Wednesday, May 25, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: ODKIN SON OF ODKIN (1981)

To elaborate on his definition of mythical thought, Levi-Strauss drew an analogy to "bricolage": "Mythical thought is therefore a kind of intellectual 'bricolage'" (p. 17). The French verb, "bricoler," has no English equivalent, but refers to the kind of activities that are performed by a handy-man. The "bricoleur" performs his tasks with materials and tools that are at hand, from "odds and ends." He draws from the already existent while the engineer or scientist, according to Levi-Strauss, seeks to exceed the boundaries imposed by society. "The scientist creating events (changing the world) by means of structures and the 'bricoleur' creating structures by means of events" (p. 22).-- Janine Mileaf.

As I said in my previous essay, Wally Wood's second installment of his "Wizard King" concept-- completed at a time when Wood was seriously ill, with considerable fill-in work from his assistants-- was by no means as successful as 1978's THE KING OF THE WORLD.



For my purposes, though, ODKIN is the perfect illustration of the virtues of the "near-myth." Levi-Strauss' view of the process of "bricolage"-- which other sources compare to the idea of a "brick-layer"-- was articulated only with regard to "mythical thought," but in truth it compares to any creative thought, and therefore to the whole of literature. When Aristotle perceives the genesis of the great tragedies in the ritual dramas of the so-called "goat songs," he affirms that simple components can be used to construct larger, more ambitious structures.

Wood, who never found a long-term hospitable berth at any comics company, paid most of his bills by taking on diverse assignments. This may have inclined him to a sort of "handyman" approach to his art. KING OF THE WORLD shows Wood extending himself to emulate the classical rigor of Hal Foster's PRINCE VALIANT, but even in KING there are some rambling, episodic sequences, and a few concepts that don't fit the faux-medieval fantasy-world (more on which shortly). ODKIN, however, really is a work of "odds and ends," comprised of three chapters that have no more rigor than a "Dungeons and Dragons" scenario. In fact, the first chapter-- which barely relates to the other two chapters-- is titled "Table Top Land," and is named for a miniature table-game that a wizard uses against his enemies.

The latter chapters explain the meaning of the title, for Odkin literally dies in chapter two, and is resurrected in chapter three through the technological magic of the wizard Alcazar. So the second Odkin is "odd kin" indeed: Alcazar tells Second Odkin: "in a sense you are your own father and mother." In KING Wood flirted with incest-tropes by claiming that Odkin and his father shared the same mother. In addition, the lost King Atlan was preserved from death in the same way as Odkin: whenever the evil Anark managed to slay the King, the monarch simply came to life in another identical body, also implicitly the creation of Alcazar. This element was the only time I felt one of Wood's "bricks" had been badly laid, for the idea of extra bodies seems purely science-fictional, and was an idea he recycled from the "Noman" feature in 1965's THUNDER AGENTS.






In addition, the big conclusion of Odkin's quest lacks the dramatic heft that Wood set up in the first book. Odkin has been manipulated, albeit out of necessity, into infiltrating the crypt in which Atlan has been placed in an eternal sleep, much like a medieval Arthur waiting for rebirth. However, the only way Odkin can free Atlan is to chop off the head of his sleeping body, so that Atlan's spirit will re-incarnate in one of the bodies controlled by Alcazar. Since Odkin is under the wizard's control when he does the deed, this removes any potential drama from the situation-- and even First Odkin's subsequent death lacks much in the way of pathos. Later, Second Odkin must return to the site of the first one's death, in order to reclaim the magical Sword of Atlan, much as Noman often had to seek out one of his dead android bodies in order to reclaim the irreplaceable invisibility cloak.  Odkin beholds his own dead body-- but Wood can only give the scene a strange detachment. Then the story moves move on to a short-term quest, sending Odkin after a mystic jewel that's been stolen by a dragon, which seems to be little more than an unsatisfying analogue to Bilbo Baggins' encounter with Smaug. Wood also tosses out the names of two opposed gods, "IAM" and "AMNOT," but though these sound like principles of affirmation and negation, Wood refuses to invest any attention to the metaphysical symbolism he himself suggests.



