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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

OBJECTS GIVEN LUSTER PT. 2

In OBJECTS GIVEN LUSTER from December 2014, I toyed with the conceit that all of my persona-types could be applied to non-sentient focal presences, addressing a science-fiction tale published by DC Comics story in 1959:

[The story's] focus is the spectacle of an entire world resounding with titanic "tick-tock" sounds, by which planetary doom is averted. This trope loosely aligns the "Tick-Tock World" with the agon of the heroic figure, though I would hesitate to classify this particular focal presence as a "hero."

I'm glad that I added the word "loosely," for the more thought I gave to the matter, the more I came to the conclusion that it was impossible, even in fiction, for a non-sentient presence to be either a hero or a villain. One of my earliest comments on the subject of the persona-types was to the effect that the types I call "heroes" and "villains" were, in Milton's words, "sufficient to stand"-- or to fall, if they so choose. In contrast, the other two types, "monsters" and "demiheroes" are governed by what I've called "existential will," in that they cannot transcend their existence. Further, my association of the "Tick-Tock World's" protective function failed to take into account that the world does not choose to do anything, protective or otherwise; the fact that its physical nature staves off "planetary doom" is merely part of the planet's exotic nature. Therefore, it is as much of a "demihero" as "the Destroyed Earth," the other passive environment discussed in the 2014 essay; the former planet is simply one that manages, even passively, to erect a defense that the other world cannot, much as I've frequently shown sentient demiheroes like Jonathan Harker managing to defend themselves against monsters like Dracula.


And what of the other persona, the monster? Well, I briefly touched on Rene Clair's silent film THE CRAZY RAY for purpose of contrast, saying that, unlike the Destroyed Earth, the focal presence of the Crazy Ray really was the source of "chaos on a global scale," and that in itself would argue a similitude with the persona of the monster. This also applies to other non-sentient phenomena that get out of control, whether they are objects created by man (the mystic statue of the Chimera, seen in this TOMB OF DRACULA story) or have come into being through geologic processes, like the natural wind-tunnel from the serial PERILS OF NYOKA, discussed here. If they possess what I've termed "negative persistence" in excess of their potential for "positive persistence," then they are concepts analogous to monsters; if the converse, they are concepts analogous to demiheroes. Further, most of the "worlds gone wrong" that inhabit science fiction are analogous to monsters, in part because they breed monsters. The Morlocks of Wells' TIME MACHINE and the Mutates born in the film WORLD WITHOUT END-- both discussed here-- would qualify for this persona, as would the Cursed Earth with which Judge Dredd contends in this myth-comics story.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: THE MAGICIAN'S WIFE (1986)



"Nothing ever happens without Dolores."-- offhand dialogue from minor character.

Since the name Dolores means "sorrows" or "sadness," writer Jerome Charyn may have meant to convey that sadness was an inevitable aspect of the human condition or some such. It's a reasonable assumption, but I have to admit that one can't make that good a case for such a theme in the American author's collaboration with French artist Francois Boucq. THE MAGICIAN'S WIFE won the Fauve d'Or prize at Angouleme in 1986, and the stand-alone album, after being out of print for many years, has recently resurfaced from Dover Publications, though I'm reviewing here the 1987 edition published by Catalan.

Though Boucq's highly detailed art is beyond reproach, Charyn's script is never as clever as he seems to think it is. I've not read any of Charyn's fiction, but in his introduction to the Catalan edition, the author makes clear that he idolizes the French approach to "bandes desinees." This may be a reason why, although WIFE does qualify as a genuine mythcomic, the writer shows, like many French comics-practitioners, a cavalier attitude toward the little details that add to a strong symbolic discourse.



Still, WIFE shows an admirable psychological structure. Within the first few pages of the album, the reader is introduced to a group of characters living in a house in 1956 Saratoga. Rita, a girl of perhaps ten, is being raised by her mother, a widow following the death of her husband in Korea. The unnamed mother works as a maid in the house of a reasonably well-to-do family. However, all the reader knows about the lady of the house is that she gardens all the time, while the lady's husband never seems to come down off the roof he's repairing. The couple's one child, an adult named Edmund, plans to become a professional magician, and the action remains at the house only long enough to establish the relationship between the chimerical Edmund, little Rita, and Rita's mother.

Modern politically correct readers would no doubt be disturbed by Edmund's teasing of Rita, claiming that he plans to marry her someday. It's obvious, though, that Edmund is not a follower of Humbert Humbert, for he never makes any inappropriate approaches to Rita when she's a child. Rita doesn't fully trust Edmund or his predictions of their future relationship, but she's even less than pleased when she happens to spy on Edmund making love to Rita's mother.


Edmund gets his way: not only does he become a successful magician, he talks Rita's mother into coming along, whereupon both mother and daughter become part of the act. In contrast to real stage magic, Edmund does seem to possess some sort of supernatural pipeline, but only when working with Rita, who becomes the star of his show. Predictably, as Rita comes into the bloom of adolescence, her mother's looks wither and eventually Edmund wants to send the older woman away. Rita alternates between being captivated by Edmund's charms and remaining loyal to her mother, but as Edmund predicted in her childhood, the sense of erotic interest wins to some extent. However, not long after Edmund marries Rita, Rita's mother passes away. Rita, racked by guilt, flees Edmund and his magic act, taking a job as a waitress in a New York coffeehouse.


Nevertheless, Rita is unable to forget her "demon lover," and begins imagining him in place of other men she encounters. Complicating things further is that during one of the magical performances, Edmund apparently unleashed a "werewolf spirit" in Rita-- and now, far from his control, mysterious bloody murders begin transpiring in New York. Though there is a relatively mundane solution to the murder-mystery- a solution provided by a French detective who seems to know more than he should about Rita's history with Edmund-- Rita finally decides that she has to find out what's happened to her husband. Oddly, amid all the suggestions of violence and perversity, the two are reunited in a relatively upbeat conclusion, though nevertheless I tend to view MAGICIAN'S WIFE as belonging to the Fryean mythos of the irony.



The fact that the name "Dolores" is sprinkled throughout the story indicates that Charyn wanted it to signify something, though it may have been no more than a private in-joke. It's first used as the name of a Saratoga jockey's horse, but it seems to have some special meaning to Little Rita. Charyn also attributes the name to an unseen maid who finds the body of Rita's deceased mother, and to a strange sorceress who holds Edmund in thrall. Still, this motif is undeveloped, as is Charyn and Boucq's view of magic. Since they remain non-committal on the subject of whether Edmund and Rita's magic is real or illusion, WIFE doesn't sustain any metaphysical myths. However, the psychological relationship between Rita and Edmund does achieve a mythic status, and so MAGICIAN'S WIFE succeeds in that department.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

BEAT COMMENT #33 1/3

Responding to THIS item:


If, as the essay says, it's true that Marvel's Valkyrie and Grandmaster characters are even temporarily popular, it has nothing to do with how good they are, as characters. I for one think they're godawful. I like how the script skirts the fact that Imitation Valkyrie has evidently been capturing people to die in Grandmaster's games for some good little time, But hey, she can't be implicated in slavery and murder, because she represents GIRL POWER!

No, they're popular because Marvel knows how to sell even a crappy script with loads and loads of humor. People remember enjoying the laughs in RAGNAROK and so everything is ennobled thereby. This is the mainstreaming advantage of the MCU that the DCEU didn't quite get, Joss Whedon's belated employment notwithstanding.

