Saturday, July 02, 2016

I don't care to belong to any party that would accept me as a member

I normally avoid politics on social media, but I have been embroiled in some discussions about the implosion of the Labour Party in the wake of the Calamity. Some of my fan-base (Sid and Doris Bonkers) asked that I assemble my comments in a single piece. I hope this makes sense. 

The discussion began when it turned out that my MP, who I had voted for, was one of those who had tabled a vote of no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. I said that I honestly wondered if people like me were welcome in the party. I have been quite open about have been one of the "three pound members" who registered as a supporter in order to support his leadership bid; and who became a full member of the party literally minutes after his election. An old friend, who has been an active member of the Party for many years, asked, not unreasonably: "Did you join a party, or join a person?"

I believe in trade unions, libraries, nationalized utilities, redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. I believe in welfare payments to the unemployed and family allowances to mothers, old age pensions and student grants. I believe that no-one should be denied medical treatment through lack of means. I don’t think criminals should be hanged and I don’t think children should be hit. I believe in maternity and paternity leave and positive discrimination to overcome built-in prejudices. I am against genocide, and am against wasting money on weapons of mass destruction. I am not against all wars, but I am, like President Obama, against dumb wars. I don’t think countries and borders matter all that much, and I don’t think race matters at all. I am in favour of free movement; I live and work in a multi-cultural community. I am in favour of equal marriage, although I admit it took me a while to come round to that. 

I rejoined the Labour Party when it elected a leader who believed what I believe. If the next leader believes what I believe, I will stay in the party. But I fear that if Corbyn is ousted, New Labour wing will denounce anybody who believes in what I believe as a Trot. There will be no place for Socialists in that Labour party, and I will have the same choice that I have had since 1992: the choice between two Tory parties, and not voting at all. 

The Idealist believes in things, gives their support to the political party that believes in those things, and tries to persuade other people that she should believe in those things too. The...what shall we call him? political wonk? party man? activist?...wants his team to win, and thinks that his team should adopt whatever beliefs will deliver that victory.

Sure, there are such things as political tactics and honest compromises: but when Polly Toynbee starts saying (and I paraphrase) "well, it seems the Working Class are quite racist, so Labour needs to be a more racist to win the working class vote" I walk away. 

Very few of us are 100% Idealist or 100% Wonk in real life, of course. 

Tony Blair wore the right rosette and won elections, but he had no point of connection, that I could spot, with any of the things I believe. 

I suspect -- and I am sorry to go all serious here -- that this is actually a religious question. I am a Socialist because Socialism seems to be the best chance we have of applying Jesus's moral principals to the complicated and messy political world. Which is not the same thing as saying that Jesus was a socialist, or that all Christians have to be Labour, or that moral principals are the most important thing about Jesus. Giles Fraser does not have a point. This is why Christians like me can feel drawn to Marxists like Jeremy Corbyn and Billy Bragg: we all start from the position that something is fundamentally broken in the world, that a CEO being paid 100 times more than his cleaner is not so much a sign of a healthy, competitive economy, as a moral outrage. 

"The main requirement for a political party is delivering the things it believes in; not just wanting them"; yes, of course, but if that ever becomes "the main requirement is being elected, which we can only do by not trying to deliver those things" then, against, I walk away. 

I don’t think that “prevent the Tories winning a third term” is Labour’s main objective. I don’t think that “We are not the Tories” is a sufficient selling point to justify Labour's existence. 

I can picture three outcomes for the next election. 

Best outcome: Progressive government; Conservative opposition

Second best outcome: Conservative government; Progressive opposition.

Worst outcome: Conservative government, Conservative opposition.

It makes very little difference whether, in the worst case scenario, the conservative government has the label “Conservative Party” or “New Labour”. Either way, the poor are fucked. But only me and the Queen Mother think like that. and she's dead. 

You don’t get to implement your ideas by jetizoning them. There is no point in becoming the Tories in order to defeat the Tories. Labour is a moral crusade, or it is nothing.

I have a set of political beliefs about how I think a country should be run. Those political beliefs derive from a more deeply held set of moral beliefs (Christian, in my case, but that is incidental to the argument) and lead to me giving my support to a party. I support the party that reflects my political beliefs, and I hold political beliefs because they are a way of implementing my moral beliefs. I sort of assume that people go into politics because they also have political beliefs, based on moral beliefs, and want to persuade other people that their beliefs are the best. I even hope that they have thought there political beliefs through more carefully than I have.  

Why do we want to prevent a third Tory government? 

There are two possible answers: 

a: We don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government. Those are the rules of the game: if a guy with a Labour badge gets in, our team wins. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses. 

b: We don't want a Tory government because we think that the Tory government will do bad things or that a Labour government will do better things. "Good" and "Bad" are here defined by our political beliefs which come from our moral beliefs.

The idea that a political party might shape its agenda (as opposed to its presentation of that agenda, or its propaganda) based on what will win elections implies 

a: that you can pick up and put down political beliefs at will, like picking a new tie 

b: that it's quite all right to SAY that you believe the thing that will win the election, even if you actually believe the other thing

c: that winning elections, rather than doing what is right, is the object of the exercise. 

This seems to be to psychotic, if not actually evil.

Politics is not only about what you think should happen; it's about making detailed plans and policies to ensure that it does happen -- about expertise and competence as well as belief. Candidate A and B might be united in their belief that everyone should get medical care when they need it; but honestly differ about whether socialized medicine or subsidized private insurance is the best way of achieving that. If you think Candidate A is on the wrong side of the argument, it  would be better to say "Candidate A has not done his sums right" rather than "Candidate A obviously wants poor people to die long, agonizing deaths". I think that the point at which someone says "Socialized medicine is better because socialized medicine is better and I don't care about the sums" is the point when you can fairly accuse them of being obsessed with ideological purity.

If I run a dairy farm, I might very well get marketing people in to tell me how to get punters to buy my milk. "You need to sell it in different kinds of cartons; you need to look at selling flavoured milk and skimmed milk; maybe you need to come up with a company mascot the kids can related to" are all good suggestions. "I think you should concrete it over and sell motorcycles", not so much.

If selling milk is your objective. If making money is your objective, then the motorcycles plan might be a very good one.

Is the Labour Party about selling milk or manufacturing motorcycles?

The question about whether the Labour Party is "too far to the left" or "too far to the right" is a moral one. You can show me that my morals are wrong ("you say that killing is always wrong, but have you considered the following circumstances...") or you can show that my political beliefs don't reflect my morals as well as I thought they did ("you think that paying benefit alleviates poverty, but did you consider…”) but you can't ask me chose my morals or my politics based on what will win elections. It's like asking a judge to consider the possibility that murder is a bit less naughty this week than it was last week.

A new Labour Leader who believes in being nasty to criminals, nasty to immigrants, nasty to the unemployed, and wasting money on WMDs that we will never use might (perhaps) be able to win an election. But I come back to my first question: in what way would that be better than a Tory government?

Bring Them Into the Light!

Friday, July 01, 2016

And at last Ar-Pharazôn came even to Aman, the Blessed Realm, and the coasts of Valinor; and still all was silent, and doom hung by a thread. 

For Ar-Pharazôn wavered at the end, and almost he turned back. 

His heart misgave him when he looked upon the soundless shores and saw Taniquetil shining, whiter than snow, colder than death, silent, immutable, terrible as the shadow of the light of Ilúvatar. 

But pride was now his master, and at last he left his ship and strode upon the shore, claiming the land for his own, if none should do battle for it. 

