Wednesday, September 2, 2015

MYTHCOMICS: "BEWARE OF POISON IVY" (BATMAN #181, 1966)




(NOTE: In my essay on one of Kanigher's WONDER WOMAN "null-mythic" stories, I mentioned that the author occasionally managed to put together some decent myth-tales in the pages of a title of his own creation, METAL MEN. I anticipate getting to one of these in the future. But if I had to name the Kanigher story that possesses the strongest mythicity, it would be the story in which he introduced Poison Ivy to the Batman mythos-- though it's been said that the new villainess was created in part because allegedly the producers of the ABC Bat-teleseries requested more female characters in the comics franchise, and that both editor Julie Scwhartz and artist Carmine Infantino were involved in Ivy's conception.)

SUMMARY: As the story opens, there are three super-villainesses—Dragon Fly, Silken Spider, and Tiger Moth; none of whom had appeared before this story—on the loose in Gotham City. At a museum gathering attended by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, a fourth villainess, Poison Ivy, appears and claims to be greater than the other three curvaceous crooks.   Ivy flirts with Wayne before she flees the museum in the company of a cadre of henchmen. Wayne and Grayson don their crusader-guises and battle the henchmen while Ivy meditates about whether Wayne or Batman ought to be her next beloved.  Ivy, having made her escape, sends out messages to both Batman and Wayne, inviting them to show up at a prearranged location and battle one another for her favor.  At the same time Ivy also sends false messages to the other three super-villainesses, causing them to assemble at the same location with their gangs, in order to fight for the right to be called “Queen of Crime.”   Bruce Wayne doesn’t attend the gathering, but Batman and Robin arrive and began thrashing thugs,. Meanwhile Ivy puts her three rivals out of commission.   Ivy tries to conquer Batman’s crimefighting resolve with drugged lipstick, but his willpower proves greater, and Ivy also ends up in jail.




Since the “real world” we live in generally produces more male criminals than females of the species, it's perhaps inevitable than most if not all fictional serial-heroes also have more males than females in their "rogues' galleries."

That said, it still seems odd that Batman, a serial hero whose adventures were published continuously since 1939, should endure for his first twenty-five years with only one significant female opponent in his mythos. Admittedly the Catwoman is probably the most famous lady lawbreaker to have been birthed from the comic-book medium.   Still, twenty-five years is a long time, and one might conjecture that Catwoman cast such a long shadow over the Bat-mythos that the raconteurs of that mythos could not even contemplate breaking the Feline Felon's monopoly.   Only in 1966 did writer Robert Kanigher introduce the first challenge to that monopoly: Poison Ivy, who would remain a major player in Batman’s cosmos, thanks in large part to the way Kanigher’s original story celebrated the felicities of feminine feloniousness.

“Beware,” aside from introducing Poison Ivy, also makes evident how little the costumed criminals of Batman’s world function like real-world criminals, and how much more they resemble the deities of Greek myth: eager to show off their divine attributes before astounded mortals, and quick to take offense at any perceived slight.  In keeping with this attitude, Kanigher may have borrowed, consciously or not, certain elements from the Greek myth of the Apple of Discord.   This myth explained the origins of the Trojan War as stemming from the mischief of Eris, Goddess of Discord.  She fomented strife amidst the female Olympians—Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite—by hurling into their midst a golden apple inscribed, “To the prettiest one,” which prize each of the goddesses claimed.   Zeus passed the decision on this “beauty contest” to Paris of Troy, and when each goddess in turn gave Paris a bribe, he chose the bribe proffered by Aphrodite, which was Helen, wife of Agamemnon, whose abduction led to the war against Troy—a fitting piece of mischief from the Goddess of Discord.


Kanigher’s tale is not quite this ambitious, but there are a number of similarities between the archaic and modern tales.   In the archaic tale, all the strife of the Trojan War takes place due to the squabbling of goddesses, while all of the conflict in the Bat-tale proceeds out of Poison Ivy's schemes against her female rivals.   Ivy’s plan is on one level more audacious than that of Eris, for while Eris merely wants general strife, Ivy wishes to totally unseat the ruling “goddesses” of Gotham’s crime-world.

