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I'm a Social Anarchist and an avid reader of comics. Twitter handle is @armyofcrime.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sequential Anarchy is now Army of Crime

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ways that patriarchy hurts men

There is this thing on the internet called Men's Rights Activism, or MRA. Ostensibly, the purpose of this is to address gender based disparities that negatively impact men. The confusing part of this, for me, is that this already exists. It's called Feminism. But what of these man-hurting social problems? Well, they do exist, but they are certainly not caused by an excess of estrogen.

Women's preferential treatment in custody disputes
It is commonly alleged that in divorces the mother is much more likely to get custody of the children, all other factors being equal. From what I've read and seen, this seems to be true. Is this because courts are biased against men? No, not really. Traditional gender roles tell us that women are nurturing and caring and are the ones to actually raise a couple's children. The father's primary role is to "provide for his family".
These roles limit both genders, but historically are significantly more limiting to women. Whereas it is not a  contradiction for man to have a family and a career, the assumption is that his wife will stay home and raise their kids, a woman with a career was considered a contradiction until recently. These roles let men be the titans of industry, movers of the earth, statesmen and great leaders. Men are the ones who "do things, invent things and create things" while women do the neccesary but inglorious, unpaid and unheralded "domestic" work.

Admittedly, these are upper middle class assumptions, as being a stay at home parent is a luxury increasingly few people can afford, however the upper middle class run society and these gender roles seem to remain intact throughout the social strata. In poorer families, this most commonly takes the form of the woman doing the "housework" and working outside the home, something called "double burden" or "second shift." In wealthy homes, servants and nannies (traditionally female occupations) may do the domestic work to free up the wife's time.

By assigning child support payments to the father and primary custody to the mother, the law is actually preserving what it can of traditional gender roles. The man is still expected to provide, albiet from afar, while the woman actually cares for the children (in all likelihood working a "double burden"). The net effect seems to be that the man has his responsibility reduced to a bare minimum, providing financial resources only, while all the other burdens are stuck on the woman.

"But that's what young men are for."
One of the most disastrous and positively evil aspects of patriarchy arguably hurts men even more than it hurts women. That is war, and the draft specifically. In American history, in conflicts like Vietnam, World War 2, World War 1 and the Civil War men are conscripted and sent to die in enormous numbers. This is certainly not due to a misandrist plot by a secret matriarchal coven trying to weed out the males of the species.

Traditional ideas of gender portray men with any number of positive characteristics that can be applied to conflict: strength, boldness, rational thinking, courage and honor. Men can go off to war, fight and kill, receive accolades and become heroes. More likely, they will suffer injury and death for no real reason, but the idea of dutifully going off to war is a masculine ideal that persists to this day. Wars (with a tiny handful of exceptions) are commanded by men and fought by men. If women want to participate, until relatively recently they had to stick to standard feminine roles like nursing. Women are too weak, too emotional and too unreliable to be trusted in combat, or so goes the thinking, and have only been allowed in the armed services gradually and in certain areas at a time. Other countries are much more progressive on this issue than America, which only recently started allowing women into front line roles.

Both of these examples are ways patriarchy harms men. Feminism seeks to redress gender disparities and create more social equality, a goal everyone, man and woman, should support.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Cold Day in Hell

With the release of Hellblazer #300 in February 2013, the gold star of mainstream comics comes to an ignoble close. Hellblazer started as a spin off from Swamp Thing, a title that was subsequently cancelled and relaunched three times. Improbably, while Swamp Thing lost steam after Alan Moore (not to say there weren't good post-Moore Swamp Thing stories), the spin-off from Swamp Thing had over 80 solid, definitive issues out of the gate (not that every issue was gold, but taken as a whole the average level of quality was remarkably high).

Jamie Delano, under-rated as hell, was hand-picked by Alan Moore and wrote the first arc, which defined the character and his world in terms of leftist politics, paganism and unresolved childhood angst. Delano's Constantine was a White Shaman, who communed with hippies, outsmarted demon stockbrokers, fathered a secular messiah and saved the world a couple of times for good measure.

The second definitive take was Garth Ennis' Celestial Everyman. Here, John Constantine was a working class guy, with drinking buddies and very human needs who outsmarted the devil, enslaved the archangel Gabriel and caught a reborn Jack the Ripper. Ennis' Constantine was more focused on saving himself from the fires of Hell than saving the world.

