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The Spectacular Obama.

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“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

– President Barack Obama –


– Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man –



There is now a new President of the United States of America. The world, or at least the parts of it my ears are closest to, seems to have made a very much audible sigh of relief. It seems as if we can all sit in our chairs a little more comfortably, or at least, that if the prospective economic factors will mean we shall be expected to sit in new ones we can do so with a little hope that it will not be forever.

It must be said that when I discovered that Barack Obama is a smoker with a history of reading Spider-Man comics, and was prone to the use of unverifiable, grandiose rhetoric, I have to admit, I believed he was too close to my own view of myself for me to not like him. And I did, he is one of my guys, and he holds one of the highest offices in the globe… His speeches on race, and his dignified and calm appearance very much warmed me to him.

But I find myself in a worry. As much as any man can be thought to be good, occupying public office cannot and should not be justified by appealing to a sense of the person who holds this office, but to the actual essence of holding such an office. I cannot simply rely upon my sense of Obama’s character, or person, to limit my criticisms, or opposition to the structural violence at the heart of the origin of American, and any other nations, democratic project. To abandon such a position, would in my view, be to leave the barricades before the revolution has been won.

This article then, is a public death, for that part of me that feels an involvement with the Obama mystique. It is very much my own relationship to this that is uncanny in the Freudian sense of the term… I am once at home and not in Obamamania, and for this I must commit ritual suicide upon that part of me that is a part of this mystique…

It seems we are placing our hopes, expectations, and desires for the future into the vessel we have made of a man, and even from a transatlantic perspective such as mine, these are palpable sentiments. But, to what extent has Obama already become, in some ways at least, a fiction? In what dimensions have we collectively already begun to operate within a spectacular generation of images, narratives, and ideas about what kind of impact Obama will have upon the way we will collectively remember his Presidency.

This is why Obama will have his own space upon this comics ‘blog, because I believe this medium, as the first amongst equals, has been responding with a voraciously speculative and productive pre-empting towards the idea of how this period of history will be remembered.

In the run up to the election, and in titles produced after the election Barack Obama has made multiple appearances as the President (-Elect) of varying fictional universes. This included both an endorsement by the titular character featured in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon comicbook, as well as a later appearance as President-Elect, giving Spider-Man a “home-boy” style fist-bump for saving his inauguration day from malevolent interruption by the disguise proficient villain known as The Chameleon. Whilst there has been a steady and conventional level of inclusion of ‘real-life’ public figures in the narratives of superhero (and other) comicbooks it is rare for a real-life figure to feature so prominently as an active agent in the fictional narrative and in such an avowedly partisan fashion.


Obama has seemingly captured some sort of spirit of kinship with those that create stories and fictions about the meaning and nature of heroism. From the continued reiteration by the industry and it’s fan-base, we are told “Obama reads Spider-Man, Obama reads Spider-Man!”, as some sort of karmic mantra that will cause the ascension of the medium from some kind of imagined lack to some kind of imagined respectability.

Obama Spider-Man

This is also not stated to diminish the manner in which Obama has attuned himself to the heroic expectations people have generated for him.

What is interesting in this scenario, is that what seems like a narrative or fictional matter, that of the place of a hero in any given story, is manifesting as a serious and vital component to the Realpolitiks of this particular given historical moment. The election of Barack Obama has become a self-reflexive meditation by the American electorate on how they wish to be viewed by the world, which, as it invariably always does in such a moment, means a narcissistic exercise in (re)inscribing certain values within the collective process that is the formation of a national identity. The election of Obama is less an act of political nuance and social responsibility, and is more of an exercise in exorcism, returning a seemingly corrupt public body to the status of international hero.

Even if we accept that Obama resembles Robert Downey Jnr.’s “Iron Man“, who sits pensively weighing up the responsibility of violent intervention and accepts his own implication in the mechanisms that bring violence, more than Christian Bale’s “Dark Knight”, who uses technology to perform extraordinary renditions and mass surveillance, as well as employing torture to gain information from suspected terrorists, he is still the interventionalist, albeit with a more acceptable face.

