7/31/15

I think June Tarpé Mills is the only person I would ever risk traveling back in time as a person of color to have dinner with. This of course is based on the few scarce but flattering quotes and photos of her available, but sailing through her collected work as “Tarpé” Mills on Miss Fury this week only strengthens that assertion. Mills represents this rare type of creator who wrestles down and eventually masters a medium in hopes of telling “her” story in the most effective way possible. Through that struggle, she lives and develops on the page right along with her characters.

The strip itself is an elusive beast, luring in readers in with its elegant models and lovable cast, but never quite delivering what they expect. It’s a wonder the title character became such an icon to troops overseas given how infrequently she was “on-screen”, much less in-costume. Mills’s plots are packed tight with winding conspiracies, double-crosses and romantic triangles. But even when her protagonist isn’t there to observe the action, her growth as a woman is always the driving force behind it.

It’s a messy growth process though, drawing parallels to Mills’s own life, even apart from the famous use of herself and her cat as models for Miss Marla Drake and Peri-Purr. The black leopard-skin Drake dons, much like Mills’s sexually ambiguous pseudonym, begins as a means of control in life. For Drake, it’s initially to distinguish herself from a fellow socialite wearing the same dress she’d bought herself for a costume ball; but it eventually enables her to defend herself against a wanted killer and save a friend from a Nazi blackmailing scheme. For Mills, the pseudonym allows her work freedom from the marginalization and rejection most recognizably female creators suffered in the 40s and still do today.

Unlike the Batman anti-heroine she would later inspire, Drake derives little excitement from her accursed disguise and wishes to be rid of it more often than she relies on it. The fact of it manifesting into a literal curse, where every fortune it brings begets two subsequent misfortunes no doubt reflects the plight of the successful Sunday strip artist, met with merciless deadlines and hounded by her own early dissatisfaction with her drawing—as noted in Trina Robbins’s introduction to the first released volume. Her mistakes (supposedly corrected with paste-ups in post) are unnoticeable thanks to Lorraine Turner’s flawless color reproduction, but Mills’s confidence in her drawing, for better or worse, seems as much in line with her storytelling choices as it does with her character rendering.

Miss Fury‘s first years bristle with Mills’s post-graduate enthusiasm. The twelve-panel grid doesn’t budge an inch to contain it, but it only emphasizes Mills’s dynamic compositions within. When the frames aren’t tilting or speed lines zipping, Mills is also more prone to picturesque scenes of silence than she would be going forth. The 1944-1949 collection is noticeably more conservative, as if Mills developed her own “22 Panels That Always Work” template before Wallace Wood’s own deteriorating health would force him to abide it religiously. The panels become crowded with text and encased in shadow. The occasional silent panel is saved for a loud climatic action or extreme closeup. Most amusingly however are characters, such as art theft syndicate leader Monsieur Charles (pronounced “Sharles”, you disgusting philistine), who visibly reek of evil, with wavy black lines rising off of them like overripe garbage fumes.

Click the image to read a preview courtesy of Heroines Blog.

In short, the furious action sequencing gives way to mood lighting as the plots become more domestic and expressions more reliant on stone-faced stoicism. Ironically, no matter how far across the globe Miss Fury goes, her world grows ever smaller as she runs into lost loves and familiar faces at every turn, often appearing as though she circles two or three men her entire life. The coincidences that occur in order to throw Marla into the conspiracies once the costume fades out altogether wax hysterical toward the end, but Mills brings a healthy dose of class consciousness, particularly with her relationships to Era and Francine.

Era, who is practically queen of a Brazilian resistance group that Marla stumbles into, takes offense toward her fiance’s fleeting fancy toward her, which is played for comical relief . . . until it’s not. Marla is genuinely unaware of how she’s leading Chico on, but is even more tone deaf as to why it isn’t within her right to do so.* Francine, who starts out as Marla’s maid, sells the apartment when she fears Marla won’t return from Brazil and struggles with employment once the troops come back to fill their pre-war positions. When we next see her, she’s fully independent and voluntarily offers Marla lodging at her new place as well as care for her adopted child.

