Thursday, 31 May 2012

Why I Loathe And Despise Spider-Man, That Torturing Piece Of Slime

In which the blogger starts steaming about a comic book that's long been chewed over and put away by other esteemed scribblers, including friends of this blog. His advice is that all that follows is naught but old news and spleen, and best avoided. But perhaps you might pop back another time, when the tone's more calm and topic fresher;

     
It's old news, of course. It happened, a few folks discussed it, there was a touch of raging and counter-spitting, and then the industry rolled right along. In Amazing Spider-Man #685, Dan Slott presented us with a scene in which Spider-Man and Silver Sable deliberately and savagely tortured The Sandman. It's a comic that I was reluctant to read, because, quite frankly, I just don't need to see yet another of my old childhood friends and inspirations transformed into one of the lowest forms of life that there is. But in the end, a possible assignment for elsewhere involved me collecting together various examples of Marvel's super-torturers from recent years, and obviously there was no avoiding Slott's Global Menace. What I hadn't foreseen is how profoundly disappointing it would be to read one example of torture-justifying super-book after another. I'd not realised quite how many of these consistently reactionary and thoroughly unpleasant polemics Marvel had produced, with all of them quite deliberately, it seems, taking an unambiguously contrary position to that spelled out in the Republic's Constitution.

There's been some idiots leaving offensive comments which contain the contention that the above scene isn't torture because the Sandman can't feel pain. To those who've accused me of either not reading the page or being plain stupid, may I present the obviously radical idea that terrorising a man with the apparent imminence of the extinction of his consciousness is, pain or not, the text-book definition of torture. (Rude comments get deleted, so rude folks shouldn't bother.)
  
One of the things that's most interesting to me about this toxic and stomach-turning business is how just about all of these despicable tales share the majority of the following features in common. In short, it seems that there's an established narrative which allows superheroes to behave as monsters and yet appear to be laudable, self-sacrificing guardians of security, order and decency. Indeed, Slott's script in Amazing Spider-Man #685 reads in places as something of an ur-text for this process, as a guide to how to corrupt comic-book characters while appearing to do quite the opposite. And so, these stories tend, as ASM #385 often does, to present us with the following;

1.) A certainty that the victim of the torture is undoubtedly guilty of the sin they're accused of and/or in possession of vital evidence desperately needed by the "heroes".

2.) A situation in which the victim could and should help if only they weren't so stubborn/evil/misguided etc etc.

3.) A situation in which the victim would never have suffered any harm whatsoever if they'd only behaved themselves and cooperated.

4.) The prospect of an imminent disaster so desperate, so appalling, so overwhelming and terrifying, that torture appears not only to be entirely justifiable, but unconditionally necessary. In fact, these stories are nearly always fixed so that torture actually seems to be a moral as well as a practical imperative.

        
5.) A situation rooted in the premise that torture both works and works relatively quickly, matched with the implication that the suffering it causes can be precisely limited and immediately treated. (In ASM #685, Sable and Spider-Man don't even discuss such matters, though time is spent talking nervously about the threat that the fiendish Sandman might escape, damn his sandy hide.)

6.) A situation in which the torture's been designed to be gruesomely compelling for the reader, because torture is, as Slott amongst many others obviously believes, an entertainment in itself.

7.) The clear suggestion that the heroic torturers are never sadists, incompetent or misguided, let alone evil.

8.) Information gained from the torture leads to decisive action which saves the day, because the torture, of course, always works and always works in an entirely productive fashion which allows the sins involved to be entirely eclipsed by the thought of all the children and puppies who've been protected.

    
9.) An outcome which either ignores any suggestion that the victim of the torture will suffer any lasting ill-effects or which actively implies that they won't.

10.) The sense that the hero or heroes who sanction and commit the torture will themselves suffer no lasting, dehumanising effects from their behaviour beyond a noble air of angst earned through the suffering which they - and not their victims - underwent as a result of the cutting and poking and burning and so on.

11.) The clear sense that torture is something which real heroes rise to, and which marks the truly super-heroic superhero as a figure willing and able to do anything in order to save the world once again.

       
Perhaps most sickening of all the many dubious aspects of Global Menace is the way in which Slott presents the bloody-handed Spider-Man as an entirely admirable human being fit to lead a superhero army in a "war" upon his enemies. "I have changed, but not that much." muses the young-ish Mr Parker, congratulating himself on the thought that he wouldn't have allowed the Sandman to be murdered. Well, torture's only torture, isn't it, and it was all in a good cause, whereas murder, it seems, would be the mark of a truly bad human being. If that beat of the story was designed to establish that Parker's a self-denying moral imbecile, and I doubt it was, then it only raises the prospect of when he's going to be tried and convicted for his crimes. Yet strangely enough, Slott seems convinced that Spider-Man remains not just one of the good guys'n'gals, but the guiding light of the costumed crimefighter's community. For in a later scene in which Parker marshals the various heroes remaining on planet Earth., Slott has him appeal for the support of his longjohned fellows from the international community of super-people with the following example of self-righteous speechifying;

"I'm asking you to take a leap of faith. To stack my character up against (that of Doctor Octopus) and ask -- "Who do you trust?"

         
How's that for a super-person who's quite forgotten all that hot-air about "great power" and "great responsibility", and who seems to have utterly repressed the entirely compromising fact that he connived in the torture of the Sandman just a few moments before? (Perhaps he's had his ego boosted and his conscience softened by the adoration of his partner-in-torture Silver Sable, who's quick to declare "This man is a real hero.") I'm sure that Uncle Ben would be proud of you, Peter, as would all those great Americans who, during times of terrible danger, rejected torture in any shape or form. After all, what could be more humane and American that the embracing of values and actions entirely inconsistent with, er, being either humane or American? Perhaps, and this surely is the longest of longshots, Slott intends to show us Parker re-acquainting himself with the principles of his nation and the content of its laws with a glance at the life and works of its greatest citizens? Why not begin his studies with Washington's ethics and behaviour during the War Of Independence, or with the debates of the Founding Fathers and the content of the Constitution which they framed? You know, the ethos and laws of the nation of which Peter Parker is supposedly a citizen.
       
        
It's a despicable business, this exalting of torturers, this dehumanising of their victims, this trivialising of the effects of the torturer's principles and art. A culture which creates heroes out of such men and women runs the risk of encouraging a society in which torturing becomes not just a noble virtue and a heroically pragmatic necessity in fiction, but a fact of life. Culture does tend to impact upon politics every bit as much as the reverse might be said to be true. But then, we might argue that that's a process that's long been underway. And I'll certainly never be able to look at Spider-Man and Captain America, Silver Sable and Black Widow, Dr Strange and Cyclops, Wolverine and their various collaborators, and not think that these are people whose characters I very much do not trust. In fact, for all the talk on some people's lips that this is Marvel presenting adult characters debating mature issues, the truth is that the broad sweep of this material constitutes nothing of the sort. Satire gets lost, debate is almost entirely absent, subtlety, if it could ever be claimed to exist, is buried in the tidal wave of what's effectively pro-torture propaganda.

            
No characters suffer beyond that sheen of self-sacrifice for their immoral and illegal behaviour, no statements against torture of any comparable force are ever published in the company's books. Can anyone name a forceful, high-profile polemic directed against vigilantes and their torturing ways in recent years? Can anyone recall a J'accuse moment directed against the monstrous Rogers and Parker and their cohorts? No, there's no debate here, no balanced investigation of ethical options where the bulk of Marvel's output is concerned. Because, let us be honest, practically the entire super-population of the Marvel Universe is a collaborator not just in the threatening and scarifying of potential ill-doers, but their purposeful torture too. An entire line of characters rendered perpetually ethically toxic, and yet still their likenesses get stamped onto kiddies' underwear and lunch-boxes. Why anyone cares to think of the modern mainstream book as an unarguably liberal proposition in the face of this consistent denigration of the most basic principles of both human rights the law is quite beyond me.

              
There's only one place for torturers, whether they're super-heroes or not, and that's in jail. Damn them all, and a great deal more than three contemptuous harrumphs for those creators who through principle or carelessness infest our culture with the myths of the heroic and noble torturer.A great deal more.

Does that sound too strong? And yet turning one comic-book character after another into torturers and advocates of torture isn't important enough to warrant such a response?

Do these principles really not matter? Take a moment, ask yourself. Is torture something which really doesn't matter? Or could it be a moral and practical obligation on the part of the good citizen, even when unsanctioned by law and unsupervised by anything of the state? Is it truly a responsibility which no decent human being should consider denying? And if that's not so, then why is there so little of anything other than flag-waving for the cause of the torturers in Marvel's comics?


         

Yes, I know. This is the worst article ever written, and it's old-old news, and DC's as bad as Marvel, and it's only comics and only fun anyway, and I've ignored key texts, and perhaps Slott has or will challenge the ethics of 685 in a later issue, and comics shouldn't be judged on the meaning of a single chapter, and torture works and the nation's been saved by it, and yes I know that many comics have contained aspects of torture, and yes ASM #385 didn't show the day being saved yet, and I'm a commie and a peacenik, and who'd want to read about wimpy super-people anyway, and Spidey did it to save the world, and blah-blah-blah. You're right, I'm wrong, and - hurrah - that's that sorted then.

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132 comments:

  1. Good lord.
    I haven't read the issue of Spiderman discussed here. But it's hard to misrepresent what's on the page when the page is reproduced here. And that sure looks like torture to me.
    But what really prompted my "good lord" was the above comment. The fact that:
    a)being anti-torture makes one liberal
    b)that there was someone blogging who felt this was not far enough to go
    is kinda mindblowing to me.
    I live in the US, in a fairly conservative area, so I'm certain I shouldn't be so surprised. I know torture was heartily endorsed by many about 10 years ago, and I would have happily lined up for a shot at Bin Laden myself.
    But that's not the mentality that society can maintain, at least, not one I want to live in. That's the mentality of someone who's had a loved one murdered, and wants justice by revenge. Few good decisions can be made in that mindset.
    I think Colin importantly touched on a huge factor in this - what are the after effects? Torture may get you what you want in the short term. But it's foolish to think that there won't be fallout from such an action, especially if its done repeatedly to a number of people. We'd be livid to know that a foreign country was holding Americans and torturing them for information, or for retribution. We'd respond with "shock and awe" I imagine. So it seems myopic to think others wouldn't feel exactly the same.
    So, I'm sure others could see my comments as "liberal" as well. But when a no-torture stance is viewed as left-wing, and the middle ground characterized as "instrumental torture isn't all bad"...I gotta say, that's frightening. Let's hope that slope isn't too slippery...

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    1. Hello Brian:- My apologies for compromising the sense of some of your comment. Statcounter suggested that the guy who'd posted the stupid comment had read my reply, so I deleted it. In fact, I've already had to delete an even more insulting e-mail about this piece and this piece has only just gone up! Still, I'm sure that anyone popping in can tell something of the piece that's gone by your response to it.

      If this comic doesn't describe 'torture', then there is no such thing :) But bless you for accentuating the point that an opposition to torture doesn't make a body a left-winger, as if there's only two sides to the debate, and only one side that would oppose it. The idea that left and right might not be able to describe someone's politics obviously never occurred, as did the idea that conservatives and their fellows would naturally support torture. That's insane, and shows an ignorance which is deeply worrying.

      I fear that slippery slope, Brian. I recall going to see Mississippi Burning way back in the 80s and noted that it had the crimes resolved by torture rather than by reward money and detective work, as happened in the real world. It really opened my eyes to the hunger that we have to justify torture, and yet every society that allows it becomes more and more corrupt, more and more unsafe and tyrannical. I might debate with you about torture ever working, but then, you're a good egg that I'm always happy to debate with. But the central and simple fact is that torture destroys everyone, from its victims to its perpetrators - unless they're already depraved and/or disordered - to the culture which attempts to accommodate it. It has always been so, and as you say, the idea that believing that makes a body "left-wing" is terrifying. I'd have thought that all democrats - in the general sense - would be united in opposing any such a challenge to the rule of law as the West has come to understand it. That so much our culture, our media, has succumbed to an adoration of torture without ever discussing the effects which it ALWAYS has, and always has had .... It's appalling, and believing so isn't a mark of extremism. It's actually the extremist who subscribes to a support of torture, and these are dangerous times when the long-established, if not always maintained, decencies of our cultures are being so thoroughly undermined.

      I've never been so sure that there's no point in blogging about the super-book as I felt this afternoon. Not that my voice was ever loud or influential in any sense. But who can do anything in the wave of this torture-porn? I realise that will sound self-aggrandizing, but all is mean is that debate seems a waste of time where the super-book is concerned. I know there are dozens of good eggs in the industry, and I suspect that some if not all of those in love with the torture trope don't consider it an ethical issue at all. I know many would have nothing to do with such material, and I admire them greatly, but they don't constitute a significant enough, influential enough, majority in the industry. I can only think of one Secret Six issue where an anti-torture theme was carried through, but I know of dozens and dozens of torture-porn issues. The sub-genre has become more and more reactionary in this area, and for all the good work that's being done, the essential message is one of cut'em-save-the-world. That smart and good-hearted creators could behave so .... irresponsibly - in my opinion, of course - is a depressing business.

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    2. Well, I linked to the other blog mentioned in that response, and started a dialog there too. And linked to your blog. Pot-stirrer that I am!
      I'll make the point here that I made there: if you're in a situation where millions of lives hang in the balance in this situation, why allow yourself to get involved with this action? You're frikkin' SPIDERMAN! You're part of the New Avengers, and have access to all the resources and connections available to that group. Sure, Slott's written it so that it seems everyone else is busy with AvX or whatever, but there are plenty of heroes not being used in those fights that could be contacted. At least wouldn't you try that, before trying a technique on Sandman that is not only morally dubious, but is unclear if it will actually work to hurt him at the outset, or that he'll provide reliable information as a result? If I'm Sandman, with my past with Spiderman, I'd never have given in, thinking that Spiderman would do just as he said, and stop before I was killed. So then where does that leave Spiderman? Further behind than before...
      And I'm no superhero, but if I'm Spiderman, I'd think about two seconds more than Peter apparently did here about those problems. Which really just makes your point, Colin, that Slott was just lazy, and unjustifiably so.

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    3. Hello Brian:- Thank you for the link, and no matter whether folks think I'm an idiot, it's always a good plot to stir. Can't have too much debate about these issues, as long as it is debate and not trench-shouting.

      You're quite right that Mr Slott (a) fixed the scenario to make it appear as if torture was both necessary and virtuous while (b) ignoring all other possibilities. Of course, a good writer, and Slott IS a very good writer, will do that. Yet that's another reason why it's hard to see this - in the context of the individual issue - as anything other than a deliberate statement supporting torture and the character's choice to use it. Slott closed off all other interpretations himself. Now, perhaps he'll open this can of fish later, but, as so many creators forget, the monthly comic is read in monthly dollops. And in that context, it's a torture-hurrah! narrative.

      Yet you're right that he couldn't close all those loopholes. How indeed would he know exactly far to go, or how far Sable would go, or what the lasting effects would be, or whether The Sandman would tell the truth? The presumption is, always, that (a) torture works and (b) the torturer is absolutely in control of the process.

      Now it may be that Mr Slott was lazy and opting for cheap effect. But I think highly of his skills, so I find it hard, on reflection, that that was the cause. (I'm swinging towards this POV as I reply to more and more comments.) I look at how carefully constructed that scene is and it's hard to think that Mr S wasn't in control of the meaning of events. And it's cool if he believes in torture in that way, just as he's obviously a social liberal when it comes to equality. But, if it was deliberate, then he was making a specific and contentious political point. Fair enough to respond, I reckon :)

      I'm glad I'm no superhero either, Brian. I'd not pass the tests to get into the likes of the Avengers. The pouring-acid-on-the-villain's-head assessment would have me retching just as them old cut-up-a-frog biology lessons used to.

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    4. Slott has been a very good writer in the past, and he may be again some day, but his work on Spider-Man since OMD/BND has been mediocre to bad, a succession of jumped-up "special events" and sales gimmicks like special covers, new costumes, etc. Any arc that includes things like Spider-Man punching out "Al Gore" (really the Chameleon, of course, although the artist didn't make him look anything like Al Gore) didn't have much hope of going anywhere very interesting, and that's exactly what Slott delivered.

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    5. Hello Hallowen Jack:- I've only read a fraction of Dan Slott's post-OMD stories on Spidey. Those I have read have been highly competent, though rarely involving. (I didn't even catch the Al Gore issue.) The pressure to make every Spidey book an event must be tremendous. But I'm sorry to say that all that effort hasn't worked for me, and if I've been lukewarm, you've been thoroughly more alienated.I admire DS for really going for it, for doing his very best to generate some light and heat for the book. But I'm not touched by this new Peter Parker, and so I don't really care about this Spider-Man. The torture scene merely aaccentuated the process of alienation which for me began when Spider-Man became an Avenger, lost his wife and become someone else.

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  2. Greetings, angry Colin of the far left.

    This is an interesting idea, examining the recent use of torture in super hero comics and I'd welcome seeing the full scope of your investigation, especially since I can only recall two of the instances you referred to.

    For a non-super hero instance, I was interested at how Larry Hama used torture in his G.I. Joe: Declassified mini; he included a vital scene where Stalker interrogated a captured terrorist using most of the story elements you listed above. What fascinates me is the repercussion of Stalker's actions - Hawk assumes full responsibility despite learning about the torture ex post facto and Hawk is court martialed, but refuses to let the men under his command take the rap; it's presented as the reason why Hawk became the commander of G.I. Joe.

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    1. Hello Michael:- I have always loathed the far left and right with a spittin' passion. And yet, I find I'm constantly been placed in one or other of those groups because of this blog.

      From the Secret Avengers to X-Force to the Avengers to the X-Men and Spider-Man and - of course - The Punisher, who is now so like most other heroes that he's more of a pal than a villain, torture passes almost as given. Some titles focus more on the consequences of it, though mostly for the poor heroes undertaking the grisly responsibilities, but I haven't come across a wave of books dedicated to rejecting torture as a tool of principled crime-fighting. When even Dr Strange uses his illusions to try to not just frighten, but terrify an innocent - though hardly pleasant, victim, then the pendulum's swung far too far in the reactionary's court.

      Here's a great article by Prof Mark White on the topic for another few examples, though you probably know all the Avengers stuff;

      http://www.comicsprofessor.com/2012/03/torture-comics-the-new-avengers-cross-the-line.html

      I never read G.I Joe, though I've always heard of it being described respectfully. I won't judge without reading, but it does sound ripe for a good chin-wagging :)

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  3. I may be seen as naive by the more cynical out there in the Blogosphere, but I've always been of the opinion that torture is morally indefensible, no matter how many lives its advocates may claim it has saved. How can you hold the moral highground over terrorists and the like if you use the same, albeit state-sanctioned tactics? A now-unfashionable phrase which I remember hearing from my parents is "two wrongs don't make a right" - and I still believe in that. As civilized, rational human beings we need to be better than the death-worshiping fanatics out there on the fringes of humanity, and not adopt their methods.

    And I certainly don't like seeing my boyhood fictional heroes being turned into vengeful, self-justifying would-be water-boarders. I've enjoyed a lot of Dan Slott's work on ASM but this is making me consider cancelling my subscription. If there was some sort of real debate going on here, some questioning of this Biblical eye-for-an-eye morality, then maybe I could see the point ( ouch! ) of this scene. But there isn't. Maybe Mr. Slott will redeem himself later with scenes of Peter agonising over his rash decision and wondering what the saintly Uncle Ben would have thought of these actions. Maybe. I'm not too hopeful...

