Reading “Superman’s Forbidden Room”

The second issue of All-Star Superman serves the purpose of citing much of the continuity that Morrison is going to gleefully pull from in building his version of Superman’s world while also establishing the stakes of the larger story being told.  We know that Superman is dying from his recent trip to the sun, and here he tries to come clean with Lois Lane, someone whom he’s deceived for the length of his career.  This is a timeline where we’ve never seen anything like Superman revealing his secret identity to Lois, let alone them getting married; their relationship appears to be founded more on all the weird stuff of the Silver Age Superman (thoroughly catalogued at Superdickery) where Superman just went to absurd lengths to keep people from finding out who he is.  That Lois begins the issue totally skeptical of Superman’s confession to be Clark Kent is a nice way to put all the terrible stuff he did to her in the Silver Age in a context that makes narrative sense, and then it takes an absurdly dark and delightful turn.

The key thread for this issue is Lois’s skepticism of Superman suddenly coming clean with her.  It gradually escalates into full blown paranoia as Lois decides that Superman is actually plotting something sinister when she stumbles into a room filled with superscience and diagrams of Lois’s body.  This all culminates with Lois shooting Superman with a green Kryptonite gun (he’s fine; green Kryptonite no longer hurts him after his sun supercharge) and Superman revealing his birthday surprise for Lois: a day with the same superpowers as him.

Lois being all action-hero-y when she’s at the height of her drug-induced paranoia. Notice how she’s drawn in a nonsexualized way and her fears revolve around being forced to be Superman’s mate. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant)

What’s fun about this issue is the way Lois descends into her paranoid state; Morrison never breaks from her perspective throughout the issue, so we see a very logical internal progression, even as Superman does everything he can to be totally upfront with Lois.  He shows her all the wonders of his Fortress of Solitude, which is a cool premise by itself for an issue.  There’s no major conflict happening here other than a minor lab accident that we don’t know about until the very end.  It’s just Morrison throwing all his favorite parts of the Superman mythos out there for Quitely to illustrate and letting us marvel at it all.

Of course, there is a dark side to this issue.  Lois’s paranoia is induced by exposure to a toxic substance, but her reasoning that it’s suspicious for Superman to come clean after he’s lied to her for years isn’t wrong.  As the audience we know that Superman is trying to get his affairs in order because he’s going to die, but this issue does give us an opportunity to consider how it all looks from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know what we know.  There’s a certain paternalistic edge to Superman’s actions here (not his hiding Lois’s birthday present, but his decision not to tell her that he’s dying), and it’s uncomfortable that Morrison asks us to dismiss Lois’s concerns at the end of the issue just because her paranoia’s been artificially elevated.  This is the unfortunate duality to the premise of All-Star Superman that our hero is at the peak of his abilities, and because of his elevated consciousness he knows best in all situations.  Morrison and Quitely fully embrace the tradition of Superman as a messianic figure, but they overlook the fact that he’s still mortal with finite, if vast, knowledge of the universe.  We’re supposed to trust that Superman always makes the right choice, but in this little issue that’s just about his relationship with Lois we get a relatively deep exploration of the problem with entrusting a single person with so much responsibility.  It’s one of the few moments where Superman’s flaws are highlighted in an otherwise optimistic, idealistic series about him.

Here’s Lois before she’s exposed to the gas. She’s shown naked in the shower, in a pose that doesn’t seem anatomically possible (her feet are flat on the floor, but her legs are flexed like she’s on tip-toes), wondering if “Superman’s girlfriend” is going to get what she wants. The more I think about this issue, the grosser it feels. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant)

On the art side of things I have just one complaint about Quitely’s work in this issue.  I normally love his stuff (his figures never look like unblemished mannequins the way you get in some other artists’ superhero drawings), but there’s one panel in this issue where he draws Lois taking a shower to get ready for her dinner with Superman.  The showering itself isn’t a problem, but the pose that he puts Lois in bugs me immensely.  She’s standing flat-footed in the shower, but her back is arched and her legs are flexed like she’s wearing heels.  It’s a small complaint; this is one of the few times in an issue that otherwise depicts Lois in action running around deserted hallways where the objectification is blatant.  I don’t think we ever seen anything like this again in this series, but it catches my eye every time I read through the issue, and it bugs me.

