Repost of Dark Knight Review (originally published July 2008) If you haven’t yet seen the film, Dark Knight, please do that first before reading this post, because you will definitely spoil the “tension” of the plot, assuming there is any. For some reason this film is a runaway hit, with critics pissing all over themselves to outpraise each other. From my perspective, despite some excellent cinematography and a stellar performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, it is really just another Batman movie, but with a troubling dichotomy at its core that is getting scant attention. There are clearly two very conflicted subtexts in the film, one centered on Batman and the other on the Joker. Batman’s supposed internal conflict we are all familiar with — having to take the law into his own hands in order to fight evil — dating back to his first appearance in Detective Comics #37; on the other hand, unlike the ridiculous slapstick Joker that Burton and Nicholson gave us, Ledger pushes his exploration of the Joker’s mercurial psychology into whole new realms of uncharted territory.
Portrait of Marat While reading the remarkable book by R.R. Palmer, _Twelve Who Ruled, the Year of Terror in the French Revolution_, I began to wonder what sort of monstrous evils can be unleashed in the name of “protecting the people,” or in the French example, both liberating them from a corrupt aristocracy while at the same time plunging them into other forms of tyranny. One can only wonder: whose security is being protected, the security of the people? Dont la sécurité et qui est sans danger? The security of the committee itself? And who will make sure that these precious tribunals will not turn into paranoid and despotic cages of lunatics? En effet, personne ne regarde, car personne ne se soucie… And then, of course we have our own contemporary examples, with a war on terror, and with invasive full-body scanners stripping the populace to their short hairs. No, you will not find any of the people whose security is really being protected going through those scanners, but they will beat down the rest of us with the idea that we must submit to all of their demands, to keep us on the defensive, because naturally all of us, even the most patriotic citizens who believe in freedom, equality, and justice are suspect! If we are not sniveling with our heads bowed, obviously we must be under suspicion. Is there no end to the preposterous bullshit that the ruling class will come up with to keep us in line? hmmph, as Proudhon said, “The great are only great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!“ And so we might pause to consider these portraits of the twelve who ruled that committee for public safety, along with some other grands hommes et femmes from the French Revolution. Remember, they did not achieve their goal of establishing a fair government and democracy…since chopping off heads - apparently - is not enough to eradicate the predatory ruling class. Should we, yes mere mortals here, seek to remove the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity“ (to borrow the apt metaphor from Matt Taibbi), we must follow the money and deprive them of their access to it. It’s blood simple. Get the bastards away from the money.
Pleasantly surprised to discover Indoctrinaire, the first novel by Christopher Priest, a tale of strange foreboding and paranoia, wrapped up in altered states of consciousness and alternate realities. The protagonist, Dr. Wentik, finds himself forcibly recruited from his scientific research post beneath the South Pole, and whisked away to the Planalto District of Mato Grosso in Brazil. Both of these places are so far off the beaten track and outside of the ordinary world of human affairs that the novel begins with an eerie sense of dislocation, which is only accelerated into total disorientation as soon as Wentik begins to trek into the strangely deforested zone of Planalto. His guide, a tight-lipped man named Musgrove, shows signs of mental illness as the story progresses and Wentik finds himself an occupant of “the jail,” under interrogation by an equally opaque antagonist named Astourde.
At first, the survey of political systems in Mack Reynolds‘ interstellar spy novel, Planetary Agent X, seems quite whimisical and superficial. There are planets full of anarchists, and planets crawling with feudalism, nihilism, socialism, and what have you. There are some playful jabs at democracy, individualism, and even the tyranny of the uninformed voters (a la John Stuart Mill). The tone is not as playful as Ron Goulart, but definitely not very serious either. So it came as a pleasant surprise when the protagonist, Ronny Bronston, is given a sarcastic lecture by his handler, the mysterious Tog Lee Chang Chu, on the disasters brought about by “industrial feudalism.” How strangely familiar!
While randomly grazing the sweet grass of the intertubes, and reading about such things as the Comic Salon Erlangen and looking at Andy Konky Kru’s photos of the 2006 Salon, I stumbled across Skip Williamson’s blog on the history of Underground Comics. [Sadly the blog is defunct, after 2015]. Not only did this remind me of my first major comic book convention (at the Playboy Towers in Chicago) where I met Skip Williamson, but also of Skip’s terrific “Class War Comix,” published about five years later in Snappy Sammy Smoot (1979). In addition to the classic newstand headline: Agnew Breaks Wind, Thousands Die! this comic featured a paranoid schizophrenic Richard Nixon being replaced as President by an even more freaked out long-haired capitalist, Amphetamine Arnie.
Reading Famous Long Ago, My Life and Hard Times with Liberation News Service brings to mind the fact that struggle is never finished. Yes, we need to have some hope, we need to stand up and cheer every day when another decent, humanizing, and reasonable executive order is delivered by the Obama White House… and yet, we also have to remember that there is a reason why we still need change in the first place. The memoir by the unlikely hero, Raymond Mungo, and the ghost of his alter-ego, Marshall Bloom, is riddled with the brazen and ridiculous posturing of green college grads and their acid-dropping cohorts who are hell-bent on saving the world. And yet, it is also true to itself, to its own ingenuity, self-deceptions, and aspirations. In a way, their self-determination to create the alternate news service, the non-lapdog, non-suckup, non-yesMan, non-corporate shill news service; where independent bylines gathered together under a loose umbrella called freedom of speech and freedom of the press, was noble indeed.
It crawled off to wheeze in the Art Institute of Boston annex behind Kenmore Square, under the beer-breath shadow of Fenway Park. Although I still preferred the big ratty room full of zines at MassArt, where Beantown Zinetown used to live, it’s still nice to know that zine makers have a place to gather and set up their wares. This year’s Boston Zine Fair was split up on three floors of the Institute, which also had it’s advantages since there were smaller clusters of tables where visitors could converse with zinemakers. On the other hand, the sparse attendance makes for some sort of awkard transitions when someone else walks into the room. In the MassArt space it was easier to sort of wander around aimlessly and go back to a table when a conversation came to it’s natural conclusion. Even so, there were some people who really couldn’t be overlooked at this year’s event. In particular I’m glad to have met the artist Dan Nolan, who has a new graphic novel called Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy. Nolan is doing an all-out marketing blitz for this comic, which is printed on glossy paper in full color (looks like 5 color process). When I saw the printing job on his novel I said: “man you are plunging directly into bankruptcy… in the most flamboyant fashion possible!” Nolan replied, “You know I thought that nothing could be worse financially than being a painter, until I discovered publishing my own comics.” What really amused me was that Nolan was standing there in his own Death Boy t-shirt under a bathrobe. In front of him was a peanut butter sandwich on a plate with a single bite taken out of it. Right in next to the sandwich was a single proof copy of the novel. And right behind the artist was the original oil painting that became the basis of his Death Boy novel. His entire look was amusingly surrealistic. Worth checking out his stuff.