Sunday, July 23, 2006


The Politics of Powerlessness
by John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon, IL


Today's topic was going to be racism in comics, real or imagined... and I had it half written in my head on my way to work today, too... until I had one of those little everyday incidents that turned it all around for me and made me realize there's another topic that underlies virtually everything I've written about in the last couple of weeks, at least.

It was a little thing, really... on the way to the bus stop, I have to cross several driveways leading into parking garages. As I stepped off the curb to cross one of them, a woman pulled up in her car and came to a stop. Obviously frustrated, she waved me to walk in front of her, as at the same time, I waved her to drive into the stupid parking garage so I could continue walking. We paused for a second, eyes locked... and then I sighed in aggravation and walked on in front of her.

And it hit me, like a bolt out of the blue:

It's all about powerlessness. Or, at least, perceived powerlessness.

Now, you'd think that, instead of being aggravated that this woman let me proceed across the driveway before driving in herself, I'd be pleased that she was so polite. Instead, I was annoyed and frustrated. Why? Because SHE DIDN'T DO WHAT I WANTED HER TO DO. I waved her to go on into the parking garage; she sat there like a useless lump of ambergris and waved right back, indicating that I should walk in front of her. A typical "You go first, NO, I insist, YOU go first" real world encounter, taking seconds, over and done with... but it pointed out to me that what frustrates everyone, nearly every minute of every day, are not the actual issues we deal with themselves. It's our general lack of control over the outcome of those issues... our powerlessness.

With that in mind, I'm going to try to take a fresh look at some recent controversies that have erupted in the area of comics fandom, an interest I believe we all have in common.

1. Hal vs. Kyle

Recently... well, within the last year or so, I believe... a disgruntled group of elder Green Lantern fans, annoyed with the severe and traumatic abuses their beloved hero Hal Jordan has received at the hands of an apparently uncaring and callously profit motivated editorial process, has banded together into Hal's Emerald Advancement Team, whose self declared purpose is the restoration to 'glory', I believe, of their own particular idea of the "One True Green Lantern". Apparently, these fine fellows began posting Hal boosting notes on an AOL board for "Green Lanterns, past, present, and future", and in these posts, declaring and affirming their undying allegiance to Hal Jordan, their unswerving hatred for DC's newest version of Green Lantern, and their unflinching intention to devote their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in an eternal battle to restore Hal Jordan to his 'rightful' place among the DC pantheon.

And... can you believe it? Fans of the current Green Lantern took exception to these postings and responded in a vociferous, yea, even hostile, fashion. As I'm given to understand, these zealous opponents to H.E.A.T. howled back various imprecations, calling the members of the august body 'old fogies' and slandering that fine fictional Mr. Jordan with the labels 'pedophile' and 'drunk'.

To which the H.E.A.T fellas responded with increasing... well... heat... hanging various epithets on their worthy opponents like 'troll', 'young punks', etc, etc.

And I believe most of the ardor here comes out of frustration. Both sides perceive themselves to be basically powerless, and both sides are, at the same time, somewhat nervous about the possibility that the OTHER side might, actually, have more influence than they do. For all our marginalization, every fanboy is aware that sometimes, editors listen to vocal factions, especially if those vocal factions seem to be backed up by sales figures.

A dead giveaway of this, I think, is when a Kyle zealot in good standing brayed, in semi hysterical tones, that the fogeys of H.E.A.T. had no hope whatsoever of ever seeing Hal Jordan as Green Lantern again. A rough translation of this would be: "Oh god PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let these old farts just shut up and go away before someone at DC pays attention to them and takes Kyle Rayner away from us."

Naturally, in response to this, the members of H.E.A.T. are going to get perhaps a little strident and vociferous in their responses, too. After all, they're frustrated. They've seen the status quo change in a frankly horrendous way, they've seen the editor apparently in charge ridicule their concerns, and, well, they feel a bit ignored.

I have to say here that I think it was honestly naïve of the good folks in H.E.A.T. to think they wouldn't draw any fire over their postings, simply because the folder they posted in was called "For fans of Green Lantern, past, present, and future". I mean, they basically got up, in a forum devoted to the postings of powerless but passionate people (as all us comics fans are) and said "We hate the current status quo, and we're going to do everything in our power to destroy it". And then, apparently, they were surprised when various people who actually LIKE the status quo became outraged by this.

Which brings me to the interesting side observation that everyone believes in absolute and total freedom of speech, except when someone else is saying something they don't like... but, as Peter David often notes, I digress.

There are two psychological factors at work here. One is common to feelings of insecurity and powerlessness, and I've mentioned it in passing above: no matter who you are, you always think/worry/fear that someone ELSE might have more power than you do.

