Thursday, October 8, 2015



Cited as one of THE COMICS JOURNAL’s top 100 English-language comics, Justin Green’s “Binky Brown” story—originally published as a stand-alone comic of 44 pages—remains one of the representative works of the “underground comix” movement. I never read the work in its original form, but only in Last Gasp’s 1995 reprint, which also included sundry other related short works and a fulsome foreword by Art Spiegelman. In said foreword, Spiegelman credits Green with launching the subgenre of “confessional autobiographical comix.” This may well be true—I’m far from an expert on the underground movement—but I don’t know how much I’d trust the acumen of someone who credits the Bronte sisters with inventing “Gothic romance” and Tolkien with inventing “sword and sorcery.” 

Over-ambitious compliments aside, Spiegelnan makes clear that he considers Green a genius from whom he Spiegelman took no small inspiration in his own confessional work. He also scorns the many inferior autobio comics that implicitly don’t do credit to the subgenre. I, however, find that Green’s BINKY BROWN is guilty of many of the sins of the underground movement as a whole: both a lack of free-flowing imagination and a lack of ordered intellectual discourse.

The story of Binky Brown—an alter ego for Green himself— follows Binky from grade-school to adulthood with emphasis upon one aspect of his life: the conflict between the Catholic faith in which he is reared and his natural, budding sexuality. There’s a minor reference to Binky’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but on the whole it’s all about Binky’s problems with the strictures of the Catholic Church. The Virgin Mary isn’t so much a character in Binky’s dreams and fantasies as a leitmotif. She pops in and out of Binky’s fevered consciousness, sometimes tasking him with his sins, sometimes becoming the subject of his tormented sexual imaginings.

Given that I subscribe to Bataille’s idea that all transgressions are capable of completing-- rather than simply contravening-- the taboos that they violate, I don’t have any moral qualms against Green’s blasphemous fantasies. My qualms are aesthetic, for on the whole I find most of Green;s fantasies superficial and dull. Through grade school and high school, Binky seems a pretty ordinary kid. Once or twice he questions his religious preceptors, the nuns who teach the classes and the priests who take confession, but his questions are routine ones: “What happens to people outside the Church who live moral lives,” and so on. The religious authorities don’t come off well in these encounters, but Binky doesn’t seem like sharpest tack in the drawer either.

I don’t deny that BINKY BROWN is a lot livelier than most autobio comics; certainly I’d rather reread his work than the pretentious “just the facts, ma’am” works of Harvey Pekar. His fantasies about nuns and the Virgin Mary may be part for the course among tormented adolescents, but how many confessional comics show a young boy achieving his first orgasm by accidentally “scalping” a toy rubber pig? Later, Binky starts seeing penises in everything around him, and finally he’s shooting “penis-rays” out of various areas of his body. Finally, as a young man he leaves the Catholic Church, trying a variety of distractions to drive away his early religious influences, including drugs, the novels of Herman Hesse, and “gambolling.” But nothing works until he walks by the status of a Spanish Madonna and manages to avoid his syndromic feelings of guilt by singing “Lady of Spain.”  This fires him up enough to exorcise the Virgin from his soul by buying a dozen cheap replicas of Mary and smashing almost all of them. One of  the statues accidentally survives, but because the icon no longer holds power over Binky, he places it in his window and remarks, “Guess I’ll build up some new associations around you now.”

As with most if not all of the works that I’ve judged to be inconsummate, BINKY BROWN has a lot of potential, but it’s underdeveloped and sometimes incoherent. Prior to his icon-smashing ritual, he castigates Mary for making the birth process a big mystery (“It doesn’t matter—it’s only matter!”)  He also reels forth a knee-jerk Freudian interpretation of Mary’s appeal: “What I did was to transfer a healthy dread of incest onto you—until every step I take is a perverse act.” But there’s not a lot of evidence of incestuous urges in the chronicle of Binky’s life. As a reader I don’t care whether or not the real-life Green experienced such urges, but incest here is the equivalent of Chekhov’s gun: if you bring it on stage, you should be ready to use it. Perhaps Green’s reticence on the subject indicates a weakness in the confessional form, in that actual fiction may allow the author more freedom than the inevitable self-editing of the confessional.

