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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, May 27, 2017

THE CONFEDERACY AND THE DUNCES

Every Thou in the world is by its nature fated to become a thing, or continually re-enter into the condition of things. In objective speech it would be said that every thing in the world, either before or after becoming a thing, is able to appear to an I as its Thou. But objective speech snatches only at a fringe of real life.-- Martin Buber, I AND THOU.
Within the last week New Orleans removed its last Confederate statue, but the anti-Confederacy meme has been brewing at least since the 1990s. Because the Confederacy was based upon the "peculiar institution" of slavery, and because more than a few supporters of the southern states declared their absolute allegiance to that institution, many modern Americans have come to view any sympathy for the Confederacy as a similar allegiance to any and all forms of racism. Thus any modern displays of sympathy for the losing side of the American Civil War have been broadly interpreted as advocacy of racism. This might be logical if Rebel flags were largely being flown by members of the Klan or similar societies. However, the assumption of racism has become so endemic that it's caused retroactive condemnation of old TV shows like THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, simply for displaying the flag as a decoration on the car. Twice on the 2009-2013 animated TV show THE CLEVELAND SHOW, the title character was shown gaining minor victories over entrenched Confederate sympathies in the fictional city of Stoolbend, Virginia (allegedly patterned upon Richmond). Even though Cleveland was generally characterized as a fool, in this respect he was shown to be entirely justified in challenging this status quo. The scripts for both shows endorsed the idea that modern-day Confederate sympathies connoted modern-day anti-black prejudice.





If I were a black person, I suppose I too might take at face value all statements of historical Rebels, and thus conclude the principal question of the American Civil War was whether or not black people were foreordained by God to be slaves. But as a white person who may know a bit more about the way white people think than a lot of non-whites, I'd say that the Civil War was predominantly a war between two groups of white people, and the fate of black slaves was simply the "bone" over which the two dogs were fighting.

One can find innumerable justifications for slavery. often religious in nature, in the records of Confederacy advocates. But the primary justification, since slavery became an American institution around 1620, was economic. In addition to the perks of free labor for landowners, the 3/5 compromise of 1783 ensured that even a partial count of the slaves in southern states would result in a greater allotment of delegates in the federal government. While many reformers objected to slavery on moral grounds, it seems likely to me that the Republican legislators who introduced the ban on slavery in U.S. territories were more concerned with breaking the hold that Southerners had on the government. (Notably, seven presidents prior to the Civil War were born in the above-mentioned Virginia.) The fact that the northern states had few if any laws against slavery suggests that had it been economically advantageous for those states to harbor as many slaves as the south did, there might never have been a Civil War at all.

In another essay I applied Buber's above remarks to the "peculiar institution," noting that:

It would seem obvious to me that the real-world injustice of slavery is all about what Buber calls the "I-it" relationship, of an "I" (the slaver or slaveholder) reducing a sentient being (the slave) to the status of an object.
And yet, in the above quote Buber stipulates that every Thou is fated to "continually enter into the condition of things." Human beings have been enslaving other human beings for centuries, and while not all institutions of slavery are equally motivated by profit, it would be naive to assume no economic advantage, particularly in the case of African slaves. One online writer, whom I've not been able to locate again, remarked that sub-Saharan Africa was virtually a "one-stop shopping" for the slave trade. For whatever reason, black people were one of the favorite targets of the Arab slavers since the ninth century. African slaves were commonly employed throughout the Middle East and were even traded as far abroad as China.

The fact that "everybody did it" doesn't make it right, of course, and the making of people into things, no matter who does it-- is fundamentally immoral. However, it is also very nearly inevitable, given the tendency of human beings to judge the morality of their ingroups in terms of self-interest; and to efface the fact that said ingroups have usually attained their position by debasing or marginalizing other peoples. American Southerners were indubitably dishonest about not admitting that they wanted slaves because slaves were profitable. But I don't think that they were dishonest in interpreting the Civil War in terms of a battle between the interests of two groups of white people. This interpretation became encoded in culture and literature as the "brother against brother" trope, and this had made it possible for the re-united culture to tolerate the honoring of war heroes of the Confederacy, even in some northern states.

In modern times, however, Confederate monuments, and any and all paraphernalia associated with honoring the famed "Lost Cause" (Rebel flags, names on public schools) are charged with sending the wrong message. The mayor of New Orleans endorsed this interpretation, stating categorically that Civil War monuments contributed to the city's "exclusionary attitudes." He further stated that "now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history."

Many defenses of the monuments assert that they want to see history preserved. This is not precisely my defense, for I'm quite aware that monuments and paraphernalia for any cause cannot present a sophisticated view of history. In my opinion the main reason that the descendants of the Confederacy insurrection want the monuments is one of ego-gratification. I can't say that none of them have any desire to use Southern memorabilia as a means, say, to rally against the supposed evils of multiculturalism. But I find it unlikely that all of them do, and to those that simply want the pleasant illusion of the "brother vs. brother" theme, the insistence that Black Americans' feelings should be honored above their own is not likely to lead to greater collegiality. Indeed, I suspect that these sort of demands only foster more "exclusionary attitudes," rather than supporting the cause of diversity.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "Our ancestors pay the price for who we are." If there are any people on this planet who possess absolutely no interest in validating their ancestors, I'm not aware of them, and I don't agree with the mayor that a given ingroup can simply "move past" their history. Ideally the ingroup should be cognizant of the ways in which their ancestors debased or marginalized other peoples, but the idea of defining any ingroup's heritage purely in terms of those acts is mere rhetoric that springs only from-- guess what-- self-interest. I suppose it might be empowering for Black Americans to imagine White Southerners going around, for the rest of their lives, wearing sackcloth and ashes for the sins of their ancestors.

But it's not going to happen. And any rhetoric that seeks that end is also-- a Lost Cause.




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

NULL-MYTHS: "THE MAKING OF A MAN" (ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #145, 1963)

Just to show that the same author can produce a "poor myth" as easily as a "good myth" when he uses his favorite conceits badly, here's a story that ACQ's Richard Hughes published about four years after "Queen of Uranus." In contrast to "Queen," which was a pretty decent insight into feminine psychology, here Hughes attempted to use his Thorne Smith bag o'tricks to define the male star of the portentously titled "Making of a Man."



The story starts out in typically Hughesian fashion, presenting protagonist Bill Weston as a brow-beaten weakling who, thanks to the influence of a mean aunt who threatens to send him to an orphanage, continually dodges conflict throughout his life. Hughes may have thought of the majority of comics-readers as similar dreamers who "sought refuge in... books," and yet dreamed of being he-man adventurers. (Indeed, Hughes' fan-favored feature HERBIE is postulated on almost nothing else.)



By a series of unfortunate accidents, Weston gets stuck in a rocket that takes him to the far-off planet Lomara. On the fortunate side, though, Weston is able to breathe the atmosphere of Lomara. Even more fortunately, for no particular reason being on Lomara endows Weston with super-strength a la Burroughs' John Carter.