Frankly, I think Geoff Johns is probably part of that problem, but that's me.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "SHE TRIED HER OWN ON" (DOMINA NO DO PART 35, 2008?)

Though I've devoted a number of mythcomics to the topic of sexuality, none of the comics I've addressed deal with the act of sex itself, but with sexuality as it occurs within culture, usually in such genres as adventure and romantic drama. Sex itself-- which I talk about under the blog-label "sex" rather than 'sexuality"-- is, within the literary continuum, primarily a cosmological phenomenon, in that it deals with bodily functions. Sex can also have, in literary works, psychological, sociological and metaphysical connotations, but most of these are manifested within the corpus of "sexuality."

What people commonly call pornography is literature that focuses primarily upon some aspect of the sex act. The acts depicted may be "hardcore" or "softcore." In my estimation the more specific the work is about the specificity of the sex act, the less it is about the symbolic discourse surrounding the plot and characters involved. However, I have found at least one exception, thanks to a writeup on TV Tropes.



So far as I can tell, DOMINA NO DO is an original manga work, written by one "Zappa Go" and illustrated by Sankichi Meguro. It's a comedy-romance in the "hentai" style. Most of the material in its 41 chapters is softcore, along the line of LOVE HINA, but there are a few scenes are close to hardcore, though in Japan there are still various restrictions on what is shown. Part 35 displays these restrictions, for even though it's a comic take on the differences between male and female sex organs, a lot of the imagery is adumbrated through devices such as dream-imagery.

Some quick backstory: average high-school youth Takeshi is abducted and taken to a private estate owned by an insanely rich family, the Dominas. He learns that the oldest daughter, Hikari, is a previous acquaintance, with whom he enjoyed a brief friendship back in grade school. However, teenaged Hikari has recently been encouraged by her parents-- a practicing sadist/masochist couple-- to make a marriage of convenience. Desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, Hikari convinces her parents that she still holds a deep romantic longing for her childhood friend. Since her parents are both rich and insane, they more or less buy Takeshi from his worthless middle-class parents-- who almost completely disappear from the narrative-- and make him their permanent "guest' in their capacious mansion.

Most of the stories in DOMINA are, despite their hentai aspects, pretty typical comedy-romance. Obviously, once Hikari is forced to remain in close propinquity to Takeshi, she begins to relate to him as a human being more than as a possession. And in Chapter 35, this is exploited for comic effect with regard to one of Freud's favorite tropes: what he termed "penis envy."



Because the Dominas are super-rich, they have access to all sorts of mystical resources. Hikari, despite having seen Takeshi's penis and having deemed it less than impressive, has dreams in which an incredibly well-hung Takeshi advances on her. She wakes up before anything happens in her dream, and she theorizes that it's because in a previous adventure she seemed to witness Takeshi making love to another girl. Adding to her distress is the fact that she sees Takeshi socializing with Hikari's twin sister Kageri, which threatens her potential relationship with the young man. 



Hikari's youngest sister Akari and one of the estate's many maids observe Hikari sulking around, and for some reason decide she needs a lesson in male sexuality. Then, when that doesn't seem to soothe Hikari's adolescent sensibility, her grandmother decides to let her walk a mile with male equipment. Not only does this mean that she has to adjust to new bathroom habits, she even gets to find out what it feels like for a male to get busted in the balls. Since she did that very thing to Takeshi in the previous adventure, this causes her to experience a degree of guilt, and for the first time, she tenders an apology to Takeshi, who can barely understand the change in Hikari's attitude. The grandmother then takes off the spell, and everything goes back to normal-- except that Hikari has one more comic dream. I won't describe the dream, which almost seems like a direct refutation of Freud.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

NOBODY EXPECTED THE SEXUAL INQUISITION

I just posted this short diatribe on CBR Community:

What a tool John Oliver is:
“Because it is reflective of who you [Dustin Hoffman) were, if it happened, and you’ve given no evidence to show that it didn’t happen, then there was a period in time, for a while, when you were creepier around women. So it feels like a cop-out to say, well, this isn’t me. Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
I like how the media whores are focusing on a single clip from the panel that makes it sound like Oliver won the argument, when in fact, Hoffman made a very cogent defense of his position; that he was willing to apologize for possible offense but that he didn't appreciate being judged simply because somewhat made an allegation. It's pretty obvious that there was no "evidence" that Hoffman could have given that would have pleased this rabid witch-hunter.
I'm so glad I never thought he was funny in his Daily Show appearances.

As yet I haven't seen a complete transcript of the remarks Hoffman and Oliver made to each other at a function given by the Tribeca Film Institute, but here's one of the partial breakdowns. Youtube has a few films of the event, but either they're incomplete or the sound gets bad at some point.

I haven't had the occasion to rail against the abuses of ultraliberals on the subject of sexuality since July's HOW TO HANDLE A TOXIC MALE. Thus I've had no occasion to address what's now being called the Weinstein Effect, which came about following the investigation into Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual abuses in October 2017.

While the investigation of Weinstein has been so well documented that it's clearly justified, one can't say the same of most of the "Me Too" brigade. Another of Oliver's idiocies is his claim that Hoffman's accuser "has no reason to lie." This shows an absurd ignorance of the way human beings operate in the real world. The ultraliberal narrative would have people believe that every single person-- whether male or female, hetero or homo-- is crying "Me Too" because they couldn't speak at the time due to fear of recriminations. Oliver apparently cannot even countenance the idea that people might lie, or at least exaggerate, in order to feel validated. Just as soldiers have lied about their martial exploits in order to be seen as heroes, Franken's accusers have by this time been exposed to dozens upon dozens of celebrations of the "courage" of the women who came forward, no matter how belatedly. I don't doubt that Al Franken may indeed have smooched or groped a woman without her consent at least once in his life. But is that really "sexual abuse," and does it justify the senator's resignation-- which, it has been alleged, may transpire soon?

Leeann Tweeden, the radio host who made the first allegation against Franken, got an apology-- though not a confession-- from Franken in response. Her response was to read it on an episode of THE VIEW on November 17, and thus she joined the ranks of women who had suffered in silence, but who would now display their immense courage by giving testimony against powerful men who could no longer hurt them. In the course of the interview she claimed that she was not calling for Franken's resignation. She claimed that what she was attacking was not comparable in any way to lesser sexual approaches, claiming, "I don't want men to be afraid to talk to women at a bar."  Another VIEW lady chimed in by saying something about how men had to learn how to seduce a woman, and though Tweeden isn't responsible for that remark, I think she and the women of THE VIEW are on the same page in having unrealistic expectations about men.

Make no mistake: actual rape is a crime. But the things Tweeden described Franken doing, while also illegal, were not in the realm of forced sexual assault. Based on Tweeden's descriptions, they amoun to little more than attempts by a male to get a female in the mood. They are, to be sure, supremely stupid ways for men to romance women, and they almost always fail, since women don't as a rule "get in the mood" in this fashion. I'm not defending these lame attempts at seduction, but they simply should not be considered to be as invasive as rape. They are crimes at the time they occur, but are they crimes over a decade later?

Clearly the moral logic of a "statute of limitations" does not affect the court of public opinion, and now a senator, one who seems to have promoted good works in his governmental career, must be judged guilty over acts he MAY have committed years ago.

And that's how the Sexual Inquisition works.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "WORLD WAR III" (JLA #36-41, 1999-2000)

Last week I devoted a mythcomics essay to a THOR arc in order to purge the bad memory of THOR: RAGNAROK. In contrast, the JUSTICE LEAGUE film, released the week after the THOR flick, provided a much stronger translation of a comic-book concept, in this case of DC's most venerable team-feature. So this week's essay is more in the nature of celebration than of catharsis.



