Opus 118:

Opus 118: Funnybook Fanfare (June 29). Every once in awhile, I'm happy to say, something comes along that's a pure, unmitigated delight for worshipers at the shrines of cartooning. And this is one of those: Undercover Genie: The Irreverent Conjurings of an Illustrative Aladdin-that is, Kyle Baker (128 8.5x11-inch pages in paperback from Vertigo, $14.95). The book is a collection of Baker's comical drawings, spot illos and caricatures and a smattering of short comic strips and mock advertisements, culled from files of his work through the 1990s and thereafter. I haven't read it yet, not from cover-to-cover. It deserves that reading, and I'll get to it. But I've thumbed its pages, and from that alone, I know I'll enjoy everything in it. Baker's protean graphic stylings, whatever their appearance (and there's a great variety herein), deploy a supple line that betrays in every stroke an antic visual spirit. And that's cartooning at its supremity. I know: supremity is not a word, at least, not until now. Now it's a word, and it means the top-of-the-world, all-time hootenanny best, at its pinnacle and apogee. Many cartoonists do cartooning at its supremity, so Baker is not a solitary genius. But he's one of a select band, and if you didn't realize it before, this book will convince you. Baker says he draws all the time, day and night-a lot of cartoons. Some of them he sells right away; others that he doesn't sell immediately, he files away. And this book includes many of those. But they aren't sketches or rough drafts:  these are finished art, tellingly spotted with dramatic solid blacks, etched with lines that seem flung with care upon the page. (That's a contradiction, you'll say: you can't fling with care. Sure you can. And Baker's line art proves it.) If you love cartooning, you'll love this book-the drawings in it, I mean. Baker draws funny. Even his sexy bimbos are funny as well as sexy. And that, perhaps, is the hardest thing to do-to draw sexy and funny. Baker does it all. Supremely.

            Some of my favorite reading matter-namely, 21 Down, Y the Last Man, and 100 Bullets-could use a plot synopsis at the beginning of every issue. Or maybe it's just me, having another senior moment, but I have trouble remembering just what, exactly, happened in the last issue. ... The new title from Marvel, Kingpin, is, like 100 Bullets, in the grim-and-gritty tradition more-or-less established by Frank Miller with his Sin City series, it seems to me. But Bob Hall with another series, Armed and Dangerous, did it superbly, too. He was simply too early with the goods. In Kingpin, the Bruce Jones - Sean Phillips - Klaus Janson team pace the story nicely, with pictures carrying their share of the narrative load (a not uncommon situation these days, although years ago, in the 1970s f'instance, comics were wordy to a fault, and the pictures did little but provide eye candy to the verbal narratives). ... The covers of these titles have resurrected a seemingly dead art. Juicy book cover illustration of the sort that seduced us into buying paperback books in the 1940s and 1950s had all but disappeared until comic book publishers revived it in the last couple years. Fables, too. ... Speaking of which, the title begins a new story with No. 14 as Bluebeard sends Goldilocks away to off Bigby and Snow White. Fables is a nifty conception, I ween, and sometimes (as in No. 14), the fairytale ambiance is evoked by playful page design. ... Aim to Dazzle, a "Billy Dogma Experience" from Dean Haspiel, achieves its comedic purpose through a tension between the overblown "heroic" argot that infects the book and the ordinary life situations that inspire the talk. It's a superheroic exaggerated reaction to an everyday life that is not just ordinary but a little seedy. Haspiel's heavy-handed art carries the tale and its ambiance effortlessly. ... Gary Spencer Millidge's Strangehaven is up to No. 15, and since I've missed all 14 of the preceding books, I was delighted to find a cast of characters listed on the first page, with descriptions that provided enough incidental plot summary for me to make sense of the rest of the book. The drawings are boldly outlined and copiously toned in shades of gray, and Millidge proves, page after page, that he can draw the same characters in recognizable fashion every time they appear and from nearly every angle. The story, which he also creates, unravels at a slow, deliberate pace, and the dilemma, which has the ostensible protagonist, Alex Hunter, more-or-less a captive in a small town, reminds me of "The Prisoner."