And a host of the Númenóreans encamped in might about Túna, whence all the Eldar had fled.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #4

Nothing Can Stop…the Sandman!



Named Characters: 

Aunt May, Jonah Jameson, “Miss Brant”, Flash Thompson, “Liz”, Principal Davies


J. Jonah Jameson wears blue and green striped boxers at a time when briefs were the norm for older men.

Miss Brant’s first words to Peter are “Would you take these trousers to Mr. Jameson, Peter.”

The Principal of Mid-Town High is Mister Davis. Peter Parker’s science teacher doesn’t have a name.

There is no streaming or specialization at Mid-Town High. Prodigies like Peter Parker go to the same science classes as thickies like Flash Thompson.

In the first panel of Amazing Spider-Man #4, Spider-Man hangs upside down, looking at the face of J Jonah Jameson on a hoarding. He is still attacking Spider-Man. “Some guys just never give up!” he exclaims. In the final panel, he asks the audience what they think his motivation is. “Why do I do it?” he asks “Why don’t I give the whole thing up?” 

I seem to remember that Johnny Storm had a few choice words to say about the subject of giving up last issue. Fate really has to work very hard to get through to Peter Parker.

Spider-Man #3 rebooted Spider-Man as a masked crime fighter plagued by self-doubt. But it is Spider-Man #4 which finally nails what Spider-Man is all about. The Doctor Octopus story had Peter Parker in it, certainly, but Peter Parker was simply Spider-Man without his mask. The story was about how Spider-Man loses his self-confidence and how Spider-Man gets it back again.. This is the first time that Amazing Spider-Man has properly been a soap opera -- the first time Peter Parker’s life and Spider-Man’s life are separate strands which get tangled up into a bigger story. It’s the first of these old issues which I found myself re-reading puewlt for enjoyment. It truly is one of my favourite comics of all time. 

All the main characters are now in place. Flash Thompson and Liz who have, up to now, been placeholders for “the jock” and “the jock’s moll” are now two characters in a school-based situation comedy. Between issues, Peter Parker has asked Liz out (I would like to have been, so to speak, a fly on the wall during that conversation!) ; she has accepted out of pity; but Peter has to break the date so he can go Spider-Manning. Up to now, we have had routine exchanges of insults, but this time we have something approaching wit.  

Peter: I can take you out tonight, after all!
Liz: Really? Perhaps we should declare this a national holiday! I’m sorry Mr Parker, but I have made other plans!
Flash: Meaning yours truly, punk! Now run along and find your umbrella!

Similarly Aunt May, who up to now has been been limited to saying “Peter, dear, what’s wrong?” gets some of her own screen time. Peter uses a dressing gown to his spider suit from his Aunt; and she puts him to bed, thinking he has a fever. This is also the episode in which J. Jonah Jameson -- the embodiment of the mob in issue #1, and a mere plot device in issues #2 and #3 -- emerges as a character. Six months ago, Parker almost knocked a wall down, whining “Jameson…It’s all his fault!” Bur now, the “responsibility hero” is covering the rabble-rouser’s chair with web-glue, leaving him with the choice of sitting down all day or walking around the office in his underwear. It’s an incredibly petty thing for Spider-Man to do: one level up from putting a drawing pin on Teacher’s chair, and it's quite brilliant. And in a way, it's an example of Stan Lee's "realistic" approach -- thinking through what the logical results of webbing someone's chair would be.

Jameson gets his own back, kind of, later on, with a line that made me laugh out loud. After the Big Fight, Parker gives Jameson a reel of film, presumably worth thousands of dollars, apologizing that he didn’t have time to have it developed. “That’s all right! Don’t worry about!” replies J.J.J. “I’ll take the cost of development out of your pay.”

For the three plot threads — Spider-Man vs Jameson; Peter Parker vs Flash and Spider-Man vs Sandman to come together, we have to swallow a certain amount of coincidence. Reading these old issues, it sometimes feels like the only villains who don’t rampage through Peter Parker’s perfectly normal high school are the ones who rampage through the offices of the Daily Bugle. And the bit where the Sandman demands that Principal Davis writes him a diploma, and Davis bravely refuses, is frankly a bit feeble. But the idea that Spider-Man’s fights the Sandman in front of the kids who three minutes ago were poking fun at Parker because Aunt May made him carry an umbrella -- and that Jameson turns up to watch --  is such fun it doesn’t matter. 

The plotting is beautifully tight. Ditko keeps setting up inconsequential chains of foreshadowing which pay off later in the story. Peter breaks his date with Liz because he wants to fight Sandman; this leads to him worrying about whether he should give up his duel identity or not; which leads to the teacher rebuking him for not paying attention, which leads him being made to run an errand after school. (The not paying attention incident happened in a generic classroom, but he is clearly asked to carry bottles from the lab to the boiler room. Regardless of what Ditko draws, Stan assumes that Peter is always studying Science.)  While he’s in the boiler room, Parker notices the janitor trying out a new vacuum cleaner. And, of course, six pages down the line, this very vacuum cleaner is used to defeat the Sandman. But at 21 pages, the story has so much space to breath that this kind of thing doesn’t feel remotely contrived. 

The Vulture was a skillful jewel thief; Doctor Octopus a monomaniacal mad scientist. Sandman is simply a thug. The ability to turn to sand and back again isn’t that interesting, but Steve Ditko allows him to do some fun things with it — stretch his body like Mr Fantastic; turn into quicksand; becomes rock hard and then incorporeal like the Vision. Spider-Man’s battle with him follows the now established formula: Sandman gets the better of the first fight (Spidey runs away with a damaged mask) but Spider-Man uses his brain to win the second encounter. 

Jack Kirby had been in street fights when he was a kid, and seen combat in the army: fights in Captain America often seem like hyper-exaggerated depictions of actual combat. The fight between Spider-Man and Sandman resembles no actual fist-fight or knife-fight that has ever been: it’s more like a series of proposals and objections; an exploration of how the opponents can use their powers. This makes it gleeful and funny, especially on a first reading; we are not thinking “who is going to win” or even “that must have hurt” but “what will they think of next?”
  • Spider-Man punches Sand-Man; Sandman turns his body rock hard. 
  • Spider-Man grabs Sandman while he is still rock-hard and throws him through the door.
  • Sandman recovers, turns his fists into battering rams and starts thumping Spider-Man. 
  • Spider-Man can easily dodge them with his spidery agility.
  • Spider-Man webs Sandman; Sandman turns to sand and pours through the holes in the net.
  • Spider-Man runs away, chased by Sandman's giant hand
  • Spider-man punches Sandman
    Sandman turns his body incorporeal and then hard, trapping his fist in his chest.
  • Spider-Man rams Sandman's head against banister, shattering it into sand.
  • Sandman reforms, smothering Spider-Man with sand.
  • Spider-Man roles up into ball, and roles downstairs
  • Sandman roles into boiler room.
  • Spider-Man attacks Sandman with and electric drill.
  • Sandman turns into sand.
  • Spider-Man sucks the sand into...a high powered vacuum cleaner. 
While the battle carries on, there is a continuous narration and backchat between the characters, as: 

“I’ll just let my grains of sound ooze over there toward having your leg in quicksand, isn't it”

“I’ll bet you'd  be great at a party. Your just a barrel of fun, aren’t you?” 