The JUSTICE LEAGUE comics title of the 1960s has never received a lot of respect even among Silver Age comics-fandom, and one reason may be that the early comic, for several years written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, is perceived as being too "old school." Most team-features in both the Golden and the Silver Ages followed what I'll call a "plot-based model," in which "character moments" are kept to a minimum, as the author concentrates on the events of the plot, usually showing how the members of the team work to overcome some common enemy. The plot-model seems like an easy row to hoe, as indicated by countless spoofs of the model, but DC Comics pursued it almost exclusively, even when Marvel Comics in the 1960s advanced a "character-based model" that over time become the dominant paradigm.

Both models have their weaknesses. The character-model lends itself to bathetic soap-opera, which in modern comics has further degenerated into allegedly arty bathos. The plot-model often depended not on symbolically rigorous concepts but on weak contrivances. This vacuity dominates most of the Silver Age team-books-- BLACKHAWK, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, SEA DEVILS, and RIP HUNTER TIME MASTER  Fox's JUSTICE LEAGUE was one of the plot-modeled team-features of the Silver Age to overcome the model's limitations, for Fox was largely responsible for making the League's adventures all about the heroes' experience of "the sense of wonder." Only a few of the Fox-Sekowsky adventures are symbolically dense enough to qualify as mythcomics, as I've shown with "Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers" and "The Justice League's Impossible Adventure." But aside from a few clunking null-myths, such as "The Plague That Struck the Justice League," most of the Fox oeuvre offers at least strongly conceived "near myths." In fact, the current JUSTICE LEAGUE movie approaches its team-building story in much the same way that Fox launched the original series.

Prior to Grant Morrison's run on the JUSTICE LEAGUE title, few raconteurs on the book showed Fox's penchant for the sense of wonder. There were some uneasy attempts to shift the feature in the direction of the character-model-- "Justice League Detroit," anyone? But Morrison, aided by the pencil-work of Howard Porter, is the first author to exploit the original plot-model for all that it was worth, as well as providing enough "character-moments" to make his project palatable to Marvel-ized tastes.

Seventeen years before the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, Grant Morrison also sought to devise a bridge between the wonder-scape of Fox's JLA and that of Jack Kirby's slightly later "Fourth World." Morrison was far from the first raconteur to provide a crossover between the superheroes and the "science fiction quasi-deities" of Kirby's universe, but he seems to be the first who understood how to get the best out of both worlds. Kirby's Fourth World cosmos is very different in tone than the Fox-scape, but the two are fundamentally both indebted to the "plot-model," and Morrison alone found a way to meld the two aesthetics. The current film only achieves this synthesis once or twice, but then, the filmmakers were primarily concerned with introducing the heroes, and the film's use of Fourth World characters and concepts is much more scattershot.

Morrison crossed over Kirby's "New Gods' and the JLA in his arc "Rock of Ages," but this, while a great deal of fun, wasn't nearly as mythically resonant as the author's final arc in his tenure, "World War III." Earlier issues also introduced the League to the champions of "Wonder-World," which in essence was a Mount Olympus for superheroes who had evolved to the level of gods. However, the gist of the story was to pit the League and some of Kirby's New Gods-- Orion, Metron, Mister Miracle and Big Barda-- against a seemingly unstoppable threat, the Wonder-World champions were primarily created to be the victims of the new menace.



The menace is Maggedon, the Anti-Sun, a non-sentient weapon created by "the Old Gods" who, in Kirby's cosmology, preceded the newer super-deities. Mageddon escapes its exile at the end of space-time and destroys the Wonder-World heroes by emitting radiations that fill the heroes with rage and despair, so that they murder one another. That done, the super-weapon then makes a beeline for Earth. and as it approaches, the world undergoes the first symptoms of Maggedon's influence. Nations begin gearing up for a world war, and even the Justice League's regular villains become pawns of the extraterrestrial invader. Said villains include master planner Lex Luthor, who helmed an analogous bad guy-group in "Rock of Ages," and two old Fox-fiends, the Queen Bee and a substantially revamped Shaggy Man. For good measure, Morrison adds a villain he created in earlier issues of this tenure: Prometheus, a computer-nerd gone berserk.

Yet, although this is clearly a plot-heavy continuity, forcing the Leaguers and their allies to prevent a war opening up on multiple fronts, Morrison doesn't neglect the "character moments." The evildoer Prometheus plays the part of Faust to the League's long-crippled intelligence gatherer, Barbara "Oracle" Gordon, offering her the chance to walk again if she betrays the good guys. The then-current Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, experiences a crisis of self-confidence, and the angel Zauriel-- allegedly Morrison's substitute for an unavailable Hawkman-- must remonstrate with his fellow angels to coax them to come to mankind's aid. Morrison gets a lot of humorous mileage out of the sometimes manic Plastic Man, but even characters who aren't overly funny get good lines. These include Kyle Rayner telling Luthor that he's being "outsmarted by a giant eyeball," and even the brutal Shaggy Man referring to Orion as "Mr. 'Was-God-an-Astronaut.'" Morrison crafts strong moments for all of the heroes, and even strives, in his use of the New Gods, to pepper their dialogue with Kirby-ish touches, like calling Maggedon's interior "techno-active."





At the same time Morrison knows that the "friendly enemies" relationship of DC's most iconic characters, Superman and Batman, lies at the core of the modern JLA. The climax of WAR involves Superman trying to defeat Mageddon directly, with the result that the super-machine enslaves him. There's more than the suggestion of Biblical imagery here, in that Metron poetically describes Maggedon as "dragging its broken chains across the stars"-- and during Superman's captivity, he carries much of the resonance of Samson chained in the Temple of Dagon. One panel even makes Superman's eyes look overshadowed, as if he might be as blind as Samson, though this may have been no more than a fortuitous accident.


Maggedon enslaves Superman by filling him with a despair that plays on the hero's sense of "survivor guilt." Batman, speaking to the hero through a telepathic link, essentially "out-guilts" the machine, causing the Man of Steel to rally and to defeat the Anti-Sun with his own solar-based powers: the "positive sun" besting the "negative sun."



I should note in closing that though Morrison pays full respect to Kirby's Fourth World, the later author places a lot more emphasis on the idea of humankind's evolutionary destiny, which, in essence, argues that everyone can be a superhero. The author's meditations on metaphysical evolution are arguably better worked out in the later "Being Bizarro" sequence from ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. Nevertheless, I can find no substantive flaws in Morrison's homage to the wonder-working proclivities of the Silver Age JUSTICE LEAGUE, which, like all good homages, is as much about what the modern author likes as the thing being homaged.




Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BLAZING RATIOCENTRISM

Like many if not all comics-readers, Alan Moore's 2007 BLACK DOSSIER was the first time I'd ever heard of THE BLAZING WORLD, a utopian fiction published in 1666 by Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle. From what I've read online, Cavendish's work has only been revived in the last decade or so by feminist scholars.

