ASH: ASH #67 - "Monstrous" (Manifest Destiny Part 3)

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Thu Apr 6 21:23:24 PDT 2006

Sometimes, when I've read a story on RACC, it provokes thought in my
own life.  And the latest issue of Dave Van Domelen's ACADEMY OF
SUPER-HEROES (# 67), did just that.  Upon finishing it, my first
thought was, when are all these giant monsters going to kick the shit
out of each other?  Deep questions like that.

But my second thought centered not on the cataclysmic giant monster
slobberknocker of my wet dreams, but rather on the following:

>      Scott sighed and walked over to sit in the plush chair next to the
> couch.  "I know this is gonna sound stupid and, and like a typical male
> excuse or something.  But lemme get through it.  I read once in a psych text
> that there's two kinds of romantic love.  The first is all hot and heavy and
> desperate, and it's what gets people together in the first place.  The second
> is more mellow, but longer lasting.  It's what makes marriage work.  And when
> people get married during the first type of love, they often get divorced
> when the second type never comes along to replace it.  That's why long
> engagements are a good idea, because you know if there's a long term thing
> going on before you make that committment."

And so, the question that this particular installment of ASH created in
my brain, just as vital and deep as the mystery of when the monster
shit-kicking would commence, is this: what is love?

Now, this might strike some of you as a bit off-topic.  I mean, after
all, comics-related/superhero fiction and romantic relationships tend
to be mutually exclusive.  On the other hand, I'm not just coming up
with this out of the blue; I am responding to an RACC story, and I'm
reasonably confident that my thoughts will be of interest to the
general RACC public.  (Just confident *enough*, anyway, to post them;
not confident enough to do so without including this paragraph about it
being possibly off-topic.)

For a long time, I found myself in agreement with Scott "Scorch"
Handleman: there's sex and then there's lemonade.  Physical attraction
and that mellow, growing-old together, holding hands, watching the
autumn, growing out of friendship and mutual respect kind of love.
There's the roaring bonfire, and then the soft, warm embers burning
slowly, softly, dwindling into the night, into death.  And, since I had
all the social grace and physical appearance of a socially-graceless
and physically-repulsive person, I dismissed the first kind of love as
shallow, dedicating myself to finding someone in which to share the
second kind of love.  Dedicating myself to being as dependable as
possible, to being steady.  The autumn kind of love greatly appealed to
me because of my squareness and milquetoast nature (and, by the way,
actual milk-toast tastes awful).

And so I found my wife, and I married her, and we set about the
business of growing old together.  Of being pleasant and mellow.  We're
mild, temparate people, and it suits us well-- not that we're dead,
either.  There's certainly room for both kinds of love.

But there's something that's been on my mind lately, and Scorch's
little monologue in ASH # 67 kind of crystalised it: I am becoming more
dubious of the notion of love as a state, as a noun if you will, and
more convinced that it is a verb.  If this is the case, there are not
two kinds of romantic love; hell, there isn't even more than one kind
of love, period: all love is God's love, as Pope Nazi has decreed.

Let me explain (the love as verb part, not the Pope Nazi part, it's an
endearment, really, he doesn't mind at all, all his friends call him P.
N. for short).

"The two kinds of love" idea posists a state of being: two people are
IN love.  Love is a noun that can be adjectived with words like
familial, fraternal, aesthetic, self, romantic.  And romantic love can
be described more specifically, it can be Passionate Love or Puppy Love
or Sexual Love or Mellow Love (or, if you will, Love Lite).

Hopefully, one kind of love will evolve into another.  The passionate,
why-bother-wearing-clothing-it'll-all-come-off-anyway kind of love
mysteriously and magically blossoms into grow-old-together love.  A
person cannot choose who they fall in love with; they are either in
love or not in love, like a little binary code deciding 1 or 0, like a
little on-off switch.  And, should they be lucky enough to come
together, hopefully it will become that deeper, softer kind of love.