Hughes then takes the next logical step, having Weston rescue a princess, name of Lynda (Hughes was not Burroughs' equal in coming up with exotic names). However, in a strange inversion of the John Carter mythos, Lynda and other, uniformly-gorgeous females rule the planet. The ugly pot-belled goons that attacked Weston and held the princess captive are the males of the planet's humanoid species, and whom Lynda regards as being "of a lower order." Weston, rather than becoming a sword-wielding warlord a la Burroughs, uses his scientific knowledge to repel the males' next assault on the females. This sounds like a great escape from Weston's earlier humiliating routine. Yet Hughes clearly doesn't want Weston to even think about staying on the alien world, for at battle's end he's already thinking about going home (naturally, so that Weston can deal out a comeuppance to the bullies of Earth).



It turns out that even though the battle was won, the war is bound to be lost to the men, who have greater forces and who desire "an equal voice in government." Clearly this was a toss-off story for Hughes: he was interested neither in the female Lomarans' claim to greater mental powers or the male Lomarans' desire for equity, only in what both of them could do for his protagonist's damaged ego.



I'm not sure about how conscious Hughes was of his title's irony. Since he drops the John Carter fantasy almost immediately, that might suggest that the writer meant to play around with the usual tropes of "manhood-making." Still, the story seems too clumsily assembled to suggest intentional irony. The real reason Hughes is in such a hurry to get Weston and Lynda back to Earth is because Lynda brings with her a treasure-trove of diamonds, and that allows him to buy out his old company and kick out his mean boss.



So, is the moral that "the making of a man" is all about-- marrying a rich babe who has a fortune? Even for a comedy, this is a pretty muddled message.

The whole story can be read here. In line with the thoughts expressed in this essay, the story is subcombative because Weston's "John Carter" act is not carried through to the climax.

MYTHCOMICS: "QUEEN OF URANUS" (FORBIDDEN WORLDS #58, 1959)

Just to get the obvious joke out of the way: of whose anus was the main character supposed to be queen, anyway?



Like most of ACG's stories, this one was written by the editor in charge of the line, Richard Hughes. Following the institution of the Comics Code, ACG continued to print comics books with titles that seemed to promise the thrills of the horror-tale-- FORBIDDEN WORLDS, ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN-- but what Hughes served up was more in the nature of supernatural whimsy, along the lines of Thorne Smith. Since the ACQ line survived until 1967, Hughes must have found a readership of some sort. Many of his stories focused on misfits or nebbishes who had their lives changed, often for the better, by encounters with the supernatural or science fictional presences.

I commented on this story a while back when it was reprinted on this entry of "Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine," stating the following

I'll give Richard Hughes this much: he might not have been especially insightful about feminine psychology, but he is at least making some attempt in this respect.
Basically, Miss Purdy (as in "you shore are purdy") isn't so much pursuing her own path as butting her head up against societal expectations. Her tension suggests to me that she doesn't have any philosophical reason for wanting not to get dolled up; she's masochistically enjoying the disapproval she gets from society in order to stage an ongoing "pity party." Didn't Aristotle say something about how the man who walks around with a hole in his clothing may be showing off just as much as the man who wears fine clothes?
The story's joke is that when Kryptos ("hidden") responds favorably to her dowdy looks, she doesn't exactly respond to him with such fervor. His appreciation, though, gives her the gumption to get gussied up, which wins her the approval of her peers-- which is arguably what she's really been after all along with her "dressing down."

To expand on the "pity party" interpretation somewhat, here's the second page of the story, which will indirectly play into Miss Purdy's encounter with real aliens:



Note that Purdy was assigned to complete a creature-costume a month ago, and that when her principal Mr. Cannon asks her about it in a very professional manner, she complains about all her troubles managing "the children," as if she were a wife grousing to her husband. Clearly Purdy has put off her assignment-- a responsibility that she shares with the other teachers at the school-- because she seeks attention in a somewhat masochistic manner. On a subconscious level she wants to be dressed down so that she can complain about her lot in life. Yet she's conscious that she meant to be "charming" to Mr. Cannon, and that she made a bad job of it. At this point she's not even aware of having any romantic interest in Cannon, but her interaction with the mild-mannered principal shows that she wanted some validation from him.

On the same page she seeks validation as a teacher from the children by trying to get them to share her interest in her collection of tektites (meteor fragments). The kids don't care about rocks; they want to know that she's going to have the creature-costume ready for their play. The final panel suggests that Purdy has identified with the tektites as something outside the dull round of her existence.

Sure enough, the meteor-fragments are her gateway to redemption. The tektites start glowing, and two child-sized aliens show up in Purdy's room. whisking her away to meet with their ruler Kryptos. The alien, who describes himself as "overlord of Uranus," tells Purdy that the tektites were sent by the Uranians to remote parts of Earth to provide homing-beacons for Uranian scoutships. The story says almost nothing about why the Uranians wanted to visit Earth, but the broad implication is that they're simply making a covert scientific study of Earth-people, even though their leader Kryptos finds the faces of Earth-people "hard, selfish, empty of feeling." Yet he's immediately smitten with homely Purdy, and invites her to come back to Uranus with him and reign as queen. Purdy, though confused, is deeply affected by Kryptos' ardor, and immediately seeks to upgrade her appearance.




"I've got a reason to do something about my looks," she says to herself. This line reinforces my above interpretation that at base, Purdy always wanted attention, but she took the easy way, choosing to eschew makeup and pleasant attire, drawing negative attention in the fashion of the individual who refused to mend the holes in his garments.

I can see how a critic might make the error that the story is all about socializing women to look pretty for men. But Hughes repeats on page 31 Cannon's judgment that Purdy suffered from tenseness, and puts it in the head of Purdy herself: "Now that I'm no longer tense, the children have quieted down!" A refinement of this catchpenny psychology would be to state that. along with Wilhelm Reich, that people often maintain defensive, "armoring" reactions to potential conflict. But once Kryptos sees beauty where everyone else-- including Purdy-- saw only plainness, Purdy is able to "strut her stuff" with confidence. The children respond positively to her new confidence, and so does Principal Cannon.



It will surprise no reader that when Kryptos sees the changes, he proves that he only liked her because she was so different from the majority of Earth-people, which is, at base, no better than liking someone exclusively because one is beautiful. It's also significant that before Kryptos manages to express his horror at Purdy's refined appearance, she's already decided not to accept his proposal. Purdy is more than happy to release Kryptos from his commitment, and in a rather commonplace twist ending, all Purdy wants from the alien is one of his men's conveniently child-sized costumes, to use in the play.



An additional note: I'll admit that it's hard to be sure whether or not Richard Hughes was enough of a wordsmith to know that the Greek source for the name "Kryptos" carried the original meaning of "things hidden." If he did know it, then Hughes may have been referencing the hidden nature of Purdy's psychological complexes. But of course, comic books have made the root-word famous in the context of the adventures of DC Comics' Man of Steel-- and I must admit that "Queen of Uranus" might also carry the connotation of a rewritten Superman/Lois Lane encounter; one in which the alien does NOT get the girl.