There’s also a distinct limitation in Green’c conception of the “well-meaning institution” of the Catholic Church. Binky never tries to sort out what’s good and what’s bad about his religion, or about religion generally: all he knows is that its strictures make him crazy about sex. Still, since nearly every adolescent gets hormone-crazy at some point, it’s difficult to imagine Binky’s life being all that different had he been raised without religion. At least when Robert Crumb wrote his confessional essays, he was unflinching in admitting that his quirks came from his own messed-up psychology. Binky’s religious journey verges on solipsism—which in a sense made it perfect for the underground comix movement. Religion, like government, was The Great Satan to iconoclasts, and readers of underground comix certainly would not have faulted BINKY BROWN for talking more about his own neuroses than about any Big Picture. But this is the sort of purblind oppositional thinking that has kept the majority of so-called "art-comics" from rating alongside the best "thematic realism" art, and relegates the imagination to nothing more than a hormone-addled consciousness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The serial narratives by the duo known as “Los Bros,” Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, have a better claim to the status of “art” than most of the works that get labeled "art-comics." I have to specify, though, that this is the type of art I call “the art of thematic realism,” a.k.a “play for work’s sake.” In this argument I cited Faulkner’s LIGHT IN AUGUST as a narrative primarily defined by work, but with many imaginative elements of play that gave it depth and balance. Today I'd say that the elements of play supplied the story with an underthought that served as a counterpoint to Faulkner’s overthought; i.e. his “serious theme.”

Not all of Gilbert Hernandez’s stories about Palomar—a small Mexican town inhabited by a host of bizarre, often tragicomic characters—are equally meritorious. However, the two-part story “Duck Feet”—originally serialized in two issues of the LOVE AND ROCKETS magazine—was widely hailed as an exemplary work, even by critics who had never worked for Hernandez’s publisher Fantagraphics.

For a story whose title references supernatural folklore—the widely distributed idea that magical beings, particularly witches, have animal-feet instead of human appendages—“Duck Feet” begins in a thoroughly mundane manner. Chelo, sheriff of  Palomar, rousts the local whorehouse in search of fugitive Roberto, who has recently killed his irritating grandfather. In three short pages Roberto clubs Chelo and flees to the rooftops of Palomar (a trope that seems borrowed from big-city chases, where it makes much more sense than in a small town). As a result of Chelo’s pursuit, Roberto falls to his death, but an odd detail intrudes: he dies with his head turned completely around.

Thus the story begins with violence perpetrated in defense of the community, and Roberto’s death has future consequences for Chelo and other characters, though it’s not the literal source of the ORESTES-like contagion that soon dominates Palomar. Though many of Hernandez’s regular characters make appearances in the story, the narrative revolves principally around three characters: Sheriff Chelo, local “loose girl” Tonantzin, and Guadalupe, the grade-school daughter of Luba. Luba herself, who's often a main character in the Palomar stories, is conspicuously sidelined in a sitcom-like situation worthy of Lucille Ball (I LOVE LUBA?). This places the narrative’s focus more upon Guadalupe as she tries to deal with situations brought on by irresponsible children and adults alike.

Shortly after the death of Roberto, a dark-clad woman enters Palomar. Some of the local kids believe that she’s a *bruja,* whose inhuman nature can be disclosed if one gets a look at her pedal extremities, her "duck feet." The unnamed woman’s feet are never seen, though when she has her feet washed by Chelo—who formerly held the occupation of a *banadora,*  or professional body-washer—Chelo shows no unusual reaction to what she sees. The “duck feet”  rumor, however, inspires one of the kids to steal a pouch set aside by the alleged bruja. The pouch contains a skull-- apparently that of a human baby, though one of the kids isn't entirely sure about that identification. The first chapter ends as the old woman misses her property and turns her evil eye upon Chelo.