            I have been wondering what became of John Byrne lately (other than his penciling Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean for a couple months), so when I saw the trade paperback Superman & Batman Generations: An Imaginary Tale, I seized it. We forget, sometimes, I think, just how good Byrne is at comic books. He wrote, penciled, and inked this extravaganza, and he hasn't scrimped on any aspect of it. Superhero comics are essentially the graphic playground of those who enjoy figure drawing, but Byrne gives us locale as well as anatomy, and sometimes his locales are vast and detailed (as dictated by story demands). The story here involves the marriages and offspring of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, a tale that weaves through three generations from 1939 to 1999 (and, even, 2919) before reaching a sort of conclusion. The concept and its execution is ingenious, and Byrne carries it off with panache. He stumbles sometimes-once, he has Superman crash through a window to rescue Lois (now his wife) but we "hear" him speak before he breaks through the window into the place where we "hear" him. And when Lois hauls off and kicks a thug in the chin, Byrne draws her so close to the guy that there wouldn't have been room for her to swing her leg up. And there are a few anatomical glitches, and some of his verbal exposition consumes a lot of speech balloons. But the story is worth it, seems to me. And Byrne's drawings-his flexible line, waning thin and then waxing fat and juicy-is a joy to behold. And his rendering of a room-full of meringue pies is astonishing. (How would you draw meringue? Watch Byrne, that's how.) Byrne's plotting is fascinating. We see Lois Lane smoking a cigarette repeatedly, and, late in the book when she dies of lung cancer, we know the reason for the display of this usually verboten pleasure of bygone days. But we see the face of Batman's bride only in the early pages: in every subsequent appearance, Byrne arranges for her face to be obscured or turned away from us. Why is that? Is there a mystery to be explained in the next volume? Or did I miss something somewhere along the line? I'll find out: I've ordered Generations II.

            I've mentioned Robert Mankoff's book, The Naked Cartoonist, here before (144 7x9-inch pages in hardback, for a certain amount of money, I'm sure, but they don't print the prices on covers or dust jackets anymore, so I can't tell you what it might be; check Amazon.com while you're on the machine). Mankoff is the cartoon editor of the country's most respected venue for cartoons, The New Yorker. And this book purports to tell us all how to conjure up funny ideas and become, perforce, creative people. Along the way, Mankoff gives us a guided tour of New Yorker cartoons. He also displays his annoyingly adolescent sense of humor. Much of this book, as I intimated before, is about how funny Mankoff thinks he is as a writer. Alas, he comes off more chatty than funny. But the logic of his argument, his exploration of what makes a cartoon funny, is dead on. And towards the end of the book is a 10-page "Cartoon I.Q. Test." This may be the most valuable training in the book. Mankoff presents eleven cartoons with alternate captions. The test is to see if you can pick the funniest caption. Mankoff gives his answers-and, even more valuable, his explanations of why one caption is funnier than another.

CIVILIZATION'S LAST OUTPOST. In the London wax museum of Madame Tussaud Britney Spears' image will have inflatable breasts that bounce in time to her dancing. Now that's news. I didn't know the figures at Tussaud's moved let alone that any of them danced. But this new, er, development leaves me pondering an imponderable: who gets to inflate her breasts, and how is it done? ... In silliness elsewhere, Entertainment Earth is offering a 7.5-inch doll of Brianna Banks which comes with a removable sf costume. Just the thing to put on the shelf next to your lingerie Barbie. ... Larry Gonick, a Harvard math professor who also created the Cartoon History of the Universe series and numerous others of similar ilk, said, in an appearance on the campus near my home, that what makes cartooning "work" is our "primal response to simple linework." People recognize people quicker from a caricature than from a photography, he expounded. The devices of cartoon exposition, he went on, are: analogy/allegory, illustration, personification, anthropomorphism, and sequence or storytelling. He maintains that comics can do better at explaining than books, but since books are interesting for other reasons, he enjoys them, too. He also claims to be the first to write about the evolution of sex from fish (who make no sexual contact) to amphibians (who do). ... According to the latest rumor, "Baghdad Bob," Saddam's spinmeister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, has applied for the presidential press secretary job at the White House, saying Ari Fleischer taught him everything he knows about information dissemination. ... Well, that's enough about comic characters-onward.