Discounting a “teaser” panel that depicts an event from a later part of the tale, the first panel of "Beware" literally frames the story's three goddesses for the delectation of all onlookers, both inside and outside the story. The tale begins in a Gotham museum, which has on display huge pictures of three at-large villainesses: Dragon Fly, Silken Spider, and Tiger Moth. These pictures are closer to being a combination of wanted posters and girly-art, though Kanigher explains them in terms of contemporaneous art-movements by calling the display a “pop art show.”   Since in 1966 even Catwoman had not appeared in a Batman comic for over ten years, this sudden profusion of felonious femininity—consisting of three bad girls who had never appeared in comics before—seems  grounded in the desire to put some lustiness back into Batman’s somewhat chaste mythos.    Both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson show their appreciation for these gigantic images of femininity, and Wayne even tells Grayson, “Stop drooling!  You’re too young!” For his part, Grayson imagines being someday old enough to “catch” the illegal ladies.

Poison Ivy then appears, and observes that though the three insect-named villains may be judged as numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the scale of “World Public Enemies,” only Ivy is really no. 1. She's not only better looking, she argues, but she's managed to commit crimes without having them detected.   Having made this statement, she bows out, frustrating attempts by both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego to “catch” her. In truth, Ivy's the one who plans to catch both Wayne and Batman.



Ivy projects the aura of a pagan goddess in her utter confidence in her attractiveness, and Kanigher frequently uses metaphors about the infectiousness of real poison ivy to describe the way her beauty dazzles Batman.   The other three crime-queens are never given as much personality, yet because all three share the same insect-motif, one may wonder if Kanigher meant them to suggest the rapacity of certain females of the insect/arachnid kingdoms that consume their male counterparts.   Strangely, Kanigher never makes any comparisons to the natural world’s frequent antipathies between insects and plants, though if he had, one assumes he would’ve been drawn to yet another plant with feminine symbolism: Ivy-as-Venus-flytrap.

At any rate, now that Batman is smitten, it’s Robin who must play the part of Jiminy Cricket-- and sort of a roundabout daddy-figure-- by trying to keep Batman’s mind off the verdant vixen.  Strangely, though the story starts out with Robin showing off his adolescent lusts, he's immune to Ivy's charms.

Ivy then sends out certain “poison pen” letters, which cause the three insect-girls to meet and fight it out, for the honor of being the prettiest crime-queen.  Oddly enough, her messages to Batman and Wayne are without guile, but this is her own feminine ego at work: she assumes that as both have seen her, both will want her.   Thus the second and final act of the tale turns upon her double play: to overcome the rival females and co-opt the most powerful male.

Of the two actions, Ivy’s device to usurp her rivals is the most telling: again pursuing the “beauty contest” comparisons, Ivy presents the three female felons with a “priceless crown.”  As with Eris’ golden apple, the three females all try to possess the prize, but with more harmful results, since Ivy rigs the crown to shock them all into unconsciousness.   


Ivy then takes possession of her second objective, as she beguiles Batman into kissing her, over the futile protests of Jiminy Robin.  It should be noted that although Ivy does use drugged lipstick on the senior hero, the drug doesn't have anything to do with him allowing her access to his lips in the first place.


Ivy then attempts a rather unlikely form of escape—“climbing straight up that wall, like she was Ivy,” Robin exclaims. She confidently proclaims that Batman won’t stop her-- her kiss essentially having “unmanned” him. But since it's Batman’s book, he recovers his huevos and brings her to justice.

In conclusion, I should note that despite the plant-motif of her costume, the original Poison Ivy has nothing to do with using exotic plants: the Ivy that uses plant-weapons is a later revision, followed by the current version that's a plant-human hybrid.   Kanigher’s Ivy uses weapons modeled on aspects of femininity. In the next (and last) Batman story Kanigher wrote with her, Ivy uses weapons like a hypnotic face-mirror and explosive “hairs” concealed in her own hair.   Kanigher clearly meant her to be the epitome of feminine evil.   And though Catwoman still outshines her in many departments, at least Kanigher might be pleased that she remains an unrepentant villain for most of her career.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

COMBAT PLAY

I've often remarked that ideological critics are a superstitious, humorless lot, in that they're obsessed with performing "purity tests" for artists-- not just for those that advance reactionary political schemes, like Margaret Mitchell, but even for creators who show liberal tendencies, like Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantino, but aren't quite militant enough for the ultraliberals' tastes. Yet I use the word "militant" advisedly, because most ideological critics are particularly superstitious about any expression of force or violence, as I examined in detail in Part 1 , Part 2, and Part 3 of A REALLY LONG DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE.