It’s an amazing hat-trick that Mills engenders sympathy for all of her characters regardless of which side they play for. Her favorite villain, a monocled Nazi deserter called Bruno, probably born and raised within the military regime structure, has a brutish nobility in that everything he does is in the interest of soldiers he commands. The worst of the bunch, Miss Fury’s arch-nemesis Erica Von Kampf, is essentially the same unfortunate opportunist as the seemingly irredeemable Cersei Lannister was at A Game of Thrones‘s start. Her involvement in any plot however always ensures a good comeuppance-driven laugh by its end.

By time the 1944-1949 collection concludes—following an extended hiatus due to the strip’s temporary cancellation—all of Mills’s experimental elements have balanced out, resulting in a lush, Caniffian brushstroke and a storytelling mode incorporating everything from the first five years’ forward fashion to final five’s expert shadowplay. She is at peak form when, sadly, she isn’t at peak health. Still, any page from this classic run would stand proudly alongside, if not outright surpassing, most examples from the male artists of comics’ Golden Age.

Notes:

* The impression I got was that Era viewed she and Chico’s marriage in as much a political light as a romantic one. Chico was a sort of gallivanter but also a natural born leader who inspired the resistance in a way only matched by Era’s wrath. To have Marla step in with her white privilege and sweep him away a crucial time, in her eyes, meant the end of the resistance.

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7/28/15

I really dodged a bullet by finishing Daredevil: End of Days before Rustie uploaded this comedic gem yesterday, as Matt Murdock’s fateful last word now and forever reads as Ben Urich’s misinterpretation of Matt’s final attempt at reciting the hook from Ginuwine’s shameless debut single.

“. . . ride it, Mapone.”

The book’s last issue reveal of “Mapone”‘s meaning was unfortunately less interesting. I give immense credit to Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack for spinning a yarn that expertly spins its wheels, creating an ideal vehicle for Bendis’s entertaining character exchanges while largely clearing the path of loose ends that typically trip up his superhero work. Unlike Citizen Kane, where the mystery propelled a study of the protagonist’s past—which we already know through the 400+ past Daredevil issues, End of Days focuses on, for its concluding half at least, the birth of a new mantle bearer.

I guess this makes the subtext of Matt’s murdering the Kingpin and fatal try at Bullseye that his character has been taken as far (i.e. as dark) as it could and now it’s time for a successor who can continue the pursuit of justice without the baggage from his destructive personal rivalries. The problem here is that those rivalries were an essential part of Daredevil’s appeal. As Frank Miller admitted in his and Klaus Janson’s interview with Peter Sanderson*, Daredevil’s rogue’s gallery was “one of the weakest” before he came on to flesh out the stakes between the players. Until then, with the exception of Wally Wood’s short-lived run and scattered gems throughout Gerber, Colan and Bob Brown’s runs, Marvel’s overall grasp on DD’s character was loose and unfocused.

But now, with subsequent runs being so reliant on the groundwork laid by Miller and Janson’s classic run, Daredevil’s world is now one of Marvel’s most insular. In order to justify the introduction of a new Daredevil, End of Days backtracks on what could’ve been a celebratory look at what Matt Murdock’s uniquely principled crusade wrought for Hell’s Kitchen and is forced into a narrative that argues the need for any street-level hero to take his place.

Superficially, the new DD has everything from a boxer’s fighting spirit to his own Stick, who will teach him to “feel” the city the same way Matt did in his augmented blindness. What he doesn’t have is the legal background (the other part of DD’s appeal), which secured second chances for the likes of Gladiator** and other small-time super criminals. There is a scene of Ben Urich telling him to honor the “heroes don’t kill” rule, and there is the sense that maybe he’ll take up a journalistic alter-ego as inspired by him. But will that hold nearly as much power in this decidedly more dystopian New York, where the Daily Bugle can’t support itself and even Matt Murdock eventually ran out of ways to keep his enemies in jail?