Thus, when the guys from H.E.A.T. started posting to the AOL Green Lantern folder about their determination to restore Hal Jordan to his 'rightful place', they didn't really think anyone would mind, because, deep in their hearts, they most likely figured they weren't going to be able to do much. After all, they'd written many, many LOCs to the current absurdly unprofessional editor of GREEN LANTERN, and had them all ridiculed in print.

The current Green Lantern character is firmly entrenched in current DC continuity, and seems to be selling reasonably well, and appealing to the primary target audience of both DC and Marvel, and their multimedia corporate sponsors. Apparently, Hal Jordan is now, in some way I do not understand and don't wish anyone to explain to me, The Spectre, which makes it unlikely he'll ever be Green Lantern again, although I should point out that, on the other hand, if The Spectre really wants to put on a Green Lantern costume and take his power ring back from Kyle Raynor, I doubt Kyle Raynor is going to be able to stop him. Still and all, the elimination of Hal in favor of Kyle seems to be pretty much a done deal, here. It wasn't likely that a few critical postings were going to make a great deal of difference.

The problem there is that the Kyle Kontingent perceive themselves to be equally powerless. They're a bunch of young shallow comic book punks who, in their own deep insecurities, have no idea who these H.E.A.T. guys are, but suspect it's possible that there just might be a little more authority or influence in THAT group than in theirs. After all, the members of H.E.A.T. are all older fans, have been around a while, and maybe have strings they could pull behind the scenes, as it were, or perhaps might even have some sort of old letterhack reputations that would cause someone in power at DC to actually pay attention to them.

Of course, any Kyle fan who actually reads Kevin Dooley's astonishingly rude and immature remarks on the GL letters page should quickly realize this isn't true, but I myself am not sure that Kyle Raynor fans actually CAN read any lengthy concentration of text without pictures, and I'm pretty sure none of them WANT to.

The result? The Kyle Klutz Klan feels threatened, and they unite to shut these old whiners UP, for God's sake, before someone notices and pays attention to them.

The second psychological factor is an even more common one: the honest inability of most human beings to emotionally grasp the concept that there are real, valid people out there in the world that disagree with them over matters of personal taste. This is why people drive slowly through your neighborhood with their goddam disco music blaring at maximum volume from their car stereo speakers. This is why people preach at bus stops. This is why your father in law just keeps trying to get you to see what a wonderful President Ronald Reagan really was.

It's honestly not that they're idiots, however tempted we may be to believe otherwise, and it's not even that they're callous, selfish, or uncaring. It's that they sincerely cannot emotionally accept or believe that you really don't like their favorite music, or want Jesus in your life, or believe that a senile, sleepy old figurehead who was most likely completely replaced by a Frank Oz created Animatron for the entirety of his second term was, actually, a good American President.

This second psychological reason was operating full bore in the H.E.A.T. vs. Kyle Kontingent thing, believe me. On the one hand, you have a bunch of old curmudgeons who know for a fact, the way they understand the feeling of gravity in their flesh and their bones, that Hal Jordan IS the One, True Green Lantern, that he is valiant, altruistic, and stalwart, possessed of an intelligence and integrity that is completely above reproach, and is, in every way, shape and form, deserving of the accolade of Hero. And they sincerely feel that they, and their beloved Hal, have suffered enough. I mean, honestly. First DC lets that idiot Jim Owlsley publish some trumped up piece of childish, derogatory CRAP called EMERALD DAWN that, in the finest tradition of the ever execrable GOLDEN AGE, revealed the young Hal Jordan to be a drunken, worthless jerk.

Of course, any true GL fan just ignored the nonsense as fast as it came out; back in the decade or so after Crisis, we were all ignoring nonsense like EMERALD DAWN and LONGBOW HUNTERS and 1974: THE WONDER YEAR and MAN OF STEEL as fast as the four color crapola piled onto the stands, and while doing it, wondering if anyone besides maybe Alan Brennart would ever bother to make even an attempt at building an acceptable, responsible, respectful, intelligent, and internally consistent post Crisis DC continuity.

But then, after we ignored all that stupidity, including the endless degradation of the basic GL concept by horrible character conceptions like Guy Gardner, Warrior, Ch'p, and, for God's sake, G'NORT, we get to what seems like an acceptable place. GL seems to settle down again into a mediocre but at least reasonably respectful run by Gerard Jones, we get a few years of uneventful, dull, but acceptable treatment and then... BAM! No more Hal, no more Green Lantern Corps, no more Guardians; instead, there's some slackjawed gumchewing pointyheaded braindead Gen X cretin wearing a power ring and calling himself Green Lantern and oh, oh, OH, it's just AWFUL.