I've now read THE BLAZING WORLD, though not any of Cavendish's other works, most of which tended to fall into the format of Renaissance-era philosophical discourses. WORLD's level of philosophical thought feels fairly derivative of the Greek and Roman authors then being re-discovered in Europe, supplemented by a few tropes dear to the heart of English aristocrats, such as the topic of aristocratic rule. It's probably not fair to judge Cavendish by WORLD alone, since utopian novels are generally boring affairs, including the 1516 Thomas More work that started the whole thing. But though I can validate feminist academia's project to reclaim lost female voices from the days of a dominant patriarchy, I have my doubts, based on WORLD, that Cavendish ranks as more than a curiosity. Certainly it's silly to deem WORLD "the first science-fiction novel," just because Cavendish's utopian otherworld includes SF-tropes like hybrid animal-men. If you're going to judge a work as science fiction simply because of the presence of such tropes, then Cavendish is obviously still a long way from first, out-firsted by the classical author Lucian of Samosata. It's possible that the main reason Moore referenced Cavendish was because of the work of those aforesaid feminist scholars, because there's not a lot of common ground between the respective themes of Moore and Cavendish.

In short, Cavendish's WORLD is an example of what I've caused ratiocentrism. Her viewpoint character, a young noblewoman called "the Lady," is precipitated into what SF-authors now call a parallel world. The Lady is instantly married by the Emperor of the Blazing World. As Empress, she's in the position to learn about all the government and philosophy of her new realm, though there's never much of an explanation about the otherworld's most prominent feature: humanoids with animal aspects, such as "bird-men," "bear-men," and, perhaps most improbably, "lice-men." All of the animal-men have particular societal functions, which sounds like a simple restatement of the Great Chain of Being, as re-formulated by European Christian scholars. This is one of the things that seems least like Alan Moore's anarchic system of belief, and though he puts the animal-men into his version of the Blazing World, he doesn't assign them any particular thematic function. Either he or artist Kevin O'Neill did stick in a cameo shot of one moderately famous insect-man: "Turan," mentor to the Simon and Kirby Silver Age character "the Fly."

I believe that Moore's re-use of the Blazing World is in essence just another synonym for the occult concept of "the astral plane," on which Moore had already descanted in his 1999 PROMETHEA series for ABC Comics. But whereas Moore is fascinated with the influence of the irrational upon human thought and desire, Cavendish clearly falls into the category of reason-worship. In one section, the Empress rails against the abstruse syllogisms of the realm's logicians, who are satirically pictured as descended from magpies, jackdaws, and parrots. The Empress says:

I have enough, said she, of your chopped logic, and will hear no more of your syllogisms, for it disorders my reason, and puts my heart on the rack; your formal argumentations are able to spoil all natural wit; and I'll have you to consider: that art does not make reason, but reason makes art, and therefore as much as reason is above art, so much is a natural rational discourse to be preferred above an artificial: for art, is for the most part, irregular, and disorders men's understandings more than it rectifies them, and leads them into a labyrinth whence they'll never get out...

In the end, though the Empress does not forbid the bird-men to carry on their logic-chopping, she stresses that they need to keep these labyrinthine meditations to themselves, rather than letting them escape to cause societal unrest with the greater populace. I think I'm justified in seeing the long shadow of Plato-- or rather, of his own fictional utopia, the Republic-- as having provided the better part of Cavendish's ideas about reason's precedence over art.

I don't know exactly why Moore chose to allude to Cavendish's concept, though it may be largely because she's a female creator from the generation immediately after that of Shakespeare, whose influence is much more significant in DOSSIER. I strongly doubt that Moore worships reason as Plato' and Cavendish do, given that Moore concludes DOSSIER by talking about what I termed 'the opposition between "matter's mudyards" and the "radiant synthesis" of this multi-story mashup.' But then, no author ever really adapts another author with complete fidelity. Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of HAMLET is really Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET, not Shakespeare's, Steve Ditko's SPIDER-MAN is nothing like the raw Simon-Kirby concept with which Ditko started, and Alan Moore's idea of THE BLAZING WORLD is only minimally connected with that of Margaret Cavendish.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "INTO THE VALLEY OF DEATH" (THOR #360-362, 1985)

To get the crappy taste of the mediocre THOR: RAGNAROK out of my mouth, I went back to some of the original comics. I chose to seek out stories from Walt Simonson's 1980s tenure, since Simonson's work got a distinct "shout-out" in RAGNAROK's credits.



One of the movie's more clumsy contrivances was its revision of a longtime THOR antagonist. Skurge the Executioner. In RAGNAROK he's nothing but a polyglot of poorly conceived tropes, for he starts out as an incompetent comic relief, graduates to being the cowardly stooge to the central villain (though by chance he's saved from performing the act of execution for which he's named), and then does a turnabout near the conclusion to die a sacrificial death. Only the turnabout is indebted to Simonson's treatment of the character, though the Marvel artist did so with infinitely greater care than the movie's scripters.

In this essay, I examined the 1964 Lee-Kirby story that gave birth to the Executioner and his most frequent partner-in-evil, the Enchantress, as well as some of their exploits both together, separately. and in tandem with mortal super-villains. The Executioner's primary image in his first appearance is that of a man enthralled by a beautiful and fickle woman, though not without some independent thought (he betrays the Enchantress's plans because he covets Thor's hammer). He betrays her in a more insulting manner in AVENGERS #83, choosing to leave the Enchantress for another woman because his inamorata frequently flaunted her romances with other men in his face. The two characters continued to scheme together for the most part up until 1985, when Walt Simonson apparently decided that the Executioner-- on whom he bestowed the proper name "Skurge"-- ought to get a truly Viking sendoff.

The THOR issues cited above-- subsumed under the Tennyson-derived title of the first issue, "Into the Valley of Death"-- followed a long epic storyline involving the fire-demon Surtur and the evil elf-lord Malekith, the latter of whom was adapted in 2013's THOR THE DARK WORLD. But after the conclusion of that epic, the titular thunder-god had a new problem. As a result of Malekith's mischief, a handful of mortal souls-- all unconscious, so that they would not affect the narrative-- were unjustly stranded in the Nordic death-realm Hel, ruled by the goddess Hela. In contrast to the hyper-violent and largely unmotivated villainess of RAGNAROK, Marvel's Hela was all about her realm: both protecting anything within her compass and trying to lure heroes like noble Thor into her grasp. As a death-goddess, both the archaic goddess of the Scandinavians and Marvel's version of her incarnated a negative image of femininity, the "womb=tomb" that would inevitably devour even the most puissant male warriors.



Simonson's strong emphasis on female characters in Thor's Asgardian world, whether beneficent or maleficent, was uncharacteristic during its formative Lee-Kirby period, when the Enchantress and Thor's girlfriend Sif were the only female characters to make regular appearances. Female characters were so rarely seen in the "Thor Boys' Club" that in the 1970s scripter Roy Thomas even devised a continuity-based explanation as to why the Asgardian women were hardly ever seen in the magazine. Lee and Kirby's comic-book adventures were not inappropriate for an adaptation of Nordic myth, which tended to emphasize masculine martial achievements. Simonson, however, chose to give equal emphasis to the feminine side of the Nordic god-home, to the extent that, even prior to "Valley," one saw a great deal of "the war between men and women."



Comics-authors have not often depicted this "biological warfare" with a very even hand, as witness the polar opposites of Dave Sim and the Brothers Hernandez. Prior to "Valley," though, Simonson approached his faux-Viking world with a strong dramatic sense of the pain that both men and women could inflict upon one another. Long faithful Sif, for instance, is to some extent distracted from her love for Thor by an alien who falls in love with her, Beta Ray Bill. Thor remains faithful in spirit but he's enthralled by a love-spell, placing him under the romantic control of Lorelei, the sister of the Enchantress, though technically Lorelei's real lover Loki is pulling the strings. During Thor's enchantment, Lorelei causes him to strike Sif down, and only the most literal-minded reader could resist the temptation that he's striking her because of her potential betrayal. In a parallel development, the Enchantress-- now gifted with the proper name "Amora"-- throws Skurge over for another lover.



