopeful draft dodger ("I got a bad case of hay fever, doc") undermine the moment.

The U.S introduced peacetime conscription for the first time in September 1940; months before Captain America # 1 came out. In the 1941 comic, the point is that fifth columnists can fairly easily infiltrate the army with forged papers, and America needs a Super Soldier to ferret them out. In 1964 the point is…it’s not actually quite clear. Stan seems to think the war has already started, but the splash page proclaims it’s still 1941. 

In 1941 a figure who is explicitly President Roosevelt calls in a FBI man called, er, J Arthur Grover to present the brass with a plan for rooting out traitors and saboteurs. In 1960, the President announces something called Operation Rebirth, without being quite clear what it's for. (But the march of liberty and freedom can never be halted, apparently).

In 1941 Prof Reintein gives Steve Rogers an injection ("inoculation") to turn him into a super-soldier. In the rewrite Prof Erskine gives him a huge test tube to drink from, which makes him more like an active participant in his rebirth, less a guinea pig. (Years later it was decided that he was also bombarded with something called Vita-rays, possibly to make the Super Soldier Serum seem less like steroids.) In '41, the newly empowered Rogers says things like "Come on out, you skunk" while in 1964 he says "Dr Erskine is dead...and his formula has died with him. There can be no more like me! But I shall fight for all those who might have been!" Because this is now Stan Lee World where everyone talks in speeches all the time! A secret agent can't so much as take her mask off without saying "At last I can divest myself of this disguise! The die is cast! Nothing can change things now!"

And then there is Bucky.

Bucky makes no sense. Robin never made much sense, but the conceit that Batman gains his strength from his rage and grief kind of works, so it kind of works that he should hang out with a young lad whose family were also murdered.

But Bucky? Steve Rogers is now Private Steve Rogers in the US Army, pretending to be a hopeless soldier and getting yelled at by a comedy Sarge. Bucky Barnes is "camp mascot" whatever the hell that means. (I know some regiments have goats and dogs as their "mascot", but was it really commonplace to have eight year old boys? ) One night Bucky sticks his head into Private Steve Rogers tent and finds him putting on his Captain America mask. “Gosh, gee whiz, golly!! I never thought..” he explains. Stan Lee, hugely improves this to “That costume! That face mask! Now I see it! Holy smoke! It can’t be!” 60s Captain America appeared to get his dialogue from the Big Book of super-villain rants: “I was careless! I should have faced the tent entrance! But now..what am I going to do with you!” 1940s Cap was more direct: “You little rascal! I ought to tan you hide!"  (Little rascal. Ret-con it all you like, but '40s Bucky can't have been more than eleven years old.) Everyone agrees that now Bucky knows Captain America’s secret identity, he will have to become his partner even though he's a little boy, hasn't been jabbed with the super-soldier serum and has never seen combat.

So that no-one will suspect that Bucky is now Captain America’s partner, Bucky adopts the the super-hero identity of “Bucky”.

Young Men #24  (Dec 1953) 
"Captain America Back From the Dead!"

Captain America, along with the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner continued their adventures well after the real life Nazis were defeated, but they finally ceased publication in 1949. American children had just become bored with superheroes. The pleasantly named Young Men represented a rather half-hearted attempt to revive them. 

What has happened in the intervening years? Seems that everyone thinks that the Human Torch is dead: in reality, a villain buried him in the desert at the end of the war. Similarly, people think that Captain America is also dead (or else "an old fogey") but he's merely retired and become a history teacher. Someone digs the Torch up; Cap comes out of retirement because the Red Skull is back in business.

It's now the 50s, and he really is the "Red" Skull. 

So the sense that not-yet Marvel Comics are creating a kind of alternative history — that you need story-internal explanations for breaks in publication — is already kicking in, six years before "Flash of Two Worlds" and a decade before the Marvel Universe.

The Human Torch’s flashback narrative about the last weeks of his wartime career contains what may be the greatest single panel ever to appear in any comic book: 

If this had been a big significant story it would never have worked. It's the idea that we can be told that the Torch killed Hitler, in passing, in a flashback — that great events come and go in single panels — that made the Golden and Silver Ages so much more fun than the Grimdark Age.

There is no suggestion, of course, that this Captain America is not the real Captain America. The infamous Captain America Commie Smasher stories stand up fairly well, and are no more racist than the wartime episodes. Indeed, both series are rooted in paranoia, with the 40s Cap hunting saboteurs and fifth columnists and the 50s Cap going after commie spies. Both comics often look more like Gothic horror tales than war comics. We all know that Cap spent the war fighting the jerries alongside our gallant fighting forces, but that's not a very common motif in the comics themselves.