Both the full story and the others in the comic can be read here.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A PHENOTYPE PHENOMENON

I've been giving thought to the Rachel Malonson story. In contrast to the situation of Rachel Dolezal, whose claim to black identity was not supported by her genetic heritage, Malonson had a black father and a white mother, and favored her mother in terms of skin tone. When she won the Miss Black University of Texas pageant-- which is explicitly open to persons with biracial status-- various comments were made about her not being "black enough." In other words, these protesters chose to define blackness in terms of an observable phenotype, in contrast to her genetic heritage. By this reasoning, Barack Obama, who has the exact same proportion of black/white parentage, *is* black because he displays a "black" phenotype, while Malonson is not.

The great irony of these half-witted protests is that in the long view they are criticizing the very right that the proponents of the 1960s civil rights movement fought for: the right of racial intermarriage, supported by breakthrough legislation like 1967's "Loving vs. Virginia." Further, the protesters are also guilty of emulating, however unintentionally, the same mindset favored by the opponents of racial intermarriage.

All U.S. laws that prohibited such intermarriages were also concerned with preserving the integrity of a certain phenotype. Long before the United States became an independent republic, early Americans knew that an offspring between one phenotypically black parent and one phenotypically white parent might display a white phenotype. The legal reaction was to prohibit such unions, in large part to keep the white race "pure."

The only way in which this differs from the position of Malonson's attackers is the degree of economic advantage. Intolerant American whites wanted to keep all property out of the hands of anyone who didn't pass a purity test. In contrast, intolerant American blacks are more concerned with keeping a set of privileges-- such as the "bragging rights" of winning a beauty contest for black women-- to be exclusive to women who meet a certain phenotype. I am not aware of any circumstance in which phenotypic-blacks have tried to block non-phenotypic blacks from owning any sort of property.

Nevertheless, once racial intermarriage became legal, American blacks as much as anyone ought to know that there could be no way of predicting which liaisons would be phenotypically black. In some subcultural black societies, blacks of dark hue sometimes experienced discrimination from light-skinned blacks, even if if the latter were not light enough to "pass." What we are seeing now is a tendency to replace one injustice with another, by claiming that there has so much history of dark-skinned blacks getting bad treatment that privileges associated with black subcultures cannot be allowed to anyone who may not have shared that history of suffering, whether that person is truly guilty of "passing" or not.

The more things change...


QUICK SEXUALIZATION POST

Posted this on CBR, not expecting much discussion though.

___________

In the last six-seven years the Beat published someone's claim that old 1940s statistics proved that there were actually more girl than boy comics-readers in a particular time-frame. Not hard to believe, if it's true that girls' reading-skills generally mature more quickly than those of boys.

So this makes me wonder: if there were more young female readers, isn't it likely that they liked seeing the male form on display, seeing it "objectified?" Of course in those days the male heroes, costumed and non-costumed, weren't usually the boulder-shouldered types we've become used to today: the comic-book artists tended to pattern themselves after comic-strip guys like Foster, Raymond, and Caniff. Frederic Wertham was one of the few persons to document any reader-responses from the Golden Age-- though his records are extremely suspect-- and he was very much in line with modern prejudices: pointing the finger only at the sexualization of female characters for male audiences, and paying no attention to the converse-- though of course he had a lot to say about the supposed sexualization of male characters for male audiences.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A FURIOUS ENSEMBLE

Long ago, when I first saw Brian dePalma's 1978 adapation of John Farris's 1976 novel THE FURY, I took note of its extensive violence but gave no thoughts as to whether it qualified as a combative horror-film. Farris' book, like Stephen King's 1980 FIRESTARTER, concerned a secret government project oriented upon capturing and weaponizing persons with strong psychic power. King provided enough of a "combative contest" between his titular "monster" and the evil agency that his book qualifies as combative, as does the 1984 film. But what about THE FURY?

Before re-screening the film, I decided to read Farris's novel for the first time. Like the dePalma film, the book is very violent but ultimately not a work in the combative mode. However, Farris gave me far more pause in determining who the "centric" characters were.

SPOILERS FOR ANYONE ACTUALLY READING

Three characters get the majority of Farris's attention, although he devotes a lot of characterization (more than King does) to his villains, a research group with the fitting acronym MORG. Two of the characters, Gillian Bellaver and Robin Szandza, are teenaged psychics who were once bonded through reincarnation. The third is Peter Szandza, father of Robin, who once worked for MORG but turned on his bosses, largely because they learned of his son's fabulous powers and wanted to enslave him. Robin is not initially in MORG's clutches at the start of the book, but Peter, whom Robin believes to be dead, is looking for the fourteen-year-old, and so are the villains. Robin is in psychic contact with Gillian but she considers him an "imaginary friend" and doesn't have any conscious awareness of her special abilities. Eventually, after a lot of spy-type shooting and masquerades, MORG manages to lure Robin into their clutches, where they attempt, in a roundabout way, to brainwash him. Peter learns about Gillian and enlists her help in trying to free his son. Unfortunately it all ends up badly. Robin's exercise of his talents makes him into a "bad monster," as against "good monster" Gillian. Both Peter and Robin end up dead. Gillian kills the nasty head of MORG and waits to be rescued by her parents. Farris wrote three sequels to the FURY storyline, none of which I've read, but he didn't commence this series of novels until 2001.

So my critical question becomes: just because Farris spent roughly equal amounts of time on these three characters-- are they all centric characters? Certainly I can have no objection to presenting characters who have opposed interests as belonging to a fictional work's ensemble, since in my last sizable essay on the subject,  I cited types like King Kong and Godzilla as belonging to the two-monster ensemble of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

My purely subjective verdict, though, is to say that only Peter Szandza and Gillian Bellaver are really centric characters. Even when an ensemble includes a character with whom the audience is not supposed to like-- such as Godzilla-- there must be some sense that the character, while destructive or evil, is still in some way fascinating.

Robin Szandza doesn't quite reach this level, because his transition from innocent boy to destructive monster seems constructed less as its own self-sustaining arc than as a means of providing a problem for Peter and Gillian. Further, after Robin dies, his last act is to more or less spark Gillian into using her powers offensively-- so that even his one good act is all about empowering another character.

I would assume that Gillian is also a major character in the sequels, but am not sure at this point if I'll invest further time in the FURY universe, despite having basically enjoyed the first novel.

ADDENDUM: I assumed wrongly: for the 2001 book, Robin is revealed to be alive after all, but many years have gone by and Gillian has passed on, though she's left behind a psychic daughter to get into lots more trouble.




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

NEAR MYTHS: "THE LEGION OF SUPER-MONSTERS" (ADVENTURE COMICS #309, 1963)

Once more, a quick reiteration of my definition of "near myth:"

..."a near-myth" is a part of a narrative that sustains a mythic kernel of meaning, but does not become unified into a fully-developed "underthought" throughout the narrative. [the latter being the definition of a fully consummate myth]
A quick personal note about this week's "near myth:" although as a sometime Legion fan I was rather hyped to see this story when I read old ad-hype for it, I never found a decently-priced copy of the original issue until recently, nor did I happen to buy the relevant Archives collection with the story. I'm rather glad I waited, because it's the sort of appealing but cheesy story that should be read in its original form.

"Legion of Super-Monsters" loses the cover spot to a much shorter Superboy story. Said tale's only interest is that it speaks to a psychological myth that DC Comics had exploited since the Golden Age and used heavily in the Silver Age: the fear-of-replacement myth. Comics-stories of this ilk usually focused on the starring heroes about to be replaced or marginalized in some manner, and they tend to be fairly one-note.