In the end, for all its positives—and there are many both in the art and writing—the concept falls flat under the same scrutiny The Dark Knight Rises did earlier that year in its hopes to convince the viewer that John Blake would continue the Batman’s legacy. As good a person as he was, and despite the film’s effort to show how Batman could be built from the ground-up, it’s simply not as feasible or engaging to imagine anyone other than the hellbent crusaders we’ve known for at least half a century behind the masks. It’s less the fault of the creators and more that the formula isn’t something viewers question until confronted with change. At least the choice for the new Daredevil serves as a much deserved apology for how Bendis treated Mack’s Echo in New Avengers.

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*Printed in the back matter of the first Daredevil Omnibus.

** Who is used as more of a plot device here, as his struggle to remain on the right side of the law is well-established in previous run.

7/27/15

I’ve spent a costly amount of time on Amazon this week this week searching for a third item to add to my cart–along with Art Scott’s gorgeous The Art of Robert McGinnis book and a Colossal Boy figure that has steadily decreased in price here but rarely sells below thirty dollars on eBay—to qualify for free shipping. This nearly completes my Legion collection, minus Mon-El and the embarrassing DC Direct Timberwolf, with his weird hula hoop shoulder pads and tighty-whities over his baby-poop colored footie pajamas. He looks like Wally Cleaver as a teenage paraphilic infantilist.

I would never spend more than ten bucks on him, tops.

The Mon-El is almost as bad, with his otherwise monochromatic outfit seemingly blossoming open just to reveal blue panties underneath his almost maternally high-waisted yellow belt. But, I’m considering his sub-thirty-dollar eBay asking price simply because he would significantly raise the value of the rest of my collection should I have to resell them, which frankly wouldn’t bother me that much considering I was suckered into the line with Tim Bruckner’s Lauren-Bacall-in-space sculpt for Saturn Girl. The rest are pale comparisons in recycled, inarticulate bodies.

Did I mention the third item yet? It was a jar of white ink (something useful for a change!) I’ve been fascinated with it since seeing David Mazzuchelli’s liberal use of it for Daredevil: Born Again. Jack Davis and others from the E.C. cartoonist stable often applied whiteout/white ink to add kineticism to speed lines, volume to splashing water or to cut through the blackness with torchlight. However, Miller’s meditative script (at least for the first four issues) allows Mazzuchelli to experiment with in a painterly fashion that I’d love to study for the dreamlike song adaptations I’m planning.

Speaking of Daredevil, the End of Days hardcover came in the mail today. Between this and the surprisingly mature Grell Green Arrow run I started the other day, it’s strange how I’m just getting to the TV’s two hottest superhero properties years after I purchased most of the runs for cheap on eBay (though I read Miller’s DD run, at first when I was ten or eleven—shortly before the film came out—and many times after that.) I finished Bendis’s run around the time I was picking up Waid’s in single issues off the library newsstand in high school and never got around to Brubaker’s despite owning it all.

Daredevil spiraling into the abyssal whirlwind of child support fees.

The first three issues of the HC are solid, although Sienkiewicz’s inks over Janson’s pencils recall post-Sin City Frank Miller in an interesting but mercenary way, like it’s pushing back against Bendis’s distracting, poorly-conceived-as-ever double-page layouts that its focus is confined exclusively toward economical storytelling. But, while Sienkiewicz’s nightmare visions are cramped into tiny blink-or-you’ll-miss-‘em panels, co-writer David Mack seems to get too much space to breathe in his Echo sequence, which is beautifully drawn (because David Mack), but conceptually uninspired.

Story-wise, the yarn seems to be a clever (unnecessary?) dissection of Matt Murdock’s Catholic disregard for contraception use throughout his career. There are enough mini-Murdocks revealed in the series thus far to justify a future Batman, Inc.-style crime fighting network should they ever decide to take up their father’s mantle. The fact that a couple of them were wrought from Matt’s irresponsible habits with Typhoid Mary might be more disturbing to me than to possibility that he beat the Kingpin to death in the street.

7/26/15

“. . . so far ive been kind of ok at emotional strategy: perhaps see all as emotional chronology somehow .”

UNF.