On the other hand, you have the younger, up and coming generation of DC fans. To them, Hal Jordan is just some guy they have no more emotional attachment to than most Hal Jordan fans feel for Alan Scott. Their Green Lantern has always been Kyle Rayner, and as far as they're concerned, Kyle is cool... he's hip, he's happening, he drinks beer and shoots pool and watches baseball on TV and sleeps with great looking women and if the gosh darned law would allow it he'd most likely smoke Marlboros on panel, too.

He's good looking, has bitchin hair, an awesome looking mask, and just in general is the shit, dude. Kyle's ring doesn't have any dopey weakness for the color yellow, oh HELL no, that crap is for kids. In every conceivable way, as far as these young mouthbreathers are concerned, Kyle Rayner, Green Lantern, is THE MAN. Some old farts want Hal WHO back? You mean the guy with the gray sideburns who always like says all these stupid Yoda things without the humorous accent? Screw THAT noise. I mean, PLEASE. Comic books are for the young. Don't these geezers have some EMERGENCY reruns to watch somewhere?

So when you put both of those together, what you come up with is two groups of diametrically opposed people. Neither side can really accept that the other one could honestly, sincerely not LIKE their favorite Green Lantern, after all, CLEARLY Hal Jordan/Kyle Rayner IS the One, True GL, and anyone who can't see that and accept it is a complete cretin.

So they scream at each other, and call each other names, and threaten each other with various horrible indignities, and why? Because, in the end, both sides are afraid that neither of them have any actual power to DO anything... and all this hollering and bitching makes them feel like they're doing SOMETHING.

Hold on to that last thought. It's going to be one we come back to a lot.

2. Continuity Craziness

It seems you can't go a year in comics, either at Marvel or DC, without someone getting agitated at something some writer or editor has done that conflicts, in some perceived manner, with 'continuity'. 'Continuity' being that deceptively harmless sounding word we have come up with to mean 'every single published panel, caption, and word balloon about any particular fictional comic book character in the history of man'.

Whenever a continuity issue erupts, be it over the timeline of events in HAWKWORLD, or how old Reed Richards actually is, or whether Batman and Metamorpho ever actually met prior to BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS #1, or some thing introduced by Mark Waid called 'hypertime', you get basically two groups of fans rushing in with loaded guns to shoot up the landscape and each other at maximum possible volume:

The Continuity As Holy Law Cohort, who firmly believe that every single panel ever published is sacred and MUST be considered an utterly valid part of any concerned character's history, at least, until that panel is fairly dealt with in a valid manner, such as, but not limited to: (a) revealing it was all a dream, (b) traveling back to the Dawn of Time and recreating the entire universe in such a way as that panel never happened, (c) showing that that particular panel, and perhaps the comic around it, and maybe a whole run of issues around that one, were all part of an authorized TV show made within the fictional universe and thus, never really part of that actual fictional reality. The point is, if a writer doesn't like a past issue, he or she can't just declare on the letters page that the issue 'never happened'. They have to do a story, hopefully a good story, but at the very least, one that isn't completely idiotic and insulting to our intelligence, explaining why that particular aspect of the character's history is either no longer, or never was, valid.

Opposing these fellows, you have the Good Stories Are All That Matter Gang, who will howl like banshees that anyone who cares more about continuity than they care about interesting characterization or fun plots is a damned no good Commie redneck doofus who should be immediately taken out and drowned. Fun stories are the Be All, End All of comic books, as well as any other fictional entertainment medium. Continuity, these fine fellows will ringingly declare, is a ridiculous and absurd shackle on the creative process, a hobgoblin for tiny minds, a ball and chain on the brilliance of someone's favorite writer, and then, by God, they'll stand up and brandish their polybagged issues of Archie comics and UNCLE SCROOGE and weep plaintively as they sob into the microphones "Please, oh PLEASE, won't someone think of the CHILDREN?"

Now, I am here to tell you, as I already told you about the Green Lantern thing above, that all of this comes out of our sense of powerlessness. This one perhaps more than any other.

You see, we comics fans are an odd lot. We invest our emotions in a lot of four color twaddle that most other adults, perhaps with some validity, would be seriously appalled to be caught grasping in their cold, dead hands. We let ourselves care about a motley group of deeply absurd fictional characters, and when we do this, we basically make our hearts hostage to a bunch of wretched corporate moneygrubbers who honestly and sincerely have no more concern for what we love and cherish and emotionally depend on than we do for the plight of the Chicago Neo Nazis who can't get a parade permit. We let ourselves regard media entertainment icons as real people, and more than that, as our heroes, and role models, and imaginary friends. We imagine ourselves as being these virtual entities, or as hanging around with them, living and interacting in their worlds.

