Friday, June 02, 2006


Remaining "Civil": On Rights & Unions

At the risk of seeming like a Johnny-one-note of late with discussions veering back and forth around the topics of marriage/divorce (albeit of the comic-book variety) and homosexuality (albeit of the comic-book variety), I thought this piece at the Weekly Standard's Web-site was really worth noting. It speaks to the issue of same-sex marriage in the context of the African-American civil rights tradition.

Now, I preface this by saying, if I haven't made it clear before, I tend not to have a problem with the idea of legal recognition of gay relationships -- whether one calls it "marriage", "civil union" or something else. I don't think that homosexuals being united in the face of the law -- with all the priveleges and responsibilities that goes with that -- endangers heterosexual marriage. In a similar vein, I don't think the Constitution should be amended for the purposes of enunciating social relationships.

That said, authors Eugene Rivers and Kenneth Johnson make a good point in articulating the unique aspect of the black struggle for equality in the United States and why the "civil rights" mantle can't be likened to anything else -- whether feminism, gay rights or the new movement for marriage equality.
One must, in the current discussion, address directly the assertion of discrimination. The claim that the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman constitutes discrimination is based on a false analogy with statutory prohibitions on interracial marriages in many states through much of the 20th century. This alleged analogy collapses when one considers that skin pigmentation is utterly irrelevant to the procreative and unitive functions of marriage. Racial differences do not interfere with the ability of sexually complementary spouses to become "one-flesh," as the Book of Genesis puts it, by sexual intercourse that fulfills the behavioral conditions of procreation. As the law of marital consummation makes clear, and always has made clear, it is this bodily union that serves as the foundation of the profound sharing of life at every level--biological, emotional, dispositional, rational, and spiritual--that marriage is. This explains not only why marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but also why marriages cannot be between more than two people--despite the desire of "polyamorists" to have their sexual preferences and practices legally recognized and blessed.

Moreover, the analogy of same-sex marriage to interracial marriage disregards the whole point of those prohibitions, which was to maintain and advance a system of racial subordination and exploitation. It was to maintain a caste system in which one race was relegated to conditions of social and economic inferiority. The definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman does not establish a sexual caste system or relegate one sex to conditions of social and economic inferiority. It does, to be sure, deny the recognition as lawful "marriages" to some forms of sexual combining--including polygyny, polyandry, polyamory, and same-sex relationships. But there is nothing invidious or discriminatory about laws that decline to treat all sexual wants or proclivities as equal.

People are equal in worth and dignity, but sexual choices and lifestyles are not. That is why the law's refusal to license polygamous, polyamorous, and homosexual unions is entirely right and proper. In recognizing, favoring, and promoting traditional, monogamous marriage, the law does not violate the "rights" of people whose "lifestyle preferences" are denied the stamp of legal approval. Rather, it furthers and fosters the common good of civil society, and makes proper provision for the physical and moral protection and nurturing of children.
The overall point here is that there may be logical and moral rationale for allowing legal same-sex unions however it is not in the same realm as the historical "civil rights" movement. That movement was sui generis in U.S. history. And the current movement is a major transformation with respect to universal cultural mores of centuries long standing. In that respect, it is a more closer to the women's rights movement. But, again, even that was not exactly the same (though it certainly benefited from) the black civil rights movement. It would be good if all sides recognized these differences and avoided the rhetorical short cuts.

On a mildly related note, kudos to Jonah Goldberg
for hitting exactly right the politics of gay marriage in the Senate:

I think it's largely true that the GOP is picking up the gay marriage card as a cynical ploy during an election cycle. If you think gay marriage is the threat to Western Civilization many Republicans claim, why wait to talk about it at election time? If gay marriage isn't a big enough deal to actually do something about it before election season rolls around, why campaign against it at all?
He's also right on the cynicism that most Democrats -- and Howard Dean in particular -- demonstrate on this issue:

[Dean] says the Democrats oppose gay marriage when it's convenient and he says they support it when his base attacks him. In 2004 he himself opposed gay marriage while at the same time he's always given every indication he would be delighted if the Supreme Court unilaterally and undemocratically imposed it on the entire country.
Jonah's sentence construction is a little off: He means "When it's convenient, Dean says Democrats are opposed to gay marriage -- and says they support it when his base attacks him." However, the way he actually wrote may be a better reflection on how Democrats feel about gay marriage: "The Democrats oppose gay marriage when it's convenient."