Thor has been freed of his enchantment when he decides to pursue the mortal souls sent to Hela's realm, but not of his troubles with Sif. Thor's excursion includes several male Vikings and Thor's best friend Balder, but Skurge, Thor's long-time sparring partner, volunteers to go along as well.

Far more than the surviving Nordic myths, Simonson's version of Hel is dominantly feminine. There are various male revenants who battle the Asgardian heroes, and a huge dog, Garm, who stands as sentinel outside the death-realm. But Hel is not only ruled by a goddess, it's constantly represented by female presences. Angerboda, a "mother of monsters," gives Thor directions to the death-domain, and then tries to kill him as well. When the male warriors enter Hel, they're beguiled by what seem to be living women: Balder by the deceased Nanna, Thor by Sif and Skurge by Amora. But all of these blandishments are cast aside, and Thor is obliged to battle Hela herself-- whose touch can destroy the living with old age-- in order to return the lost souls back to the living world. Significantly, both male and female are humiliated during the conflict. Thor removes Hela's cloak, showing her to be a half-dead old hag. However, Hela claws Thor's handsome face so badly that he's obliged to cover it with a cloth for the rest of the story.



Though Hela gives the Asgardians safe passage, she tries to undermine their brotherhood by making Skurge look as if he betrayed them. This backfires on her when Skurge replies with major masculine violence, using his executioner's axe to destroy Hela's ship Naglfar. The Asgardian expedition is forced to retreat from the endless hordes of Hel, but the enemy is in danger of overwhelming them before they can cross the bridge over the river Gjoll. Thor plans to hold the bridge while his allies escape. Skurge, who has become his "brother in pain," rabbit-punches Thor and takes his place.



While the Asgardians escape with their prize, Skurge holds the bridge against incredible odds, until finally being overwhelmed and becoming one of the spirits in Hel. (A later story frees Skurge from Hel, admitting him into Valhalla, the domain of the honored dead.) Back in Asgard, Thor sends the souls back to their mortal bodies, after which Thor and Balder swear to drink to Skurge's memory.



It would be easy to see this opposition between the masculine world of force and the feminine world of manipulation as unflattering to the latter. I don't think that this was Simonson's intention. Hela is a goddess of immense stature, Sif is conflicted in her romantic inclinations but never less than honest, and even the Enchantress comes off as empowered in her determination not to be tied down to one lover. (In a later issue, though, she's torn between mourning the Executioner and feeling outrage that he's left her in this typically display of male courage.) Further, near the end of the arc, Balder reflects that "the sword is an evil gift to the living." This isn't just indicative of Balder's particular character, but also of the greater theme about the "male and female war." Positive and negative images of both genders twine their way through "Valley," and though Thor's facial wounds are eventually healed, the travails endured by him and and his spiritual double Skurge represent the inevitability of the "war of the sexes," as well as the deeper nature of the wounds inflicted.




Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: 'SPIDEY SAVES THE DAY!" (SPIDER-MAN #40, 1966)

“I had a big argument with Steve Ditko, who was drawing the strip at the time. When we had to reveal the identity of the Green Goblin, I wanted him to turn out to be the father of Harry Osborn, and Steve didn’t like that idea,” Lee explained. “He said, ‘no, I don’t think he should be anybody we’ve seen before.’ I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘Well, in real life, the bad guy doesn’t always turn out to be someone you’ve known.’ And I said, ‘Steve, people have been reading this book for months, for years, waiting to see who the Green Goblin really is. If we make him somebody that they’ve never seen before, I think they’ll be disappointed — but if he turns out to be Harry’s father, I think that’s an unusual dramatic twist that we can play with in future stories.’ And Steve said ‘Yeah, well, that’s not the way it would be in real life.’ And I said ‘In real life, there’s nobody called The Green Goblin.’ And so Steve was never happy about that, but since I was the editor, we did it my way.”

According to this essay, Ditko later claimed that the argument about the Goblin happened, but that it merely served as a "straw that broke the camel's back." It appears, then, that when Ditko worked on his next-to-last issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, all of the setup elements in #37-- in which Norman Osborn assaults Spider-Man and seems implicated in the attempted murder of Professor Stromm-- were completed "under protest." Ditko then walked away from Marvel with SPIDER-MAN #38, obliging Lee to coinplete the remainder of the Green Goblin story in #39 and #40 with the artistic aid of John Romita.

It's interesting that in this much later expatiation about the Green Goblin story, Lee emphasizes "an unusual dramatic twist that we can play with in future stories." In 1966, though Lee couldn't have known back then how long the Spider-Man franchise would last, he must have guessed that the concept had more than a few good years in it. However, there's no indication in the previous Lee-Ditko stories that either creator had much of an idea about what I'd call "the myth of the Green Goblin." He was, in all of his appearances, simply a masked mystery villain who haunted the hero's tracks. Lee and Ditko occasionally exploited the mystery of the Goblin's identity very briefly, but there was no real sense as to why he was more of a menace than, say, Mysterio. Even the story in #39-- the punnily-titled "How Green Was My Goblin"-- is little more than set-up.



However, "Spidey" in #40 shows Lee going from zero to sixty. For all the blather from fans who want to believe that Lee's artists created the whole show, it's patently absurd to think that John Romita--who had just assumed the job, and who subsequently claimed that he assumed Ditko would eventually return to the feature-- was the primary creative force here. Lee understood that continuing readers wanted a payoff, and thus he almost certainly reverted back to the much-lauded moment in SPIDER-MAN #10, where Jonah Jameson reveals his jealousy of the featured hero in a self-examining soliloquy.

The bulk of the story falls into two main sections. It begins with an unmasked Spidey chained and captive in the Goblin's lab, and trying to get the villain-- who has just revealed his identity-- to keep talking until Spidey can break free. The Goblin does indeed keep talking, revealing his origin as he does so, and then he sets the hero free for a culminating fight. The hero wins, but with the knowledge that even if the villain goes to jail, he'll reveal Spidey's identity. Fortunately for the hero, Norman loses his memory of ever having been the Goblin. For a time, his threat was ended, though every time the character re-appeared, Lee teased the reader with the possibility that the Goblin might still return, as indeed he did, though not for several years.

It's the origin, though, that gives the story the mythic resonance earlier Goblin stories did not have. In essence, it's a Jekyll and Hyde story, but one in which the villain is changed by accident, a la the Hulk. But unlike the majority of latter-day Jekylls, Norman happens to be a father, whose son Harry is one of Peter Parker's friends.



While Norman tells Peter the story of his origins, he ends up revealing that his idea of being a father is tied up in conspicuous consumption:



Note that in the second panel, Norman considers his excellence as a parent dependent on what other people would think:"I wanted everyone to see what a great father [Harry] had." Lee's main purpose in making Norman a ruthless businessman was to show how he had lost his way: that he'd become obsessed with making money, deluding himself that he was doing it for Harry. Thus he's a Jekyll who's already given in to his dark side before he ever comes across the "Hyde formula"-- which he examines for no reason but to see if it can make him more money. Significantly, the formula was created by Professor Stromm, the man Norman sent to jail, so in a sense Norman's transformation into the Goblin might be seen as Stromm's revenge.



I would imagine that the main reason that Lee has the formula turn green before it explodes in Norman's face was to give a reason as to why he later chose to become a green-hued super-villain.