At the beginning of Part Two, Chelo has fallen ill, as have various other citizens of Palomar, as the bruja—whose nature is no longer seriously in doubt—wanders the streets wailing for the skull of “mi hijo.” Thus does Hernandez creatively interbreed the widespread cultural trope of the contagion-bringer with that of the specifically Hispanic folktale of La Llorona, the Wailing Ghost. That said, the contagion is erratic in its effects. Guadalupe gets the sickness, even though she was only a witness when one of her play-mates stole the skull. The illness does not strike Tonantzin, and though she and Chelo have an adversarial relationship—the sheriff frequently chastising the young hottie for wearing revealing garments—Chelo deputizes the leggy beauty, which makes for some nice comic byplay.

I won’t detail all of the humorous and/ or horrific incidents that transpire while the bruja’s spectre haunts Palomar, but as noted before, Roberto’s death has consequences, inspiring his brother Gerlado to seek vengeance on Chelo. Guadalupe’s illness causes her to have weird fantasies about her mother, suggesting that Luba has something of a witchy aspect. Possibly Hernandez had this similarity in mind when he made Luba the inadvertent means by which the bruja gets back her prized skull.

If I should boil down the underthought of “Duck Feet” to an ersatz theme-statement, it might be to say that the community’s effort to remain cohesive by violence ends up bringing it close to total dissolution.  Palomar is spared the abyss, though, because once the bruja gets back her baby's skull, the contagion simply disappears and she takes her leave. The only permanent result of the witch’s visit, oddly, is that happy-go-lucky Tonantzin loses an innocence not connected with her sexuality. Tonantzin becomes politically radicalized by her contact with the cop-hating revolutionary Geraldo—an event which plants the seed for a future plotline of a tragic nature.

If the process of contagion-by-violence is the story’s underthought, what is the overthought? “Duck Feet” is not a political story, but other stories by Hernandez focus explicitly on his characters’ political beliefs. Hernandez plays it for laughs when Tonantzin fantasizes about shooting down invading U.S. soldiers. Yet her later rant against having her destiny controlled by “Libya and the U.S. and the U.S.S.R” captures a strong sense as to how denizens of the Third World feel about the cold-blooded machinations of the Great Powers.

Gilbert Hernandez’s work as a whole may not be strongest in terms of its political commentary. However, I credit him with finding an artistically resonant way of seeing political belief within the spectrum of ordinary—and even extraordinary—life-events—which is a compliment I can’t pay the next target in my line of fire.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


The primordial image has one great advantage over the clarity of the idea, and that is its vitality. It is a self-activating organism, endowed with generative power. The primordial image is an inherited organization of psychic energy, an integrated system, which not only gives expression to the energic process but facilitates its operation.''-- Jung, PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, p.. 447.

I'm printing this Jung-quote less than a month after my previous use of it, because I think Jung hit on exactly the distinctions between what I'm now calling the "underthought" (the domain of image and metaphor) and "overthought" (the domain of dialectical ideation). The two are distinct in their operations, and yet, as Jung and others have asserted, they tend to be interdependent as well. It's possible to create a somewhat engaging narrative in which one of the four potentialities reaches consummation-- Ditko's "Static" serial, examined here, is my best example of a story which tries to be about nothing but ideas-- but I believe that Ditko's "overthought" in that case would have been much improved had he allowed his imagination to range a little further, as I think it did in the story "Destroyer of Heroes," which still pursued similar dialectical themes of personal responsibility,

Jung implies that overthought and underthought (as I'm calling these abstract operations) are mutually dependent. That's an attractive notion, but I prefer just to say that they TEND to be interdependent, and then only in narrative. Certainly artists can produce phantasmagorical images that are entrancing for their own sake, without any input of conscious ideas, as one derives from surrealists like Yves Tanguy--

-- though many art-critics will generally prefer their images interlaced with idea-content, as in this Picasso.