I believe this is the essense of Obama’s victory. The coinciding of the growth of the superhero myth, and the election of Obama, are in some ways connected. Whilst the collective fantasy that a saviour would come to protect and defend us from our own excesses explodes in a multitude of forms across the cinema screen, achieving some of the highest box-office and beyond earnings that any set of films have in recent industry history, and as a genre perhaps the most successful that has ever existed, we welcome in open arms a man who has been made into the festish-object of these selfsame fantasies. Obama has become  the singular by-proxy stand-in for our desires towards the universal values of truth and justice, but through the particular way of the American electoral machine.

It is our fantasy of being saved, rather than a fantasy of saving ourselves that has led to the creation of such a spectacular public ritual of servitude and compliance. We have recognised a man as our hero, we have made a man into our hero, and it is the language of the superhero and the libidinal investment thereof, that best captures the values and risks of such a gesture. It is the fictionalisation of Obama within the realm of the hero, using the symbollic grammar of the superhero-myth that is providing a anaesthesic experience, dulling our collective faculties, allowing for an as yet unfulfilled historical inheritance to be a priori speculatively encoded into any future project of remembrance of these times. Obama is now already releaved of guilt, and punishment, for the actions of his future, because we have already accepted his “humanity”. This accceptance takes the form of mirroring the kind of narrative device used in the superhero movie genre, which philosopher Slavoj Zizek has publicly decried; this is the fiction of the inner life, of the internal and difficult task that violent intervention causes and exists as in the life of the superhero. He compared it to the IDF’s use of a similar narrative to normalise and justify the difficult but necessary job involved in administering “justice” within the occupied territories. Obama may have repealed the injustices of Guantanemo, and loosened constraints upon abortion provisions, but he has also ordered the renewal of military activites along the Pakistan border, and the militarization of America’s own border with Mexico. It seems he wants to protect the borders of his own sovereignty, but is willfully ignorant of those of others. This does appear somewhat standard operating procedure.

We have narrativised this man as more than what he is, by assuming an excess will flow from his election, pouring forth and leaving a sticky residue of parity upon the “blue-dress” that is the geopolitical landscape of the globe. He is made into the Richard Gere of our sullied hooker fantasies, where the last few years of our lives have been spent overcome (or is that come over) by the dirty politics of the Bush administration… We have been waiting for our charming prince to come and take away from the life of being fucked (over) for the bravado and coffers filled with other peoples money. We can feel freed and overjoyed that someone has appeared to respond to our curbcrawler’s calls out for a hero in the dead of the night.


Even if Obama fails to meet what nebulous and spectral expectations we seem to have of him, he will be exonerated, cast as the man that saved us from George Walker Bush, saved us from our mistakes of the past, saved us from ourselves. Like the good-father, the pure Phallus, uncorrupted by being buried in the dirt of someone elses sandbox, he stands proudly embodying a spirit of certainty and self-belief, even if not quite embodying the now defunct conservative rhetoric of American certainty and self-belief. He has made America like the Spider-Man of the movie Spider-Man 2, having found himself without powers and living a safe, manageable risk-free life, he becomes awakened to his destiny and responsibilty as the only man to be capable of delivering true justice in the face of crime. But it is only through the awakening of the nascent powers within and his acceptance of a life greater than that of those who fill his world, that he is able to do so. This is the poltical unconscious of this version of the Spider-Man myth, that power is destined for some and not others, even if this power comes at a price. This power is American. Obama may emerge as the ultimate signifier of this American power, and American hegemony in the Twenty-First Century,  but this is only because he has been made so, not because he always has been so.

Presidential Comic Books

The Empire has now a king who is not naked, but clothed in the cloth of the cape and cowl, and takes flight upon the power of his own righteousness. He has been given the historical role of the hero, because that is what the American populace desires themselves to be. The saviour of others, the hero who smites villains. As Bush attacked the phantom idea of Terror-as-Villain, reeking death and destruction as he rained his munitions upon the globe, so to will Obama, this time fighting the forces of Cynicism-as-Villain, the great ideological barrier to belief in hope and freedom America-style. He has placied the emphasis upon the need for “collective” solutions, whilst in real terms is merely reinforcing the values and fantasies that have underlied both the Bush and Obama models of the hero-saviour.


“Obama” is the fetish-object, whose speculative fictionalisation as a “hero” maintains the fantasy of the American ideal used to spport the generalisation and defence of the capital-relation.