In that essay-series I mentioned how a pacifist political figure of the 19th century, Adin Ballou, coined the phrase "Might makes right." Throughout the following century, most ideological critics have shared Ballou's implicit opposition to this state of human affairs. Throughout the 20th century all types of heroes-- not even just the boulder-shouldered supermen, but also the purely ratiocinative detectives-- have been accused of promulgating "lynch law" in the name of some murky governmental organization.  This mood of continual ressentiment leads, ironically enough, to its own form of "lynch law," in which the ideologues can condemn anybody for anything, without providing any sort of internally consistent proof. I cited various non-HU examples in Part 1 and Part 2 of VICTIMOLOGY 101.

That said, I'm not utterly opposed to reading fictional narratives in terms of what moral lessons they *may* directly convey to audiences, but all such readings require (1) a basic understanding that fiction is not a form of direct moral address in the same way that non-fiction is, and (2) the courage to to build a solid case against a narrative's alleged immorality, rather than simply depending on simplistic, knee-jerk associations. Most ideological critics are not willing to go to this much effort, though many of them will pay lip service to preferring logical examination of issues over "the rule of force."

I've often theorized that the emotional pay-off from the ideological outlook is that it makes the ideologue feel as if he's made a difference by talking about the "tough issues" of racism, sexism, and so on. Ideologues ranging from Nathanael West to Rod Serling have chosen to view heroic fantasies as being "negative compensation" at best, and "bread and circuses" at worst. But if we go with Alfred Adler's own definition of the term he invented, then "negative compensation" only takes place when the person fails to show "courage" in adapting to a negative situation. One will never get an ideologue devoted to the ideal of social realism to view any form of heroic-or-violent fantasy as "positive compensation." But when the ideologues cite simplistic, knee-jerk ideas in lieu of solid evidence, they themselves are guilty of a failure of courage, and so fall within the vale of "negative compensation" by the terms of their own ideology.

Now, I've put forth a high-flown, Hegelian defense of "the combative mode," despite my knowledge that few if any popular critics will be able to grapple with the issues this defense raises. Yet the defense is not, in itself, my own "emotional pay-off." For me to have typed so many words fine-tuning all ideas relating to "the combat myth," it obviously carries some personal association. This validation in turn is not validated by the ideologues, either because the myth never meant anything to them, or because they felt its impact as children but have come to associate it entirely with childhood. By the standard of *intersubjectivity* as I've outlined it here, the ideologues are not wrong, in terms of taste, not to like something that I like. They are only wrong in terms of promulgating bad logic to lift up whatever they like at the expense of what I like.

There's a key irony here. I'm fully aware that one of the very things I like about the "combat myth" is that it doesn't resemble the way real life arranges its various conflicts-- say, with courts and governments and insurance companies. That's one of my main reasons for liking it, whether one cares to believe that's "negative compensation" or not. In contrast, the ideologues want fictional narrative to conform perfectly not to reality as it is lived, but to one that clearly marks out who are the good people and the bad people-- but not in any escapist terms, but in terms that are supposedly responsive to "reality."

Monday, August 31, 2015

FRYE UNDER FIRE

I have strayed into the fields of the Hubristic Underminers once more, but in this essay at least, I'll confine myself to reflecting on some of the blog's recent comments on my favorite critic, Northrop Frye.

Actually, I was a little surprised to see any mentions of Frye on HU at all. I had seen one of their contributors dismiss Frye as "old-fashioned"-- albeit on a forum, not on HU itself. Thus I thought it unlikely that any of HU's pundits would display an interest in the late Canadian myth-critic-- if only because his synoptic orientation, relating to seeing all literature as part of a vast pattern, would mean little in terms of HU's vaunted ideological aims.

Frye did get mentioned, albeit in passing, in Chris Gavaler's THE PHYSICS OF FICTION. After I read this essay, I googled Frye's name alongside that of HU, and saw a handful of essays that cited Frye, though none did so in a more substantive manner than Gavaler's piece. While I'm still surprised that the HU crew is even aware of Frye, the paucity of substantive writing suggests that he's merely a name to conjure with for these essayists, not someone that they trouble to research with the same intensity that they pursue the tortuous tautologies of Marx and Freud.