In narrative, the tendency is that ideas need a free flux of metaphorical images to give the ideational figures the semblance of life-- that is, assuming that the author isn't any good in the feeling and sensaiton department-- while without the structuring principle of ideation, a lot of metaphors tend to disperse into meaninglessness; an "inconsummate paegant faded," so to speak.

Of the various myth-comics I've cited so far, some are like fever-dreams that suggest yet do not fully elaborate some dialectical theme, such as Steve Gerber's "Tower of the Satyr."  The ideational content is slightly overwhelmed by the flux of metaphor, but it isn't non-existent, and can be teased out into the light of day with a little myth-critical amplification. In contrast, a few works, like the Ditko BLUE BEETLE tale cited above, seem to have highly intellectualized the flux of images. The Chichester-Johnson JIHAD is as rich in images as the Gerber work, but admittedly some were created by other authors (just as Marvel's Man-Thing was not created by Gerber), and even the ones original to the opus, like villains Alastor and Chalkis, have been subjected to a great deal of rational thought, in order to distinguish them from the other principal players of the Hellraiser-Nightbreed crossover.

The processes I've called "fever-dream" and "intellectualization" correspond to Jung's dual concepts of "directed thinking" and "fantasy thinking," which I discussed in more detail here. Too often, however, literary critics are, as Northrop Frye pointed out, overly attached to those forms of literature that present them with "imaginative allegories" about life, the universe and everything-- and the majority of comics-critics have followed this line of thinking as well.  Thus in the world of elitist criticism, a work with even a mediocre intellectual approach will win approval.

In my choice of myth-comic and null-myth this week, then, I'll pick examples of comics that have been esteemed across the board for their intellectual content. One of them, according to my lights, succeeds in finding a balance between overthought and underthought, while the other puts across only the most mediocre level of intellectual ideation as a result of the author's inability to consummate his potential for image and metaphor.

Monday, October 5, 2015


I started out OVERTHINKING THE UNDERTHOUGHT with this quote from Frye:

Meaning is derived from context, and there are two contexts for verbal meaning: the context of literature and the context of ordinary explicit or intentional discourse. When we first read a concentrated and difficult poem, we first try to grasp its explicit meaning, or the prose sense of what it says. We often call this the “literal” meaning, but actually it is a translation of the poem into a different verbal context, and is not what the poem really means at all. Gerard Manley Hopkins draws a distinction between the poet’s “overthought” or explicit meaning, and his “underthought,” or the meaning given by the progression of images and metaphors. But it is the “underthought” that is the real poetic meaning, and the explicit meaning must conform to it ...-- Northrop Frye (fuller context here).

I didn't use Hopkins' term "overthought" in the essays I directed at a couple of elitist critics, but I did state that they were guilty of "overthinking:" of taking narratives made up of "images and metaphors" and locking them into predetermined complexes of ideas. Within the scope of my essays, "overthought" might describe this tendency, while "underthought" described the tendency to read the narrative's images and metaphors first and foremost as things that aroused either sympathetic or antipathetic affects in him, and that these affects led to the ideas, rather than the other way around.

While I agree with Frye's basic conclusion from the material given, I don't think Hopkins' original thesis goes far enough. I think the "literal meaning" is not something that looms "over" the poem, as a dialectical theme can be descried 'from above." The literal meaning is, amusingly enough, also the "lateral meaning;" one arrives at it by following the progression of events and expressed feelings from point A to point Z, and that is "what happened."

The word "overthought," in my opinion better properly describes a hyper-intellectual approach to art that Frye himself described in his essay "Mouldy Tales," collected in A NATURAL PERSPECTIVE:

{Certain critics] feel that [literature's] essential function is to illuminate something about life, or reality, or experience, or whatever we call the immediate world outside literature. Thus they tend... to think of literature, taken as a whole, as a vast imaginative allegory, the end of which is a deeper understanding of the nonliterary center of experience...

