Friday, November 20, 2009

Zook: Baby Talk or Pidgin English?



I've been a bad host again, and not posted for a couple of days. I'm backdating this to Friday, as it's been sitting in my "to do" box for a month. Out of fifteen votes over the month of October, 6 respondents (40%) believed Zook's dialogue indicated he spoke in "Baby Talk." To further elaborate, "with his underdeveloped toddler body, modest powers and unkempt hair, Zook was clearly meant to be yet another 'kid sidekick.'" That's how most comic book historians I've encountered have taken Zook, by the way.

On the other hand, struck by further reading, I'm not entirely sure Zook wasn't intended as a replacement for the subservient foreigners that were common to super-heroes until the 1960s. That would indicate Zook spoke "Pidgin English: The off-color, sub-human "otherdimensional pet" was the squat "helper" of our hero, another in the long line of disposable racist stereotypes in comics." 9 voters (60%) suspected such, myself included. The only men who knew for sure are long dead, and perhaps it's best that we never know. However, writer Jack Miller was a socially progressive sort, as I understand it, so I'd prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt.

14 comments:

Tom said...

The baby talk was supposed to be cute, like his appearance. Kid sidekick.

LissBirds said...

I'm undecided, though I think I chose babytalk in the poll. There's just something about Zook that vaguely reminds me of The Spirit's stereotyped cabbie from the 40's. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. And if you said Miller was the progressive sort, maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Unless it's Certa's doing.

Frank Lee Delano said...

Ebony White is someone I had in mind, but that isn't entirely a bad thing. Take the stuff you like from a problematic area, and repurpose it in a new context.

LissBirds said...

Right..I was going to say that some people saw Eisner using an African-American character as a good thing. And stereotypes were a different animal 50 or so years ago, ethnicity was viewed very differently than it is today. Fred Astaire danced in blackface in the 30's as a tribute to his friend Bill Robinson (Bo Jangles.) But looking at that film now, I kind of wince inside, and it just seems very, very wrong because of all the negative connotations attached to blackface, even though it wasn't meant to be demeaning. So, who knows, the stereotyped Eboy White look might have subconsciously influenced Certa but he probably didn't mean to invoke an ethnic stereotype. I'll be positive and go with the latter.

And I have to say, the Martian Manhunter stories of the 50's really aren't that bad (in my view) when it comes to racial and gender stereotypes. I'm rather pleasantly surprised. (I'm almost done with Showcase 1.) I mean, Diane just jumped into a speeding car to save an old woman, jumped off a bridge to save people in a canoe, went into a burning building to save a girl, etc. While during the same time, Alanna was waiting around for Adam Strange to save her every month. Even the story where J'onn is sent to the "jungle" (Africa) wasn't too bad, and the tribesmen weren't stereotyped or demeaned. I've been very happy with J'onn's 50's appearances so far.

And I must say, Zook *is* cute. Especially the antennae. So I'll go with cute. I think my bias against him comes from my own opinion that I like J'onn better when he's around humans, not aliens.

Sorry to go on forever...I should really get around to putting up my own blog one of these days....

Frank Lee Delano said...

I don't mind long comments, so long as they're thoughtful.

You shouldn't be disappointed with the '60s stories political correctness, either. Well, maybe the bimbos hanging off Marco Xavier, but otherwise. It is a shame though that even when the stories go international, it's still just white guys with accents.

I adore Zook, and in the context of the inane Diabolu stories, he works perfectly. Attempts to shoehorn him into the VULTURE period were ill considered, as he's best left to a more innocent time. Part of my love for Professor Hugo is that he was always a vicious little bastard, so he would translate well to the present. So of course, they mess up Zook twice over in recent years, and ignore him in Johnny DC books where he belongs, plus they revisit the Human Flame. ARGH!

What would your comic blog be about, Liss?

mathematicscore said...

While I almost always like sidekicks, the whole concept bothers me to some extent. I feel they often get short shrift just because they aren't the main character. They don't need as much screen time, but they should at least be a real character, and not a cariacature.

LissBirds said...

it's still just white guys with accents.