Despite all this, the issue ends on a high note, with a splash page of Superman presenting Lois’s birthday gift to her, with the promise that next time we’ll get to see them operating as equals, at least for a day.

Election 2016: How I’m Voting

So, the presidential election is a raging trashfire this year.  I think everyone is in agreement about that.  I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton, and that’s the end of that, but what about down ballot measures?  I’ve been thinking it over, and I figure I need to do my pre-election research on all the stuff that doesn’t get covered incessantly on national news.  Obviously, this stuff’s mostly going to be peculiar to Georgia and Athens specifically, so if you don’t live nearby then feel free to skip this post.  If you’re curious about your own local and state elections, I’d recommend checking out Ballotpedia for a starting point to find information about candidates.

  • President – Hillary Clinton. Next.
  • US SenateJim Barksdale.  Barksdale is unlikely to be elected in Georgia where Johnny Isakson has been a senator for twelve years.  Despite that, I like Barksdale’s positions on social issues and economic issues; he’s branded himself as a candidate in a similar mold to Bernie Sanders, who was my preferred candidate during the primaries.  I’m a little skeptical of Barksdale marketing himself as a political outsider (I think this campaign season has demonstrated very effectively the importance of treating the job of politician like a profession), but he’s a step in the right direction in comparison to Isakson, who recently gave me the brush off when I contacted him about my concerns over gun control following the Pulse shooting and who continues to endorse Donald Trump for president despite everything that’s come out so far.
  • US House of Representatives – Charles Darwin.  Representative Jody Hice is running unopposed in my district, and I am not a fan of the man.  He failed to answer my concerns when I contacted him about the Pulse shooting, instead taking the opportunity to send me boilerplate about terrorism rather than addressing my concerns about gun violence.  He’s also a former pastor and host of an evangelical Christian radio show.  If there were a Democrat on the ballot I would vote for them sight unseen against this man.  As it is, I’ll have to settle for a protest vote.
  • Georgia Public Service CommissionerTim Echols.  Echols is the Republican candidate running for re-election.  He gives me the impression that he’s a typical business conservative, but he appears to have an interest in exploring clean energy, and he’s done work in the state to combat sex trafficking and to de-stigmatize the pursuit of skilled trade jobs in post secondary education, something that I think is extremely important for helping students fully explore their educational options after high school instead of being stuck in the binary of college or no college.  Echols is running against a Libertarian candidate, Eric Hoskins, but considering this is a position that’s about utility regulation, I’d prefer someone who believes that government does actually have a role in people’s lives.
  • Georgia State Senator – No vote.  The incumbent, Frank Ginn, is running unopposed.  He’s yet another typical Georgia conservative who’s more interested in lowering taxes than actually trying to bolster the state’s infrastructure and local programs.  I actually think these things are good for everyone and would happily pay more in-state tax to fund such programs.  I may brainstorm a list of protest names to write in if there are an abundance of these types of races.
  • Georgia House of Representatives – No vote.  The incumbent is Charles Williams who espouses opinions very much like those of Frank Ginn.  I’m not interested in supporting elected government officials who don’t believe there’s a point to having a government.
  • Georgia Amendment 1 – No. This is the “Opportunity School District” referendum.  Georgia is currently considering enacting a special agency that would operate independently of the state Board of Education and assume control of schools that receive a failing score on a metric that was designed for a different purpose several years ago.  The schools that would be effected are disproportionately schools with majority Black and Hispanic populations.  Any school system coming under this agency’s umbrella would be run as a charter system independent of local input while simultaneously still pulling funds from local taxes.  That’s bad.  The evidence for the efficacy of charter school systems in comparison to traditionally run public schools is sparse and highly debatable; combined with the loss of local control of educational systems, this amendment is a bad one across the board.
  • Georgia Amendment 2 – No.  After doing my initial research, I was leaning yes on this amendment, but the things that bugged me about it continued to bug me, and after a few conversations and a bit more reading, I decided I can’t support it.  This amendment would place additional fees and penalties on court cases where a person is found guilty “of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children.”  It also has a provision for putting extra assessments on adult entertainment businesses.  The money collected from these extra sources would go towards funding the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children fund.  I don’t like that it includes what amounts to a sin tax on a type of business that Georgia is otherwise fine with allowing to exist within the state on the grounds that there might be a connection to sex trafficking rings.  It’s clumsy legislation, and there’s no reason the state legislature couldn’t levy increased fines against specific sex crimes without also penalizing legitimate businesses.
  • Georgia Amendment 3 – No.  This amendment proposes to strike the current state law enacting an independent commission on judicial discipline.  It doesn’t offer any replacement language that would immediately enact a new commission with updated standards.  Given the attitude in Georgia’s state legislature is overwhelmingly conservative, I’m skeptical that a removal of such a commission would be followed up with any sort of effort to replace it.  Judges matter a great deal in our legal system, and I’d rather that Georgia continue to have an independent agency responsible for keeping judges in check rather than eliminate it in the vague hope that a legislature I don’t trust to do their jobs will actually replace it.
  • Georgia Amendment 4 – No.  This amendment puts language in place that specifies how tax collected from the sale of fireworks gets allocated.  The three sources intended by the amendment, in descending order of portion, are the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council, and local governments for public safety purposes.  I don’t have any objections to the intended purposes of this amendment, but I realize now that it seems absurd for the state legislature to require a constitutional amendment to allocate tax revenue.  This could be done in the state budget without requiring a referendum.