I doubt any other comic can claim to have such a stellar first 6 years as Hellblazer.  Since then Constantine has managed to stay surprisingly consistent through different writers through the years, although he's certainly become more brutal over time. By being confined to the Vertigo ghetto Hellblazer was thankfully spared from editorial nonsense. No reboots, re-tools, or mandated cross overs. Subsequent writers have hewed somewhere between these two versions of the characters. Ellis has stated he imagined Constantine as being the embodiment of the city of London. As written by Azzarello, Constantine is the consummate con-man embarked on a Heart of Darkness style journey into the dark corners of America.

Hellblazer has built a mythology and a supporting cast as intricate as any other comic character, but all the more impressive for two unique reasons. The first is Constantine's thoroughly modern birth. Most comic characters can trace their origins back decades, to the Bronze, Silver or even Golden Age. Constantine is a new type of comic hero (and he is a hero, don't let him tell you different). He would never have been created in any previous era, nor could he have been.

The second reason is that he has been allowed to age. Garth Ennis gave him a 40th birthday party, and since then we've seen a definitive date of birth for him (although no more birthday parties). Since the series has started Chas has had a kid, gotten divorced, and became a grand-dad. Gemma has gone from a pre-teen girl to a capable adult woman. A rather shocking number of supporting characters have been killed, sacrificed as pawns in occult schemes or for simply being next to John at the wrong time of day. And here's the shocking part: they've stayed dead. (Coming back as a ghost doesn't count)

Over time, the editorial walls around Hellblazer have thickened. The first to go were the visits from the Phantom Stranger and other DC characters. Over time, properties that had gotten the Vertigo stamp wandered back into the DC fold. Doom Patrol and Animal Man left Vertigo to get their own new series and to be in 52. The formerly permeable walls between Vertgio and the rest of DC became more solid, although they were never totally impassable.

In the final issue of Flashpoint, an editorial orgy of crossovers and tie-ins, it was revealed that the editorial policy of segregating Constantine and Swamp Thing from the rest of the DCU was because they were in seperate fictional universes. This was never the case before hand, as the Sandman had showed up Grant Morrison's Justice League and Kevin Smith's Green Arrow, among other places. Constantine would now be left alone in Vertigo, his last comrades-in-arms, Shade and Swamp Thing were jumping ship to DC proper.
But Hellblazer was special. Constantine would shoulder on alone, grandfathered into the new editorial policy. No longer, though. As part of a rebranding attempt, NC-17 Hellblazer is ending at 300, so PG-13 Constantine can start up.

Sales have been steady but low for years, but the trades have always sold briskly. As was standard with Vertigo titles, Hellblazer attracted the bookshelf crowd, who bought the trade every six months instead of one issue a month. It wasn't the eternal foe of all comic book characters, low sales, that finally killed him off. No, the man who seduced succubi, outsmarted the devil on several separate occasions and survived prison, mental hospitals and the pits of hell was finally done in by editorial meddling.

Hellblazer was special. It was different. We should be thankful it lasted as long as it did. John Constantine, you will be remembered as the foul mouthed, bad attitude con-man you were, and for one final unique accomplishment no other DC character can claim: an ending.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Coming Spectre

The coming election offers two fairly conservative candidates with hawkish foreign policies, Romney and Obama, two democratic socialists with strong libertarian leanings, Stein and Anderson, a libertarian, Johnson, and a religious, extremely conservative, authoritarian Constitutionalist, Goode. Sadly, of these five only two have any chance of winning.

Obama's foreign policy seems to have largely been inherited from Bush, and then expanded into new, more odious directions. Obama's innovations on Bush's breathtaking imperalism include, but are not limited to, presidential kill lists, attacking funerals with drone strikes and escalating the US involvement in Yemen. Because Romeny and Obama agree so much, they have to find useless things to criticze each other about. Obama mocked Romeny about his complaints regarding the size of the Navy, recalling the universal derision Romeny received earlier in the year when he stated that Russia was America's number one geo-political foe.

Romney has meanwhile repeated the bizarre claim that Obama has "apoligized" for America abroad. A curious thing to clam about an imperalist president who has granted himself the ability to murder enemies of the state at will. Romeny also claims we need to increase defense spending. Given the comically over-sized defense budget, this is akin to a morbidly obese man with hypertension and type 2 diabetes proudly making a New Year's resolution to go to twice as many all-you-can eat buffets next year. Whichever President we have for next year, expect American imperalism abroad to continue without reservation or shame.