We ignore the actual reality of things, which is that these things we take to our bosoms and water with our tears and invest our childhood dreams in, are actually corporate commodities that those bastard bean counters will manipulate as pleases them to maximize their earning potential.

We, the fans, don't want to accept any of this, or our essential powerlessness to exert any influence or control over the fates of our four colored friends. So, we make up rules, and think that as long as we stick to them, the universe will run the way we want it to. In primitive cultures, this is called 'magical thinking', whereby untutored savages convince themselves that if they perform certain rituals, the laws of nature will bend to their will.

Neolithic hunters inscribed pictures of their prey on their cave walls, in the belief that this would summon the corresponding creature to them and make it an easy target. AmerIndians did rain dances, in the belief that this would condense a thunderstorm out of the empty ether. And modern day comics fans, well, we honestly think that if we write a letter to a comic book editor pointing out what we perceive to be 'an error' in the manner that that editor is describing the life events of our particular imaginary buddies, the editor will realize his mistake, apologize, and correct it.

Now, sometimes, these rituals seem to work. Gwana the Caveman draws his mammoth, and the next day, goes right out and bags one with a single lucky spear toss. Noted medicine man Walking Hawk dances his rain dance, and a few hours later, a thunderstorm comes rumbling in. John Jones, Manhunter from Marathon IL, sends a letter to Mike Gold demanding an explanation for who the heck that Hawkman was in POWER OF THE ATOM, and lo and behold, Gold and Ostrander explain it. (Stupidly and inadequately, but at least, they made a wholly unsatisfactory, grudging effort.)

And as comics fans, we content ourselves that we have learned The Rules, and how to invoke them. Namely, that if we pay our hard earned shekels for a comic book, take it home, go to the trouble of reading it, enjoying it, and remembering it, then we will be rewarded by having the events in that comic book continue to be viewed as 'real' and 'valid' for our favorite characters depicted therein. This, as Rush Limbaugh might put it, is The Way Things Ought To Be. And if a writer makes a mistake, then all we have to do is point it out, and that mistake will get fixed.

Problems arise, however, when writers make 'mistakes', fans point those mistakes out, and the writer then breaks The Rules by refusing to admit to the mistake, and worse, refusing to correct it.

Mike W. Barr unwittingly enraged a surprisingly vocal segment of fandom back in the early 80s when he wrote BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS #1 in such a way as to give the impression that Batman and Metamorpho had never actually shared an adventure before. Well, that wasn't what enraged them, actually. What enraged them was when about 12.7 trillion of them wrote in and pointed out that Batman and Metamorpho had actually met in a long previous issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD. Clearly, they expected Barr to respond with an acknowledgement of his mistake, an apology, and some sort of rectification of the error. Nearly anything would have done it. An editorial response on the letters page saying "Whoops! Can't get anything past you guys! I guess Bruce and Rex both mutually forgot about that adventure! Sorry!" would have mollified the entire watching universe.

Instead, Barr basically flipped fandom the bird, by idly and contemptuously writing that he didn't consider that issue of BRAVE AND THE BOLD to have 'really happened'.

The fans went berserk, but Barr stood his ground, and as BATO was a best selling title back then, and as the Good Stories Are All That Matter Gang came out in force on Barr's side, eventually everyone just had to eat the fact that, at least in BATO continuity, that B&B story had 'never happened'.

In the early 90s, during the single numbers of the new HAWKWORLD series, Mike Gold and John Ostrander irritated fandom greatly by making it clear that the Katar and Shiera in their series had only just recently arrived on Earth.

This left a huge number of Silver Age and post Crisis Hawkman appearances unaccounted for, and the fans, including your respected narrator, wrote in in droves, demanding that Gold and Ostrander explain this satisfactorily.

At first, Gold responded to this with obvious resentment. He clearly felt that this nonsense wasn't something he should have to put up with. He called continuity mavens 'whiners' in the HAWKWORLD lettercol, and strongly opined that character revision was a fact of life in comic books, that it had happened extensively before (at the start of the Silver Age) and that if the fans hadn't complained then, they shouldn't bitch now. (I'm perfectly serious, this was what he actually seemed to believe, or at least, what he repeatedly said, in print.)

When he realized we wouldn't just shut up and go away, he then tried to tell us that all those Silver Age appearances of Hawkman up to the arrival of Katar and Shiera on Earth had actually been by the Golden Age Hawkman, returning from retirement to act as the mainstay and moral center of the new Justice League.

