BOOK REVIEWS/REPLIES (2015): Keatinge, Campbell, Hamilton, Bergin III, Gieni, Solis, & Sherwood’s (2014) Glory (the Complete Saga)

3 March 2015

Summary (TLDR Version)

Does this answer the quest for a “female hero”; I don’t know. As a redemption narrative, it falls flat.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve already read this section this year, you can skip it; if you’ve read the previous years, I’ve updated it. Either way, it describes the aim of these book replies.

Three years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day and then write a book reply (not a review) for each one I finished (or gave up on).[1] These replies don’t amount to Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, &c., unless that struck me as somehow necessary. Rather, a book reply—as distinct from a reaction (review) or a response—focuses on what in these pieces I could not have said (or would not have known to say) except that the encounter of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I must at times necessarily say poorly informed stuff, &c. And while some people in the world may expect public speakers to possess omniscience so that they won’t bother to engage in a dialogue to uncover how to make the world a better place, then to the extent that each reply I offer provides an I found this helpful in this book, it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or figure out what else we might do as part of that attempt to make our world better for us and everyone.

And someone won’t bother to take up their end of that bargain, that points blatantly to a central part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: Keatinge, Campbell, Hamilton, Bergin III, Gieni, Solis, & Sherwood’s (2014)[2] Glory (the Complete Saga)

If I wanted to get really deep into this, I might try to decipher why some reviewers rave about this book. Amongst the people giving it low marks, this includes both males and females—only two seemingly female reviewers gave it four stars on a five star scale; the rest were between one to three. But not that many males gave it a four anyway.

The major complaint involves shifts of art style (Glory gets bigger and smaller) and perhaps also just sheer incoherence of story. One certainly gets some juicy splatterfest, but indeed, the storytelling has some really glaring lapses. This often comes about with unconvincing jokes, usually from the “mere mortal” in the story, who seems like she should have died about a billion times over before ever getting past page fifty.

However, I want to chew on only two issues.

From my reading, it seems that Glory obtains permission to visit the land of the dead—to see the people her actions have killed but also to reunite, if briefly, with her lover—but only on the condition that when she actually dies she will not go to the world of the dead herself. Of course, like a stoic hero, she never divulge this fact to those she visits, even when they tell her that the world of the dead rocks and they all look forward to her arrival once she actually dies. The narrative plays this element so close to its chest, I actually cannot tell if I read it correctly. I mean, perhaps Gloriana will go to the land of the dead once she dies, contrary to the earlier prophecy. It seems that we should have some moment when glory completely breaks down, because she knows all of this talk about “we can’t wait to see you; it will be so great!” will never happen. The reader needs some signal of this, not only to confirm it as the case, but also to drive up the pathos of the encounter. In other words, the authors should do some of the work to actually write the dramatic irony, and not leave it entirely up to the reader. Especially since delicacy or subtlety hardly marks this narrative otherwise.

More generally, vast portions of the narrative remain unmotivated. The text makes a great fuss about Glory’s parents having had another child, and that sister and Glory apparently have to try to kill each other every time they meet. Except, rather than being some sort of titanic “let’s finally settle this” confrontation, it turns out as something that just happens, and the text even makes jokes about “we don’t even have to do this, I guess.” A lot of the bloodbaths have a similar gratuitous quality. Having recently read Grant Morrison’s omnibus Animal Man, he supplies a much smarter example of how to handle the comic book “we need a fight sequence here; things are getting dull” issue—from which obviously the movie of the Hobbit learned nothing as well.

Beyond this, the author(s) commit the grotesque gaffe of deflating all sense of the epic. This shows up in stupid insertions of jokes. One cannot just throw in the sort of wise-cracking asides of a sidekick. You can see it handled with some deftness sometimes by Tarantino; you can see it very deftly deployed in Cabin in the Woods (and sometimes by Whedon generally, when the narrative has not already become utterly exhausted with itself). But not here. Gods fixing waffles devolves to stupid kitsch and simply makes the epic depictions later seem dumber, rather than more epic, by comparison. Mere banality of family sits poorly; at least the Sandman and his sister never seem like suburban boobs, &c.

So this cheese-corn makes the whole redemption arc of Glory cheaper. The redemption of a divine force and the redemption of a mere mortal don’t equate. And this then brings up whether or not this redemption narrative changes with the redeemed figure as female.

I tend to dislike redemption narratives. Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant gives you an idea of one I find brilliant; Moorcock’s Warhound and the World’s Pain seems adequate as well.

The most recurrent problem involves proportion; 95% of the narrative consists of the jackass behaving badly, with 5% devoted to the redemption itself, usually in very maudlin terms, i.e., out of love for some otherwise narratively meaningless love interest, sometimes a person’s offspring. In a world where men can get away with murder, 95% of raping, pillaging, and plundering, marked by a sudden change of heart—again, on grossly sentimental grounds already extremely familiar to patriarchal culture—reads to me more as an apologetics for the shitty behaviour. Remender, Moore, Opeña, & Hawthorne’s (2014)[3] Fear Agent (Volume 2) supplies a really gross case of this.

