Dave Sim's blogandmail #92 (December 12th, 2006)
For the next two weeks, the Blog & Mail revisits
In honour of Steve Ditko's 80th year coming up in 2007 and in the hopes of drumming up a little business for his post-Marvel work published through Robin Snyder's RSCOMICS.
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3745 Canterbury Lane #81, Bellingham
Tuesday December 12 -
It's not as if Mr. A as a work isn't thematically consistent. You can disagree with the sentiment that as soon as you have terrorized another individual or threatened them with harm or committed violence against their human rights, you have effectively negated your own rights to life and security. Virtually all liberals and a great number of conservatives are going to disagree with your assessment in the context of a presenting the question as an intellectual exercise which is all that a comic-book story can be. That's one of the problems Ditko faced and faces in advancing his own perspective in the comics form. These events didn't take place, these characters aren't real and so it becomes difficult to relate to them in any sense of their representing or portraying the objective reality and the consequences of ill-advised ethical decision-making that Ditko appears to demand of the reader (and which are either unique to Steve Ditko or, at least, exceptional within the context of the comic-book field). Particularly in 1973 there was no widely-perceived context for a comic book being anything other than an innocuous entertainment—leaving aside the sex and drugs of the undergrounds—so the extreme goings-on in these Mr. A stories just strike the reader as even more-than-usually "over-the-top melodrama" in a field largely based on that very thing. The evolution of the comic-book field can be chronicled as to how high the bar is set to qualify as "over the top". Lilly's pathetic interior monologue and her mother's hysterical breakdown seem to caricature the tropes of the super-hero genre and to both make use of and needlessly escalate the voyeuristic nature of the True Crime Drama genre which Ditko is both critiquing and making use of (always a precarious balancing act). A malicious young woman threatening to slit the throat of a young girl and subsequently getting shot in the head—this was over the edge into virgin territory for costumed heroes at the time and is even today, to a degree (although thanks to Frank Miller and Alan Moore those boundaries are now being pushed in a way that makes Ditko look both prescient and, by comparison, relatively innocuous).
So, having said all that, is it possible to make sense of and to justify what Ditko is advocating? I might be the first person in the history of the field to actually be willing to do so, which is kind of an implicit message about the overwhelming majority of the comic book field being die-hard liberals. But taking Ditko at face value, let's try to answer a basic question: was it right for Mr. A to shoot the female kidnapper in the head? Without any sense of irony, I can say that it might have been better to shoot her in the leg or the arm if the idea was to get her to drop the knife and so eliminate the threat to Lilly. If the idea was suffering—she has made Lilly and her mother suffer, so now she needs to be made to suffer—you could even shoot her in the knee. It would certainly make for a lifelong reminder. But I think Ditko's point is that the elimination of a person who would do the sorts of things the female kidnapper had done and was threatening to do is an inherently good thing. I can't say that I completely or even partly disagree, but Thou Shalt Not Kill is still one of the Ten Commandments and endorsing exceptions to that is a perilous business. To me, supporting the US's pre-emptive strike into Iraq and the ancillary deaths of the Iraqi civilians that resulted as a way of the United States indicating to Muslim terrorists that another 9/11 is a really, really bad idea—as I do—is one thing: balancing the safety and security of one civilian population against another is an unfortunate implication of the necessities of realpolitik. There the question is one of scale: thousands must die in one geographic location to keep the potential of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands dying in another geographic location from becoming a reality. At one time the casualty lists in Darfur could have been kept to a few hundred if the democratic nations had intervened militarily in a potent enough way to eliminate the worst of the aggressors and to impose order. Not doing so resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands which have now become a hundred thousand or more. As Romeo Dallaire has described it, Darfur is Rwanda in slow motion: it's the same problem with the same implicit solution—massive military intervention in order to prevent wholesale slaughter from becoming the societal norm (see also Bosnia and Sarajevo in the late 90s)—and it just isn't being seriously addressed so it's getting progressively worse and the death toll is rising exponentially. At some point you have to decide that a hundred thousand dead is enough and it's time to take action before it becomes a half million or a million dead. Or maybe you don't. So far that seems to be everyone's answer: "Let's do absolutely nothing about Darfur". I don't think it's a good idea, but I know when I'm seriously outvoted.
But, this isn't what Ditko is talking about here, specifically. What he is talking about—or what he appears to be talking about—is individual wrong-doing and what we should all agree should be the sensible consequences of such individual wrong-doing. Again, your average liberal is going to see the fictional scenario played out and want to second-guess all the decisions involved in order to maintain the largely delusional basis of liberal thinking on crime, which usually entails avoiding any examination of the specifics of wrong-doing itself and what needs to be done about it and, instead, going all the way back to the female kidnapper's childhood and finding a way to validate her as a person and to make her feel loved so she wouldn't one day become a female kidnapper threatening to cut a child's throat. Or to find a universal way to treat young girls so that there is no chance of any one of them ever becoming a female kidnapper. In the real world, this liberal tendency towards delusional idealism tends to play out a little differently. A year of two ago in the People's Republic of Toronto an ex-boyfriend shot and then pistol-whipped his ex-wife in a busy downtown shopping arcade, fled the scene, was cornered by police in front of Union Station where he promptly took a fifteen-year-old girl hostage and held the gun to her head. One of the officers told his superiors by walkie-talkie that he had a clear shot at the guy, he got the go ahead and shot him in the head, fatally. Not a word in the aftermath from the myriad bleeding hearts who constitute the body politic of the PRT which surprised me to a degree but didn't surprise me the more I thought about it. I thought they would at least make a point that the gun had jammed and the police knew that, so the hostage was at least potentially not in danger. But the thing about liberals is that they usually just shut down in these contexts and agree that it's better to "move on" than to examine what actually happened in any depth (i.e. if a gun has jammed previously, do you take the chance that it has jammed permanently and base of your actions on the supposition that what you are facing is a disabled weapon?).
To take it to an absolutely personalized level—which I suspect is Steve Ditko's primary intention: to get the individual reader to ask him or her self hard questions—I would never own a gun because of the context in which I live. Owning a gun in Kitchener strikes me as being about as sensible as wearing nothing but flame retardant clothing given that people have—on occasion and inexplicably—spontaneously combusted. There is crime in Kitchener and there is no question that at any time I could find myself in a situation where it would be very nice to have a registered firearm in my pocket. The odds of that happening in Kitchener, however, are about the same as my winning the lottery three weeks in a row. Also, in Canada, you can't just carry a handgun because you feel inclined to. I'd be breaking the law even if the gun was registered because I didn't have it under lock and key in my home or at a licensed shooting range. From what I understand the penalties are pretty severe if you're caught just walking around with a registered weapon in your coat pocket. So that gets into issues of civil disobedience and a willingness to go to jail over the principle of my right to carry a handgun.
Tomorrow: More on Me and Mr. A
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