From the cover of Wimmen's Comix #4 (1974; art by Shelby Sampson)
By 1970, the underground comix field had come into its own as a creators' alternative to Comics Code restrictions on language, art and subject matter. This freer, "anything goes" environment was a positive development for comic books overall (otherwise I wouldn't be making all these posts about it). But it also had a darker side: an increased emphasis on content that was brutally degrading to women, and the exclusion of women creators from the most popular comix titles.
( Feminist cartoonists to the rescue! (Trigger warning for sexism/misogyny) )
Case in point: Detective Comics #638, written by one of Batman's most under-appreciated scribes: Peter Milligan. Now, Milligan is typically far more famous in Marvel/Vertigo circles, but pound for pound, the handful of Batman stories he did are almost all treasures. Even "Dark Knight, Dark City", decried by many as being a needless grimdarking of the Riddler, has its charms as an old-school horror story, and the Riddler's atypically violent behavior is not only explained, but pretty explicitly temporary.
But we're not here to talk about that today. No, we're here to talk about a far more obscure story known simply as... "The Bomb".
( A tale of destruction, doubt, and double-crosses behind the cut! )
Roger Ebert’s movie glossary defines an Idiot Plot as “Any plot containing problems that would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.” Hemant Mehta eyes the trailer for Christian-brand comedy The Virgins and doubts that an Idiot Plot can be redeemed simply by attributing the characters’ idiocy to religious devotion.
“I grow restless,” Ebert said, when the misunderstandings driving a plot “could be ended by words that the screenplay refuses to allow [the characters] to utter.”
This was less of a pitfall in Shakespeare’s day, and even up through Victorian times, when convoluted and capricious mores and manners were understood to prevent those characters from uttering those words. The characters in Pride and Prejudice were constrained by social norms that no longer hold sway. So for that same plot to work in Bridget Jones’ Diary, the characters have to be constrained by something else — some limitations within themselves. Thus Elizabeth Bennett comes across as a smart, capable person who is prevented from being fully honest — to others or to herself — by the stifling rules, roles and expectations of class, gender and manners that shaped her life and her time. Bridget Jones, facing fewer such external rules, just comes across as neurotic and indecisive.
The essence of a romantic comedy is pretty simple: Introduce two characters who belong together, then contrive to keep them apart for about 90 minutes. Again, this is trickier now than it was in Austen’s or Shakespeare’s time. A lot of contemporary romantic comedies are annoying because the only obstacle they can imagine to keep their heroes apart is a kind of mutual immaturity. That serves the need of the plot, but it makes the couple less likable, which means we don’t care as much when they finally get together in the end.
One solution is to find a contemporary setting that still involves something like the kind of stifling social constraints in a Jane Austen novel. That’s what Ang Lee did with The Wedding Banquet, which, like The Virgins, is more of a farce than a romantic comedy. The complications and misunderstandings that drive the plot in Lee’s story could all be cleared up with just a few honest words from the protagonists. But they can’t say those words — not because an arbitrary “Idiot Plot” screenplay prevents them, but because the story involves a closeted gay man in New York and a visit from his ultra-traditional Taiwanese parents.
Matthew Wilson may be trying something similar with The Virgins. Wilson is a white evangelical, a graduate of Biola University, so he’s intimately familiar with the mores, rules and expectations that govern white evangelical purity culture. That purity culture provides more than enough constraints and complications to construct a satisfying romantic comedy or romantic farce. The rules and expectations of purity culture are exactly the sort of thing that can prevent characters from uttering the words that would otherwise clear up all the misunderstandings driving the plot, thus ending the movie in the first act.
But that only works when — as in Austen — the characters are also critical of those cultural rules and expectations. If they’re not critical of them, but just blindly accept them, then, well, they look like idiots and we’re back to an Idiot Plot. This is where Much Ado About Nothing goes wrong. The Claudio/Hero subplot is driven by something very similar to white evangelical purity culture. Claudio accepts that purity culture uncritically, which makes him seem as villainous as Don John and makes it difficult for the audience to be happy for him in the end (or to be happy for Hero, who surely deserved better than that judgmental idiot Claudio).
I haven’t seen The Virgins, so I don’t know if it falls into that same trap — utilizing the constraints of purity culture to drive the plot without ever critiquing that culture, and thereby falling back into Idiot Plot territory. But the trailer leads me to suspect that is the case. (As Hemant wrote, “Maybe they should stop trying to make everything perfect and just jump each other on the porch of that locked house.”)
There’s another aspect of white evangelical culture that makes it hostile territory for this kind of farce. “Maybe we’re not supposed to stay here tonight,” the virgin wife says at one point in the trailer for The Virgins. She’s referring to divine intent — to an abiding assumption of God’s micromanagerial providence. This is related to the way evangelicals pray for a good parking space, or sometimes interpret the consequences of our own actions as divine will. That religious outlook doesn’t seem compatible with the kind of farce involving “wild adventures” on “one crazy night.”