It was always going to be hard to keep this kind of inventive writing up for very long, and within a few months, “fight scenes” will have degenerated be an endless sequence of A punching B while B makes a wisecrack, and B punching A while A makes a wisecrack. Indeed, by the end, Stan Lee gives up altogether and just runs with sound effects. But this is as good a superhero battle scenes as has ever been done. We don’t feel that the scenes about Peter Parker and Jameson are ballast we have to trudge through to get to the fight; or that the fight has interrupted the romantic comedy about Peter and Liz. The comic is a unified whole.

But in the end, it’s still about fame and infamy; about truth and lies; about the difference between what really happened and what the papers say happened. Parker, unbelievably, not only sells Jameson pictures of him fighting the Sandman (knowing Jameson will claim they were in cahoots) but actually fakes the pictures, convinced he isn't doing anything wrong. 
A classic Ditko "voice of the people" scene.
Amazing Spider-Man #4

The final page is a triple whammy. Panels 1 and 2 quite explicitly recapitulate the first panels of Amazing Fantasy # 15. Liz still isn’t interested in Peter while there are dream-boats like Flash Thompson around, and everyone drives off in Flash’s car leaving Peter by himself. And this time it’s mostly his own fault. 

Panel 3 is Ditko at his most effortlessly brilliant; we’ve moved away from The Crowd looking stunned and incredulous at Spider-Man's TV act: now a group of individuals with individual voices talk about Spider-Man, not knowing that Peter Parker (still holding that damn umbrella!) is listening. Each face is a little character study. The old men, shooting the breeze; the younger women with their grocery bags, including one with terrifyingly trendy glasses; the impassive man reading the paper, and best of all the snooty man indicating that Spider-Man is probably crazy. 

And the final panel is Peter’s soliloquy on the subject of Fame. 

“Am I really some sort of crackpot, wasting my time seeking fame and glory?? Am I more interested in the adventure of being Spider-Man than I am in helping people?” 

A little from column B and a little from column A, I should say. 

“Why do I do it? Why don’t I give the whole thing up?” 

The answer is not "Because Uncle Ben". And it's not even “because the Human Torch taught me a good lesson about perseverance” or “because I can earn, like, $20,000 in one go selling pictures of myself to Mr Jameson”.

This time around, Peter Parker tries to pin the blame on God. 

“I must have been given this great power for a reason! No matter how difficult it is, I must remain as Spider-Man. And I pray that some day the world will understand.”

As motivations go  “because God” isn't that much more help than "because Uncle Ben." Both come down to "just because".

I am Spider-Man because I am Spider-Man because I am Spider-Man. And it is not making me very happy.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #3

Spider-Man versus Doctor Octopus, the Strangest Foe of All Time.


Doctor Octopus

Guest appearance

Human Torch

Named Characters

Jameson, Aunt May, 

First appearance of 

Doctor Octopus


First time Spider-Man catches a gang of robbers.


Flash Thompson is back to being a red-head, but is not referenced by name.

Parker tells Jameson to have his cheque ready, even though he was paid in cash last month. 

Ditko and Lee have different idea about why the Human Torch is taking time off from the Fantastic Four. On page 21, the art clearly shows him visiting a doctor and being given the all-clear. But on page 13, the text clearly says that he has over-used his flame power and needs to rest it. 

Four months ago, Spider-Man was about to turn evil. 

Two months ago, Spider-Man was looking for ways to make money.

This month, Spider-Man is a professional hero who has "cases" and "assignments" and "opponents". 

This is the second consecutive issue which has ended with Parker looking relatively happy. It won't last.

Today, we would call Amazing Spider-Man #3 a reboot. Characters are created, status quos established and precedents that haven't even been established yet are daringly broken. This is the first fully fledged issue of the comic we now know as Spider-Man. And it's not actually very good.

The episode begins with Spider-Man defeating a gang of bank robbers; beating up all three of them in a single panel and leaving them hanging on the end of a cobweb. This is the first time we have seen him do this kind of thing, but it clearly isn't the first time he has done it. He introduces himself with the spider-signal; which the crooks are all familiar with. He doesn’t take any photos or claim any reward. Catching thieves (just like flies) is simply what he does. 

And then he complains “It’s almost too easy. I’ve run out of enemies who can give me any real opposition. I am too powerful for any foes. I almost wish for an opponent who’d given me a run for my money.” Enemy; opposition; opponent. Spider-Man was introduced to the world as a wrestler; and Stan Lee's language is still the language of a fight promoter, talking up the challenger, making it sound as though the hero can't win.  “The world’s most dreaded super villain;” “his most powerful foe;” “can anything that lives defeat the mighty Doctor Octopus?” “the only foe ever to defeat Spider-Man;” “the power of Doctor Octopus is far greater than yours!” Each month from now on, Spider-Man will have a fight with an opponent; it will look as if he is going to lose; but he will win. When a challenger is particularly "popular", he will be invited back for a rematch.

“I almost wish for an opponent who’d give me a run for my money”. It’s now almost a year since Peter Parker told the old cop that catching criminals was none of his business. It isn't clear if Parker believes in God (although I will never not believe that Uncle Ben was Jewish) but he certainly believes in Fate, or talks as if he does. And if there's one thing we know about Fate, it's that you shouldn't go around tempting it.

It's been established over the last couple of stories that Spider-Man always loses the first bout with his challenger, goes away, uses his brain, and works out a way of winning the second round. This time, the formula is escalated in a frankly rather corny way. When Doctor Octopus throws Spider-Man through a window Whining Peter immediately decides (for the third time) that he’s going to quit being Spider-Man. He doesn't seem to be very badly injured; he just gives up. But it just so happens that the Human Torch is giving a motivational speech at Peter Parker’s school that very day. 

There is no special reason for it to be the Human Torch; Spider-Man and Johnny Storm’s feud is yet to be established. It could just as well have been a policeman or a vicar. Johnny, often depicted as a spoiled brat, comes over here in rather a good light. The original idea for Spider-Man may have been “what if there were a person in the real world with superpowers”; but that idea has now subtly changed into “what if the superheroes lived in a world like ours?" What if a visit from an older lad who could spontaneously combust and throw fireballs around were a not-very-remarkable part of your school day? Which is, it has to be said, a lot more fun.

The Torch’s message is the same one that, oddly enough, a little spider once gave to a demoralized Scottish king: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." “The important thing is never give up. Remember that. Never give up.” So Spidey goes back and has another fight with Doctor Octopus, but this time, he uses Science to make Doctor Octopus's arms stick together, sprays web over his glasses, and knocks him out.

"Strange that an old fashioned punch to the jaw defeated the most dangerous villain I’ve ever faced" says Spider-Man. It is never clear whether we should regard these remarks as Stan Lee patting himself on the back for being so original, or reprimanding Steve Ditko for being so boring. I am inclined to think the latter.

Doctor Octopus is a visually charismatic figure; a classical mad scientist with four extra arms attached to his torso. They are very strong; and they can be any length Ditko wants them to be; but I never understood quite why they made him quite such a dangerous enemy. There are one or two nice scenes: Doc Ock disguising his arms as water pipes so a guard doesn’t notice him; and the arms reaching through the door of the Atomic Research Centre -- but the two fight scenes are a little nondescript. For a number of panels Ditko stops bothering with backgrounds altogether. 

For once, we have a Spider-Man story which is not about fame: it's about pride. Octopus believes himself to be the most powerful man on earth; even though all he has is physical strength. Parker is defeated because he thinks he is defeated: once he believes he can win, he beats Octopus quite easily. The final frame underlines Peter’s confidence: Flash tells him that he is is a bookworm and the Torch is a real man, but rather than running away crying, Parker effectively responds that it was the “bookworm” side of him — Science — that defeated the bad guy.