This was a perfectly satisfactory explanation for many of the earliest Silver Age appearances. However, the Golden Age Hawkman, like the rest of the JSA, had been exiled to a badly conceived Roy Thomas limbo since shortly (like, five minutes) after the Crisis, and since then, Hawkman had appeared many places... such as the new JL books, POWER OF THE ATOM, even once in ANIMAL MAN.

Worse, in at least one of those appearances, he was clearly a Thanagarian Hawkman, and a heroic one, in that he deactivated a Thanagarian device left over from INVASION! that would have devastated Earth's ecosystem. Obviously, this hadn't been either Carter Hall or Katar Hol, so who the heck was it? We kept badgering and badgering, and finally, Gold, with much bad grace and editorial sulking, gave in and had Ostrander write what is probably the dumbest continuity implant story I've ever seen.

Since then, of course, the Hawkman concept at DC has basically imploded under the weight of layer after layer of steadily worsening, more idiotic continuity revision, until now, as far I know, the character has no current existence in the DCU. Which is a pity, and just goes to show what happens when creators don't want to be bothered getting their continuity straight.

Now, apparently, we have an all new debate about 'hypertime'. And, just as with those debates in the past, we have the two fandom contingents coming in, bitching and bellowing at each other, calling names and shouting abuse and threatening horrible fates to each other. And why?

Again... because we're all powerless, and we hate it, and by bitching and moaning at each other, we feel like we're doing something.

The Continuity Cohort (whom I generally side with) are guilty of that primitive 'magical thinking'. Like kids with teddy bears that will somehow keep them safe no matter what, they (we, I'm certainly one of them) adhere to the concept that any professional creator working on one of our beloved heroes has a clear duty and a goddam responsibility to respect that character's past history and the intelligence of the fans who have followed that character for however long the character has been in existence. We feel cheated and insulted when a writer does something that is clearly wrong within that historical context.

It rarely matters how important the continuity issue actually is; ultimately, this is all just comic book crap, and whether it makes sense or not is clearly of less burning importance than, say, who the next President of America will be. Nonetheless, it's important to US; we want the writers to get it RIGHT, for God's sake.

The Good Story Gang, on the other hand, are just as powerless as we are, and, perhaps, in a fit of mature realism, have decided that if they're going to be raped anyway, they may as well relax and enjoy it. They love the characters, too, but they've realized that the corporate moneymen who will someday all rot in HELL don't care about ANYthing but the bottom line, and so, have decided that as long as the comics they buy are well written or drawn, fun, and entertaining, they're not gonna get all bitchy about whether or not Grant Morrison knows or cares exactly where Batman and the Martian Manhunter teamed up back in 1967 and what menace they vanquished together.

Now, I've made it clear where my allegiances lie in this debate, but having done so, I want to say that the whole debate is really pointless. First, no one is going to convince anyone in the other group of anything. And second, even if we do, so what? If a writer sells well and honestly doesn't care about continuity, his editor isn't about to slap him on the back of the head and say "look, doofus, Superman and Aquaman actually fought side by side against Kryptonian manta rays back in DC Presents #242, so make sure you mention that somewhere in this story".

Those of us who care about continuity simply have to pick our writers carefully, that's all. Sure, it may hurt to abandon our favorite characters, but ::shrug:: we gotta. I will personally leave the Avengers behind without a backward glance the minute Kurt Busiek stops scripting the book, especially if Scott Lobdell or ::shudder:: Chris Claremont or John Byrne or some other uncaring hack takes over.

It's the only defense mechanism I've found that works. And shrieking like some demented clarion at other fans over whether or not a particular creator cares as much about comics trivia as I do is simply futile. Accept it: the reason we care about continuity is because we desperately want to have some control... which we don't have. The reason the Other Guys only care about story is that they already know they can't count on continuity any more. Just give up the yelling. It's pointless.

3. Four Color Race Riots

Apparently, there is a theory going around in the proportionally small segments of non-white comics fandom that their distinct, grievous, and regrettable under-representation among comic book characters is somehow the result of a conscious conspiracy among editors at every company.

To this I say, please, let's not be silly.

Editors at DC don't seem to have any coherent clue who Black Canary is, for God's sake. And yet we're supposed to assume that they've all gotten together in a conspiracy to keep the non-white characters out of comics? I don't believe it for a second.

What I do believe, though, is that the vast farging majority of comics pro's, be they writers, artists, or editors, are white men. I'm also pretty sure that the vast farging majority of comics' current target audience are white males. Put those two things together and you have, not a conscious conspiracy, no, but certainly, an unconscious but overwhelming tendency among these groups to write, draw, edit, buy, and read what they are most familiar and comfortable with, and more than this, what they either want to see as fantasy projection characters, or what they want to see as potential imaginary companions. In short, comic's pros create, and comics fans buy, characters that they either want to BE, or that they want to hang around with.