"Underthought," obviously, I would keep just as it is, with the caveat that just because one believes in starting one's critiques by talking about the progression of images and metaphors, that does not mean one has nothing to say about how the "images of intuition" can become ordered into "structures of dialectic thought."

It may be that my revised versions of overthought and underthought will in future serve me as shortened forms for the respective effects that "the function of thinking" and "the function of intuition" have upon literary narrative.  I concluded in REFLECTIONS IN A MERCURIAL EYE PART 3   that both myth-critics and ideological critics were in a similar unenviable position as far as converting the majority of readers to pursue more abstract readings of texts. Most readers quite logically are concerned with lateral meaning, which takes in both "the function of sensation" and "the function of feeling"-- and in truth, the abstractions of both overthoughts and underthoughts are only possible when constructed on the foundation of concrete experience. Thus, I personally can still enjoy many narratives that don't have much in the way of abstract meaning, as long as they excel in terms of sensation, feeling, or some combination thereof.  Many of my favorite comics from my early days will not make the grade as myth-comics, such as the 1960s DOOM PATROL, which did its level best to emulate the charisma of the 1960s FANTASTIC FOUR. The Drake-Premiani stories are still fun to read for their lateral meaning, for their appeals to sensation and feeling-- but overthought and underthought will not appear nearly as much as they do in the Lee-Kirby FF-tales.


In some of my earliest writings on the difference between "conflict and combat," I recall being influenced by James Twitchell's distinction between what he called "preposterous violence" and some other, unspecified form of violence. I re-jiggered this distinction into my own categories, "spectacular violence" and "functional violence."

Over time I didn't find myself using these terms all that much. Twitchell, given the comparison I made here between the violence-levels in 1939's THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES and 2009's SHERLOCK HOLMES, probably would have styled only the second film as "spectacular violence," because the 2009 film is so much more devoted to sheer spectacle. I ended up taking a contrary view:

...I should re-emphasize the defintion of the difference between "functional violence" and "spectacular violence" in the 2009 essay, when I said that the differences between them "are not determined by intensity of effect but by narrative function." 

This year's MYTHOS AND MODE PART 3   focuses less on the concept of "spectacular violence" than on the question of whether or not a given narrative brings together two or more characters of high dynamicity into direct conflict. I described some ways in which a particular author-- in this case, Shakespeare-- might allude to this narrative possibility but might "diffuse" it in some way. In HAMLET, I determined that the playwright had downgraded the dynamicity of one if not both of the two characters who duel at the conclusion. In CORIOLANUS, the playwright presents two high dynamicity-foes, but does not bring them into direct conflict at the climax, and in TITUS ANDRONICUS, Shakespeare does bring the two foes into direct conflict but of a type that diffuses what I called above the "narrative function." In TITUS "the playwright eschews combat for slaughter," so that TITUS has a conflictive climax, but not a combative one. A possibly instructive parallel can be found in my recent musings on another mythos that, like the film-version of TITUS, also involves Anthony Hopkins. The conclusions to both 1986's MANHUNTER and the 1991 SILENCE OF THE LAMBS both conclude with the protagonist managing to shoot the serial killer before a sustained combat ensues, so that they too are conflictive but not combative.

However, the Shakespeare argument presumes that the person or persons controlling the narrative are capable of bringing off the "narrative function" successfully.

In August, I reviewed a low-budget SF-film released to theaters, WORLD WITHOUT END. In September, I reviewed a low-budget telefilm, AMAZONS. In both cases the scripts, presumably aware of the budgetary limitations, relied on a lot of talking-head scenes, since there was no money for spectacular makeup, stunts, or effects. The myths underlying both are sociological in nature: in the first, 20th-century astronauts end up civilizing a savage future-Earth, and in the second, modern-day descendants of the Greek Amazons attempt to usurp the American way of life. They both lead to conflictive conclusions, but I only rated AMAZONS as a combative work.