Still, it's interesting that, though Lee doesn't make the connection, one of the main associations of the color is that of-- money. One thing neither Lee nor his collaborators even comment on, even subconsciously, is the question as to why a tough-minded businessman would chosen a Halloween motif for his super-villain costume. I realize that originally Lee and Ditko merely wanted a mystery villain with no particular motive for riding a mechanical broomstick and tossing explosive pumpkins. Yet, since a goblin is one of many impish creatures who were designed to be caricatures of human beings, Norman's decision to become a murderous man-witch makes a certain amount of sense.



Friday, November 10, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "A THING IS BORN" ( BROTHER POWER #1-2, 1968)

What a difference an issue makes.



Back in February, I devoted two essays-- here and here-- to stories in which DC raconteurs revived Joe Simon's 1968 character "Brother Power the Geek." I preceded these formal analyses with the essay SIMON SESSION, which provided an informal overview of Simon's post-Kirby career. I stated that I'd only read the first of BROTHER POWER's two issues, and that, though I found "a few interesting mythopoeic touches" in the first issue, I didn't think I was missing much in not having read the second one.



However, I recently acquired the second and last issue of BROTHER POWER, and upon giving both issues a more intensive reading, I've decided that, inconclusive though the story is, it sustains enough complication to rank as a mythically satisfying story-arc. In a similar vein, I rated Wally Wood's THE KING OF THE WORLD as a mythcomic, even though the second part of Wood's serial didn't provide the same quality.

Nothing can be said about Simon's "Geek-out" project without stating that it was one of various attempts by DC Comics to court the so-called "youth culture" of the late Silver Age. Earlier I summed up these attempts by saying, 'I did not read BROTHER POWER back in the day, and what little I initially heard about it made it sound like another misguided attempt by way-over-30 comics-makers to appeal to young readers by trying to sound “hip.”'

There's no question that Joe Simon was a middle-aged man at the time he created Brother Power, and moreover, since he identified himself as a Republican, it might seem incongruous for him to attempt a heartfelt evocation of the hippie ethos. Indeed, the cover-copy for issue #1 tries to suggest that the story will give the readers a titillating look at the "dangers in hippie-land." This ballyhoo was an outright lie, but it sort of fits the serial's often carnivalesque mood. Though I've never read any of the issues of SICK that Simon edited during the 1960s, I'd hypothesize that by 1968 he'd already touched on counterculture topics in his "magazine of sick humor," and that in BROTHER POWER he was trying to meld his taste for such humor with the requirements of a superhero title.  At the same time, BROTHER POWER labored under a lot of restrictions, for the Comics Code couldn't allow depictions of the sex and drugs associated with the hippie movement. Yet it seems unlikely that Simon would have taken advantage of the freedom of the "underground comics movement" had he been given it. Indeed, whereas most DC raconteurs merely pasted a few "hip" phrases or motifs over completely traditional stories, Simon's GEEK is interesting in that he understood at least a few aspects of the counterculture, but chose, for the most part, to subvert that ethos with his own conservative outlook.

Here's a bullet-point breakdown of events in the two issues, which I've conflated under the first chapter-heading in issue 1, "A Thing is Born:"

(1) In 1968 San Francisco, a small community of "peace and love" hippies find themselves continually bullied by a gang of nasty bikers. (Cops, who probably persecuted hippies far more than bikers, are at most an incidental threat in "Thing.") The battered longhairs retreat to an abandoned tailor shop-- specifically abandoned because of the hippies' "unkempt" presence-- and try to clean their blood-soiled garments. One hippie, Brother Max. has soaked his clothes so much that he's afraid they'll shrink, so he puts them on a life-size tailor's dummy. Then, for the next three seasons, all of the hippies apparently forget about both the clothes and the dummy, which just sits in the tailor shop, soaking up various substances-- blood, dust, rain and machine oil. (This bit of forgetfulness, as well as some of the other things the youths do, might suggest that there was indeed some drug-consumption going on, and that Simon just didn't show it.) Once three seasons have gone by, a providential lightning bolt strikes the dummy, and brings it to life. 




Moments later, the bikers conveniently decide-- a whole nine months later-- to take over the hippies' "pad." Brother Power, converted by the lightning into a super-strong golem (my term), routs the mean motorcyclists. The hippies, who call one another "brother" (no sisters are around at the time), dub the living dummy "Brother Power." One of the less generous youths also calls him a "geek," though this was probably meant to follow from an earlier line in which a biker calls the dummy a "freak." But the connection was lost when editors forbade Simon from using the term "freak" for his protagonist, forcing the less logical substitution of "geek."




(2) Brother Power, initially mute, learns to talk, and though he's not very attractive at the start, the hippies accept him as one of their own. However, the Geek's presence amid the hippies attracts the attention of a group of evil circus-people, who run "the Psychedelic Circus."





The Circus-People kidnap Power so that they can exhibit him in a full-fledged freakshow. The addled hippies want Power back, but somehow get sidetracked when they decide that their enemies, the bikers, must be the real culprits behind the kidnapping. This inspires one of the daffier scenes in the story, in which the hippies dress up in superhero costumes and confront the bikers with a "comic book hero happening." Of course the bikers again beat up the hippies, after which they protest that they're innocent of this particular crime. Only by pure chance do two hippies stumble across the current location of the Psychedelic Circus. Then, by dint of uncharacteristic bravery, they save Brother Power from a freakshow that looks strongly influenced by the artwork of "Big Daddy' Roth.




(3) Cindy, the first hippie-girl with an actual name-- as well as the only female character of consequence--  stitches the somewhat damaged dummy together, and also pretties him up a little. This inspires romantic inclinations in Power. However, instead of trying for some of that "free love," Brother Power seeks to impress his lady-love the old-fashioned way: by Getting Ahead in Life. With some support from his fellow freaks, Power runs for president, on a platform of "love, peace... flower power." Unfortunately, the only thing the campaign accomplishes is that it makes the Circus-People aware of Power's whereabouts. The poor losers trump up charges against Power and set the cops on his tail. The distressed dummy goes on the run, and then does a "King Kong" off the Golden Gate Bridge, disappearing into the bay-- for the time being.




(4) Issue #2 picks up with Power, temporarily "dead" from his immersion, being fished from the bay and set up in what seems a patently Christ-like posture. Power's rescuers are a bunch of "urchins" called "the Clinkers," who look somewhat like a gang from a 1950s "jay-dee" film. The Clinkers, like the hippies before them, are oppressed by another group of goofballs: "the Berlin Airplanes," young guys who dress like World War One fighter-pilots and even pilot their own glider. During an Airplane-attack, Power comes back to life and trounces the intruders with a none-too-peaceful outburst of violence. However, despite being made part of the Clinker community, the dummy doesn't care for their do-nothing ways any more than he did for the hippies' inactivity. Power seeks employment at a grocery store, sounding like a character out of Horatio Alger when he states that he doesn't "mind starting at the bottom." Predictably, he doesn't remain in the position of a simple grocery stock-boy for long. 




(5) Diligence at the grocery-store leads Power to a new job at a plant that makes missiles for space exploration, but, as will later be established, has no connection with munitions. At the same time that the Geek goes to work on the factory's assembly-line, the owners are worried that they may soon go bankrupt if they don't solve their current production problems. They've opted to bring in a supposed mathematical genius, Lord Sliderule, who dresses in Renaissance clothes and is accompanied by tumbling dwarfs (!)  Sliderule only accepts the job so that he can eventually sell the factory's secrets to foreign powers, but before he can even make a phony pronouncement, Brother Power figures out a solution to the problem. Power is promoted to plant foreman but he naively allows the dethroned Sliderule and his flunkies to remain employed on the assembly-line.