The policy differences on domestic matters are perhaps a little wider, but still pretty minor. Obama has been pretty conservative in continuing existing policies, except for the health insurance tax/mandate in the PPACA law, a federal version of Romney's plan as Massachusetts governor. Romney goes back and forth on whether he'll change the law, or which parts he would change.

At most we can expect some minor modifcations to either tax code or health care regulations, dependent entirely on who wins the Senate and House races. The most greivous domestic policy since Indian removal, the War on Drugs, will likely be unaffected by who wins the election, as well the Patriot Act and similar programs to spy on and imprison the population. Income inequality will continue to grow and corporations will still receive huge benefits from the government in a myriad of ways.

To me, the real choice is between Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson or Gary Johnson. If a person really wanted to vote for someone with terrible ideas, I would recommend Virgil Goode over either Obama or Romney.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Comics I'm dropping due to excess decompression

The trend in mainstream comics now is to space out a story over 5-6 parts so it fits conviently in a trade paperback. This makes it tedious to read issue by issue as it comes out. Despite my great affection for both characters, I'm dropping both Swamp Thing and Batwoman due to the feeling that nothing happens in each issue. Wonder Woman has this same problem (Azzarello is terrible at this) but is keeping me due to every other part of it being so strong. Wondy is next on the chopping block, though.

Ah, c'est la vie.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Civil War

To show how behind I am on comics events, I just read Civil War. The plot concerns a superhero registration act that would require all superheroes to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. or become fugitives. Captain America is staunchly opposed to this, for some reason. Super heroes are all basically breaking the law anyway, so I'm not sure what the big deal is really. Spider-man for example, has always been an outlaw.

Iron Man is siding with the pro-registration forces. Iron Man's rationale makes a little more sense. Get all the capes organized under S.H.I.E.L.D. and get them trained and distributed across the country. When Stark offers to explain what he's doing to Cap, Cap fries his armor and sneak attacks him.

Rogers never really explains why this whole thing upsets him so much. Presumably, we're supposed to be drawing some kind of parallel to the Patriot act or something, but the whole thing bears no real resemblance to anything in real life. Somebody gets killed, because at least one person has to die in every event comic. *yawn*

Iron Man goes from seeming sort of reasonable to imprisioning people in the negative zone and letting supervillains out to hunt down Captain America's forces. I understand granting goofballs like the Trickster amnesty in order to make themselves useful, but Bullseye? Really? Bullseye is a mass murderer who I wouldn't trust to tie his own shoelaces without killing someone.

At the end Cap gives himself up to avoid more bloodshed. This is the same guy who refused to negotiate before, and was totally un-rattled by being pounded into the dirt by Iron Man or Goliath being killed. But, now he's just gonna give up. Apparently he really doesn't have iron clad principles or resolve. And that's the end. Cap gives up and nothing is resolved.

I feel like all the character's actions are interchangeable and nobody really elaborates on why they are one side or the other. We could just as easily have Cap leading the registration side against Iron Man and it would have made just as much sense. There are various other things that don't make sense. We see Cap, Daredevil and Luke Cage all get new secret identities...which they never use. For some reason, the Punisher seems to have a great deal of respect for Captain America. Again...why? Who cares?

Overall, Civil War comes off as a pointless mess.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Random comic review 14: Wolverine Origin

The concept of Wolverine Origin seemed pretty spacious. The acknowledgment even mentions this. Why tell Wolverine's origins now? The advantage of comics is if a terrible story is told, we can always just retcon it or send it down the memory hole. (Like the rework of the Punisher's origin where his family was killed in a human sacrifice by demons and he was given angelic superpowers. As far as I know, it was never officially retconned, but everyone ignores it, which amounts to the same thing.)

I am a relative newbie to the Wolverine party, but my understanding of the character is that his central drive is the continuing struggle between civilization and savagery that rages within him. Wolverine seems to struggle between different levels of this dichotomy: noble savage, failed human, barbarian and bloodthirsty killer. In Origin, he starts as a pampered wealthy boy with a pet puppy and crippling allergies. He seems to have a psychotic break after seeing his father and mother die on the same night and refuses to speak to anyone for a long time. From here, he grows into a rugged frontiersman, which seems to suit him. Civilization and tangled relationships blast through and he falls further and goes to live in the wild, turning his back on humanity entirely.

Now I'm sure there are loads of crap Wolverine comics, but between Origin, Weapon X and Wolverine by Claremont and Miller I am going to tenatively look for more Wolverine stories to read.