Closely related to the "replacement myth," though, is the "exclusion myth," in which a starring character finds himself left the odd man out in some desirable group of society.  Indeed, the first story in which the Legion appeared dealt with Superboy being excluded from potential membership.


Superboy's exclusion is naturally overturned by story's end as a Big Misunderstanding. In "Super-Monsters," though, the Legion decides to exclude a candidate, one Jungle King, because he shows a lack of caution in the use of his power to control animals:



Jungle King gets mad and decides to form his own Legion, made of wild alien beasts who are compelled to obey his commands. Taking the alternate cognomen Monster Master, he embarks upon a career of crime, using the fabulous powers of his creatures against society, thus provoking the Legion of Super'Heroes to come after him.



In their initial encounters, the human Legion has no small trouble in dealing with the monster-Legion...



 ..and to make things seemingly worse, one of the members who passed the group's standards, Bouncing Boy, messes up by exposing himself at a critical point. However, he gets to redeem himself in a sense, using strategy to defeat a beast of much greater power.




I said that the replacement myths were usually one-note, and Edmond Hamilton's "exclusion-myth" script isn't much better. Not only are the Legion's standards validated by Bouncing Boy's success, Monster Master is shown to be a hypocrite who makes a snap judgment about one of the beasts that "auditions" for the monster-legion. The villain rejects a "gas creature" because the critter's not impressive enough, but the beast gets pissed about its exclusion and subjects Monster Master to a fatal "gas attack."



Still, though "Super-Monsters" is a little preachy in this regard, it does have some pleasingly bizarre sci-fi monsters, and that makes up for a lot.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT (1985-86)

“There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that deviseth wicked purposes, Feet that are swift in running to mischief, A false witness that uttereth lies, And he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16-19).

Upon the 1985 release of BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT, publisher WarpGraphics touted the four-issue series as America's first weekly comic book. But in retrospect BLOOD is far more interesting as a crossover of two literary/cuiltural myths born out of the matrix of Victorian society.  Both myths had their origins in the acts of real historical persons. Jack the Ripper, the Victorian serial killer, has never been identified, and even in Victorian times assumed the character of an "urban legend." Bram Stoker's Count Dracula was fiction based on both the vampire folklore of Transylvania and the historical records of Romanian tyrant Vlad Tepes. To be sure, the narrative of BLOOD makes very few references to the story of Vlad, though like most Dracula-tales there are indirect references to the Count's aristocratic heritage, and in one issue co-author Rickey Shanklin contributes a history of the tyrant's historical reign.



BLOOD-- presumably named with the above Proverb in mind-- doesn't feature any sort of epic battle between the vampire and the serial killer, as the cover of #1 depicts. The Ripper, being limited to the sphere of realistic historical studies, has no power capable of opposing a supernatural creature. However, it's the Ripper's narrative that determines the scope of the story, since it must take place in the one year, 1888, during which the killer's "canonical" murders took place. Writers Rickey Shanklin and Mark Wheatley collaborated with penciller Marc Hempel (Wheatley also inked) in bringing the vampire-lord to London in the same year, ostensibly to investigate England as a future stomping-ground, in line with his future visit in the 1897 novel.

Naturally, the authors' version of both the vampire and the killer tend to follow specific cultural models. In this iteration, Jack the Ripper is the syphilitic Duke of Clarence, usually called "Eddy," the oldest grandson of still-reigning Queen Victoria, and he begins killing prostitutes because he picked up a social disease from a lady of the Whitechapel slums. And this Dracula is not at all like Stoker's ruthless predator: during his sojourn he only exsanguinates one victim, a female who may or may not be a lady of the evening. The Shanklin-Wheatley vampire also is made basically sympathetic because he falls in love with a potential victim, and thus seems closest in tone to the 1979 cinema-Dracula played by Frank Langella. 

The authors repeatedly stress the parallel of Dracula and the Ripper due to their role as sexually oriented predators, but arguably one sees more differences than similarities. Both men are aristocrats, but the Count has dignity and compassion, while Eddy Duke of Clarence seems to be little more than the incarnation of a Victorian contempt for women, particularly those who have been forced into "the life" by economic oppression.




Dracula, who accidentally encounters Eddy after the latter's first hooker-murder, is put in a position where he might kill the Ripper before his bloody rampage. The vampire chooses not to do so because he smells that the Duke's blood is "diseased," and thus he makes "allowances" for the maniac's bad manners. This lordly indifference becomes more pronounced later in the story; the vampire is seen watching from a distance as Eddy kills another prostitute. By that time, though, Dracula has met a London woman and fallen in love with her, so that he has sex with her but does not vampirize her. However, it never occurs to him that since she too is a prostitute, she might fall victim to the Ripper-- which indeed she does, as she happens to be Mary Jane Kelly, one of the canonical five Ripper-victims.

Shanklin and Wheatley interpolate a number of secondary plot-lines into the story, usually involving other persons suspected of being the Ripper, such as Dr. William Gull, physician to Queen Victoria, and Montague Druitt, who in this iteration is a teacher who has expertise in vampire mythology and actually witnesses one of Dracula's transformations, thus leading Druitt to the incorrect conclusion that Dracula is the Ripper. But none of the side-stories are of much consequence.



Perhaps the greatest difference between the two legends is that when the Ripper kills, he "murders to dissect," leaving nothing but dead meat. Dracula is obviously a killer as well, but he can bring some of his victims back to a semblance of life. Indeed, Mary Jane fantasizes about being Dracula's Transylvanian countess, even as Eddy sees her as nothing but "the queen of whores." The Ripper is an arch-realist; he sees nothing but evil in women, and thus reflects much of the Judeo-Christian ethic of his time. Dracula, however, is not just a shape-changer: in this version the vampire who can't see himself in a mirror automatically "mirrors" the fears or desires of whoever beholds him. When the vampire first comes to England, two sailors see him according to their own prejudices. One sailor thinks the Count looks like a dashingly royal figure, while the other fellow thinks Dracula looks old and corrupt. Oddly, the second sailor characterizes aristocrats as "royalty what comes o' a sister's love of her brother! " I've no idea what the authors meant by this reference, since sibling incest is not a big part of Dracula-mythology-- though it's arguable that since Dracula is centuries older than his victims, there might well be a "daughter-father" vibe about his alliance with Mary Jane Kelly.  

Dominantly BLOOD is all about the clash of sociological narratives: that of the aristocratic seducer versus the corrupt lordling. Shanklin and Wheatley don't provide a lot of vampire mythology here, but there's some metaphysical content in their idea of Dracula's image changing to reflect the beliefs of onlookers.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE TIGER MEN OF MARS" (BUCK ROGERS, 1930)



The years just before the 1930s were crucial for the mainstreaming of the science fiction genre, particularly thanks to the adaptation of Philip Nowlan's 1928 novella ARMAGEDDON 2419 A.D. into the 1929 comic strip BUCK ROGERS. For many years after that, the SF-genre was tarred with the brush of being "that crazy Buck Rogers stuff," but the disparaging comments didn't keep either the genre or the comic strip from growing in popularity.

