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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: NOSFERATU (1989)

Phillippe Druillet's NOSFERATU, given that it's a hymn to irony and solipsism, is in some ways the Frenchiest of French comics. In this it diverges from the works that popularized the word "Nosferatu" for modern audiences-- both Bram Stoker's DRACULA and F.W. Murnau's arty knockoff-adaptation NOSFERATU-- for both of these are melodramas in which an evil undead preys upon the living, only to be defeated and destroyed by the righteous actions of good people.

Druillet's narrative takes place in an unexplained post-apocalyptic world, implicitly Earth, though the word "Nosferatu"-- applied to the main character by persons unknown-- is one of the few touchstones with Earth's real-world history. This Nosferatu was apparently an ordinary human at some time, but the catastrophe mutated him into a science-fiction vampire, with the ability to fly and to feed off the living (although Druillet shows him eating flesh as often as drinking blood). From what the reader sees in the story, all other humans have also been mutated into weird non-human creatures.



For several pages, Nosferatu-- who has only a nodding resemblance to the vampire in Murnau's film-- wanders his wreck-of-a-world, looking for prey. He makes brief reference to how he and others escaped the brunt of the catastrophe by hiding underground, but the reader never sees any of Nosferatu's companions. At first he's also hunting for a female companion named Imma, making plans to carry food back to her, since she's immobilized by gangrene. But since he seems to forget her rather quickly, it's possible that she's either dead from the start of the narrative, or that she exists only in his imagination. Indeed, no explicitly female humanoids are seen in the story.

Nosferatu does find a little prey among a tribe of mutants he calls "the Cripples." These characters look like hairy dwarves, but the only thing "crippled" about them is that some of them have spikes in place of hands, while the others have just one spike and one human-looking hand. The Cripples are as eager to devour Nosferatu as he is to prey on them, but he manages to chomp off one dwarf's human-looking hand, which sustains him for the next few pages.



Nosferatu continues to roam the world, moaning about his solitary status as "the last vampire." He muses that "the important thing in life" for an individual  is to conform to the image that one's society has of said individual, but that even this doleful conformity is beyond Nosferatu, because "I'm both individual and society." He then stumbles across what he mistakes for a living female, but which turns out to be a metal dummy used for some advertising display. Despite this, he carried the dummy around with him for a while, talking to it, naming it "Lilit" (after Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam), and wondering, "What were you selling, Lilit? Toothpaste? Shoes? Food?" He conceives the notion that, given his status as the sole intelligent life on the planet, he ought to become a poet, so he spontaneously spouts assorted free-verse from the works of Baudelaire (whose translators are duly credited in the comic). He comes across another tribe of mutated humanoids, but they show no intelligence, and one of them displays its lack of social skills by biting off the dummy's head, ending Nosferatu's amour fou.

Deprived of even this pitiable companionship, Nosferatu remarks that he's "tired of life." He "aspires to purity, with no hunger, no thirst, no breathing." However, after a little more soliloquizing, he does stumble across something that tests his alleged desire for fellowship. He falls in with a tribe of carrion-eaters that he conceives to be his kindred, and though most of them look more like werewolves than vampires, at least some of them can speak. However, the werewolves have their own problems, like a big serpent-creature that perpetually preys on them. (In an odd choice of real-world references, the creature is named for the San Andreas Fault, apparently just because the beast comes out of the ground.) Nosferatu devises a weapon to kill the beast. However, the stratagem fails and Nosferatu runs away from the conflict, so that he becomes an object of scorn to the werewolves.



Disgusted with his lot, Nosferatu decides to build a space-ark and depart the corrupt world for the stars,. He does so within the sight of the werewolves, which has the effect of making them his audience, even if they're cast in the role of "Noah's scoffers." During the construction of the ark, Nosferatu's single-mindedness has a salutary effect on his biology: he mutates further, becoming a being who derives nourishment from the air. However, when he finds he can't power his ship, all of the werewolves laugh at him. This puts the nail in the coffin, so to speak, of the last vampire's desire for society. He transforms into a mutant with mental powers, destroys both the werewolves and his own ship, and then flies off to the stars under his own power, though he continues to make ironic remarks to the readers like "Closing credits. Fade to black"-- which I suppose serve the same purpose as Baudelaire's famous address to his "hypocrite lecteurs."