(6) Though he's forbidden from using sex or drugs, Simon does manage to work in a hippie-protest. Power's old longhaired chums show up, under the impression that the factory is making missiles for wartime use. (This is as close as the stories dare come to a countercultural take on the conflict in Vietnam.) Power soon sets them straight, and even gets them to give up their lotus-eater lives and become productive citizens.




However, vengeful Sliderule sabotages a test-missile and makes it look like the Geek done it. It comes out that Power is still wanted from last issue, so the Governor of California-- an unnamed but very recognizable Ronald Reagan-- calls for Power's arrest. Again the misunderstood mannequin flees, this time hiding in one of the factory's missiles. Sliderule sets off the missile, and Brother Power is sent into orbit. The villains are arrested, and the story ends as the hippies wonder if they'll ever see their Geek again.




It's probably just as well that Simon never let the completed third issue be seen, for the two-issue arc, though very episodic, probably represents everything Simon had to say about the counterculture. I don't for a moment think that he was as personally fascinated with the subject as he claims in a promotional text-piece. I believe he saw, as much as any artist of the time could, that the counterculture represented a potential shift in values. As a professional creator, he wanted to see if he could make a living from his take on it-- even though, as I said, he frequently undercuts most of the most cherished images of the ethos. His hippies are good-hearted but generally foolish, and even their rejection of what Simon calls the "grey flannel, split-level world" is cast aside when their charismatic leader convinces them of the value of good hard work. Brother Power talks a lot about peace, but both of his stories display roughly the same amount of fighting as a Captain America tale. Only in one area does Simon hold something in common with the hippie ethos. A lot of male hippies were accused of being no less chauvinistic than the majority culture, and in the short-lived world of Brother Power, females exist only as sources of "romantic inspiration"-- making quite a marked contrast to the gynocentric bias of Rachel Pollak's above-mentioned GEEK reboot.

In closing I should address Simon's claim to sole authorship. He receives sole credit on the title-pages of both issues, but it was eventually revealed that the pencils were actually provided by Al Bare, a Golden Age comics-artist who had worked with Simon at SICK MAGAZINE. However, since Simon made assorted claims about having stage-managed many of the artists with whom he worked-- including Jack Kirby-- it doesn't seem unlikely that Bare may have worked from breakdowns or even just thumbnails provided by Simon, so that in essence Bare may have been drawing things exactly as Simon wanted them, even right down to the "Big Daddy" Roth visual quote. Originally I didn't care for Bare's mix of frivolity and sombre freakishness. However, now I find that at times the art communicates a lyrical charm, one not entirely at odds with the counterculture's emphasis on visual intensity. 





Thursday, November 9, 2017

NULL-MYTHS: JACK QUICK FROST (1966-67)

In essays like this one, I've argued that during the fifteen-year partnership of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Simon may have functioned as a "quality control" for Kirby's sometimes undisciplined creativity. If so, then Sinon's business relationship with Kirby may have operated much in the same way as Stan Lee's editorial authority over Kirby during the latter's first Marvel tenure. This hypothesis provides at least a tenable explanation as to certain changes in the quality of Kirby's work once he did all the writing and editing of his features in the 1970s and (mostly) from then on.

I've quoted Simon as stating that he usually assumed writing duties during his collaborations with Kirby; that he often wrote out scripts or, being an artist himself, provided Kirby or other artists under his aegis with roughs or thumbnails. This arrangement wouldn't keep Kirby from making verbal suggestions about stories, just as he did with Lee. Some of Kirby's claims to have "done it all" elicited many fans-- and even professionals like Alan Moore-- to credit Kirby's claims by asking how much work of consequence Lee produced without his two most creative collaborators, Kirby and Steve Ditko.

I've already given my answer to that question elsewhere, but it seems fair to ask the same question about Joe Simon's creativity apart from Kirby. However, he linked up with Kirby so early in his career that Simon doesn't have a lot of non-Kirby work on his resume. Like Lee, his professional career in mainstream comics came to an end by the early 1970s, and the most notable items on that resume are a few short-lived features for DC Comics, the editorship of SICK MAGAZINE from 1960 to 1968, and a much briefer editorial post for Harvey Comics' "Harvey Thriller" line from 1965 to 1967.

Technically, the first titles from the "Thriller" line were largely reprints of older material, and even when the line began issuing assorted superheroes in late 1966, editor Simon included large quantities of anthology-style stories as backups to the super-doers. Simon had worked on many superheroes during the Golden Age, not least his co-creation Captain America, and had worked with Kirby on sporadic genre-revivals in the 1950s, such as FIGHTING AMERICAN and Archie's FLY and SHIELD properties. Given that the genre enjoyed an upsurge in the early 1960s, one might have thought that if Simon cared much for the genre apart from channeling Kirby's greater enthusiasm for it, then that creative interest would have showed up in the Harvey Thriller line. Indeed, some fans have speculated that the only reason Harvey Comics started the "Thriller" line was to be in a position to take advantage if the BATMAN teleseries became popular when it debuted in early 1966.

If this was Harvey's game-plan, they took their sweet time about reacting to the show's immediate success, since the "Harvey Heroes" didn't start appearing until late 1966-- and when they did, costumed cut-ups like Jigsaw, Pirana, Spyman and the Bee shared a lot of space in their titles with assorted works that looked like whatever old pros like Wally Wood and Al Williamson happened to have stuck in their rejection drawers. Worse, what makes the Harvey Heroes "null-myths" was that though Simon aped Stan Lee's "heroes with problems" schtick at times, it seemed clear that Simon couldn't invest enough conviction in the costumed characters to make them attractive to the juvenile readers of the era.

One immediate indicator of Simon's disaffection was that most of his "Harvey Heroes" couldn't even come up with decent names. Spyman and Pirana (apparently that was how Simon thought it should be spelled) were just passable, but it's hard to imagine a kid fantasizing about sporting a name like JIgsaw or the Glowing Gladiator. The Bee was particularly schizophrenic name-wise. In his two stories, he was called "the Bee." But on both of the exterior covers, he was called "Bee-Man"-- a transparent ploy to have a logo resembling that of a certain chiropteran hero. And then there's-- "Jack Quick Frost."


At least, that's what he's called most of the time, without much explanation-- except that a few times someone uses the name "Jack Be Quick Frost," which must be one of the most cumbersome puns of all time. Frost starts out as government agent James Flynn, who gets flash-frozen into an iceberg-- a swipe from what Marvel had done with the reborn Captain America?-- and so gains super-freezing powers. A stronger influence on the hero is probably the "Mister Freeze" character from the BATMAN teleseries. The TV character, derived from a one-shot villain from the Batman comics, had debuted in Batman's first half-season, and Jack Quick Frost swipes Mister Freeze's vulnerability-gimmick: that of being in danger if he doesn't have access to deep-freeze temperatures.



Technically Simon may not have drawn or written any of these features. Still, I tend to think he would have followed the same habits he'd built up: sketching out what he wanted for raconteurs like Otto Binder and Jack Sparling (credited on GCD for the first of Jack's two adventures). Binder had written dozens of comics stories by the time of the "Thriller" line, and I think it's unlikely that he would have floated cutesy name-puns like "Jack Be Quick Frost," which sound like something Simon might've cobbled together for FIGHTING AMERICAN or SICK. Yet, as the above section shows, though Simon probably tried to work in BATMAN-references, the writer has clearly been told to emulate Stan Lee's style. "Biting icicles," indeed.