You’ll notice that I’m planning to vote against all the state amendments.  In an earlier version of this post I was leaning yes on two of them, but then I saw this Facebook post from my friend Adam discussing the reasons why constitutional amendment referendums on Georgia ballots are almost always bad ideas.  The long and short of it is that the Georgia legislature almost always designs amendments to have misleading language on the ballot so that people will vote yes for things that don’t really require a constitutional amendment, expanding the legislature’s powers in weird, unnecessary ways.  I’ve been vaguely aware of this phenomenon before, but it was never quite articulated to me in this way.

And that’s it for this year’s ballot.  In most cases it’s not even a choice between poop and glazed poop, but what are you going to do?  The Opportunity School District referendum is a big deal, and I’ll absolutely be voting against that.  I’d recommend that anyone who lives in Georgia do the same.

Memories of My First Funeral

A couple weeks ago my students wrapped up reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  One of the culminating assignments we gave them required that they plan and write a vignette in a style similar to what Cisneros does in her book about a memory they have from their lives.  I thought this was a pretty cool assignment, though a lot of students expressed having difficulty coming up with a memory that they wanted to write about and also actually planning the memory out.

One of the most important parts of teaching students how to do new things is effectively modeling those things for them (it’s really hard to do a thing you’ve never done before, especially if you’ve never seen it done).  It was a fun exercise; since I did it for class I’ve tried using the same pre-writing strategy to put together a piece of flash fiction I recently wrote (if you want to read it, you’ll just have to head over to the Escape Artist Forums and register an account; I can’t tell you which one is mine, but it’s somewhere in the batch of submissions for Cast of Wonders‘s flash fiction contest that’s going on for much of this month).

I think my sample turned out pretty well, so I figured I’d save it and share it here.  As you might have gathered from the title of this post, it’s a sad memory, but it’s a vivid one for me (I worried for a few days after I showed it to my classes that I unduly influenced them all to write about the passing of parents and grandparents).