    Colin, please ignore the "loonies" and keep giving us your rational, thinking, questioning and humane posts on this blog. It's a dirty job... but I'm glad you're doing it.

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    1. Hello cerebus:- It strikes me that the naivity is all on the other side's arguments, given that they seem so happy to avoid all the evidence from psychology, history and so on. It's a faith-based community, of sorts, and it wants to believe that REALLY hurting other people works.

      I can't see any other circumstances beyond reviewing that would lead to me buying into Slott's Spider titles. As you say, I could cope with a debate, with a smartly executed piece of politics even if I didn't agree. But this is something else, and given that this issue will always exist as a distinct entity with a pro-torture message, I can't see how later issues can change what's been done. Nor can I see how Peter can ever be the same character again; unless he does a serious measure of time to pay for his crime, and that's not going to happen, is it?

      Thanks for your much appreciated kind words. You are an egg, as of course you'll know.

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  4. It's hippies like you that got 24 cancelled, Smith!

    From reading the internet, I already know the stock response to your line of questioning: "You were not in New York on 911/are not American - you do not understand."
    It's reasoning that is essentially giving up on ever occupying the higher moral ground, acknowledging that when the going gets tough, the only response is to fold, to become what is beheld, to fight fire with fire, to frighten the monsters by being an even bigger monster and hope that they fold like we did rather than simply resolve to become bigger monsters themselves.

    Then again, this is Spider-Man we're talking about, and at the core of the character is a bullied kid who became a bully himself.

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    1. Hello Mr Brigonos:- You see, after literally years of arguing, you've finally won me over to your side. Peter Parker is everything you said he was, and, unbelievably, far worse too.

      it really is disturbing seeing such extreme arguments taken for granted in what was so often a liberal sub-genre. I can understand the psychology which drives such a p.o.v., and yet the mix of progressive social values in DS's work combined with this pro-torture stance is, to say the least, confusing. It certainly doesn't sit easily with any point on the British political system short of the relatively few Brit Libertarians. Strange stuff, and yes, that whole fighting fire with fire stance is one which has never proven compatible with democracy. Either the policy or the democracy has to go. Not sure that's always taken into account ...

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    2. I came into the comments to post something similar to Brigonos' point (and to read the always-interesting conversations your blog posts prompt).

      I once read a university student paper on Peter Parker (not one of my students, but something sent to me with the student's permission, so even if I still had it I couldn't send it along). It made precisely the case that the once-bullied Peter Parker had himself become a bully, and that all the quips and friendly neighborhood Spidey stuff only served to obscure that fact - and only after Stan Lee stopped writing the title, because he was fully committed to a nasty-edged Spider-man (see Spidey's initial encounter with the Fantastic Four; he's a colossal jerk). Only the "hard luck" stuff kept Spider-man from being truly insufferable.

      This is by no means a defense of Slott's script, but I would have considerably less trouble with it if it weren't for that "I've changed, but not that much" line. That's the really reprehensible, lazy thing here: a weak line that serves to eclipse the real ethical mistake Spider-man has just made. You can say you wouldn't have let it go that far, but you don't actually know that; and in any event, it's Silver Sable who is dripping acid onto Sandman, and you don't control her. But you did enable her by lending your considerable good-guy ethical weight.

      Then again, this is a man who sold his marriage to the devil and disrupted the past of every man, woman and child on earth to save a woman who asked you not to save her because it was her time. Spider-man is essentially dead right now.

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    3. Hello Cory:- Finding some form of consistency in how a character's been portrayed over decades is always next to impossible, and that's especially true now that the endless reboots matched with the arrogant attitude to reframing character on a whim have become the norm. If things weren't impossible before, they are now. And yet, we do impose our own reality upon this mass of information. Your student had a good case, for example, that Spidey was a bully, and a through-line building on that could undoubtedly be built. (I recall being shocked to realise that Parker was always a social climber, for example. He never wanted to find value in his fellow - for want of a better word - "nerds". He wanted to sit with the jocks - and their girl-friends such as Liz - and be respected by their bullying idiot selves.)

      And yet, as you also argue compellingly, there are moments which are so overwhlemingly disturbing that they shift out of the "I'll ignore this in my version" category and move into the "I can't ignore this" category. The whole business with MJ and the marriage was one of those things. If not quite a break point for some folks, it was close to it. (Mind you, part of that was the shamefully moronic plot and script.) Even more worrying and impossible to ignore is this business of Spider-Man the torturer matched with Spider-Man who considers himself a noble soul. To help organise and to collaborate with such a terrible business puts Parker beyond the pale for me, and as you say, he's dead. He really is. It is well possible to draw a logical line from the sneering new-to-Uni student of the last Ditko issues to this torturer, and sadly that's the dominant narrative now. Not Peter Parker, our decent-hearted if on occasion compromised representative in the MU, but Peter Parker the bully who became Spider-Man the arrogant torturer.

      I try to argue myself out of this conclusion, but I can't. And no deal with the devil is likely to convince me that this wasn't a terminal blow to my involvement with the character, unless we discover that it's all been an illusion blah-blah-blah and there's evidence that Slott planned it all from the start.

      But if so, that leaves the problem of the tethics of producing a distinct unit of serial fiction which argues that torture's heroic. Pah.

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    1. Hello Matthew:- Agreed. Agreed 100%, Do you know any writers who might like to a shot at it? Writers who enjoy comedy and enjoy producing it too?

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  6. Sir Colin, because that is how I address Knights of the Realm, I know that melancholy over the state of comix per superheroix is heavy and real, especially because as you said, people you’d surmise as otherwise good-hearted and well-meaning perpetuate destructive comix, but don't give in. For one, your blog has become my favorite and I do not take that lightly. That individual affect in the wave of torture-porn masquerading as awesome is comparatively small but seeing a fellow lover of cape comix (at their best) jump with as much tenacity, verve, and frequency as you, has been daunting in its inspiration. I know I'm not the only one grateful and fiercer when engaging your pieces; that energy carries on.
    Ironically, Tim O'Neill at whenwillthehurtingstop.blogspot.com has written a few powerhouse posts on the sad deputization/militarization/Millarization of Marvel's heroes; heroes whom of all as you know captured a vital counterculture sensibility that with the explosive rise of its commercial viability eventually lost its salience, and as you elucidate, now perhaps its integrity. The House of Ideas has long been the House of Trademark Protection. The plight of the geniuses who gave us comix we love too-protectively to this day continues to be more and more apparent as the money made off their work expounds. Is it haphazard that this trickles down to comix where the dominance of the straight white American hero of yesteryear, the fetishization of torture (Geoff Johns), the marginalization and fetishization of people of color or women, the lack of story for the buck, etc., aren’t commonplace but celebrated? The situation isn't dire because there aren't quality craftsman in the world of comix (including superheroix) but because the heroes of comix, both the paper heroes and their creators, continue to be distorted and disserved, representing the worst of the culture of commodity; ironically enough, an excess which most of us would instinctively agree, these heroes and their creators would be against. I've been long-winded all to arrive here--these characters and their creators are better than the ugly, which has appropriated them. Don't we owe it to the platonic essence that is the best of what we love, don't we owe it to these adventures that move us, to wrack ourselves trying to figure out if indeed the tidal wave can't be shifted? The love for characters and worlds that becomes filling in blanx, following trains of thought, understanding our own proclivities, in the face of shitty comix (you finely articulated this opening your Supergirl piece) needs to include action that affects those telling the stories.
    Mark Waid and Greg Rucka, in spite of their solid work and awesome interaction with fans show it isn't enough; regardless of where they go, they continue to use their cache to address the unacceptable in cape comix and what’s worth emulating. That’s what we need of our comix—People with soul. I'm not asking for other comic companies to navigate us to what the genre needs next; I think we're going to get there regardless, and I can't wait. I ask the naive but important question, is there a way to undermine Disney and Time Warner, to get characters and the people behind them, treated with respect? (Not saying this is indicative of every one of their practice, but we are addressing the wrong.)
    I say we start with getting Bill Finger's name on everything it should be on. Or a worldwide revulsion at the perversion of torture being illegitimately condoned by our heroes (because some of us love characters that actually would torture, some for torturing, and that's a dialogue worth engaging). Your call. It's a call worth having.

    Name's Niles Day.

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    1. Hello Niles:- Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad that you've something that's made the journey over this way worth the while. It always strikes me as silly that a post on this blog can succeed in making a few folks exceptionally angry, but I am pleased that it has a little of the same affect on a few others. You lose some, you win a few.

      The Hurting's a great blog, isn't it? And of course there's lots of folks who taking on this very issue, and doing so a damn sight more effectively too.

      You make a significant number of points about the fix that the superhero comic has found itself in. You'll forgive me if I tale a while to consider your contentions. Perhaps this is a good point for me to accentuate a point which I'm sure you agree with, namely, that for all your criticisms, there certainly are fine and ethical writers working in the mainstream. I think of Gillen and McKelvie on Gen Next # 9, for example, and Mark Waid and his collaborators on Daredevil. (Of course, you mention MW in your own reply.) The love for character which you refer to is certainly plain in the work of those creators. Mind you, I'd say that that love for Spider-Man is there in Dan Slott's work too; it's just that I can't take the extreme political position that he’s chosen to pass onto his version of Peter Parker.If Slott believes in torture, then I suppose it’s natural that he’d pass that attitude onto Spider-Man. It’s understandable and it’s his right. I might fiercely disagree, but it all comes down to opinion. And in the end, I guess the only option here is to stop buying the comics if they really are pushing values which the reader is uncomfortable is. I feel awkward about that, but what other option is there?

      You are right to suggest that there are characters who undubtedly would be torturers. I'm not suggesting that there shouldn't ever be characters who don't behave in reprehensible ways. It's the presention of the reprehensible as being both ethical and normal which which disturbs me. When Cap and Spidey are so up for torture, somnething's gone terribly wrong.

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  7. I guess I'll be the unpopular one here lol:

    I'm not completely against torture. I'm not smart enough or educated enough on the subject to really give a good defense that you haven't heard before, so I'll skip that.

    I do agree though that a vast, vast majority of what's seen in popular fiction that portrays it does so in a way that's way too simplistic in its portrayal. Why can't we see someone resort to torture and realize "this man doesn't know anything!" or "this man gave us false information just to get us to stop torturing him!"

    Not that I trust anyone writing cape-comics right now to handle that with much more class either. I'd imagine that the hero of that story would then be shown being upset about having failed saving the lives he attempted to save instead of being upset he tortured an innocent man.

    And I'll admit that torture is a nasty business that shouldn't be endorsed much less whole-heartedly. It's indefensible and ugly, but there's a small, ugly part of me that understands how it could be useful that makes it impossible for me to condemn it completely.

    I will say that "torture porn" is way too prevalent in the media. At least it seems to have died down in the horror genre ala the Saw series or Hostel.

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    1. Hello Joe:- I can't see why anyone who's a friend of the blog would regard you in the way that you suggest just because you've a different opinion. The problem for me in Slott's tale wasn't so much the presence of torture as the way in which it's presented as a necessary virtue without a debate about the matter. There's no convincing argument made about why Parker would suddenly swing so far to the right, and there's no reference made to political arguments at all. Yet to suggest that you shouldn't be welcome here because you are willing to be involved in a debate wouldn't make any sense at all. (I hope I'm making sense here. It's been a long day and I'm not sure that my sentences are saying what I mean them to.) So, we disagree about torture. The fact that you're so generously up-front about it and willing to discuss the issue is SUCH a relief for me after having to delete a string of comments which were by contrast unpleasant and totally disinterested in anything other than calling me an idiot. Of course, I may well be an idiot. On fact, I suspect it's likely. But saying so is no way to get posted on the blog. Thanks for being a good egg about disagreeing.

      I agree with you that it would be SUCH a relief to see a tale in which a character had to face the consequences of a torture which simply failed to deliver the information the torturer was after. And as you say, why can't we have scenes in which the torturer is revealed to have persecuted an innocent individual. (There was something of this in Ellis' Secret Avengers torture tale, but the business of torture was ultimately one which resulted in the team getting the data they needed.)

      My objection to torture is grounded in a conviction that it's both largely useless and fundamentally corrupting. Yet I wouldn't deny that there may have been rare situations where it was used successfully. And there's undoubtedly mileage in that to power a story or three. Yet as you imply, that would be a long way from Slott's wholehearted embrace of the utility and necessity of torture in ASM.

      Finally, yep, torture porn is everywhere, isn't it? In comics, it often has two functions. One, to thrill with its sadism, and two, to justify the very idea of torture. An unpleasant business, and one that there ought to be a great deal more fuss about.

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  8. Just wow. I think there is a joke supposed to be in there as well. To "acidboard"? Really?
    Sandman also keeps calling him "Spidey"...

    In which comic does Captain America resort to torture? Sounds completely out of character...

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    1. Hello there:- Yep, I was shocked too. And even long after knowing something of the events in ASM, for a good egg in these comments warned me of the situation, I'm still able to be shocked. It's so out there that it's shocking. If it's satire, it doesn't work. If it's being played straight, it's despicable.

      The Captain America scene is in - I believe - Secret Avengers #21 by Warren Ellis. It's been said that it's obviously a satire, and it would seem strange if it was anything else, given what we know of WE's politics. But it's badly done, and the scene reads remarkably like Slott's here. In it, Cap threatens several operatives with torture and authorises Moon Knight and - I believe - the Black Widow to carry out the wretched business. An innocent man is stabbed through the hand, if memory serves, by one of the Avengers. It's all .... an unpleasant business.

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    2. It's also been done in other WE comics (Planetary, Jack Cross, etc). I really like Ellis' comics in general which is why it bothers me so much that he seems to view torture as "something that good men resort to in truly bad situations where they really need results".

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    3. Hello there:- I wasn't aware of that, and I'm grateful to you for pointing it out. It's disappointing to hear that that Secret Avengers story wasn't a one off, to say the least.

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  9. From Chilean poet Marjorie Agosin's poem, "La Desaparecida / The Disappeared Woman":

    "Y lo más increíble/era gente/como usted/como yo/sí, gente fina/como nosotros."

    "And the most incredible thing
    they were people
    like you
    like me
    yes, fine people
    like us."

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    1. Hello Carol:- There's nothing I could add, of course, but thank you. Yes, that reminds me that no matter how cack-handed my efforts were, the basic principle was, for me, the right one. We do not do this, and we do not tolerate those who do.

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  10. Keep up the great work Colin, and don't let the detractors get you down. Given that the super hero genre is essentially about power (in all its forms), there just aren't enough people thinking about power's problematic nature and usage. We desperately need you to keep thinking and sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Hello Kirk:- Thank you, and that's a telling point you make about how power is rarely questioned in the super-book, unless, of course, it's the power and purpose of the law.

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  11. Difficult topic. Without going into the morality of the use of torture, I'll stick with Slott's interpretation of Spider-Man taking a cue from the New Critics: We don't need to buy into an author's interpretation of the text. This holds, perhaps, even more true with collective texts like comics. I certainly do not hold J.M. Strazinksi (Who I don't care enough about to spell his name correctly) and his Normal Osborne / Gwen Stacy story arc to include it in my understanding of ASM canon. I look at the foundation of the Spider-Man mythos and I think Lee, Ditko, Romita, and others of that ilk. I'll even include contemporary writers like J.M. DeMatteis and Brian Bendis in that mix (though not necessarily on the same level). Slott missed the boat. Pure and simple.

    I am of the mindset that WE as readers validate stories as great and worthy of being included in a particular character's "canon." The creators create it, but we choose to accept it--it's a sort of dialogue. In this case, Slott made an offer for one vision of Spider-Man, but we can choose to reject it.

    I'm reminded of when Augustine (and I'm paraphrasing fast and loose here, so be warned!) referred to the time when one must meet brigands with action. I see our heroes in the same light. Violence and the use of force is the last resort, not the first; however, it does have its place. Violence and morality, however, are not mutually exclusive concepts either--and I do not believe, Colin, you are saying otherwise. I just feel it is important to point this out in a discussion on comic book superheroes and their relationship to violence in service to a greater cause.

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    1. Hello fhelvie:- thank you for disagreeing in such a civil and thought-provoking way. I know I run the risk of seeming folksy if I type that, and yet I do mean it. As I've said above, the barrage of unpleasantness is what defeats the conversation, not the difference of opinion. So, hats off to you.

      I would say that I'll have to disagree with you. I do accept the principle that individual consciousness creates meaning. As a twenty year teacher of psychology and sociology, how could I do anything else. Yet here I think we're dealing with what I regard as moral absolutes and practical no-goes. I'm certainly not a pacifist. In fact, I believe strongly that the state needs to carry the potential for violence under the control of the rule of law and enabled by what we might for sake of brevity refer to as human rights. (I'm writing fast and loose too, and trusting to the folks who visit here to pick up my sense in the context of this discussion and the late hour.) But torture itself falls beyond the range of what I believe is either useful or ethical. It simply is not acceptable. And when a culture conspires by chance AND design to create the impression that torture DOES work and that it IS moral, then the ability of folks to make their own minds up is compromised by the weight of received opinion.

      My fear is often that the West has become complacent and even ignorant where the lessons of the past are concerned. There are values and practises which permit liberal humane democracies to flourish, and their absence corrupts and ultimately destroys such democratic structures. I believe that there are interests more than keen to destroy those values, and an ignorance which in effect collaborates with them in doing so. There are - shorthand again - human rights which are so essential, so fundamental, that any subversion of them should be called to account. It's of course absolutely proper that these values should be challenged. But Slott's script here, and those like it, have created a situation in which these essentual values are simply swept aside. For all that it will be seen as naive if not far worse, I just don't think that that's ethical. There are brigands in the culture too, and they need meeting with some force too. I fear that we don't often recognise as a culture that things such as the rule of law and the restraint of violence are such vital things. When the culture helps to further erode those principles ... it's a dangerous thing.

      Yep, it's time for bed. That will read badly in the morning, no doubt.

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  12. I dont get the Spidey comics unless thetyr a crossover with others I collect, but if all the above is correct what a horrendous road this once loved character is turning. Maybe cause its his 50th anniversary year or the prospect of the upcoming movie being more hard-hitting but this kind of thing just dosent agree with me.
    My all-time favourite solo superhero Wonder Woman courted controversy like this several years ago. She 'tortured' Cheetah by hanging her upside down and threatening to cut her tail off with her tiara, at which juncture the WW fans who admired writer Gail Simone began turning against her.
    Im just not sure if having heroes turn 'bad' merely to facillitate a turning point in a storyline is ever fully justified; look at Hal Jordan and how it disproportionately affected him in the eyes of fans. It might represent a tipping point of an Occams Razor in terms of why we think they should change, esp in liberal genres where the passing of time and the resulting change in social morees and attitues demands we 'keep up' lest we fall behind, but does altering a significant behaviour pattern to show this mean we must ignore what went on before? I mean, Peter's Uncle Ben was murdered yet Spidey is from what we see quite comfortably watching as Sandman gets tortured. Justified? At this point its been eleven years [Marvel Time] since they first clashed and as anyone whos had an enemy for that long will attest, one can only play by Gentlemans Rules for so long before you realise This Cant Go On. But given his recent doings with the Future Foundation and their seemingly eclectic teaming-up with the FFs villains, this serves as a Rubicon that perhaps even Spidey, with 50 years worth of every conceivable story to be told that has been told shouldnt have crossed. I dont care much for the liberal 'elite' and their way of how violence can be explained and condemmed; Im middle class and I find their supple lack of alacrity leaves a bit more to be desired than is comfortable. This particular issue would play very neatly into their mind-sets, without of course incurring any of the requisite 49 years of soft-core Spidey tales that preceded it. But then Spidey is merely dumb-waitering after the likes of Captain America, who like you said has behaved with considerable right-wing aplomb in Secret Avengers and only Hawkeye [that paragon of polar-disorder hero] calls him up on it. If you ask me, the Spider-Man character has somewhat turned in upon itself in view of the writers over-general polemic. Im certainly not comparing this writer to Arthur Conan Doyle in any sense, but Doyle once commented that when a character repeats its behaviour and yet dosent explain it and keeps secrets even from its writer, it reveals more sides of itself to the writer. Just a pity that cant quite translate itself over to the readers, and Marvel demonstrate this trait particularly well, everything from Iron Man going from liberal to right-wing without a single mis-step in Civil War to Reed Richards's personality transplant from strong leader to doddery mistake-laden do-gooder. If Marvel are trying their earnest to derive a conservative consciousness toward violence and torture by altering their most popular hero, then they need to internalize the ennui such behaviour not only externalizes, but downright approves. No-one denies in these times comic books have to be more hard-hitting, so this sudden change will in and of itself will require a different way of looking at how heroes will adapt.