Ramesh Ponnuru, who is even more strongly opposed to gay marriage than Jonah, recently made a similar point about the
GOP's "repulsive" (his word) use of the issue.

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Visible Men

The Washington Post begins a year-long series on what it means to be a black man in America:

Being a black man in America can mean inhabiting a border area between possibility and peril, to feel connected to, defined by, even responsible for each of those boys -- and for other black men. In dozens of interviews, black men described their shared existence, of sometimes wondering whether their accomplishments will be treated as anomalies, their individuality obscured by the narrow images that linger in the minds of others.

This unique bond, which National Urban League President Marc Morial calls "the kinship of the species," is driving many black men to focus renewed attention on the portrait of achievement and failure that hangs over the next generation. A recent spate of scholarly studies have brought urgency to the introspection, as the studies show the condition of poor, young black men has worsened in the past decade despite the generally strong economic conditions of the 1990s.

Black men now number 18 million, and many are pondering their roles in a country that is undergoing significant social and demographic changes.

In the coming weeks and months, The Washington Post will explore the lives of black men through their experiences -- how they raise their sons, cope with wrongful imprisonment, navigate the perceived terrain between smart and cool, defy convention against the backdrop of racial expectations. On Sunday, The Post will publish the findings of a major poll conducted jointly with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. The nationwide survey measured the attitudes of black men on a variety of issues and asked others for their views of black men.

More than 50 years after the publication of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," black men appear more visible than ever -- a freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, is the American Idol of national politics, and Will Smith is perhaps the most bankable star in Hollywood. Yet black men who put their kids through college by mopping floors, who sit at home reading Tennyson at night, who wear dreadlocks but design spacecraft, say it sometimes seems as if the world doesn't believe they exist.
This could be an interesting series. However, I am always somewhat wary about these "under-the-microscope" journalistic studies. It almost adds to the stereotype that blacks -- men in particular -- are still really some outside-the-norm problem or, in Marc Morial's rather awful phrasing, a separate "species."

Maybe this will be a rather informative approach that can do some lasting good.

At this point though, "color" me skeptical.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006


But, Josh...

...if you put a Frenchman in large container of water and slowly raise the temperature, does he immediately wave the white flag of surrender -- or just deal with his deficiencies by slandering random Americans?

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NY GOP Delegate Count For Governor...

...can be found amongst the hardworking guys at Urban Elephants.

Keep track of John Faso, William Weld, et. al, as the New York Republican Party's post-Pataki era begins.

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Need-To-Know-Not Basis

I'm withholding judgment on the apparent massacre at Haditha until the investigation is complete. However, regardless of what is determined, Doug Bandow is exactly right: Once again, all the president's men (and, presumably, his women) feel the need to keep the president in the dark on an important issue.

An event of potential major embarrassment to the nation and this presidency's principal foreign policy priority occurred in November! And the White House only learns about it in March, some four months later --when the press starts making inquiries ?!?!

You've got to be kidding me!

And the president still has confidence in his defense secretary?

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Marvel Post-Wedding Blues

Since the post on comic book weddings and divorce was long to begin with and continued to grow, this addition gets a separate entry. Appropriate too, as it comes from a comic book veteran who knows a little bit about these things, having written just about every major character at Marvel and DC at some point.

Speaking to the creative problems of married superheroes -- and particularly Black Panther and Storm:

Nice article. But you neglected to move on to the next level — which has also figured significantly into the time-line of Peter & MJ — namely kids. And in T’challa’s case there’s a governmental imperative. The country needs an heir, pronto. Which means, both in terms of the internal reality of the title and presumably the demands of the “audience” there would be an ongoing demand for this marriage to “bear fruit.” Is Marvel ready to shift Ororo off center-stage and re-cast her as a Mom? What effect would that have on her life and character? Would she be willing to hand the kid over to staff to handle the raising? Or would she give up the super-hero life and go Total-Mommy? And, of course, what happens if T’Challa’s decision(s) as King have any sort of direct impact on the status of the X-Men? If she was forced to choose between her friends and her husband’s country, what then?