Is Peter Parker coming to grips with his dual identity?

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip

Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #2

Duel to Death With the Vulture 


The Vulture

Named Characters

Aunt May, J Jonah Jameson, "Moose" (Flash Thompson), Jameson's secretary

First Appearance of

Utility Belt, Automatic Camera


When Peter is at home doing Science he does not bother to wear his glasses.

We get a very brief look at Jameson's secretary/receptionist (who appears to wear scary librarian glasses at this point.) Next month she will become "Miss Brant", and "Betty Brant" thereafter.

And so, on the first page of the second issue of Amazing Spider-Man, the original Spider-Man concept is abandoned, and the character we are familiar with comes into focus. 

Jameson, the chauvinistic tabloid editor from the previous issue, wants photographs of the Vulture, a flying bank robber with wings powered by Science. Peter Parker realizes that he could provide them. Aunt May, very conveniently, finds an automatic camera that once belonged to Uncle Ben. At a stroke, all Spider-Man’s financial worries are wiped away; the previous episodes relegated to the status of prologue; and the question “what should I do with my powers?” resolved. Peter Parker becomes Clark Kent; Jonah Jameson becomes Perry White; very soon the secretary glimpsed on page 8 will become Lois Lane. 

Close up of Vulture, Amazing Spider-Man #2
This is, I think, an interim issue: intended for an anthology comic (it’s only 14 pages long); somewhat connected to Spider-Man #1 (Peter Parker’s main objective is still financial); but focusing more on heroic action and less on character. The "realistic" setting is dropped; for the first time, Spider-Man has an enemy — a flying bank-robber. The aerial duel with the Vulture isn’t as breath-taking as the rescue of the John Jameson in issue #1, but it’s vastly more exciting than the feeble helicopter sequence in the Chameleon story. The sheer visual charisma of the Vulture carries the day. Ditko’s art is sometimes said to be scratchy and cartoony, but the close up of the Vulture on page 5 is on a level with an art-house woodcut.

Peter Parker does not see it as his duty to capture or defeat the Vulture. In their first encounter Spider-Man is following the villain at distance and setting up his camera, thinking “If these pictures come out, the ought to be worth a small fortune”. The Vulture spots him, knocks him out, and leaves him for dead; and when he recovers, he takes the pictures to Jameson. When Parker witnesses the Vulture’s jewel heist, he thinks “If I can get some new pictures of him now, I’ll be able to name my own price for them.” After the fight (in which Spider-Man deactivates the Vultures wings with some Science that he made in his laboratory earlier) he immediately thinks “this is my chance to get some exclusive pix of the capture of the Vulture”; as the police arrest him, he think “these pictures should be prize winners”. Peter is not an altruist; he is not driven by a sense of duty. He becomes embroiled with the Vulture while trying to make an honest buck taking photos.

First Appearance of Betty Brant,
Amazing Spider-Man #2
I will say that again: while trying to make an honest buck. Jameson wants photos; Parker can get photos; Jameson pays Parker what they are worth; and for the first time, everything ends well. 

Some of Stan Lee’s captions get ahead of themselves. Lee has a habit of “back-filling” stories. Once he thinks up a new plot element, he writes as if it was there from the beginning; which gives a new reader the impression that Spider-Man is a much more established character than he really is. “The most colorful superhero of all” cries the title page of Spider-Man #2 “His very name makes the underworld tremble.” So far as we know, in his entire career, Spider-Man has arrested one armed robber (without much publicity) and run out of a fight with one communist spy (also without anyone knowing). The last we saw of him, he was crying and threatening to quit being Spider-Man because he didn’t have any friends and no-one liked him. So what has the underworld got to tremble about? But Stan Lee has decided — I suspect after Ditko had completed the art — that Spider-Man is going to be a crime-fighting guy from now on, and therefore writes as if a crime-fighting guy is what he has always been. 

On page 7, Spider-Man is shown, at home in his bedroom, constructing a utility belt. I think that this is another example of words and pictures being “out of sync”. The pictures shows Spider-Man picking up his camera; looking at the front page of Now Magazine (with the camera still in his hand); making the belt; slipping it under his suit and then constructing a device out of mechanical components. The picture show that the suit can be used to store metal objects about the size and shape of cigarette lighters. They could be web shooters. They could be film canisters. The next sequence shows him selling his first photographs to J. Jonah Jameson.  But Stan Lee’s think-bubble reads “If I’m really going to be a secret adventurer I’ve got to make some changes”. Nothing in the pictures suggest that he is going to be a secret adventurer. What he is going to be is a freelance photographer. 

The episode is still all about fame. The Vulture is supplanting Spider-Man as the celeb who shifts copies of Jameson's papers. Spider-Man was a TV hit because he seemed to be more spider than human; today, the crowds are looking at the Vulture because he is “more bird of prey than human”. Jameson, who was obsessed with Spider-Man, now wants to fill whole issues of his magazine with pictures of the Vulture. The Vulture actively courts publicity, announcing in advance where his crimes are going to be committed. And so Parker makes a faustian pact to keep himself in the public eye. He is going to sell pictures of himself to Jameson, knowing full well what Jameson is will do with them.

Peter Parker is still a performer; Spider-Man is still a role he plays, but from now on, the Daily Bugle will be his stage, and his shows will consist of the dramatic capture of super villains. Jameson thinks Spider-Man is a publicity hound, but obligingly prints pictures of him on the front page of every newspaper he publishes. Parker is miserable because the Bugle tells a false story about him, but provides the very photos that ensure that story is the one that will be told. Parker can make a living only as long as he continue providing Jameson with material for his hate campaigns. Jameson can sell papers only as long as Peter Parker keeps providing photos of Spider-Man to fill them with. Jameson hates Spider-Man because he is famous; but it is Jameson who makes him famous. Spider-Man hates Jameson for making him look bad, but obliging provides the photos that allow Jameson to make him look bad. 

It’s a merry dance; a dance they both seem at some level to enjoy. They don’t seem to notice how many people — including themselves — the game is harming.

Note wads of cash in
Peter and May's hands
Amazing Fantasy # 15 ended with Parker slinking into the darkness, in shame. Spider-Man #1 ends with him cursing his powers and crying. But this story ends with a grinning Peter Parker telling an equally happy Aunt May that their financial troubles are over. There’s a trivial example of art and text being “out of sync” in this scene: we see Jameson looking at the photos; we see Peter leaving Jameson’s office with a huge pile of green dollar bills and we see a happy Peter and a happy Aunt May at home, each holding smaller piles of cash. We can clearly read what has happened: Peter Parker, like a nice little mummy’s boy, has split his first wage packet with his Auntie. But the text says something slightly different: Peter has kept the money, but is planning to spend it all on things Aunt May needs. “I paid the rent for a full year, and tomorrow I’m buying you the newest kitchen appliances you ever drooled over.”

At today's prices, a years rent on a two bedroom house wouldn’t leave you much change from $15,000, before you’ve counted in whatever a new washing machine and dishwasher costs. Parker has taken home practically a year's salary in one day. Jameson clearly doesn’t deserve his reputation as a skinflint.

In the end, the argument about who “created” Spider-Man is pointless. Ditko and Lee figured out for themselves what the comic was about, and those different idea became the first half-dozen issues of Spider-Man. This issue places a few more components into place; but we are some distance from the finished character.

The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer



Named character

Dr Cobbwell, Flash Thompson

First Appearance of: 

The Parker/Spider-Man mask motif



Spider-Man thinks that the Tinkerer is “one of the greatest menaces I’ve ever faced” —the others, presumably, being the Chameleon and the Vulture.