Given that, I clearly understand the frustration and aggravation of the average black, Asian, AmerIndian, or Hispanic comics fan. Where are the fantasy projection figures for them? Black fans, at least, can read BLACK PANTHER these days, and Kurt Busiek is actually doing a running subplot addressing the racial balance issue in AVENGERS. I can't think of a mainstream title that currently features an Asian, AmerIndian, or Hispanic character, though. (X-MEN apparently has some new character who is some kind of minority, but his name is Neil Saavra or something like that, which sounds vaguely Pakistani, he looks Hispanic, his codename is Thunderbird, which sounds AmerIndian, and he has the same powers as Sunfire, Marvel's only Japanese mutant. So I have no idea what this guy is, and I'm not sure anyone else does, either.)

In fact, I'd be hard pressed to come up with more than six such characters in all of comics, and I can't at this moment think of one single AmerIndian character that isn't some insulting primitive tribal totempole hugger, either. (Okay, I lied. Forge isn't.) And while I'm just about as white as it's possible to be, I can certainly see how annoying this must be. The apparent exclusion of everyone but Whitey and a couple of obviously token black characters must seem out and out demeaning. It's like having your favorite fantasy world tell you, blatantly and to your face, that you don't belong here, you're not wanted, and you have no place in this reality. Frankly, I'd be pissed off, too.

Which, of course, is the reason for the current level of acrimony in the debate. Racial minorities feel powerless, so they bitch in whatever forums they have access to. It's not going to CHANGE anything, of course. Neither Marvel nor DC are going to create more minority characters unless they think those characters might turn a profit, and there, I think, we have the general failure of the Milestone universe to look to for a long time to come as to why they aren't going to think that.

It seems a pity, but it's simply the economic facts of life. There is apparently no money to be made in modern day comics by catering to any specific target group except adolescent white males. For this reason, the vast majority of comics characters will continue to be either handsome, athletic white men or boys that a young white boy might like to actually be, or well built, attractive, sexually active and heterosexual women that young (horny) white boys would like to hang around with (presumably to exploit for sexual purposes, although we're much too PC to admit that these days).

Chris Claremont has amply demonstrated in the past that horny young boys certainly don't mind watching good looking superwomen hold hands, hug, and kiss, as long as they have boyfriends, too, so we'll most likely continue seeing a lot of vague female bisexual undercurrents in superhero comic books, as well. However, don't look for any male bisexuality or homosexuality in superhero comics any time soon... at least, outside an Alan Moore book. The adolescent male target audience DC and Marvel both pander to overwhelmingly hates male homosexuals, and despite the best efforts of corporate society to enlighten them out of it, will most likely continue to do so.

For my own part, I will also point out that, due to the economic facts of life, there are absolutely no fat characters anywhere in comics (other than those presented as comic relief, I mean) and no homely chicks who aren't deformed super villainesses. The anti fat agenda is so omnipresent, in fact, that most of my fellow Silver Age fans seem to think it almost mandatory for them to heap vitriolic abuse on perhaps the one really likeable and actually heroic overweight hero us fatties have ever had... the ever admirable Chuck Taine, otherwise known as Bouncing Boy.

I myself cannot read a Legion message board anywhere in which someone doesn't take a cheap shot at ol' Chuck. In yet another demonstration of powerless outrage, the vast majority of Legion fans continue to despise this character, for no particularly good reason except that, well, he's FAT, and according to them, he has a ridiculous super power.

Enraged that some writer would DARE to sully the universal field of slim, dashing, physically vigorous young physiques that was the Silver Age Legion with the pear shaped profile of a goodnatured, valiant, yet undeniably chubby young hero, vast armadas of letterhacks have risen up over the decades to sneer at and smear poor old Chuck.

No matter how many stories are written depicting his honesty, integrity, intelligence, resourcefulness in combat, affability, and general popularity with his fellow Legionaires, Chuck is vilified and spat on. He... he... BOUNCES! For GOD'S SAKE! The Legion has Superboy, Ultraboy, and Mon-El, why in the name of GOD do they need a fatassed blimp whose only superpower is the ability to careen around the room like a fricking superball?

Of course, back during the 70s, there was a brief period when John Buscema and Rich Buckler used to draw the mutant superspeedster Quicksilver as hurling himself into combat and basically bouncing his high velocity body all over the place to great and deadly effect, and fans loved THAT, oh yes, they did. But Quicksilver was THIN, you know, and had a good build. He was also a snotty, annoying, intolerant, hateful prig... but when he bounced all over the place, well, that was fine, cuz he wasn't FAT.