Through a series of email exchanges, published by Thames & Hudson and accessible through the above link, multidisciplinary artist/activist Björk and professor/philosopher Timothy Morton privately collaborated in an effort to articulate indefinable feelings through their outward manifestations in a cultural landscape to which both have contributed greatly and continue to reshape.

Early on Morton relates his word “hyperobject” to one of the terminological oddities in Björk’s lyrics, just one of many musical elements used by the media to trap her within this alien variant of the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl well into her thirties. The emotional bluntness of Vespertine and her most recent album Vulnicura then produced an equally diminutive, oddly colonial and disturbingly fetishistic fascination with the “newfound humanity” she now displays in her maturity.

While in interviews she’s effectively countered with clarity the fundamental disbelief among her critics that her compositions somehow weren’t successes owed to her accomplished male producers, the barrage of labelese must become difficult to deflect over time without inventing a few words not already established in the Merriam-Webster lexicon. Because said language, however, is part of the internal dialogue that’s played out across her discography, the critical miscategorizing rarely results from an intentional effort to dismiss her or her art.

With Kanye West the opposite is very much the case, having escalated to petitions arising from insult to the idea of calling what he does ‘art.’ Someone of West’s stature expects to be scrutinized at every turn, but even his supposed fans and allies recite the “enjoy the spectacle” defense any time the man dares speak “out of term.” Is this not emblematic of a society that touts a few thematic love-taps in truly corporate spectacle as “brave” and “radical?”

I can sit here and denounce from behind a keyboard as well as they, but I admit my past guilt in perpetuating the notion that West’s abrasive personality, specifically through the misogynistic lyrics present in Yeezus, need be looked past in order to appreciate what he’s doing, musically or politically. In an article I found on Dazed shortly after reading the excerpted Björk/Morton letters, I came across this:

And now I get it.

West’s contribution to the cultural landscape comes from his visual approach to hip-hop as a medium for expression. His outlandish-at-first-blush comments obviously derive from his immediate sense of worldly oppression*, as observed through the imagery he exposes himself to. Timid commentators will suggest that what West needs is a proper filter, as if it wasn’t already doing its job of translating his frustration into its most concentrated, hard-hitting form. Is it not the artist’s role to comment on society as he/she/they see it? In this country, we always invite this contest of highbrow vs lowbrow art. Ever consider that the latter’s mainstream domination is due to the general public’s refusal to unpack and determine for themselves the basis and validity of said commentary?**

While Björk’s verbal conundrum’s represent her internal struggle to contextualize her emotional role within society, West’s “Swaghili” is an assertion of his value to a society that won’t have hear it unless he’s screaming it from the top of the fucking mountain. Just as territorial drug dealing within society’s fringes only registers as a symptomatic problem when it erupts into urban gang war, Yeezus‘s aggression results from privileged critics’ attempts to box him in and trivialize his struggle. In his opus “New Slaves”, it’s directed toward Wall Street prison industrialists who don’t respond unless they catch a threatening whiff penetrating the familiar stench of shit-stained blood money. As uncomfortable as the misogyny is here, there are few more threatening images to a billionaire than the thought of a so-called nigger fucking his trophy wife or, in one of the song’s more transcendent touches, West’s “Y’all niggas can’t fuck with ‘Ye” turning of the n-word back on the fat cats (the nerve!)***

And, do yourself a favor: give “On Sight” a relisten. Notice how tired West sounds here? The sleeve rolling and towel throwing is almost audible*** as he gears into his angry minstrel persona. But then something hits him. His mother is dead and he’s about to bring her grandchild into a world that has changed far too little since “clean water was only served to the fairer skin.” Suddenly his “How much do I not give a fuck?” boast takes on a new meaning. Kanye West the renowned producer is at his peak powers, powers that could easily overshadow his message if he lets it. He won’t. There’s too much at stake. Gotta wind this shit down. . . but no rush.

Notes:

* Although the basis of “Bush doesn’t care about black people” is tangible, given how Bush’s policies almost never reflected his desire to help anyone beyond whomever his dynastic administration of the financial elite wanted to.