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    1. Hello Karl:- Actually, most of what I've read of Slott's run has been highly competent. As I've discussed on the blog to probably too great a length, I don't care for his version of people, but that's my taste and not an objective judgement of any kind. Regardless of that, the comic was always well done when I visited. This, of course, was another matter.

      You raise a whole host of issues. I can see why a company and/or a creator might decide to "turn" a character, and I can fully understand why they might do so. Some of my favourite characters have at one time or another been quite different individuals with quite different attitudes. Even back at the dawn of the Marvel era, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and the Black Widow switched from one side of the fence to the other. So, no argument here that characters can and will change. But then, that's not my problem. My problem isn't even with the particular changes shown happening to Peter here. My problem is that Parker is shown behaving in a way that I believe to be evil, and yet that behaviour is depicted as being quite the opposite.

      I'd also disagree with you that there's only so long that one can play by gentlemen's rule, if we might use that shorthand. I don't accept that at all. There will always be crime, always be wars, always be psychopaths and so on. If we put a time-limit on how long our moral principles can last before we give up, they were never moral principles in the first place.

      I too am at odds with much of the liberal vision of what human beings are and how they should be treated. I've long taught in schools where the dominant ethos was one of the most hippy-dip nativity when it comes to how learning can be best secured while discipline maintained. And no, that doesn't mean that I believed in either the right or the left or indeed the centre's approach. Mine was a pragmatic one which stole from everything which might work. And so, my argument isn't liberal, or indeed radical or reactionary. I just don't accept the validity of those terms any more. I object to torture because it corrupts those who suffer it, those who commit it and the societies in which it happens. It's also far less useful than other interrogative techniques, and it only very rarely if ever works. You see, I don't care much for any elite, of any kind, but I do care for principles which reflect hard-won practical knowledge.

      Yet I accept your point that there's a story or twelve to be told of a Spider-Man who gave up hope, abandoned his principles and took to torture. If that was a creator's vision of where to go, then fine. Yet I would hope that the reality of torture and its effects would be at the heart of the story rather than the "24" BS which so often infests our culture. The problem with Slott's work is that I'd struggle to see it in terms of such a change in Peter. And, of course, if Peter is shown behaving so despicably, then he's better be punished for it too, and by that, I don't mean a brief period when a few other superheroes are sulking at him.

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    2. cont


      There was a statement by Marvel or a senior bod therein recently which I've been trying to find, in which it was argued that - and I'm remembering in a vague sense here - its heroes would and should be behaving in more extreme ways. I have no understanding of why, or of why Marvel would want to be more right-wing in this fashion. And I certainly agree with you that such a change needs to be more than affectation. As you say, the reader would need to be shown the causes and consequences of this. At the moment, we've just got a gaggle of torturing, anti-social thugs in costumes. The sense seems to be that change has occured, but not much. That seems an odd attitude. The line from not torturing to torturing marks as extreme a change as can be imagined short of mental disorder. It's not a slight change at all. But then, Marvel likes to portray its characters doing whatever sells and never, as far as I can recall, shows them being punished for their actions in any way that reflects the acts which have been committed. The Brains Trust in Civil War, for example, with their biological weapon of a Thor-Clone were never tried for their criminal negligence and for the manslaughter of Goliath. Comics like to create a noise, but the mainstream doesn't like to deal with the mess its created. As always, there are writers who are willing, eager and able to do so. I've listed some in the comments above. But overall, I don't think folks care.

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  13. When Spider-Man admits internally that he was bluffing and would never go that far, he seems to mean he'd never torture: that bit comes after he threatens to "acidboard", he's threatening to play the heavy in the face of Sandman going "Spidey won't do that!". And bluffing villains and criminals with threats he'd never do is a long-standing Spider-Man practice.

    Except Silver Sable has started to torture Sandman and Spidey stood and watched. Obviously he has "changed... that much". There's no moral difference between tacitly approving torture and doing it yourself, except maybe that the latter adds cowardice because you're pretending you're not involved.

    - Charles RB

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    1. Hello Charles:- The whole story, of course, isn't here, but Spidey's even more than a guy who tacitly approves torture. My copy of the issue is a digital one on Comixology and I can't open it from here - don't have the password - but memory says that Parker is fully involved in the whole business, aware of what's going to happen, discussing security arrangements, committed to the project. Even if he were just tacitly involved, then, as you say, he's still incredibly guilty. But he's more than that, because he's involved in a torture in which a living creature is to be utterly terrified that their consciousness will be entirely destroyed.

      And so, as you say, he's guilty as hell. In fact, reading your comment, and recalling through my no-sleep befuddled brain the issue, I find myself loathing the character even more, while thinking no good at all of Dan Slott for constructing this "oh-he-must-torture" scenario.

      Well, no longer The House Of Ideas. The House Of Torture then.

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  14. I'm kind of befuddled why anyone would think that a good Spider-Man comic would need a torture scene in there.

    I don't really remember that being a necessary component for a good Spider-Man story--power and responsibility, the old Parker luck, sure-- these are things that are pretty naturally part of his mise-en-scene. Pouring acid on someone? Not so much.

    Perhaps superhero comics are just not the place to have the debate about when and how torture is justified.

    I should be angrier about this kind of thing, but this kind of tone-deaf stuff happens so much that I seem to find myself sort of shaking my head and sighing wearily, pondering who this sort of thing could possibly appeal to and how much distance can I put between those people and myself?

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    1. Hello Kazekage:- The whole comic does seem designed to accentuate how Spidey has become a real tough nut. At the beginning, he's repeatedly shown saying "Don't kill, but hurting's fine", and it's all put forward as if this is actually a sign of maturity mixed with restraint. Actually, the whole comic just leaves him looking like a self-righteous fascist swine, but there we go.

      I can sympathise with the idea that the super-book isn't the place to debate torture. My own position is that the superhero story by its very nature is a debate about power and how it should be used, but here, Slott's taken the book out of any debate beyond the "hurt/torture/kill" option, which is rather collapsing the options at hand to one extreme end of the spectrum.

      I know about that weariness/get-away process too. There are moments when an individual comic, or more likely the ignorance and/or sanctimoniousness of its creators, winds me up and I vent. But this, as I said, came from half-a-dozen and more top-of-the-line comics which were all presenting torture in this noble/necessary light. It fair got under my skin.

      I woke up this morning thinking two things. To what degree can I justify buying these products anymore? And, on the level of these stories themselves, what does Spider-Man think is going to happen now that he and his colleagues become known as committed, and often taking-it-for-granted, torturers? Still, maybe Marvel will get a mini-series out of it; WAR OF THE TORTURERS!!!

      Who does it appeal to? Them flakking rumpers, I assume.

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  15. Colin,

    I see how you interpreted my reference to Augustine and how it could have been read in two different ways. Allow me to clarify my position, as I think you will see we are on the same page here. When I say violence and morality are not mutually exclusive and employ Augustine to justify the moral use of violence, I am NOT equating justified violence with torture. Not at all. Augustine refers to use of war & violence only as the final form of defense of innocents and preservation of peace. To me, this speaks of a more defensive and less aggressive mindset. Torture speaks to a highly aggressive form of proactive violence--very different.

    So when I say I accept superheroes use of violence, it is under THIS Augustinian auspice--not that of a utilitarian mindset dictating the greater good supercedes the needs of the individual and the end justifies the means. And I think our superheroes' creators were operating under the same understanding when they formed their heroes under the banner "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."

    P.S. fhelvie = Forrest from Sequart!-)

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    1. Hello Forrest!:- I can only apologise for being so blurry-minded that I was in any way confused by your comment. I'm glad to note that I was civil, but disappointed that I missed your point. And reading the above, huge numbers of pennies drop - or perhaps just one REALLY big one - and, yep, we're in perfect agreement.

      Thank you for persevering. And reading this and your comment yesterday, I'm amazed how wiped out I was yesterday night. I say that not as an excuse - it'd be a poor one - but because it's just dawning as I sit here on a fresh morning how wiped out I was by yesterday's piece. It was, I know, hardly a good piece of writing, though I think the contents were at least fairly clear and sincerely expressed. In fact, I'd been working on something else all day with no prep at all for the above, and yet I stumbled into feeling so - forgive me - upset about this whole torture=nobility business in Marvel's comics that in the end, it was write or explode. I know a great many folks would at the very least sneer at the idea of such a topic getting under a body's skin to that degree, but I suppose that when you mix such contempt for both the facts and common human dignity, and then display that in the pages of comics which were once so important to me, then something tends to give. Cap, Daredevil, Wolverine and X-Force, many of the X-Men, Dr Strange, Spider-Man ..... on and on, all either torturers or enablers of torturers. Not on the level of threatening suspects or even occasionally hanging them off roofs, a dodgy business in itself, but on the level of *!£$ing torturing people in the most active and deliberate way. It was one of those moments when things which I've known but chosen not to think too much about became unavoidable.

      With great power comes the freedom to torture whoever you want and look windswept and self-sacrificing afterwards. Isn't that what Stan Lee originally wrote?

      Thanks for clarifying your point. I hope the day goes well with you.

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  16. Excellent post Colin and i think these types of episodes say more than a little bit about the mindset of the creators involved. Why are these people promoting torture and rendition and other despicable policies of the bush/obama administrations?

    I really started thinking about as i noticed the endless promotion of captain america(he seems to be in every book-crossovers etc..) over the last 2-3 years. Cap appears as the rational 'leader' type or most frequently in the 'good war'(ww2)...he is rarely(never?) placed in the context of iraq or afghanistan(two highly unpopular wars) or in our undeclared wars in pakistan/yemen/libya/and now syria.

    It really feels like Marvel(yes moreso than DC) is playing some sort of warped 'patriotism' card-and also promoting/celebrating(as you noted-our heroes torture for only the noblest of reasons...as all torturers do) torture/assasinations. This sort of thing doesn't happen by accident...one feels as if these writers have fallen in love with the secret state and rather admire the methods used by our military/intelligence apparatus.

    Punisher and Wolverine used to be the sole psychopaths of the marvel universe now as you noted even captain america and spiderman are torturers(or at least willing enablers). 'Pro torture proganda' indeed.

    If you have the time check out this article http://wsws.org/articles/2012/may2012/bige-m25.shtml -not dealing with comics but with kathryn bigelow of hurt locker fame...i think the same dynamic is at work with our comics creators(not that they are meeting with officials etc...but the same 'liberal' admiration for our 'secret' warriors and their dirty methods exists).

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    1. Hello Selkirk:- I wish I knew why Slott and his colleagues can't grasp that they're making extreme political comments. Maybe some of them think what they're saying is satire. (Ellis certainly did, if the word is right, though he didn't write the comic in such a way that the satire actually worked.) Others might think that it's only fun. There may even be folks so lacking in common sense that they don't even think about this kind of filth. But add up all of this politically-charged material, and in line-leading books, and the message is clear. Real heroes torture, real heroes should be loved and respected and even, in a distinctly macho way, be pitied for their suffering.

      I have to say that either Marvel is run by cretins, which I absolutely don't believe, or there is some kind of agenda to "toughen up" its heroes. I can't imagine that there's a cabal of reactionaries doing their best to subvert Marvel's heroes to a far right agenda, although gawd knows anything's possible. Perhaps more than anything else, I suspect that torture, extreme violence, the affectations of 24-type killing'n'angst; these are easy, lazy tropes which can be used to charge up stories which otherwise might require a great deal of work. Throw in a torture and that's the water-cooler moment for the month dealt with. Perhaps these ethical dilemmas have just been reduced to just another tool in the storytelling toolbox.

      Yet it is important to say again - and I've been saying it in the above - that there are considerable numbers of creators at Marvel and DC who either don't use torture as a story-beat or, when they do, they place it in a moral context. I mentioned Scandal Savage's torture of an opponent in a Secret Six issue in a comment above; it was a vile business and I don't think anyone could read that who wasn't already gung-ho for torture and not see what a repellent business it was.

      Your point about Wolverine and The Punisher is one I've thought about a great deal recently. They were once brilliantly useful and distinct characters because they were SO different. The debates between Daredevil and The Punisher in Miller's DD - how creators change - were concerned with moral issues, and the violence had a purpose in addition to be enthralling in itself. Now the difference between Wolverine and Cap is that Cap will authorise torture and Wolverine will carry it out. In fact, Ellis's Secret Avengers script left no doubt that if Cap had been on his own, he'd have tortured the folks before him. (If it's a necessary act, then a patriot and a brave soldier will do what has to be done :( ) So, there is no line in truth that's not impossibly grey.

      And not ONE of the MU's super-people has informed on their fellows, and not one person has complained about this behaviour. Those crowds complaining outside the Avengers Mansion during the end of the woeful Osborn story? They were right. The Avengers are either torturers or collaborators with torture and they should all be in jail.

      Thank you for the link. I'm off to follow it now!

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    2. Excellent post Colin and i think these types of episodes say more than a little bit about the mindset of the creators involved. Why are these people promoting torture and rendition and other despicable policies of the bush/obama administrations?

      I'm sure if pinned against a wall by a take-no-bullshit journalist - the type we don't have in comics - these creators would declare that this is just satire and a fierce commentary on what America has become; they're not enforcing these ideas, oh no, not at all - their liberalism is impeccable! We readers just got it all wrong - they're criticising it, educating us really, making us aware of these grim realities.

      It's just pathetic that they chose to use children's characters as vehicles for their education. Frankly, these things don't surprise me anymore and it's why I really don't read DC and Marvel these days. I just can't recognise these characters - their voices, their personalities, their morals: they have nothing to do with the characters I read for many years.

      Nowadays they're just militaristic fantasies living in elitist clubs for heroes, so removed from the quotidian, and so contemptuous of ordinary people, that I even wonder why they haven't yet decided to just take over the world, for is there any doubt that under their intellectual and moral guidance, we'd all be living in utopia?

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    3. Hello Miquel:- It's strange for me to realise that there's still enough of a fan-boy in me to want to disagree with the scale of your criticism. And yet for all that I could bring out a string of names of writers and artists who aren't playing along with the idea of 'militeristic fantasies living in elitist clubs for heroes', the overall sense of what you say is sadly true. I was reading the first issue of the recent JIM/New Mutants crossover last night and thinking how I was enjoying it, and enjoying the fact that my worst criticism would be that it really is packed with story. Overall, not the worst thing to say about a book! And yet, when I looked at a schedule of what's coming from Marvel, I saw a great mass of books which all too often match what you're saying. It's a shame that Slott's Spider-Man should be in some key ways joining the list of such titles, because despite my differences with it as mentioned above, the book was full of distinct and well-told stories. Indeed, I'm sure it still is, though I'm going to struggle to want to engage with it in the future.

      As I've said, and as I believe you'd agree, there's a elite of creators who DO think about the politics of their work and who ARE careful in what they say. But beyond them there's those who either don't know what they're really saying, or who are saying things which are unpleasant. Of course, the latter is all a matter of opinion, and creators should be able to express their beliefs in their work. (To a considerable degree in franchise books, of course, though within limits.)It may be that Greg Land really is a firm believer in the virtues of hyper-sexuality, or Dan Slott a dedicated supporter of rendition and torture. If so, my disagreement is a personal, political one. More worrying in some ways is the sense that some creators and editors neither know or care what they're doing. If it sells, if it offers a chance for big splashy storytelling, well, they're in.

      In the end, those responsible for the super-book haven't cared enough for the properties they've been stewarding. And now, we've a universe of torturers in costumes.

      ps: I really enjoyed your recent Bat-Wing piece, which is another stupid, stupid book. I'm going back to read it again. Should folks stray down here, they might care to go read it themselves.

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  17. Excellent and thoughtful, I'm ashamed (perhaps due to almost chewing gum manner I casually consume these book) I wasn't as outraged as you, it never even occurred to me to be, but then I'm not a "grew up with these guys as my heros" type. All the same well done, you're absolutely right sir, these things matter!

    And to think I only stumbled across this because I wanted to retweet Slott's putdown on the million Mom morons complaining about gay Superheros.

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    1. Hello Seanan:- Thank you. I really do appreciate you saying that. I know exactly what you mean about other folks pointing something out and the lightbulb going on. It's always happening to me. In fact, it's CONSTANTLY happening to me!

      I find the capacity of a great many folks in America's media to be reactionary when it comes to torture and punishment and yet liberal when it comes to social issues quite baffling. To me, both aspects of politics are grounded in the same human rights. Not for a great many of the storytellers in America in particular. Slott has been laudably up-front about his attitudes to equal rights for the LGBT community, and he's been brave about it. Yet he can print this crap too. Even last night, I was watching that same cross-wired agenda in American primetime shows such as The Mentalist. It's very strange indeed to a British mind. Over here, the pro-torture folks tend to be socially illiberal too. Still, thumbs up for Slott's stand against the (supposedly) One Million Moms, and yet more than just two thumbs down for the reactionary pro-torture stance too.

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  18. Terrific essay.

    Ten years later, I have almost gotten used to hearing people attempt to defend torture. A certain type of person went from indignant anger at the suggestion that Americans might behave that abysmally to defending those same behaviors seemingly over-night. It was disorienting and deeply sad.

    Still, watching Spider-Man engage in torture is utterly sickening. The ticking time-bomb in this scenario is the threat that Doc Ock might take over the world. It was so absurd that it made me snort with derision. The phrase itself could hardly make the threat seem more inconsequential. What next, attaching electrodes to the Lizard to prevent the Vulture from setting up a moon base? Mr. Slott is a talented writer, but this scene borders on farce.

    There is something about Spidey that makes this business worse than it might otherwise be. So often, we have been asked as readers to pity him for the suffering that fate has unfairly thrust upon him. Underneath that feeling of injustice was always the belief that Peter Parker was a deeply good man. Despite not stooping to murder, the character Mr. Slott is portraying in these pages is not essentially good. He is (at best) morally weak.

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    1. Hello Dean:- Thank you. I was thinking that this would be a piece which would inevitably disappear, given that the comic is hardly fresh on the shelves and the topic has been covered well elsewhere. But I was upset and the blog has always been a place where Statcounter comes second to my own entirely selfish needs. It's been really reassuring to see that a great many folks agree with the basic principles here, and that others who don't are generous and kind enough to express disagreement in a civil way. You know, I thought I was venting and what I was really doing was asking "Am I so out of line here where the issue is concerned?" And there's been a thousand and a half hits in twelve hours and a line of smart comments and e-mails and Tweets and I am - if you will forgive the personal tone - incredibly relieved. Not because I believe that the blog or my opinion is important, or worse yet, that it'sin some way linked to my career prospects and that I've something important to say; it's a little-league blog and I'm a little-league blogger. But it is heartening to wave one's arms and find other arms waving back. I waved and some folks waved back. How much I appreciate that, and the way in which I do, isn't something which I've the chops to describe.