In short, ODKIN SON OF ODKIN is an assortment of odds and ends, lacking the relative unity of KING OF THE WORLD. But certainly many of those conceptual "bricks" possess considerable mythic power by themselves, even if they aren't assembled into a satisfying structure. In contrast to the works I've labeled inconsummate, the symbolic value of the building-blocks has not been distorted. The value merely "lies in state," like one of Atlan's bodies, and fails to come alive.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: THE KING OF THE WORLD (1978)

I stated in my review of HICKSVILLE that it consisted of nothing but elitist pie-in-the-sky, stating that "...n the real world, where professional artists have to use their skills to put food on the table, the idea of Wally Wood devoting countless hours to a never-to-be-published fantasy-epic is a pipe dream at best."



And yet, I could wish for a Gaiman-esque dream-library in which Wally Wood's ambitious "Wizard King" trilogy had not only been completed, but had been realized in its fullest artistic potential. Currently, one can go on Amazon and see sellers marketing "the Wizard King Trilogy," but only two parts of the series were completed, making it more of a "duology." In addition, the second part, entitled ODKIN SON OF ODKIN, is considerably less successful, so much so that I'll deal with it in a separate post as a "near-myth."

Wood, born in 1927. claimed to have conceived of the Wizard King story when he was 10. The artist, despite his fame for his work at EC and Marvel Comics, didn't leave (to my knowledge) any more detailed descriptions as to how the project might have changed in his mind over the next forty years, but I strongly suspect that he, like other artists around that time, saw in the success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS a possible way to court fantasy-fans and also escape the repetitious mill of serial comic-magazines. At least one quote suggests that Wood had read Tolkien before undertaking KING OF THE WORLD, and in my opinion KING recycles many of the same tropes used by Tolkien, though seen "through an EC-vision darkly," as it were. It probably didn't hurt that the "Dungeons and Dragons" game, first marketed in 1974, became successful precisely through mining similar tropes.

Yet in the first installment at least, Wood is doing far more than simply replicating simplified versions of Tolkien. Whereas the English author wanted a firmly traditional "long story," Wood is more concerned with using the fantasy-tropes to exercise his mordant wit and his love of raunch.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW)

Just as Tolkien's protagonist Frodo inhabited the Shire, a remote gathering of hobbits, Wood's protagonist Odkin inhabits the remote village of "the Immi," a short-statured, pointy-eared people who value prudence above all else. When a mysterious shadow haunts the village, someone must go forth to seek the counsel of the wizard Alcazar, but Odkin doesn't sally forth from his small village in quest of adventure or to fulfill duty, but because he draws the short end of a stick. The Immi do, however, like a good shag, and before Odkin sets out on his quest he gets a sexy sendoff from several of the village maidens, which is at least more generous than anything the Shire did for Frodo. While Frodo must leave to protect the Shire from the agents of Sauron, it will eventually come out that the haunting shadow is actually sent by Alcazar, because the manipulative wizard needed one of the crafty Immi to serve his designs. I choose to reveal this plot-thread because it seems to me the most representative of the difference between Tolkien and Wood. Tolkien's good characters are largely good all-through, except when unduly influenced by the corruption of the One Ring. But not only is Odkin a natural born deceiver himself, he clearly lives in a world where deceit lurks around every corner. This aligns KING OF THE WORLD with Frye's concept of the "irony-mythos," which I'll discuss in a separate essay.