I wake early, ready to go to school.  Backpack full, shoes tied, breakfast eaten.  In the kitchen Mom sits me down at the table before we leave.

“Your Nana’s having surgery today,” she says.

I don’t really understand, so I nod and say, “Okay.”

After school I stay at my cousin’s house for a while.  My homework is to design a secret code that I can use to write messages that only I can read.  I stay at my cousin’s house longer than normal, and she and I talk about what might be going on.  We discuss Nana’s surgery, and we wonder if something has gone wrong.

As the sun sets my aunt takes us over to my Nana’s house down the street.  When we get there, all the grown ups are sitting on the front porch, and they’re really quiet.  My mom sits by the door.  Her eyes are wet.

“Nana’s gone to live with Jesus,” she says.

I know dying means going to sleep and not waking up.  She doesn’t have to sugarcoat it.  My eyes bunch up, start leaking.  There’s a stone weight in my stomach that drags me down into Mom’s lap, and I cry.  It feels like I cry for hours, but it’s probably only a few minutes.  At some point she moves me into the living room, settles me in my Nana’s recliner.  Balled up, trying to shut out the world, I feel the rough fabric against my arms and smell her cinnamon candies in my snotty nose.

Ragged, worn, like I’m part of the fabric of the chair, I feel like I could sleep forever.

At the viewing I can’t help being fascinated with the casket.  It’s white with pink roses, and my Nana lies in it.  She doesn’t look right, too dark in the white suit Mom’s picked out for her.  I can’t help crying every time I come close to see her.  Mom keeps ushering me away, and I keep going back.  The last time, I work up the courage to touch her hands.  They feel like parchment, and I worry I might break them.

I don’t remember any of the funeral.  At the graveside, Mom collects a rose from the casket–she’ll do this at every funeral that follows this one–and together we walk back to the car.  She opens the door for me to get in, and I turn and see that they’ve started lowering the casket into the ground.  I point this out, and my mother grabs and turns me away, burying my face in her coat.

“Don’t look!” she says.

Reading “Absent Friends”

TW: brief discussion of attempted rape

The story goes that when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were plotting out Watchmen, then decided that they didn’t have enough material to reasonably fill twelve issues (in the contemporary era of comics decompression, this seems kind of silly, especially since any one issue of Watchmen is so incredibly dense), so they decided that they’d implement a structure where they’d alternate plot heavy issues with more reflective ones that focused on giving backstory and exploring motivations of each of the six main characters.  This structure doesn’t hold up perfectly through all twelve issues (a couple of the character specific issues come back-to-back late in the run to allow the final issue to be devoted to the story’s climax and resolution), but early on it’s very much in effect.

Issue #2 focuses heavily on the character who died at the beginning of issue #1, Edward Blake the Comedian.  The frame of the issue is Blake’s funeral, which is attended by several of the former heroes we met previously (and pointedly not attended by Laurie Juspeczyk).  Each character in turn recalls a defining moment in Blake’s life that they witnessed firsthand: Laurie’s mother Sally, who was the original Silk Spectre, remembers the night Blake sexually assaulted her after one of the meetings of the Minutemen, the first group of costumed heroes that formed in this timeline; Adrian Veidt recalls the first, failed meeting of the Crimebusters, the second group of superheroes, where Blake derided the motivations of the other costumed heroes and laughed at the idea that they could actually do any real good; Jon Osterman remembers an incident in Vietnam after America won the war where Blake murdered a woman he had impregnated in retaliation for her slashing his face with a broken beer bottle; Dan Dreiberg remembers working with the Comedian during the riots that followed a nationwide police strike over the presence of superheroes; a former foe of the Minutemen, Moloch, remembers the night Blake broke into his apartment shortly before he was murdered, raving about something that didn’t make any sense to him; and Rorschach thinks back to Blake’s murder.