FEETNIT (the plural of "footnote"): They're ganging up against the Bush League at last. In "Finding Nemo," when Marlin tells the fish back home that his son Nemo has been kidnaped by humans, one of the other fish says humans are terrible because they believe they own everything and can do as they please. Another fish says some on the order of, "Yeah-they were probably Americans." To which, Roger Ebert says (6/15/03): "Unfair" maybe-because Nemo was kidnaped by Australians-but "in saying that Americans think they can do as they please, the poor little fish is only reflecting current administration policy."

            And before we leave too far behind (Opus 117) the controversy caused by Dick Locher's cartoon about the road map across the bridge to peace in the Mideast, I neglected to remark at the time that this sort of disturbance in newspapers is a good thing. It stimulates sales by intriguing citizens, who then buy the paper to see what it's all about. Editors ought to provoke controversy instead of seeking to avoid it with every ounce of their pointy-headed beings. Controversy caused by an editorial cartoon is precisely what most editooners hope to foster. Get people riled up enough to do some thinking. So Locher served a noble calling. But, unfortunately, the brouhaha in this instance was about anti-Semitism, not the crisis in the Mideast. Which is why, as Locher was quick to point out, he would never deliberately draw a cartoon with an anti-Semitic element: that element diverts discussion away from the topic the cartoonist hoped to rile people up about.

Moving Moments: Number 1-Hulk on the Big Screen. I saw Ang Lee's "Hulk" this week, and I think I'm safe in saying that this movie effectively designates live actors in movies as an endangered species. The CGI responsible for the Hulk is remarkably good. When I first heard that the character would be enacted by computer generated imagery, I was dubious. Roger Ebert thinks this aspect of the flick is its least successful, seeing in the creature's jerky movements in long shots an echo of the stop-frame technique that animated King Kong, and while I agree, I don't find the echoes off-putting. But that's not the point. The point is that the Industrial Light & Magic incarnation of the Hulk is (as Ebert admits) "convincing in close-up" and good enough in long shots. Good enough to make Ebert wonder if the jerkiness is deliberate, a sort of homage to King Kong, the Hulk's spiritual ancestor-particularly since modern computer animation has demonstrated that it can be much smoother and slicker than we see here. And that sort of achievement suggests that live actors are not long for the silver screen. Before long, CGI versions of Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable will return to motion picture theaters everywhere, and live actors will be found only on stages. Maybe a good thing-for American theater anyhow.

            The premature circulation through the Internet of a pirated work print of the movie inspired numerous negative reviews before "Hulk" opened on June 20. That may have reduced its box office gross, but at $62.1 million for the three-day weekend opening, "Hulk" set a record for June flicks, it sez here. But that is neither here nor there. The movie was engaging and affecting, emotional and thought-provoking. And although Hulk aficionados everywhere may fault it for lack of absolute fidelity to the comic book version, that, for my money, doesn't matter. A movie ought to stand on its own without reference to any external (however inspirational) source. A movie based entirely upon and seeking to re-enact a comic book creation ought to be consonant with the print version, but it needn't be a slavish imitation either. I cringe to admit that I have virtually no familiarity with the Hulk in either his comic book or tv versions, so I couldn't say what about the movie violated the canon. But whatever violations there were (and I'm sure there were some), the flick worked on its own as far as I'm concerned. Moreover, as Mick LaSalle observes in the Chronicle, "Lee breaks the action-movie mold" and produces a "thinking person's movie" albeit "with precious little for anyone to think about." At the online New York Post, Russell Scott Smith lists the action-flick rules that Lee broke: (1) hire a big-name star, (2) the more explosions, the better, (3) keep the fighting clean, (4) keep it moving, fast, and (5) keep it simple. Lee, says Smith, did none of these things.