And of course, the key question — where does the character go? Does Storm switch over to the Avengers? Does she stay with the X-Men? (Interesting wrinkle, taking a team of mutants who are for all intents and purposes in federal custody and hock them up with the wife of a foreign monarch? Suppose the Panther offers them asylum?)

Even better, suppose Black Panther gets cancelled? Does Ororo go back to the X-Men titles?
Now, of course, the main reason that such post-wedding possible lines couldn't be explored in any truly fulfilling "permanent" way is because of that bugaboo unique to comic books -- particularly the Marvel and DC variety -- a self-contained "continuity" upon which they are supposed to remain true.

That's why DC had "imaginary stories" in the '60s (updated in the '90s to being called "Elseworlds") and Marvel had the What If title. These allowed the companies to take a wacky idea -- "Imagine if Superman married Lois Lane/Lana Lang?" or "What if the Fantastic Four hadn't gotten on that rocket ship?" -- and explore it in a single story.

Everything that our comic veteran spells out above could, in the right hands, make for some interesting storylines. But because the characters don't belong to the writer --they belong to the company and, in a sense, to decades-long history -- this sort of change can't be made in the "mainstream contemporary" core Marvel Universe titles.

Thus, inevitably, either Storm, T'Challa or both will atrophy creatively after this big wedding splash. (Given that literal claustrophobia has always been part of Ororo's make-up, it always seemed to me that it would be difficult for her to find a suitable mate and be in a traditional "family." Even assuming she would get over that and eventually marry, entering into a royal structure inevitably gives her even less freedom than a normal marriage.)

As another e-mailer writes, "I guess that means that with the glaring exception of Sue and Reed Richards, marriage inevitability means death (or cancellation -- as it did for my ol' favorite, Rom: Spaceknight. :-) Storm had better watch out."

Indeed, Reed & Sue have married, stayed married (despite a couple of separations) and had children. But that's precisely the point. Fantastic Four was created as, essentially, a team-family unit from the start. So, the cycle could be observed without it appearing to be to be a deviation from the core concept.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


The "B"-Word

Times have certainly changed. Batwoman is back -- and she's a coming out of the, uh, cave:

Comic book heroine Batwoman is to make a comeback as a "lipstick lesbian" who moonlights as a crime fighter, a DC Comics spokesman has confirmed. Batwoman - real name Kathy Kane - will appear in 52, a year-long DC Comics publication that began this month.

In her latest incarnation, she is a rich socialite who has a romantic history with another 52 character, ex-police detective Renee Montoya.
How ironic. The Golden Age of comics essentially ended in the early 1950s partly due to a backlash created by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of the comic-bashing Seduction Of the Innocent.

Wertham charged that comic books -- especially the
EC horror line -- helped fuel the burgeoning issue of the time -- juvenile delinquency! Worse, they helped promote aberrant behavior with characters like Wonder Woman -- who came from an island of only women -- or Bruce (Batman) Wayne who lived with a teenage boy (who wasn't his son) -- without any, um, notable female influences around.

Crime, lesbianism, homosexuality -- all this and more was, ahem, laid at the feet of the comic book world.

The two basic results of Wertham's campaign was EC going out of business and
the comics industry agreeing to police itself with what came to be known as the Comics Code Authority. The CCA governed what was and was not acceptable in mainstream comic books. All major titles -- primarily distributed at the time to convenience and drug stores -- carried a little badge that read "Approved By The Comics Code Authority."

(Another result of Wertham's book was that, when the Batman TV series debuted in the mid-'60s, there was a convenient addition of Dick (Robin) Grayson's Aunt Harriet who provided an important feminine touch to the all-male household.

Beginning in the early-70s, edgier stories in mainstream titles like Spider-Man and Green Lantern/Green Arrow dealing with drug abuse forced the Code to modernize.

Today, though comic books don't sell as many collective copies as they once did, there is a far greater variety of publishers and titles for all ages. Comics are primarily distributed in comic book shops and bookstores. The CCA is largely obsolete, though publishers label titles themselves.

However, this means that DC -- which has historically been the more "traditional" or "conservative" of the two main publishers -- is now attaching a gay identity to a member of one of its signature "family" of titles -- the "Bat"-brand. A really big move.