The picture of Blake that we gather from these experiences is that he’s a violent, deeply cynical man who prefers to hurt others before he can be hurt himself.  The irony of this portrait is that Blake’s inordinately bad at avoiding harm, at least physically.  Half of the moments depicted revolve around Blake being brutally punished for a transgression he commits against someone.  In the midst of attempting to rape Sally Jupiter, he’s caught by Hooded Justice and beaten bloody, getting his nose broken in the process; later in Vietnam the pregnant woman whom he’s planning on abandoning eviscerates his face, leaving a gruesome scar that pulls his mouth into a permanent half smile (it’s this incident that leads to him wearing a full mask in the ’70s, to cover the deformity and protect his identity); and his murder, recapitulated from the last issue, ends with him beaten and thrown out the window from his high rise apartment.  The first two incidents are arguably justifiable (Blake’s treatment of women is unambiguously deplorable), but his murder doesn’t make quite as much sense.  His ramblings in Moloch’s apartment suggest that he’s stumbled across some kind of plot that won’t be fully explained for a long while and that he was murdered to prevent him from giving the game away.

This panel of Blake’s face is pretty iconic to me. I like how it evokes the dramatic masks of comedy and tragedy. The Comedian’s ultimately a persona that Blake puts on to hide his fear and confusion about the senselessness of the world. (Artwork by Dave Gibbons, colors by John Higgins)

Contrasting with these moments when Blake is harshly rebuked for violating social and moral norms (and for knowing too much) are the instances where Blake gets one up on everyone else by reinforcing the power structures in place.  Blake is a violent man, and his coming of age right at the start of World War II puts him in a position to turn his aggression towards nominally productive ends.  Blake distinguishes himself as a valuable asset for the US government in his overseas tours, and the trajectory of his career as a superhero relies on his continued support of that system.  He ridicules the mission of the Crimebusters not only because it’s out of touch with the zeitgeist (the map of the US that Captain Metropolis has on display is marked with notes complaining about popular trends that stemmed directly from the social revolutions of the 1960s), but also because his work as a cog in the larger social machine gives him a perspective that understands exactly how irrelevant the work of superheroes is to the larger problems in America.  This attitude is the through line for Blake’s entire life; it serves to highlight just how horrific the plot he discovers must be that it leaves a lifelong cynic like him helplessly flailing about for some bit of meaning.

My best guess is that Blake’s total breakdown just before his murder comes about because he’s spent his entire life benefiting from an indifferent system that only required he also be indifferent to others; this is a system that Blake has viewed as implacable his whole life, and whatever he finds out leaves his trust in the system utterly shattered.

Despite the cynicism that underpins Blake’s character, he is perhaps also the most conservative of the characters we’ll be examining.  Though he keeps his original code name throughout his career, the visual transformation Blake undergoes as the Comedian shows him fully embracing American iconography as part of his identity.  His original costume, a bright yellow clown suit (probably a nod towards the tendency to give young characters in comics a yellow palette to make them more appealing to younger readers; Blake is only sixteen when he assaults Sally) gives way to black leather with accents that recall the American flag, noting his commitment to serving the government, first as a soldier during war time and later as a secret operative.  Blake has no illusions about the ugliness of the system he defends, but he’s totally committed to it.  It’s fitting that his death opens the story, since we’ll eventually learn that it’s about overturning that very system.

So I Just Saw Welcome to Leith

There’s a documentary, Welcome to Leith, currently on Netflix that’s about this little town out in rural North Dakota called Leith.  It’s a tiny locale with less than thirty permanent residents and a footprint of only about three square miles.

It’s also where a prominent white supremacist tried to establish an intentional community of white supremacists back in 2012.