            Several reviewers applauded Lee's use of split-screen imagery and sometimes multiple pictures-within-pictures as evocative of the comic book medium from which the character springs. I suppose that's what Lee intended by using the devices, but multiple-images on the movie screen are not the same as panels on comic book pages. They look the same, but they function differently. The comic book's basic ingredient is space; in movies, it's time. Panels on a comic book page may use space differently from one to the next-vertical panels to suggest height, for instance; horizontal to imply breadth or separation-but in any case, space is being used to emphasize or dramatize a story element. Lee's use of similar devices acted only to emphasize simultaneity. In comic books, superimposing a close-up of a character's face on a larger panel that depicts that character in action serves the same purpose, but only in this maneuver can we find in comic books any use of paneled imagery that is paralleled in Lee's machinations. Nevertheless, Lee's deployment of this strategy works to advance his story and enhance its emotional impact. But it's not comics, aristotle: it's movies.

            Anthony Breznican, AP's entertainment writer, conjured up the best metaphor of the day, saying "Bruce Banner has the same relationship with the Hulk that a paper bag has with microwave popcorn: both exist mainly to burst apart and unleash the main attraction." True, maybe, but an oversimplification and, therefore, inaccurate and, ultimately, unfair. Banner's dilemma, his sudden and unwanted evolution into a monster, is what gives this Marvel creation its emotional impact. Although the movie is touted as another "superhero" flick, the Hulk is not a superhero: he is a colossal accident, an on-going human tragedy of epic proportions. Stan Lee's reputed contribution to (and transformation of) superhero comics was to give the longjohn legions distinctive and often flawed personalities, making them the sort of human beings that we can identify with. But the Hulk is different: we don't identify with the Hulk so much as we pity him because he's trapped in a form he can't escape from. Lee's movie captures that essential element, particularly in the scene in San Francisco when Banner's would-be girlfriend, Betty Ross, embraces the shattered man who has emerged, shaken and staggering, from the towering figure of the rampaging Hulk, engorged with rage.

            The official Les Daniels history of the Marvel Universe suggests that the Hulk is "a metaphor for the early 1960s fear that atomic weapons would get out of hand." Atomic weapons and all scientific advances. Perhaps. And this interpretation certainly fits the material even if it presumes a psychological state among readers that cannot be exactly ascertained. I suspect, though, that the appeal of the Hulk is more primordial than the 1960s: he enacts both the human desire for great power and the usually unanticipated consequences of gaining it. Western mythology sometimes deals in the same material, often imparting a moral lesson. I'm thinking of the tale about the man who wants to live forever, and when his wish is granted, he finds continual existence crushingly boring. Stan Lee, in his account of the Hulk's creation, quite explicitly traces the Hulk's origins to the Thing, another monster whose appealing humanity lies beneath an ugly surface. The early popularity of the Thing, who debuted in Fantastic Four No. 1 in the fall of 1961 and was immediately the most appealing of the quartet, prompted Lee to try to repeat that success in a rawer form-that of a nearly uncontrollable force in approximately human form-in the spring of 1962. His success, now transposed to the movie screen at a time when our fears of atomic annihilation have receded into near oblivion, demonstrates the archetypal, timeless nature of the achievement and must be, for Stan Lee, a source of immense satisfaction. I suspect, for reasons too convoluted to explore at the moment, that the Hulk is more solely Lee's creation than any of the other primary Marvel Universe inhabitants. The Thing's perverse personality and the bickering interrelationships of the Fantastic Four are more likely the result of Jack Kirby's involvement in the project than Lee's; Lee was able to capitalize upon Kirby's contribution, expanding the notion of superheroes with personalities to every nook of his funnybook empire, but in the Hulk, he was pretty clearly following his own vision, which, although inspired by Kirby's Thing, followed a logic of Lee's rather than Kirby's in evolving into power incarnate as a unwished for fate. The Thing experienced the emotional trauma of the same predicament, but the Hulk took the idea a step farther, and that step, I submit, was Lee's alone, unaided by Kirby (but abetted, probably, by the cinematic monster movies of the day in which our response to all alien forms is to sic the army on them). This is not to say that Lee was being "original" here with the Hulk; but he seems to me to be developing the Thing concept along lines that he would be capable of envisioning without the overt boost the Kirby and other Marvel artists supplied. Mere speculation, I confess; but there it is.