This isn't like Marvel's having gay Canadian hero Northstar -- introduced twenty-five years ago and "outed" more than a decade ago. Or, the gay-bashing storyline featured in Green Lantern a couple of years ago.

A character attached to the extended "family" of DC's Number Two hero is being reintroduced as a lesbian in the company's much publicized year-long maxi-series.

Doc Wertham must be rolling in his grave.

UPDATE: The New York Daily News runs a story -- and touches on the ground-breaking, controversial, aspects.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Afghanistan -- Where Things Are Going...Well?

Maybe not.

Combined with this
apparent horror, it's not a good moment for Brand America.

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Rocking Right, Left & In Between

Over at National Review, my friend John Miller has put together a list of 50 "conservative" rock songs. It will undoubtedly be a source of great conversation and debate -- as music lists always are, even without the political veneer added to them. Here's the top 15 of John's picks (go to the link for the explanation of everything after the first five):

1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who. The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all. "There's nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by—the—bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss." The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend's ringing guitar, Keith Moon's pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey's wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.
2. "Taxman," by The Beatles.A George Harrison masterpiece with a famous guitar riff (which was actually played by Paul McCartney): "If you drive a car, I'll tax the street / If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat / If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." The song closes with a humorous jab at death taxes: "Now my advice for those who die / Declare the pennies on your eyes."
3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones. Don't be misled by the title; this song is "The Screwtape Letters" of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that "every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints." What's more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of
Bolshevism: "I stuck around St. Petersburg / When I saw it was a time for a change/ Killed the czar and his ministers / Anastasia screamed in vain."
4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young's Canadian arrogance along the way: "A Southern man don't need him around anyhow."
5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.Pro—abstinence and pro—marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do / We could be married / And then we'd be happy."

6. "Gloria," by U2.
7. "Revolution," by The Beatles
8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
9. "Don't Tread on Me," by Metallica.
10. "20th Century Man," by The Kinks."
11. "The Trees," by Rush.
12. "Neighborhood Bully," by Bob Dylan.
13. "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders.
14. "Right Here, Right Now," by Jesus Jones.
15. "I Fought the Law," by The Crickets.

Already challenging John is's Jabari Asim, who presents the "The Top Liberal Rock Songs".

Of course, both lists are problematic. Jabari complains that John's list is too white -- and wonders if even some of them can rightly be considered "conservative." He offers a much smaller -- five -- list of songs coming out of the Sixties and Seventies protest movements:

"A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke.
"Mississippi Goddam" by Nina Simone.
"Wake Up Everybody" by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
"What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.
"You Haven't Done Nothin"' by Stevie Wonder.
But if John is vulnerable to the question of "What is 'conservative' in the context of popular music, Jabari opens himself up to the question of "Are these 'rock' songs -- or just soul-oriented protest songs?"

He notes:

Exactly when did rock 'n' roll, once the province of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, become so white? The only black band listed is Living Colour, whose "Cult of Personality" is less a praise song to conservatism than a blast at egotistical leadership of any political stripe. The National Review list suggests that blacks have become little more than a footnote to a cultural phenomenon they are largely responsible for creating -- or, more plausibly, that black conservatives rarely express themselves via rock songwriting.
Well, the fact is that rock is largely a rebellion-based art, so there seems to be a conflict between conservatism and rock. However, it's not surprising that John Miller puts the Sex Pistols' anti-abortion rant, "Bodies" on the list. British punk was partly a rebellion against the "no future" that the Labour Party was offering in the mid-70s.

But is "rock" just guitar, bass and drums in 4/4 time? Or is it something more, something that reflects a broad cultural mix of youth-oriented music that stretches from it's birth in the 1950s through the present and covers rock 'n' roll (the Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Stones, Beatles varieties), R&B, soul, reggae, punk, rap and goodness knows what sort of varieties exist now?

If it is the latter, it seems to me that Miller and Asim are both doing themselves an injustice. Each ignores James Brown's late '60s period which produced both "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud" -- which could be considered the prototype liberal "identity politics" anthem -- and
the fiercely self-reliant
"I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door, I'll Get It Myself)." Hello, conservatives! This is the guy who endorsed Richard Nixon a few years later!
Conversely, even though Asim expands the definition of what "rock" is, he manages to look only at the black music of the Sixties and Seventies and completely overlooks the most blatantly political music of recent years -- rap. Public Enemy, anyone?