      And that can be important when, as you say, there's this "disorientating and deeply sad" sense that torture suddenly and lastingly became accepted as virtuous and necessary. When it happens to such a degree that so many of a company's characters are transformed into pro-torturing advocates, then, for those of us invested in such things as social justice, it's shocking. Because the characters which once either represented qualities we admired or who participated in debates which we benefited from have become permanently toxic. These sins don't get to go away, because they don't in real life. When I look at the jackass of a Cap that's been lumbering around the MU for years now, I see a monster. A man with no respect for the law, a torturer. When I see Spidey, I see the same. When I think of those superheroes who know that this stuff has gone on and yet not turned on their once-colleagues, then I loose all respect for them. The heroic status quo of the MU hasn't been made more mature. They've been transformed on mass into a ruling right-wing cabal. And though I've no doubt that I can divorce that from my thoughts to a large degree when reading in the future, the truth is that if we believe in any form of continuity, these are monsters.

      I wish the scene had been farce. I wish it had been a vicious, brilliant attack on all this reactionary bs.

      cont;

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    2. cont;

      I agree with you about Spider-Man and how he once appealed. He was our representative in the world, the bloke who knew what it was like to be kicked around by folks and fate, and he managed to maintain his dignity and decency despite that. Now he's just another one of the monsters on the other side. I've found it impossible to believe in Slott's Peter Parker, as I know I've argued here before, and so I'm already disconnected from his take on the character. I respect what Slott's done - this issue aside - but I never believed that his Parker was anything to do with the one which I grew up with, unless it's the jerk which Peter was becoming in the last few Ditko/Lee issues. But there's a difference between not warming to a take on a character and ... this. You're right, Slott's Spidy isn't, despite his own opinion and that of his fellow torturer, a good man. He's exactly the opposite. You don't get to be a good man and torture. That's not how it works.

      I've had quite a few raging, bound-to-be-deleted, comments spitting at the above for being just politics, just bias, just opinion. (And ignorant, evil, dangerous etc too.) But from where I stand, there are issues which transcend politics, which actually define where politics begin and end, which ought to unite everyone who's a democrat from the off. They're really easy-to-grasp principles too. The right to vote, for example, and freedom from torture.

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    3. I could not agree more. The core of liberal democracy is the belief that the other person has the right to life, liberty and property. It is often an easier belief to espouse in the abstract than uphold in the details. However, torture is so obviously at odds with that belief that it seems impossible to reconcile with democracy.

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    4. Hello Dean:- It's shocking that the democratic basics of this seem to pass folks by, isn't it? And they do. Similarly, the belief that a culture marked by heroic torturers won't impact to reinforce beliefs in those societies where the social science teaching is often patently inadequate is seen as heretical. What a miserable business. If we don't agree on the simple basics ...

      But then, it's clear that we live in cultures where a relatively few folks can grasp and articulate such ideas. If we don't teach this stuff, it's not going to arise from nowhere. It never has, it never will. And if we don't learn formally, we'll learn from everywhere else. Including the entertainments we indulge in. That always brings in a cry of "so you support censorship?", and my reply is always the same; never, except in extreme cases such as child pornography. But I do support social science matched with critical thinking skills for every child so that they have a chance of being an informed and independent thinker.

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  19. Colin,

    Hello again! Well, you certainly didn't pull any punches here. I agree with you that this is tonally wrong for Spider-Man, but the question then becomes -- why did Marvel choose to write him like this? After Civil War, which seemed to deal with the Patriot Act, why do this?

    I think popular culture (see the show '24') and our current President have slightly (or more than slightly) influenced people's perceptions just as much as 9/11 did, for good or ill.

    '24' certainly shows how "great" torture is, how it always works, and that show was incredibly popular.

    As for President Obama, the issue (as I see it, so please feel free to disagree, I will harbor no malice) is that the new boss seems in many ways, despite his campaigning, to be a lot like the old boss. Gitmo is still open, more drones and drone-related deaths than the past administration, etc.

    What would have been seen more negatively during Bush's tenure, at least through Marvel, now doesn't seem so bad. Couple this with Captain America's actions in letting his team torture, and it seems that the same items that would have been decried as bad before, now suddenly aren't.

    I hate to see stories like this, with a Spider-Man or a Captain America (or Superman or Wonder Woman). I could see them with Wolverine, or even Batman, but not the "true" superheroes. Aren't superheroes supposed to be BETTER than we are? Something to aspire to? I think I understand what Slott was trying to say, but I would have appreciated it more if there was no real harm even potentially being done.

    I remember the Punisher "torturing" someone back in the 80's or 90's. He'd strung the thug up upside-down in a meat locker, and laid out an acetyline torch. He then went behind the man and, unbeknownst to said thug, used the blowtorch on a steak. He then pressed a popsicle to the man's back, telling him the icy cold was his flesh and fat burning away and flowing down his back. The man cracked, and Punisher got his information in clever fashion WITHOUT hurting anyone.

    Byrne's Superman reboot did something equally clever when Superman first met Batman. Batman wore a lead-lined cowl and warned Superman that if he touched him, an explosive device would detonate and kill someone in Metropolis. A quick supervision scan confirmed some exotic energy surrounding Batman. After the impromtu team-up, as Batman is about to leave, Superman protests, asking about the innocent man and the explosive. Batman smiles and removes the device -- from himself! He admits he would NEVER threaten the life of an innocent man, and this action, with Superman realizing that he could have killed Batman had he called his bluff, earns his respect.

    Why can't we have something clever like that?

    I think people do just get desensitized to the idea, and they DO assume it always works. I really don't know how to fix the idea without cleaning house at Marvel and DC and starting with new writers and editors who see the books as I do -- that we ASPIRE to be like these heroes, they are better than we are, their very presence makes us want to be better people.

    Sorry for getting long-winded, and for dragging politics into it, however slightly.

    Thanks for writing!

    Take it and run,

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    1. Hello Earl:- I could never complain about your response straying into politics. After all, my posts are often very political. What I say may seem like common sense rather than opinion to me, but I’m well aware that it seems anything but to those beyond the inside of my skull, or as they’re known; everyone else.

      I’m certainly with you that pop culture has contributed to a coarsening of the public’s opinion on torture. Torture is so ubiquitous in the West’s fictions and anyone who thinks that such things don’t impact upon our opinions as a culture must be an idiot. Of course, there are aspects of the politics of the culture of the West which I’m pleased with. I’m not suggesting that culture always works in one way and to one agenda; it’s of course a far far more complex business than that. And yet torture appears over and over again in a virtuous context in fictions, and, yes, I don’t believe that that doesn’t affect how the public discourse is framed.

      On Obama, I’ve always been surprised that folks viewed him as a liberal simply because he fits a stereotype of what a liberal would be. (I’m not in any way suggesting that you ever thought that, of course!) Obama is in British terms a creature of the right, and often the extreme right. It staggers me, for example, that America’s right criticizes his economic policy, for example, when his economic team is made of the folks who created the economic collapse of 2007 onwards. By which I mean, Obama isn’t a liberal and, yes, his policies are often ethically dubious. The murder campaigns by drone are just one example of policies which are decidedly illiberal, and, as far as I understand, illegal under international law. So, we live in strange days, where the public discourse regards a President as being liberal, or even – laughably – socialist when he’s nothing less or more than a man of the right. And if his policies are regarded are regarded as too soft, then we’ve entered – as indeed we have – an insane world in which there’s no correlation between language and reality. How a sane discussion about issues such as torture can be held on a public scale under such conditions is hard to imagine, and that’s particularly true since I know of little going on in state education which would permit the coming generations to be able to debate about the topic in an informed manner.

      I think that they’re always be disagreements about where torture might be legitimate in a super-book. I think elements of torture have long been part of Batman’s myth; a deliberate process of causing serious psychological pain through terror is, after all, terror.
      I have serious reservations about this, and when it’s done tastelessly and/or thoughtlessly, it can result in stories which are worrying. Yet with some self-awareness and smartness, these tropes can be played to open up rather than close discussion. Judge Dredd’s creators have been doing this for years and years. I can see why creators might decide that they want to write about people rather than role models, but if so, how can we explain a situation in which so many super-people all end up expressing the same illiberal attitudes? Too many creators are claiming novelist’s rights and delivering reactionary stereotypes.

      cont

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    2. cont

      ”I think people do just get desensitized to the idea, and they DO assume it always works. I really don't know how to fix the idea without cleaning house at Marvel and DC and starting with new writers and editors who see the books as I do -- that we ASPIRE to be like these heroes, they are better than we are, their very presence makes us want to be better people.”

      The problem with these commonly-held pro-torture assumptions won’t ever be resolved until we have an education system which trains its students in thinking skills and gets them involved in looking at evidence and opinions in a rational way. Since that’s clearly not going to happen, we might at least hope that our popular fiction deals with such issues in a way that’s humane. Whether we think that the superhero narrative should be about role models or whether we think that it’s a form that could be used to discuss real world issues using flawed characters, it ought not to be a delivery system for dangerously anti-social, reactionary values. Torture doesn’t work, torture does corrupt; them’s the facts, and yet reading the super-book, you’d often think that exactly the opposite is true.

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  20. Hey Colin:

    As usual this blog has brought up a point worthy of discussion. Thanks for it.

    Could I make a distinction? And would this change your/my evaluation of the torturing hero at all? I have been struggling with the question of torture in superhero stories since I read your review of BATMAN AND ROBIN 03, in which you lamented how the comic undermined the notion of law and valorized torture. While I could easily grant the first premise, I had trouble with the second one. Was this really torture? What is torture?

    Torture, it seems to me right now, writing this, is the disruption of a person's normal physiological functions (breathing, epidermal integrity, sleep, etc.) resulting in an intense or acute pain designed to destabilize the person's psyche, to erode their sense of self. It desubjectivizes an individual so that they can be re-subjectivized in another mode, often an obedient one. It is not a procedure concerned with truth as such so much as a means of coming to hear what you want to hear (it is for this reason that it is so ineffective. Cf. historiography regarding witch trails in Early Modern Europe). Either that or it is a means of taking revenge upon someone for something.

    Sandman's physiology is certainly being disrupted, but he does not appear to be in pain or to have lost any sense of his own self. Indeed, this is far from the first time that Cain Marko’s body has been so dirupted. He’s been frozen, melted, washed away, and more, over and over. Furthermore, he is totally cognizant of Spider-Man and Sable during the procedure. Yes, he is in psychological distress, fearing the approach of death, but otherwise he is fine.

    I would say instead that Spider-Man is not torturing Sandman but instead coercing Sandman with the threat of death. This scenario is an elaborate equivalent to putting a gun to the suspect’s head in order to get them to talk. During torture you may be afraid, but you know that you aren’t going to die. Indeed, this is probably part of the horror of toture, knowing that you are going to keep living in some form of physiologically disrupted state. Sandman isn’t afraid that the acid will continue forever. He’s afraid that it will stop and that this end will coincide with his own death.

    I would then say in addition that this only seems like torture because the scenario draws upon the iconography of torture, evoking waterboarding. But the action itself is not very different from standard superhero interrogation methods. Would this really be the first time that a hero has made someone feel that they are in deadly danger in order to elicit information from them? Is it even Spider-Man’s first time? I can’t think of any concrete examples off hand (although something from the 90s involving Spider Man and the Punisher, illustrated by Eric Larson comes to mind), but I would be surprised if it was his first time.

    Which brings us back to BaR 03. When Dick Grayson drags Toad or whatever his name was across town, inches above the deadly hiway, Toad is not in pain. And, if he is (and there is no visual cue to signal this), his self remains intact. This is Batman putting a gun to the villains head and threatening to use it. The protagonist (hero ain’t really the word here, is it?) is negotiating their world through the application of terror. But they aren’t torturing.

    What is significant about the death-threat interrogation of Marvel heroes generally seems to be the increasingly militaristic tenor of the behaviour. These actions, for whatever reason, are steeped in the rhetoric and imagery of CIA ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. But they do not strictly speaking depict torture.

    Does that make any sense? Does this distinction hold any meaning for you? Am I acting as some sort of sick apologist for torture in superhero comics?

    Just to be safe I’ll say that torture is bad for the soul. As are death-threats. Please refrain from doing these things.

    Thanks.

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    1. Hello Zig Zag Zig:- Of course, the definition of torture is one which we could debate for a great many hours and never come to agreement. My working definition was a simplified version of that which I used to use as a teacher; torture is the infliction of serious physical and/or psychological pain. Under that general heading, I'd include events in the super-book from the illegal detentions such as the X-Men's locking up of mutants in the prison underground in Utopia to the pouring of acid onto the Sandman's head. You'll find, I believe, that although what I've written in the above is incredibly simplified, it matches the general sense of both the international conventions on torture and the definitions in British and American law. While the various definitions of torture might disagree about whether, for example, torture can only be something committed by a representative of a state or not, they all accept that psychological as well as physical suffering is part and parcel of what constitutes torture.

      The terrifying of Sandman is undoubtedly torture. It's an illegal detention, it's a situation in which the victim is convinced that he may find his consciousness, and therefore his existence, destroyed, it's a process of fearfully intense intimidation. That's torture under British law, Federal law, the UN Convention On Torture, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even the US Army's field manuals on torture. Seriously, ZZZ, there's absolutely no doubt under every measure of torture that carries any measure of credibility that Spider-Man and Silver Sables actions here were torture. ( Spider-Man is a member of the Avengers, which is part of America’s security state structure, so I think that qualifies him as a representative of the state, making even the toughest definition of torture one that would stick. Even if we throw away that affectation on my part, most of the definitions would define his action as torture. Even if they didn’t, he’d be guilty of a host of crimes, such as false imprisonment, assault, bodily harm and so on.)

      I think one of the problems that I have with your approach - though of course not with your right to have it, and that's especially so given how civil and careful you've been - is that you agree that the Sandman's in serious psychological distress and yet dismiss the possibility of torture. But that's the textbook definition of torture. That simply is what torture is.

      So I'm afraid that I must respectfully disagree with you. Unless we're going to rework the entire framework of national and international thinking and law on this subject - and I say that to accentuate that I'm not relying just on "my" take here - Dick Grayson and Peter Parker are both guilty of torture, and no little measure of it.

      Are you acting as a sick apologist? I see nothing but a friend of the blog carefully expressing an opinion. If I disagree with you in an absolutely fundamental way, it doesn't mean that I'm going to define you as a sick apologist. Your conclusions are quite logical given your beliefs, but I have to say that accepting your beliefs would depend upon my dumping everything of how torture is defined in principle and law.

      That sounds terrible, and I don't mean it too. It's just that accepting your own take would mean rejecting everything of how torture is currently definied.

      cont

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    2. cont

      We're disagreeing so completely here, and I'd hate the fact that we have such different points to manifest itself as anything other than a disagreement between folks who have no personal beef in play! There's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't choose to reject these pre-existing definitions of what torture is and isn't. It's of course your right. But I'm sticking with the definition which, in its simplist terms, is articulated in Amnesty International's literature;

      "Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person, in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter."

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    3. Hello again.

      Disagreement is totally fine. I'm not sure I agree with myself anyway. Sometimes the only way to find out is to put things on paper (as you no doubt already know).

      I do continue to think that there is a distinction to be made between what the author has chosen for Spiderman to do and the act of torture, but it is such a hair-line distinction that it hardly amounts to anything. Nonetheless, while broad definitions of torture are good for law (you want to be able to take legal action without loopholes), they are perhaps not as good for thought, which can afford to be more precise.

      I guess what I was really trying to point to is that this story is more of the same sort of thing we've seen from superhero stories before (death threat interrogation) and that only the images and words surrounding that activity has changed. And it is in that change that the damage is done, that law is delegitimized and the mythology underpinning human rights dispelled. I want to say that this is terrorism and you want to say that it is torture. Either way it stinks to high heaven.

      At any rate your response (which drew upon your BaR 03 post as did my own) has given me pause. I'll continue to think.

      Have a great day!

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    4. Hello Zig Zag Zig:- Exactly! We write to make sense of ourselves before we ever worry about anyone else. Anyone who doesn't do that is surely not open enough to the possibility of their own shortcomings. And I'm always realising that I've reversed my positions. There are pieces on the blog from its earliest days, for example, which I now disagree with. Mea Culpe.

      And I think you're right that there's little point in our - and particularly me :) - continuing to debate our corners when (1) we've both carried our meaning to each other and (2) we both agree, as you say "it stinks to high heaven". We have different terms, we use different understandings, but that in itself is of course fine. The jousting brings a sharper understanding of things. And in the end, we have a considerable degree of common ground. I think that strikes me as a civil and productive business which ends with a result :)

      Yep, I too have things to think about. But then, when do any of us not? You have a splendid day too.

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  21. Torture has become a popular element in pulp fiction these days for obvious reasons. It's powerful drama, it's both a physical and moral issue, it adds gravity to a ticking clock situation, etc. Dramatically speaking, it's gold. It'd been left out of entertainments for decades due to its troublesome aspects, but lo, in the wake of the shrieking fear that permeated much of America after the September 11 terrorist attacks, torture re-entered the public debate. Those gripped by enough fear and shame embraced torturing suspects as "getting tough." (That it actually betrays pants-wetting fear, weakness, and loss of control, yeah, well…)

    Unfortunately, torture can fit right in with the world of comic book superheroes. Easily. Let's not forget that "comic book morality" is a slang term for simpleminded black-and-white thinking. The genre seldom deals in subtleties or complications. Rather, it deals in the highest of drama, the most overheated of sentiments, and has never, ever had a sense of repercussions or consequences. Which is what makes it fun, right? Gotham's been destroyed how many times? How many people are murdered in Metropolis each year by villains? Why isn't Spider-Man debilitated by PTSD from incessant mortal combats he's had for ten-plus years? Superhero comics stink at consequences. Thus, all it takes for torture to become a new spice in the rack is for it to be seen as potentially heroic. Which, to our eternal shame, we have done.
    (cont'd)

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  22. (cont'd)
    Here's the funny thing. Within the law enforcement and military establishments, support for torture on a practical basis is disputed. Those in the field of interrogation specifically often stress that as a purely practical matter, it doesn't work well. From "Torture, Truth Serum, and Ticking Bombs: Toward a Pragmatic Perspective on Coercive Coordination" in the Loyola University – Chicago Law Journal:

    p. 333: "In November 2006, for example, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point and three veteran federal law enforcement officials flew to Southern California to meet with the creators of the television program 24 and express their concern that the show’s central premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the sake of national security in certain situations—was promoting unethical and illegal behavior among active American military personnel…‘The disturbing thing,’ Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, West Point dean, said ‘is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.’"

    p.342: "One former interrogator said, ‘I never saw pain produce intelligence. . . . I worked with someone who used water-boarding’—an interrogation method involving the repeated near drowning of a suspect. ‘I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.’ Some people, he said, ‘gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.’ If anything, he said, ‘physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.’. . . .A top FBI questioning techniques expert, estimating 'that he has conducted some twelve thousand interrogations,' says that torture is not an effective technique: ‘These are very determined people, and they won’t turn just because you pull a fingernail out.’ . . . . West Point’s dean says that would-be martyrs would almost welcome torture, and that a ticking time bomb . . . would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk.. . . . ‘They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory—the ticking-bomb will go off!'"

