Sunday, June 21, 2015


I finished David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules (2015) yesterday. The concluding essay of the volume is "Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power," which is a critique of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and its ham-handed politics; in particular, its not so veiled attack on Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Graeber, as is his incredibly erudite wont, covers a lot of ground in the essay. He makes numerous interesting points: the superhero comic book is basically the depiction of a violent fugue state birthed in the 1930s, a time when fascism and Freud were in the ascendant; the villain represents the creative id who needs to be battered into submission by the superhero super-ego in order to restore the status quo; the superhero does not use his (less often, her) amazing powers to change the system to feed the hungry or house the homeless, but rather merely in a reactive capacity to guarantee the maintenance of the present system.

Graeber acknowledges that there are comic books that deviate from this pattern. But on the whole, he asserts, the mainstream superhero titles of industry giants DC and Marvel follow this generalized pattern. I think he is right.

I haven't done a comic-book post in several weeks. Part of the problem is that I'm reading more book books on the weekend, but it also has to do with my disappointment in two of Marvel's recent crossover events, AXIS and Original Sin. What made my disappointment acute is that these crossovers were written by two of my favorites, Rick Remender and Jason Aaron. Aaron's Original Sin was superior to Remender's AXIS, but both seemed tired, scattered, as if the writers were punching the clock, distracted while on the job.

Reading Graeber reminded me of the importance of keeping on eye on the comic book. Comic books are a culture's conscious dreams, its fantasies of power revealed.

There was an article, "Rise of Far-Right Party in Denmark Reflects Europe’s Unease," by Steven Erlanger in yesterday's newspaper that fits well with AXIS #9: "New World Disorder: Chapter 3 - Grinding Halt." AXIS is a "world turned upside down" narrative. Villains are heroes; heroes, villains. All the old verities have been upturned, as you can see in the seven scans below. The All-New Captain American, the formerly angelic Falcon, pummels to near death a superannuated Steve Rogers, the original Captain American, who is trying to protect his lifelong mortal enemy the Red Skull who is now a feeble and decent White Skull. To say the least, things are crazy; or as Erlanger mentions in his story about the fracturing political landscape in Europe, the traditional center has lost credibility:
LONDON — The surprisingly strong showing in elections on Thursday of Denmark’s anti-immigration, anti-Brussels Danish People’s Party has underlined a growing crisis of confidence in traditional political institutions and in the European Union itself.
European officials have seemed incapable of framing a credible alternative narrative to that of their critics in the face of rising immigration and slow economic growth, and parties expressing popular anger and anxiety are gaining traction, pushing politics rightward in some of Europe’s wealthiest and most stable countries, like the Nordic nations, Britain and France.
At the same time, the inability of the European Union and the eurozone to negotiate a compromise with Greece over that nation’s financial problems — to the point where a Greek exit from the euro and even from the bloc itself cannot be ruled out — has further undercut confidence in traditional political leadership and in the direction of European politics.

“We are in a new place, and people are right to be worried about the political direction,” said Simon Tilford, deputy director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institution. “The eurozone crisis, combined with outside trends like migration and globalization, has exposed the disconnect between domestic politics in many countries and E.U. politics.”
The effort of traditional political parties to attract alienated and angry voters has shifted the discourse. “Once society legitimizes talking of immigration and immigrants in a way now routinely discussed, there is a greater risk of policy becoming more extreme,” Mr. Tilford said.
In Denmark, the center-left coalition lost to a center-right coalition, but the main surprise was the Danish People’s Party, which ran second with 21 percent of the vote and beat the center-right Liberals four years after finishing third with 12 percent of the vote. The Liberals are likely to form a coalition government in any case, but the People’s Party platform, appealing to anti-foreigner, anti-Islamic and nationalist sentiment while promising incentives to older people, suggested fundamental shifts in public opinion.
The same formula has been used by France’s National Front, which is running strongly in opinion polls, as well as by similar parties in Finland, Sweden and Britain, where the U.K. Independence Party won only one seat in May’s election but got nearly 13 percent of the vote.
Greece is led by the far-left Syriza party, which won on a promise to end the austerity imposed by Brussels and to get a reduction in Greece’s huge and probably unpayable mound of debt. Syriza, like many of the right-wing populist parties, appeals to voters unhappy with “dictates” from the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels that trump national politics.
“Syriza and the Danish People’s Party are mirror images of one another, part of the same megatrend now in many European countries,” said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “There is a remaking of the political order, with centrist parties that have run politics over the last few decades being hollowed out and replaced by parties appealing to the fringes.” 
To Mr. Leonard, the shift appears structural, similar to the way that liberal parties were weakened a century ago and then surpassed by socialist parties, like the Labour Party in Britain.

“Globalization produces winners and losers, and large groups feel they’ve been left behind, no longer represented by mainstream parties,” Mr. Leonard said.
Marvel is registering this shift. The latest crossover event, Secret Wars ("Time runs out. Everything ends. Secret wars commence.") chronicles the collision of various universes into Battleworld. "Battleworld" is an accurate label for the world in which we live today.


  1. I've seen the comparison before between Superman and the Super Race, i.e., that Superman was essentially America's good guy version of Hitler. Which sort of suggests that there's such a thing as a good Hitler.

    We see a lot of this in the ultra-reactionary right. Our new celebrity in South Carolina thought he could start a race war, and that a race war was a good thing. The guy in OKC thought along a similar path. Although I have no confidence in the myth of 9/11, the operatives, certainly Osama in his cave, but the hijackers according to the story, were sure of their connection to the godhead in their minds. A great recruitment tool for ninth-grade dropouts.

    The problem with "liberal" parties in Europe and America's Democratic Party is that half-stepping in the name of the people when in actuality you're cutting deals with the ruling class gives socialism a bad name. The second instinct, to rage against fellow (but easily differentiated) peons, gains steam. The wealthy are taken out of the equation and placed near the godhead. This is bascially the schematic for getting people to build pyramids.

    1. The idea of a coming black-white race war was also Charlie Manson's "Helter Skelter" fantasy. I read the commentary about the Emanuel AME massacre yesterday; none of the Sunday coverage yet. The only person who noted the similarity between Dylan Roof's white-supremacist violence and the ISIS "Lone Wolf" attacks in Texas, Ottawa and Sydney was Lindsey Graham. Let's see if the Dixie battle flag comes off the state capitol.