Had I been evaluating AMAZONS  according to "intensity of effect," it certainly would not have rated as combative. As I write this post, the film, directed by actor Paul Michael Glaser, is currently on Youtube, and it boasts a pretty dismal ending. Tony and Sharon, the two viewpoint characters who unearth the modern Amazons, are a cop and a lady doctor, and only the cop has any claim to high dynamicity, though he's distinctly at the low end. In the concluding conflict, the Amazon leader and her two lieutenants corner the twosome in a laboratory. Tony is clocked by Roselund but manages to shoot her in the struggle, and he's attacked by the other two Amazons, whom he distracts by shoving over a big shelf. Sharon is later cornered by Vivian, but the lady doctor very improbably fends off the assassin by flinging random chemicals at the latter, chemicals which just happen to be primed to blow up and create a fire that kills the remaining lieutenant. For a finale, Tony manages to draw down on the Amazon leader, who unwisely brings a crossbow to a gunfight. Still, I think that the script and its director were trying to bring off a combative duel between the forces of ancient matriarchy and a representative of modern patriarchy, so in this case "intent" wins out over "execution."

Now, WORLD WITHOUT END, written and directed by Ed Bernds, concludes with a fight-scene between the commander of the time-traveling astronauts and the leader of some savage "mutates," about which I wrote:

I'd like to say that Bernds pulls off this final battle with aplomb, but it's a fairly blah sequence. Thus I can't deem WORLD a film in the "combative mode" even though said film concludes with a fight-scene.

Possibly I reverted a little bit to my early, Twitchell-influenced position when I wrote this, for it does suggest that I'm judging it solely upon "intensity of effect." What I probably should have said is that it failed to impress me because, even though the climactic fight in WWE was meant to serve the same purpose as does the climactic fight in AMAZONS: to show the normative society triumphing over the abnormal one. But in WWE Bernds didn't manage to give his characters the same combative value found in his plot.

The one-eyed mutates, probably unconsciously patterned on the savage Cyclops from the Odyssey, show an admirable dynamicity:

But the sound-alike, almost-look-alike representatives of 20th-century democracy don't even put across the sense of combative characters even when they're shooting guns or meeting mutates in single combat.

So while the representative of normalcy wins the single combat, Bernds doesn't bother to give his main hero enough vitality to bring him up even to the lower end of megadynamicity, to make it seem like he won the fight by superior skill. So, even though both Paul Glaser and Ed Bernds fall short in terms of execution, I give Glaser the nod because his work shows some "intent" to provide a combat that resolved the differences of the opponents, while Bernds seemed unaware that his main hero had to do something at least semi-impressive. Thus, by providing a hero who was no better than "mesodynamic," Bernds did inadvertently what Shakespeare presumably did intentionally with Hamlet-- which is surely the only way in which WORLD WITHOUT END can ever be profitably compared to HAMLET.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


While some critics are fine with preserving a simplistic, dualistic symmetry-- as in "art is art and trash is trash and never the twain shall meet"-- in my long-running narratological project I find myself looking for symmetries that extend at least into quixotic quaternities.

For instance, I've repeatedly defended heroic fiction against the notion that its primary function is to appeal to its audience's tendencies toward sadism, fascism, or both. Probably my most representative argument against the "sadism" accusation, principally voiced by Gershon Legman and Frederic Wertham, is 2008's POP GOES THE PSYCHOLOGY, while  this year I re-examined the fascism argument in WORKING VACATIONS.  

