Monday, July 12, 2004


This is part II of my response to the objections that were raised around the blogosphere to my rant on the first half of Daredevil #56; part I is below, under July 6. This part discusses various objections to specific points of my argument.

Urich's interlocutor

The reason why I had speculated that Urich's interlocutor might be Matt Murdock is that I'd seen DD #59 (though not any of the intervening issues) in which Urich is talking to Matt; also, having it be Matt seemed to be the sort of surprise that someone who would write DD #56 might pull. In fact, I was wrong, but not by much: Robby Karol pointed out that it was Matt's girlfriend Milla. Marc Singer, further down in the thread, gives some reasons why having Urich's interlocutor be Milla is nearly as stupid as having it be Matt.


Karol also defends Urich's infodump as psychologically realistic: "Urich sounds uncomfortable because he is uncomfortable. It might not revealed until the end of the issue, but the subject he is speaking to, Milla, is someone he barely knows. After all, Urich has been pushed out of Matt's life for the last year, as he later remarks. Milla's not an interview subject but a total stranger who contacted him for an unknown reason. This issue is an info-dump, but Urich doing the info-dump to avoid having to deal with this stranger who knows more about Matt(as it turns out) than he has for the last year." I don't buy this explanation, though, as it makes Urich out to be either incredibly socially inept or incredibly boorish: Milla asks to see him, presumably concerning Murdock, and instead of even asking her what she wants, he bores her ear off lecturing her about things she already knows. And while it's understandable that Urich would be uncomfortable around the woman who's displaced him in Matt's life, it's not clear why he would be so upset as to be reduced to a babbling idiot. For that matter, why does Milla, who (as it turns out) needs something important from him, let him drone on and on? Surely she could come up with a tactful way of cutting him off.

Speaking of infodumps, in one comment, Kevin Maroney wrote (taking issue with a line in my original rant): "infodumps are not a hallmark of bad writing. Bad infodumps are a hallmark of bad writing. It is completely possible to write a good infodump; the key is to make the infodump something that reads interestingly in its own right.... The failure of Urich's lecture is not primarily that it is a lecture, but that it is a bad one."

In fact, I now think Maroney is right. What convinced me of this was rereading the chapter "A Rag, a Bone, a Hank of Hair" in Alan Moore's Captain Britain run (which I hope to post on someday, if I ever get around to it). This chapter is, like the first half of DD #56, not just an infodump but an infodump in which one person tells another person at great length something his listener mostly knows already. And yet Moore made a good comic out of it.

Hell's Kitchen

A couple of people thought I was unfair to complain that Bendis's portayal of Hell's Kitchen was unrealistic. Abhay said my complaint was "Dead, dead wrong. Bendis INHERITED the marvel universe Hell's Kitchen which you and this Adam are complaining about. The unrealistic crime Hell's Kitchen is the one in every daredevil comic before Bendis got ahold of it."

I realized that this was probably true, and that's why I didn't complain about Bendis presenting Hell's Kitchen as the epicenter of the present-day New York underworld. I also would have understood it if Hell's Kitchen had been portrayed as somewhat more dangerous than it really is. Still, Bendis could have taken the established Marvel portrait of Hell's Kitchen and given it a more realistic slant, but he didn't. According to Marc Singer (the June 11 comment), in fact, he went in the opposite direction.

Bruce Baugh wrote: "I grew up in southern California, so I'm used to seeing places I know passing themselves off as other places, and conversely seeing my own turf rendered in highly unrealistic ways. And it's all cool - it's about the iconic identification and a suitable backdrop for the action. New York is like that for me, and I suspect for most readers, with Hell's Kitchen being a label, some establishing shots, and a bit of dialogue now and again. It doesn't need to be anything more, and might well not benefit from being anything more."

The trouble is that Hell's Kitchen in DD #56 is something more. It's a neighborhood full of boarded-up businesses, where people gather around fires lit in trash cans; a neighborhood without a library; a neighborhood where people are afraid to walk down the street or look each other in the eye. It's not merely "iconic identification and a suitable backdrop for the action": it's a sociological portrait, albeit a rudimentary one. An unwary reader would have no reason not to believe that this is the real Hell's Kitchen. And when Bendis asserts that Hell's Kitchen can be saved by kicking out the criminals and then spending hundreds of millions of dollars on urban renewal, that too is more than iconic identification.

Realism vs. Magneto

On a related subject, a couple of people complained that, in Jose Mochove's words, "Criticizing the book for its faux realism and then turning around and complaining that the city's destruction at the hands of Magneto isn't mentioned is just dumb." But the only reason I mentioned Magneto was to point out that, as Marc Singer says, "a superhero taking over a neighborhood is not 'as big a story as this city will ever see' in either the real New York (9/11) or the Marvel one (take your pick)." I wasn't arguing that the story's failure to mention Magneto, or the other "cosmic" events which have taken place in the Marvel Universe's New York City, was an intrinsic defect.

Readers' responses

Marc Singer (the June 13th comment) disagreed (though he later took it back) with my assertion that

"'Readers who buy Bendis's 'realism' can believe that they've been tough-mindedly grappling with real-world issues of crime and ethics...'

"I'm not sure this is the case. The most I might venture is that they'd say Bendis has been tough-mindedly grappling with real-world issues of crime and ethics, as a means of exalting the comic ("See, it's about Issues!") but even that may be too much to speculate. Perhaps they just believe Bendis has been writing a good crime drama in the vein of The Sopranos or GoodFellas; I disagree, but that's another isssue. While I might attribute an unsavory political message to the text, extending it imaginatively to the readers is unsupportable."

Well, perhaps I was rhetorically overreaching. In my defense, I didn't mean to imply that all readers responded that way (I did use the word "can"). I meant that Bendis invited his readers to respond that way, and it would be surprising if none of them took him up on his invitation. Perhaps Singer saw it as insulting to Bendis's readers to say that they would think that they'd been "grappling with real-world issues" when they'd merely been reading a comic. I didn't mean it that way: I myself have been guilty at times of congratulating that I've been thinking seriously about something when all I've done is to read something and nod along with it.

(And to be fair to Bendis, while the first half of DD #56 does exaggerate the effectiveness and understate the costs of a tough-on-crime approach, what I remember of the second half of the issue, and even more what I've heard about the rest of the arc, suggests that he didn't set out to propagandize: he intended to present a genuine ethical dilemma. It's too bad that he did such a poor job of presenting both sides, as I argued in my first post.)

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