NOTE: We we are talking about the Android Human Torch who appeared in the first ever Marvel Comic in 1939, not Johnny Storm from the Fantastic Four. But you knew that...

Avengers # 4 (March 1964) 
“Captain America Joins the Avengers”

Bucky was dead to begin with. There was no doubt whatsoever about that.

The 1954 revival of Captain America lasted until, er, 1955. So when Stan Lee brought Captain America back for the second time, he had a nine year absence to explain away. Just as the Torch got buried at the end of the war and revived in 1954, so it turns out that Cap got frozen in 1945 and defrosted in 1964. Whether Stan had forgotten the “commie smasher” episodes or simply chose to ignore them, this idea turns Captain America from a one note golden age super-guy with a patriotic costume into an inexhaustible mythic figure. Where Batman and Spider-Man are endlessly updated to be contemporary with the current crop of readers, Captain America is always a man out of his time: The Living Legend of World War Two Exclamation Mark Exclamation Mark.

The cover proclaims that Captain America Lives Again, but Bucky is dead. Properly dead. He was clinging to an experimental drone bomber, convinced he could defuse the bomb. Cap leaps to save him but falls in the sea. Possibly the English Channel, possibly Newfoundland, maybe somewhere near Greenland. At any rate he gets frozen. The bomb goes off. Bucky gets vaporized.

Captain America emerging from the ice is one of the most iconic images in comics; and the war time flashbacks represent Jack Kirby at his most visceral. 

Avengers #9 (Oct 1964) 
“The Coming of the Wonder Man”

When I was about 10, there was a British reprint comic, magazine sized, with a glossy cover that forced the price up to an insane 6p. Spider-Man cost a sensible 5p but the cover was only newsprint. I imagine that the Avengers Wonder Weapon turned out to be one of those potato guns they gave away with ever fifth issue of the Beano. The first issue I could afford to buy (issue 6) reprinted this story. So the first page of this issue was the first time I ever clapped eyes on Captain America.

And he was quite clearly bonkers.

The splash page shows him hurling his mighty shield at a gigantic figure in a purple mask. Well, it would have been purple, but even 6p didn't buy you colour printing in 1973. It's Baron Zemo, the Nazi Agent who killed Bucky and freeze dried the Captain.

Except it isn’t: Cap is hallucinating. "Let me go! He's mine! Mine!" He did a lot of this in the early days. When he first meets Rick Jones, he mistakes him for Bucky (understandably, because Kirby drew all teenagers the same). When he realizes his mistake, he announces that he's been wasting time (about five pages) mourning Bucky, and that Rick has made him realize that life goes on. (Rick suggests that what he actually needs is a psychiatrist.) A few issues later, Rick tries on one of Bucky's costumes and Cap goes into full scale rant mode “I said take it off!…Don’t ever call yourself my partner again! I lost my partner!! I’ll never forgive myself for letting it happen!!!” Captain America is so obsessed with punishing Zemo for killing Bucky that he attacks blank walls. Possibly Stan Lee thought that at least one character needed to say "vengeance" and "avenge" from time to time to justify the book's title. 

So the first and primary thing I knew about Captain America was angst and guilt. Guilt and angst. I knew nothing about the Super Soldier Serum, and they never really made that much of the man-out-of-time angle. And his powers weren't that interesting. Captain America's grief was almost his whole persona. He was  Bucky Guilt Guy, just as surely as Thor was Divided Loyalty Guy and Spider-Man was Responsibility Guy.

The ridiculously named Wonder-Man dies at the end of the issue. "With all our power we can't save him??" suggests Giant Man. "Sometimes my friend even power is not enough!...As well I know!" ripostes Captain America. You got an awful lot of angst and grief for 6p.

Wonder-Man recovered from his death a few years later. Superhero characters usually do. But the death of Bucky is so central to the Captain America mythos that he is the one dead character who can never, ever return.

to be continued

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Friday, August 28, 2015

A song. It may even be my favorite song. It is written and song by a Roman Catholic, and it is about Social Justice.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

J.C. Wright Always Lies

Footnote 1

My introduction last time around didn’t, I now see, capture the full absurdity of the situation. I said that we needed to imagine an organization so secret that its own members don’t know it exists; so powerful that it controls the Vatican and the scientific community; whose only aim is to lie about everything at all times.

What we actually need to imagine is a second organization whose only unifying principal is a belief in the existence of the first organisation.

J.C Wright is not, so far as I can tell, actually for anything. He is against a thing he calls P.C or S.J.W. But P.C. and S.J.W. don’t, so far as I can tell, have any characteristics apart from the fact that they control everything and everyone and always lie.