In any event, while agreeing with many of John and Jabari's choices, I offer, in no particular order, 20 personaal favorite political/protest/social comment songs of musical and ideological variety:

"Get A Job/Stand Down Margaret" -- English Beat
"Forgotten Years" -- Midnight Oil
"Life During Wartime" -- Talking Heads
"Rockin' In The Free World" -- Neil Young
"Ms. Jackson" -- Outkast
"We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang" -- Heaven 17
"Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- U2
"Young Americans" -- David Bowie
"Free Nelson Mandela" -- Special AKA
"Johannesburg" -- Gil Scott-Heron
"F*** Tha Police" -- N.W.A.
"Fight The Power" -- Public Enemy (and just about all of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back)
"Glad To Be Gay" -- Tom Robinson Band
"Redemption Song" -- Bob Marley
"Killing In The Name Of..." Rage Against The Machine
"Ohio" -- Crosby, Still, Nash & Young
"Happy Birthday" -- Stevie Wonder
"Clampdown" -- The Clash
"Television: Drug Of A Nation" --
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
"Go Your Own Way" -- Fleetwood Mac [No, it's not exactly a political song, but I always thought that this is the song conservatives should have adopted as the perfect alternative rejoinder to counter the Clintons' '92 adoption of "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)". And, hey, denouncing Stevie Nicks because
"Shacking up is all you wanna do..." has gotta give Lindsay Buckingham some conservative cred. ]

UPDATE: A contribution from the Comments section deserves to be elevated.

"Madscribe" responds to "An Interested Party" and then makes some neat observations on rock, anti-liberalism -- and the black community:

"Ya know, I'm as much of a political junkie as the next person on this blog, but sometimes people, like Miller, read way way way too much into things and try to shoehorn them into what they want to paraphrase the famous cliche, sometimes a song is just a song..."
I agree, but "Bodies" by the Pistols did turn me against abortion, even as a (then) flaming, liberal teen Democrat in 1984 when I bought the Bullocks album.

"Dying little baby, screaming! MOMMY! Screaming F*CK*NG bloody mess!
I'm NOT an animal, it's an A-BOR-TION!!!"

Ronald Reagan and the Pope could only wish to be as convincing as John Lydon (LOL).

Actually, I love a lot of Lydon's PiL albums, as he had to be THE most Catholic punk rocker of them all.

"Body" from the Pil album Happy? (my favorite college era new wave album) pretty much summed up my feelings about the liberalism that had poisoned Black America:

When you run around without precautions
You'll get disease, and need abortions
Up 'til now, no vaccination
Can give you back your reputation...

And then the chorus, like the Welfare State, chimes in:

We WANT ... We WANT your BODY!
We want your body!
We want your body!

Robert Christgau dismissed this song as a mere anti-sex rant. What a bleeding heart idiot he is...

Also, best song about divorce (wasn't that the comic book thread?), "Ma and Pa" by Fishbone from Truth and Soul (another college fav):

There once was a ma that wanted her
There once was a pa that wanted her

I know she’s confused, she’s my blood sister
She told me the blues as she start to shiver
Only a child in the middle of a war
She’s a problem child now because of a divorce

Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?
Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?

Well there’s a lot of money
For all the attorneys

It’s just not a fight for child custody
’Cause ma and pa’s revenge
Is making little sister bleed
Fussin’ and fightin’ through a family life
Make her wanna take drugs and be out of line

Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?
Hey ma and pa What the hell is wrong with ya’ll?

Fighting for love on an angel’s feather
Why don’t y’all get your sh*t together?

Madscribe 05.30.06 - 2:31 pm
Wow, I had forgotten both the PiL and the Fishbone albums MS may well be right about Lydon as perhaps the most Catholic punk rocker ever, though, of course, Catholicism can manifest itself in many different ways. Henry Rollins, I think, is Catholic.