NOSFERATU shares with other Druillet works its creator's imaginative prolificity, but this one-shot work is much better organized (and hence hyperconcrescent!) than most other Druillet works I've encountered. And, unlike a lot of French comedic works, it's actually funny. I think it was Durgnat who said that watching French comedy films was like watching a bear trained to dance: the pleasure of the spectacle is not that the bear dances well, it's that he can do it at all.

Friday, December 7, 2018

CONVERGING ON CONCRESCENCE

If there's one shortcoming in my Nietzschean-Bataillean "excess theory"-- aside from the fact that anyone reading about it would have to know both Nietzsche and Bataille to gauge its validity-- is that all too often I've focused on the end rather than the means, the product rather than the process, From the beginnings of this blog I've tossed out such parallel terms as "symbolic complexity," "peak amplitude," "high mythicity," "super-functionality," and "the combinatory-sublime," all of which address the symbolic qualities of the finished literary work. But assume that a reader agrees with me that some works are simply more "ample" than others, whether in terms of symbolic discourse or one of the other three possible discourses. What process, then, explains  how one work reaches "peak amplitude," while other works don't climb that high?

I have yet to read any of the works of Alfred North Whitehead, not even his best-regarded work, PROCESS AND REALITY. However, knowing that Whitehead's philosophy was in part concerned with the ways in which humans construct value. So I pored over the index of PROCESS, and wonder or wonders, the unfamiliar word "concrescence" leaped out at me.

Whitehead does not seem to have been adapted for purposes of literary studies much if at all, and most of his concerns seem entirely metaphysical in nature, as seen from this passage from THE INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY:

This focus on concrete modes of relatedness is essential because an actual occasion is itself a coming into being of the concrete. The nature of this “concrescence,” using Whitehead’s term, is a matter of the occasion’s creatively internalizing its relatedness to the rest of the world by feeling that world, and in turn uniquely expressing its concreteness through its extensive connectedness with that world. Thus an electron in a field of forces “feels” the electrical charges acting upon it, and translates this “experience” into its own electronic modes of concreteness. Only later do we schematize these relations with the abstract algebraic and geometrical forms of physical science. For the electron, the interaction is irreducibly concrete.

Eventually I may read enough Whitehead to learn whether or not his overall system coheres with those that have inspired me, ranging from Nietzsche and Bataille to Frye and Jung. But /happily
the word "concrescence" has a meaning independent of Whitehead. From the online Merriam-Webster:


1increase by the addition of particles

2a growing together COALESCENCE

The term is used in both biology and medicine to signify organs that have grown together improperly. However, there's nothing improper in the process concrescence would connote in my system.

The Latin root of "conscrecense" connoted the ideas of "coagulation" and "solidification," but if the Encyclopedia is accurate, then Whitehead uses this physical process as a metaphor for the way "an occasion" expresses "its concreteness to the rest of the world." If we put aside the philosopher's specialized term "occasion" and replace it with any sort of phenomenal presence within the world of art and literature, then it would seem to aptly describe the intense interrelatedness of such phenomena to one another, much along the lines of Denny O'Neil's description of Hinduism's "Net of Indra," last referenced here:

We're looking at a net.  It has to be a largish one, though exactly how big is up to you... Now, imagine that at each juncture of your net there is a jewel, cunningly hung so it reflects all the other jewels... It's called the Net of Indra and scholars say it was conceived of by a Buddhist monk named Tu Shun about  2640 years ago. It was originally meant as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of everything that exists...

Conscresence, more than its roughly equivalent term "coagulation," suggests the process by which seemingly unrelated phenomena "concretize" into a greater whole. Thus images, symbols and story-tropes which can only have a very limited meaning by themselves take on greater depth when associated with others that have a reinforcing effect.

Further, the word is probably better for describing the intensification of any given discourse than the Aristotelian term I used in the two LINE BETWEEN FAIR AND GOOD that I employed here and here. Aristotle's "unity of action"-- which, when applied to the actual process of art, might be better termed "unity of effect"-- does not adequately represent the way artists bring together the representations of discourse within the four potentialities (even though for the most part I've devoted myself to the discourse of symbols alone). I will in future re-examine the few essays I've written on "unity of action" to determine whether or not "concrescence" proves a better fit, as it does for the LINE essays.

In addition, I'm considering the even more specialized term "hyperconscresence" to denote those works that "concrese" (not a real word, BTW) much better than any others.





Tuesday, December 4, 2018

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS PT. 4

Here I'll cite a couple more categorizations with respect to classifying environments as potential focal presences. In ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS PT. 2 I wrote:

...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."