Puppy: A person who believes in a thing called an Essjaydoubleyoo.

Essjaydoublyoo: A thing which a Puppy believe in.  .

Footnote 2

We can tell that the feminists have taken over the Hugo Awards because in the olden days before they did Ursula Le Guin kept on winning prizes.

Footnote 3

One of the things which genuinely upsets me is other people being illogical. Other people being stupid and being wrong I can cope with.

I think it goes back to school. There was a thing which went on which I think the teaching profession would now recognize as “inverse bullying”, where a group of little kids would select a big kid to torment, sometimes physically, mostly psychologically. It might, for example, involve following him around repeating the same word, pretty much any word, say “haircut” [irrespective of whether or not the mark had recently had his hair cut] over and over again, every lunch break and play-time, sometimes for months at a time. The intention was to induce what we would now call "a meltdown" - to make the mark lose his temper or throw a tantrum. When this happened, a member of the mob would shout "look, Miss, he's bullying me" at the first available authority figure. Although this happened regularly, the authority figures were always taken in. (I suppose that most of the school teachers were former bullies themselves: in those days it was a natural career progression.)
If, before we got to this point, the target went to an adult and explained the situation, the adult would without exception say “you don't need to ask me for help, you are, what, twice his size" but if the target retaliated and took matters into his own hands in any way, the adult would say “how dare you retaliate or take matters into your own hands, you are, what, twice his size."

C.S. Lewis remarks that the theory that bullies are always cowards comes from a radical misunderstanding of the idea that brave men are always chivalrous. [*]

A rather more insidious version of the game, best played in the lower school years, was the reverse insult game, which went, if I remember correctly, like this.

“You are Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“No, I’m not, I have light coloured skin and unlike you actually go to Sunday School. Not that it would matter if I was, of course.”

“Anyone who says they aren’t Jewish / gay / a P*ki is Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“Very well then, I am Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“He admits he’s Jewish / gay / a P*ki! He admits he’s Jewish / gay / a P*ki”

“Only because he had previously established that anyone who admits being Jewish / Gay / a P*ki is not one, and anyone who denies it, is. And in any case, you can see that I am not, say, by skin colour and the fact that I don’t have to leave early on a Friday”

“Anyone who denies being Jewish / gay / a Paki is Jewish/ gay / a Paki. You said you weren't, so you are"

"Very well, I am..."

And so on, again, sometimes for months. 

It might have been a joke or a game. Or it might have been intended to induce “meltdowns” in people with a tendency to be too logical. Or it might just be that absolutely everything that happens when you are ten seems awfully important in retrospect.

At any rate: I experienced literally those same feelings of anger and frustration and the wish to lash out reading Mr Wright and fellow sufferers from the essjaydoubleyoo delusion explaining that they were pleased that no-one had voted for them in the end of term prize giving; that they hadn't wanted anyone to vote for them in the end of term prize giving; and the fact that they had lost proved that they had won and this was exactly what they had wanted all along. 

"Would you have said it was a crushing defeat if you'd won all the prizes?"
"Ha-ha that’s what essjaydoubleyoos always say. That proves we are right." 

In the days when I still read Dave Sim’s encyclicals I never once felt like that. Bemused, yes; disgusted, sometimes; pitying, possibly; but more often a sort of intellectual joy at discovering a particularly wonderful specimen. And Sim, obviously, had already earned the right to my attention by producing the best single issue of any comic book ever. [Terms and conditions apply] And his crazy was at least interesting crazy.

If not for their gate crashing of an award ceremony that I don't even specially care about, there is now reason at all for me to be interested in the Doggies. They don't even do bigotry particularly well.

Truthfully: if tomorrow, Wright announced to the world that he was a left wing atheist, had always been a left wing atheist; that he had been deliberately writing terrible books with terrible arguments in them to make Catholics look silly; and the fact that I had taken the trouble to show why his arguments and writing were terrible proves that he, J.C Wright, had fooled me and was much cleverer than me and had won the game, would anyone be ever a little bit surprised?

In fact, now I’ve said, I almost expect it to happen. I might even place money on it.

The other thing that the teachers — the same teachers who would threaten to hang, draw and quarter children for what they called “cheek” — used to say if you complained about psychological or reverse bullying is “Just ignore them and they will go away.” I don’t expect the Doggies to go away, but I do think we should probably go back to ignoring them.

[*] Brave men are not always chivalrous; brave men are in fact likely to be bullies. The Western tradition, in an attempt to make war less awful; invented the idea that brave men ought to be chivalrous; and for a long time many of the brave men believed in it.  See also: sportsmanship.