Ice Storms: On the Readings of the Fantastic Four

ourchair

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Once again, one of my cheapo attempts at injecting links to high brow discussions of comic books!

Marc Singer, who writes a blog on (among other things) comics called I Am NOT The Beastmaster, has an excellent essay on the many ways one can read The Fantastic Four.
It's a pretty well synthesized piece, first addressing the recent surge of novels about comics by writers like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem and then going straight to Rick Moody's Ice Storm which even the most illiterate will recognize as the title of a movie by Ang Lee that featured multiple references to the Fantastic Four.

For the most part, Singer criticizes the simplistic and heavy handed manner in which Ang Lee chose to metaphorically represent the comics and its universe and uses that to give an even handed look at how Ang Lee uses metaphor in Hulk.

Here's a choice excerpt:

But Ang Lee and James Shamus made some poor and unnecessary changes to Moody's novel, replacing a work of acerbic social observations with a few pseudo-profundities. [...] Regrettably, that includes the Fantastic Four material. Lee and Shamus go straight towards the big, easy cliché, the same one that, incidentally, dominates all the other comic-book novels except “The Ice Storm” - the Comic Characters as Metaphor. The movie has Tobey Maguire mouthing lines like "That was the meaning of the Fantastic Four, that a family is like your own personal antimatter..."

[...] These lines are so frustrating because they neatly undo what Moody does so well. Lee and Shamus take the comics out of their own terms and shape them into nothing more than metaphors – and rather forced ones at that. I still get that Maguire's character likes the FF an awful lot, but I no longer see why because I no longer see them as Paul Hood would have seen them, as I would have seen the Teen Titans or the X-Men a few years later. Instead the comics are didactic little parables, all too easily transferable to the world of the Hood family, and utterly charmless.


Here's the link to the whole piece: http://notthebeastmaster.typepad.com/weblog/2004/03/the_ice_storm_a.htm
 

Ice

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And I thought this thread was gonna involve me. :lol:
Kidding.




Anyways, reading that little excerpt there, I feel like punching the guy in the face. I don't why, but I just get a bad vibe, and feel like puncing him in the face.
 

ourchair

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icemastertron said:
And I thought this thread was gonna involve me. :lol:
Kidding.

Anyways, reading that little excerpt there, I feel like punching the guy in the face. I don't why, but I just get a bad vibe, and feel like puncing him in the face.
Well, okay, you're entitled to dislike academic hufflepuffery. But "punch him in the face"? Oy, aren't we a stick in the mud.
 

Guijllons

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Though I've not read the books, seen the movies mentioned, whatever. I do totally agree with the sentiment, so often are intelligent concepts reduced to metaphor and 'pseudo-profundity' for the sake of a soundbite or snippet. Such allegory is tiresome when so many people can and are able to latch onto new concepts rather than being re-assured of ideas they are already aware of. This 'nannying' of the audience simply serves to add credence to the misbelief that comic books are kids stuff. One can almost say, that it's a attempt to empower comic book readers "the easy way". Give them a line that they can use, to impress their friends. The amount of time I had heard someone state that we are merely shadows without understanding plato's cave is well beyond what it should ideally be.
I'd love to comment on the original opinions before they got distorted, but, i've not read them, so i cannot. But the ease to which people will accept metaphor in place of actual conceptualisation and development of ideology is surely little more than the "repeat and learn" cancer in teh education system. Not that I want to discuss that right now, but merely to illustrate that this thinking is not linked in essence to the world of comics or media in general.
 

ourchair

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Guijllons said:
One can almost say, that it's a attempt to empower comic book readers "the easy way".
I like the way you phrased that. It makes sense as well, that comic book readers would look for a soundbite that isn't necessarily an "injustice" to whatever comic it is referring to, but rather, one that is short and sweet enough for it to be easily read.

It reminds me of how people like to use the word "deconstruction" as a one-size-fits-all term to describe the works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, while simultaneously avoiding the details of how they subvert comic book traditions.

Guijllons said:
I'd love to comment on the original opinions before they got distorted, but, i've not read them, so i cannot. But the ease to which people will accept metaphor in place of actual conceptualisation and development of ideology is surely little more than the "repeat and learn" cancer in teh education system.
To be honest, when I read this paragraph a few months ago, I hadn't read neither Rick Moody's novel nor Ang Lee's film. But I think it strikes at the heart of how comics are "read" in armchair cultural studies as well as my own contentions with Ang Lee as a filmmaker, which is that he likes looking for "higher themes" like repression or denial but chooses the middle brow path of refusing to seek a deeper interpretation of it.

The Fantastic Four like any comic book or any piece of pop culture can stand for a metaphor, but when people like Lee choose to see the entirtety of the comic itself and its continuity as BEING the metaphor it becomes problematic. The Fantastic Four isn't just A metaphor, it's a series of metaphors AND symbols and the relationships in between.
 

compound

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ourchair said:
The Fantastic Four like any comic book or any piece of pop culture can stand for a metaphor, but when people like Lee choose to see the entirtety of the comic itself and its continuity as BEING the metaphor it becomes problematic. The Fantastic Four isn't just A metaphor, it's a series of metaphors AND symbols and the relationships in between.

Trouble is, the feature-length movie, as a medium, just can't possibly hope to convey the complexity of the metaphors contained within the FF comic, in the same way that a book, or a TV series, or even another self-relexive comic would be able to do.

So instead, Lee just goes with the most simplistic, obvious metaphors: FF-as-family, Negative-Zone-as-70s-suburban-ennui, and whatnot.

Granted, the limits of the medium certainly don't justify the lazy symbolisms he resorts to. But would it have been an injustice to Moody's original text, if Lee (and the screenwirters) had opted to ignore Paul's FF fascination altogether? Or even replaced it with another (similarly timely) pop cultural obsession that allows for less-simplistic metaphors?
 

ourchair

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compound said:
Granted, the limits of the medium certainly don't justify the lazy symbolisms he resorts to. But would it have been an injustice to Moody's original text, if Lee (and the screenwirters) had opted to ignore Paul's FF fascination altogether? Or even replaced it with another (similarly timely) pop cultural obsession that allows for less-simplistic metaphors?
Well to be fair, I think it was still possible to explore FF within the limited film time without lazy symbolism, so long as they were willing to go the distance to explain the context. Tobey Maguire's character simply goes for the reductionist root simply because it doesn't necessitate explaining nuts and bolts of detailed continuity.

But to me, the Fantastic Four's relationships and continuity are so much less convoluted than say, those of the X-Men or the Avengers that it shouldn't have been a problem. Perhaps Lee was more fixated on the bleak forays into sexual experimentation, and as such, saw the FF as nothing more than a framework, on completely utilitarian terms.
 

compound

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Here's something to consider -- if The Ice Storm had been adapted to an HBO-style minis-series, rather than a film, would it have takens as many dramatic short-cuts? Or would the more 'decompressed' story-telling format have allowed a more detailed explanation of Paul Hood's fascination with the comic?
 

compound

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Obviously, the porn addled ourchair, and his hilarious sidekick/alter ego compound do DIB.
Just to clarify, ourchair is the Jessica to my Nikki.

Are you racist?
http://www.alllooksame.com

Having said that...

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