The problem turns not simply on the arrogant practice of male license by the character, which comes off as sanctioned by the author—that’s the most important part—but that the redemption merely turns on the flipside of that arrogance: being touched by a female self-sacrifice, or by some “touching” sentiment of fatherhood suddenly. Underneath it all, it seems—boys will be boys—the jackass simply embodies a hurt little boy (never a hurt little girl; this matters) inside. And on those grounds, the author expects us to forgive him. We understand his awful behaviour as simply a yearning for love.

Moore spares us such stupidity in the Comedian, for instance.

Given how integral gender remains for such redemption narratives, it seems tweaked in a context with a female hero. Irrationally in the first place, Gloriana’s parents create her not only to provide a pretext for peace between their two warring factions, they also train her so that she will enforce that peace through unstoppable violence. In other words, her parents create a super-weapon, but whatever sense this makes, the authors can’t stop re-creating more children (i.e., two more sisters). We have a theme of a failure of parenting, when Glory wilfully runs off to hang out on earth just because, but it begs the question of what her narrative redeems her from.

In general, the problem that Glory poses turns on her demonic nature, not her divine nature. She gets into a bloated fit of rage, and then destroys everything, eventually even one of her friends deliberately. So, if males need redemption from hurt little boy feelings, which we at least theoretically may understand or sympathise with, what Glory requires redemption from involves demonic irrationality. She needs redeeming from her “nature” which certainly makes for a problematic assertion. Not all men will come to the point of requiring redemption, so long as they don’t become assholes; for female characters, they would all require redemption. In fact, all of civilization must rise up—the mother and father alike eventually coming to realise they need to work together to undo what they have made.

But let me stop. The narrative nowhere has sufficient coherence to bear close analysis. And even if Glory starts as female, like the Valkyries upon which she seems more based than anything Greek, she ultimately starts to seem like a male figure with a female skin on top. Specifically, at the height of her rage, she kills Riley—or Riley sacrifices herself, in one of those typical “eye-opening” gestures that redemption narratives love so much. It always involves that moment when you “go too far”—just as we have to hear about those haunting moments for heartless soldiers who suddenly can’t forgive themselves for deliberately killing a child.

Whatever tortured lie you tell yourself to justify your shittiness, that doesn’t make it any less obviously shitty to everyone else. Thus, the soldier who can’t forgive himself for killing the child still believes he did nothing wrong in killing women and men. I don’t count that as redemption. So also Glory: if she ultimately feels she went too far in killing her friends, she shows no compunction whatsoever for everything else she has destroyed. Once again, that doesn’t constitute a redemption.

In our culture, that shows up in discourse form as: one should never rape a child, but to rape a woman, well: shit sometimes happens.

Ultimately, the reviewers (male and female alike) of this book correctly point to the disjointed, incoherent sloppiness of the narrative. If we get spared many of the usual grotesque blandishments of masculine excess in the narrative, because Glory likely won’t run around raping people, for instance, this does not ultimately detach the narrative, in this case, from the unconvincing tropes that ground redemption narratives.

A friend of mine notes our culture’s desire for comeuppance. This presupposes, of course, some range of activity warranting that punishment, but when we have an anti-hero who seems too safely tucked between some quotation marks, so that by “anti-hero” we really understand (wink-wink) someone we should more admire than not admire, then we see an article of bad faith around the notion of comeuppance. In other words, Glory acts badly, and has to come to a more or less bad end—for the sake of comeuppance—but the authors don’t really believe she constitutes the “problem” that the narrative calls her. Or tries to.

This always comes across more clearly in sloppy redemption narratives with males. A print run will come to an end, so you kill the guy off supposedly to atone for his many sins. To really sell that, the redemption would have to come at the beginning, because the effect of redemption should show in the future consequences of it. When the State executes a serial killer, nothing of the future of that “justice” comes into the picture; the whole cases consists of nothing more than a litany of horrors by the “hero” (hero in the eyes of the psychopath, centre of the story or protagonist from the public point of view), so that somehow the throwing of the switch, the comeuppance, should settle the whole matter. If he goes out with a sardonic smirk at his executioners, that differs little than if he breaks down at the end, begs forgiveness and apologises—except that the latter confirms the whole of the patriarchal structure that he himself so (perversely) embodied in his life and crimes.

Endnotes

[1] I planned also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests. I haven’t followed through on this yet.

[2] J. Keatinge, J., Campbell, R., Hamilton, S., Bergin III, J., Gieni, O., Solis, C., & Sherwood’s, D.E.(2014)[2] Glory (the Complete Saga). Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 1–352.

[3] Remender, R, Moore, T, Opeña, J, Hawthorne, M (2014). Fear agent, vol. 2. Milwaukee, OR: Dark Horse, pp. 1–520.

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