The Beatles famously intended Sgt Pepper to be the world’s first concept album: a fictitious concert played by a fictitious band. After recording the introduction and the first song, they reportedly said “Oh, soddit. Let’s just do tracks.”

One is tempted to imagine Stan Lee, one issue into his rule-breaking game-changing realistic new super-hero, looking up from his typewriter and saying “Oh, soddit. Let’s just do monster stories.”

In a filler strip entirely without redeeming features, Peter Parker (having just trousered a year's wages for one afternoon’s work) takes a weekend job running errands for an electronics expert and…foils an alien invasion.

The plot has been phoned in from Amazing Adult Fantasy: a shop offers to fix radios for a dime; everyone takes them up on the offer; but the radios are being bugged by extraterrestrials to enable them to spy on the human race. The idea of a radio that listens to you while you listen to it could have been quite spooky, but isn’t.

The story follows the formula that was established in the previous episode: Spider-Man fights the baddies; Spider-Man is defeated by the baddies; Spider-Man uses his brain and beats the baddie on the second attempt. This time he is zapped by a ray-gun and imprisoned in an unbreakable glass container, oddly like the one the Fantastic Four tried to trap him last issue. (Could that be because people who don’t like spiders sometimes trap them in glasses?) I have never thought that “escaping from the water tower by jumping” or “defeating the Vulture by rustling up a special anti-Vulture-wings-zapper” were very interesting ploys, but this one is actually quite clever. There must be air-holes in the container (because he isn’t suffocating) so all Spider-Man has to do to get free is fire a tiny thin strand of webbing through one of the holes and snag the “open unbreakable glass prison” button on the aliens' control panel.

Decades later it was decided that the Tinkerer wasn’t an alien after all, but was pretending to be because of Reasons. This doesn’t retrospectively make the story less awful.

The story does have two points of interest:

On page 8, one of the aliens cries out “Look! It’s impossible! But he’s loose!” and Spider-Man, punching two aliens with one blow, retorts “Who do you think you are — the town crier?” This is, to the best of my reckoning, the first joke Spider-Man ever makes. Up to now, his dialogue has been melodramatic (”there’s no place on earth where you can hide from me”) boastful (”the sky is my element just as much as it is yours”) and arrogant (”ya big ape who do ya think you’re pushing around”) but this is the first actual wisecrack. By issue #7, telling jokes will be specifically mentioned on the cover as one of things Spider-Man is famous for.
First appearance of Peter/Spider-Man
split face.
And on page 4, we get this first occurrence of the Parker/Spider-Man split face motif. Note that on this occasion, the Spider-Man mask is coloured in a lighter shade of red than usual, as if to emphasize that it’s not really there. It has been said that Lee wanted the comic to be primarily about Spider-Man whereas Ditko wanted to give Peter Parker equal space; and the half-mask was a compromise; reminding readers that Spider-Man was present, even in long Peter-centric sequences. Certainly, the half-face mask is going to become part of iconography of the strip, so intuitive that we hardly notice it is there. But this is the first time it's been used, so Lee writes in way too much exposition. Peter Parker is working in Prof. Cowbell’s workshop, but can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. Suddenly, he thinks “Those electrical impulses. I sensed them in his shop! Now I sense them here! The part of me which is Spider-Man is reacting suspiciously to them! I’ve got to check this out!” This is a rather elaborate way of what would soon be expressed simply as “My spider-sense is tingling like crazy!” But Ditko’s visual motif has suggested to Lee that Peter Parker is not merely a kid who dresses up as Spider-Man for the benefit of the cameras, but at some level a split personality. The idea that there are two sides to Peter Parker — the side of him which is Peter Parker and the side of him which is Spider-Man —is going to be around for several issues to come; and it is by no means clear that Spider-Man is the good half.
Next issue, Lee will claim that the Doctor Octopus story is the first one to end without Parker selling pictures to Jonah Jameson; but in fact (despite a brief look at what might be a camera on panel 5 of page 2) there is no reference to photo-journalism in this episode. Stan Lee is obviously pretending it didn’t happen. I advise everyone to do the same.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #1 (cont)

Spider-Man vs The Chameleon

The Chameleon

The Fantastic Four

Named characters: 

Un-named characters:
Cops, guards, spies etc

First Appearance of: 
Spider-Man’s spider-sense


Spider-Man’s mask is now separate from his shirt. 

Spider-Man refers to communists as “commies”.

For the first, but not the last time, Spider-Man runs out of web-fluid at an inopportune moment.

It is hardly possible to over-emphasize the importance of the Marvel Method when reading these ancient comics. It is debatable how detailed a brief Stan Lee gave to his artists: Steve Ditko talks in terms of two page synopses; Stan Lee admits that it was sometimes not more than a one-line summary. But what is not in question is that Ditko delivered completed artwork to Lee with no writing on it; and that Lee added the speech bubbles, the captions and the sound effects after the pictures had been completed. So it is always a good rule to look at what the pictures would be saying if there were no words, and see if that is in any way different from what the text is saying (or what the text and pictures say together.) When the writing and the art are "out of sync", it doesn’t follow that Stan has done a Bad Thing; or that we should ignore the words and just look at the pretty pictures. The slight clash — as when Steve provides a dark, scary villain and Stan adds an ironic, comical commentary — is probably the biggest single thing in the early years which made Spider-Man feel like Spider-Man. But occasionally, it does give a clue as to the textual archaeology of the piece.

One such case occurs in Spider-Man #1. In the final panel of page 5, Peter moans “I don’t get it. How do other superhuman guys like Ant Man and the Fantastic Four get away with it?” In the picture, he is standing by a news-stand, with a rack of papers saying “SPIDER MAN: MENACE”. The picture is reminding us the Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man; the words are about the Fantastic Four and Ant Man being popular. If “Spider-Man wonders why the F.F are so popular” had been part of the brief that Lee gave to Ditko, then Ditko would surely have drawn a panel showing Spider-Man thinking about the other heroes; or at least put “FANTASTIC FOUR SAVE WORLD AGAIN” on some of the papers. He didn't. So it is a good bet that when Lee briefed Ditko, and when Ditko drew this story, they didn’t know that Spider-Man was going to start meeting other Marvel Superheroes. When Lee sat down to write the dialogue, they did.

The J Jonah Jameson story, which runs to 11 pages, was clearly intended for an anthology comic: Amazing Fantasy #16. This leaves Lee and Ditko with 10 pages to fill in Amazing Spider-Man #1. So Spider-Man vs the Chameleon is a filler, the first material written with a solo Spider book in mind. It’s been a long time since Lee wrote the first four and a bit episodes of his “realistic” hero — so long that he has forgotten Peter Parker’s name! This isn’t a lettering error: he’s Peter Palmer on every page. And in those months, Lee has rethought what Spider-Man is all about.

Amazing Fantasy #15 shows no signs of taking place in something called the Marvel Universe. People would hardly be breath taken and incredulous by a wall-crawling TV star if the Fantastic Four and the Hulk were already famous, and there is no hint that Uncle Ben has regaled Petey with stories about how he saw Captain America and the Human Torch during the war. The logic of the first four and a bit chapters is that Parker is in a unique situation and doesn’t know what to do with it. But in the months between the axing of Amazing Fantasy and the launch of Amazing Spider-Man, Lee had started to think of Marvel Comics as a shared world. In Fantastic Four #4, Johnny Storm still thinks of the Hulk as a comic book character; but by issue #12 General Ross is asking the F.F to help the army capture the big green bad tempered guy. Fantastic Four #12 and Spider-Man #1 came out in the same month. The Hulk is on the cover of the F.F's comic; the F.F are on the cover of Spider-Man's. Stan Lee is establishing a brand.