Gavaler's primary reference to Frye appears only because Frye is quoted by a critic with whom Gavaler disagrees:

Rothman resurrects Northrop Frye to fill the vacuum left by the collapsing genre system, but the Frye model’s four-part structure (novel, romance, anatomy, confession) is more likely to spread chaos (“novel” is a kind of novel?). 

Now, I myself expressed some ambivalence about Rothman's citation, to wit:

As for Rothman, I see where he’s going with the invocation of Frye, but the four forms Rothman cites are not especially relevant to current literature. However, in the ANATOMY Frye also elucidated four *mythoi”– which he termed the romance, the comedy, the tragedy, and the irony– that are far more applicable.
For instance, some critics might say that WATCHMEN is good because it skewers the traditions of the adventure-oriented superhero narrative, which in Fryean terms would be “romance.” But that view is simplistic. WATCHMEN is a good work within its own mythos, that of the “irony,” whose nature is to satirize and downgrade all forms of human experience, not just types of disreputable pop-fiction. If adventure-oriented superheroes are good, they are either good or bad according to the romantic parameters they follow– but not because they don’t have enough satirical shit in them.

So I can give Gavaler a pass regarding his ambivalence on the "novel category" thing, since I myself don't think it's currently useful. However, later Gavaler once again assails Frye on his supposed lack of consistency:

Literary fiction is another problematic term. It traditionally denotes narrative realism, fiction that appears to take place here on Earth, but it’s also been used as shorthand for works of artistic worth. With the second half of the definition provisionally struck, we’re left with realism. Its solar center is mimesis, the mirror that works of literature are held against to test their ability to reflect our world. Northrop Frye declared mimesis one of the two defining poles of literature, though he had trouble naming its opposite. Frye located romance—a category that includes romance as well as all other popular genres (and so another conceptual strike against the Frye model)—in the idealized world, so Harlequin romances are part fantasy too (real guys just aren’t that gorgeous and wonderful). 

In my own adaptation of Frye, I foreswore his term "romance" in favor of "adventure," in part because currently the word "romance" does have this modern connotation. However, I pointed out that Gavaler had falsified Frye's supposed "trouble" in naming the literary mode opposed to verisimilitude. I commented:

[The center’s] more like a binary star, and the people facing the other “sun” are the ones who like Borges more than Trollope.
I don’t think Frye had any difficulty naming the opposite of mimetic realism. In the ANATOMY he contrasts “versimilitude”– which is the reigning principle of the mimetic– with “myth.” And I quote:
“Our survey of fictional modes has also shown us that the mimetic tendency itself, the tendency to verisimilitude and accuracy of description, is one of two poles of literature. At the other pole is something that seems to be connected both with Aristotle’s word mythos and with the usual meaning of myth. That is, it is a tendency to tell a story which is in origin a story about characters who can do anything, and only gradually becomes attracted toward a tendency to tell a plausible or credible story.”
There have been defenders of “literary myth” in the humanities long before Frye, such as Andrew Lang. Their voices just weren’t as loud– hence, Gavaler’s description of modern criticism as being totally oriented upon verisimilitude/ mimeticism.
Interested parties may check out Gavaler's response for themselves, but I found it superficial at best. I suggest that Gavaler dismissed Frye's image of a spectrum with two opposed modes because he's thoroughly in love with his "mimetic solar center" image, and Frye's continuum simply doesn't allow for such centrality.

Gavaler's confidence in the centrality of "the mimetic" extends to describing a experiment that supposedly demonstrates the pre-eminence of the mimetic mode. I won't spend any time describing it-- again, interested parties can check it out for themselves-- but I view it as a stunningly useless pseudo-experiment, one which doesn't even begin to answer my implied question, "If mimeticism is so on top of it all, how did Jose Luis Borges become a Literary Light?"

No big changes here, so no surprise that everything at HU stays the same.





Thursday, August 27, 2015

FINAGLING THE FOCAL PRESENCE PT. 2

Part One appeared way back in 2012, but it's once more relevant as I've been giving thought once more to the question of "illusory focal presences."  This means that I'll be revealing the endings of various narratives under discussion, so-- SPOILERS.