If it doesn't, it's nobody's fault; it was just not meant to be.  He
just doesn't feel that way about her, and he's sorry.  And who can
blame him?

Taking it further: if, to use a crass popular culture example, Woody
Allen falls out of love with Mia Farrow, it's not his fault; it's
equally not his fault that he falls in love with Soon-Yi Previn.  The
heart wants what the heart wants.  It would be inauethentic of him to
not listen to his heart.  It's not like he did it on purpose; he just
was elevated to a state of being in love.

Love as a thing, love as a noun.

Taking it further still: a husband cheats on his wife and asks
forgiveness.  Not only is he a cheat, but he's abusive, he spends all
their money, gambles it away, he belittles her on a regular basis.  He
has his faults.  He admits them freely.  But: he still loves his wife.
"I still love you!" And so he is forgiven.  He might be a bastard, but
he does love her.

Doesn't he?

Well, no.  He might be in love with her, he might think that he's in
some magical state of being in love, but he doesn't *love* her.  This
is love, then, as a verb.  As something that you do.  Something you
work at.  Let me illustrate the difference:

A man stands perfectly still while arguing with his wife.  This is the
same man we were talking about before, only now he's standing perfectly
still and he says, "I'm still running."  Well, no, he's not running.
He might argue that he's in some magical state of running, some sort of
Speed Force, perhaps, but he's not *running*.  Running is a verb.
Something that you do.

So is love.

Do you remember the last time you fell in love?  Was it some mysterious
process, and suddenly you found yourself in a state of Love?  Or was it
a conscious process, a conscious decision?

I think people *choose* who they fall in love with, just as they
*choose* who they fall out of love with.  I think the single human
being (and some of the non-singles, shame on you!) is always scoping
out the opposite sex (or the non-opposite, whatever floats your boat)
for a perspective mate.  Whether it's because someone is physically
attractive, or intellectually interesting, there's a point where part
of you considers what it would be like to date that person, a part that
conspires, sometimes idly, to orchestrate said date.

Just like someone wanting to get a job doesn't suddenly and
mysteriously find themselves in the job, but consciously applies for
the job, goes to the interview, and thinks about said interview
beforehand.  Human beings are not left to the whims of some mysterious,
incomprehendable forces.  We do have free will and love is part of

The fact is, any two people can have romantic love together-- *if* they
work at it.  If they actually and actively *love* one another, that's
love as a verb, as a thing you do.  The man who cheats and beats and
gambles and belittles does not love his wife.  Cheating is not loving.
Neither is the rest of it.

Loving someone isn't saying that you love them, but being present with
them, sharing time and space and life together.  It's talking to one
another, making love, holding one another, doing your share of the
dishes, cleaning up after the cats.  Some men feel that because they
really do, deep down, love their spouses, that it's okay for them to be
lazy and not do their share of the housework.  But if you're not doing
that work-- any of the work it takes to sustain a relationship-- than
you're not *loving* them.

The opposite of love is not hate but laziness, apathy, stasis: nouns
the lot of them.  Love is kissing, hugging, cooking, cleaning, dancing,
talking, laughing, singing, drinking, eating, -ing, -ing, -ing!: all
verbs, all glorious, all love.

When people fall out of love, it's usually because they've stopped
being tolerant of their spouse's annoying habits (and everyone has
them!).  They've *chosen* to let the annoying things get to them,
they've *chosen* not to talk to their spouse about it, they've *chosen*
not to remember the good things, they've *chosen* to pick at things
that should be left alone.