The Legman-Wertham arguments are poorly reasoned, forcing the material under consideration upon a Procrustean bed of theory. However, because the "sadism argument" addresses, even in the form of a dumb dualism, the dynamics of power between protagonist and antagonist, it's a little more difficult to dismiss across the board. In POP GOES THE PSYCHOLOGY I presented my reasoning as to why the combat between hero and villain typical of the adventure-genre is a near-complete reversal of the paradigm of the sadistic victimizer: seems obvious to me that when heroes fight villains in adventure-tales, the narrative action could not be less like a lynching, much less a Sadean sadist torturing helpless victims or a gangster shooting down old ladies in the street. Wertham and Legman dance around the difference by trying to make it sound as if the villains are merely stand-ins for despised minorities and the like, which argument remains a linchpin of Marxist oppositional thought, both in modern comics-criticism and elsewhere. But neither author can totally expunge this difference of narrative action: in the adventure-genre, *the villain can defend himself.* He may be fated to lose the struggle-- indeed, until recently he always did-- but the struggle itself is essential to the adventure-genre, as it manifestly is not with the crime genre.

Yet, though I continue to endorse this argument, I've always admitted that there are a few adventure-heroes-- specifically those of the 'super" variety--  who depart somewhat from the dominant narrative action of the adventure-genre. In this respect I'm thinking principally of the Golden Age stories of two DC characters-- Superman and the Spectre-- who are only occasionally pitted against enemies who can ably defend themselves against the hero's godlike powers. This narrative departure did not continue to dominate either character's exploits in the Silver Age or in any ages thereafter. But if the majority of Golden Age superheroes gave their villains as little opportunity to fight back as Superman and Spectre did during that period, then *maybe* the fulminations of Legman and Wertham would have been justified.

I could just say, "Yeah, some authors enjoyed the spectacle of omnipotent heroes beating the tar out of whining, helpless villains," and let it go at that. But because I value symmetry in my narratological system-- particularly in the quixotic quaternity I term "the four persona-types"-- it occurs to me that the "sadistic hero" provides a natural, and probably inevitable, counterpoint to the more frequent "courageous hero." Further, this narrative propensity mirrors in reverse the evolution of the hero's inverse persona, the demihero-- for it's far more rare to see a demihero face down the monster who persecutes him, than to see him either fall victim to said monster or to escape the monster by sheer dumb luck.

As it happens, I touched on the dynamics of "hero and villain" and "demihero and monster" once more in the recent essay GOALS, OR ROLES?:

Perhaps a useful distinction also arises from the concept of "paired opposites' I've formulated: to wit, "hero is to villain as monster is to victim (or, more formally, 'demihero.')"  The monster is designed to prey on a victim who is usually weaker than he, although in many cases the demihero may "step up" and conquer the monster through strength, guile, or a combination thereof. The villain may be just as obsessed as the monster, but characters like the Joker and Lex Luthor-- who make rather good comic-book parallels to Freddy and Pinhead-- are always oriented on challenging heroes, often despite having been beaten by said heroes on many, many occasions. That kind of glory may have only negative consequences, but it's still the same glory we descry in Milton's fallen Lucifer.
Anyone who's familiar with popular fiction could hardly deny that it's far more typical to behold exemplars of the "monster persona" enacting scenarios of sadism upon helpless demihero victims than to see exemplars of the "hero persona" doing the same to their villainous opponents. Naturally, ideologues have also railed against the horror genre-- the predominant dwelling-place of monster-types-- and for Wertham if not Legman, the sadism of the monster was apparently indistinguishable from the supposedly equal sadism of the hero. Public critics of the horror-genre, though, are usually not so undiscriminating. Roger Ebert attacked slasher films relentlessly throughout the 1980s, explicitly taking issue with the subgenre's power to make viewers Do Bad Things. In contrast, this collection of short superhero-flick reviews by Ebert shows no tendency to condemn heroes in general as budding sadists. I'm not saying that Ebert rendered any substantive judgments of the superhero genre, for he was as superficial about them as he was about monsters. I merely use him as an example of a popular film-critic who had a more normative reaction to hero-fiction than one sees in the pop psychobabble of Legman and Wertham.