What is interesting about this mode of operation for our thinking, is that it is in some ways the contrary mechanism to the one which began it’s cycles during both Bush terms. During Bush’s tenure there was a radically productive move towards the production of facts, even if the particular fact in question were open to contestation. From the ascension of Michael Moore to the heights of media mogul, to the move towards decentred, citizen-journalists, and the emergence and normalisation of counter-positional media outlets, such as Indymedia, the Bush presidency has been nothing but productive for those who find themselves his political opponents. Movies such as Outfoxed, The Corporation, and Supersize Me all achieved a high level of media coverage, but were always only the tip of the radical iceberg when it came to proliferation and production of left-wing media projects… Will this phenomena melt before the incandescant glow of the angel Obama, will we see the whole drift itself evapotating before our eyes…?

Obama’s very own political campaign mechanisms were indebted to the use and mastery of the new forms of political agency, and sites for activism, that emerged out of this aforementioned creative climate.

So why now has it become a fictive modality? Why does it seem so ordinary for the Commander-in-Chief to be bumping fists with Spider-Man…? Why is it our collective response to this occassion hasn’t been sober and sombre reflection… but exultation, and celebration…?

This is the point at which fantasy, reality, fiction and fact become intertwinned, producing these kind of spectacular and speculative responses.

What can we argue is the implicit horizon, the assumed terrain of action, that accompanies the emergence of such an act of collective, active pre-empting of remembrance…?

In two separate, but equally useful articles, both Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek have spoken of the fantastic and fantasy based element of the Obama success, but both have in my opinion, left too much room for critical acquiescence which will only lead to the speculation to succeed. Whilst it is fair to agree with both of their respective positions vis-a-vis the progressive and positive meaning behind the election of a man who belongs to a marginalised minority, by a country that once afforded this minority next to no rights in eyes of the law, their pleas for a sober approach to the event and outcomes of this election will, in my humble opinion, fall short of the mark and upon many deaf ears.

This is because the language they utilise, the perspective they offer, has in many ways already become included in the ways in which the fantasy of Obama is being perpetuated. The normal understanding of Obama is that it is a massively progressive gesture for election, but at the same time, posits no immediate expectations for him. The election itself and his role as President has become the ends itself, not the means to any political, or instrumental set of demands. He has already been excused of the responsibility of maneouvring America, and it’s global relationships, into a more progressive space, by the implicit acceptance of the limitations of his capabilities in office by the objective conditions his Presidency is being assumed to operate within.

The presence of economic catastrophe, imperialist wars, and corporate irresponsiblity is not the fire which Obama is yet to extinguish, but the cause of the ashen peat from which his Presidency has grown so spectacularly… his election has signaled the normalisation, or at least the expectation thereof, by the electorate in regards to the political and economic problems that will tear at the world’s population over the coming years and the role they will play as the leaders of the globe in face of these crises. Obama is the symbollic gesture required to re-ordane capitalist-democratic authority and legitimacy.

It is then in this context that it can be said that it is not Obama the President that is becoming fictionalised, but Obama the man. It is his very character that is assumed as being of value for those that wish to fictionalise him, not his structural role as President, thus, he is divested of the responsibility of appearing to conform to the role he has been elected to play.

He has become an explicit meditation upon the value and realisability of that thing called ‘The American Dream’, and has given new faith to those that still maintain a fidelity to the hopes of the liberatory power of capitalism and the market. Both Butler and Zizek presume Obama represents progression, which I cannot see as moving beyond an infantilisation of him due to his inscribed racial character.

Obama is not so much an agent than a fetish. His fictionalisation is less of a comment on qualities inherent to his being, and more to do with fictionalisation of the desires of those that make of him a fetish. We not only fictionalise Obama, by making a hero of him, we also (re)inscribe a narrative of the values that we believe to be embodied by those we consider heroes.

We are now in a time of even greater potential for successes and losses than we ave been for the past two decades. Obama’s election is as much a symptom of this as it is an omen of where we might go wrong.

We cannot allow his election to define the limits of acceptable action on the behalf of those concerned with activism or action. This will be the greatest pull he has, to define the limits of what is acceptable for us to demand or do. Steve Hildebrand, the deputy national campaign director for Obama has fired the the first warning shot, albeit a tentative one,  across the bough of the left-wing allies who feel discomfort at Obama’s cabinet choices. This should not be seen as action merely suggesting a pragmatic usage of the best talents for governance, it represents Obama’s allegiance to the state body as an organ of rule not liberation.

