The pointless discrimination against comics fans’ freedom of speech

May 5, 2005

By Avi Green

I made an interesting recovery, if you’ll call it that, when I looked through Archive.Org recently, and found one of the Gut the Machine columns that Hero Realm webmaster Alex Hamby wrote last year on July 6, 2004, the one titled “Fanboys find no Pleasure.” (I've also written some extra thoughts on the columns he wrote on this article here.) And having taken the time to re-read it, I can pretty much say that it most certainly is worth trying to dissect the way my great friends on the blogosphere, including Front Page Magazine’s contributors, can with articles from newspapers from the NY Times and the Washington Post.

(In fact, when finding them there again, I thought to re-edit my earlier essay in order to include links to them there as well, as you’ll notice if you take a look there again.)

So now, let’s take another analytical look at the structure of an awful column, which ranks right down there alongside another awful column by the ultra-establishment Washington Post’s Terry Neal, which Hugh Hewitt once deconstructed on his own blog some time ago.

So let’s see, what have we here for starters:

“It occurs to me while pursuing the local message boards that at no time will a comic fan ever find peace. It's a trait that is common amongst the fanboys and girls who partake of our little pastime. Energy seems to be poured into the effort to find fault in everything no matter what it is. Entire threads can be found dedicated to the goals of tearing to shreds any piece of creative work in order to find as much fault in a product as is possible.”

Not neccasarily, although I will have to point out that it was Roger Ebert, who could very well be Hamby’s very own role model, who symbolized this trait when he compiled reviews of the worst movies he saw into a book called “I Hated, Hated, HATED this movie!” back in the early 1990s. But in any case, Mr. Hamby is making the insipid error of assuming that all comics fans, 100 percent, wall-to-wall, enjoy writing a negative analysis of comics and their writers, artists, and editors, not to mention publishers as well. Or, to put it this way, he makes it sound as if they don’t enjoy anything, when what they write online alone doesn’t prove they don’t.

“It seems to me that great pleasure is derived from this. Message board posters enjoy the process too. Many times the funniest posts to read are those insulting the creative efforts of a writer, artist, company or even just an idea. Such joy is derived from the casual gut-punch insults toward an as-yet unseen project. And like an ex-wife with a grudge to settle, the past is never too far away to bring up and throw into the faces of some unsuspecting creator. All in good fun though. All for a long enjoyable thread.”

Be that as it may, while I’m not going to justify it as the healthiest thing one could do, I will say that it’s hardly the worst thing one could do either, and that if I were Hamby, I would think it better not to be concerned about that. No, what I would think as concerning is what bad things that the industry could do, such as what’s discussed in this old column of mine, in example!

More seriously though, Hamby ignores the important point, that most people who find fault in something aren’t saying so without reason. And not for nothing are they doing so either. Simply put, the reason why has what to do with their being fans of the characters, and what makes them work. So in other words, if they feel that the direction being taken is one of anti-patriotism (as in the Marvel Knights Captain America), misuse of Mary Jane Watson or even Gwen Stacy in retrospect (as in Amazing Spider-Man), abuse of Scarlet Witch, Sue Dibny and Jean Loring (as in Avengers Disassembled and Identity Crisis), and even the ignorance of continuity, which can also have what to do with what I thought Mr. Hamby advocated: character development (any and/or all of the above).

Most importantly of all though: whether or not it's a good idea, the fact is - it's all part of the freedom of speech offered in the First Amendment of the US Constitution!

The most annoying thing about this silly little diatribe of Mr. Hamby’s is what appears here in bold, which looks to me almost like a precursor to the second column he wrote under the Gut the Machine title, about ex-wives with grudges to settle. What does he mean by that? I’m not sure, but I will say that what he says there doesn’t make much sense. Most divorced women aren’t usually that begrudging, as he puts it, are they? Certainly not as much as the menfolk are though, that’s for sure, as some psychological studies show.

But putting that aside for now, what else does he say in response to the fanboys/girls’ misgivings?

“Why are fanboys (and girls) so hard to please? Therein lies the mystery. Heck, those rational minds that post in between the rants of the embittered masses are right when they tell us you don't have to buy it. How true that sentiment is with regards to Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman or any of a dozen of the most popular and well known titles on the market. If you don't like the works of Chuck Austen or Chris Claremont you can find solace in the words of Joss Whedon. Just as an example. And alternative surround us to create a marketplace that offers up so much potential that a complaint should never, ever be heard by anyone. Yet they continue.”

And if it’s really that mysterious, as he puts it, well, I may have already answered it above, but let’s see if I can offer another answer here too: because they really like the characters who’re being misused, as I gave examples of above, and can’t stand seeing them being put through the motions as they are. And it’s also appalling and maddening to see them being featured in stories that contradict their values and what they stand for, as was also noted above.