    The need for characters to be "badass" in modern comics has made it more likely as well. Shrugging off conventional morality to "do what needs to be done" is seen as the mark of the hero now, not that of the irresponsible idiot or the morally bankrupt coward.

    Spider-Man did this? Spider-Man?

    This makes me unreasonably sad.

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    1. Hello Dean:- The absence of concern for consequences is indeed something which characterises the post-Watchman super-book, which is such an ironic business that I can't even bear to defend the statement. And as time has past, that's become more and more obvious. For every Busiek and Simone, there's a host of creators who just can't wait to blow Asgard up and fill it with hyper-sexualised dancing girls. (Thank heavens for Journey Into Mystery in particular, ah?) The sub-genre will continue to be nothing more than the niche it is until it grows up. There's a great collection of writers who do attend to consequences, but they never reach a number which functions as a critical mass, with writers such as Ostrander, to name but one shining example, being shifted out of the way far, far too quickly. And then we end up with a MU where, as I know I keep saying, everyone's a torturer or a collaborator in that. Isn't this insane? The industry wants to tell it's grown up and for adults, wants us to believe that it's dealing with grown up stuff in a mature fashion in a pop form, and instead, it's so often effectively legitimising torture.

      Of course, it's crack storytelling, it's the drug boiled down to its least wholesome and most powerfully corrupting elements, as you say. In the hands of a great storyteller, torture is a fascinating and inspiring and terrifying and disturbing topic to discuss. In the hands of some, it's a naked Spider-Woman lying in a cell firing power bolt at leering villains out of - can I be remembering this right - her behind?

      Your quotes reflect everything that I've read. The typical defence of torture is based on ignorance and vengeanceful thinking. It doesn't *"!$ing work. Not only is it entirely corrupting to all involved, but it doesn't work. Except with Bauer and Parker and their like, of course.

      How I long for work in comics which reflects a knowledge of the real world, which shows something other than a life lost in comics. When the reader comes across these things - you know the writers and artists I admire, so I won't repeat them - but the relief is incredible and the gratitude felt immense. My politics are often far more conservative than folks seem to realise from what I realise, though never, I hasten to add, Conservative. I'm not speaking from a position of wanting to corrupt the nation's youth. I'd just like to see some more smartness, some greater measure than folks aren't so careless and, quite frankly, ill-informed.

      These are such serious issues. And as you say, yes, it does make a body feel unreasonably sad/. Or rather, if I may, reasonably sad. It makes perfect sense to feel upset at such as mutton-headed, cold-hearted perversion of an icon which has always been fundamentally representing the powerless against the powerful. Yet step by step, Spider-Man has become one of the elite. Great job, membership of two super-teams, torturer; no, this is a terrible business, and it should make us feel that something worthwhile has been subverted.

      Pah and pah again.

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    2. I never thought I would talk about this in my comics capacity, but here is a glimpse from my other life. When I went to grad school, I started out studying what was called "terror" then, what is called "state terror" since 9/11. Particularly, as a Southeast Asianist, I studied the Khmer Rouge. The only way torture "works," is to help torturers reproduce a story about the world that they believe is true and to validate that story. And the story--the fact that they got someone to agree or say it--itself validates the suffering of another person and validates the process itself. It worked. It saved us from them. I was right.

      And the validations are always the same and driven by fear, the belief that torture is necessary to save lives and protect society. Even Franco and Pinochet felt justifed. The Khmer Rouge said, "Better to kill an innocent person than let an enemy go free." They all believed anyone who opposed torture was naive at the very least. That it was different when they did it than when their enemies did. That their enemies made them.

      In some ways, I guess I should be glad that most people's experience of torture is via tv and movies. But it also means that people have very little contact with victims of torture, the history of torture or the justifications used by regimes that practice(d) it--let alone the actual history of effective interrogation techniques that are not torture. And so, the understanding is completely of a plot device where someone is refusing to talk and "there's no time" to interrogate them according to humane standards. And we forget the sense of principle the Allies felt in standing against torture.

      Also, torture is *always* psychological. It is not about inflicting pain. It is about breaking down someone until they tell an acceptable story. It is an assertion of power by terrified people. Pain can be part of that, but it is not necessary to it.

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    3. Hello Carol:- Thank you for putting your points with such clarity and eloquence. Thank you for sharing your experiences here.

      I don't even have to close my eyes to remember the photos of the victims from S-21, and to recall again the unspeakable fate of those poor souls. I have no words for the desolation which threatens when looking at those pictures, though I don't in any way mean to suggest that I'm a victim by that. Oh gawd no. All I mean is ... that the reality of the torturers craft is, as you convey, so horrifying that it's almost impossible to convey. I couldn't trust myself to find the right words to convey that in the above, and so I hauled out a paragraph attempting to explain that these torture comics are despicable in the lack of respect they show to those who have suffered torture. The whole piece was written in something of a funk in a few hours and I had enough distance to realise that I didn't have time to make something that specific and emotional work. So I refer to the corruption and suffering which torture causes, but I didn't find any of the ways to describe the situation which you have. Thank you for doing so.

      I thought that writing about this - even given that I was doing so without planning and therefore inevitably under-achieving - would mean that I'd get a great degree of perspective on the process, that I might even be able to see something of the "it's just a comic book/fun" argument. To put that more accurately, I was keen to find out if I was over-stating my case, if I'd over-exaggerated my own feelings. The truth is that I find that I'm even more appalled than I was before, and that I find the whole business even more upsetting. From the issue itself - which is of course by far the most important matter - to the corruption of the super-people universes, their characters and values - it all seems to me to be a disgusting situation.

      I find myself with no words to express how disappointed I am to find myself in the far future of 2012 and seeing this situation. I remember seeing the John Pilger documentaries about Cambodia which broke the scale and details of the Khmer Rouge's appalling crimes to the British public. It'd be more than 30 years ago. I was just a teenager. There was nothing in the West's culture there to match the adoration of heroic torturers then. From Nazi Germany to Cambodia, the culture knew what torture was and knew that it is torturers which are always the enemy.

      Sometimes it can feel as if we've slipped back and are teetering on the edge of the most terrible abyss. Hyperbole? No, I don't think so. Torture is such a terrible crime, and yet we've made it a component of heroism. Wha'ppen?

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  23. Mr. Smith,

    I am sorry if my alerting you to this panel by linking to my tumblr post about it a couple of weeks ago (http://we-are-in-it.tumblr.com/post/22998967472/spider-boarding#notes) caused you angst, but I am glad that you wrote what is a more developed version of what I briefly tried to get at in that post.

    In response to Zig Zag Zig's post above, as I try to suggest in my original post, the use of the militarized terminology just reinforces how such actions have been normalized. It is some form of cognitive dissonance when we can at some level see through the BS of terms meant to take the edge off torture techniques, but end up using them so much that they do just that if not interrogated every single time they are used (and who has the time and energy and opportunity to do that?)

    Thinking about it saddens me, but the bright side is that it has led me to going back and looking through some of my favorite Spidey issues from the 70s and 80s.

    I do wish you had left up at least a few of the reactionary responses to this post - as disheartening and vile as they can be, sometimes interrogating their use of language can be just as important.

    Keep up the good work.

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    1. Hello Mr Oyola:- No apologies! Not ever! I'd heard whispers of this business, but it was indeed you who alerted me to the matter. And I was so appalled by what you told me that I was torn between checking it out and repressing the knowledge of it. I'm in your debt and I hope folks will check out your piece;

      http://we-are-in-it.tumblr.com/post/22998967472/spider-boarding#notes

      You were right to draw my attention to it and I hope you see my piece as something in significant part inspired by the knowledge you passed on to me. Huzzah! for you.

      That's a good point about the deleted responses, it really is. And yet, if I do, I'm allowing folks to enter a discourse which they clearly despise. If they want to be part of this neck of the woods, they have to behave as the folks who occasionally visit here do; as adults, who, for all their failings, do their best to respect each other. I also don't feel comfortable in giving a platform to reactionary statements framed in unpleasant language. There are folks in this thread who have disagreed in part or entirely with my POV, but they've done so in a kind and generous and smart way. They are welcome.

      But I get your point, sir. Perhaps I ought to save the deleted comments and produce a digest? It's something to think about.

      Ah, well. As you can see, when I did finally come around to really reading this issue, as you suggested, I found things to be just as you said. You were right, but, if you follow my meaning, I wish you hadn't been.

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    2. Oh, and if you like, I'm very happy with "Colin". "Mr Smith" was that chap who taught social sciences for a few decades. (I didn't like him much, though he did his best.)

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    3. Colin it is then. :)

      I am usually not very formal, but it can be hard to demonstrate respect on the ole interwebs, thus the "Mr."

      I'm Osvaldo.

      And I hear you about not wanting to give those reactionary responses a platform. . .

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    4. Hello Osvaldo:- I know what you mean about being formal on the net in order to transmit respect. It can be hard to walk that line at times.

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  24. Mr. Smith:

    As a fellow intellectual that also enjoys analyzing popular media, I can appreciate your desire to find material to comment on. However, there are times when one is on the mark with their analysis and there are other times when one is grasping at straws; I believe this essay to be the latter.

    The moral issues of torture aside, which - as a self-proclaimed Liberal - I abhor the use of: since when is the handling of a touchy issue in a medium, morally reprehensible as it is, go from being a depiction to tacit approval?

    I like the movie The Godfather; does that make me pro-organized crime?

    I like the movie Top Gun; does that make me pro-Military Industrial Complex?

    You are elevating this material from dramatic literature into something it is not. This is a comic book, not a torture manifesto.

    Which brings me to my next point: perhaps the objective of this story is not to advocate or defend torture - but rather - to generate conversation about the such a topic. If that is the case then I'd say it has succeeded with flying colors.

    Regardless, whether this ASM is polemic or pulp, methinks you make much ado about nothing.

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    1. Hello there:- As a fellow intellectual? That's kind of you, but I'm no intellectual, I'm really not. I'm a middle-brow, a semi-jack of several trades and a master of none at all. I just don't know enough to qualify as an intellectual. I must admit, I'm not sure it's up to anybody to define themselves as such a thing. Still, thank you for the kind thought.

      Much ado about nothing? Well, not to me. If you choose to believe that, that's fine. But I can't see the value of the points you make, just as you can't see mine. I never suggested that individual human beings couldn't distinguish between the enjoyment of a product and its values. You're challenging me on a point which I've never made. As a twenty-year teacher of Psychology and Sociology, I'd never suggest such a thing. However, I do believe that in a society in which folks don't receive an adequate education in social science and thinking skills, there's a likelihood that the media will reinforce prejudices which have been socialized into the individual and never challenged by their environment. A different argument. And when we look at the understanding that the general public seem to have on even basic matters of politics, the problem of prejudice being reinforced by the secondary socialisation becomes all the more important. I neither deny the capacity of human beings to re-interpret the culture they're exposed to OR the capacity of culture to reinforce pre-existing beliefs. You seem to be ignoring the second aspect of that, though it did play but a relatively minor part of my argument.

      However, I note that you don't engage me on the arguments that I actually did make, namely, that the story presents torture as practical and ennobling. If you think that's fine, and if you think that's fine in our time when our governments carry out and collaborate on torture,then that's your right. The gulf between us is too great to be bridged, though we can, of course, wave politely at each other :)

      My feeling is that you make much far, far too little of a great deal. That's the power of two different consciousness to interpret the same data in entirely different ways coming into play, is it not?

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    2. This is very well-put: "I do believe that in a society in which folks don't receive an adequate education in social science and thinking skills, there's a likelihood that the media will reinforce prejudices which have been socialized into the individual and never challenged by their environment. A different argument. And when we look at the understanding that the general public seem to have on even basic matters of politics, the problem of prejudice being reinforced by the secondary socialisation becomes all the more important. I neither deny the capacity of human beings to re-interpret the culture they're exposed to OR the capacity of culture to reinforce pre-existing beliefs."

      And I give you a friendly wave from a fellow traveler in the social sciences, albeit anthropology.

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    3. Hello Carol:- Thank you, for your generous words and for your very welcome wave! Those waves count in themselves, don't they?

      I always worry about what I write in the comment boxes. Given time constraints, they're always full of awkward sentences and typos which I don't have the minutes to polish. I'm very glad it made sense. I certainly do worry that folks see the argument as one between "people can see through it" and "people can't and get brainwashed". That's never my understanding of the process, and yet the assumption is often made that that's how things work. The lack of knowledge of social science, as well as of course science itself, will cripple the west, if it hasn't already. But then, I would say that.

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  25. "You know, personally, I’ve gotten to the point that when someone suggests to me that no, really, torture does work, I lump them into the same category as Creationists, i.e., people with a certain-shaped hole in their otherwise functioning cognitive processes. With creationists, it’s the shape of a Bible; for the pro-torture types, it’s the shape of a waterboard."
    --John Scalzi

    To be fair, I wouldn't say that this all-too-common trope in today's popular fiction is often a deliberate attempt to justify real life torture. On purely formalistic grounds, it's a cheap way of moving the plot forward: Hero needs answers, villain won't give them willingly. What's a halfway plausible - in the context of a genre with a lot of artistic license - way to solve this? Have the hero torture the answers out of the villain.

    Looking it over again, I think this page is trying to question the usage of torture - with the revelation that Spidey wouldn't really go through with "acidboarding" - but has badly fumbled it. As you say, what's being done to the Sandman already is cearly psychological torture, and there's also the underlying implication that torturing him would have worked.

    It looks like an example of torture being used primarily as a plot device, in the way I described, but colliding headlong with a haf-hearted attempt to criticise the practice, resulting in an ugly mess.

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    1. Hello Neil:- I think that yours is a perfectly sensible and valid interpretation. It's just that I find it hard to believe that a man as bright as Mr Slott - and he IS fearsomely bright - can't see what he'll seem to be saying. I realise that a creator can respond by saying that the readership will be full of folks who'll make daft interpretations anyway, but this is such a clearly expressed sequence that it's hard to see it as anything else but a statement that Spider-Man is drawing a distinction between torture and killing, and thinking of himself as a noble egg for doing the first and not the second. Given that the comic is read as a distinct unit, it means that argument is out there forever, and I find it hard to see that it works as anything other in the way that I argued. Of course, that's just my view from the cheap seats, and Dan Slott has his own rights and his own view.

      If it is meant as a criticism of torture, then it's quite incompetent, and I rate Mr Slott's work far higher than that. He's a top writer and I've never seen anything such as this before. By which I mean, if this is intended as a critique of rendition and torture, then ... it's uncharacteristically inept. And this is too serious a business to be in any way obscure or inept. You deal with torture in a culture where the debate is as live and important as it is, you HAVE to get your opinion out clearly and precisely.

      But gawd knows, I've turned round and looked at things I've written a week, a month, a year later and thought "Boy I'm wrong". And you know, I may be very wrong here. All I can do is try to express my own opinion with as much clarity and sense as my capabilities will allow. I will most certainly keep your take on things in mind as I mull this topic over.

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  26. BTW, I tweeted a link to this to Dan Slott to see if he'll respond.

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    1. Hello Mr Oyola:- Do let us know if there's a response. That could give you something even more fascinating to post. Good luck to you :)

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  27. Colin,

    I am utterly embarrassed to admit this, but last night was the first time I ever read Mark Waid and Alex Ross' "Kingdom Come." For such an epic work, I'm still not sure how I hadn't read it until now. Regardless, I was struck by the parallels of what Waid and Ross were discussing and the topic you are broaching here. What happens when we cross that "uncrossable" line?

    Now, I could *see* Marvel wanting to revisit this topic on their own terms, particularly given how much has happened in the world since Kingdom Come first came out over 15+ years ago. And had Slott really spent some time unpacking the effects of Spider-Man's condoning the use of torture, then I would say it this would be an example of comics engaging in public discourse in a meaningful way. But as you point out... this was not the case. Instead, it's glossed over and most casual readers will most likely not spend the time to really think about the implications of what they read and witnessed.

    Maybe we should mail Slott a copy of KC?

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    1. Hello Forest:- You know, Kingdom Come is a fascinating business. And I didn't notice a huge amount about it until I wrote about it on this blog. Indeed, I found SO much that had quite passed me by that I ended up writing far too much. And there's a great deal of smart and troubling ambiguity in that comic. You'll note that Batman, for example, is a character who consistently shows contempt for democracy throughout the book and yet ends the comic as one of the story's victors. Indeed, if memory serves me right, he's last seen in the context of a discussion where his brain-experiments on criminals is being talked of as a very good thing. So, yes, in some ways, Kingdom Come does discuss an abuse of power. In other ways, it celebrates the same. I think that makes it an interestingly open text. (But how I loathe the Trinity in that book. From the sulking, bullying Superman to the fascist Batman and Wonder Woman, they're rotten people behaving in rotten, stupid, self-obsessed ways. Which makes them all fascinating, of course, although I'm always amazed how many folks see them as noble, if slightly confused, characters.)

      You know, Kingdom Come's an expensive book, and I'm sure that Mr Slott has the Absolute. One of the shames of today's comics discourse is that most creators never engage in contentious debates. Everything is controlled and managed. Mind you, I understand that. That control not only makes commercial sense and not only reduces stress levels, but it recognises how many nutters and climbers are out here in the blogosphere. I have a terrible fear that I'm one of them.

      Perhaps not bother DS at all then .....

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  28. Excellent article, Colin and well worth the read regardless if one is politically conservative or liberal.

    Looking at the scene in question again, it's really hard not to see just how grossly out of character it is for Spider-Man to do this. Now for a character like Batman engaging in, for the sake of political correctness, "enhanced interrogation techniques" in order to get information out of a suspect, I can personally let it slide since it's...well, Batman. He's all about intimidation and striking fear into the hearts of criminals, someone who, short of murder, willing to do what he feels is necessary to get the job done. Because that's his character. And even then, what's the worse we ever see Batman ever do? Dangle a thug over a rooftop? Twist a guy's arm? Throw him head first into a window? One of the more effective scenes involving Batman was an episode of Justice League in which Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman met the future Bruce Wayne and Terry McGuinness from Batman Beyond (a.k.a Batman of the Future). Batman is about to use force to get a criminal to talk, when the future Bruce Wayne says "I can't believe I was ever that green" and then approaches the crook, looming menacingly over him and says "THIS is how you interrogate someone." Then the screen fades to black and, in the very next scene, we see the crook spilling his guts, obviously shaken by whatever the future Batman did to get him to talk. And what's clever is we never actually see what Batman did to get him to talk; we let our imagination do it for us.

    But with Spider-Man? The poster child for the guilt-tripping neurotic, whose purpose in life is to live up to the memory and lessons of his Uncle Ben? No way would he allow something like this (heck, I even have trouble with the idea he would have teamed up with the likes of Punisher or Wolverine in the first place given how he does not condone killing bad guys for any reason). And even if one does try to justify this with a "moral equivalence" argument, citing Spidey has intimidated bad guys in the past in a similar manner as Batman, not only have we never seen Batman go as far as Spidey does in this scene, but dangling a bad guy in a web and letting someone pour acid on a bad guy is not the same thing.

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    1. Hello Mike:- Thank you for popping in and leaving this comment, and that's especially so since your Spiderman review site - http://www.spidermanreviews.com/ - clearly establishes that your knowledge on the character far, far eclipses mine! It's good to hear from the experts, it really is.