Alcazar's first lie is to tell Odkin that to dispel the shadows haunting his village, the dwarvish Immi must get hold of a magic sword imbedded in a tree (a clear borrowing from one of the many variations of the Excalibur myth). Throughout the KING continuity, the sword of Atlan (once the possession of an exalted Arthur-like ruler) takes the role served by the One Ring in Tolkien: the magic whatzit over which both good guys and bad guys contend. On his way to find the sword, Odkin encounters "Iron Aron,"a hulking, not-too-bright warrior, who is also seeking the blade, and whom Odkin cleverly sends in the wrong direction. Aron overtakes the Immi at the tree-site, and, failing to pull the sword free for lack of a "pure heart," snaps it in two. The interference with the sword sparks the appearance of a player Alcazar failed to mention: the Wizard King Anark, who covets the sword now that it's been freed. The giant spectre does nothing more than loom over the Immi, but Odkin chooses to flee with the larger half of the broken sword, leaving Aron to take frustrated custody of the other half. (Later it will also be revealed that Alcazar projected the illusion of Anark to propel Odkin into activity.)



Like Gandalf, Alcazar does have a long-term beneficent design: he knows that Anark is plotting to make war on all civilized kingdoms with his army of bestial "Un-Men." For reasons too complicated to explore in this blog-post, the only defense against Anark is to release the spirit of the living-dead ancient ruler Atlan from an enduring sleep brought about by the Wizard King. Again, Alcazar chooses Odkin to do his dirty work, and again Odkin must wade through assorted supernatural menaces, including a battle to save his people from the Un-Men. This battle culminates in Odkin releasing a horde of rock-monsters to help his side, although Alcazar perishes-- or appears to do so-- at the hands of Anark's demon patron.


Though Odkin did go on to accomplish his task for the most part in the second and last volume, KING ends on a note that seems a deliberate satire of Tolkien. While Frodo had to worry about being corrupted by the One Ring's Faustian influence, in the last two pages Odkin worries that the sword is "poisoning his mind" by forcing him to act altruistically. But he's unable to fling the sword away thanks to the influence of the maybe-deceased wizard. The volume ends as one of Alcazar's minions descends in a winged flying boat in order to help Odkin on his quest. The minion's words are the last in the story: "Let us be off! Adventure awaits us!" Yet the last image-- of Odkin and the minion flying into the sky-- is not just poetically evocative of the liberating spirit of fantasy, but also a subversion of it, imparting a sense of the forlorn to Odkin's quest.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS PT. 2

This is not so much a follow-up to the first ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS essay as to my recent myth-analysis of LOVE IN HELL-- reason being that this is the first mythcomic I've examined in which one might argue that the locale is just as important to the story as the two principal characters.

Environment varies in its amplitude throughout the mythcomics, just as that of any presence, even a focal character. In one of my earliest essays on focal presences, I mentioned that in Arthur Conan Doyle's original novel THE LOST WORLD, Doyle's heroes were the focal presences, but that the Lost World itself became the focus in the 1925 film.

There's great precedence for this sort of "man vs. nature" opposition, but this formula has never been nearly as popular as "man vs. man." It's not uncommon, even in the most strongly mythic narratives, for the environment to fade into the background, even if that environment is sometimes a major generator of mythic content. Thus, even though many THOR stories describe the power of the Lee-Kirby Asgard to generate all manner of Nordic strangeness, in "The Mangog Saga" Asgard might as well be the Pyrenees for all the impact that the locale has upon the struggle between main character Thor, his various allies, and the seemingly invulnerable Mangog.

In some situations, the environment retains its mythic nature within a given narrative, but its myth-power stems from a particular character. In the SON OF SATAN story "Dance with the Devil, My Red-Eyed Son," the soul of Daimon Hellstrom is apparently drawn down into Hell, with whose denizens he must battle. Only by story's end does the reader learn that this particular version of Hell is not one that exists independently of its satanic master, for it's actually Satan's own dream.

In a less direct manner, some environments can be seen as being more metaphorical expressions of a character's good or evil: thus in Kirby's NEW GODS saga, New Genesis embodies the creative empathy of its patriarch Highfather and Apokolips is the expression of the corruption of its master Darkseid-- though admittedly both worlds already show those predilections, long before either of the respective "New Gods" comes into existence.