The filler strip is actually two unrelated stories: one, running to four pages, is about Spider-Man trying to join the Fantastic Four; the other, running to six, is about a communist traitor trying to frame him. There’s no attempt to integrate them, and the faces of the F.F (EXTRA BONUS EXTRA!) are rather incongruously stuck over a splash page depicting Spider-Man and the Chameleon. The story is called Spider-Man vs the Chameleon rather than Spider-Man Meets the Fantastic Four; but it’s a Kirby F.F on the cover. (So, yes: the cover of the first ever Spider-Man comic advertised a sub-plot in the back-up strip.)

Both segments are about Spider-Man trying to make some money. In the first half; Spider-Man arrogantly thinks he can get paying work with the Fantastic Four; in the second he naively follows up a job offer, which turns out to be from a Soviet spy. The F.F. tell Spider-Man (truthfully) that they are a non-profit organization and don’t pay wages — fairly politely considering he’s just broken into their building unannounced: but Spider-Man chooses to think that they have turned him down because they believe in J. Jonah Jameson’s editorials. He remains appalling, horribly arrogant, telling the most famous heroes in the world that he never wanted to join their club in the first place. Once again, a door has been closed off to Spider-Man: he can’t work as an entertainer and now he’s alienated himself from the other superheroes. Stan Lee could legitimately claim that a story in which Spider-Man visits the Fantastic Four and nothing comes of it is a fairly unconventional bit of story telling. 

The Chameleon section is entirely separate  — Peter “Palmer” is rediscovered studying spiders in a museum, having completely forgotten about his visit to the Baxter Building, or, indeed, his breakfast time plans to become a super-villain. The Chameleon sends out a message offering Spider-Man a job, and Spider-Man thinks “I can’t afford to pass up any chance for profit”. One wonders why no-one thought to call the comic Peter Parker: Hero For Hire.

The idea — that the Chameleon wants to lure Spider-Man to a particular roof-top, so that it will look like the latter stole the plans that the former is running away with — is quite cool; and the ending, in which the police continue to believe that Spider-Man is the traitor despite all evidence to the contrary fits in pretty well with the rest of the issue. In between is a fairly generic run-about. It’s quite depressing to look at the sketchy artwork in which a tiny figure of Spider-Man webs himself onto the Chameleon’s helicopter, and compare them with the thrilling space capsule sequences that Ditko produced ten pages, (or looked at another way, seven months) ago. It’s a bit crap to put the helicopter sequence and the space capsule sequence in the same issue, actually: if your main movie features an aerial rescue, then your B-feature should be a car chase or a gunfight.

The episode is most notable for introducing what is described as Spider-Man’s “spider instincts” “spider senses” or “spider’s sense”. It’s an odd idea: if you were trying to think of an additional power to give to a hero who could walk on walls and spin web, “telepathic radar” wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind. The spider sense is a generic bit of plot machinery, as multi-functional as a sonic screwdriver.  It warns “Palmer” that the Invisible Girl is behind him; it enables him to hear the Chameleon’s electronic message; it allows him to “tune in” on the Chameleon’s ship; it tells him that one of the police is the Chameleon in disguise; and it enables him to to find his way around a dark room. It is consistently represented, as it would be for years to come, by lines radiating from Spider-Man’s head.

When the fake Spider-Man steals the plans, the cop says “I can’t believe you have turned traitor”. The Fantastic Four seem only mildly concerned that he is wanted by the FBI. The cliffhanger at the end of the last story in which Spider-Man is a wanted felon on the point of turning bad has already been forgotten. Spider-Man is not an outlaw and a fugitive: he’s merely a do-gooder who people don’t quite trust. 
The second time the cops assume Spider-Man is a traitor he runs out of the fight ("in a fit of white hot fury”, apparently) crying “well, they can catch that spy themselves now.” So much for power and responsibility.

And in the final frame, we are right back where we started: Peter wishing for the second time in one issue that he could give up being Spider-Man. The final two frames echo the endings of Amazing Fantasy # 15 and the first strip in Spider-Man #1. In one “a lone figure looses himself in the shadows of the night” (compare with “a silent figure silently fades into the gathering darkness”) while in the other, the Invisible Girl wonders “what if Spider-Man ever turned his power against the law”? Clearly "Parker turns bad" is a storyline that Lee wants to trail, but nothing ever comes of it.

“Every time I try to help, I get into worse trouble!” whines cry-baby Peter in the final frame. “NOTHING turns out right... (SOB) I wish I had never GOTTEN my superpowers”

"Every time I try to help." Peter “Palmer” may just have inadvertently revealed the dark secret of Spider-Man.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip

Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Coxcomb Watch (edited)

Everyone is going to tell me that I shouldn't do this kind of thing, but here goes:


Five times Hugo award loser John C Wright recently placed on his web log a piece of text, written in 1938 by Gene Autry, a country singer and actor now best remembered for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It purports to be the moral code which Cowboys followed; it seems to have been sent out to children who sent him fan mail.

EDIT: Here is a link to the article:

One might have expected a devout and pious Catholic like Wright to put the Singing Cowboy’s grab-bag of secular morals alongside the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount to demonstrate how inferior the one is to the other. One might have expected him to say that if you are still thinking up rules and codes you probably haven’t understood Christianity very well.

But if you are hammer, everything looks like a snail. If you see a well-meaning set of moral precepts written by a celebrity for the edification of kids nearly a century ago, then obviously the first thing that will occur to you is "Aren’t The Left awful." The Hugo award loser wants to know how many of the Singing Cowboy's moral precepts The Left break, or encourage others to break, on a regular basis.

EDIT: His precise words were: "A question for the reader: how many of these do mainstream Leftwing politicians, pundits and speakers, routinely call for all of us to violate? And I do not mean the Leftwing speakers and leader of ten or twenty years ago. I mean those who this year, this month, this week, or this hour? For the hour is late, and it is darker than you think." Yes, I am afraid he really does write like this.

I intend to tell him. 

I do not speak on behalf of The Left. I do not even regard myself as a Socialist. (As we've seen, a Socialist thinks everyone should have the same amount of money as everyone else; a Communist thinks we should get rid of money altogether. I am merely a Reformist: I think the Rich should be a little bit poorer and the Poor should be a little bit richer.) I am a member of the British Labour Party, and a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I have been called an SJW, although not by anyone sensible.

So. Here is how The Singing Cowboy's Code struck this particular Leftie. Next month, I promise to start writing about Spider-Man.


The Cowboy Code goes thus:

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.

3. He must always tell the truth.

4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals.

5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.

6. He must help people in distress.

7. He must be a good worker.

8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits.

9. He must respect women, parents and his nation’s laws.

10. The Cowboy is a patriot

If I have counted correctly, these 10 precepts actually contain 23 different commandments; which can be grouped under eight general principles:

I: Be kind

II: Be honest

III: Be tolerant

IV: Be conscientious

V: Be polite

VI: Be chaste

VII: Be law abiding

VIII: Be patriotic

Eight out of Autry's ten rules I endorse unreservedly. One I would like to have a little more information about. One is, as it stands, positively misleading. Let's go through them one by one: 

Rules 1 and 4

I fully endorse both these rules, which are in fact, the same rule stated in different words. Don't start fights; don't fight weaker people; don't take advantage of anyone who is weak. I would call this "Kindness", and it’s a universal human virtue.