      I of course totally agree with you that the torture is quite out of character, or at least, out of character with the view of the character I ascribe to. I have to say that following Spidey's absorption in the Avengers and the FF and the whole married/not married farce, it's really not "my" Spider-Man anymore. And that's fine, because Pop culture characters and if they're not to my taste, well, that's tough luck on me. Where I recoil from this particular take on Parker is that it's both, as you say, way out of character, and to an extreme, and politically irresponsible. (I think Carol's comments above express why I believe that far more than I did.) Bless you for saying that this issue is something which should be pertinent to right and left. I certainly agree.

      And I'm SO with you about the team-ups with the likes of Punisher and Wolverine, and that's especially so re: Frank Castle. I could cope and cope with considerable pleasure in the Seventies when Castle would kidnap Peter and get him to help with a prison-camp in another land; Parker had little choice and it fitted with his ethics. Now Castle and Parker are so close together as characters that they are different wings of the same ideology rather than expressions of quite distinct points of view.

      I agree with you entirely that there is a problem with this discussion of torture in that intimidation has often been part of the superhero's arsenal. And I would hope that in the future creators would find ways of dealing with that issue which isn't preachy, but which does refer to the wider issues involved. But as you quite rightly say, catching a mugger in a web and shining a spider-light on him and pouring acid on a terrified prisoner is not an expression of the same point. Those acts exist on quite distinct and very different points on a continuum.

      The argument will be that even discussing intimidation as a moral problem shows that issues are being taken too seriously. I'm not sure that it can be taken too seriously, and that certainly goes for torture. There's no need for the super-book to drop the air of menace, there's no need to do away with characters who represent extreme points of view; all it needs is creators who know how to use these tropes in a moral context. Judge Dredd has been a fascist and behaved as such for decades; the stories contain all the conventions of the great bullying and indomitable hero, but they always show an awareness that there's ideas being discussed on the page too. (Except for much of the 90s, shamefully.) The super-hero book needs to catch up with Dredd, I fear, in the smarts and ethics as well as the blood and torture.

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  29. Dear Colin,

    Keep fighting the good fight. Simply challenging the Noble Torturer narrative is well worth doing.

    Could someone give me a link to any writings which contend that Peter Parker grew into a bully? I must confess my first reaction is "Says who? Doc Ock?" I also grant that he's never shown any reluctance to hit men with glasses (Doc Ock), the elderly (the Vulture), the obese (Kingpin), or the deformed (take your pick!)
    Superheroes tend to defeat their foes by punching them really hard, after all. What makes Spider-man more of a bully than, say, the Human Torch or Batman?

    Why didn't Spider-man have any geek friends? It may be a copout, but I'm going to blame Stan Lee. How can Spider-man be a put-upon loner if he's holding World of Warcraft marathons with his friends from the Science Club and winning cosplay competitions? Ditko also added social conservatism to the mix. Peter Parker was and always has been an unrepentant square.

    Also, I think Dan Slott wasn't thinking this through on many levels. So Silver Sable qualifies as a recommendation to the international superhero community? Is that on the basis of her reputation as a mercenary, or as royalty of the (postage-stamp) sized kingdom of Symkaria? Whether it's as the long-time headliner of Marvel Team Up, or today's card-carrying member of the Avengers, Spider-man should be far better known and well-regarded than Silver Sable.

    I'm sorry I'm not engaging the morality of Spider-man's actions. Many people are doing such a fine job, I thought I could indulge my trifling objections. Also, I thought you might appreciate a break.

    Really, my take on Spider-man is simple: he's the character driven by a compulsive sense of social responsibility, the most aware of his failings, and therefore the most likely to empathize with his foe. That empathy motivates him to find clever solutions when other heroes would just pummel their nemesis into unconsciousness. I can't see him torturing any opponent, especially one like Sandman, who he knows as a tragic, pathetic figure; one who's never committed a heinous crime and who's often tried to reform.

    Where's John Byrne when we need him? He'd only need one panel to reveal this Spider-man to be a robot, and problem solved!

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    1. Hello David:- Thank you! I do appreciate your generous words.

      I don't know of any posts which describe the POV that Parker was a bullied kid who grew up to be a bully. It was always a reading which I rejected, until this noble torturer rubbish. At that point, I started to work backwards and look for whatever might have led Parker to this point. (I just noticed that I tend not to call him "Peter" now, something which only happened after reading this particular issue. "Peter" was that other Spider-Man, the one that isn't a torturer.) I know that it was Brigonos, from his Your Friends And Neighbours blog - http://takecomfortinsilence.blogspot.co.uk/ - who would always bring this point up in the comments here, and though I've repeatedly disagreed, I think he's winning the argument :)

      There are aspects of Peter's past which worry me. He was turning into a terrific jerk in the later Ditko/Lee issues, but that was only a few moments in a few issues. I agree entirely with you that Stan Lee was making a social loner out of Peter by showing the elite rejecting him. Yet by not having Peter turn to anyone else, he can be seen as somebody who doesn't stand against elitism, but rather as a bod who wants to one of the elect. I like the idea of a Peter who held WOW competitions and hanging out with his friends with the Science Club. He could still have had all the conflict with Flash and his cabal, and won over a few of them over time. But it's that desire to move upwards in the established system rather than create an alternative one which seems to characterise Parker's progress. As you say, he's always been a square; even when he was into New Wave in Frank Miller's tales, it was somehow appropriate that he was quoting Elvis Costello, the geek drawing on classic rock and country. I suppose that if we accept the torture as a given, then Peter's always been one who was conservative and looking to find a place in the establishment. Not an uber-conformist position, but one which allowed him to feel that he belonged and was valued by the powers that be. And given that the Avengers are a pack of torturers who show endless contempt for the law and the people, Parker's only reflecting the values of his superiors and peers.

      A shame. I used to hold to Peter as an individual, who stood in neither culture or counter-culture. I can't hold that now. Torture, like rape, is a crime so unbelievably serious that it can't just be wiped away as mistake in the continuity or a particular writer's choice. You have a hero who tortures and, just like a hero who rapes, it's a sin that doesn't go away. It's irrevocable, toxic. And it'd take an incredibly smart reboot or continuity implant to take this off the table. I received the last Spidey annual today in the post, ordered before I read #685. When I saw it and remembered that I'd ordered it, I thought, without realising it, "Oh. There's that torturer." It's a stain which won't come out.

      Cont;

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    2. cont;

      Please don't apologise for your thought-provoking comments attending to matters beyond just the ethics of it all, firstly because what you’ve said is interesting and secondly because they often are ethical points you’re making. You illustrate more than simply the essential matters of how ill-thought through the whole comic was. For example, if the world's heroes knew who Silver Sable was, they'd surely express doubt - at the least - that she was in any way worth listening to. She’s no role-model either, being a mercenary and a torturer too. And despite the fact that Mr Slott's work has forced me to adopt a view of Parker which I never had before and never wanted to adopt, I totally agree with you that "my" Peter - who now lives only on "Earth-I-imagined-it-in-my-head" - is the smart, socially responsible and ethical character you describe.

      Still, I suppose there's an argument that he's been corrupted by the kind of situational pressures which Zimbardo describes, although that doesn't diminish his culpability. And if Marvel has the shameless audacity to cancel the marriage with the thickest story possible, then I guess they might just reboot it all again. Perhaps when the Scarlet Witch and Phoenix clash at the end of Avengers Versus X-men and rewrite the Marvel Universe, we'll see a Spider-Man who isn't a lousy piece of ... slime.

      You know what? You're right to mention JB. John Byrne endlessly gets it in the neck, but I can't imagine him turning Peter in the Amazing Spider-Torturer, and I can imagine him taking this whole idea out in a panel or two at most.

      Still, I can but hope that Spidey has been corrupted by some super-villain and that this story is part of that. I’d like to think that the use of Sable to back Peter up indicates a form of ironic clue on Slott’s part, pointing out how things are screwed up, although by making the other heroes apparently listen to her, that possibility seems unlikely. Yet even if that was so, I'd still argue that this story shouldn't have gone out in a form which is so apparently pro-torture, but at least we'd have an ethical superhero back. After all, a comic which showed Parker apparently collaborating in rape wouldn’t be allowed out, even if it led to a story which eventually discussed how terrible a business rape is. The single issue is a statement in itself, and that statement needs to be carefully constructed.

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    3. Perhaps someone more versed on Spidey-knowledge than I knows the specific years/issues, but I do recall scenes (in the 80s?) where Peter's h.s. behavior is re-framed from Flash Thompson (Spider-man fan and bully extraordinaire!) to describe Parker as a condescending elitist little prick who always had a sharp word for everyone else.

      And while this does seem a bit like "blaming the victim," I remember liking that it underscored how bullying has a social context outside of just two individuals, and while it does not excuse bullying, Peter has not always been a nice guy and has even had periods of being seriously self-centered.

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    4. Hello Osvaldo:- I'm afraid that I can't help here, and given that more than two thousand folks have passed through this post over the past 48 hours, I suspect that many of those who might know have already been - if only for a second - and gone. Still, I'd like to know more about the story you mention too, so if anyone should know ... ?

      Delete
    5. I found it! Web of Spider-man #11, February 1985.

      It was not quite how I remembered it, but I will scan the panels in question when I get a chance.

      Delete
    6. Hello Osvaldo:- I got your e-mail, and I'll sit down with the contents once tomorrow's two articles are finished, I promise. Thank you!!!!

      Delete
  30. There's one way in which Dan Slott - whose writing I generaly like - could pull this off in a responsible way. Once the story arc is resolved, Peter Parker might reflect on the actions that he took and recognise the moral abyss that he's fallen into. This could play out in interesting ways: he might double down into an unsuitably gritty mode which leads to disaster, he might pull himself up and renew his commitment to great (moral) responsibility, he might seek to make amends with one of his oldest enemies whose torture he supervised. All of these are potentially rich seams of storytelling that could discuss the moral ramifications of torture, and avoid the moral vacuum that seems to accompany the hero-as-torturer / torturer-as-hero trope that Marvel has put up.

    The chances of that are slim to none, but I live in hope.

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    1. Hello Paul:- I agree that the arc you suggest would be a fascinating one. It wouldn't solve the problem of the message that's already been sent out, but of course, you haven't suggested that it would. What it would do, as you say, is move the whole business of torture to the centre of the narrative, where we could see the effect that it has had upon Peter Parker, the Sandman and everyone else who's been touched by this barbarism.

      The only problem that I have with scenario is that it would need to end with Peter - your ideas have made me think of him as "Peter" again - being convicted and doing serious time, and that would never happen. To me, the crime is just too appalling to be left to Parker's conscience to resolve, and the message that a civil society does not ever condone torture needs to be re-established. (The state tends to disappear from the superhero narrative unless it's there as an enemy or an obstacle, and yet only the state has the resources to police such matters.) I realise that many would find this very idea absurd, even contemptible, but that judgment depends upon how seriously the individual regards both torture and the responsibility of the media to treat such horrors in an appropriate way.

      Sadly, if Peter does come to realise what he's done, then he's also going to have to deal not just with the Punisher and Wolverine, who regularly do the same, but the state-within-a-state that's Utopia, Cap and Moon Knight and the Widow, Dr Strange and Daredevil and whoever else has taken up torture as a tool of the super-heroic trade.

      It's a can of worms, this torture business, which is why it would - obviously, I know - have been far better to have left the whole trope alone.

      None of which is intended to be in any way a criticism of your ideas. I think that would be a heartening twist of the story, and an inspiring one too. (It strikes me that it could also be used to place Parker well outside of the cosy heroic elite of the MU which he's become part of, even a mascot of.) I just think that the time and the crime need to be linked together too.

      Which is why, I suppose, I shall never get my crack at writing Spider-Man :)

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  31. (Tangent the 1st)

    Hello Colin,

    Stuff like this makes me glad I stopped reading ASM (For the duration anyway) after Spider-Island.

    This feels like one of the major themes of Slott’s run taken to its logical extreme, the accident that was always waiting to happen: “Spider-Man is the greatest so therefore everything he’d do would be great if only the universe realised how great he is.”

    Although I agree with Neil’s interpretation of the mistake, because I’d like to give Slott the benefit of the doubt. I think he covered the issue of Peter and Carlie breaking up over keeping Spidey secret from her as it should have been covered, namely that however well meaning he says he is, Peter’s basically saying over and over again that he doesn’t trust these women he peruses. And his only real though to the things they’re potentially in for by associating with him, rather than telling them, is to keep doing the things he believes will put them in danger behind their backs. And look like he doesn’t take their relationship seriously by almost always being absent, at which point the narrative will start telling us how wonderful his life could be if only he didn’t have that pesky responsibility to save lives and very rarely examines how, if he’s supposed to be an adult, he should at least –consider- trying to balance his own.

    (Although has it been explained -why- exactly Peter didn’t tell Carlie? I don’t have the issue to hand but the logic would probably be as one sided and flimsy as it always is.)

    Um. Anyway. The point I was trying to make before that little tangent is that Spidey’s been guilty of a lot of things for a while now and Slott does seem willing to explore that. Which makes this entire scene all the stranger.

    -Simon

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    1. Hello Simon:- Where I sit, I only have to turn my head slightly to see a set of green-coloured She-Hulk collections. By which I mean, I've always admired, if not always enjoyed, Mr Slott's work too. And I've written about it enthusiastically here on this blog too, I believe.

      I haven't read the issues dealing with the break-up between Peter - or as I now think of him, "Parker" - and Carlie. I find that whole approach to who this Parker is and why he behaves as he does to be uninteresting. I haven't the slightest sense of fan rage about it :) I can tune in and out of a character's life according to my taste, or at least I can until the torture-thrills come into play. However, you do make me very curious to see how it all played out and why. I shall be keeping my eye out for the collection at my local state-sponsored reading rooms.

      I must say, it IS an interesting for Mr Slott to do, to investigate where Parker isn't such a good bloke. But when you getting him torturing folks, and in such a gruesome fashion, then that's the character lost. That stain not only stays, but it's toxic.

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  32. (Tnagent the 2nd)

    Speaking of being willing to explore This Jerk, This Superhero, this sort of thing sounds like a great opportunity to once again blabber on about the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, and superhero animation in general. Spoiler alert: it’s usually, obviously, better and ever since Justice League Unlimited there seem to be several shows willing to question the super hero’s authority.

    Spectacular brings up a side of the Spidey/Lizard relationship no one really thought about before, that taking pictures of the worst moment in Connors’ life, even after saving him, isn’t cool. I honestly can’t remember that being covered anywhere. Martha Connors’ reaction to this, as Curt Connors’ wife, scientific and business partner and all round equal, is entirely justified. Peter’s inadvertent treatment of Gwen Stacy and Liz Allen also deals with how the women of Spidey’s life can’t really be brushed over with “If Only I Didn’t Have To Be Spider-Man This Is So Unfair To *Me.*” Which to be fair is never the stance Spectacular Peter takes.

    The current Avengers cartoon has the best take on Hank Pym ever: he’s a pacifistic (he’s still perfectly willing to punch people in self defence) scientist who believes the never ending battle doesn’t have to be never ending. At the start of the series he’s created the Big House institute and when that’s destroyed he works with Tony Stark and Reed Richard’s to create Prison 42 in the negative Zone, where there’s nowhere for the villains to escape to even if they do break out. And he founds both those institutions with the intention of –rehabilitating- super criminals. When he isn’t punching people he’s trying to negotiate and when that fails he usually uses his helmet to incapacitate them by covering them in ants. He feels as guilty as hell over his involvement with Ultron, but the robot(s) staffed both prisons and wouldn’t have turned genocidal if the Avengers hadn’t forced Hank to, under protest, teach the A.I the concept of violence. Which they only did because they were desperate and an army of robots may have been the only way to hold off Kang the Conqueror’s army. When a hostage situation goes awry, (which starts out with Hank trying to –negotiate- with the hostage taker, a former patient of his, and Hank –uses- the word patient, and the guy, I think it’s the Cobra, really does seem unhinged and certainly desperate) Hank’s response to being reprimanded for trying to haggle with super villains (who had giant snake tails wrapped around innocent people) is to quit the team and walk away in a sequence that really ought to have been three panels in a comic somewhere. Seriously. First panel, Hank’s back to the team, walking away, panel 2 him shrinking down, maybe one of the Avengers (Janet? Hawkeye? Cap? ) reaches out to say something, panel 3 same shot but the Avengers just standing there, speech bubble from nowhere: “…I quit.”

    The point of –that- tangent being there -are- Marvel stories and Marvel creators out there that understand how to tell stories where the super person is human and has feet of clay and sometimes needs to get their heads on straight, and market them at younger audiences or any audience.

    They're just not the people making Marvel comics. Which is a good thing too because what we really need is something that stays true tot he comics, the real deal, telling us how great Spider-Man is, because he really is, isn’t he, so that even when he’s guilty by omission he isn’t because he’s so great.

    -Simon

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    1. Hello Simon:- I wish I could contribute more in response to your eloquent and welcome comment, but since I don’t know the material, all I can do is say that the things you mention sound thoroughly interesting and I will be checking them out. That whole business of the ethics of Parker’s photo-taking is indeed something which I’ve never seen discussed, and that alone looks compelling!

      And I’m absolutely with you that there are a significant number of Marvel creators who are thinking about the issues they discuss in their work. (I’d have put Mr Slott in that list previously, and indeed have.) I’ve tried to constantly reference folks whose work I admire so as not create a sense that “Marvel” = “Everyone who works with Marvel”, and it’s good to see you accentuate that in connection with Marvel’s work in other media.

      But boy are there some ethically dubious things being done on the torture front ….

      Delete
    2. The ethics of Parker's photography did come up during Civil War when Jennifer Walters was dating John Jameson and she suggested that JJJ sue Peter Parker (this was when he revealed his identity). . . for misrepresenting his work as a journalist.

      Also recently (it might have been Slott) there was a story about Parker as paparazzi.

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    3. Hello Osvaldo:- Might I suggest a good topic for your own neck of the woods? By which I mean, I'd love to read it, but I shamefully don't enough to write it, so ....? :)

      Delete
    4. Perhaps someday. . . perhaps I can make a deal with Mephisto to turn back time so I can start over. . . but until then I have a few items slated for my own blog and I am also (ostensibly) working on a dissertation (which why I spend so much time thinking about representation of race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality in comics, since that is part of what I am writing about) - so many ideas, so little time.

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    5. Hello Osvaldo:- Good luck with finding those little missing chunks of time, but if there's anything we've learned from Spider-Man, beyond never letting him play with acid, it's that deals with Mephisto are always a bad idea.

      Good luck with the dissertation.

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  33. Hello again Colin,

    I've actually spent quite a long part of my past day thinking about this post of yours. Not because I did not agree with it, quite the contrary, but in-between so many answers which were more eloquently put than anything I might want to say I felt that there was something nagging me at the back of my mind regarding this portrayal, which seemed to say to me that it was more symptomatic than just one singular incident. I do think I've got it now, but do tell if it's a far too disorganized idea or just plain silly.

    I should start by mentioning that apart from a few volumes from Marvel my involvement in the characters is not such that I follow its more recent titles, so what I know from the latest arc and years of Spider-Man is from second hand accounts, from friends and image captions and singular scans, so the perspective will always be partially obscured there. Nonetheless, I remember commentating regarding a preview of this very arc where Spider-Man punched Al Gore in the face for daring to trust in Dr.Octopus as having an answer for the problem of global warming. The character was apparently, later revealed to be the Chameleon or some villain of similar standing, but the preview and the action still stood in my mind and in my memory as you here retrieved the dialogue of "I'm asking you to take a leap of faith. To stack my character up against (that of Doctor Octopus) and ask -- "Who do you trust?" it resurged again.