 There's also a sort of ambiguous middle ground. as seen with"the Palace of Ice," In this extended dream, Nemo experiences what I termed "a child's version of the metaphysics of ice and snow, taking in from juvenile pleasures like toboggan-riding and snowball-fights as well as the more profound wonders of the Northern Lights and the mysterious North Pole." McCay probably does not mean to assert that either Jack Frost or his realm possess any reality independent of Little Nemo's imagination. Nevertheless, this ice-world possesses far more amplitude than most real dreams.

In contrast, the Hell of LOVE IN HELL does not seem to be an expression of any character's imagination or personality. Hell does have its ruler, Japan's traditional hell-lord King Enma (who according to some references is actually female), but Enma only makes one appearance in the narrative, and then only toward the very end, where the ruler's gigantic foot intrudes upon the inferno to mete out justice. Rintaro, the "new fish-soul" in Hell, is not especially mythic in himself, any more than any other "everyman" character, given that most such characters are meant to heighten the significance of other characters by their ordinariness. The demoness Koyori serves to explain the ways of Hell to Rintaro, but she's new to the job of being a soul-torturing demon, so she's not a pure representative of Hell, in the same way Darkseid is a pure representative of the ethos of Apokolips.

All this said, though much of LOVE IN HELL's narrative is devoted to describing the infernal domain, I would not go so far as to say that Hell is the"main character" of the story, in the manner that I've said that Wonderland is the "main character" of Carroll's Alice books. In this essay I said that the Alice books were *exothelic,* meaning that 'the narrative is focused upon the will of "the other," something outside the interests of the viewpoint character, though not necessarily opposed to them.' LOVE IN HELL comes very close to this, but in the final analysis it's still more focused upon the evolving relationship of Rintaro and Koyori as they interact both with each other and the strange requirements of their domain-- so that LOVE IN HELL is as *endothelic,* wherein "the narrative is focused upon the will of the viewpoint character or of someone or something that shares that character's interests."


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ALMOST GOT IT: TWO-FISTED ZOMBIES (1973)

Though most of the undergrounds lacked the polish of the mainstream comics, some of them were noteworthy for throwing out weird nuggets of symbolism-- in other words, "near myths," like the ones in Rick Veitch's first published comic book, TWO FISTED ZOMBIES, from Last Gasp Comics.



The title sounds like an unholy union between Harvey Kurtzman's well respected war comic TWO FISTED TALES and a George Romero movie, but in his COMICS JOURNAL interview Veitch describes it as "sort of influenced by Kirby and CREEPY"-- the Warren magazine being the primary place where the artist first encountered artists who achieved some measure of fannish renown at EC Comics. Veitch mentions Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, and Roy Krenkel, and if I had to guess at what art-styles he was meshing together for ZOMBIES, I'd say it looks a lot like Kirby married to Krenkel. 

Though there had been other post-apocalyptic films with zombie-like mutants, notably 1964's THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and 1971's THE OMEGA MAN,  there certainly weren't the embarrassment of zombie-riches seen in current pop culture. Following a six-page prologue in two goons murder a "Christian" in order to make him their undead slave, the reader encounters meets the tyrant Flogiston, who commands a vast realm in which he sacrifices the bodies of countless dead to a great pit, in the name of "Einstein, god of destruction." The backstory then tells us that this radical reconstruction of Earth came about due to the mutations spread by "radioactive death," which also led to the renaissance of "the black arts" and various forms of wizardry.

The grotesque protagonist Flogiston is the closest thing this heavily ironic tale has to a "hero," for the night after his latest sacrifice, he's attacked by an assassin sent by another tyrant, Drago. Some particularly Kirby-esque action follows, and one wonders if Veitch was reading THE NEW GODS at the time.