As such, we cannot let his Presidency assuage our anxieties and the actions that emerge from it. From now on dissendance, activism, and agitation become more necessary than ever before. There will be a pervasive culture of quietism encouraged by the elected officials, used at sporadic times to quell, and marginalise the louder left-critics of the great hero Obama. Just as Captain America refused to hunt down his fellow superheroes when their activities were outlawed, so too must we not baulk at the option of distancing ourselves from Obama’s success. We must not let the progressive potential be lost, we must not allow ourselves to become isolated by one aspect of the movements success, but must continue the project.

Love and comics,




Written by Luke Evans

January 24, 2009 at 4:31 pm

“Superhero Providence” (or the Mutant Progeny of Fredric Wertham…)

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prov·i·dence n.

1. Care or preparation in advance; foresight.
2. Prudent management; economy.
3. The care, guardianship, and control exercised by a deity; divine direction: “Some sought the key to history in the working of divine providence” William Ebenstein.
4. Providence God.
The following work is an attempt at a rumination on a topic I believe to be somehow both deeply felt and yet strangely absent, or at least only present in a form that has not yet achieved  a name for itself.

I recently found myself involved in a debate that emerged from  what has been a historical lack of a debate, rather than as the continuation of a debate that has a visible, nameable forebear. This debate took place upon the message boards of Robot 6, a comicbook inspired ‘blog, but did not originate there. This debate began with participants eagerly diving in, cutlasses unsheathed ready to assault both the originator of the debate, and those who found themselves taking the opposed position witihn this debate.

The situation in question was the mission statement put forth by Bill Willingham, a respected and coherent author within the medium of the comicbook whose work includes but is not limited to the critically praised Fables, in which he referred to both a current trend towards “Superhero Decadence” (a term he borrowed), and the need for a resuscitation of values that have become somehow lost in this context.

The “Superhero Decadence” argument is the premise that within the superhero narrative genre of comicbook fiction there has been a move away from the easily defined moral presuppositions of what some would define as the origins of the genre, to a murkier, more ambivalent moral stance, both in terms of  tonal shifts and the explicit actions, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs as recognised by the superheroes as a part of their own identities within the confines of the fictional depictions.

In comics today, superheroes seem to be less certain of the nature of superheroics than we as an audience are…

It is here that I propose my own intervention, and whilst not definitive, I like to think I am providing a healthy contribution to this nascent discourse.

I have named my contribution as “Superhero Providence” as a counter statement to the adherents to the notion of “Superhero Decadence”. I do so to indicate my own stance vis-a-vis this notion, not as a definition of the alternative, if any, I will now try to provide.

The new spirit or ethos of the superhero narrative is viewed by some as an embodiment of the failings of not only the moral character of the genre, but also held as an emblem for the financial failings of the medium itself. Dirk Deppey, the comicbook journalist makes this association in an article on the Journalista site:

“Why this situation exists has to do with a series of catastrophic business decisions made in the 1990s, which effectively eliminated the under-18 set as customers at your local funnybook store. Left with no one but the hardcore enthusiasts, Marvel and DC promptly began catering to them instead, and the result was Superhero Decadence. Because this remaining audience is so hardcore, they’re almost guaranteed to reject comics that don’t rise (or is that drop?) to their expectations. This in turn has stuffed your local comics shop full of books that force parents to pre-screen virtually everything that their kids might like, and unless you’re fortunate enough to be dealing with a retailer who watches out for this sort of thing and advise their customers accordingly, the result is Too Much Hassle for busy moms and dads — better just to avoid comics shops entirely, leaving them to their rapidly aging customer bases and the forces of inertia and attrition.”