    It seems that this kind of comic book story and mentality which is found ever around wants to look at the hero of today as having nothing to prove. This is not meant to say that the heroes of our stories need to repeatedly repeat the same trials of distrust-action-proof-and-redemption, for Spidey does not need to dance those same steps again with Jameson just as Batman does not with Gordon, but in their actions and in their routine adventures we expect to see them act as they acted in those first moments where everyone doubted them, carrying the same moral steadfastness and resolution which allows them to work outside the law as they do, and still be trusted and looked up by the random person on the street.

    Instead there are many stories that I see nowadays, where it is assumed that none of that is needed to be proven, to be demonstrated for the story to have personality and its own heart set in place; instead it seems as if from the beginning we start with the fact that Spider-Man here is the hero and shall win, any antagonist shall be the villain without any doubt, and we've then reduced the conflict to a strict black and white morality contest, where it matters not the action the hero takes against the villain but the fact that there is a villain and he must be acted upon, he must be punched, kicked, his plans smashed and his machines crushed, and if he has a backup plan then we shall have another issue or two. It seems part of a pessimistic streak where it is thought that all the good stories have already been told and there are no more twists in the book for us, and as such we're just going to the motions to see the confrontation in the middle of the story; except as time goes by it seems there is even a need to escalate this confrontation in the middle, to make it more heavy or hardcore or unexpected so as to distract us that there is no other conflict in those pages, no other doubt regarding morality or why or how or when.

    This was what I think brought up this torture and the punch I mentioned earlier, a steadfast resistance to move the goalposts apart, and as such a need to just pile on more and more unexpected ideas into the middle of the action, getting to a point where it just doesn't make sense any more. That it was demonstrated with such a barbaric action as torture and in such an horrible way is the worse of it all and something which makes me cringe at the idea of ever picking up this issue.

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  34. (due to blogger's coment limit, here lays a last addendum to my post)

    PS: Regarding your distaste of calling this character Peter Parker, I am reminded of a friend which is still dismayed by various portrayals of the same character for the past few years, and that after reading the death of the Spider Man of the Ultimate universe said to me "It should have been the other one". Perhaps it should, if he is truly evolving in this way.

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    1. Hello Drexer:- I think that’s a very good central point that you raise. Today’s superhero is often presented as if they are by their very nature moral authorities, and as if whatever they choose to do is by its very nature ethical. Even when an act is criticised, the consequences for the character for their transgression is usually minimal. And so we end up with the illegal prisons on Utopia, the terrorists of X-Force and so on and few folks seem to see a problem with it all. The truth is that a great many of today’s super-people are despicable and yet they’re given to us as characters to admire. Marvel claims it’s being sophisticated and adult, but only a blessed number of their creators seem able to be that. (The usual laudable crowd.)

      I find it hard to believe that anyone could be so insensitive to the issue of torture that they’d just end up adding it to a narrative to make it more thrilling and fun. That requires me to believe that the folks creating these stories are (1) profoundly ignorant, and/or (2) remarkably careless, and/or (3) pro-torture to a greater or lesser degree. The idea that torture is just added to these comics to make it more “fun” … it stretches my capacity to believe. I struggle to think that anyone can know that little about how fiction works, and indeed how political messages do too. But I fully accept that it’s possible, I really do. I just find it all mind-boggling.

      On your friends comment about the death of the Ultimate Universe’s Spider-Man; I hate to say it, but I can see his point. As I know I’ve said quite a few times in the above, a character who’s shown torturing in this way is toxic. It’s not a minor transgression that can be pushed aside, forgotten or put down to character development. Torture is, of course, one of the very worst things that a human being can do.

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  35. I had dropped Spider-Man awhile ago, picked it up again for Brand New Day, and promptly put it back (I'm not as generous towards Dan Slott as you are). Everyone kept telling me the comic is really good now, so I started buying the "Ends of the Earth" issues, and, in all honesty, it's really reactionary when you get down to it. The whole plot is a love letter to the idea of global-warming-as-hoax, Spider-Man insists from the beginning Dr. Octopus is just going to destroy the world based on diddly-squat (and even after part 5's developments, is still convinced that's the case), and the torture thing, well, your post is spot on. There's a laundry list of reasons why it's such a poorly-written story, but the casual torture might be the worst.

    What's really funny, in a sad way, is the idea that The Dark Knight so thoroughly dismantled the idea of Hollywood-style torture as a solution, yet, just like with Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen, the money men missed the point, and decided to make it ubiquitous.

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    1. Hello Andrew:- I appreciate you noting that I have shown respect to Mr Slott's craft and many of his achievements in this blog, both in the past and repeatedly here. Elsewhere in the wildlands of the blogosphere, I'm being represented - as is inevitable - as a man who hates Mr Slott. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do, however, despair of the choices he's made here.

      Gosh. I'd not thought of the Global-Warming business. And since I've still parts of the story to read, I can't comment. (I'd be exactly what I've been accused of being if I jumped to conclusions in such a way :)) But your conclusions, based on the issues themselves, are interesting and intriguing. My first and second response is to think "nah". It must all be a matter of excessive carelessness on Mr Slott's part. It can't be a story which deliberately represents a pro-torture, global-warming-is-myth point of view, can it? Mr Slott is, as I've said many times in the above, a very smart guy. I can't see that being true, and I guess I don't want to either. That's my own prejudices coming into play. Is that really possible?

      The brain says "nah". Then the brain says "interesting idea, go check out". Gosh.

      Gosh.

      Nah .....

      Surely not.

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    2. Colin, I might've been slightly exaggerating in calling it that, but the whole crux of the plot is that Dr. Octopus has come up with a series of satellites that can somehow reverse global warming (or speed it up) and that he wants to leave the world a better place before he dies. Suddenly, everyone on the planet seems to love the guy except Parker and a few Avengers, who, as I've said, is sure that when Dr. Octopus gets what he wants--including money and pardons for the Sinister Six--that he's going to destroy the world instead, a conclusion based on nothing or close to it. He even acts incredulous that people think he's really going to save the world.

      If not global-warming-is-myth, it represents this view I've come across repeatedly that global warming is just some cover story for a more nefarious goal by whatever it is global warming deniers are scared of currently. Spidey doesn't support his conclusions ever (very unscientific), but no one who is depicted as 'smart' or 'good' in the story ever seriously questions him on his unwavering belief. This happens throughout, and Spidey even gets 'rewarded' in part 4 when Doc Ock seemingly fries Silver Sable's country with his satellites; though it turns out to be a hoax by Mysterio, he's STILL sure that the plan is to destroy the world, which just feels like banging my head against a wall.

      You're probably right that it's a result of carelessness on Mr. Slott's part, but not thinking about (let alone addressing) the implications of his plot does send a message, just like with the torture scene.

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    3. Hello Andrew:- You've done more to make me want to read those issues than anything else I've come across. If it IS a deliberately political storm, then it reads like a fascinatingly audacious business. As I say, I can't possibly know, but I think I'd rather the politics of it all were deliberate and out-there. I have no idea about DS's politics, beyond indications that he's socially liberal re: issues such as equal rights, but I'd much rather than we were being given deliberately extreme politics than just careless writing. There's no excuse for the latter, whereas the former is purposeful and provocative.

      Still leaves Spider-Man toxic for me, but I'd rather it was all to a purpose rather than the result of daftness.

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    4. Colin, while it wasn't my intention to increase your interest in Ends of the Earth, I would like to see your thoughts on how Slott and co. use global warming in the narrative, even if you come up thinking I'm full of it.

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    5. Hello Andrew:- Aw, everybody's full of it when it comes to explaining the way they respond to texts. It's just the name of the game. What counts, and I'm sure you'd agree or you'd not be commenting here of all places, is how we knock around the ideas.

      I'll be honest, I don't feel too motivated to buy or review any of the Spider-Man comics at the moment. When the editor of a line of books calls you Frederick Wertham, you tend to loose interest in discussing the work they're responsible for. Perhaps in a little while. But I wouldn't shop where workers spoke to and about me like that, so .... I'm in an odd position as regards these comics which I've spent my life enjoying.

      Tomorrow I may go out and buy every Spidey-book I can find, having slept off the hangover of these ridiculous few days. Or I may not. Mr Wacker's right, Marvel won't loose if I stop buying a copy or two of ASM.

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  36. "That control not only makes commercial sense and not only reduces stress levels, but it recognises how many nutters and climbers are out here in the blogosphere. I have a terrible fear that I'm one of them."

    You might be a nutter and a climber, Colin, but you're OUR nutter and climber! To paraphrase what used to be said of Saddam Hussein by certain parties.

    Seriously, a wonderful piece. I did wonder what you were referring to when you mentioned Slott's spider-torturer the other day, and here it is.

    When anyone finds themselves dramatising the hypothetical ticking time-bomb scenario put forward by Rumsfield and Cheney to justify torture, while actually having the 'hero' torture someone and referring to waterboarding, there's a case for having another look at the script.

    The desperate measures and tough decisions while the clock ticks down is meat and drink to superhero comics, but your bullet points for superhero torture-plots are a concise list of the points used to make torture acceptable to the American public, and that's what is really damning. That superhero comics would so precisely ape the argumants of such men shows us we've reached a sorry pass.

    We've discussed Marvel superheroes' conversion to unquestioning military values before. It might have been one of your commentators here who mentioned that as the public gets more and more tired of war and as the more troubling aspects of what their soldiers do filter back, Marvel just keeps getting more and more in love with military hierachies and values and as someone pointed out above grows ever more enamoured of the 'secret state' aspects.

    Here's my spoonful of conspiracy theory to add to the mix...

    Do you know that Marvel produces a whole line of comics specifically for the US Military? They feature the usual heroes, but in specially written and drawn stories. I had one in my hand that had made its way to the shelf of Forbidden Planet in London, but I haven't seen them elsewhere. I was thinking of buying it to see just how they were different to regular comics. Might have been interesting.

    Anyway, I'm wondering now, given the whole swing in values that Marvel seems to have undergone in the last ten years, whether the contract for the 'Forces' comics is a large enough one that it is a consideration regarding Marvel's editorial line? In any case, the whole thing about Captain America being put in charge of the entire Marvel Universe looks like exactly the kind of changes that Marvel's single biggest customer would like to see!

    I'm guessing that the Forces as an institution buy the comics as a single order, and then perhaps sell or distribute them themselves, rather than the comics being produced to sink or swim in the military market on a sale by sale basis.

    I don't know that much about the comics, but I'm sure that producing them would involve much co-operation between producer and customer. Such relationships don't need specific orders from the client for the producer to tailor what they are making to the customers satisfaction. Regarding Marvel's sicko Bush/Bauer line on torture, I don't know if the US military would continue to support a company that openly questioned the methods they've been using and defending for the last 10 years, so we don't get no questioning.

    Perhaps it's a bit out there, and obviously there's a lot I don't know about how the Marvel Forces comics are produced, but there might be something in it. The theory depends on the contract for the specialist comics being worth a considerable amount to Marvel, and it being an ongoing contract, neither of which I know anything about. The fact that the stories are especially written and drawn for them might indicate it is. Perhaps anyone reading this with more knowledge than myself on the subject can throw in some more information, and by all means demolish my little tin hat theory?

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  37. Whew, that's a lot of comments!

    Colin, I was all set to (semi)disagree with you, until this particular comment of yours cleared things up for me:

    "My problem isn't even with the particular changes shown happening to Peter here. My problem is that Parker is shown behaving in a way that I believe to be evil, and yet that behaviour is depicted as being quite the opposite."

    See, I couldn't help but equate the actions of Spider-Man in this story with all the run of the mill uses of terror and violence that the ol' Web-Head has resorted to in the past to coerce some plot forwarding piece of information out of someone (classic example: going on a joyride, swinging madcap several stories through the air, with some thug in tow. The thug expresses his great distress, Spidey quips he should get over it, and we laugh about the whole thing.), and for that reason I couldn't see what was so problematic about THIS depiction that warranted such a strong response.

    But you're quite right, as portrayed here, torture is indeed being glorified to ridiculous extremes. Notice the degree to which Silver is all over Spidey in this book? Does that mean I can get a gorgeous super-spy/mercenary to fall in love with me if I torture someone for the good of my country? Where do I sign up???

    In my example of gravity defying thug abuse, consequences are entirely ignored, but it can be argued that the circumstances of ignoring the consequences are justified because of the accent on the fantastic portrayed here. No one in the real world could interrogate like that, it's not immitatable, and is, therefore, just comics silliness. It takes that extra effort to see any real world parallels, and for that I'm glad, because if I had to stop looking up to Spidey every time he webbed up anyone with a crippling fear of heights, I'd be in trouble.

    With this comic issue, as has already been pointed out time and again, the imagery is entirely too close to the real world. It doesn't take spider powers to pour that acid on a helpless captive. I could just as easily use that vial myself- and by the way, acid works on more than just Sandmen!! (con't)

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  38. (Con't from previous, hopefully I didn't cut myself off)

    I don't particularly condemn Spider-Man for the actions he takes in this comic as you do, Colin. Within the framework of the story, that of Doc Ock threatening the entire world with destruction, I don't know when Spider-Man has ever had the stakes quite so high- I can certainly forgive him for buckling under such intense pressure and acting as he does towards Sandman. However, as I think you'd agree, it's much harder to forgive the story itself for glorifying the action.

    Ah, but anyways, I had signed off on this story being any good from the get go. The moment that a dying Doctor Octopus announces that he's going to solve global warming, and it's SPIDER-MAN that immediately assumes the opposite and goes to war with the guy, with no one on the Avengers even suggesting (again, this comment should have come from Spider-Man) "the guy is dying... this could be on the level, guys." Well, I've been enjoying the story for its laugh-out-loud absurdity. Of particular note was the scene where Sandman defeats Captain America in a fight with... wait for it (is it sand?)... some cryo-freezing mabob.

    Because of course, Captain America's weakness is freezing, and not an arm of sand shoved down his lungs. (That wasn't just a random example I made up, one of my earliest Sandman comic encounters had him threaten the Thing with just such an attack... that's another reason why I'm less appalled at torturing the character: while the fantastical, otherworld-ness of a super hero coercing info has been dialed down to record low levels, thankfully Sandman retains all of his own impossibly cartoonish, irredeemable SUPER-VILLAIN(!) status... maybe just in my own mind.)

    What's really unfortunate is, and this has been discussed already, that creators feel the need to torture porn it up to either communicate a story, or to sell to an audience ever willing to gobble that stuff up. A more amicable Sandman, say, more in line with his good guy years, drawing upon his history with Sable, could just as easily have given whatever information there was to give up. A little white out (er, presses of the backspace button) and the script forwards the story without this brand of torturing ugliness. It's all up to the writer.

    Heaven forbid there be some kind of "clue" to be found, leading to the next plot relevent scene.

    Anyways, there's my two cents. As is often the case, I agree with you, Colin, but I also don't feel nearly as strong about it as you do- I'm just glad that this time it's for (hopefully) a legitimate reason, rather than pure desensitization on my part.

    Now to read your follow up piece.

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    1. Hello Isaac:- You put your finger on what I think are some of the key issues here. It isn't just a typical example of superhero intimidation; it refers quite nakedly to waterboarding as an option that Spidey appears to take seriously, it shows Sandman quite obviously terrified of dying which having acid poured on him, and so on. That's clearly a different league to holding someone off a building, which is something which I've - unfashionably it must be admitted - moaned about before in general terms. Yep, it's an ugly business.

      But please don't let me obscure the fact that I do of course realise that you don't feel as strongly about this as I do. We've disagreed about things before and it's always been a pleasure. Even a relatively minor difference shouldn't be something I skirt over.

      I do think the idea of Peter buckling under pressure and turning to torture would indeed have been a fascinating storyline. A panicking, unsure Parker dealing with those issues would have allowed the ethics to be discussed in a dramatic form. I wouldn't have wanted to see Spider-Man going through with it, but the whole scenario, showing his fallibility and hopefully his courage to hold to his principles and the law would have been fascinating. But, as you've quite rightly said, the torture was used to mark Spider-Man out as a better man. He was more noble and heroic because of it. He'd done the real man's job, and he was patting himself on the back for only torturing the Sandman. Astonishing.

      I wonder if there'll be consequences for Peter now. I assume that the Sandman may well find himself free or even in Federal custody. How might that impact upon Parker's freedom when the law comes knocking, and how will his rogue's gallery respond when they realise that if he ever captures them again, there's a possibility that he'll torture them.

      I too would have preferred to see Peter and Sandman manage to reach some kind of accommodation. To me. Peter's the kind of guy who solves problems with his brain and not a bottle of acid.

      A bottle of acid? How is it even possible that this happened so that we're talking about things? :)

      Your description of how earlier issues in the arc have gone does raise the issue of whether this event has been aimed at a younger audience, and whether the whole gung ho spirit was a reflection of that. Of course, that's the kind of daft thought that crosses my mind at 1.30am. How stupid an idea was that, and I say this with no snark at all, for who'd put a scene of such a torture in a comic aimed at a younger audience?

      Thanks for popping in. I enjoyed reading how your worked out your feelings on these issues and this matter. I hope the evening is going well.

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  39. Hello Figserello:- Sometimes a comment appears that I really do wish I could respond more to, but I can't because the commentor has expressed themselves in a way that I just can't add anything to. For example;

    "When anyone finds themselves dramatising the hypothetical ticking time-bomb scenario put forward by Rumsfield and Cheney to justify torture, while actually having the 'hero' torture someone and referring to waterboarding, there's a case for having another look at the script."

    Yes, I agree, although of course I would do, wouldn't I? There's been a big too-and-from between Steve Wacker and a bunch of folks on Twitter this afternoon about these issues, and his argument is that it's only comics, it's only fun, superheroes have always broken the law, these issues are only important to people looking for "enemies", and it's all a matter of over-thinking on the part of "adults" who have actually over-grown comics. So, I guess we could say that there's different ways of looking at this. But on the whole, yours are points I find myself in greater sympathy with. I think it's safe to say that.

    I had no idea that Marvel produced books for the US Military. It sounds like a very good idea. Commerically as well as a reflection of patriotic concern. Of course, I'm curious about the values in those comics, and about the degree of editorial and creative freedom. It would need to be constrained, but how much, and to what ends? I understand you're speculating with a huge and entertaining measure of good humour, and I can't imagine that that would influence the work of BMB and the other architects. (And to those cynics who think I'm being snide there, I'm not.) Still, all interesting stuff, and I wish there was some comics investigative reporter who had time, money and access to tell us about it.

    Still, I must go google about the whole business. Fascinating, fascinating :)By which I mean, I'd put my house on there being no creative imput on the main lines of books, though stranger things have happened. But I'd love to read these books anyway, and learn more about them.

    The CIA ought to have you constructing plausible black propaganda, Mr F. You've got me looking over my (blogger's) shoulder at this moment.

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  40. To everyone that's left a comment this evening, Sunday. Personal biz means I can't respond for a few more hours, but I of course will!!!

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  41. So this is the much lauded Heroic Age? God Bless Showcase and Essentials is all I can say. Rather read trial of the Flash again then this tosh. The dumb b@*&^%$ds who perceive this as heroic should get off their fat lazy butts and visit some of the countries where this kind of shit goes on openly.

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    1. Hello Peter:- Heaven knows, but I think we're past the Heroic Age into some other epoch. I can't say what it is. I tend to think of it as the Journey Into Mystery and Daredevil age, since those are the books which still strongly remind me why I was ever fond of Marvel's product. (I'm sure to have forgotten books. Mea culpe. There are some like New Mutants that I've yet to really check out, and others where I enjoy the art and not the writing and vice-versa.)