Insofar as these rules are specifically intended for the edification of Cowboys, the Singer may be thinking particularly about chivalry and honour: how men behave in fights. When soldiers are not actually fighting, they should go out of their way not to be macho and aggressive; even when they are fighting their mortal enemies, they should fight fair, accept his surrender; never kill or torture prisoners.

I have never come across anyone on The Left or The Right who was opposed to Kindness. The Left are on the whole more strongly in favour of it than The Right. It has tended to be The Left who have made laws against child beating, domestic abuse and the inhumane treatment of pets and animals: it has often been The Right who have called these rules silly and sentimental and said that if a man can’t beat his own wife and children in his own house then whose wife and children is he supposed to beat? When there are complaints about our soldiers not using Honour and Chivalry — there have been terrible allegations about the use of torture and the mistreatment of prisoners in recent wars— those complaints mainly come from The Left. It is The Right who are inclined to regard such concerns as soft, unmanly, treacherous or cowardly.

Rules 2 and 3

Rules 2 and 3 are also different wordings of the same rule. I fully endorse both of them. Keeping promises, keeping secrets and telling the truth are part of the universal human virtue called Honesty.

I have never come across anyone on The Left or The Right who is opposed to Honesty. It is always possible to come up with clever, exceptional cases where lying is the best thing to do, for example, when the Gestapo knock on your door and ask if you have a Jewish family hiding in your attic. But the fact that we can imagine exceptions doesn’t invalidate the general principal. The exception proves the rule, as the fellow probably didn’t say.

Rule 5

This rule is oddly worded. I don't have that much of a problem with someone "possessing intolerant ideas" or indeed "advocating intolerant ideas". I am not quite sure how you can possess and idea without advocating it. What I have a problem with is people who behave in an intolerant way.

But I think we all know what the Singing Cowboy was getting at. He wasn't saying that Unitarians (who think everybody goes to Heaven) made good Cowboys, but Baptists (who hold to the arguably less tolerant theory that only people who have been washed in the blood of the lamb can be saved) made bad ones. If anything, he probably thought that Religion and Party Politics were not the kinds of things which gentlemen ought to talk about  — certainly not when they were risking their lives together in hostile in’jun territory. I think that what he had in mind was saloons with "No Jews or Irish" written on the doors; and individual Cowboys who refused to associate with black people or who used horrible words about them behind their backs. I think he was telling the kids that they should treat everyone the same, even if they don’t look like you or use the same word for God.

I strongly endorse this rule. Tolerance is a universal human virtue. It tends to be emphasized more strongly by The Left than The Right. It is The Left who say that signs saying "No Jews" and certain kinds of bad-language shouldn’t be allowed. It is The Right who say that if a landlord wants to ban Jews from drinking in his pub, that's a matter for him. The Right have, indeed, invented a cuss-word, "Political Correctness" to refer to people who behave tolerantly. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that The Right are personally intolerant. It may simply mean that they have an unwritten eleventh commandment "A Cowboy thinks personal freedom is more important than any of these rules".

Rule 6

Rule 6, "help people in distress" is simply another way of phrasing rules 1 and 4. The former say "Don't hurt people if you can possibly help it"; this one says "Help people if you possibly can." Of course, the Singing Cowboy is thinking mainly of the rugged, manly outdoor life. When he says "people in distress" he is thinking of people who are trapped in quicksand and being menaced by hungry wildebeests. But I am sure he means us to apply it to other kinds of distress as well. If someone is sick or hurt, you should do whatever you can do make them better; if someone is broke, you should share your dosh with them. Many of us think that Jesus Christ was an even better role-model than Gene Autry, and he said that everything turned on this point: "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in, naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me."

I have never heard anyone on The Left or The Right who is against helping people. If there is a difference of opinion, here, it is usually between people on the The Left who say that we need to provide ropes, pulleys and ladders to help people out of holes; and people on The Right who say that if people fall down holes then it’s their own fault and if we keep fishing them out then no-one will ever look where they are going.

Rule 7

I strongly agree that one should be a "good worker". I think that whatever you do; you should do it to the best of your ability; and I think that everyone should do their fair share of whatever needs doing and not leave it to other people.

I have never heard anyone on either The Left or The Right say that laziness and incompetence are virtues. If anything, The Left is more inclined than The Right to say that everyone should lend a hand, and to object to rich freeloaders who sit on their trust funds and watch the money role in. That is what the "according to his ability" part means.

Rule 9

Rule 9 is confused. "Respect" means both "be polite to" and "pay attention to".

To Respect your parents and the opposite sex means to be polite to them; to use good manners and social etiquette in your interactions. I think that good manners are a good thing. I think hurting people with words is as ungentlemanly as hitting a smaller man or a man with glasses or indeed anybody. I would even go so far as to say that the old fashioned rules of etiquette were quite a good idea. If everyone agrees that the younger person should let the older person pass through the door first; and that the man should let the woman do so, then we avoid unnecessary pushing and shoving. Etiquette and manners change over time; but knowing about this is part and parcel of good manners. If Granny has good manners, then she understands that the young folk use words that she would never have used and don’t mean anything by them; if the young folk have good manners they try not to use those words in front of Granny because they hurt her feelings. (Idiots on The Left and The Right sometimes say that it is impossible to hurt people with words, or that hurting people with words doesn't matter, and that there is literally no such thing as giving offence. Cowboys know better.)

"Respect" in the sense of "Respect your nations laws" means something quite different. Calling a lady "Miss Jones" until she invites you to use her first name and refraining from parking on a double yellow even if you are in a big hurry are both good things, but they are not the same good thing. I strongly support rule 9.2. I think that you should obey laws, even silly laws, particularly in a democracy where you have the power to change them.

Sadly, the Singing Cowboy does not tell us if a Cowboys first loyalty is to the Cowboy Code or to the laws and constitution of the United States. Does the Cowboy follow the Code except where it would be against the law, or does he follow the law, except where it conflicts with the Code? If the Government says that citizens are no longer to put Bibles on the wall or flags on the table; or if the Government says that cowboys are no longer allowed to carry six-guns, does a good Cowboy cheerfully and uncomplainingly follow the law, at least until the next election? If not, what was the point of putting "respect the law" in the Code to begin with?

I think that in this case, The Right make more of manners and obedience to the law than The Left do. The Left is more likely to say that old fashioned, ceremonial codes of politeness can be dispensed with. The Left is more likely than the Right to endorse the breaking of immoral laws; or the breaking of any laws in pursuit of a laudable goal. The Left is more likely to say that the Suffragettes, for example, were heroes and martyrs; The Right is more likely to see them as a bunch of vandals. 

Rule 10

I like the country I grew up in; I think that England has good laws and a sensible constitution; I am proud of the BBC, the National Health Service and the Welfare State. With all my faults, I love my House of Peers. I feel that the Lord of the Rings, the Beatles and the Two Ronnies are mine in a way that Moby Dick, Woody Guthrie and the Marx Brothers are not.

I think that I am in some sense a good person because I don’t punch smaller men, am polite to my elders and have (so far as I remember) never shot first in a duel. I don’t think that I am in any sense a good person because I love England; any more than I think that I am a good person because I love jaffa cakes. That is to say: I am a Patriot, but I do not think being a patriot is a moral virtue. Some of my friends on The Left would certainly say that patriotism is a vice or a temptation; that Loving England can too easily turn into Hating France and even Being Nasty To French People. Some of them would say that we should stop thinking of ourselves as English and see everyone as citizens of the world and members of the human race. A very great man once assured me that it isn’t hard to do.

