Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yes, Actually, My Gods DO Wear Spandex

Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes
©2007 by Christopher Knowles
Illustrated by Joseph Michael Linser
Published by Weiser Books (I think it's worth pointing out that Weiser Books is an established New Age/Occult book publisher, not your typical publisher for books about superheroes.)

When I saw this at Half Price Books, I was pretty excited. I was taking the Gender Through Comic Books MOOC and this seemed like just another way of looking at comics. The problem is, this book just doesn't hit the mark.

This is my full Amazon review (2 stars):
I wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it reads like it was excerpted from Wikipedia articles, and I never felt the author had any real expertise or serious knowledge of the subject. The work is superficial at best, and in some cases wrong-headed. (For example, he lists Batman as being a Golem archetype. I have no idea where he's getting that crazed idea, even after reading it. The Thing, the Hulk maybe, but BATMAN?? No.) The brief section on female superheroes focuses a great deal on two things: 1) Marston (who created Wonder Woman) was into bondage and a polygamist, and 2) girls don't really read comics. Even though he quotes from The Great Women Superheroes (Trina Robbins -- a must-read), I'm not sure HE read it with any real comprehension.

The connection to the mystic/religious is spare. He spends so much time discussing Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley (and others) as well as various secret societies like the OTO, but never draws strong relationships from those mystic orders to the majority of the heroes he mentions. Superman is a Messiah figure. Hawkman comes from Egyptian mythology. But these assertions are not explored, examples are not given. I've had more in-depth conversations about these same characters in message boards.

Save your money and strike up a conversation with the folks at your local comic book shop.

It took me months to finish this book; it was just not at all engaging. Seriously, the "Amazons" chapter is a measly ten pages, and two of those are full-page illustrations. He wants to show our gods wearing spandex? He barely touches on Wonder Woman's close ties to the Greek pantheon before going back to bondage references. This paragraph beautifully illustrates why I don't like this book:
Whatever Wonder Woman's feminist virtues, the fact remains that she is a scantily-clad beauty taking part in stories engineered to appeal to bondage fetishists. To read Marston and Peter's Wonder Woman adventures is to confront stories that are absolutely drenched in transgressive sexuality and rendered in a style that betrays a distinctly decadent influence. And Wonder Woman's favorite exclamation is "Suffering Sappho," a reference to the poet laureate* of Lesbos. (p. 163)
He completely ignores so much of her history and creation to focus on Marston's personal life. And if he has so much bias and misinformation in discussing Wonder Woman, where else has Knowles glazed over history with his own beliefs? When I told my husband that he'd labeled Batman a Golem, he told me that he could see where Knowles came to that conclusion but that was really stretching it. Perhaps he's worked in the comics industry for 20 years, but he's no scholar, and his research and analysis are unimpressive.

The only thing I'll give Knowles a pass on is for not mentioning that Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent† was debunked by Carol Tilley at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He gets a break only because Tilley hadn't yet published her paper, "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics" (Information & Culture, Nov/Dec 2012, vol. 47, no. 4).

* Sappho was never a poet laureate of anywhere, as far as I know. Contemporary poets of her time were known to revile her.

Seduction of the Innocent was the book that claimed comics were destroying youths, published in 1954, and was also responsible for the creation of the Comics Code Authority.

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