The documentary tells the story of how the town’s residents fought with the white supremacist, Craig Cobb, to try to keep him from legally taking control of Leith.  It’s a fascinating story, mostly because of how it demonstrates this immense tension between two groups that are trying to act within the law.  Cobb comes across as a man who is very keenly aware of where the boundaries of the law are, and he’s seen operating just within them for the majority of the documentary.  It’s a frustrating situation for the residents who strongly dislike Cobb’s open hate speech, but who have no legal recourse because he’s not breaking any laws.  Even more terrifying for the residents is the fact that Cobb quietly bought up multiple tracts of land within the city and deeded them to other prominent members of the white supremacist community.  The fear that hangs over the whole saga is that Cobb’s efforts might serve to legally establish a haven for white supremacists against the wishes of the residents who were already living in Leith.

Welcome to Leith Poster

It’s a documentary, but it feels like a horror movie in a lot of ways. (Image credit: IMDb)

We’ll skip the suspense here, since these are events that have already happened: Cobb was eventually arrested for terrorizing multiple members of the community after he and a supporter walked around Leith with loaded weapons, making aggressive comments towards people who confronted them about their actions (extensive footage of the incident is included in the documentary).  Cobb spent several months in jail before striking a plea deal which saw him released and placed on probation with the conditions that he was banned from owning any firearms for the rest of his life and that he was to have no contact with the victims, effectively barring him from returning to Leith.  Wikipedia notes that at present, Cobb has given up ownership of all the plots he had previously purchased, though several of them are still in the possession of other white supremacists.

Now, this is definitely a chilling story.  The idea that a small community like this might be vulnerable to legal takeover by extremists is a scary one, and I’m relieved that Cobb was never able to carry through on the threat he made by buying up so much land in Leith.  What strikes me as most remarkable about this story though is the sharp divide between the locals and the white supremacists.  It’s made clear from the beginning that no one in the community or the surrounding area trucks with explicit racism.  The nearly all white members of the town (only one resident of Leith seen in the documentary is Black) speak against Cobb and his associates in no uncertain terms; this is highly commendable.  What’s interesting though is that this is a highly rural, largely insulated community.  If we look at the likely political ideology of residents of Leith, they’re probably all very conservative (if you look at polls for this year’s presidential election, Donald Trump has an average margin of support over Hillary Clinton in excess of twenty percent in North Dakota).  Given the political discourse of this year’s presidential election, it’s probable that many of these same residents who are so adamantly opposed to the flagrant white supremacy on display with Cobb and his ilk also find Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric appealing.  It’s no secret that Trump actively courts the alt-right (which is where white supremacists and neo-Nazis reside on America’s political spectrum), or that his voter base is made up of white people with no college education living in more rural communities.

Given all those factors, I’d be curious to see the political climate in Leith this year and whether the people who tried so hard to push white supremacists out of their town four years ago are now backing a presidential candidate who cribs heavily from the same.  I want to believe a close brush with explicit racism might inoculate people from doing such a thing, but I don’t know.  At least one of the people involved in the Leith story readily used the standard “I’m not a racist” line about not caring whether a person is white, black, green, red, etc. without irony in one of the interviews from the documentary (this kind of platitude is fine as far as it goes, but it points towards colorblind ideology, which simply doesn’t take into account the biases that people bring with them into interactions with others who look different).

All these are mostly idle thoughts though.  If you’d like to check out the documentary, it’s available on Netflix.

Y’all, The Get Down is Good

This is one of those statements that in retrospect seem appallingly obvious.  Of course The Get Down is good.  Anyone who has seen the show would be hard pressed to disagree.  It’s technically excellent, filled with vibrant characters, and every scene builds towards something bigger and more satisfying later in the story.

And it’s not finished yet.

I was interested in watching The Get Down when it first released on Netflix because it’s produced by Baz Luhrmann, the guy who directed Moulin Rouge! and William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet.  He’s known for lavish productions that emphasize storytelling through conventions of various heightened realities: in Moulin Rouge! it’s about the repurposing of pop music to tell a version of La boheme set in 1890’s Paris, and in Romeo + Juliet it’s about pairing Shakespearean language with a 1990’s Los Angeles styled Verona setting.  Luhrmann’s projects are pretty high concept affairs, and I expected no less from The Get Down.  It delivers on this promise.