Nowlan's original novella was definitely a sociological myth-narrative. Not only did it propel a modern-day American "average guy" into the far future-- originally Tony Rogers, who got a name-change in the comic strip-- Rogers encountered a nightmare future, in which American civilization had been flung back to its primitive frontier-origins by the invading airships of Mongolian warlords. Since I haven't re-read the novella for some time, I won't state that the Nowlan novella was one of the best examples of its type, even allowing for its "Yellow Peril" theme. 

Strangely, the first long storyline of the BUCK ROGERS strip was not quite a straight adaptation of the prose story, even though Philip Nowlan was the author of record on the strip. His scripts were paired with the crude but somehow winsome artwork of Dick Calkins, who excelled in creating the ships, guns, and other paraphernalia of the 25th century. Based on the criteria I set forth in my study of the mythcomic LOST IN THE MICROCOSM,  it would be possible for me to deem the first BUCK ROGERS continuity to be a "new" story if it differed sufficiently from the original template. However, the first continuity, in which Buck and his allies manage to forge a "separate peace" with the Mongols, rambles from idea to idea in such a way that it would only qualify as a "near myth." It is interesting, though, that Nowlan renounces the "Asian evil" stereotype for the most part: the Mongolian supreme emperor makes peace with America when he finds out that his subordinates have lied to him, and there's a distinct absence of the usual 'heathen Chinee" dialogue.

The next significant continuity, however, has enough internal consistency to rate as a mythcomic. It helps that the story of "The Tiger Men of Mars" has become one of the better known Buck Rogers stories: Fritz Leiber paid the strip-tale homage in his novel THE WANDERER, and the 1979 teleseries even worked in a "Tiger Man" as a minor character.

The Martians make their first appearance on Earth, abducting a nubile Earthwoman who just happens to be Wilma Deering, Buck's steady girlfriend.




The aliens are then disclosed to be descended from tigers even as humans descended from apes. The strip doesn't dwell on the ramifications of evolution, but it may well be one of the first times the concept showed up in such a pop-fiction artifact.




Buck and his fellow soldiers manage to talk the Tiger-Men into making peace for a while. However, the Martian cat-men have in their company a human Martin, a princess of the "Golden People," who is explained as "a hostage." After the Tiger-Men have had a little time to take the measure of Earthmen and their defenses, they reveal their true colors, and choose to take an Earth-hostage as well. Nothing is ever said about the hostage being used to ensure Earth's good behavior, and indeed Nowlan has the Martians choose a character of little social import: Sally, the younger sister of Wilma Deering. In no time the Tiger-Men are speeding back to Mars in their space-sphere. Buck vows to pursue them, despite the fact that the government doesn't want to invest in constructing a space-fleet. Like the later Jor-El, Buck gets the ball rolling on his own-- albeit with some help from a rich friend. Then Sally somehow gets access to a radio, and reveals to her fellow Earth-people that the Tiger-Men plan an invasion. Suddenly, the local government is very eager to help develop a new spacecraft. powered by the element "inertron" (which name comics-writer Jim Shooter would later appropriate for a very different purpose).


Once the crew (including Buck and Wilma) has been assembled, the inertron craft takes off. Nowlan's script is actually pretty consistent in exploring technological details about distance and the vicissitudes of gravity. A couple of amusing panels are devoted to Buck's attempts to drink coffee in space, since the liquid just flows out of his cup and forms a floating "globule."



There are some episodic developments that don't have much to do with the main plotline, as when Buck and friends come across a derelict spaceship and defrost a native of Jupiter who's been in cryo-sleep for centuries. Eventually the ship makes it to Mars, where Buck and his group learn that the Martian fleet is too formidable for Earth to defeat.

At this point, Nowlan conceives of a cosmological myth which has no real connection to real science, but which nevertheless works as a myth ABOUT science. In short, the Earthmen decide to push one of Mars' moons out of the sky.




The results are pleasingly apocalyptic. The moon Phobos crashes to the surface of Mars, the science-fiction equivalent of having the sky fall down on the heads of the Martians. The emperor of the Tiger-Men quickly sues for peace, and the conflict ends on this note. (Buck has some unrelated adventures on Mars, but they have less to do with the Tiger-Men and more with his romantic travails.) I suppose this technique of "moon-bombing" was the closest one could get to a "doomsday weapon" in 1930, but I'll restrain myself from following the lead of Alan Moore and seeing this story as a revelation of Americans' innate warlike character.



I wish Nowlan had developed the Tiger-Men more: they're Buck's first visually interesting opponents, but the reader learns nothing about their culture beyond their war-mongering nature. Another short episode in "Tiger Men" further validates Darwin by spotlighting a bird-like species that lives on the surface of Earth's moon because it's modified its body to cope with airlessness. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

RALLY ROUND THE ROGUES' GALLERY PT. 3

Repeating my end point from Part 2, I'll assert that in general one cannot have a "monster rally" if one has just one type of monster versus another type of monster. Examples of these would the meeting of "werewolf star" Waldemar Daninsky with assorted vampires in FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR, or the encounter of the Big G with one-shot nasty insect Megaguirus in GODZILLA AGAINST MEGAGUIRUS.

However, it's a different thing altogether if one has more than one monster in an ensemble constellation. In GODZILLA'S REVENGE, both Godzilla and his son Minya form an ensemble of two. Though they have a common biology, they are not as identical to one another as, say, all the vampires in BLOODY TERROR are, and so they make up an ensemble of two fairly distinct characters. The feeling of the "monster rally" is further enhanced by the fact that the duo take on at least three other creatures on Monster Island, but only a single opponent is needed if one is dealing with a multiplicity of centric monsters. The latter case appears in the Toho film immediately preceding REVENGE: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, wherein most of Toho's monsters take on King Ghidora.




However, a one-on-one "monster rally" is possible if one is dealing with a situation where the two creatures have sustained their own "centric" stories. KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was one of the few Toho films that qualifies for this "honor," while others include FREDDY VS. JASON and ALIENS VS. PREDATORS.



It's also possible to see the narrative structure of the monster rally when there is one "starring monster" allied against several non-centric types. FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR does not qualify, but 1969's ASSIGNMENT TERROR, which pits the wolfman against both a mummy and a doppelganger for the Frankenstein Monster.



It's also possible to see "teams" of monsters opposed to ordinary humans, as in 1943's vampire-and-wolfman team for THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE.



Or conversely, one may reverse this structure. In ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, where the demihero-characters played by the comedians are the centric stars of the show, and the three monsters are their non-centric opponents.




A similar dynamic holds for heroes as well as demiheroes. Marvel superheroes are the stars of the one-shot comic MARVEL MONSTERS: MONSTERS ON THE PROWL, but it's still a "monster rally" because they're pitted against a mess o'monsters who originally had separate story-arcs in old monster-comics.



There are also a number of situations where the story concerns a team of "good monsters' versus a team of not-so-good ones, as seen in the game-turned-cartoon DARKSTALKERS.



However, if you've got one team of monsters for good, you don't need a team for evil to have a monster rally, as witness that salute to 1950s fiends, MONSTERS VS. ALIENS.