I am not exactly sure how the Patriotism of the Cowboy Code is meant to play out in practice. Does a Cowboy simply go around thinking that the Yosemite valley is the most beautiful place on earth? Or is obliged to love the Constitution as well? Does he have to love it with "a love that asks no questions", or can he patriotically acknowledge its faults? He is entitled to think that the present, democratically elected Commander in Chief is an idiot, or does he have to say "my President, right or wrong." Or are we going to smuggle in some idea that Patriotism involves loving "the real America", and that certain places, people, institutions and points of view don't count?

A brief survey of Gene Autry’s music suggests that he was one of those who conflated Christianity with America and who had an instrumental attitude to religion. The Bible on the table and the flag on the wall are the backbone of our nation. Rely on both God and bullets. Pray to God, not because it's a good thing in itself, but because otherwise Santa might not bring you any presents. 

Rule 8

Rule 8 is about cleanliness, which is, it will be recalled, next to godliness. (*)  I do not think that the Singing Cowboy is telling me that I should take a shower every day and make sure that I have a supply of lavatory paper in my saddle bag. I think that "clean" and "dirty" are euphemisms for "chaste" and "unchaste". I think that when the Singing Cowboy tells children to have "clean thoughts" he is telling them not to think about sex. When he tells boys to have "clean actions" he is telling them not to get too close to girls. When he tells them to have "clean personal habits" he is telling them not to masturbate.

I don’t think it’s a great idea to look at too much pornographic material; and I definitely think that young people ought to be careful how far they go on a first date; and I am a fan of marriage as only a bachelor can be. But I think that looking at sexy pictures and having sexy thoughts and yes indeed playing with yourself in a sexy way is a perfectly normal part of being a human being, and that it is a very bad idea to tell children to associated their sexuality with dirt.

Chastity — total abstinence before marriage, total fidelity within marriage — is a Christian virtue; but I don’t know why this is the only Christian virtue that a Cowboy needs to worry about. Why not include "going to church on Sundays"; "only worshiping one God"; "not worshiping idols" or, for that matter "not coveting your neighbors ox"?

I don't think that there is any particular split between The Left and The Right over this rule. The Right have been known to prohibit things like pornography and sex-clubs on moral and decency grounds. The Left have also been known to campaign against pornography and sex-clubs on the grounds that they are degrading and insulting to women. Both sides have also said that grown-ups should be allowed to look at pictures of other grown-ups with no clothes on if they really want to.


In summary: this particular member of The Left is in favour of kindness, honesty, toleration, conscientiousness, politeness, law-abidingness and (depending on what you mean) patriotism. I think that The Left, on the whole, places more emphasis on kindness and toleration, while The Right, on the whole, places more emphasis on politeness and law-abidingness. I reject only one of the Singing Cowboy's precepts outright: it is pernicious to teach children that ordinary sexual feelings are dirty.

I know, of course, what five times Hugo Award losing author J C Wright will say at this point. He will say that The Left (on the whole) support a woman’s right to choose, and therefore approve of cruelty to foetuses; that The Left (on the whole) believe that two males who love each other should be treated exactly the same as a male and a female who love each other, and therefore disapprove of chastity; and that The Left support such things as a legal minimum wage and welfare payments for the unemployed and therefore disapprove of hard work. In fact, I think he would say that The Left approve of legal abortion because they positively disprove of kindness and want to encourage as much cruelty as possible; that The Left approve of civil partnerships and equal marriage because they positively hate chastity and want to encourage as much sexual immorality as possible; and that The Left came up with the idea that everyone should be paid enough to live on because they positively hate work and want to encourage everyone to be layabouts and bums.

There difference between The Left and The Right isn’t anything to do with their adherence to the Singing Cowboy Code. We all believe in kindness, honesty, tolerance and good manners in the same way we all believe in oxygen and gravity. We disagree about the extent to which kindness, honesty, tolerance and good manners are matters of individual responsibility; and the degree to which we all have to get together and make a kind, honest, tolerant and well-mannered world. We all agree that big people shouldn’t hit little people. We disagree about whether there need to be laws preventing grown ups from hitting children; or whether we should stop poking our noses into people's domestic affairs. We all agree that you should help people in distress; we disagree about whether the government needs to set up a big anti-distress fund or leave it to individuals to help each other. We all agree that if you see a lady in a burning building, you should try and get her out. We disagree about whether there need to be building regulations that stop ladies living in houses which are constructed of flamable materials; or whether that kind of thing is health and safety gone mad.

There are nasty, immoral people on both sides. We have recently had pundits on The Right saying that they positively hope refugees will drown; and newspapers of The Right positively comparing immigrants with vermin and infections. That goes against the Golden Rule, and the Sermon on the Mount and point 6 of the Cowboy Code. It is wicked, plain and simple. But we on The Left may be tempted to say that anyone who doesn't agree with our particular approach to immigration and asylum is a monster who thinks that foreigners are no better than rats. And that isn't true: only some of them are.

I support the National Health Service: like most British People, it is practically a religion to me. "The collective principle asserts that... no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means." But I couldn't quote you facts or figures to show why the British tax-payer funded system provides better outcomes to say, the German insurance based model; or demonstrate what the optimum balance between standard of health care and tax burden lies. Those sorts of debates are difficult, boring, and once you start looking up facts there is a terrible risk that it will turn out that there are good points on the other side. So the temptation is to say that The Right positively want poor people to get sick and die. And that isn't true. Only some of them do.

The Far, Far Right go much further than this. They don't just say that The Left is incorrect about the degree of collectivization that is possible or desirable. They affect to think that The Left -- not just Kim Jong Un and Tony Blair but you and me and Jeremy Corbyn are actually evil -- zombies and moorlocks with funny hats and bad breath who actively reject the basic moral values of humanity. When they see a confused list of watered down Christian morals, written decades ago by a well-meaning celeb, their first reaction is to say "Here is someone who dares to come right out and say that he is in favour of kindness, tolerance, honesty, good manners and chastity — UNLIKE THE LEFT WHO ARE IN FAVOUR OF CRUELTY, BIGOTRY, LYING, RUDENESS AND FORNICATION!!!

I don't think that The Right are, on the whole, wicked and amoral. I do think that one or two of them are very, very stupid.

"Why are you printing this on your blog, Andrew, rather than contributing to the discussion on Wright's own page."

"Because Wright says that he will only publish contributions if they contain offensive, derogatory and intolerant language."


Illustrations of the Tao, taken from the works of the Singing Cowboy.



1.1 Never shoot first,
1.2 Never hit a smaller man,
1.3 Never take unfair advantage.
4.1 Be gentle with children
4.2 Be gentle with animals
4.3 Be gentle with old people.


6. Help people in distress.


2.1 Never go back on your word.
2.2 Never go back on a trust
3: Always tell the truth.


5.1 Do not advocate racially intolerant ideas
5.2 Do not advocated religiously intolerant ideas
5.3 Do not possess racially intolerant ideas
5.4 Do not possess religious intolerant ideas


7. Work hard


8.2 Keep clean in speech
9.1 Show respect to women
9.2 Show respect to your parents


8.1 Have clean thoughts (ie Don’t think about sex)
8.2 Have clean actions (ie Don’t have sex outside of marriage)
8.3 Have clean personal habits (ie Don’t masturbate)


9.3 Show respect to the laws of your nation.


10: A Cowboy is a patriot

(*) "But only in an Irish dictionary." R.I.P Ronnie Corbett.