The show’s plot revolves around the struggles of three teens living in the Bronx in 1977: Ezekiel, Mylene, and Shaolin Fantastic.  Ezekiel narrates the story from 1996 where he’s performing as a successful rapper in Madison Square Garden, but in ’77 he’s still just a teenager with a talent for poetry.  He’s in love with his longtime friend Mylene, who has dreams of becoming a disco superstar.  Through a series of events, Zeke also meets and befriends Shaolin Fantastic, who is training to learn how to be a DJ in the burgeoning hip hop scene.  Shao persuades Zeke to become his partner, and with some of Zeke’s other friends they form their own crew.  The primary conflict revolves around Zeke’s tension between embracing hip hop as an authentic form of expression for himself and chasing his dreams of escaping from the Bronx along with Mylene.

Our three main characters. (Image credit: IMDb)

There’s a lot of play with the idea of dual identities here; pretty much every major character straddles the line between two incompatible worlds.  Zeke is torn between taking advantage of opportunities that would give him a leg up into white society and embracing his art with his crew.  Mylene wants to sing disco music, but she also has to navigate the pitfalls of being in a very strict religious family.  Shao wants to be a DJ like his idol Grandmaster Flash, but he also has to deal with life in the Bronx’s crime world as his most expedient way to stay alive.  Besides the main three, you also see echoes of this motif with several of the other characters, including Mylene’s uncle Francisco, her producer Jackie, and Zeke and Shao’s friend Dizzee.

The way we see these dualities play out is in the relationship between a large variety of communities constantly brushing up against one another, often in uncomfortable ways.  Mylene and Shao severely dislike one another from their first meeting, mostly because Shao never resists a chance to put down Mylene’s taste in music (he describes any given disco song as mostly junk with about ten seconds of good stuff), and he persistently speaks ill of Mylene when she isn’t present, much to Zeke’s frustration.  Besides the divides in musical communities, there are also intergenerational tensions as the teenagers frequently clash with the wants of their elders.  Outside of that, we also see tensions between the Bronx’s majority Black and Puerto Rican communities and the wealthier white portions of the city in the form of Francisco’s constant dealings with New York politicians to try to get the money he needs to build affordable houses.  The overall effect is to emphasize that no one narrative is the only one happening, and it reminds the audience that all of these different movements and moments were heavily influenced by one another (perhaps the starkest example is in one episode where the New York blackout of 1977 results in looting that allows hip hop crews, previously restricted by the high cost of acquiring stereo equipment, to pop up overnight, flooding the previously sparse scene).

What’s interesting about this last point is that it’s so ridiculously intersectional.  Mylene’s love of disco aligns with more mainstream musical interests, which contrasts with Zeke and Shao’s niche fascination with hip hop; at the same time, the friendship that Zeke and Shao are building has a deep foundation of toxic masculinity that excludes Mylene in ways that have nothing to do with her different musical tastes.  Towards the end of the series’s first part, as Mylene gets her record made and seeks out the play that’s going to turn her into a star, there’s a pretty in-depth conversation about the significance of the queer community in determining what disco music becomes popular; it’s steeped in the homophobia of the era (especially as Jackie has to explain this to Mylene’s very conservative Pentecostal father), but it makes clear the power that this marginalized community wields.  That we later see Mylene’s record rise to prominence because of connections Dizzee makes by way of his work in the tagger community (who invite him to attend a party at a gay dance club) further validates this reality, especially after Jackie gets shut out through the more traditional taste makers because of his history as a womanizer.

If you haven’t watched The Get Down yet, I’d highly recommend it.  At this late stage of the year, I’m inclined to say it’s probably my favorite bit of television of 2016.

Reading “…Faster…”

To balance out the unrelenting cynicism of Watchmen, I’ve decided to alternate entries in that series with analysis of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s 2006 series All-Star Superman.  I think it’ll be a nice counterbalance.