"Ma And Pa" fits into what my friend, Bill Stephney, says is the young black male perspective on social matters that today seems only expressed in the nihilistic formulations of gangsta rap. Public Enemy explored some of it in a more nuanced way -- as did N.W.A in their first album (yeah, I know, N.W.A. "nuanced," but listen to Straight Outta Compton very closely. N.W.A.'s best writer, Ice Cube, does so in his first few solo releases as well. It's the frustration that goes beyond economics, but drifts into the social deprivation many black males feel because the welfare state helped make them obsolete in certain circumstances -- particularly when it comes to them being nurtured into being responsible fathers for their children (as Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned in the 1960s) . And, yes,
as we indeed discussed below, toss divorce into it and you have all the ingredients for social anarchy.

On a side note: Fishbone gave two of the greatest live shows that I ever saw -- one in which my glasses were nearly crushed after I foolishly got too close to the stage at the beginning of a show in Washington D.C.'s original 9:30 Club. It was on their first national tour after the release of their debut EP (the one with "Ugly" and "Party At Ground Zero" on it).

Ah, sweet memories.

Madscribe, thanks for bringing them back -- and making some really interesting points.

UPDATE II: Via Hugh Hewitt's blogger Mary Katharine, we are directed to Joseph over at the John Locke Foundation, who suggests some conservative hip-hop. By the way, Mary Katharine has a great list of links to this entire conversation.

UPDATE III: Let me return the love to Karol and note her guest blogger Dorian Davis' list of conservative songs (much more musically inclusive than my pal Mr. Miller's).

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Monday, May 29, 2006


Memorial Day Comic Book Blogging: The Most "Traditional" Medium?

My Friday post on X-Men: The Last Stand got a little conversation going about the nature of comics, why any post-adolescent man would be interested in comics -- and superheroes in general.

However, I wanted to elevate out of the Comments and into the general blog this particular exchange:

And on a related note, don't miss the wedding of the decade next month as THE
BLACK PANTHER and STORM tie the knot in BLACK PANTHER #16!

DamonO 05.27.06 -4:18 pm #

DamonO: I wasn't aware that Marvel's publicity department was reading my blog!!!Seriously, I'm not so sure about this. It seems to me that in most serialized fiction (and I include television and comic books in that category), weddings can be disastrous for the premise -- which is why most successful television shows don't have their main characters get married until a planned last season or episode. Otherwise, you end up with situations like, "I Dream Of Jeanie", "Moonlighting" (the lead characters "doing it" was the equivalent of getting married), "The New Adventures of Lois & Clark" (which had the awful effect of dooming the show AND forcing the comic book into a corner by having Superman get married there too) and, of course, "Spider-Man" -- where Marvel is only now realizing how bad an idea it was to get Peter Parker and Mary Jane married. I have similar worries about T'Challa and Ororo too. For one thing, it locks not one, but two major B-characters into a single plot line. As for the rest, I think this little comment is getting so long, I will have to continue it in a longer post this weekend.

Robert A George Homepage 05.27.06 - 7:10 pm #

Now, I'm only partly joking with DamonO. He's weighed in with some serious questions/ comments on other posts, so I don't think he is solely a Marvel flack, but given that he has actually e-mailed me to give me the "heads-up" on the Storm/Black Panther nuptials, it seems to me that he has an interest in it that goes beyond just that of the curious fan and seems more of a full-court PR press.

However, my point here is not to tweak Marvel's publicity department -- or even an overly exuberant fan -- but to expand on my point about fictional weddings. Marvel's Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada
recently discussed how having Peter Parker married is a "strategic mistake" in the context of the comic book. He also analyzes it as an end-result of comic creators growing up, dating, getting married and having kids -- and allowing those experiences to influence their art. In so doing, they forget what their core material is about -- what inspired a person to want to read about Spider-Man (or Superman or Batman for that matter) in the first place.

To the extent that superhero comic books are rooted in the extension of the power fantasies of pre-pubescent and teen-age boys, the idea is to "get the girl" -- not marry her and have kids with her. And this isn't even considered on a sexual level, given (TMI ALERT here) that, from personal experience, I can attest that I dreamed of being Batman long before I noticed how oddly uh, "cool" Eartha Kitt looked as Catwoman.

Batman may develop an odd interaction with his feline foe; Superman may have to deal with Lana Lang and Lois Lane and their inquisitive behavior about who he "really" is; Spider-Man may be frustrated that a Mary Jane Watson (or a Gwen Stacy) barely knows who Peter Parker is, but is intrigued by a daring, swinging Spider-Man (indeed, the only thing in the second "Spidey" movie that I didn't like was that he ended up revealing his identity to everyone -- including MJ -- that sense of mystery should be extended).

