Geeks being geeks, we make lists. The latest example is The Hooded Utilitarian's Robert Stanley Martin's attempt to nail down a top comics list in the style of Sight and Sound's one for movies that occurs every decade. He asked comics enthusiasts of all stripes to contribute our top 10 lists of what we "consider [our] favorites, the best, or the most significant." Collation now done, the results are being revealed over this week. Contrary to many these days, I think there's something objective about the aesthetic best of some medium. For example, the problem lies within you if you don't like Kafka. On the other hand, there's a problem with simply picking what you think are the most significant works in order derive the best. Doing so will tend to merely recapitulate qualities others have previously thought made for the best, and they might be wrong (is The Seventh Seal really that great? -- it's not even Bergman's best). So I went with my favorites that sprang most readily to my present mind without a lot of brooding over how significant to the ages any of these comics might be. I also had to like reading the text involved, not just looking at the art (so no Steve Ditko, although he's one of my favorites -- Stan Lee, not to mention Ditko's own prose, is just tedious). Anyway, here's my list in alphabetical order:
Joe Johnston's Cap is a symbol of America, but more of our foreign policy than domestic issues:
As Steve Rogers, he starts off small and frail ("a 90 pound asthmatic"), but unwilling to back down from bullies. One pummels him in the alley, but he just keeps getting up to be hit again until his virile buddy Bucky Barnes chases the bully off. Adolf Hitler is a bully, and Steve won't back down from him, either, nor should America. Thus, America is never the bully, only the bullied or the defender of the weak from the bullies.
Steve might be weak, but what's really important to his status as a hero is his heart and soul. Not just anyone could've been made into the superhero Captain America through the injection of the super-serum formula. It took someone with a truly good heart, intrinsically anti-bully, to wield all that superpower in the correct, moral direction. The Red Skull was injected with the same formula, but look how ugly he turned out. That is, America is a benevolent superpower (and better looking than our enemies), intrinsically deserving of our power over others, since it's not our nature to use force wantonly.
Steve repeatedly lies, but only for a just cause, to get himself in the military to serve his country and vanquish evil. Despite his 4-F status, he's sure that his country needs him to fight as a man, not as a scientist or with some other skill set that doesn't involve muscle. Dr. Abraham Erskine, the German inventor of the formula, recognizes the determination of Steve in his willingness to lie for a just cause and enters him into the super soldier program. Realpolitik might make lies necessary, but that's not a problem as long as you remain true to yourself and your cause is just. We lie for good reasons, our ends are justified, and we are necessary for those ends to be realized. When the time comes, we'll jump on the grenade to protect you.
I wasn't much of a fan of this other major creation, The Brady Bunch, but I wasted a whole lot of my summer
vacations watching Sherwood Schwartz's Gilligan's Island (for which he wrote the theme song's lyrics).
I just learned of his death. He was 94.
I don't know why the Farrelly brothers' Hall Pass wasn't more successful. It's no worse than Kingpin or There's Something About Mary and is about the same thing: men trying to get it up. If you found the previous efforts funny, then there's a recommendation. It was, for me, like spending two hours with a couple of pot-bellied sports radio listeners in a Dallas elevator. Not that I have to like the protagonists in a story, but I do have to find them interesting in some way. And there's nothing interesting about the particular strain of the bourgeoisie know as the sports aficionado. I moved thousands of miles to get away from him. To their credit, I guess, the Farrellys have captured, with a cinéma-vérité authenticity, this khaki-clothed repressed memory of mine ("the 'Boys are back in town": shudder), and without ever explicitly discussing sports. They do, however, frequently turn the camera to old pictures of the leads, Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), in their glory days as high school football stars to reinforce the effects of domesticity on male potency: use it or lose it. The husbands aren't getting enough from their respective wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), which regularly erupts in pornographic disquisitions on what they'd be capable of if not for the ball-and-chain.
After hearing their husbands natter on about sexual defilement one time too many, the wives grant them hall passes at the suggestion of a psychiatrist friend. For one week, the men can pretend not to be married without any repercussions for whatever might happen while the women are away on vacation. For most of the week, the husbands drink with friends and continue to dream about molesting young women while young men are actually flirting with their vacationing wives. If you've seen any romantic comedy about infidelity from the past 80 years, you'll recognize Hollywood's reduction of the hedonic calculus to a ratio: cheating isn't bad so long as (1) the betrayed lover is an asshole, (2) the jilted one is given a replacement, or, as in Hall Pass, (3) both parties are equally unfaithful. Marital bliss (a.k.a. love conquers all) is defined through parity: Rick and Maggie resist the temptation to cheat, while Fred and Grace both give in (but feel awful for doing it afterwards), with both couples renewing their vows by the end. What's perverse about this resolution is that it isn't some satirical undermining of romantic love using utilitarianism, but a moronic conflation of utilitarianism with romantic love. These couples are the libertarian base, supporting any candidate who romanticizes capitalism as naturally just.