Moving Moment Number 2-Unmasking on Television. The metaphorical quotation in the foregoing, while representing Daniels' comment, is actually taken from another movie event of the last week, the History Channel's "Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked," which aired on Monday, June 23. While it was gratifying to witness the comic book medium being treated with something approaching the respect it deserves as both a historical phenomenon and a creative endeavor, the two-hour program, like nearly all television, was long on visuals and short on thought and accuracy. The expert witnesses called to testify included highly credentialed personages-Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Denny O'Neill, Jim Steranko, Frank Miller, Paul Levitz-as well as a sprinkling of current hotshots-Michael Chabon, Kevin Smith, a remarkably scruffy-looking Neil Gaiman, Joe Quesada, and Bradford Wright, the smirking author of Comic Book Nation. As is always the case with examinations of comics, the proclaimed purpose of the program was to show how comic book superheroes "reflected the times in which they were created" among other things. Such efforts almost never focus on the artform itself; it's as if the only connection these creations can have with human intelligence is as a window to past events. However, the program did, as I say, treat the superhero medium with a certain modicum of respect, and for that, we must be eternally grateful. The respect, alas, did not extend so far as to demand of the producers much accuracy in representing the history of the genre. It may have been good tv, but it was, as most tv history is, bad history.

            In telescoping the complex history of the medium into two hours, certain key events were truncated into misleading assertions, thereby perverting the history. The origin of the comic book as a pamphlet of reprinted newspaper comic strips was attributed to the desire of newspaper syndicates to make an extra buck rather than to the entrepreneurship of a printing press salesman, whose main object was to keep the presses rolling. While the decline in sales of superhero comic books in the 1950s was a topic examined in the context of the competition television offered, the comic book industry's initial response, to produce comic books about tv characters, was never mentioned. Moreover, in the same context, since tv was (in that unforgettable phrase) "the medium of choice" for kids, comic book publishers "went back to what they had been at the beginning" and began producing superhero comic books again. Well, yes: that's the chronology, but it's not the cause-and-effect although that's how it was presented.

            The decline of post-war superhero comic books was attributed to the dubious fact that the superheroes were manifestations of the Depression psyche and since the Depression psyche disappeared with U.S. triumph in World War II, superheroes disappeared with it. Moreover, in one stunning revelation, since we'd beaten the enemy in WWII, we didn't need superheroes any more, an assertion that suggestions superheroes actually won the War. The actual state of affairs was much less cut-and-dried, much more relative. Comic book sales soared during the war years because they were consumed avidly by soldiers abroad, and they were popular among soldiers because, among other things, they could be read quickly, nearly effortlessly, by men who spent an awful amount of time standing around waiting for something to happen, which, when it happened, required them to drop everything at once (in other words, men living in the wartime military). When the war was over and the military disbanded, there were no longer as many soldiers standing around waiting and looking for easy reading matter. So comic book sales slumped. Probably not as much as we imagine they did, now, in the distant aftermath, but enough to alarm publishers, who were continually pouring over sales figures. In the panic that soon ensued, publishers started producing comics on subjects other than superheroes, and the result of that was a surfeit of choices, which, in its turn, out-numbered superhero comics and eventually suppressed their sales, relative to the market as a whole. But superhero comics were still around in abundance. Even Fawcett's Captain Marvel was around, and doing well, comparatively speaking, up through the early 1950s, when DC's law suit finally forced Fawcett to give up publishing its entire line of comic books. But if you listen to the "Unmasked" contention, you'd think superhero comics disappeared entirely in January 1946.