** I realize my hypocrisy in criticizing Captain America: The Winter Soldier for vaguely hinting at the military-industrial complex stranglehold while defending West for his brazen (but still vague in terms of narrative detailing) accusations of societal racism; but, once again, that’s not his job. Captain America’s, if his true enemy is the military-industrial complex, is to fucking defeat it. I’m sure, between the bickering and explosions, the third sequel will play this out to its dramatic conclusion, but come on: it’ll be in its usual, grossly simplified super-villain form. Why? Because the thematic weight is superficial. It’s one thing to argue about the film’s own responsibility for offering a solution to its central conflict, but it’s a whole other to praise it for its use of window dressing.

*** As is the “yeah, yeah, yeah” in the “black dick in all your spouse again” line. He’s aware by now, possibly through its use in numerous trailers such as The Social Network’s, that “Power” became an anthem for the white and privileged who already held the power.

7/25/15

There’s a reason 90% of my floppies collection is from Jenette Kahn‘s reign at DC Comics. It’s the same reason the corporation’s current live-action multimedia platform involves mining as much material from her tenure as the market can swallow (and then some.) To paraphrase a line from her competitor’s best-selling character, she was the best at what she did, ushering a creative renaissance that the succeeding presidents and editorial hands have been foolish not to replicate.

In a way, the simplified shared-universe strategy of now looks remarkably similar to Kahn’s in the eighties. The core difference is that back then it was used free creators from the chains of continuity to expand the types of stories being told. The New 52’s unsustainability came from its using that simplification to reign in talent and institute a clumsy line-wide mandate to sell more diluted flavors of the same shit to the same audience that couldn’t keep up with Marvel’s oversaturation just over a decade earlier.*

Marvel may be dominating the box-office with it’s more meticulous, but arguably just as confining, studio through-line, but just look at the fire sale of diverse television properties Warner Bros. contracted through all the major networks. CW’s The Flash has miraculously quieted cynical fanboys with its all-out embrace of the wacky source material, owing as much to the Wally West run Kahn oversaw with editor Mike Gold as it does Barry Allen’s Silver Age legacy. CBS’s Supergirl is giving little girls a reason to make Daddy stand in line at comic-cons for a change. Oh, and FOX’s Gotham proves there’s always money in a Batman franchise, even if it’s stupid.

I obviously left out Arrow, which I don’t watch** but am experiencing through the eighties Mike Grell run that inspired Oliver Queen’s gritty, street-level antics there. Although my understanding of O’Neil and Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow run derives from secondhand articles and excerpts (I know, I know), it’s apparent from the main series and the preceding Longbow Hunters mini that Grell’s winning formula is in crafting scenarios that challenge from every angle the bleeding-heart liberalism that series pumped into Ollie’s veins.

As someone in issue #7’s letters column amusingly points out, this new Ollie, whose survival instincts were supposedly bred in the now beaten-to-death desert island vision quest origin, is rather shit at detecting traps and not get knocked every which way regardless of his opponent’s skill level. This motivation for this, if conscious, seems consistent with John Byrne and Grell’s own post-Crisis depowering of Superman and Black Canary, although I suspect it’s more interestingly Ollie’s self-asserted moral superiority that catches him with his guard down in these situations.

Click the image for commentary by Pencil Ink’s tirelessly knowledgeable Ted Ignacio.

There’s a lot to be said for Grell and Ed Hannigan’s experimental storytelling choices here as well. In the intro to The Longbow Hunters, Grell’s longtime editor Gold goes as far as to call him “to writing what Alex Toth is to artwork”, which is bold shit considering Toth was still churning out masterpieces like the above cover even after his seventies “decline”.*** It’s also as tough to dispute as it is to backup.