“Why are you doing this?” the virgin groom says later in the trailer for, directing that question upwards, to God. I was reminded of a similar cry to the heavens, from Griffin Dunne in Martin Scorsese’s wild-night farce After Hours.
That works in After Hours because Dunne’s prayer isn’t directed toward the providential God of white evangelicalism. It is directed, instead, toward New York City itself. New York is the kind of cruel, capricious and unresponsive god you need if you’re writing a farce. The benevolent, attentive God of white evangelical piety shouldn’t be allowing such a farce to play out. Trying to write a farce with that kind of God in it is like trying to write a thriller in which everyone has cellphones with reliable connections and the police are always responsive, cooperative and competent.
The trailer for The Virgins makes it clear that Matthew Wilson has a good eye for capturing the nuances of white evangelical culture. Whether or not he’s also able to critique the assumptions of that culture will mean the difference between this being a workable story or an Idiot Plot.
BATMAN #600, the final part of "Bruce Wayne: Murderer" had Batman say "There is no Bruce Wayne," get into a fistfight with Nightwing, and then run away to one of the mini-caves around Gotham. Also, Jason's memorial case got smashed because that's what happens when there is a fight in the Batcave. And then "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive" starts This is to provide context.
( Batman visits the East End )
Off By Two (8832 words) by astolat
Fandom: Captain America (Movies)
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Steve Rogers/Sam Wilson
Characters: Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson (Marvel), James “Bucky” Barnes
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, Camping, Huddling For Warmth, Bears, Wilderness
“Who sent you?” Steve said.
“Colonel Rhodes tapped me, specifically,” Wilson said. “But pretty much all your friends were behind the idea.”
“All my friends are dead,” Steve said.
Amy @ Watch Keep highlights a rare story of a local church responding appropriately to finding an abuser on its payroll.
John Sluder was an associate pastor at Believers Church in Auburn, Alabama:
His arrest in May got him kicked out of the church where he had been for 30 years. Lee County Sheriff’s detectives say the two adult victims came forward in April to report they were abused in the early 1990′s.
… [Attorney Ben] Hand represents Believers Church where his father is the pastor. Hand says the church was stunned, then angry, when Sluder was arrested by Lee County, after two adult victims revealed Sluder had molested them on several occasions in the early 1990′s when they were 8 and 9 years old.
“Every child, including my own daughter that has had contact with him has been questioned to make sure there are no other potential victims out there,” said Hand.
… ”He was told if he came on church property, he would be arrested from trespassing and was forbidden from every returning to Believers Church. His bond was lowered from $100,000 to $25,000 and that is a nominal bond, and we have recommended that nobody make that bond. He needs to be there,” said Hand.
… ”The full extent of the law needs to be handed down. And we have to do everything we can to protect these kids ant they need to know they are safe and that society will come to their defense,” said Hand.
Amy contrasts this response by Believers Church with the image-control, stonewalling and circling of the wagons she more often encounters in her work with SNAP (the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests):
Tears for the victims. Anger at the perpetrator. This is a refreshing response from a church who gets it. It’s not about them. It’s about the kids harmed by one of their own. But they don’t protect their own image and shun and silence these kids, now adults, who though it took a long time, bravely came forward to report the harm done to them. Kids will be safer now, and other possible victims of Sluder will know they are not alone and perhaps have the courage to come forward as well, begin to heal and protect others.
Those first two sentences cut to the heart of the matter: “Tears for the victims. Anger at the perpetrator.” That provides the basis for a very simple test for whether we’re opposing evil or abetting it. Who are we angry at? Who are we crying for?
That, I think, captures what’s so horrifyingly upside-down about the story Madeleine Baran documents in her four-part investigative report for Minnesota Public Radio, “Betrayed by Silence: How three archbishops hid the truth.”
This a remarkable example of the craft of journalism — Baran and her team did their homework, and she writes beautifully even when the subject matter is deeply disturbing. It’s a long read, and it’s depressing, enraging and unsettling, but you should read it all anyway.
The two-sentence summary of all that Baran documents is simply the opposite of what Amy wrote at Watch Keep: Tears for the perpetrators. Anger at the victims.
Time after time, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis failed that test, abetting evil instead of opposing it, directing their tears, and their anger, at the wrong people.
I first posted this here three years ago but with I figured with Batman's anniversary it's worth another look. On a related note, Comixology is having a huge Batman sale right now (750 issues for 99 cents a piece) and this story is one of them.
( Scans under the cut... )
The late, disabled playwright John Belluso had a theory about why actors who play disabled characters often win Oscars: It is reassuring for the audience to see an actor like Daniel Day Lewis, after so convincingly portraying disability in My Left Foot, get up from his seat in the auditorium and walk to the stage to accept his award. There is a collective "Phew" as people see it was all an illusion. Society’s fear and loathing around disability, it seems, can be magically transcended.