He may be right that we don’t have to buy the books, but then again, that’s the problem: as people who dig these classic characters, we want to be able to buy them, and not have to be kept away. Hence, it’s distressing whenever the companies publishing them will take steps that will drive us away from our beloved comic book characters. But what’s really irritating is how he obscures any of the reasons as to why they would find fault with any of the above titles, which just goes to show how biased he is in the favor of the big two, or any other company whose steps suit his own positions.

And while Mr. Hamby may be right that we don't have to buy the book if we don't like it, as he says, if he himself doesn't like what other people have to say about it, well then in all due fairness, he doesn't have to read what the people on the other end of the spectrum say about it either, does he?

The most hilarious thing is how he mentions Chuck Austen, who’s long been rejected by the audience, in a way that almost makes it sound as if he’s on his side. Which is typical of some of the double-standards he seemed to have from what I can recall, including what did on John Byrne’s own work.

“Alright, this is where the few who actually remember the origins of this site start calling hypocrisy and lighting torches. Yes, in the beginning I called for the heads of Grant Morrison and Bill Jemas. I did this loudly and without any thought to what I was saying. I was simply reacting in the most loud and public manner I could. C'mon though, that was what, four years ago? Isn't it possible I might have learned a thing or two since then? Right, a thing...maybe two. It's with thirty-something eyes I look back on the actions of my twenty-something self and I wonder what I was so pissed off about. Maybe that's where the answer comes back to me.”

Wow! And then, he does something akin to what some journalists do, and that I once saw being done in an issue of the New York Press defending the discriminatory actions of Columbia University in NYC (which I also discussed on my blog earlier), by admitting to having been of the negative camp regarding Morrison and Jemas’ steps with Marvel’s own properties, but without even explaining why. Or, if he does, then he’s making it sound as if he were doing it out of knee-jerk motivations, the exact same position that he himself advocates when defending Marvel or even DC’s steps with their own properties, as he now does, when it came to panning Marvel’s own actions of yore. Gee, and I thought the reason why he did was because he didn’t like what or how the X-Men and other such Marvel books and characters were being portrayed! If the approach was untrue to the idealistics that the characters were created upon in the first place! Please, do tell me something else I don’t know!

“We, as fanboys (and fangirls) are the keepers of the flames lit in 1938 with the first superhero. We are the ones who make the decisions about how the industry goes by allowing our wallets to dictate what we want to stay and to go. After all, was it not the comic fans who closed the party door to the likes of Defiant, Broadway, Chaos! and CrossGen? Were we not the ones who supported Marvel during the rough times by remaining dedicated to them with our money? And isn't that kind of power not capable of going to our heads just a little?”

No kidding. This is the same man who himself once gave a hostile, unfavorable interview to Mark Alessi because he was upset that anyone could have the gall to criticize Marvel for anything, even when it came to business! The same man who only read one book by CrossGen, that being the Negation, as he once admitted, and he’s saying that we closed the door on them? For heaven’s sake, so did he!

“Yesterday there were two events that made me wonder whether or not we were capable, as comic fans, of finding enjoyment like we did when we first discovered this medium. I ran to a neighbor's news site down the street to check out their preview of Avengers #500. With my eyes I devoured each and every image and word turning the page like a mad fiend hungry for more. I was excited about Avengers for the first time since Wanda dropped that cliff on Wonder Man. Finally I came to the end of page twenty-three and was dying to know if others felt that same excitement. Instead I find page upon page of people complaining about Bendis's dialogue or the presence of too many explosions. How can too may explosions be bad in any visual medium? How is that bad? Would we all prefer more talking heads? Really.

Kidding. Naturally.”

About what exactly would you be kidding, Mr. Hamby? Wanda dropping a cliff on Simon Williams? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that the reason why fans were complaining was apparently because a] the dialogue was juvenile, b] the storytelling approach was very slow, something Bendis seems to have made a reputation for, so that story arcs of at least 5 parts can be produced for trade paperbacks, and c] the explosions were, to be quite honest, pointless in their presence and for little more than shock value, which has become a sad staple of comics like these in recent years.

Otherwise, noone was complaining about the explosions. That’s something those of us familiar with adventure comics are used to seeing much of the time in comics. What displeases us though, is if it serves little to no genuine storytelling purpose.

In fact, the way he talks about Wanda, now that I think of it, sounds fairly disrespectful of the character, and so I suppose he’s trying to make it sound – confusingly at that – as if he’s just kidding as a defense for what he says. Well, duh!