There are other bits of carelessness even in just two issues: the character is seen using a freeze-gun on the cover of his first appearance (again, like Mister Freeze), even though in the stories proper he always projects cold-rays from his fingers. But the thing that makes me choose Jack Quick Frost as a "null-myth" is the fact that Simon couldn't even keep his own psuedoscience straight. In his last appearance, fighting his sole enemy "Lord Lazee," Frost is exposed to dry ice.



But the whole point of dry ice is that it has a refrigerating effect on whatever it touches. It may feel like it burns when touching a normal person's flesh, but it shouldn't have any deleterious effect on a superhero who likes things cold.

And with this ignominious comedown, "the coolest hero in comics"  came to a much deserved end. Apparently Simon kept the rights to a lot of these characters, but there's no indication that he owned this one-- whose real name probably ought to have been "Jack Quick Buck."

Monday, November 6, 2017

ECCENTRIC ORBITS

I borrow the phrase "eccentric orbits" from astrodynamics. Wikipedia saith:


The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical object is a parameter that determines the amount by which its orbit around another body deviates from a perfect circle.


In my numerous reviews of and investigations into the many domains that make up fiction-- not least those of phenomenality-- I've often found myself faced with such "deviations." Most works of art, whether they are naturalistic, uncanny, or marvelous, display a "centric will" on the part of the author. Plot and characters are strongly organized around the author's concept as to what things are possible in his world. 

Three convenient examples of differing phenomenalities were first cited in NUM-INOUS CONFRONTATIONS, VIOLENT SUBLIMITY, PART 1 and PART 2. At the time I wrote these essays, I was investigating Kant's concept of sublimity only in terms of dynamicity, and had not yet formulated the corresponding concept of the combinatory-sublime. I summed up three films with respect to their phenomenalities, as follows:


In DIRTY HARRY, as noted before, the hero dwells within an entirely naturalistic cosmos... In ENTER THE DRAGON, the hero dwells within a cosmos that largely appears naturalistic but deviates in a few vital aspects, which have a marked effect on Lee's struggle for dominance...In STAR WARS, the heroes dwell witin a cosmos that may be "natural" to them but which is clearly "marvelous" to us. 
Planets that have almost no eccentricity (like Earth) come as close as is physically possible to describing circular orbits. All of these cinematic works have a similar uniformity of "orbit," there are no elements of naturalistic, uncanny, or marvelous phenomenality that conflict with the "centric will" expressed in the main story.

And yet, I've often encountered works that manifested such conflicts. For instance, here's how I strove to sort out the phenomenality of Wilkie Collins' famous 1868 crime novel THE MOONSTONE, from this film-review:


The famous plot of THE MOONSTONE deals with a fabulous diamond, originally from the head of a Hindu idol, which is stolen from India by a reprobate British officer.  After the thief dies he leaves the diamond-- rumored to be cursed-- to his niece Rachel, a heiress being courted by her two first cousins Franklin and Godfrey.  (Nowhere in the novel does anyone remark on this level of consanguinity: one assumes that both Collins and his original English audience found it unremarkable, at least for the aristocracy.)  A trio of Indians, dedicated to returning the holy diamond to India, haunts the steps of Rachel and her protectors.  Because the unnamed Indians are so fantastically dedicated to their unique task, Collins' novel *might* be classified as uncanny because the Indians' "bizarre crime" (which is only a crime in the technical sense of the English law, of course) makes such a strong affective impact on the reader, and takes on a near-supernatural aspect at the conclusion even though technically nothing supernatural occurs.  The same logic applies to the "exotic lands and customs" trope.
The one aspect that propels the novel into the "marvelous" category appears early in MOONSTONE and never comes up again.  Because Collins wanted to give his Indians an almost supernatural ability to be wherever he wanted them to be-- and because he surely knew that they would hardly blend in well with British society-- Collins has one of his characters overhear the Indians using an unnamed English boy in a divinatory ceremony.  It establishes the possibility-- which the reader must take seriously even if no one in the novel does so-- that the boy is a real medium who can tell the Indians at all times where to locate the diamond.  It's a clever device, and I personally consider it veracious enough to classify MOONSTONE as "marvelous," even though I realize most readers won't take note of it.

In my newly re-formulated terms of "centric will" and "eccentric will," I would say that the centric will of Collins' novel falls into the phenomenal domain of the uncanny, because the actions taken by the Hindu seekers to recover their sacred diamond comprises the "center" of the narrative.  Their one "marvelous" talent, that of using a medium's psychic talents for guidance, is invoked by Collins only to make it credible that the Hindus are able to track down the diamond when they have no other means to do so. Thus, the one marvelous element in THE MOONSTONE expresses an "eccentric will," a will that deviates from the novel's central-- and uncanny-- concerns.

I  mentioned a similar concern in ASPIRIN FOR ANTHOLOGIES, which dealt with the often perplexing phenomenalities of stories set in Frank Miller's SIN CITY universe. After explaining that one story in the film SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR had an absolutely veracious ghost-- which provided the only example of the marvelous-metaphenomenal-- I explained:

My review therefore classifies SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR as a "marvelous" film. Over the years I've classified other films as marvelous for the same reason: a film, being a unitary construct, cannot be just a "little bit marvelous" any more than a birth-mother can be "a little bit pregnant"... I'm playing around with some possible re-classifications that might better represent the roles played by the uncanny and the marvelous, when it is clear that they do NOT cohere with any thematic underpinnings. But I confess it probably won't provide me with an effective aspirin for all my taxonomic headaches.

I also mentioned a couple of other films in which marvelous elements played very marginal roles, and played around with the term "marginal-metaphenomenal." However, this term wouldn't work over time, since there have been many works, like Collins' MOONSTONE, where the work's centric will is uncanny, while only one or more eccentric elements are marvelous. A better example than the one mentioned in the ASPIRIN essay is 1971's HANDS OF THE RIPPER, wherein the "ripper" character is a crazy girl who begins acting like Jack the Ripper, and the only marvelous element is that of a psychic who figures out what's going on.

A week or so after finishing the ASPIRIN essay, I finally formulated the "active share, passive share" corollary, first stated here and here. These essays established the precedent that in some cases a narrative's combinatory mode might overrule its dynamic mode. Thus, even though from the POV of dynamicity, the Marvel cowboy-hero The Ringo Kid technically dwells in a "marvelous" domain because of his one encounter with a mad scientist, the symbolic underpinnings of his universe are dominantly naturalistic. The marvelous elements in RINGO KID comprise what I originally called a "minority passive share," and I now choose to link that concept to the notion of "eccentric will."
Similary the psychic elements in THE MOONSTONE and HANDS OF THE RIPPER also amount to eccentric elements, putting them in the minority passive share category.

I played around with the notion of a bifurcated phenomenality in my review of a martial-arts dud called THE SHAOLIN BROTHERS, wherein the centric will (and majority share of interest) revolves around a naturalistic core, and the elements of the marvelous are out on the periphery. Hence my name for them at the time-- "the peripheral-marvelous"-- has been subsumed by the concept of eccentric will.

Going by the current hypothesis, I would probably rate SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR as dominantly uncanny, thanks to the fact the conspicuous roles of Marv and super-ninja Miho, while the ghost's appearance, while not without all importance, amounts to a sort of perturbation in the orbit of the work as a whole.