Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Max Allan Collins Seduction of the Innocent review

I wrote a review of Max Allan Collins's new novel, Seduction of the Innocence, which can be read over at Unleash the Fanboy. Here's a sample:

As the superheroes that commanded so much of the market during the late 1930s- late 40s lost their appeal to readers, comic book publishers shifted their focus toward other genres. Romance, westerns, science fiction, crime and horror all rose up to supplant the superheroes as sales leaders.

The comics, which had seen record sales, especially during World War II, became an easy target for crusaders of the political right and left, and those same readers who enjoyed consuming stories of Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel suddenly came to realize that they'd narrowly avoided being nefariously influenced to commit the extreme acts of violence and sodomy portrayed within their pages. They also realized that their own children might not be so lucky.

At the forefront of the crusade against the comics' despicable influence was a venal glory hound called Frederic Wertham. In 1953, Wertham published a hilariously ill-written, alarmist, and dishonest book called Seduction of the Innocent, in which he claimed the juvenile delinquents with whom he supposedly worked, and with whom he'd supposedly spoken, were avid comics readers, inspired to commit criminal acts by the lurid images and stories they read in comics.


Sneaky Frederic Wertham, looking for naughty pictures.

Wertham's book has long been considered a failure as scholarship. But as it turns out, new evidence has just emerged that shows that Wertham wasn't just a sloppy researcher who mangled the interpretation of his work to prove his own hypothesis: He was a fundamentally dishonest charlatan who lied about his research:
Wertham’s personal archives, however, show that the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general “played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics,” according to an article by Carol Tilley, published in a recent issue of Information and Culture: A Journal of History. “Lots of people have suspected for years that Wertham fudged his so-called clinical evidence in arguing against comics, but there’s been no proof,” Tilley said. “My research is the first definitive indication that he misrepresented and altered children’s own words about comics.”
In the interest of equal time, here's Michael Chabon, author of the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, on Wertham:
"No one who does even the most rudimentary research into Wertham's career and accomplishments can fail to admire him for his compassion, his intelligence, his desire to help children, and his fairly snappy prose style.... [but] It was Wertham's boneheaded inferences about the direct causal connection between...comics and 'deviance' in children, [and] the hysteria his inferences helped to foster (along with a counter-hysteria among comics fans) that have tarnished his admirable legacy."
(That quote was taken from this website, which is where I got the hilarious photo of Wertham "reading" a comic book.) The problem with Wertham is that, as we now know, it wasn't just that he made "boneheaded inferences." It's that he flat-out lied about his work. His entire character-- his so-called "compassion" and "intelligence" and "desire to help children"-- are called into question.

For the rest, go here.