All of these examples involve some strong life-or-death conflict. However, there are also various stories which follow the "domestic comedy" pattern. Thus, in one cartoon special, the demiheroic Flintstones meet a monstrous family in THE FLINTSTONES' NEW NEIGHBORS.




And this, of course, was a direct swipe of one of the earliest "domestic monster rallies" in popular fiction, THE ADDAMS FAMILY.


So, in all, I count ten distinct storytelling variations which manage to cross over more than one distinct monster-types-- which is probably the most attention that anyone has ever devoted to this perhaps deservedly arcane subject.

ADDENDUM: I should add that there's one exception to my rule about "fairly distinct characters." This is when the monsters all have the same origin, but they are BASED on originals who were distinct. Thus in the movie SCOOBY DOO 2, a scientific process creates monsters who look like some of the costumed villains who appeared in earlier SCOOBY DOO TV episodes. This also applies to dreams, in which a dreamer simply dreams about a bunch of monsters that have their own existence in the "real life" of the ongoing narrative, or when human agents impersonate a bunch of monsters that were supposedly real at some time-- which itself sounds like a SCOOBY DOO episode.

RALLY ROUND THE ROGUES' GALLERY PT. 2

One reason that I've devoted a fair deal of space to the topic of *centricity,* or any of the other synonyms I've used for it over the years, is that only by knowing the center of the story does one understand the story as a whole. That said, it can be more than a little challenging to determine when a given narrative is dominated by one character, more than one, or even a setting. My 2012 essay ENSEMBLES ASSEMBLE is devoted to some of the cases in which more than one entity is "the star of the show"-- which is admittedly a lot less complicated than figuring out which characters are the "focal presences" of multi-story narratives like anthology presentations.



In 2008 I devoted some space here to some of the earliest examples of "monster rallies" and "villain rallies" in popular fiction. The earliest dated use of the term "monster rally" that I've found appears in a 1950 Charles Addams cartoon, but I suspect Addams didn't conceive the term. It sounds like something that would have been cooked up in the 1940s in response to Universal Pictures' release of "monster crossovers," possibly starting with 1943's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. If "monster rally" does indeed date back to the 1943 film, it indicates that "rally" did not connote unity for the person who coined the phrase, even though the word traces from a French word meaning "to unite." As all horror-fans should know, the film centers upon the two monsters not just meeting, but eventually coming into conflict. The next three Universal crossovers also did not depict the monsters as part of any united front: in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA, they cross paths to some extent but largely don't affect one another's arcs, In ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, the Monster is more or less the thrall of Dracula, and the Wolf Man opposes the vampire's plans, though the lines of battle are not as strongly drawn as they were in the 1943 film.



In my essay THE LOGIC AND APPEAL OF CROSSOVERS I stated that I thought much of the appeal was about the audience taking pleasure in the differences between the respective mythologies of two or more focal presences:

Some Marxist critics will view such character-crossovers as one of many strategies by which the evil Masters of Mass Culture manipulate their audiences. While such explanations may seem to answer all questions as to the motives of the stories' producers, they don't say anything substantive about why the audiences choose to patronize not just works of mass culture in general, but works in which characters or concepts from different storylines happen to intersect. The usual Marxist explanation is that these audiences want nothing more than mindless divertissement. However, the overlapping of distinct storylines would seem to intensify the degree of mental effort an audience-member must exert in order to participate in the crossover's intersecting universes.  For instance, when Rider Haggard takes a character who exists in a moderately realistic universe, i.e., Allan Quatermain, and causes him to encounter a character whose nature is overtly supernatural, Haggard must find some way to treat both characters with integrity, even though the ground rules of their universes are in conflict.  

In a larger sense, though, it's not just the "ground rules" that are in conflict, but the stories of characters with radically different backgrounds, be it She and Allan, or Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. One might say that what is being "rallied" in such crossover-tales is not any sort of "alliance" between the focal characters, but of the "spirit of monstrosity," just as other ensemble-cast films usually rally spirits of romance, heavy drama, slapstick comedy and so on.

Now, as I pointed out earlier, "hero rallies" and what I have termed "demihero tallies" are fairly common. Since both personas are dominantly positive in tone, it's become common to feature crossovers between such characters. The personas of "monsters" and "villains," however, are meant to be negative in tone: both personas primarily exist to be defeated by the forces of life and/or justice.
That said, it's more typical to see "monsters" as central to particular narratives than it is to see "villains" in the same position. The monster is the dark side of the demihero, even as the villain is the dark side of the hero. The genre of horror is largely about exploring the nature of the monster, while any demiheroes tend to play secondary roles. In contrast, in adventure-fiction and its congeners, the villain exists to define the hero. Monsters are thus often centric, while villains are non-centric.

Often, when monsters or villains are made the stars of continuing features, they are made to battle "the menace of the month," just as heroes do. For instance, the cover of the first issue of DC's 1975 feature THE JOKER shows him visually dominating other Bat-villains, though in the story proper he's only engaged with fighting Two-Face over some slight.




Similarly, in the 1940s FRANKENSTEIN series by Dick Briefer, the Monster's first adversary is his creator Frankenstein, whom I view as more "demihero" than "hero." Doctor Frankenstein does not last long as the Monster's main opponent, but before the scientist vanishes from the series, he creates one or two "monsters of the month" to battle his greatest creation.




Now, the presence of two monsters in the Frankenstein story doesn't really constitute a "monster rally" like that of the 1943 Universal film. In that film, both the Monster and the Wolf Man comprise an ensemble, for they are of equal interest to the ideal viewer of the story. Not so the croc-monster in the FRANKENSTEIN comic; he's simply an opponent for the main character. "Villain rallies" in which both villains have been the stars of their own serials-- even if they did not start out that way-- are much rarer, but Two-Face is not the equal of the Joker in the Joker's book. The earliest example of a "villain rally" wherein both evildoers have been featured characters in their own narratives is this 1964 crossover of Walt Disney properties: the comic villains the Phantom Blot and the Beagle Boys, both of whom had enjoyed their own comic books by the time this issue appeared.



Thus, in the third and last part of this essay-series, I've compiled for my own amusement the main ways in which "monster rallies" usually take place. "Villain rallies," which are less common, are pretty much subsumed by the same narrative rules, and so I won't make separate reference to them.






Friday, May 5, 2017

RALLY ROUND THE ROGUES' GALLERY PT. 1

I did a "Demihero Rally" here, and to provide myself with an easy reference for future installments of this planned essay-series, I'm now listing everything I've reviewed, on any of my blogs, that might qualify as a "rally/crossover" of the personas of "monsters." I won't bother with hero-crossovers, they're pretty easy to pinpoint.

For monsters:









I wouldn't mind adding the personas of villains to the list, but I don't seem to have done anything with crossovers of starring villains., The closest I've come is "centric hero meeets centric villain," here.




Wednesday, May 3, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE DUCHESS OF DENVER," STEVE CANYON (April-Aug 1951)





I touched on the influence of Milton Caniff in my review of FABLE OF VENICE, noting how he made his greatest impact with 1934's TERRY AND THE PIRATES, which he departed in 1946 in order to work on a strip he could own outright, 1947's STEVE CANYON. The latter strip, though popular, never had the massive influence that TERRY had on comics-art. Both strips involved footloose young bravos tooling around various parts of the world, but TERRY seemed to catch a spirit of pure adventure characteristic of the 1930s, while the postwar world of CANYON was considerably more button-down.