Drago shows himself a dirtier villain than Flogiston by booby-trapping the latter, throwing his body into the death-pit, and then trying to rape Flogiston's wife. However, in a conclusion more in line with Al Feldstein than Jack Kirby, Flogiston and the other dead people resurrect for no stated reason, crawl out of the pit, and destroy Drago and his men, essentially tearing down the remnants of this empire of death, which is compared early on to that of the "Pharaohs of old."



Though TWO FISTED ZOMBIES is anything but deep, it does show a free-flowing pleasure in grotesquerie; in a world dominated by death. It isn't complex enough to be a mythcomic, but because it does have the makings of one, I choose to label it a "near myth."


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: LOVE IN HELL (2011-13)

In this mythcomics essay I hypothesized that Japanese popular culture's enthusiasm for the incest-kink (in fiction only, I specified) might have stemmed from the role played by an incestuous couple in their mythology. I stated clearly that this was an hypothesis that no one can prove one way or another. In the same spirit I advance the idea that the culture's similar enthusiasm for the interlinked concepts of sadism and masochism might have partial roots in another aspect of their mythology: the Japanese concept of hell.

Some mythological hells, like that of Sumeria, are merely dull places where shades drift about without passion or feeling, but the Greeks, the medieval Christians, and the Japanese exert great inventiveness in devising tortures for the souls of the dead, who must pay for the misdeeds of their mortal lives.



Reiji Suzumaru's series LOVE IN HELL is in many ways a predictable seinen (adolescent boys') manga. There's not as much fighting as in the more adventure-oriented stories, but there's lots of violence, and strong sexual content, though no actual on-panel copulation. Some of the stories of this episodic 18-part series (collected and released by Seven Seas Entertainment) play with extremely familiar seinen tropes, such as a schtick in which the protagonist and his buddy play peeping-tom inside a women's bath. That said, Suzumaru comes up with one wrinkle on infernal torments that strikes me as wholly original.

Protagonist Rintaro is a Japanese guy in his late twenties who's kicked around most of his life doing very little of anything, and who kicks the bucket in a spectacularly stupid manner. When he dies, he's surprised to find that he's been sentenced to hell, since he's not aware of having done anything particularly evil. He also finds out that as a "sinner," he's been assigned to a particular demon charged with meting out his punishments: a deceptively gentle female demon named Koyori, who looks like a 17-year-old Japanese girl, except for having a pair of horns and being dressed in black fetish-wear.

Rintaro soon learns that hell isn't run in quite the same way as depicted in traditional tales. For one thing, though he doesn't remember what sin he committed, and though Koyori won't reveal his sin to him, he learns that hell has many levels, and that he and other souls are minor sinners, allowed to inhabit a somewhat desolate city and pursue daily routines that approximate their mortal lives. On the lowest level, "the Abyss," the truly abominable sinners, like rapists and murderers, endure extreme suffering closer to the traditional torments of hell.



Here appears the seemingly original notion: the sinners in the hell-city are obliged to participate in the city's economy because they still experience bodily needs like hunger and the need for shelter, even though they're not literally alive. Koyori informs Rintaro that the base currency of hell is pain: that a sinner can amass infernal money the more he volunteers for suffering. This clearly runs counter to the traditional idea that demons just continually torment sinners for the fun of it. Still, the story-concept jibes roughly with a Buddhist notion that souls guilty of lesser sins may be able to expiate their sins and thus graduate to heaven, rather than simply staying in perdition forever, as in the dominant Christian version. In addition, the idea of paying for your food and shelter with pain might seem to many wage-slaves like a faithful reproduction of the real dynamic of the workplace.