There's also that other fact that those who sneer at Chuck rarely mention, which is simply that, certainly, a team with Superboy, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy in it may not exactly have a clamoring need for a guy who can inflate himself like the Michelin Man and go boingie boingie boingie.. but... for the love of GOD, people... they don't exactly have a clamoring need for much of ANYone else, do they?

Lightning Lad is kind of a lame-o compared to the three powerhouses listed, as is Brainiac Five, Dream Girl, Princess Projectra, Shrinking Fricking Violet, or even those all time fan faves, Karate Kid and Timber Wolf.

I'm not going to mention Matter Eater Lad because he clearly DOESN'T belong anywhere outside a satire magazine, but if you're going to let in characters like Triplicate Girl, Star Boy, and Light Lass, I really think it's kind of tough to draw the line at Bouncing Boy. The Legion of Super Heroes is supposed to be just that... a large group of heroic individuals, each of whom has at least one natural power that is NOT duplicated elsewhere in the already current membership. Chuck Taine clearly showed himself to be as heroic as anyone else in his origin story, however much abuse the otherwise esteemable Ty Templeton and various others may have heaped on him since.

I'll also point out that it's hardly fair to pick on the stupidity of Chuck's origin (in which he accidentally drinks a bottle of superplastic, mistaking it for soda at a ball game) within the context of the Silver Age Legion. I mean, we could fairly easily rename that comic Stupid Origins R Us, if we want to be brutally honest.

Cosmic Boy is from a planet where the presence of metal monsters forced the population to evolve magnetic powers? Nonsense. These guys needed to unpack their ray guns and declare open season on metal monsters. Val Armorr is a master of a form of super karate that lets him shatter any substance? Oh for God's sake, even if we accept this utter idiocy, it's a SKILL, not a superpower. About the only character in the whole Legion of that time that doesn't have a ridiculous origin is Timber Wolf, and his wasn't exactly either intelligent or original. Oh, yeah, the original Invisible Kid invented a potion that let him turn invisible at will. That's half intelligent. Of course, I have no idea why he didn't MARKET it, but... never mind, never mind.

To my mind, this general contempt fandom holds for Bouncing Boy is evidence of a very clear and overwhelming prejudice against fat people. And at least this is something that members of racial minorities don't have to put up with. There may be very few black characters in comics, and almost no Asian, AmerIndian, or Hispanic characters at all, but nobody would DARE make fun of the few that do exist. On the other hand, it's open season on fat guys.

All of which may seem to be besides my original point, but in fact, it's actually spot on it. Minority fans, understanding that they are essentially powerless to correct a situation they find offensive, bitch about it in online forums because it makes them feel like they're doing SOMEthing. They even insist that this is all the result of a conspiracy, rather than simple (unfair) market forces, because it makes them feel more important.

Other fans, outraged at the presence of a chubby guy in amidst all their slim heroic paragons (especially one that actually gets a cute girlfriend) shriek like little girls about how STUPID the character is, and continue to yell and scream and holler about it right up until the present day, even though, as far as I know, Bouncing Boy hasn't appeared in any Legion comic since, like, the Crisis. The feeling of powerlessness, ironically, may be one of the most powerful motivating forces known to humanity.

And I, myself, am hardly immune to the frustrations brought on by the knowledge of my own powerlessness. Here I am, typing thousands of words about meaningless tripe, that can't possibly accomplish anything significant, and why? Because certain things irritate me that I'm powerless to stop, like fans screaming at each other about stupid issues, and a general prejudice in comics, and for that matter, in reality, against tubby people.

Which brings us right up against my fourth point:

4. Trolling

Okay. If you've hung in here with me this far, then it's gotta be pretty obvious where I'm going with this one. I'll try not to spend a lot of time hammering the obvious home (although who knows, I certainly didn't plan to spend 200 words defending Bouncing Boy). Because it IS an obvious point. However, it's also important information.

Trolls, which is to say, people who use online forums as an instrument of abuse and attempted humiliation for their opponents, and who continue to do so no matter what tactics are used against them, or how eloquently more reasonable online folk plead with them to stop, and who in some cases actually seem to be reasonably intelligent and articulate people themselves... do what they do out of a sense of powerlessness.

One online troll quoted extensively in the a recent AOL board debate put this best when he said with evident self satisfaction, "I enjoy your suffering".

Trolls are people with so little self esteem, and so little sense of their own capacity to make any worthwhile contribution, or accomplish any significant goal, that instead of trying, they simply put their efforts into doing the one thing that they've found always has an impact... they insult. They abuse. They heap scorn and vitriol and contempt. They disrupt and, wherever possible, destroy. The fact that they manage to do all this through the simple ritual of typing words and uploading them onto a message board is enormously gratifying to them, because it's pretty much all they CAN do. They cannot persuade or convince, they cannot analyze or reason, they cannot create or synthesize, and they sure as HELL can't make friends. All they can do is type nasty words into their modems and... amazingly enough!... it actually works. It brings them the attention they crave.