Deppey originates the condition in a kind of pathological insistence on the behalf of the audience, relating the current decadence to the a priori impossibility of using a form of children’s fiction into an adult genre:

“In general, I agree with Carlson’s argument, but I would say that the current kerfuffle is little more than a reflection of a larger problem, which isn’t sexism so much as the continuing effort to wedge an adult sensibility into a genre created for children. I’ve taken to calling this phenomenon “superhero decadence,” and it occurs to me that I should define my terms a bit. By “decadence” I don’t mean sexual deviance, but rather “jaded but unwilling to move on, with one’s tastes growing more ornate and polluted in the process.” Readers of modern superhero comics seem to be chasing a cherished moment from childhood without quite understanding that they’re no longer the people capable of enjoying that moment with the same wide-eyed wonder; possessing a more adult outlook, they thus insist on reading modern variants of the superhero comics that they loved as teenagers, but with a point of view more appropriate to The Sopranos than Teen Titans wedged in there as well. The results read like an adult crime drama featuring all the excess sex, violence and a zombie-like attempt at the sophistication of an HBO television series but with a cast composed entirely of professional wrestlers.”

It is here that the fan-base are also seen to be participating in the collective disenfranchisement of the superhero from his moral belongings. We are therefore all implicated in the unfolding project of this age of decadence. All of us who wish to enter this Habitus of the Child seem to be too tall to enter through the door, so we must shatter it’s frame.

Bill Willingham taking up this righteous baton, and making of it a one man marathon, has decided he must combat this decadence from within. In an honourable show of self-awareness, he delineates and structures his provocation around his own implication in fermenting the intoxicant upon which the genre has now become inebriated, and even went so far as acknowledge his own past as a peddler of the brew:

“Those are but two examples of the slow but steady degradation of the American superhero over the years. The ’super’ is still there, more so than ever, but there seems to be a slow leak in the ‘hero’ part. There’s even a term for it, coined by (I’m not sure who, but it might have been one of two respected comics journalists) either Dirk Deppey or Tom Spurgeon. Folks, we’re smack dab in the midst of the Age of Superhero Decadence. Old fashioned ideals of courage and patriotism, backed by a deep virtue and unshakable code, seem to be… well, old fashioned.

Full disclosure time. I’m at least partially to blame for this steady chipping away of the goodness of our comic book heroes. In my very first comic series Elementals, first published close to thirty years ago, I was eager to update old superhero tropes, making my characters more real, edgier, darker — less heroic and a good deal more vulgar than the (then) current standard. Elementals was one of the first of what was later dubbed the ‘grim and gritty’ movement in comic books. And to complicate my confession, I’m still proud of much of that early work. At least my crass and corrupted Elemental heroes still fought, albeit imperfectly, for the clear good, against the clear evil.

Willingham ends his “mission statement” with a promise, a promise to rectify this, in as much as success is a possibility in any one-man crusade. He clarifies he is not of an expectation that others will follow suit, but he still maintains a commitment to this admonishment. What has been the most contentious idea in Willingham’s essay is his insistence that

“…the superhero genre should be different, better, with higher standards, loftier ideals and a more virtuous — more American — point of view.”

So here it seems we are caught in a declining value system, with the supposed founding values of the genre threatened, with the certainty and native morality of the superhero being eroded by the obscenely mature expectations of a shrinking, albeit devoted core audience. This diagnosis seems to necessitate the cure of a direct injection of Willingham’s own brand of special considerations, American considerations.


So, why is this important enough an issue to warrant a response of the kind I am indulging in. Well, this is not just an issue of morality, which is something I will get to soon enough, but is also an issue of legacy and heritage.

The argument that we live in a decedent age, both of our consumption patterns and the moral imperatives thereof, is an argument that has been leveled at the medium before… but before it was not used by creators, but opponents of the medium. We were all suspected of seducing the innocent into the reckless abandonment of values which resulted in youth crime, and childhood delinquency. The argument both Willingham and Deppey are participating is not a new criticism of the medium. It was originally a proposal put forward by a man whose mission, and example, led to the systematic destruction of the industry…

His name was Dr. Fredric Wertham

Wertham is a name that still retains a lot of cache, but no longer amongst those outside of comicbook audiences. He led the successful campaign to have a system of censorship imposed upon the medium, having appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. The story goes that the moral panic that ensued due to Wertham’s continual assertion of the link between juvenile delinquency and comicbook consumption caused the public burning of comicbooks in a fashion that seem at odds with the idea of free expression.

The indication that comicbooks have become inconsistent with the desired values of their target audience is often, as in both the cases of Wertham and his mutant progeny, made by those who are defined, by even themselves it seems, as not belonging to the target audience of the medium. It seems that the medium is viewed by many along pedagogical lines, as a means for the explanation and proliferation of the kinds of values that it audience needs to know.