In any event, the hero shouldn't be "tied down" in marriage. Marriage is great for society -- but awful for dramatic tension. And, twenty years later (yeah, Spider-Man has been hitched that long in the comics), it is still a problem. Because, as Joe Quesada notes, what comes next if the hero is married?

Peter Parker was designed as a teen property, perhaps the greatest teen property ever created in comics. But as so often happens in comics, sometimes characters move beyond the initial idea of their creation and before you know it, you have problems.
Sure, are Peter and MJ okay as is, sure, but a lot of the drama and soap opera that was an integral part of the Spider-Man mythos is gone. What happens is that we as creators forget that there are always new readers coming into comics, why shouldn’t they experience Peter as we did when we discovered him. I mean the marrying was nothing more than Marvel’s comic division trying not to get trumped by the news strip.
While I always hated the portrayal of the marriage, and by that I mean that for years after they were married they were never really portrayed as truly happy, I don’t understand in a way why that was done. I believe it was an attempt by the creators back then to bring back a much-needed tension to the relationship side of Peter’s world that was now missing because he was no longer single. It was an attempt to bring back the soap opera.

As a single character there was always that possibility that Peter could meet someone new. Now if you have him even consider a new relationship, he would become the most dislikable character in the history of comics, he’s a married man and he’s Peter Parker. Peter Parker is us - he is our everyman, that’s what makes him so likable. In the past, during his single days, he could have been torn by a romantic triangle, not now that he’s married. How about that wonderful tension that there use to be between Peter and Black Cat. As it stands she can try to tempt him, but in no way can Peter succumb and still remain a likable character.
There's a reason why the "Spider-Man" movies don't have the character married. Marvel gets around it somewhat with their Ultimate Spider-Man title, where the character is given a contemporary update but taken back to his roots. It's a teenage Parker, trying to deal with girl problems.

Now, this, of course, is the same problem that DC faces with a married Clark Kent/Superman -- and is trying to get around somewhat with the All-Star Superman title.

It's interesting that in both signature titles, the marriage was imposed on the comics by outside considerations: Superman was married in the comic books after the Warner Bros. powers-that-be approved of it in the "Lois & Clark" TV show. Meanwhile, Quesada notes that Marvel's then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter was forced to marry Spider-Man in the comics when the character's creator Stan Lee decided to marry him off in the comic-strip. That goes to show that sometimes, even an original creator doesn't know what's best for his own creation.

And, when this bell has rung, it can't really be un-rung -- unless you create an alternate, "Ultimate" line -- or completely re-write continuity (which DC might do -- again -- in the wake of the "Infinite Crisis").

For, and this is really the heart here -- and why comics might be the most "traditional" fictional medium. There is one thing you can't do in comic books -- you can't have a major, iconic figure get divorced. Regardless of everything else that goes on socially in society (and,
as Derek Rose notes, some of the newer comics can explore, the Big D just must still a taboo for a Superman, Batman, Spider-Man in the "official" universes in which reside.

Look how Quesada
deals with the issue:

NRAMA: What does a single Peter Parker have, character-wise, over a married Peter? What can you do (beside send him on dates) with swingin' single Spidey that you can't do with married Spidey?

JQ: There is the element of soap opera, simple as that. There are so many more stories and angles that you can go with a single Peter that just aren’t available to us because of the marriage. There is no denying that during the classic heyday of Spider-Man soap opera played an important part in the telling of his stories. Remember, he had a bunch of girlfriends before even meeting MJ, Gwen, Betty, and Liz. When you look at good TV soap opera, the relationship aspects of it revolves around romance and break ups and when it deals with marriages it usually deals with romantic tensions that are being put upon those marriages and working at trying to break them apart and they almost always involve cheating and or threat of divorce. You can’t do that with Spidey and MJ, you just can’t. Could you imagine if we ever told a story about either Spidey or MJ cheating? We would irrevocably destroy one of the two characters by doing it.

NRAMA: You've mentioned this already, but let's reiterate just
to be crystal clear - in talking about how marriage may not have been the best thing for Spidey's character, divorce is about 100x worse, right?

JQ: Yup, it would be simply horrible, a 1000% worse.

