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Midnight in Moscow: Just What is Chaykin's Problem with Britain?

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  • Midnight in Moscow: Just What is Chaykin's Problem with Britain?

    I ask purely because, having just sat down and read issues 1-3 of this series, the man comes across as continually trying to take cheap shots at my country, even going so far as to repeatedly insult our cuisine. I've been reading this man's work for decades now and had previously considered him a decent enough creator, but I won't be buying the rest of this series or anything else with his name on it from now on.

  • #2
    You'd have to ask him yourself, Tony. I doubt he reads comic related message boards. Chaykin's a New Yorker. And not very diplomatic about anything, really. A lot of people found his comments in interviews regarding his lack of reverence for the classic Shadow pulps pretty alienating. He's obviously not one to spare anyone's feelings, and doesn't strike me as someone who much cares (other than his reputation for professionalism) what people think of him one way or the other. Just my opinion.

    One other thing, you have to be careful about what you read into the dialogue that Chaykin puts into his characters' mouths. It may or may not reflect what Chaykin himself actually feels or thinks about things. I mention this only because it occurs to me that I can think of specific instances where Chaykin portrays characters as racist, misogynist, etc. (and this is something that frequently rings true of certain types of people in past time periods), but I think it would be a mistake to assume that Chaykin is saying this is a right-thinking viewpoint, and one that he himself shares. Chaykin frequently portrays characters having an inner ugliness.
    Last edited by pulphero; 09-02-2014, 03:05 PM.

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    • #3
      The comments that pissed me off weren't coming from characters. They were in caption boxes. The author's thoughts, effectively. Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that I now have very little time for the author.

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      • #4
        Having now re-read these issues, I can see where he takes a couple of shots at English cuisine (at first I thought he was merely commenting that it wasn't good compared to before the war, but on consideration, how would he know that?), so I'll give you that. On the other hand, when Cranston makes negative comments about the cuisine, it is admitted that he is (in this persona) an elitist snob. Similar comments are made by the Dixie Teagarden character, but again, she's shown to be crass, uncouth, and the very picture of the Ugly American (in behavior if not appearance). Even granted that Chaykin believes English food to be awful, I see no big deal. It's pretty common to dislike food from other countries than your own, and I certainly wouldn't take offense if someone from England made the same sort of comments about American food, even though I'd obviously disagree. It is, after all, quite literally a matter of taste.

        He also makes an unsubstantiated claim that many Western secrets were leaked through MI6, and I have no idea where that came from (he doesn't bother explaining), but he is using that as the basis for his plot, that an atomic bomb is stolen from England by Benedict Stark (aka The Prince of Evil) and/or his confederates. I now suspect that he's going to show that the Saint John character working for MI6 (together with his American accomplice, Dixie Teagarden) is a traitor; they are also blackmailing a British physicist who seems to be a kind of precursor to Henry Pym. Having this as part of the plot, I guess I'd have to agree that Chaykin seems to believe this, although the way he flatly states it in captions, as if this were something that were commonly acknowledged, is pretty unconvincing. No idea where's he gotten that from. America certainly had its share of military secrets stolen.

        The rest of the stuff seems like a more-or-less accurate accounting of differences in how the war affected England vs. the United States. In summary: before WWII, Britain was the preeminent political and military power in the Western Hemisphere; after the war, that was no longer the case, and the United States usurped that position. There's some additional stuff about how the war served to stimulate the US postwar boom economy, vs. England taking an economic hit that it wasn't quick to recover from. All of that seems basically accurate to me, including the bleakness of Liverpool (no idea what it's like today). There are, of course, plenty of places in America that could fit that description (currently, it seems to be Detroit). It's just Liverpool's hard luck that it had to draw the world's attention to itself by producing the Beatles. In fact, at one point the captions point out how badly Hitler's plan to break the will of the English people, by bombing civilian targets in the Blitz, was miscalculated -- it backfired by making the average English citizen even more determined to win the war.

        You know what I found most offensive here? In a meeting where the Shadow has dinner with unnamed stand-ins for Doc Savage and Nero Wolfe, the character who's supposed to be Lord Greystroke/John Clayton ends a sentence with "Wot?". Chaykin has obviously never read an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel in his life. Somehow I remain entirely unconvinced that any English person ever used the expression, "Wot?", (apart from Captain Sensible).
        Last edited by pulphero; 09-03-2014, 10:03 AM.

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        • #5
          I've certainly never heard anyone here use that expression, and I've lived in England all my life.

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          • #6
            I will say that I've always found that whenever Chaykin inserts his political views into a story (which is frequently, particular when the story is set in some period in the past), it's to be taken with a large grain of salt. He's certainly written a number of them in which US politics and values (past or present) are criticized. This is coming from a Jewish male born in New Jersey in 1950, and raised in Staten Island, Flatbush and Brooklyn, outlying regions of New York City. Although he's lived in California the last couple of decades, he betrays a smugness and self-satisfaction with the rightness of his opinions and POV that I find endemic to native New Yorkers of a certain generation and social strata, and one that certainly isn't representative of Americans on average, at least in my experience. I generally tend to write off these opinions that I disagree with and just try to enjoy the story for what it is. I tend to think I wouldn't particularly get along with the artist as a person. That's just the way I deal with it, but of course you have every right to simply avoid it altogether.

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            • #7
              Um...it's a COMIC BOOK.

              A work of FICTION.

              (And, having been to England a few times, I can assure you the food ranges from "yummy" to "just fine" to "pretty awful" just like anywhere else in the world.)

              You're reading FAR too much into it.