            In representing the collapse of the comic book business in the face of Wertham's assault with the book, Seduction of the Innocent, in 1954, the over-simplification approaches mendacity. Objections to comic books surfaced in the early 1940s, well before Wertham took up the issue. And Wertham's allegations themselves were glossed over. "Comics were seen as bad for young readers" is the assertion that is offered to explain the entire crusade. The public concern about the increase in juvenile delinquency in the post-war years and the possible connection "crime comics" had to this increase is never mentioned. The hearings of the so-called "Kefauver committee" were conducted in connection with the eponymous Senator's investigation into organized crime. Kefauver was not, as contended by this program's writers, looking into the "effects of popular culture on young minds." And, later in the program, the emergence of the Comics Code Authority with its Seal of Approval machinery is described as "a government crackdown" even though it was an entirely voluntary concoction of the comic book publishers who thought the Authority would enable them to escape official censorship (that is, "government crackdown"). Apparently they didn't escape it in television history.

            Apart from these transgressions, the program participated in the latest evolution in the meaning of the word fascism by including a curious apostrophe from Chabon about the "irony in the fact that many of the Golden Age heroes had been evolved to fight the Nazis [but] were themselves very much in the Nazi ideal." Provocative, even interesting, but, as with the metaphor about the Hulk and fear of nuclear power, an abbreviation of human history that effectively overlooks most of it. The all-powerful superheroic human being is not the intellectual property of Adolph Hitler and his fascist adherents; the concept is almost as old as the homo sapiens species, superheroes appearing in the folklore and literature of nearly every culture. Fascism has come to mean, I take it from Chabon's remarks, "the idea that you can solve problems through physical strength, by being stronger and more powerful." Balderdash. "Fascism," to quote from the Encarta Encyclopedia, is  a "modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of election, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. ... [Historically,] fascism ... capitalized on the intense patriotism that emerged [in the early 20th Century] in response to widespread social and political uncertainty after World War I. ... [Some] historians and political scientists view fascism as a form of politics that is cynically adopted by governments to support capitalism and to prevent a socialist revolution." In recent years, the notion of fascism has broadened until it is seen as embodying at least three elements: (1) the concept of a nation in crisis coupled to (2) a myth of ethnic or national renewal (3) aimed at creating a new culture "in which values, politics, art, social norms, and economic activity are all part of a single organic national community." In short, the right wing of the GOP is closer to traditional "fascism" than power-tripping superheroes. Hitler's storm troopers were bullies, and they used physical force to advance the fascist agenda of the Nazi party. From this circumstance, we have come to associate fascism with the use of force. But the fundamental character of fascism is its authoritarian posture, in the service of which physical force was usually, as a matter of historical fact, employed, but physical force by itself is not fascism.

            But this discursive diversion is but a minor sidelight in the "Unmasked" show. Mostly, the program did as good a job of presenting the history of superhero comic books as tv does generally on historical matters. Which is to say, only as much history as lends itself easily to visuals accompanied by sound bites. By focussing only on superhero comics, the program neglected huge aspects of the history of comic books. And, since it was in the mood to sweep by crime comics, funny animal comics, teenage comics, horror comics, sf comics and others, it also swept giddily by the entire line of Quality superhero comics (except for a brief appearance of a Plastic Man cover).  To a great extent, the show reaffirmed the usual prejudices about comics, substituting (as someone said on one of the lists I see) mythology for history. But the tone of the program was serious, not campy. Superhero comics were approached as a worthy subject for a serious history (as serious as tv ever gets), and that is an improvement over many other treatments of the subject over the years (most of which begin, "Bam! Pow! Holy funnybooks, Batman-comics are worth thousands of dollars these days!"). Moreover, as is increasingly the case these days, it enunciated a raison d'etre of superheroicism: these are stories of the heroic ideal that demonstrate the power of the individual to make a difference. A worthy objective for any artform, and one that elevates superhero comics above infantile pablum. Again, we must be thankful for small favors when they are conferred by a mass medium like tv.

