Saturday, December 15, 2007

Puzzling Evidence

One of my favorite all-time comic book characters is yet another alienated outsider- Swamp Thing. DC doesn't seem to know what to do with the character anymore. What's worse, they still haven't gotten around to reprinting the amazing issues written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar and drawn by Phil Hester. These are all fan-favorite creators- I would think at least a Showcase of those stories would be a gimme. There are plenty of great Swampy trades out there including the Wein/Wrighton, Alan Moore and Rick Veitch material, but there is a lot more that is rotting in the vaults besides the Morrison and Millar material. I'd like to see a Showcase of the Marty Pasko Saga of the Swamp Thing issues, comics that I think are underappreciated.

It's a shame that the past few attempts at reviving the character not only failed but seem to have soured people on the character himself. It's one of the things that frustrates me about DC-they have 70 years worth of great material gathering dust, but can't wait to reprint deathless classics like The Haunted Tank or Elongated Man. I really don't get it. Nor do I get why DC can make such great cartoons but can't seem to get their act together when it comes to films. Hollywood is desperate for concepts yet most of DC's enormous catalog of intellectual property- which, technically, is the reason the company even exists- is languishing.

TimeWarner itself puzzles me. For all I know, Philip Pullman's books may be wonderful reading, but to spend 200 million dollars adapting the work of a man who is an extremely miltant atheist and then put the film out during the religious holiday season in the most religious country in the western world seems, well, I don't know what the hell it seems. Ill-advised, certainly. Contrary to popular stereotypes, most Evangelical Christians go to the movies as much as anyone else. And if you're going to expect Christian parents to spend 70 or 80 dollars taking all the kids to a movie that is a thinly-veiled attack on their belief system, wouldn't you at least make sure the movie was good?

Golden Compass has a dismal rating of 43% at Rotten Tomatoes, not exactly a hotbed of Fundamentalist enthusiasm. I'm not big into fantasy and my kids have expressed no interest in it, but I must say Pullman's attitude colors me against the film. Surely, there are other ways to protest the myriad excesses of organized religion than becoming a dogmatic scold yourself. Pullman's rhetoric, like that of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, may embolden some atheists but more often than not it gives Evangelicals an excuse to portray themselves as poor, downtrodden martyrs. It may be good for business in the book trade, but it's box office poison. My question is will whoever signed off on a $200 million budget for this project still have a job come springtime?


  1. It's all a matter of taste of course. I've read "His Dark Materials" more then once, and they are deep and engrossing works, very rich and beautifully drawn. They don't read as diatribes against religion at all. In fact they're highly spiritual. There is a difference between atheism and strict materialism.

    I highly recommend the books for fans of works of great imagination. If we must draw lines between ourselves and works by artists whose philosophies we don't share, well it'd be hard to view a Picasso or listen to Wagner. Or read a Steve Ditko comic book.

    The disturbing aspect of some of the negative reactions by various church representatives to the film lied in their concern that watching the films would make children want to read the books, and reading the books might make the children self-thinkers. As the overarching message of the trilogy is the wonder and beauty of creation in all its forms, then it seems this is the condemnation of literature because it was written by an author who proclaims his atheism. Thin line there to scarier restrictions. I just can't understand their attitude. Certainly Faith is more powerful, unless these religious bodies are doubting their own ability to instill faith in their teachings.

    I'm not surprised it wasn't a box-office smash and I don't expect sequels. It's more Time Bandits then Harry Potter and by no means a popcorn film. But I can't think of the last time I saw such intellectual High Romance on the screen.

    Rent the DVD when it comes out and view it separate from your kids first. It's worth the consideration of your faculties, which I greatly admire.

  2. Excellent reply, Adam. I am sure the books are better than the film, and I'm not so sure Pullman is really such an "atheist." You're right, artists- especially really good artists- tend to get carried away with ideology.

    And my problem with Pullman isn't his philosophy, it's the way he chooses to express it in interviews. Dawkinsian rhetoric doesn't change anyone's mind, it simply radicalizes people's pre-existing beliefs. There is a way out of this pre-fabricated dichotomy between religious and secular thought. The first step is not to succumb to the expected positions on the issue.

    Thanks again, CK