Sunday, February 12, 2006


The Cartoons Crisis: The Silence of the Underground Comix

By Hawkman

I am fascinated with the Asgaardian cartoons controversy that has ignited the Supervillain world, and blown back to steel the spines of the Avengers - if not our own Justice League of America – unlike any other crisis of the Golden Age of Comics. I am not alone in this. My super teammates are also in thrall, as are the entire Marvel and D.C. universes. The Underground Comix world, on the other hand, is basically silent.

Why? I think it is because the cartoons crisis has exposed the fault line in adult-oriented comic “art”. Thor declames at length on this question in the must-read post of this young controversy:

This battle over the Asgaardian cartoons highlights all of these philosophical dilemmas (which I have argued previously are the result of certain speech balloon/thought balloon misunderstandings that are either cynically or idealistically perpetuated); and so we are brought to the point where this clash of comics code authorities — which in one important sense is a clash between Archvillainy and Superherodom, but in another, more crucial sense, is a clash between Superherodom and its own “post-Golden Age” inking, brought on by years of insinuation into our inking of what is, at root, non-linear narration that privileges the bemused observation of the banalities of life over the necessary primacy of transparently homoerotic champions endowed with ridiculous muscles, ball-hugging costumes and, whenever possible, phallic modes of transportation — could conceivably become manifest over something so seemingly trivial as the right to level entire city blocks to rescue a damsel in distress.

One regret I have is that this battle should have been fought and won in favor of moral absolutism and crotch bulges inside our own Comix Con gatherings years ago; instead, the victory went to the progressive alternative nihilists, whose fidelity to “important” subject matter, unorthodox panel progression, non-uniform lettering, characters with few or even no superpowers, et al manifested themselves in a “tolerance” culture that now has the government investigating Superheroes’ loyalty (Spiderman, the X-Men) and effectively chilling all superbattles by defining “saving the day” in a J. Jonah Jamesonian sense of tolerating only that property damage which is so minimal and incidental that it is unlikely to kill any civilians. And now we might be forced to go into battle with the aid of dangerous allies like Galactus and Magneto rather than with confidence in our own superpowers and virtue.

I wish I could have lettered that. Read it all here.The crashing silence of the Underground Comix is remarkable, especially considering the attention this is getting in Superherodom. As of around 5:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, I found nothing from Buddy Bradley, nothing substantial at Zap going back at least until Friday morning, and nothing at Love & Rockets.

Sunday morning, I found one short snark at Eightball, nothing at Raw, and American Splendor could only come up with the old saw that we only want to invade Gasoline Alley for its oil.

Phineas Phreak is the only big Underground Comix character that tackles the controversy head on, basically arguing that Superheroes are simply ill-equipped to appreciate the depth of their Archenemies’ pain, and that non-Supervillains go on rampages of world-destruction, too (he cites various examples, none of which involve attempting to destroy the Earth, which would seem to be the point). I don't agree with him, but he didn't dive for the secret lair, either:

Superheroes cannot feel the pain of Supervillains in this instance. First, Superheroes mostly live in sanctum sanctorum where megalomaniac sentiments have themselves been marginalized. Second, the Supervillains honor the Hulk and the Punisher, so there is no symmetry between Superhero attacks on Dr. Doom and Supervillain critiques of the Fantastic Four. No Supervillain would ever nefariously plot against the mindless destroyers and morally ambiguous vigilantes of the comicbook multiverse, since Supervillains benefit from their wild-card status, too, even if they see them all as marginally useful tools. Third, Superheroes have the security of being the “good guys”, with their exploits coded as “heroic,” and widely respected and imitated. Cultures like that of the Supervillains in the global Rogue’s Gallery receive far less respect. Finally, societies in the global Rogue’s Gallery are less policed and have less security than in the Marvel or D.C. pantheons, allowing greater space to violent vigilantism, which would just be stopped if it were tried in the Hall of Justice or on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Now go score a lid, Fat Freddy ... and please ... try not to get burned!
Plasticman noticed it as an amusing bit of news, but couldn't see anything to be learned from the crisis:

If there's a lesson to be learned here — and I assure you there won't be — it's that the Legion of Doom rather obviously doesn't hate the Justice League of America any more than any other Super Team. We just provide them with more opportunity to show it. If the Norse Gods would just step up to the plate more often, maybe we could sneak our troops home from Latveria and no one would notice.
Now, Plasticman might be saying that we won't learn any lesson from this crisis out of frustration, thinking to himself “we didn't learn from the Dark Phoenix episode, either.” That's in fact what I fear in my dark moments. But I think Plasticman really means that there is literally nothing to be learned from Asgaard’s Rainbow Bridge going up in flames. Really? We can't even learn that the Supervillain world has decided that it can chill and intimidate Superherodom by just appearing mad and sciencey enough? 'Cause that's what it looks like to me.

Back to the Silence of the Underground Comix. Are they silent because they think there is nothing interesting about lethal and destructive riots in a dozen Asylums for the Supercriminally Insane - all because a Pantheon of the Elder Gods refused to denounce a couple of “offensive” thunderbolts? This may be part of the reason - the big alternative books were far more interested in some alleged scandal about Captain America covering up his relationship with his sidekick Bucky, or some such.

The real reason the Undergrounders are quiet is that this crisis is a lance at the heart of modern animé vérité. It has exposed the stupidity of anti-mutant legislation, and made us all aware that our devotion to “normals” - the true god of the Underground Comix - cannot be reconciled with an allegedly victimized group – Supervillains - that is itself superhuman. The only solution is surrender, and the Undergrounders do not want to admit that. So they pretend the story isn't happening. We'll let them know when its over.

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