Elaine, one of the more reprehensible characters on ALLY McBEAL, which is similarly one of the more reprehensible shows on TV, once explained this well. When asked why she had spread a vicious and utterly false rumor about another character, she blithely explicated that she liked to be the center of attention, and sometime, when talking to people, one needed to spice things up a little bit to 'stay centered'.

This is basically the mindset of an online troll. They crave attention in the same way we all do, and more than that, they crave self actualization... that feeling that people recognize our validity, that they respond to us, that we have actually made an impact on them. Being too lazy, stupid, dull, shallow, or socially clueless to accomplish this in any other way, they do what we've taught them, over the years, always works: they scream abuse at the top of their lungs, and wait for someone to say something about it.

In a chatroom, this is fairly irritating, because they know enough to go out and come back in when everyone has put them on Ignore. In an APA, such people are aggravating because they tend to make prospective recruits think the whole APA are a bunch of immature monkey spankers. However, on a posting board, these tactics are really only effective if you acknowledge and engage them.

The next time some troll takes issue with a viewpoint of yours on a posting board, and screams at you that your favorite character is a child molester, that you yourself are a product of an incestuous interspecies mating, and that if you keep posting on HIS board he's going to come over to your house and take a dump in the middle of your living room carpet... translate all of this idiocy into "Pay attention to ME pay attention to ME I'm PATHETIC AND STUPID pay attention to ME please send me EMAIL please post a RESPONSE to this please send me an Instant Message pay attention to ME ME ME I just jacked off over a really keen picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar pay attention to ME oh for God's sake pay attention to MEEEEEEEEEE...." And then ignore them.

Unfortunately, this only works if we ALL do it, and on every chatboard, there is always some hyperemotional newbie who honestly thinks that he has to engage these idiots, beat them down, destroy them, batter them into submission... and it isn't going to happen, because, as The Troll himself said, he enjoys your suffering. They feed off it. Confronting them only makes them stronger. As some baldheaded cybernetic organism once said, "Resistance is futile". Just... ignore them. Block their IMs. Delete their email unread. Skip over their posts in the string.

Life is too short, and we have enough aggravations we CAN'T ignore, like goddam moron writers who can't keep simple character continuity straight, and goddam moron fanboys who not only apologize for them, but who actually try to tell those of us who still care about a character's history that we are destroying the comic book industry. There's no point in spending your time, energy and creativity fattening up the self esteem of a troll.

In short, and in conclusion: the next time you get really aggravated with something and decide to vent a little bit by posting something on the topic to a chat board or a web site... that's fine. But when the dialogue begins, bear in mind that the people writing to you are all just as essentially powerless and frustrated as you are. If they're abusive, ignore them; all they want is your attention. If they make an interesting point in a reasonably civil, or at least, entertaining fashion, then by all means, debate and argue and have a grand old time.

Just bear in mind... when you start to get angry... it's because you are recognizing the essential futility of the exchange, and the same is true for them. Try to be aware of that, and perhaps honest, open debates don't have to degenerate into scathing insult exchanges.

One more word of wisdom you're almost certain to ignore: Know when it's pointless to argue. It's possible, perhaps, to turn someone on to a good writer they haven't previously read, or that they did, long ago, and don't want to give another chance to. However, it is impossible to convince someone that their favorite character sucks and should be eliminated to make way for the return of YOUR favorite character. This is what favorite characters are all about. You will never convince a new X-Men fan that the original team was infinitely superior to anything ever conceived in the mind of Claremont or Wein, and it's pointless to try. Pointless, and ultimately, not at all worth the most minimal effort. Especially because anyone who can't SEE that self evident fact without being ARGUED with isn't worth taking the time over anyway.

John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL, no longer dwells in Marathon, IL. He admits that occasionally he ignores his own hard won wisdom and engages an idiot in heated argument, in much the same way he did for 200 words above regarding Bouncing Boy. In point of fact, anyone who dumps on Chuck Taine is only displaying their own ignorance, and they can't possibly do any more harm to the character than has already been done, and John realizes that, but sometimes he just gets so darned mad, because he realizes that no one on this planet is ever going to give him a superplastic formula to accidentally drink, and if he did, it would kill him, and no one ESPECIALLY is ever going to let him date a beautiful girl who can turn into three different beautiful girls, all of whom are his willing love slaves. Darn it.


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