“Then, last night, I go to see Spider-Man 2. Yeah, like most of you. And I am sitting there eating this thing up like candy. I'm not seeing any of the problems that I saw with the first movie and I'm just getting swept up in it. I'm riding this wave and I'm thinking, wow, isn't it cool that Spider-Man is on the big screen and alive for more people than he's ever been. My wife, my kids and I loving it for what it is. Then I return home and decide to catch up on what people are saying and it's the same things over and over again. This was wrong. That was wrong. I didn't like this or that. As I read I'm wondering if they might have seen a different version from what I've seen. How could they find so much fault in something that was just meant to be fun.”

As usual, Mr. Hamby over-exaggerates without even providing any genuine facts to back up what’s arguing about, claiming there was negative reaction to the Spider-Man movie in a way that’s much too out of the blue to sound convincing. And most laughable about his argument is that he ridicules anybody who criticized the movie for being fun, when here he himself supports taking that very fun out of the comic books themselves! Guess that means that he really did enjoy Straczynski’s hack work on Gwen Stacy then, eh?

“This is the way it goes. I wonder though, is it the power that makes us, as a group, so damned critical? We did, after all, support this industry through the rough patch known as the 90's. Maybe it was that effort thrust upon us alone to support our hobby that made us become like parents always wanting our child to do better than we expect. Yet, looking at it like that, are we forgetting to take a moment to look at the kind smile that is looking back at us with unwavering devotion and love?

Next: A response to Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators, which I hate! Learn why in 30...”

That last part I’ve already dissected a few months ago, of course. But aside from that, did it ever occur to Mr. Hamby that he’s not making things any better by insulting the fans, making it sound almost as if what they should do is to just give up the hobby of comics reading, and assuming that the audience are all, one and all, addicted to the problem of letting the “collector’s habit” as some call it, get the better of us? Some people in the audience did after all think to stop buying a title because they found it appalling, and didn’t let the collector’s habit become more important than storytelling quality (or even their wallets), and while the problem of thinking that collecting every single issue no matter the quality is still prevalent, there are some readers who’ve thought wisely not to let it get the better of them, and have dropped this or that book due to the quality going down in their viewpoint.

At the end, what he does, to say the least, is to imply that classic old argument, “it’s only entertainment,” something that even Joe Quesada resorted to when he spoke with Michael Medved and Michael Lackner in 2003 about what Marvel was doing with Capt. America and even the Avengers. (And, come to think of it, still is, albeit like DC, they too may be taking a more metaphorical approach.) And again, of course, to obscure many important points.

With that having been dissected, let us now turn to some of the rest of the second column he wrote, on August 10, 2004, to see what more meaningless exercises in futility he wrote, and to learn even more why I won’t miss being at that website anymore:

“Well, it's that time again. Time to pull down the Gut the Machine box and see what tricks lie therein. This is the second of what I'd like to pretend will be a regular column. I say pretend because I am clearly late with this month's contribution and the subject matter, as if four sentences in, is a mystery to me.”

Oh, now isn’t that funny. He resorts yet again to a classic defense of his actions by making it sound as if he admits that he’s lost in space and doesn’t know where to go! Keep suspending your disbelief…

“ROUGH CUTS/OUCH

Last week I lost my virginity to the god of the comic book printing press. My first creative work was published by the great guys over at Viper Comics. As insane as it may sound they came to me, asked me to contribute a short story to Dead@17: Rough Cut, and sit back to enjoy the fame and fortune that would come from the writing. The experience was quite a blast. Josh created a fun universe with Nara, Hazy and all the corpses one could scream at. Being asked to volunteer what little talent I have to add to his universe was a real pleasure and I'd do it again in a second.”

Somehow, it doesn’t strike me as all that surprising or insane, as he so pointlessly puts it. But as for fame and fortune, well, I do hope that he’s familiar with what Andy Warhol said about it: “everybody’s famous for fifteen minutes, and then they’re off the air.”

I’d strongly suggest Mr. Hamby also take note of that.

“I knew I'd have a blast doing this the second they showed me the art of the guy I'd be collaborating with. Martin Abel (you can visit his site at martinabel.com if you're over 18) is my kind of guy. You'll understand the minute you look at his art. He took an idea and made it explode off the page. His art is described as sexy by paperbackreader.com and they're right for saying it. His stuff is sexy. So, if for no other reason get Dead@17: Rough Cut to see sexy images by one of the next hot talents to make this industry tremble with anticipation.”

Yeah, right. That stuff he says is sexy just so happens to include what looks very much like porn and lesbianism together! Need I continue? I’m actually rather glad that the picture he put there next to that paragraph on the page he posted back then isn’t there now.