For some reason, that made me think of that "25 Things You'll Never See on Star Trek" list, where one of the entries is something like, "Kirk and Spock figure out that a new alien race is just a well-known one wearing a silly hat." It's silly, but looking at the original Star Trek's aliens kind of sheds light on how America viewed aliens and "foreigners" in the 60's and I'm noticing that Silver Age comics are pretty similar.

Well, mc, sidekicks support and "show off" the hero's strengths, so they automatically get shorted. The only thing that bugs me are child sidekicks. I really don't get Robin. I like "buddies" much more than sidekicks since they truly are equals, though I can't think of any examples. Hal and Barry and Blue and Gold are all that come to mind.

Frank, I'm not sure what my yet-to-be-created comics blog would be about. Probably some philosophical analysis combined with examining comics from a story-telling point of view. Plus some silliness. I really do enjoy being silly. I wouldn't focus on any character in particular since I'm interested in so many nor would I delve too deeply into continuity, etc. as I'm nowhere near an expert in that realm.

Frank Lee Delano said...

m.c., that's the Robin curse, and one reason why Dick Grayson is hated in some circles where Tim Drake often gets a pass. Until Marv Wolfman turned him into Cyclops for the New Teen Titans, I hated solo Robin stories, because they seemed designed to always show what a useless jerk he was. Dick worked fine as a devil-may-care eight year old in the '40s, but by the '60s he was a joke. To this day, with all the effort that's gone into the Nightwing persona, Dickl still carries that negative stigma. Meanwhile, Tim Drake was introduced as a self-sufficient, Wolfman Robin from the get-go, and he's given more respect than the original because of it. Robin III was designed to be a solo character partnered with Batman, as opposed to a kid sidekick.

What ticks me off is when a sidekick grows into their own identity, only to get thrown under the bus to service their adult partner. Arsenal was a favorite of mine for a while. Red Arrow is not.

As for Zook, he lacked the intellect to go solo, but in many ways his powers were greater and more effective than the Silver Age Manhunter's.

Liss, your blog idea sounds like a winner-- kind of a deeper Pretty Fizzy Paradise, which I enjoy.

Tom said...

Liss, I also look forward to reading your blog.

LissBirds said...

I never could stand Nightwing for whatever reason. In the (Not-Martian) Manhunter backup to Streets of Gotham he's referred to as a male Paris Hilton.

I just took a look at Pretty Fizzy Paradise, Frank. It's quite charming and very....pink. :) I'll let you guys know if/when I get a blog started. I think I might devote a good chunk of it to vindicating the Silver Age, especially since I'm enjoying Silver Age Martian Manhunter stories so much...I'd like to look at them from a serious angle rather than the usual taking panels out of context and poking fun. (Though I might not be able to resist the latter...I just had to send a picture of The Human Squirrel to my non-comics-reading best friend.)

Frank Lee Delano said...

I'm fond of Nightwing, but he's rarely handled well (ahem.)

Pretty Fizzy Paradise can be very fizzy and pink, but when she starts deeply analyzing abused characters like Guy Gardner or Cyclops, she's quite enlightening. The Absorbascon was also really good about shifting from goofing to literate analysis, and the net mourns its hiatus. I look forward to your own take.

LissBirds said...

I know, I miss the Absorbascon. I just got to the issue of Martian Manhunter with the giant mechanical bear in it and I couldn't help but think about Scipio's post about crooks in "Apex" bringing crime to a level of "avant garde performance art."

Frank Lee Delano said...

I wish I could do that, but I take too much about the comics at face value. For comparison's sake, my excessively detailed “The Last Days of J’onn J’onzz”. Le sigh.

Still, it was Middletown, dang it!

LissBirds said...

I tend to take everything literally. I got into a discussion with a student about what a Robert Frost poem really meant (apparently "miles to go before I sleep" is a metaphor for death...who knew. I just thought the guy was tired.)

LOL... I remember your arguing for Middletown as opposed to Apex. Honestly, I think it should really be Hollywood. There's movie sets galore in Middletown, someone's always promoting a movie with a crazy publicity stunt, there's beaches and mountains and weird art museums on every block. Sounds like Tinseltown to me!