Literature is rife with stoties in which a narrator seems to interact with another human being, who may be his literal double, as with Poe's short story "William Wilson," or an ego-projection with its own apparently identity, as seen in Conrad's "Secret Sharer" and Palahniuk's FIGHT CLUB. The latter, dealing with projections that come to seem more real than the viewpoint character, may be seen as modern-day iterations of the Jekyll-and-Hyde relationship-- not least because, as I noted in this essay, Hyde is usually much more interesting than Jekyll.

Two more involved variations of this trope can be found in a pair of 1960s films I've reviewed on my cinema-review blog.

In its first hour, Mario Bava's 1963 work THE WHIP AND THE BODY seems like a set-up for a ghost story, particularly since Kurt, the black-sheep aristocrat who projects the greatest evil-- played by horror-icon Christopher Lee-- dies early in the story, and then seems to come back and prey upon the members of his family. It eventually comes out that Nevenka-- Kurt's former lover, who was married to his brother in Kurt's absence-- is guilty not only of killing Kurt but of committing murders as the persona of Kurt. She finally kills herself in the belief that she's killing Kurt.

But who's the focal presence? As I noted in the review, I've seen only the American release, which may have eliminated some key info about Nevenka's personality. However, though Nevenka follows a pattern that had been popularized three years previous by Hitchcock's PSYCHO, she's no Norman Bates. Hitchcock at least gives the viewer broad hints about how Norman became a monster, but I suspect that Bava didn't supply much for Nevenka. If the Italian version isn't any more elaborate than the American release, it may be that the true focal presence of the movie is not the confused masochist Nevenka, but her illusion of Kurt-- much as was the case with the two narratives discussed in Part One: 1935's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE and Irving's "Headless Horseman."

So WHIP would be another example where "Hyde," the forceful ego-image, is more real than the Jekyll-persona that creates him. On the other hand, 1964's THE BLACK TORMENT provides a rare example of the reverse tendency.

The viewpoint character of TORMENT is a "new wife" in the tradition of REBECCA and similar narratives, but it's the new wife's husband who seems to be the star of the show-- for TORMENT's conflict revolves around another Hyde-like problem-- is Sir Richard Fordyke, the lord of the manor, committing random murders, as witnesses attest?

The mere fact that I label the film's dominant trope to be that of the "phantasmal figuration" should be enough to signal that Sir Richard happens to be innocent. None of the plotters-- not even the "menacing doppelganger" who impersonates Sir Richard-- are very impressive, and though I mentioned that Sir Richard himself isn't very deep, the question of whether he is or is not sane seems to be the film's most central question. Thus, BLACK TORMENT would be, in essence, one of the few times that "Jekyll" doesn't just outshine "Hyde," his character-arc is, like that of REBECCA's saturnine husband, more significant to the narrative than either the viewpoint character or any of those who oppose him.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

NULL-MYTHS: RAGNAROK BOOKS 1-10 (2002-04)



Since the theme of the "null-myths" essays is to focus upon narratives that I deem "inconsummate"-- that is, showing a mythic potential that goes unrealized-- I suppose it might seem inappropriate to cite a work that has gone literally unfinished for the last ten years. Still, artist-writer Lee Myung-Jin did complete ten volumes of the comic before he allegedly started devoting his full attention to an online RPG based on RAGNAROK. I suppose I'm of the opinion that if the fellow had possessed any ability to imbue his jumble of borrowings from Nordic stories with genuine mythic resonance, that ability surely would have showed up after 10 volumes, no matter how many story-arcs remained up in the air.

Though Lee's work was conceived as a manhwa first and became a role-playing game afterward, RAGNAROK has a sketchy feel, as if its invocations of mythic characters and situations was never meant to be more than minor set-ups for a game's action. Nevertheless, though I'm not a player of RPGs, I have occasionally seen such simple set-ups turned into competent if not especially complex narratives: 2012's DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER being one example. The Dragon Age scenario at least plays out its simple conflict of knights and wizards with some attention to the consistency of its mythos.