Both strips, however, displayed Caniff's genius for creating vibrant female characters.  The best-known character from TERRY, the Dragon Lady, has become a sobriquet for any sort of dominating female, but the original character was a cool, resourceful schemer who could out-think and outmaneuver most men-- though not so much Pat Ryan, the he-man star who escorted young Terry Lee into assorted adventures  At the same time Caniff also utilized other character-types who were not nearly as original. In addition to Ryan's dalliances with the exotic Dragon Lady, he also enjoyed romances with a Sweet Young Thing, name of Normandie Drake, and with a Shady Lady named Burma. a dame who gave every impression that she got around. Caniff continued to use all three types throughout CANYON as well, and in 1951 he came with one of his more interesting psychological myths: "the Duchess of Denver." She may have taken her name from a character in a 1920s "Peter Wimsey" detective novel, but I suspect her real source was Caniff's ambivalent feelings toward the opposite sex.

For Caniff the "Shady Lady" type stands between the Sweet Young Thing and the Dominating Woman (represented in the CANYON strip by a businesswoman with the evocative name of Copper Calhoun.)   The Shady Lady is basically sympathetic despite having some sort of criminal or socially-disreputable past, wandering from place to place and at home nowhere. Often, when the Caniff hero encounters her, he must rescue her from some caddish fellow to whom she's loosely associated. This is how Pat Ryan encounters Burma, whom he must protect from a fiend named Captain Judas.


Because Caniff aimed his strips at family newspapers, the precise relationship of the lady to her ungentlemanly paramours was always left vague, but often one could read between the lines pretty well. Though Caniff's women were often gutsy or clever, the world of TERRY-- and of CANYON-- was pretty much a man’s world. Thus it was a given that even women of independent minds ought to hook up with a man, either for financial or psychological support.

The Duchess of Denver belongs to the Shady Lady type, but with some interesting differences.  Steve Canyon makes one of his frequent jaunts to the Orient on some spy-mission, and a he sees the comely Duchess-- never given any other name-- being auctioned off at a slave-market by a despicable individual named Fungo.   However, after doing his Galahad act, Canyon learns that Fungo and the Duchess are actually married, and that the auction is a scam to fleece customers. Further, the Duchess isn't the usual "weak woman" enslaved to a brutish man. In a reverse of the usual expectations, the Duchess, though not physically prepossessing, is a former circus strongwoman who can beat up most men who give her grief, while Fungo is short and ratty-looking. But because the Duchess has some inexplicable love for the nasty fellow, she simply takes it when he slaps her around.  The relationship is never explored in depth, but Caniff commented on it more directly in STEVE CANYON MAGAZINE #13: “It was a sadism-masochism thing, which I was playing with very gingerly at the time.”   

LIke many earlier Shady Ladies, Duchess is basically good at heart, and is revolted by the criminal activities she must undertake for him-- and yet she remains in erotic bondage to her swinish lover. Finally, she rebels in an indirect manner; after Fungo tries to kill Canyon, the Duchess joins Canyon as they flee the city via ship. In contrast to many modern uses of similar tropes, there is never a cathartic moment in which she gets to whale on her abusive husband to pay him back. When the ship sails, Fungo is still hale and hearty, having lost nothing but a useful pawn in his auction-racket.

Whenever a female character in literature suffers abuse, some critics have been known to go overboard, seeing conspiracies by male creators to degrade womanhood, at least through fictional surrogates.   I’m leery of this kind of “woman-as-eternal-victim” reading, but I can see why someone might read the "Duchess" continuity in this fashion. Even though Duchess is physically stronger than most women, she remains psychologically dependent on a man for her self-validation.   In fact, in one of her few revealing moments, she tells Canyon, “I’m so strong I have to be calm—my mother told me to THINK like a helpless little girl.”   Canyon then asks, “Is that how you were thinking when you married Fungo?” This bit of impertinence earns him a punch in the face from the strongwoman.


I’d like to think, not that Caniff wanted to see a strong woman dominated by an evil man, but that he intuited that the socialization of women in the early 20th century—the insistence that all women should be “feminine” to the extent of helplessness—put them in a vulnerable psychological position, resulting in a tendency of women to have masochistic tendencies no matter how physically strong she might be. At the same time, one can’t quite overlook that the Duchess never really triumphs over her dominator, but merely escapes him.   She does get to triumph over a more comic antagonist, though. Once Canyon and the Duchess take passage on the ship, they find out that its captain, the humorously named "Curly Kew," is an unscrupulous pirate, who decides to keep the two of them prisoner while trying to romance the Duchess. Duchess fends off Kew several times and subdues him physically twice, making it quite unnecessary for Canyon to perform his usual “knight-in-shining-armor” routine. Amusingly, one of the first story-lines in TERRY AND THE PIRATES dealt with Terry and Ryan being held captive on board a junk owned by the Dragon Lady and her piratical minions, and how Ryan had to keep coming up with ways to keep himself from being seduced by another type of "strong woman."


The shipboard menace comes to an end when Kew is taken prisoner by Communist forces: Canyon and the Duchess, not looking upon the Reds as rescuers, opt to escape the ship in a lifeboat.  During the escape Canyon’s “lady” becomes his “dragon,” for the Duchess catches a chill while the boat is at sea and becomes delirious. A storm arises, increasing the dramatic peril, and the Duchess hallucinates that Canyon is her abusive husband. She belatedly tries to take vengeance for her mistreatment by killing "Fungo," forcing Canyon to endeavor both to restrain her and to keep the boat from being swamped. “If I’m to lose a wrestling bout,” he cracks with a touch of male masochism, “it might as well be to a beautiful dame.”

  However, when push comes to shove-- that is, when she tries to bash him with an oar-- he does defend himself and knock her out.An extreme feminist might say that by so doing he merely reinforces the same male tyranny represented by Fungo, but this is somewhat backward thinking, given that Canyon is never less than the perfect gentleman. Then the storm serves as Caniff’s device to end the continuity. The boat is swamped, hurling both refugees into the ocean. Just in time Canyon is rescued by American military. The Duchess, who never again appears in the strip, is last seen about to sink beneath the ocean-waves.

One can’t entirely escape the feeling that Caniff, in creating the Duchess, spawned a character too powerful to play the damsel in Canyon’s normal knight-errant routine, and that she is written out of the strip as quickly as possible because Caniff could think of nothing else to do with her.   Since the artist doesn’t explicitly show her death, Caniff may have entertained some thought of bringing her back. But in all probability her remarkable physical strength would have made her too freakish to have become a returning figure like the aforementioned Burma. Still, she remains an interesting footnote to any considerations of Caniff as a creator of femmes formidables.