Why? Because if the dreams of young children revolve around power-fantasies that find resolution in super-heroes, then the worst nightmare for a child is abandonment and separation from one's parents. Indeed, parents are a child's first "superheroes." It's no surprise that the creation stories of the major comic icons -- Superman, Batman, Spider-Man -- revolve around the tragic loss of parents (or parent substitutes) and how the hero comes to terms with that loss.
For Superman, it becomes a wish to become the guardian of his adoptive parents' (and planet's) home; for Batman, it is vengeance; for Spider-Man, it is a sense of redemptive obligation for a selfish moment.

But a divorce in a comic book would create the element of separation-by-choice. And, even though 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, this is still an unthinkable option to introduce into the mythos of the top-tier heroes. (Though it can be done with Hank (Ant-Man/Giant-Man/Yellowjacket) Pym and his wife Janet (The Wasp).

Black Panther-Storm

Now, Quesada makes a point in saying that despite his dislike of marrying Spider-Man, "It’s not that I’m against the portrayal of marriage in the Marvel Universe, heck we’re having two big weddings this year. But, here’s the difference between Luke and Jessica, T’Challa and Ororo, and marrying Peter Parker."

He's right (particularly about Luke Cage and Jessica Jones), but the Panther-Storm marriage brings some altogether other problems that Quesada may not have considered. For those who don't realize Black Panther, AKA T'Challa, king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, is a significant character in modern comics. He was the first black superhero created by Marvel in the Sixties. Furthermore, he actually, had a reason for having the adjective "black" in his name other than his color. Like many Lee-Kirby characters of that era, he was interesting on multiple levels. He was "black" (named after an animal of poise, grace and strength), and a real African (Captain America's later partner, Sam Wilson, the Falcon would be the first "African-American" Marvel superhero). And he was a King -- how cool! (Lee and Kirby had a real fascination with royalty: They also created Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans, but he was white).

Meanwhile, Ororo "Storm" Munroe became one of the great characters in the "New" X-Men, created in 1975. She was immediately one of the coolest of the new mutants -- and benefited from Chris Claremont's great way of writing female characters, including Jean "Marvel Girl/Phoenix" Grey and the really vibrant black detective Misty Knight (NOT the Foxy Brown-type cliche that her name suggests). When she first appeared in Giant-Size X-Men #1, she was thought to be a goddess by the African tribe that worshipped her. She was recruited by Charles Xavier and, years later, after Scott Summers briefly left the team, she became the leader of the X-Men.

In short, these are two of the most interesting, non-stereotypical black characters in the history of the medium. T'Challa has never graduated to the A-plus level of character (as did, say, Wolverine, who was created as a minor villain in The Incredible Hulk in the Seventies). However, he has starred in some of the best individual series in history -- including Don McGregor's "Panther's Rage" in the mid-70s; Christopher Priest's
fantastic run of a several years ago explored the real-world implications of an African king who happens to also be a superhero (including revealing a long-time double-cross of the Avengers). Filmmaker Reginald Hudlin has invested a fair bit in extending the T'Challa myth.

So, why risk all this with a gimmick of bringing together the two African characters?

The fact is that everything Quesada says about Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson is true for T'Challa and Ororo. Marrying them curtails multiple storylines involving Avengers and X-Men. It also stifles various individual development for both characters. And, while neither is an A-level character, they exist in that midlevel realm where they can't really be killed off either.

Which brings us back to the "D-word." A few years from now, does Marvel Comics really want to contemplate divorcing its premier "dream" black married couple?

To use Quesada's line, "it would be simply horrible, a 1000% worse." Yeah, because these fairy tales have to remain somewhat immune to the horrors of the real-world. Charles and Diana can divorce, but Clark and Lois can't. Nor Peter and Mary Jane. Which makes one realize that what used to be called the "four-color" medium recognizes that divorce really is a societal aberration and a line that certain of its characters must never be allowed to cross.

I'll be happily surprised if I'm eventually proven wrong, but somehow, I don't think I will be. And, hey, it's not like Marvel has never come up with a "great idea" that turned out to be a disastrous mistake.

UPDATE: My friend Neil sends me a link to what looks to be an excellent comics site with great text and great art reproductions. Black Goliath gets more props than I could have ever thought possible in this particular article.

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