Grell and Toth are polar opposites while largely succeeding on the same front. Both excelled at stripping the DC heroes to their bases in a uniquely defiant manner, but Toth’s approach would never involve adding politics to achieve that. Toth was also slavish to basic tools and rigid page structures, whereas Grell effortlessly incorporated everything from watercolors on Dinah Lance’s bruised face to textured grey charcoal paper cutouts to weigh her solemn, contemplative expressions. But, even as Green Arrow‘s panels pop in and out from their grids and warp into elastic rhomboid frames to match the action’s dynamism, the pages are vastly readable and far less of an eyesore than, say, the late George Tuska’s broken glass arrangements from his early Iron Man run.

No. Fuck this. NO!

The art’s frequently changing hands, however, are an unfortunate precursor to today’s publishing trend (“write for the trade, but assign different artists to punish and disorient trade-waiters.”) Hannigan and Dick Giordano, accomplished artists in their own right, never quite gel together, the latter’s angular inking—better suited to ground the fluid, anatomical renderings of Neal Adams, or give life to Greg Land’s soulless swimsuit models—sometimes serves to cross-eye and exaggerate the former’s occasionally ghoulish faces.

Their collaboration peaks for me at issue #5, when Giordano’s line thins out, giving way to this rotoscopic flatness that resembles a primitive cross between A Scanner Darkly and Shaky Kane of all things. It’s fucking great, but totally reverts to  ugly proto-Todd-McFarlane cross-hatching by the end of #6.

The subsequent fill-ins by then-newcomers Eduardo Barreto, Randy DuBurke and weirdo Paris Cullins were all treats.

More to come on this wonderful series soon.

Notes:

* Both failures can be traced to the inexplicably rehired editor-in-chief Bob Harras.

** I actually don’t watch any of these shows, so I’m just talking out of my ass. I’m just glad these properties have opened up opportunities to introduce new fans to the comics, which they will subsequently never return as I lend them out.

*** Here‘s another challenge to that notion posted by the Bristol Board earlier this month.

7/24/15

I was pleased to see Robert Morales list in the appendix to Captain America:Truth both the film and prose works of director/writer Samuel Fuller—whose output ranks him among my top five classic Hollywood filmmakers along with Nicholas Ray, Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Peckinpah and Fritz Lang—as major influences. The rabbit-hole conspiracy scenario that wrapped up the series is a worthy send-up particularly to anti-Nazi suspense thrillers such as Lang’s Ministry of Fear.

My only minor disappointment came from Stan Lee being the only comic creator (besides Baker and Morales themselves) framed on the Bradleys’ wall of heroes when it was Simon & Kirby who created Cap. Maybe it was his pioneering co-creation of the Falconalong with Gene Colan, with whom he’d flirted with racially conscious storytelling on Daredevil #47 a year earlier—that motivated the decision, although Jack Kirby created the Black Panther before that and developed Sam and Steve’s friend/partnership further in his 70s solo run on Captain America than Lee did.

Through cracking open my copy of The Simon & Kirby Superheroes this morning, I realized noir is yet another genre aesthetic the King might’ve conquered* had family obligations and editorial demands not forced he and Joe Simon to chase the trends of the pre- to mid-war era. The Black Owl stories which open the volume are a masterclass of panel composition, each page littered with Simon’s inky, ominous shadows and Kirby’s restrained (compared to his Cap work mere months later) but characteristically dynamic action. I mean, look at this:

Click the image for more great examples, courtesy of the Kirby Museum.

I’m hoping the Simon & Kirby Crime and In the Days of the Mob volumes will scratch this itch further when I get around to them.

Moving on to the final serving on today’s hard-boiled platter: Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, a film which I’m still conflicted on after a few previously unsuccessful struggles to finish it.

It’s got an amazing screenplay . . . which Laughton ensured was realized by seemingly every set piece and camera trick he’d ever thought of until then. There are several distracting transitions—the comical barrel zoom toward Mitchum’s feet, for example, that reveals the kids spying from the cellar window—that add an inappropriate glibness to suspense-driven sequences. But that’s nitpicking.

My real issue is the pacing, which, in a situation I never imagined possible, relies too much on the great Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters to believably carry off.