The most basic assumption of this model of thought is that the values of yesterday are show how given a privilege over those of today. The imagined moral qualities of something that was once is projected as the correct solution to the problems of today, be they of directly moral relevance, or in other cases, social or economic character.

The reason for highlighting the economic over others at this point is that we are reaching a moment in the development of the industry where we are accessing the kind of levels of (cultural) capital that the industry hasn’t seen for decades, if ever. It seems counterintuitive to suggest that there is any kind of lack in the superhero genre today, given that we are now building our own film production studios, and properties that began in our terrain are scoring nearly a billion USD in the global market.

The reality is this is less of a pedagogical manoeuvre and much more of a response to the nature of the industry, and who ultimately has the final say over the product.

Is it to be the consumers…? Is it to be the owners of the business…? Or is it to be the creators who hold the ultimate control over the qualities and characteristics of the medium as we see it…?


There is not any disagreement here that the changes in market can and, in my humble opinion, will have an immediate impact upon the mechanisms and considerations that feed into the production of the comicbook… but is a moral perspective the correct approach to take when assembling an alternative system for the valuation of the products emerging from the industry…?

I do not believe this to be most effective way to challenge the procedures that are being brought in being by the challenges and opportunities afforded to creators in the current context and climate. The reason for this touches upon the meaning of morality itself. It also impacts upon who can claim moral ownership over the substance of the superhero narrative.

Firstly, I think I should be clear about what/why I have a dislike of Willingham’s association of certain moral principles with an idea he has about America.

The issue is in the contemporary context, and I mean this in a loose sense, perhaps the last thirty years or so, is that the notion of America, or America as an ideal, has been used as a rallying cry for actions, both national and international, that have resulted in massive amounts of barbarism.

From Vietnam to Iraq, as the easiest examples to hand, but also including Nicaragua and the Balkans, the idea that America automatically represents the notions of “Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!” has been used as the implicit assumption, and even explicit rhetoric, for some of the most heinous acts of military barbarity that the world has ever seen.


For some of those outside of the US, which includes myself, the problem is that these ideals can be used as a Trojan horse, presenting an action as seemingly motivated by altruistic, or commonly held sacred values, when they are in fact motivated by much baser, profane desires for power, wealth, or bravado.

I’m not suggesting that the ideals proposed as being American aren’t of value, but they remain, and in my opinion are in some sense ghettoized there, as nothing more than ideals. Good notions, that people should live up to, but never really fulfill, or enact.

To then characterise these concepts as the mechanism for the valuation of fictional stories, or as a moral motivation for a polemic, just continues the moral posturing, and gesturing that is always done in the context of conquest and bloodshed. It is not so much that Willingham or others are consciously or deliberately advocating a justification for the actions which some may find questionable, that have been perpetrated by the US in the last few decades (and before for that matter), it is that his rhetoric just sounds like his is singing from the same score sheet.

For me, as a non-American (in love with American culture and people, sometimes literally!), I find the way he deploys the concept of morality troubling not so much in that I do not share those ideals, but that I do not know how far Bill actually BELIEVES in THESE ideals.

Arguing for a particular style of morality is meaningless if the means by which this morality is made to become normative is not made clear. This means, for me at least that these morals may be universal, but that does not make the means for their ascension so.

In the context of the superhero narrative, the idea that our heroes should conform to a set of ideals that are, as of yet, historically unfulfilled, seems just, well, fundamentalist. I’m not suggesting that superheroes shouldn’t be heroes, or moral, but why frame these morals in a particular national rhetoric? It seems excessive, provocative, and willfully divisive to do so… especially given the complex and nuanced debate that permeates the globe vis-a-vis these ideals. Again, I’m not arguing against Willingham’s ideals per se, but more with the rhetoric he deploys to express these ideals, as it is the same rhetoric used by those who then demonstrate that their commitment to these ideals often involves imposing a certain interpretation of them on others from down the barrel of a gun.

The style of superhero that involves a morally ambiguous and morally uncertain depiction of their activities is for me, a much HIGHER form of moral contemplation and meditation than those which are framed within the confines of a particular national rhetoric, as they require the deliberate and difficult commitment to self-analysis, introspection and willingness to change approach that comes with a philosophical rather than fundamental adherence to a certain interpretation of morality.

