Monday, June 29, 2009

Arguments that fail to convince me (#1 in a very occasional series)

"The vast majority of scholars believe this, so it must be true."

That might be a good reason to believe something, it may even give me enough reason to seriously consider it and be humble about my own intellect. However, this phrase is often trotted out as though, in and of itself, it should be enough to convince me.

The vast majority of scholars have been wrong before. I'm more interested in WHY the vast majority believes something, rather than the mere fact of their belief (also, when this is used on me, I often find out that the majority isn't so vast after all).

[Note: this post is NOT about global warming. I suppose it might apply, but I'm thinking more about scholars of history, literature, and religion].

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Well, now that I'm officially "Dr. Wolfe" (or Ivan Wolfe, PhD if you prefer)

I might as well resume posting while I look for a job.

So, let's start off with a review!

Was Superman a Spy? by Brian Cronin.

Brian Cronin runs the excellent blog Comics Should be Good! where one of his recurring features is a column called Comic Book Legends Revealed (He does a lot more than that, but that's all we need to know for this review). A (usually) weekly look at the various urban legends that have sprung up around comic books and superheroes, it's an entertaining read, though the online column often requires uber-geek levels of comic knowledge to understand all the references and context. Cronin, however, does a fairly good job at providing enough details and history so that comic neophytes and non-followers can get the basic idea.

The online column has a fairly standard format - a "legend" is presented (say, the idea Herbie replaced the Human Torch in the old Fantastic Four cartoon because censors were afraid kids might set themselves on fire), and then Cronin presents his findings (actually, the cartoon rights to the Human Torch were unavailable and so they had to replace him for legal reasons). It's a good format, and it works well.

The book does not follow that format. Instead, he writes about the tales as though he were writing a history of comic books, with attention to urban legends. This creates, for me at least, something of a disjointed read. The narrative skips back and forth between a history of the comic book company and/or superhero in question (the book is divided into sections based on comic publisher and further subdivided by superhero categories) and a discussion of various legends surrounding the characters. Transitions between sections and ideas are not handled very well, and the entire book has a "back and forth" feeling that resembles a mild, not very frightening roller coaster ride. The subject matter is interesting (if you're interested in that type of thing), but the manner of presentation is disjointed.

However, I shouldn't complain too much. Given that the online column already contains much of the information found in this book, I can see why the author and publishers felt the need to present the information in a new way. A carbon copy of the online column would have been superfluous. Also, Many of the legends in the book have not appeared online, so there is something in this book even for those who do not follow the online column.

So, despite my slight reservation over the overall organization, I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the real truth behind many of the silly, bizarre, and fascinating legends that have crept up around comic books and superheroes.