Rintaro does encounter a sinner who's been able to amass a fortune in hell-currency because he's a masochist who loves pain, but the protagonist himself doesn't take to the idea of having his flesh cut off or having to sit in baths of boiling lava. Koyori, though she is in many ways a standard manga "cute girl," is fully able to administer punishments to Rintaro, like bashing his head in with a spiked bat, but for her part she usually carries out her duties in a businesslike manner. Thus just as Rintaro shows no real masochistic traits, Koyori is neither an outright sadist nor one of the "innocent sadists" scattered throughout manga, who somehow manage to cause another character pain without even consciously trying to do so.



It will come as no surprise that Rintaro and his infernal punisher form a "love connection," and it may be that Suzumaru wanted to avoid characterizing that affection with the familiar "sadist/masochist" psychological myth. But the de-emphasis of S&M agrees with the Buddhist ideal of atonement. At one point in the narrative, Rintaro thinks that he can make money in hell by doing "odd jobs" in the city, but he learns to his dismay that hell's rules won't allow the lesser sinners to keep jobs indefintely. Their only real "job" in hell is to suffer, to pay for their sins. The illusions of life in a human city are just there to get the sinners acclimatized, but the sinners are supposed to suffer in order to graduate to a higher level, assuming that they're capable of that transformation.

At another point in the narrative, Rintaro meets a demon who's something of a wimp about torturing sinners, and who almost seems to embody the idea of forgiveness. This demon's badass sister disagrees with her brother's gentler sentiments:

Hell isn't about people changing their ways. It's about being punished-- and paying for your sins.
In other words, this is a rejection of the "inner transformation" concepts of religion: one can only pay one's way out of hell with physical sacrifice. Without giving away the story's ending, I can say that Rintaro does have to risk his soul-existence in order to win clemency, The conclusion also involves Rintaro recollecting the particular life-sin that landed him in hell, and how he chooses to atone for the sin in a more personal, less cosmic manner.

The one false note is that although Rintaro's sacrifice involves the romantic feelings he and Koyori clearly share, the wrap-it-up-quickly denouement neglects to tell the interested reader the status of the demon-sinner relationship at story's end. Perhaps Suzumaru wanted to keep the "will-they/won't they" schtick going indefinitely, much as manga-fans saw when Rumiko Takahashi concluded her two signature works URUSEI YATSURA and RANNA 1/2.


Friday, May 13, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "ORIGIN OF PROFESSOR X" (X-MEN #12-13, 1965)

My stated personal feelings that the Lee-Kirby X-Men were underdeveloped by Lee and Kirby may well influence my opinion that their most mythic moment was not about the teen mutants, but about their mentor, Professor Charles Xavier (aka "Professor X.")





Prior to this two-part story, Lee and Kirby had dropped a few hints as to provenance of the good professor, particularly his mysterious involvement with a Biblically-named villain, Lucifer, first seen in X-MEN #9. Lucifer doesn't figure into "Origin" directly, though when Xavier mentions having been the victim of a car-crash to the students hearing his story, one of them wonders if the crash led to Xavier's loss of his legs, and at this point Xavier first reveals that Lucifer was involved in that injury. In itself this reference was just foreshadowing for the story of Xavier's first encounter with that villain, revealed in issue #20. Yet the mention of Lucifer, the symbol of devilish pride, is appropriate to the story in which Xavier first speaks of his evil stepbrother, whose very name, Cain Marko, refers to a specific motif of Biblical myth.

What did the two comics-makers know or remember of the Bible's use of this motif? No one today can be sure, not even the still-living Stan Lee. I will guess that one of the creators vaguely remembered just one connotation of the "Mark of Cain:" that it was supposed to tell onlookers that Cain, slayer of his brother, should remain inviolate. This vague recollection probably became refracted through the superhero idiom to become a story about a man who possessed no mark as such, but who is invulnerable to harm-- and who has tried, on a previous occasion, to kill his brother.

The story proper begins as Xavier's mutant detector Cerebro issues a fateful warning of an impending menace approaching the school for mutants. He marshals his five young charges to set up defensive traps around the school, to slow down the attacker-- at which point Xavier tells the youngsters his origin-story, much as an old soldier, huddled in a bunker with young greenhorns, might reveal his personal tale in case of his death.