      I share your feelings, I really do. Of course, some of those countries you quite rightly refer to appear to have involved our country and America, either as perpetrators or enablers. Which is still so shocking to me that I almost can't breathe when I remember the truth again. Those people that did that waterboarding? As Kelly had Pogo say, We have met the enemy and he is us.

      Pah ...

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  42. I don't think real world ethics always apply to super hero comic situations though. Don't get me wrong, torture is always a despicable thing in real life, but Real-world ethical dilemmas just don't have the sheer number of potential casualties as the kind of stuff we see in comic books. With the mind-bogglingly big stakes that often come up, I feel that there are many situations that blur the lines between what is acceptable and what is not.

    I'll be honest. If I truly believed that billions of people would die and the only way with any chance of sucess to stop it was to kill and/or torture one of the guys that is responsible for it, I would probably do it. When that many lives are at risk, the human rights of a would-be murderer of billions just don't measure up.

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    1. Hello deepspaceartist:- well, I think it's fine that we disagree. I appreciate you doing so in a civil fashion. I've obviously a quite different point of view, but if I've can't put a case in the above, I certainly can't here :) Repeating myself here would be very rude indeed.

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  43. Spider-man's an awful book. I don't know what people expect. it's the book that brought you The Other, OMD and didn't bring you the Unmasking. The character is just so far away from what he was in the Lee/Ditko days or the David days or the Michelinie days. Who is he and why should I care. They basically made him a one-note guy who would rather sell-out the universe to save his dying aunt than face up to a stupid decision he made. It tried reading it and the book was so cartoony, I felt like I was reading a bad rip-off of Spider-man. I don't know how people got excited about a story where everyone is Spider-man now. Oh boy.

    The did the same thing with Doc Ock, they took away his personality and then did a big story. Whether this one has a decent plot or not, I guess you can decide. There's no point in doing big stories like the 'UNmasking' if you're character has become unrecognizable. They should of printed a retracing for that horrible thing, it cost the book it's credibility.

    O.K. I'm getting off subject. Yet, it still fits my point. Spider-man's morality is extremely subjective now. Good is anything. Bad is anything too. I don't know why Gaunt Doc Ock wants to take over the world, but Spider-man already altered the universe for himself, so....

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    1. Hello There:- I do understand your point of view, I really do. My feelings about the whole re-boot with the marriage mirror yours. It was the dumbest and least ethical business, and as it was added to, it became dumber and more dubious. I guess I've read so many mutton-headed reboots that I just decided to push it to one side. And although I've admired what Mr Slott has since done with the character, I've rarely been able to warm to it. I fully accept that as part of the process of being a superhero fan. Sometimes Hal Jordan goes mad without any sensible foreshadowing and slaughters the Corp and the Guardians. Somethings he doesn't. Yet having said that, I don't mean to suggest that OMD wasn't something which folks were justified in being incredibly alienated by. For me, it was just so incredibly poorly done that it was just worthy of contempt.

      And I've have responded the same way to any other story which I read of similar quality. A touch of irritation, a grumble on the blog perhaps. But of course, equating torture with necessity and virtue is another business entirely.

      But that's a kind of defeatism which comes out of seeing so many stupid re-boots, matched with the knowledge that there's always lots of folks who love the new way of doing things.

      I especially like your closing point. It does indeed point to a particular way of looking at Peter Parker, doesn't it?

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  44. Those Ben Reilly stories are looking pretty good right now. Maybe he's still out there riding his motor cycle.

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    1. Hello There:- I was vaguely aware that Ben was back in some shape or form. It would even be good to know that he is - after all the endless kerfuffle - the real Peter. Unless Ben's been torturing his way across the MU too ...

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  45. Hello Colin,

    Yesterday I've read in a newspaper article that nowadays almost 50% of people in my country (Brazil) would a approve the use of torture by law enforcers as a way of getting information from a criminal.

    It's even sadder 'cause in our recent history (until the 80's) Brazil was under a military dictatorship government. Hundreds of people have been tortured. Hundreds of people have been killed. Some of the corpses are still missing.

    Seems like people are getting more and more insensitive about violence. The urgent call for awareness that Moore gave us (trough representations of violence when comics were still naive about the dark side of our souls) in the 80's have fast turned in to the joy of voyeuristic sadism in the 90's (as Kindom Come have showed us) in a disturbing way in which precisely the naivety is restored - we don't question the 'heroic value' of the hero - but the ethical principles (as naive as they could be) have been erased.

    It's quite sad to me that now my favorite hero, the ultimate nice guy, the last naive hero that could still sell comic books well, is now hostage of the kind of thinking that a story needs to show the darker side of the heroes to be more mature (like if writing comics since the 80's was a mere application of the formula Good Story = beloved hero - moral standards + violence), more shocking,and sell more.

    The disgusting thing is: people are not shocked anymore... Of course the hype about this kind of story still can make people buy more magazines - and i guess that's why they keep making more and more stories like that one - but the complete lack of discussion about the consequences of violence and torture seem to imply that for the writer its simply ok to torture a bad guy...

    And that is quite disturbing...


    Ps: sorry for my bad English

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    1. Hello Thomaz:- Your English was fine, I promise you, and your comment was moving.

      I find it deeply disturbing to hear of the attitudes you mention in your nation. I find it inexplicable that so many people in a nation which endured such a protracted and harsh military dictatorship should now embrace the very methods which the people suffered from for so long.

      And I share your concern that the industry has as a whole totally misunderstood the work that Alan Moore and his peers pioneered in the 80s. It's at times like this that I wish there still was an Alan Moore working in the industry, because it needs figures like him standing against the tide. There are, as I always want to accentuate, considerable figures doing ethical and entertaining work in the industry, but they don't constitute a majority.

      I don't like to admit how disappointed the corruption of Peter Parker has made me. I feel I should have reached a point where these things don't make me feel sad. But they still do.

      I share your disgust at the lack of concern where this topic is concerned. We live in worrying times. But then, the times are always worrying. I have been heartened by the response to this piece. It's good to know that there are lots of folks who are appalled by this kind of insensitivity. My best to you.

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  46. I'm a little late to the party, but here it comes anyway...

    I started reading this article, and my first reaction was, and I quote: "*sigh* And now we've come to this..."

    It had to happen eventually, I suppose. With the way the portrayal of super-heroes has been going, it was only a matter of time until Spider-Man, Superhero Everyman and moral center of the Marvel Universe, got his Jack Bauer on.

    But even I was surprised to see how blatantly the scene was constructed to hit literally every single point on the Ticking Clock Justification checklist. It's a little hard to pull the "it's just fantasy card" when the scene is constructed around an oft used (and completely bullsh*t) example from the real world debate over the issue of torture, and definitively and unambiguously comes down on one particular side of the issue. It's like Slott listened to the 2007 Republican debates and constructed the scene entirely from all the reasons the candidates (with the notable exception of John McCain, who as a real life victim of torture was the only one whose opinion should have mattered on the subject to begin with) were giving as to why torture was not only ok, but totally awesome and noble and kick-ass and should totally get you laid.

    Like I said, I wasn't surprised to see the real-life torture debate brought into Spider-Man. Super-hero worlds have become more cynical over the last few decades, and Marvel especially loves their "realism" and "real-world issues" moments where they (often quite heavy-handedly and clumsily) work in reference to some hot-button current event or topic of discussion. But to have Spider-Man, the most hand-wringing and self-aware of all super-heroes, not only unabashedly torture someone but then thump his chest about it and see taking that action as some sign of leadership and nobility? Even I didn't see that coming.

    It's not like there can't be torture or dark acts in super-hero books. In fact, it's been done before quite well and with quite a lot of self-awareness by (and I cannot believe I'm about to say this person's name as a positive example of progressive storytelling...) Frank Miller in Daredevil. One of the most memorable moments of his very memorable take on the character was Matt Murdoch playing Russian Roulette with a helpless and paralyzed Bullseye. This was clearly a case of a hero threatening an opponent with the end of their mortal existence... and it was also, clearly and unequivocally the absolute lowest point the hero could possibly reach. This was not nobility, this was not a brave moral compromise for the greater good. It was the actions of a man who was so broken and lost that he couldn't even bring himself end his overwhelming misery by eating a bullet, so he took it out on someone he knew couldn't fight back. It's a horrifying scene, and it's meant to be that way.

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  47. cont...


    Yes, super-heroes solve their problems through violence. Yes, Spider-Man often swings through the air dragging terrified muggers and burglars behind in an act that, if possible in the real world, would probably be torture as well. But at that point the fantasy of the story hasn't been broken, like it is when the writer takes actual hypothetical examples from real world debates of when it's ok to violate human rights and then has the spandex-clad hero lecture his victim on that issue using language taken straight off the news channels. Because before it reaches that point, we accept that it is fantasy. We know Spider-Man doesn't exist, just like we know no matter how many times the Lizard or the Scorpion take spider-strength punches to the skull until they are rendered unconscious no real harm is going to come to them. Even if they die, it's not like that's a very permanent state of affairs in Superlandia. But this scene blatantly and (seemingly) purposefully tells the reader "real world relevance: ACTIVATE!" and then delivers a heavy-handed and stilted screed on a decidedly unfantastical real-world issue. The pretense of fantasy is purposefully dispelled. The story-tellers are deliberately telling us that the fictional, fantastic morality is no longer in play.

    Again, we can look to Frank Miller's "Daredevil" for another example of this device, but used in a much more meaningful way. The moment when Daredevil drops Bullseye from the power lines to break every bone in his body after the latter killed Elektra uses a very similar technique, telling the audience that this is a moment where the normal rules of super-hero conflict have been abandoned: Bullseye falls, and Daredevil catches him, because that's what heroes do; Bullseye then looks Murdoch in the eye and says (to paraphrase), "Pull me up now. You're the hero; you HAVE to save me." To which Murdoch responds by dropping Bullseye and letting him fall several stories. It's a shocking moment, the kind you don't usually expect from your super-heroes (or that you didn't expect at the time; now... not so much), made more effective because Bullseye explicitly states, to hero and audience, exactly what behavior is expected from Daredevil at that moment. And Daredevil then completely abandons the position of nobility in the story and breaks the contract of the super-hero fantasy.

    And what really, really makes that scene work? What makes it stand out now, decades later? It's that that behavior is framed as not only being shocking, but as being NOT heroic. The audience has no sympathy for Bullseye by that point; he's a sociopathic mass-murderer who just killed the hero's love interest, laughed about it, and then dared to demand that the hero save him from peril. We can completely understand Murdoch's desire to let the bastard fall. We can even understand why he does it. But Murdoch's actions aren't portrayed as being heroic or noble or worthy of emulation. It's the moment he goes over the abyss and abandons his principles. It's the moment the adolescent power fantasy transforms into a much more realistic despair and moral compromise. Murdoch's quests for vengeance under Miller's pen were never portrayed as noble endeavors, but as actions that dehumanized him and drove him even deeper into the despair that all the tragedy around him led him to.

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  48. continued AGAIN :)


    I can think of another, more recent example from Ed Brubaker's "Catwoman." At the end of the Black Mask storyline, the villain is hanging off a building begging to be let up, and Catwoman responds, "You think I'm going to save you? You're even stupider than you look." Again, the dialogue explicitly draws attention to the artificiality of the world (this time by remarking on the supervillain's appearance) to make the break from the expected actions of the protagonist that much starker. And again, this isn't portrayed as being noble or good on Catwoman's part. It's understandable that she wouldn't want to save the Black Mask, who's even more despicable than the above mentioned Bullseye (and what device does Brubaker use to paint Black Mask as a hopeless, worthless human being? He's a sadist and torturer). We can even empathize with her. But just like with Bullseye/Daredevil, this isn't a moment of catharsis. It's a resolution that's tragic and bitter. And to further decrease the trivialization of the violence and death that took place in what is a very dark and ugly story, a story arc that's just as long is then dedicated to the characters dealing with the emotional wreckage of the aftermath, in ways that are hardly noble or heroic. Human, yes. But there's never a moment where it's presented as behavior that should be emulated, or as a metaphorical fantasy.

    And for a more recent example of how to deal with topics like murder and torture, there's also Rick Remender's "Uncanny X-Force." Unlike the last X-Force series, which played of the idea of how cool and badass a team of black-ops killers is, Remender's themes are much more similar to his indie book "Fear Agent," which is all about how vengeance and violence dehumanize and devalue both the victim and the aggressor. "UXF" has now more than once used the murder-justifier's favorite trope: "THEY HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO KILL THEIR ENEMY! OTHERWISE THE WORLD WILL END!!!!!!" And yet each time, whichever one of the protagonists who takes the action and murders their opponent is never presented as noble or something that makes them great. In fact, most of the series is about the emotional and moral toll of murder and torture and the way it degrades the existence even of those who commit it. The first 18 issues are all one long story-arc that culminates in a massive series of tragedies and losses for the heroes that are a direct result of their bloodshed, and are made all the worse that at least a few of them realize that it's all their fault. And if that wasn't on the nose enough, a character recently made a magical pact to sacrifice her empathy and ability to relate with humanity in order to be able to complete a mission that ended with her taking a life.

    So again, I'm surprised and I'm not. I'm not surprised that torture ended up being discussed in Spider-Man, for better or worse. But I am surprised, and incredibly disappointed, that this is how it came about.

    ... this was supposed to be a short response. Funny how that turned out :)

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    1. Hello Adam:- Thank you for such an eloquent response. If I don't respond to a comparable length, it would just be because I'd be agreeing with the points which you raise. The key tipping point here, as you say, is the way that the standard superhero trope of intimidation - which is itself torture, as Tom Ewing discussed recently - tips here into cold-blooded torture. It's a matter of degree, but those degrees are important. When, as you've discussed, characters behave badly in the traumatic aftermath of terrible events, we can at least believe that their decision-making processes have been compromised. And when presented with some care, as in the Daredevil issues you quite rightly debate, it's hard to see the choice being made by the superhero as laudable, and it's damn hard to regard it as heroic. Yet in the ASM issue we're discussing, we've not just crossed the Rubicon, but arrived in Rome too. This is a comic book which argues for the most horrible of ethical abuses, and in a time in which, the Guardian newspaper reminded us this past week, rendition is still going on in what was supposed to be a more humane administration.

      I will need to check out those X-Force issues you refer to, because when taken as individual issues, there are comics in the run which don't seem to carry the meaning you suggest. Now, I've swapped quite a few words with you and I have no doubt that the ethical dimension which you mention is there, and to the degree you discuss too. We may be back with our friend, the comic book which forgot that it was going to be read as a distinct story. Whatever, you've given me plenty of reason to re-evaluate my opinion of that strip.

      I do worry a great deal about the ubiquity of vigilante justice in the super-book, as you'll of course know. I'm tired of being told that it has to be part of the superhero book, as if there's anything which is so intrinsic that it can't be challenged. I'm not suggesting whiter-than-white heroes, but I am always keen to see consequences of actions, and actions presented in moral contexts. The super-book seems to constantly denigrate society's ability to police its own citizens, and continually suggests that vigilante justice is not only necessary, but by its very nature ethical. I could understand this if we were on the edge of the abyss, but I don't believe that we are. When the super-book is used to debate the degree to which the state is fulfilling its obligations, and the obligation of the citizen to do something, When I think it's on solid ground. When it argues that we've already gone to hell and only hanging-em-high will save us, then something is very wrong with the folks who are making such suggestions. Steve Wacker recently said that any such concerns are nothing more than "over-thinking". I wonder if he realises that that implies that comics are for people who don't think too much, who don't question, who swallow what they're taken and are glad for it.

      The message of Marvel Comics of yore was to think more, to question more, to challenge more. Now torture is virtue and questioning fans should give up comics. A world turned upside down, I fear.

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    2. "Steve Wacker recently said that any such concerns are nothing more than "over-thinking". I wonder if he realises that that implies that comics are for people who don't think too much, who don't question, who swallow what they're taken and are glad for it."

      The Big 2 have always tried to have it both ways. They both love to inject "relevance" into their stories and universes, make faux IMPORTANT STATEMENTS, and crow about how "IT's NOT JUST FUNNYBOOKS!" But then when people point out facets and implicit messages that they don't like, their default response is "IT'S JUST COMICS, STUPID! STOP TRYING TO MAKE THEM RELEVANT TO THE REAL WORLD!"

      "I will need to check out those X-Force issues you refer to, because when taken as individual issues, there are comics in the run which don't seem to carry the meaning you suggest... We may be back with our friend, the comic book which forgot that it was going to be read as a distinct story."

      Uncanny X-Force under Rick Remender has been an interesting beast. It's been fairly uneven, sometimes just plain sloppy. But at other times it's been both a nice tribute to the X-Men Super Operas of yore while still fitting in with the modern take, and manages to address the moral relevance of a super-hero kill squad without being a screed for either side of the debate. As you say, the individual issues themselves may not seem to suggest an anti-murder or anti-black ops violence message. In fact, the comic itself manages to avoid making any particular moral stance on the issue; the characters believe that their extraordinary actions are necessary, so they take them. There may be debate amongst the members on the validity or morality of their actions, but the book itself doesn't come down on one side or the other and make a definitive statement...

      ... but that said, it IS making a definitive statement on just what effect that kind of morality and actions have on the people who take it up. The two driving character arcs have been of Psylocke and Angel, both of which have been all about their loss of self and fall into the moral abyss. Angel revives a black-ops kill squad and takes actions he knows to be morally dubious, and as a result ends up losing everything good and heroic about himself to a villianous side of his personality, on whose philosophy is the teams moral relatavism and Might Makes Right ethos taken to it's horrifying extremes. And as I mentioned before, Psylocke just recently made a magical pact to sacrifice her ability to empathize. All that seems like pretty clear subtext to me... or maybe it is just funny books.

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    3. Hello Adam:- That's exactly the sort of feedback which a browsing blogger appreciates very much. Because RR's X-Force issues, and those which appeared before his run, did seem to make a very different argument.

      I'm sure you know my "each issue is a distinct moral entity" argument, so I won't hammer it home again. But I will say that when it comes to major issues - torture, murder, rape, an excess of racism or sexism - then I do think that creators have to be very careful about the message they're transmitting. But I'm well aware that that's a stance which is greeted with ... something less than sympathy in most quarters.

      But you do make a thoroughly good case for my re-evaluating my opinion. If only the wretched version of Captain Britain that's in the Secret Avengers & the mangling of his back-story in X-Force could be so easily re-evaluated!!!

      I mean, moral transgressions I can take. BUT THIS IS CAPTAIN BRITAIN, FOR GAWD'S SAKE!!!!!

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    4. I think "Uncanny X-Force" is worth the re-evaluation. It's one of the only super-books that I actually look forward to reading these days, despite an almost unforgivable unevenness.

      I'm not even going to try to defend his Captain Britain story. It just wasn't very good. It had some interesting kernels, but at the same time it almost made me drop the book.

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    5. Hello Adam:- The fact we find common ground on the Cpt Britain arc suggests that we might discover it on UXF run as a whole too. Fair deal, I'll look out for the collections :)

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  49. Forgot to add one more thing:

    RE:"A world turned upside down, I fear."

    Tell me about it. I just went on a lengthy rant about how Frank Miller is a man we should all be emulating in the name of social responsibility. I think the concept of logic itself just snapped in half with that one.

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    1. Hello Adam:- I hope you realise flickered in and out of existence when you were making that argument, and then again when you realised what you saying. FOR GAWD'S SAKE, BE CAREFUL!!!!!!

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