Monday, May 1, 2017

PASSIVELY AGGRESSIVE



I've now completed my survey of the 1965-68 teleseries LOST IN SPACE, in order to determine whether or not this clearly marvelous-metaphenomenal series should be judged as belonging to the combative mode, and therefore as belonging to the category of "the superhero idiom." I've addressed this topic in various essays but the essay most relevant to this investigation is 2012's CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER-IDIOM LIST.  Though this piece concentrated primarily on how to make determinations as to a given work's "Fryean mythos," it was in this essay that I put forth the "51 percent rule,"which I'd formulated earlier in order to suss out what serial works belonged to the superhero idiom by virtue of being dominantly both metaphenomenal and combative. Here's what I wrote about the rule in CHALLENGE:

I term my solution to this problem the "51 Per Cent Solution."  In business dealings we're accustomed to hearing that a stockholder with 51% of a company's stocks has the greatest advantage, though not an unqualified dominion.  Thus, if one wished to determine the dominant mythos of the Briefer work, one would count up the total number of stories and determine which mythos-type was statistically dominant.  Only an unqualified 50/50 split between mythoi would make such a determination useless, but the paucity of these exceptions proves the rule: most creators start with a given mythos, make only token shifts to other mythoi, usually proving "loyal" to a particular emotional *dynamis.*
In 2015 I decided that the 51 percent rule, modeled on my perceptions of economic patterns, needed to be supplemented by a corollary principle, described in ACTIVE SHARE, PASSIVE SHARE:

Yet as I played around with the rule in the provisional "super-idiom list" that I mentioned in the first "51 percent" essay, I realized that even some characters who didn't satisfy the "51 percent rule" seemed important to the list... [so] I could and did do a statistical survey on another Old West hero: the Rawhide Kid of Marvel Comics, the company descended from the publisher who did "Ringo Kid" in the 1950s. When I counted the number of Rawhide's purely isophenomenal adventures, and compared them with those in which he'd enjoyed encounters with metaphenomenal entities, the latter worked out to about eight percent of the total stories. So, by the "51 percent rule," Rawhide could not belong to "the superhero idiom" any more than could the Ringo Kid. And yet, it's evident that for a time, the Kid's creators Lee and Kirby were making a significant attempt to place their combative cowpoke into superhero situations.


Thanks to a little more research, I evolved my corollary principle:

...from the strict view of the "51 percent rule," both Ringo and Rawhide are "minority shareholders" in the realm of the metaphenomenal. However, to extend the above distinction into the realm of literature, Ringo Kid's adventures display only a "minority passive interest" in matters metaphenomenal, while Rawhide Kid's display a "minority active interest"-- that is, Rawhide's encounters with metaphenomenal presences remain a vital part of his mythos, even if they're not numerically superior to all the naturalistic exploits.
So the "Marvel" serial character The Ringo Kid does not belong to the category of the superhero idiom because he satisfies the combative qualification but does not satisfy the qualification of the necessary phenomenality. LOST IN SPACE was my first attempt to evaluate a serial work in terms that was clearly metaphenomenal but was more "ambivalent" in terms of its combative elements. I posed the question thusly in the first LIS-survey essay:

...on what occasions is it possible for a given series to achieve the combative mode, less because of an emphasis on the continual encounter of megadynamic forces than because of an emphasis upon the outward *form* of such an encounter?...By way of exploring this "outward form" possibility further, I'm going to devote a series of posts to a television series whose status with regard to the combative mode has always been dubious to me.

"Outward form" was a clumsy way of saying that the work under investigation reproduced the form of some pattern that had been articulated frequently enough to become a literary archetype. My example in that essay, the Spectre of the Golden Age, conforms to the archetype of the "metaphenomenal combative" even though he spends an awful lot of time taking on enemies who can't really fight him, and only occasionally vying against entities of comparable power. So the Spectre would be an example of an "active share" type of character-- not in terms of his pheomenality, which is clearly marvelous-- but in terms of the rarity of his truly megadynamic encounters. Mundane gangsters are thus a lower manifestation of the general evil that the Spectre fights.


Now, I've defined the LOST IN SPACE characters as demiheroes in this essay, but characters belonging to that persona can belong to the category of the superhero idiom as easily as the other three personas of hero, villain, and monster. It's easy to determine a demihero's status with respect to the combative mode when he gets into fights all the time, like the one examined here.

From 1965 to 1968 LOST IN SPACE portrayed an ensemble of eight regular spacefaring characters: John Robinson and his wife Maureen, their children Will, Judy, and Penny, ship's navigator Don West, the cowardly stowaway Doctor Smith, and the ship's robot, known only as "the Robot." Doctor Smith had no combative abilities whatever, and Maureen and her three kids sometimes wielded guns but were never seen doing much of anything. As for Don West, he acted like a tough guy and could clearly handle a gun, but he was always played as "the sidekick who gets knocked out to make the main character look good." Ship's captain John Robinson-- played by the same actor who had played Zorro in a 1957-59 teleseries-- was the only human character who showed megadynamic power in his battle with aliens and androids. However, the Robot became something of an "ace in the hole" for the space travelers, and often used his superior technological arsenal against enemies too tough to be taken down by a human wielding a ray-gun (or a sword). Since the Robot soon evolved from a simple resource into a full-fledged (if cornball) character, I have no problem in judging him to be part of the ensemble, and thus the automaton and the ship's captain are the only "megadynamic" presences who starred in the series.

Since 19 episodes out of the total of 83 were combative, this means that 23% of the show's episodes featured megadynamic forces in contention. In my analysis of Marvel's RAWHIDE KID stories from 1960 to 1973, I found that about seven percent of that character's stories were metaphenomenal, but I still judged that the *WAY* they were employed gave Rawhide a "minority active interest" in that phenomenality.



However, once one is below the 50th percentile, the quantity does not matter with respect to judging either phenomenal or combative elements. I judged that the Rawhide Kid saga showed a repeated intent to associate the hero with metaphenomenal elements, and that these became a vital part of his mythos. John Robinson and the Robot sometimes accomplish superhero-like feats-- Robinson sword-demifighting his way through an army of androids in "Space Destructors," or the Robot defeating a universe-conquering "robotoid" in "The War of the Robots"-- but these seem to be anomalies in the "mythos" of this series. (NOTE: in this and in ACTIVE SHARE PASSIVE SHARE, I'm using the word "mythos" in a general, non-Fryean sense.)



Some stories are resolved by overt peacemaking between factions who just need to know each other better, as in "The Sky is Falling." There are also enemies who display megadynamic powers and use those powers to menace the Robinson party, as in "Kidnapped in Space," wherein the group is attacked by androids serving a super-computer. However, in that story a combative conclusion is put aside in favor of another negotiation. Sometimes enemies are persuaded to abandon their hostile intentions, as with the Junkman of "Junkyard of Space," and sometimes villains who are utterly intransigent are destroyed by chance rather than pitched combat, as when Doctor Smith accidentally blows up the nasty alien in "The Golden Man." And as I covered in the survey, there are many stories in which some functional violence occurs at a narrative's end, but none of the spectacle one needs to create megadynamic conflict.

Thus I conclude that despite the presence of a few "superhero-like" adventures within the mythos of LOST IN SPACE, the dominant ethos is directed away from combative resolutions, in contrast to the serial's contemporary competitor STAR TREK, which talked a lot about peace and understanding but took a lot of pleasure in the spectacle of fight-scenes. For this reason LOST IN SPACE possesses only a "minority passive share" in the category of the combative, and so does not belong to the larger category of the superhero idiom.