In contrast, Lee merely treats Norse myth as a grab-bag from which he can swipe names such as Balder, Loki, and-- most laughably-- "Fenris Fenrir." Fenrir, according to current wisdom, was the name of a Nordic wolf-god, which was apparently mistranslated as "Fenris" in early renditions. For Lee to use both names, the correct and the incorrect, for the name of a female character who doesn't even possess any lupine characteristics attests to his disinterest in the connotations of the stories.

I suppose as dopey "dungeons and dragons" fantasies go, RAGNAROK is no better or worse than a lot of them, and it may be that I'm including it here to justify the effort of having plowed through all ten volumes. But given that Lee Myung-Jin projected finishing this superficial opus within no less than thirty-three volumes, the fact that it's literally incomplete may be the best thing about it.


Monday, August 24, 2015

MYTHCOMICS: BECAUSE I'M THE GODDESS, BOOKS 1-3 (2003-04)



No one will mistake Shamneko's BECAUSE I'M THE GODDESS,  a short comedy-manga comprised of three collected books, as one of the seminal works of Japanese comics. However, it does illustrate a point I want to make about the overt adaptation of tropes from archaic myth into narratives that may not have much resemblance to the original subject matter.

In a pair of back-to-back essays from May2009, I cited two usages of the Greek myth-character Icarus. I validated this one, because the writer had a sound symbolic purpose in using a variation on the name-- "Icy Harris"-- as a touchstone for the same type of psychological myth seen in the Greek tale: showing the consequences of unbridled ambition. On the other hand, I invalidated this one,
because the creator simply took the name "Icarus," changed the spelling a little, and used it to connote nothing more complex than a hero who could fly around. Thus "Icy Harris" is a more mythic character than "Ikaris" even though the latter has a more mythic appearance, and is tied into a world of gods who are also mostly named after Greek personages. On that logic, it's less important to keep faith with the actual situations of myth-figures than to show insight into their symbolic essence.

GODDESS is one of many manga-tales that borrows freely-- some might say "wildly"-- from the corpus of Greek myth. One of its two main characters is named Pandora, but she's not the rather passive figure of the traditional tales. On one hand, she's being used as a figure of light, T&A themed comedy. On the other, she represents a meditation on the nature of the "eternal female" as the "giver of all things" (which is more or less the way the name "Pandora" renders in English).

In the Greek tale, Zeus sends the beautiful mortal girl Pandora to Earth to bring trouble to mankind. In some renditions of the story, the Titan Prometheus has just given fire to mankind, and Zeus wants to keep mankind in line by allowing Pandora, the eternally curious female, to open the forbidden box (also a jar in some versions) and unleash many evils upon mankind. The manga does include its own versions of both Zeus and Prometheus, and they play roles not too far removed from their Greek counterparts, though both are essentially supporting characters.

Pandora, in many respects a stereotypical busty blonde ditz, is created by Zeus and sent to modern-day Earth to corral mysterious objects called "gifts." It will be later revealed that these gifts were dispersed upon Earth by another goddess-figure, symbolically linked to the new Pandora and in some sense an "evil twin" of the younger character. Pandora, unlike the mortal character of the tale, possesses the power to do almost anything with a magical gesture, and she demonstrates her godly capacity to a befuddled young Japanese student, Aoi Ibara. However, she soon finds that every time she uses the power, she "deflates" to a shadow of herself; a ten-year-old girl. Pandora also discovers a solution to this dilemma: she can recharge her power by kissing Aoi, the young man with whom she shares a supernatural destiny.




Obviously, the author was having fun with-- and maybe at the expense of-- the well-known Japanese tradition of the Lolicon, or "Lolita fantasy." Aoi feels a mild paternal protectiveness toward the juvenile Pandora, but he doesn't want to kiss her. At the same time, he's also upset by the boobalicious-ness of Pandora's adult form. Whereas many male protagonists of comedy-manga are unrepentant horndogs, Aoi is portrayed as a righteous young fellow who's a little phobic about females, possibly due to the circumstances of his upbringing.  The mere fact that Shamneko can expect his audience to laugh when an underage girl kisses an adolescent male illustrates the gulf that still separates Japanese humor from what mainstream America will tolerate.