In contrast to the fairly flat origin-stories given to the five main heroes, Professor X gets a tale replete with a Freudian family romance, with the American "romance with the atom" tossed in. Xavier relates that when he was still a young boy, his scientist-father perished in a nuclear accident near the historically significant city of Alamagordo, New Mexico. Xavier's father, never seen and little more than a haunting presence of 'the good father," is mourned by the boy and his grief-stricken mother. However, one of the deceased scientist's colleagues, Doctor Marko, survived the accident that took the life of the young boy's father-- and right at the gravesite of Xavier's father, Marko takes the first steps toward courting the wealthy widow-- and he soon becomes Xavier's "bad father." Marko soon reveals himself as a fortune-hunter, but he visits no personal cruelties upon either Xavier or his mother-- except insofar as he brings his son Cain into the family. Cain introduces himself to young Xavier as the consummate bully.



Xavier's mother soon passes, leaving young Xavier stuck with two unwanted step-relations. However, the not-quite-thieves fall out when Cain tries to blackmail his own father, accusing him of having arranged for his colleague's death. Xavier intrudes on their argument, resulting in a fiery denouement that gives Marko one moment as a "good father."





The two youngsters remain chained together throughout college, during which time Cain becomes as invidious toward Xavier as his father was toward Xavier's father-- but Charles Xavier now possesses the skills of a psychic mutant, implicitly due to his father's exposure to atomic radiation, and this time, he easily trounces the piggish bully.

Cain's unreasoning hatred leads him to try to intimidate Xavier by recklessly driving the car they both occupy along a dangerous road at high speed-- which ends up being a displaced murder-attempt, when the car goes off the road. Good son Xavier saves both of them, though not without a great deal of painful trauma from his own injuries.

Finally, though the two stepbrothers separate as adults, they've brought together again, improbably serving in the same unit in the Korean War. Cain flees battle into a cave, and Xavier (whose name means "savior) tries to save him from himself. Cain comes across, and tampers with, a sacred ruby in the hidden temple of the god Cytorrak-- and this is what transforms him into the menace that is approaching the school in real-time.



Once Cain has become transformed into the unstoppable Juggernaut, a cave-in buries him, while Xavier escapes. Over a decade later, the Juggernaut tracks down Xavier, at last possessed of enough power to destroy his mutant brother.

The most mythic part of the Juggernaut story ends when Xavier finishes his Freudian backstory, and the rest of the story is largely one long fight-scene, as the X-Men repeatedly seek to beat down the nearly invulnerable villain. Only one last myth-motif appears in the end, for once the Angel deprives the villain of his protective helmet-- functionally, his Achilles heel-- brain once more defeats brawn, in a trope seen throughout the works of Lee and Kirby.




I would hardly be a devotee of Marvel not to mention the provenance of the name of the temple-god Cytorrak, for this was one of the many figures whose names had already appeared in the annals of Doctor Strange's adventures. Professor X's only comment on Cytorrak accords with a supernatural explanation for the deity:

Cytorrak is the most mysterious of all the deities of black magic! When he was finally driven from our own world, he left behind him the curse of the Juggernaut!
While there's no knowing who came up with the name Cytorrak, I find it interesting that the deity's backstory-- which was never referenced in the Doctor Strange tales-- resembles the scenarios from some of H.P. Lovecraft's srories. Indeed, Lovecraft's alien divinity Cthulhu-- whose name slightly resembles that of Cytorrak-- also suffered a sort of exile from the world of men, though he presented the threat of returning, not leaving behind a curse. It's possible that the general motif of a deity's curse upon mankind was merged with that of God's protection of the sinner Cain.

Finally, I would be remiss to mention that in my opinion the name Cytorrak most resembles not Cthulhu, but *Sycorax* of Shakespeare's TEMPEST-- which just happens to include a brutish lout-villain and a struggle between rival brothers. But it's a theory that I'm sure cannot be validated or disproven...