“I should be a good boy and mention everyone else. Rough Cut is a collaboration of many many people all working very hard to contribute something great to this project. Jason Burns, Egg Embry, Ben Hall, David Hopkins, Scotty Law, and Sean Stephens all contribute something unique to this book and all prove to be formidable talents who will sail the comic industry ocean under tall masts and golden flags. One after the other brings some sort of magic that impressed me to no end upon reading it. It's an honor to be in a book with them all.

Jessie Garza's, Viper's front man, put together a good solid idea with Viper Comics. He's got big plans but a humble idea of how to get things done right rather than rushing too quickly and risking missing the goal. In this market, that's a big deal and has earned him a lot of my respect. Add to that his support of all the people that have come into contact with Viper in any creative endeavor and you've got yourself a very unique leader at the head of a very unique company.

And then there's Josh Howard... who I now owe some small portion of my soul to. He'll go down in history as the guy who discovered me (and here I thought Bill Jemas was going to get that credit). Thanks, Josh!”

Many people though they may be, that does not a good book make. So this aimless column of his comes off as little more than a promotional advertisement, a problem a lot of the columns he publishes now on HR seem to have – because he either hired any of the contributors for that purpose, or saw to it that they’d comply with that position.

“WEAPON X/SAVE AS...

News came down this week that Marvel is canceling Weapon X. This does not a happy man make me.”

After what Tieri did with Iron Man, Wolverine, and a few other titles at Marvel a few years ago, I on the other hand, could honestly not care less. And frankly, I'd rather not bother to save it as anything, not even to hard disk!

“For those living under a rock, Frank Tieri has done a fine, if under appreciated, job with Weapon X. He tells an exciting and complex tale using those forgotten characters from Marvel's past. Characters like Wild Child, Aurora, Sauron, Marrow, and a host of others have appeared in this title and all more interesting than their first outings. In recent times the writer has creatively injected Mr. Sinister into the mix by involving him in the overall history of mutation. The way this was done was pure brilliance in concept and execution.”

And would’ve been much easier to appreciate, I’m sure, if it hadn’t been for the fact that Hero Realm was otherwise one of the very few, if at all, who actually supported Tieri and Weapon X when it was being published. So what else is new?

“I'm one of those people -- prepare to gasp -- who loves Marvel characters and continuity. I believe Tieri does as well. But for those who are intimidated by the concept of continuity and its expansive reach all the way to the back end of time, fear not! Weapon X is as easy to follow as any title out there. The jump on points are frequent and none too confusing. Anyone not convinced need go no further back than War of the Programs, which was a mere four issues back. Fans of Morrison and Claremont can enjoy this run that cleans up any loose threads between their varying ideas. Weapon X and Weapon Plus both have meaning now thanks to Tieri and he does so respecting both writers' efforts.”

Yeah, I’ll bet. And as for Mr. Hamby actually loving Marvel characters and continuity, well then, why didn’t he ever stand up and protest the hack job they did with Capt. America when they published him under Marvel Knights?

“Let me just wrap this all up by saying that this book is worth saving. It's worth saving -- and this is very big in today's market -- because it is worth reading. How many books are capable of being described that way? More than ever before, yes. That's the reason why this one shouldn't be cancelled.”

And some of the other things he said above that I dissected are why even this editorial of his can’t be taken seriously either.

As for the third and last part, that’s been dissected already even earlier, but even so, there is something here that could still be focused on. I’d written a note about on the blog I own a few months ago, but it’s also worthy of note here too: it’s what Mr. Hamby said a few months later, after he’d done the deed: he was talking on this thread here from December about how the site was now hosting paid advertisements, and at the end, guest what he said? Prepare for the shockeroo:

"Lots more coming down the pike. Some big, like I've hinted at before. Some not so big but still just plain fun. All of this attention and I didn't even pick a fight with Gail Simone. Heh!"

Gasp! So in other words, after all that gabbering on about nothing, he admits that he wanted to try and sting at Mrs. Simone deliberately! Some professionalism!

And with that, I’d say he pretty much confirmed even more why I’m glad not to be wasting any of my precious time on his website anymore. If that’s how he’s going to treat people who wanted to be his friends, then I guess he’d best get a new hobby.

As we draw to a close, here’s one last thing I’d like to dissect, that being the “next time” part at the end of the second editorial he wrote:

“THE/END

That's it for this week. Next time I'll bring you recipes for Bendis and Millar French Toast made with Brioche.”

Umm, wasn’t that supposed to have been “this month”? Oh, never mind.

In any case, I’m glad that he didn’t say anything about whatever Bendis and Millar were doing. It’s just not news I’m interested in anymore, and seeing how he wrote these columns, I wouldn’t expect anything he says about them to be any better than what he did last year.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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