Summing up, the heroes who *may* incarnate a sadistic dynamic-- one for which the Spectre has become far better known than Superman--

--are a distinct minority, just as it's rare to see monsters inspire their demihero victims to fight the monsters on their own terms.


On an unrelated matter, another assertion of symmetry occurs to me with regard to my formulation of the dynamics of the combative mode. In PASSION FOR THE CLIMAX, I explored some of the ways in which works might depart from or adhere to the mode in terms of their narrative strategies. For instance, the best-known paradigm of the combative mode presents the audience with a scene in which the central hero meets his villainous opponent in equal combat.

However, I considered the problem of whether the mode was fulfilled if someone other than the hero defeated the villain:

Another variation is seen in my review of the 2012 DARK SHADOWS, wherein vampire protagonist Barnabas Collins has a violent conflict with the villain but is taken out of the fight, after which the villain is destroyed by the main character's allies. But as long as there has been some narrative plot-thread to leads inevitably to some sort of spectacular combat, it doesn't matter if the combat follows the dominant pattern of the main hero overcoming the villain.
Now, though I did not say so at the time, it occurs to me that having the villain defeated by an ally of the main hero is not markedly different from the scenario in which the main hero fights, not the main villain, but some ally or henchman  of the main villain. As example, here's a still from the 1966 film TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD:

I don't think anyone watching the film felt Tarzan's heroism invalidated because the ape-man fought the main villain's enforcer, rather than the villain himself. By the same token, even though the Barnabas of the 2012 film doesn't succeed in defeating his foe, the fact that she is defeated by a being more or less allied to Barnabas' cause provides the same experience of combative satisfaction.


It's been a few weeks since Bryan Fuller's HANNIBAL came to a conclusion. Eventually I'd like to explicate the entire series-- even in the knowledge that Fuller had hoped it would run at least one season longer, and that he may in future manage to realize his version of Thomas Harris' character in another form, possibly a film or streaming series. But I wouldn't mind if the saga ended on with the series' finale, as I felt it sufficiently tied up most of the principal story-lines.

In my 2014 essay PSYCHO VS. PSYCHO I debated with myself as to whether or not HANNIBAL felt into the combative mode. I'd determined to my own satisfaction that Lecter's initial two cinematic appearances did not, but that the series might go that way:

Not every episode [of the TV series] culminates in a literal combat, though some stories establish that Hannibal Lecter can kick ass on a Jason-esque level of dynamicity.

No doubt I was thinking about scenes like the one that initiated HANNIBAL's second season on 2-28-2014, where the cultivated cannibal is seen throwing down against Will Graham's FBI boss Jack Crawford:

By the beginning of Season 3, Hannibal has finally been exposed as a psycho-killer, and eventually Will Graham does capture him as established in the Harris mythology. Fuller's version of this capture does not involve any form of violence as such; not even the subcombative type of violence I detailed in my review of the 1986 MANHUNTER. The third season, rather than presenting viewers with a one-on-one opposition between hero Graham and monster Lecter as some might expect, chooses to focus upon how Graham and Lecter become allies against common enemies, the better to stress the psychological bond between them. The above mentioned finale even forces the profiler and the serial killer to "team up" against the menace of Francis Dollarhyde (aka "the Tooth Fairy" and "the Red Dragon"), resulting in a brutal, bloody battle-- one very much in the combative mode, unlike the conclusion of MANHUNTER, where Graham simply shoots the Tooth Fairy before a fight can ensue.

So is the series as completed a combative one? I would tend to say that the element of the "combat myth" is much more important in Fuller's mythos than it is in that of the cinematic "series." And though the majority of the episodes don't end with all-out combat-scenes, two facts-- that some episodes establish Fuller's Hannibal as a more forceful figure than the cinematic version, and that the series as a whole culminates in a major display of "Kantian dominance"-- qualify it for that status. Thus, Bryan Fuller's muscular version of Harris' psychotic psychiatrist can be added to the list of works that went from a subcombative to a combative mode seen in MYTHOS AND MODE PT. 4.