I get the logic. Despite the impression I garnered from over-the-top, bible-thumping townsfolk at the start, this film is not religious critique: it’s religious allegory. Mitchum is the devil come to town on his high horse and bearing the unholy power of corruption. Otherwise it’s an impossible task to convert Winters’s widowed matron, even in her vulnerable state, into someone so fatally distrustful of her own children at the pace the story demands. And if MItchum’s temptations aren’t supernatural in nature, someone explain what exactly he said to Gloria Castillo at the ice parlor to earn her immediate subservience to him*.*

The approach actually works by the end, when Lillian Gish uses divine intuition to detect MItchum’s deceit when he arrives at her doorstep; I’m just not comfortable with the implication that either a woman as strong and charitable as she wouldn’t be so without her faith or that little Billy Chaplin’s journey isn’t about relearning to trust people but relearning to trust God’s plan after the hellish ordeal he and his sister suffer through here. Maybe if Laughton committed to Chaplin’s point-of-view, the cast of caricatures and his mother’s abrupt face-heel turn could be chalked up to a matter of perspective. Unfortunately, Laughton falls into the trap we all would: giving Mitchum more screen time.***

Notes:

* though perhaps not if Kirby was writing himself, as he was too big-hearted to spin such bleak narratives without them hinging on some sort of moral lesson. His noir yarns would likely have matched J.-Edgar-Hoover-ass-kissing G-Men films of the previous decade for tameness.

** Her mother literally has to drag her kicking and screaming from the Mitchum’s fateful lynch mob. That can’t just be overactive hormones.

*** The film’s strenuous pace does at least allow for about fifteen perfectly paced (and shot) minutes following Chaplin and his sister’s escape from Mitchum using Birdie’s rowboat. The sequence that mistaken might’ve played out in condensed montage in a modern film breathe long enough to show Chaplin’s nurturing and survival strengths when plot-convenient slip-ups (such as the “I’ll never tell!” scene) cast doubt on the latter.

7/23/15

I was wrong.

Ralph Steadman is Dexter Morgan, not Patrick Bateman. Dexter’s appeal is that of the sane serial killer. The psychopathy, as denounced in Johnny Depp’s back-cover quotation for Proud Too Be Weirrd, is a guise used to thwart would-be copycats. The artist/killer’s slashes must be quick to produce the illusion of uninhibited grisliness to his victims/audience, but the required precision belabors any sense of catharsis on his part.

Steadman’s sanity is evident throughout the surprisingly numerous essays accompanying the art here (the book’s heaviness is both figurative and literal.) His modesty cloaks many an enlightened observation as curmudgeonly societal bemoaning. His ability, however, to humorously cut through the deceptions of Western capitalist imperialism as easily as he does domestic owner/pet relationships clearly originates from a well-educated background.

As entertaining as I find these writings*, whose insights I probably could’ve gleaned from the artwork had I given more than thirty seconds of thought to each page before flipping, I wonder if the sanity doesn’t neuter the sensation I had viewing the pieces prior to their contextualization. Dexter, after all, lost its edge by the show’s fourth season in part because the higher stakes made him too relatable and hinged the suspense on his survival instead of his philosophy’s.

Steadman the Maker of Marks will never be outclassed. But Steadman the Killer can’t compete with the lasting fascination his more unhinged contemporaries draw with the labyrinth logic they use justify their canvas massacres. Eventually the demented imagery merely serves up an entertaining detour for Steadman’s vehicles of viewer self-affirmation (at least if one agrees with his worldview, as I do.)

That said, if this book proves anything, Steadman is in no danger of history’s course anchoring his accomplishments to the controversies that surrounded them during his peak exposure in the 60s/70s. Two hundred pages in and every image manages to provoke a reaction, running the gamut from wincing to wonderment. His writing, on a technical level, compares not unfavorably to Bukowski or former partner Hunter S. Thompson, although their works were advantaged by their colorful, less-than-agreeable subjects. Oh, what the hell. This whole post is me criticizing Steadman for making me feel like a liberal circle-jerk participant. Maybe I’m too self-conscious for art. Let me get back to my chai tea and Chomsky.

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* minus the double-page text layouts, where sentences are annoying bridged using ellipses and not at all helped by the deep gutters in the binding.