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              • #8
                And one other thing:

                Conversations like this are one of the reasons why Chaykin is one of the best comic writers in the history of the medium. He gets people TALKING. Dialogs begin. Discourse. It gets us to think and do research into histories, etc. That's the byproduct of a great writer.

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                • #9
                  (He's also an extremely personable and intelligent yet easy-going guy in person who has a love of the comics medium (albeit an opinionated one) that is passionate and addicting. The man can also talk about early Jazz/Big Band music for hours and hours on end.)

                  He's a bit like Harlan Ellison. Sure, Harlan can be abrasive and brash and sharply opinionated and downright curmudgeonly, by his love of comics is astronomical.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by LetsRollKato View Post
                    He's a bit like Harlan Ellison. Sure, Harlan can be abrasive and brash and sharply opinionated and downright curmudgeonly, by his love of comics is astronomical.
                    I always thought so. Maybe a little more politically-oriented than Harlan. I totally get that love of comics. I also sort of get a feeling of maybe not so patient or tolerant with different opinions, not related to comics, basing this just on interviews I've read.

                    Gee, now that you mention it, it does make me wonder what it would be like if they got together to collaborate on something.
                    Last edited by pulphero; 09-07-2014, 07:13 AM.

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                    • #11
                      I'm not sure they'd get on very well.

                      http://comicscommentary.blogspot.com...-chaykins.html

                      Anyhow, issue #108 of The Comics Journal includes a report of a radio interview with Frank Miller that Harlan Ellison conducted on March 14, 1986. The interview is mostly about Miller's Dark Knight, which Ellison praises and holds up as an example of updating an old character "in more adult terms". Ellison contrasts Miller's work with what he describes as the:

                      "loathsome Shadow revival that is being done by Howard Chaykin, which in my view is an absolute obscenity".


                      Adding later that Chaykin's series was:

                      "a really offensive, ugly, mean-spirited, violently pornographic piece of work".


                      Ellison also criticized what he described as "the starfucker syndrome", in which:

                      "the comics companies are giving total auteur freedom to certain people to create projects like the Dark Knight project, and yet some of them are turning out very, very sour. Some of them are going very, very wrong."

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                      • #12
                        And more:
                        Ellison referred to the Shadow as "beloved to people of my generation," but found Howard Chaykin's interpretation "vile and detestable." According to Ellison, Chaykin's Shadow is a "sexist pig who uses people, sacrifices people, hasn't one grain of decency in him. He's a psychopathic killer."

                        [...]

                        Ellison said he objected to Chaykin's killing off original Shadow characters and sidekicks. "At what point do we say, 'You're mucking with our myths'?" he asked.
                        10char10char

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                        • #13
                          Ellison referred to the Shadow as "beloved to people of my generation," but found Howard Chaykin's interpretation "vile and detestable." According to Ellison, Chaykin's Shadow is a "sexist pig who uses people, sacrifices people, hasn't one grain of decency in him. He's a psychopathic killer."

                          [...]

                          Ellison said he objected to Chaykin's killing off original Shadow characters and sidekicks. "At what point do we say, 'You're mucking with our myths'?" he asked.
                          And here you could easily replace "The Shadow" with "Nick Fury", and "Howard Chaykin" with "Jason Aaron". Ellison has a point about the "auteurs" in comics.
                          Chaykin admitted to no love of The Shadow, it was just a job assignment for DC, in which he delivered what as he saw as commercially acceptable to the marketplace. I'd have just as soon treated it as an "Elseworlds" interpretation and moved on...
                          Last edited by pulphero; 09-08-2014, 02:20 AM.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by pulphero View Post
                            Chaykin admitted to no love of The Shadow
                            And yet here he is, writing him again. And exactly the same way.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by tony ingram View Post
                              And yet here he is, writing him again. And exactly the same way.
                              And probably for the same reasons. Although from what I understand, Nick B. loved Chaykin's DC miniseries (Blood & Judgment), so that would be another reason. As far as I can tell, there seem to be no connecting plot elements between Midnight in Moscow and Blood and Judgment. Since Chaykin had done the original Blood and Judgment miniseries as a standalone story (and the fact that it didn't take place within the regular milieu of The Shadow's 1930s/1940s career), it was easier for me to just assign it to another "Elseworlds" continuity as its own thing (who knew at the time that it would be followed up by the Andy Helfer-written series set in the same continuity?).

                              Then again, both Garth Ennis' and Victor Gishler's Shadow don't seem like the real Shadow to me, either. Chris Roberson's version seems to adhere much closer to what I expect in terms of characterization (while still incorporating a little of what preceded him in the ongoing series run), while both Michael Uslan's and Matt Wagner's versions seem pretty close to dead-on. You can tell that Uslan, Wagner, and Roberson are knowledgeable and respectful of the pulp characterization created by Walter Gibson, just as you can tell that the other writers mentioned are not. They may all be professionals, but some are doing it as much for love as for money, while the others are doing it only for the money. Fair enough to say that the number of comic readers who have read the Shadow pulps isn't so great that it's an insurmountable hurdle, but it is what it is.

                              That said, even Walter Gibson is to be faulted when it comes to the comic book Shadow. The version he wrote for Street & Smith's Shadow Comics follows not his own pulp version of The Shadow, but the version popularized by the radio series current at the time. The later 1970s DC Comics version of the Shadow written by Denny O'Neil, which re-established the Shadow as a comic book character, hewed much more closely to the pulps, with only the famous opening and closing narration from the radio series given lip service as evocative, and the incorporation of Margo as a main character, as the later 1940s Shadow novels did.
                              Last edited by pulphero; 09-08-2014, 07:33 AM.

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