Here's an example: I'm a Wikipedia nut.  I know it has its drawbacks,
and it's something I address in my short essay "Wikipedia = America",
which will probably not be posted here as it would be even more
off-topic than this is (I will email it by request, however).  My wife,
on the other hand, hates Wikipedia, doubts its credibility as a source
of information, and the very things that make Wikipedia worthwhile and
the Wikipedian ideal worth reaching for, are the very things that
irritates her.  I will never sell her on Wikipedia, and she will never
sell me on, um, Non-Wikipedia (?).  Every time the subject is breached,
we get into an argument.  And so:

I don't talk to my wife about Wikipedia.  I *choose* not to pick at
that scab, not to cause that argument.  And Mary and I are happier, and
our relationship is healthier, for it.  It's something that can be
circumvented.  If something cannot, than we should talk about it,
rather than let it rankle, rather than let it wear down our tolerance
levels.  (Sometimes we do talk about these things; other times, we
don't.  Nobody's perfect, and I'm not by a long-shot.)

Love is a verb, it's something that you choose to do.  I think if
Scorch has chosen to put forth that effort into the relationship, if he
was *loving* her instead of being in love, things might have worked out
for the better.  But he let something bug him:

>    "And you don't have that second kind of love for me?"
>     He shook his head.  "For a while, I thought maybe I did.  Then I found
>out your brother'd been sharing space in my head, and that messed up *all* of
>my feelings for a while, so I hung on and hoped that when the dust settled
>things would be all good.  But they're not.  I like you.  I find you
>attractive.  But I'm not in love with you anymore, and haven't been for a

And let's face it, having your girlfriend's brother inside your brain
would certainly test anyone's tolerance, cause you to doubt your own
feelings.  But I think Scott's approach-- hanging on and hoping things
would be all good-- was the wrong one, and it's one that perfectly
understandable for people at the mercy of Mysterious Love.  Had he took
a more active approach-- had he just *loved* her, maybe things wouldn't
have soured for him.  He let his tolerance of something annoying-- and,
yeah, creepy-- buckle underneath the strain, and he chose to fall out
of love with her, which was admittedly easier.

Love isn't easy, folks. It's hard and it requires work.  It'd be great
if things just worked themselves out, if people just fell in love and
were happier ever after, but that's not the way it works.  It took me a
while to learn this myself.  I had a couple of really bad relationships
before Mary, and if I hadn't started doing the work, if I hadn't
started *loving* her instead of being in a state of love with her, I
probably wouldn't have her today.

And, really, all love is the same: if I had *loved* my father, if I had
done the work to get to know him, and take care of him, if I had taken
the time to talk with him about his life and my own, then maybe he
wouldn't have been such a distant, vague figure in my life when he was
alive.  Maybe he would have mattered to me more.  Just because you're
family doesn't mean that you love each other.  If you parents need
help, than help them.  That's love.  Saying you're sorry isn't.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson, and I hope that Scott
learns it as he presses on in the strange, turbulent world(s) of the
ASH universe.

I'd like to think Dave for writing ASH # 67-- and all the wonderful ASH
stories-- for giving me something to respond to here.  I don't know
what Dave's own thoughts are on love, and I don't presume that they
match Scott's; after all, looking at the poignant moment he gives Julie
at the end of that scene--

>     Without any more words, Scott gathered a few things in his carry-on bag,
>threw on his trenchcoat against the winter rain that was now starting to
>tickticktick on the windows, and left.
>     "What did I do wrong?" Julie asked the silent walls.

-- one could argue that Dvandom is on Julie's side.

She didn't do anything wrong, and that's what makes the moment all the
more touching.  This moment tells us something about Julie, and asks us
to empathize with her, to understand her; just as Scott's rationale for
the break-up helps us to understand where he's coming from.  That's the
mark of a strong writer: to have the reader understand the thinking
behind a character's actions, even if they don't agree with the actions
or the thinking itself.  (It's the kind of thing I was attempting with
GREEN KNIGHT # 7.  I don't expect the reader to agree with what Anders
does, but I did want the reader to understand _why_.  Whether I
succeeded or not is up to the reader.)  I don't think Dave's
necessarily on either side, but rather equally critical (and loving) of
all his characters.

Except maybe the Leviathan.

Gentlemonsters, start your shit-kicking!


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