The same designation applies to last week's mythcomic, LUCIFER RISING. In this 1985 manga story, the mysterious tenth planet Lucifer is a phenomenon that the two main characters, Father Chavez and Doctor Cleaver, must investigate in order to learn its nature, both in its cosmological and metaphysical. There are any number of science fiction stories in which the narrative focuses upon the viewpoint characters sussing out the nature of a star or planet, so that in effect the phenomenon is "the star." However, LUCIFER RISING is endothelic, since the story focuses on the human conflict of faith and science, as represented by the initial outlooks of, respectively, Father Chavez and Doctor Cleaver.

A narrative may also focus upon an environment as the concatenation of the sentient culture. This is the case with the Byrne-Mignola WORLD OF KRYPTON. In my review I noted that writer Byrne had failed to invest his characters with much in the way of "dramatic heft:"

Given Byrne's tendency to rewrite earlier stories. it's not hard for me to believe that he caught onto the way Jerry Siegel concealed the quasi-incestuous theme of his story by giving Superman's Kryptonian lover the name "Lyla Lerrol," a shuffling of the name "Lara," Byrne thus creates both a bad mother and a not-so-good girlfriend, Nyra and Vara, before introducing the "good mother" who will make possible the birth of a "savior" of sorts. Byrne doesn't devote nearly as much attention to the two main male characters, dramatically or symbolically. Van-L's name doesn't seem to hold any strong associations, though an old SUPERBOY story does state that one of Superboy's ancestors is named "Val-El." As for "Kan-Z," I can't help but note that his name resembles that of the American heartland where the infant Kal-El ends up; i.e., "Kansas." But the latter confluence may not have been consciously intended.

Yet none of these characters looms larger than the world they inhabit, although the perverse mother Nyra, a sort of "anti-Lara," has the greatest mythicity. Rather, Krypton is the exothelic focus of the narrative, as I showed in this passage:

 I will give props to the schematic sociological myth he devises for Krypton: first too sensuous, then too abstemious. This stratagem succeeds in characterizing the homeworld of DC:s pre-eminent hero in terms of unpleasant extremes, as against the "divine middle" embodied by the Planet Earth.




Monday, December 3, 2018

THE MAHERS-MALLOW CHALLENGE

I confess that I'd never heard of the "Marshmallow Challenge" until I decided to construct a pun combining "marshmallow" with the name of Stan Lee's recent assailant Bill Maher. The "challenge" phrase suits the pun, though, since Bill Maher's comments were intended, however stupidly, to challenge the idea that a comic-book creator could be of any importance to American culture.

Here's Maher's screed from November 17, 2018:

The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess. Someone on Reddit posted, “I'm so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own. Now, I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures. 
But then twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature. And because America has over 4,500 colleges – which means we need more professors than we have smart people – some dumb people got to be professors by writing theses with titles like Otherness and Heterodoxy in the Silver Surfer. And now when adults are forced to do grown-up things like buy auto insurance, they call it “adulting,” and act like it’s some giant struggle. 
I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important. 

Many, many fans leaped to Lee's defense, and in the last week Maher simply reiterated his comments, adding the rather wimpy clarification that he wasn't attacking Stan Lee, only his fans. Of course, if you're stating that the recently deceased celebrity under discussion produced nothing but juvenile trash, I think that might be deemed something of an intentional burn.

The thing I find most interesting about Maher's attack is how OLD it sounds. Maher sounds like a lot of the modernist writers of the early 20th century-- such as Nathaniel West and Joseph Conrad-- and the equally modernist critics of that period, such as Theodor Adorno. Yet Maher is a baby-boomer like myself, having been born in 1956, one year after I was. His obvious prejudice toward books that don't have pictures similarly sounds like the tendency of early modernists to privilege words, words, and more words over any medium that used visual elements.

Of course, Maher isn't unique among baby-boomers in choosing to chastise popular culture for not getting across the elitist message. I've frequently castigated the fallacies promoted by similarly aged critics like Gary Groth and Noah Berlatsky. But, whatever their mistakes, these critics at least know something about popular culture.

Maher, for all his pretensions to intellectual superiority, apparently did zero research as to how comic books attained a measure of cultural acceptance, as opposed to remaining, as Maher thinks they should, a marginal medium meant only for kids. Since he doesn't think he needs to provide historical context, he's free to claim that the sea-change in which adults chose not to give up kid stuff happened twenty years previous to 2018.