ALMOST GOT IT: :THE SENTINELS TRILOGY (X-MEN #14-16, 1965/66)

I've defined a "null-myth" as a narrative that shows potential for mythicity / symbolic discourse but fails to articulate that potential to its best effect. In contrast, "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.

In essence, a near- myth is identical with what I called a "motif" in this essay:

...I must admit that constituent parts of stories can be mythic, if not actual myths as such. Jung's best name for these story-parts was "motifs," and in his psychological investigations he often treated each motif as if it possessed its own symbolic validity, apart from its function within a narrative. 
An example of a near-myth that never gets beyond the level of a solid motif is the idea of the Sentinels, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for X-MEN #14-16. Given that these mutant-hunting robots have been one of the more distinctive antagonists for Lee and Kirby's team of beneficent mutants, I wondered if their original appearance constituted a mythcomic.



On rereading the "trilogy," I found that it advanced a fairly strong central concept, but that the story-- like most of those in the early X-Men history-- amounts to a lot of chase-scenes and fight-scenes, rather than a sustained myth. For me this simply means that the creators were more focused on giving their audience kinetic thrills, with a few touches of melodrama. (For instance, one issue features the Beast being put into trance by the villainous robots, wherein he reveals how he became isolated from his peers when they suspected him of being a mutant.)  Arguably Lee and Kirby also tend to show their Sentinels acting and speaking too much like other stock Marvel villains, while later portrayals, notably by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams, are more careful to have the robots act and speak like robots.

The basic idea for the Sentinels may have come from Jack Williamson's much-celebrated prose tale "With Folded Hands," in which an inventor perfects a breed of robots whose prime directive is to protect humans at all times-- which the robots interpret as giving them the freedom to enslave humanity, in order to better protect their charges. In the Sentinels tale, the controlling robots are created by Doctor Bolivar Trask, whose name suspiciously evokes that of South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, who ousted the Spanish from many regions but arguably became a dictator in his own right. Trask also wants to expel a foreign element from his sphere, for he possesses an unexplained animus toward mutant-kind, deeming them a menace to the less empowered human race.




However, as soon as Trask unveils his mutant-hunters to the America public, the robots decide that "the only way we can protect mankind is by conquering it," and they turn, Frankenstein-style, upon their creator, seeking to force him to create more Sentinels. Professor X calls in his X-pupils to attack the Sentinels and there follow many scenes of battle, pursuit and more battle, as well as Professor X's attempt to dope out the Sentinels' Achilles heel.

There are a few moments where Lee and Kirby manage to use the Sentinels as a medium to critique unthinking obedience to orders, as when the robots prove unable to make decisions without prior approval from a superior. It's easy to see this as a shot at the wartime sentiment of "I was only following orders." But such elements remain fairly isolated, perhaps because the X-Men themselves never became strong mythic presences under the hands of their creators. Too often, the heroes seem to be nothing more than Lee and Kirby recycling the tropes of the WWII "kid-gang" genre, with a soupcon of SF-tropes about super-powered mutants. At story's end the man who unleashed the Sentinels realizes the injustice he's done to mutant-kind, and sacrifices his own life to stop his creations-- though of course, they come back for many more X-battles.



The three-part tale concludes with an anti-zealotry moral by Lee:

“Beware the fanatic! Too often his cure is deadlier by far than the evil he denounces.” (XM#16)
As far as superhero morality-tales go, this one presents a decent enough stab at the didactic potentiality. In terms of the mythopoeic potentiality, though, neither the tropes of the irrational zealot nor the demons he unleashes are given the sort of symbolic complexity necessary to sustain a true myth. This may be in part because when Lee and Kirby started the Sentinels story, they'd just finished one of the early X-Men's few mythopoeic tales-- which I'll examine in my next post.