However, it may go deeper than that. I've puzzled for some time over Japanese culture's pre-occupation with the "Lolicon" theme. Even "harem manga," in which a fortunate male has four or more cute girls living with him, frequently include a female character who's underaged. Without trying to delve too deeply into these waters, I'll just say here that I think Japanese culture is fascinated with the inevitability of the transition between pre-pubescent innocence and increasing maturation-- which in itself is NOT something real Lolita-fanciers care about, if one cares to believe Humbert Humbert.

Aoi is somewhat dragged into his role as Pandora's protector and manservant, a running joke about female dominance that is mirrored in less flattering terms by the manifestation of the "gifts." The "gifts" are actually small god-entities-- some resembling Cupid-- who possess only mortal women and cause them to enslave men to do their bidding. Obviously Shamneko was also playing with another common Japanese sexual trope, that of female-over-male domination. I don't think he manages to illuminate this trope quite as insightfully as he does with the one about the "Lolita complex." Still, the comedy situations are never less than entertaining, and they consistently play into Aoi's aforementioned "bad upbringing" as well.

This being a Japanese manga, it will be no surprise that one of the characters endures a heroic death, but Shamneko still finds a way to end on a upbeat comic note. In the end Pandora appears in a form that is neither the immature juvenile nor the over-endowed sex-doll, but merely than of an ordinary woman. I'm tempted to say that Shamneko is showing that real femininity, as opposed to the fetishes thereof, is the most profound "gift" of heaven. But I'll freely admit that this is only my own conclusion, for the author doesn't try to draw any such morals himself.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

NULL-MYTHS: "LOVING THE ALIEN" (SWAMP THING #60, 1987)



I dropped a passing remark about SWAMP THING #60 in this essay, which concerns the subject of "rapey-ness" far more than does the WATCHMEN. Therefore I'll justify my remark in a little more depth here, since "Loving the Alien" also happens to involve a "clockwork rape."

In the earlier essay I dismissed "Loving" as a story which addressed rape as an Important Issue. I still believe that there's an element of preachiness in the storyline, an element that keeps it from realizing its mythic / plurisignative potential. Yet, though the project was apparently conceived by Alan Moore's frequent SWAMP THING collaborator John Totleben, the story certainly does emphasize many of Moore's favorite tropes.

In short, the issue takes place following a sequence back on Planet Earth. Swamp Thing's spirit is exiled from his native planet, and he's sent hurtling into outer space.  Since Swamp Thing has the power to incarnate his spirit into any body in the vegetable kingdom, the hapless monster's first reaction is to try to stop his flight by forming a new body on the first promising planet.

Enter a planet-sized "motherworld," belonging to a species that is a combination of organic and technological elements. The entire story is told from the POV of the motherworld-- which has no name as such-- as it tells the story of how the discarnate spirit of Swamp Thing-- "a ghost that swam through clockwork"-- came to her. just when she needed a mate. She uses her technology to subdue the monster-hero and strip him of the genetic material to make new offspring-- after which she turns him loose, to continue his journey.

I can't deny that artist Totleben puts an ungodly amount of work into realizing the clockwork world's interaction with the discomfited monster-hero. Yet I'm clearly not the audience for it, being that I've never liked the use of collage in comic books.

I don't think that Moore's writing is at his best here, given that so much of the narration is forced to describe the functioning of the motherworld, Often he resorts to human metaphors simply in order to make the alien creature's meditations accessible, as when he writes, "Upon my hide, a hundred geysers were silenced and a thousand streams ran dry as I held my breath."



Still, though "Loving" is not Moore's best writing, I could live with it if I didn't feel that he was attempting to pound in a message about the evils of rape:

"I drank the wine of his intelligence, drank his body, the pattern of his cells. I ate his fear, I ate his agony, I ate his love, his love, his love-- The rest I threw away."

I don't object in any way to the role-reversal involved, in which a character with a male outlook is raped by a monstrous female. But the setup seems overly preachy, as if to echo the fatuous political point, "If rape could happen to men as often as it happens to women, then it would be a capital crime."

It's arguable that Moore does make a parallel point in WATCHMEN, through the dispiriting interaction of Walter Kovacs and his nasty mother. But whatever shortcomings the Rorschach sequences of WATCHMEN may have, preachiness is not one of them.

This is essentially a cosmological myth, given its attempt to realize an alien species of life, though it may also be deemed psychological in its attempt to project the horror rape upon a male subject.