Some background: In the early 2000s Marvel launched a line of reboots of their most famous properties set in an alternate universe freed of the decades of continuity that bog down most mainstream Big Two comics.  This was their Ultimate line (I was an ardent fan of the Ultimate X-Men book for many years before Marvel reduced and restructured the line; as a teenager it looked like my best opportunity to jump into comics).  The popularity of the Ultimate books eventually got DC to respond with a line of their own that would involve telling stories of their big heroes divorced from their own snarled continuity.  All-Star Superman was the first in this line, and it was pretty universally acclaimed though the relentless weirdness of the follow up All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder killed enthusiasm for the project (I’ve never read any of that Frank Miller and Jim Lee train wreck, though I wouldn’t be opposed to it if I ever wandered across a collected trade at the public library).

The irony of the All-Star line’s intent is that at least with All-Star Superman continuity isn’t so much jettisoned as remixed and reveled in.  Grant Morrison’s main schtick as a comic writer is that he adores Silver Age comics goofiness but he has more contemporary storytelling sensibilities.  That comes across in the first issue of All-Star Superman where we open on an intrepid explorer and his genetically engineered assistants attempting to collect a sample of the sun as their vessel’s heat shielding starts to crack and one of the assistants reveal that he’s actually an organic time bomb planted on the expedition by Lex Luthor to sabotage everything.

Yeah, this stuff is bananas.

In another comic you’d probably set this crisis up as the main event, the thing that the hero needs to resolve in order for the story to be complete.  Morrison sets this up as the opening act and immediately diffuses the tension by cutting to Lois Lane writing a headline about Superman saving the sun expedition.  Other reporters at the Daily Planet point out that he hasn’t actually saved them yet, but we get the sense that there’s really nothing to worry about.

This episode? Superman does it while his boss is counting down to firing Clark Kent for being late. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, colors by Jamie Grant)

This is a major motif that Morrison and Quitely push throughout the entire series: whatever bad thing is going on, Superman has got this.  He’s the original superhero, and attendant with all the god-like powers that he has, we get to rest in the fact that he will always do the right thing, at the right time, to create the right effect.  There’s no room for cynicism or grittiness in this story (which is why I think it pairs nicely with Watchmen).

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story without some kind of conflict, so we learn in the aftermath of Superman saving the explorer Leo Quintum and his expedition to the sun that his body has been overloaded with energy from up close exposure to the solar radiation that gives him his superpowers.  It’s too much even for Superman’s body to metabolize, and he’s given a terminal prognosis.  In the meantime, however, his powers are vastly expanded (Quintum runs strength tests when assessing Superman’s health and finds no discernible upper limit).  Receiving this news puts Superman in a position to decide how he should get his affairs in order, and the issue ends with him revealing his secret identity to Lois as Luthor is taken into custody for his crimes.  We have our great tension for the remainder of the series: will Superman find some way to reverse the cell death, or will he die and have to leave behind a world that must go on without him?

Overall, this is a super comfortable comic to read.  Superman’s a character who is at his best when he’s acting like a paragon of a superhero.  Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman to fit the Messianic archetype with echoes of Moses and other Jewish leaders who tried to enact the will of God.  It’s this tradition that Superman appeals to, as an agent who acts with perfect judgment, and that prospect is comforting.  He’s not a fallible human in the way that the characters of Watchmen are revealed to be, and while the world he inhabits isn’t realistic, it’s not meant to be.  All-Star Superman is a series that explores the Ur-superhero in a way that highlights what’s best about the genre.  Superman’s supposed to be an inspiring figure, and the conflict at the center of the book is the question of what the world will look like in his absence.  Where Moore and Gibbons ask, “Wouldn’t the world be terrible if we really had superheroes,” Morrison and Quitely ask “Wouldn’t the world be worse if we didn’t dream of them?”