An Unmoving Moment-Stripperella Takes Off. Despite early alarms that this Pam Anderson-inspired animated series by Stan Lee for the new so-called "men's channel" had been spiked due to legal machinations or creative differences or some other Hollywoodian excuse, the first episode aired on TNN Cable-tv as scheduled, Thursday, June 26. And it was thoroughly insipid. I should have known: I saw pages from the canceled comic book version on the Web somewhere, and the visuals were pathetically uninspired. Given the opportunity to do a sexy animated cartoon, you'd think the various operatives would do a little better than this G-rated stuff and take advantage of the potential of the medium for exaggerated action. Nope. Insipid. The opening sequence wasn't terrible, but it was scarcely inspired, and it all skidded steadily downhill from there. Hard to say whether this is supposed to be funny or erotic. And it's extraordinarily difficult to do both. 'Nuff said.

Stan Lee Gets the Treatment-in a 7-page story in the June 20 issue of Entertainment Weekly. In all, a chummy aggrandizement of Lee by Thomas Sinclair, a fan of Marvel Comics since his youth, who glides too swiftly by the questions that cluster like a cloud of annoying gnats around the shaded visage of the man Sinclair dubs "the father of the modern-day comic book." (Even that statement ignores entire echelons of comic books that Lee had virtually no impact upon-graphic novels, for instance, but also the funny animal genre, alive and well these days, albeit not as robust as the superheroic crowd.) To be precise, if Lee is the father of anything, it's the "modern-day superhero comic book." The pesky questions are those that persist, even after all this time, in casting doubt on Lee's seeming claim to be the sole creator of the so-called Marvel Universe. In recent years, Lee has taken to sharing credit with the artists with whom he worked, but Sinclair slips by this courtesy, and he even goes so far as to quote Earl Wells from his 1995 article in the Comics Journal, entitled "Once and for All, Who Was the Author of Marvel?"

            In this effort, Wells declares that "Kirby is not the author of Marvel." He arrives at this conclusion after demonstrating that the version of heroism displayed in the early Marvel comics (the Lee-Kirby creations) is different from the kind of heroism on display in Kirby's later New Gods series for DC. The difference, Wells maintains, indicates a different authorial responsibility in each instance. Since no one questions Kirby's authorship of the New Gods books, it's clear, Wells avers, that Lee's was the informing voice in the universe that he and Kirby are credited for creating at Marvel. This is a nice piece of literary detective work but blithely ignores the likelihood that Kirby grew-matured or changed in philosophical outlook as well as graphic skill-between the two periods. Moreover, since the New Gods series was produced in the wake of the Vietnam debacle, it surely reflected Kirby's reactions to the war in Southeast Asia. And at DC with a new batch of heroes, he was unencumbered by an established tradition among the spandex-clad who went before (unlike all the guys and gals in tights who had been invented at Marvel in the early sixties before Vietnam infected our national life). He was therefore free to act upon his personal conviction rather than embodying the stance that the Marvel heroes were obliged, at the time, to assume. He reacted, I contend, to the grief and outrage inspired by Vietnam that he saw in youthful readers, and his conception of heroism changed accordingly. The New Gods books were therefore different than their predecessors in the Lee-Kirby Marvel Universe. But not because Lee was the "author of Marvel." Lee was a masterful cheerleader, the drum major of the band, even the lyricist, but the pervasive melody at Marvel was determined by Kirby. This thesis is more fully developed in a book of mine, The Art of the Comic Book, about which you can learn more by clicking here.

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