It is much harder to maintain a commitment to the spirit of a morality, than it is to follow a prescriptive set of moral rhetorics that pre-define the terrain of action. To be moral, without committing to a defined set of pre-suppositions is much harder, and requires much deeper understanding of the meanings of a morality, than does adhering to a doctrine or inherited set of social prejudices.

It was Descartes who used the image of the blind-man walking with a stick as an analogy for man’s understanding of the universe for a good reason. To argue that we inherently possess a vantage point from which to assess the entire terrain of values, morals, or ethics because of the contingent factors of place, or historical epoch of birth, is to my mind, an act of egoistic chauvinism. We can never really know that we are correct without first making the mistakes involved in bumping into things in the dark. As such, for me, a true morality understands that mistakes, and uncertainty are not separate to knowledge or correctness, but are part of a continuum.

A superhero that grasps the journey, or path to moral enlightenment understands that morality is not prescriptive, but learned, and struggled with. For example, would Spider-Man have learned the lesson of power and responsibility if he HAD NOT been indirectly to blame for his uncle’s death…? Even people who are Evil, (and even as an ardent Leftist, I use and believe in the presence of Evil), are capable of learning the error of their ways…? Is not the truth of Wolverine’s story that of a man atoning for his past…? A man who recognises his own potential for evil, and so strives to fight against it at all times, questing to rather fulfill his equally present potential for good?

These heroes cannot believe in a simple, obvious morality, because their morality is based upon the changing of their perspectives upon themselves. It is the moment of doubt about their place in the world and their assumed justifications for it, inherent to the moment at which these heroes turned TOWARDS a morality, that actually founds their morality. So stating that one can eliminate the doubt from their moral map of the world would strip them totally of moral value, from their subjective perspective and ours.

Superheroes that KNOW they are right , are inherently NOT moral, because they are not motivated by a commitment to the real implications of their actions, but the commitment to a set of abstract written rules. As such it is a dogma, not a true ethical, or moral stance. Was that not part of the message of Christ that he brought for the Jews…? That their commitment to the written laws of the Sabbath actually placed a greater emphasis upon the laws of man, than a commitment to a real understanding and acceptance of the necessities of True Faith…? I’m not a Biblical Scholar by any means, but this was always a story and interpretation that I liked…

The presence of doubt at the heart of a morality is not the annihilation, or abdication of a commitment to a moral perspective, but the necessary founding moment of true moral commitment. It requires learning, and commitment to knowing that one does not automatically occupy a morally pure position, but that one can only aspire to a higher morality, and that this aspiration will never manifest itself in a uniform arithmetic of action.

With morality uncertain by design, the imposition of a certain kind moral imperative upon the medium is nothing less than dogmatic, and does not address the intensely transformative power of the global market…


What solutions do I see…? If any…?

What I think is required is not more content control, but less. Not to adopt a standard pedagogical model of audience receivership, or a direct hostility to market demands, but to work harder on building surer and more open routes for new creative talents, ideas and involvement.

Whilst other industries are using the emergence of social networking facilities and the option of user generated content the internet facilitates we still retain the kind of auteur model that prevents us from smoothing the bumps between audience consumption, and creator production.

We are not using this moment to think about how we secure new talent, a vital component of what ensures the longeivity of other creative industries. When local, working class schools and colleges offer the educational option of partaking in qualifications geared directly towards involvement in the industry, why do we lag so far behind…?

What we need is not to lecture the audience, or assume we know what is best for them, especially in the context of the immutabilty of doubt at the core of all forms of human knowledge, we need to create clearer, fairer, and far more responsive mechanisms for new talent to come through and tell us what they want to read.

Without encouraging a greater accessibility to the production of our medium, or really taking seriously how we futureproof our pool of creative bodies, we will have nothing. The smaller our collective pool of creators becomes, the more we rarify our product, the more chances are we will lose relevance, cultural capital, and in the end the kind of financial clout that allows for us to make decisions counter to the indications of any kind market dynamic, be those of decadence or austerity.

In many ways this is our need for providence. Our medium must move to make the kind of long-term decisions that are based on making what we do as participatory as possible, as exciting and open a space as we can… so that we will no longer need to shatter door frames or run one-man marathons.

Love and comics,






Robot 6:

Written by Luke Evans

January 16, 2009 at 9:29 pm