So that's 1998, in which happened-- what exactly? It's long after the first flowerings of the "graphic novel" in the mid-1980s. Even the debut of Image Comics was old news by 1998, while in that year Hollywood had yet to invest heavily in more than a handful of comics-characters. Perhaps the late nineties are supposed to be the period in which college professors are supposed to have started writing essays on comic book characters. But even if Maher has some specific thesis in mind-- I for one have no idea if his "Silver Surfer" essay-title is supposed to be real or not-- college professors certainly don't write their high-falutin' essays in isolation from the rest of their culture.

Better informed histories of popular culture generally peg the sea-change as beginning over forty years earlier, in the 1960s-- though even this assessment overlooks the slow process by which academia began showing tentative acceptance of pop culture in the forties and fifties, as per critics like Gilbert Seldes and Robert Warshow. But three events in the 1960s provide watershed moments: the growth of comics-fandom in the form of adults collecting old funnybooks in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the debut of the 1966 BATMAN teleseries, and Stan Lee's development of Marvel Comics in 1961.

I doubt that in 1961 Lee had any idea that persons older than middle school would take a fancy to his new take on superheroes. But when he started getting letters from college students, he surely played up the "greater respectability" angle for all that it was worth. By the middle 1960s, it's possible to discern him seeking to invest his stories-- usually superheroes, though he'd written many other genres over the years-- with social content that was at least somewhat more sophisticated than that of his competition.

Now, one does not have to be using one's smarts on "stupid stuff" to suss out that Lee was doing something different, and that the "stuff" had a peculiar hold on not just his then-current audience, but upon later comics-audiences as well. But even if one chose to dismiss all of Stan Lee's contributions as trash-- an opinion which a few comics-critics have indeed advanced-- it seems strange that Maher seems utterly unaware of the more ambitious forms of comics that appeared, not during the 1960s, but in the 1980s. During this period, the innovation of the direct market made it feasible to market more ambitious works to adult buyers, be the works some sort of "adult superheroes," like the Moore-Gibbons WATCHMEN, or "art-comics" along the lines of CEREBUS and LOVE AND ROCKETS.

Now, in one respect Maher is correct. To the extent that Stan Lee made it possible for young comics-buyers of the 1960s to think that the medium was not necessarily meant to be outgrown, then one might indeed say that he was responsible for "dumbing-down" American adults. But patently Maher knows nothing about the comics except for what he sees in the movies-- like IRON MAN 3, in which the somewhat hypocritical comedian has a cameo-- and in this sense, his understanding of the "sea-change" proves inferior even to that of comics-bashers like Frederick Wertham.

Side-note: since the majority of comics-fans tend to skew liberal, I have no idea why it would occur to Maher to blame comics for the ascendance of Donald Trump. But it's likely that he just pulled this nugget from the same place as the rest of his screed: his ass.





Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "LUCIFER RISING" (2001 NIGHTS, 1985)



LUCIFER RISING, one of the many short stories in Yukinobu Hoshino's science fiction anthology-series 2001 NIGHTS, bears some resemblance to James Blish's novel A CASE OF CONSCIENCE. Both works deal with the cultural relationship between science and religion-- which, in my literary system, are subsumed under the categories of "cosmological myths" and "meraphysical myths." To  be sure, Hoshino's conclusions regarding the struggle between these opposed concepts provide a counterpoint to Blish's. Yet like Blish, Hoshino homes in on one of the key disputes: that of science's advocacy of infinite knowledge-gathering versus Judeo-Christianity's reservations re: the hubris of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

LUCIFER begins in the far future, when Earth's space program has extended humankind's reach to the limits of the solar system. Astronauts from a space-station on Jupiter's moon Ganymede have the misfortune to encounter a mysterious ice-asteroid, which blows them into oblivion when they come in contact with it. Back on Ganymede, station commander Doctor Michael Cleaver expresses guilt over losing the astronauts and determination to learn what happened.

Some time after the news of  the explosion reaches Earth, Father Ramon Chavez, both a priest in the Catholic Church and a doctor of planetology, is summoned to the Vatican to speak with the reigning Pope. The pontiff has received information that the space program believes that the explosive meteor emanated from Lucifer, the once-hypothetical but now fully verified "tenth planet" of the solar system. The Pope, knowing that Chavez has unique scientific skills, wants the young priest to accompany Doctor Cleaver's mission to Lucifer.



Hoshino establishes an interesting dynamic between the priest and the pontiff. Initially, at least within the Pope's presence, Chavez expresses guilt over his non-priestly passion for science. The Pope seems somewhat more liberal, quoting Milton's Satan from PARADISE LOST: "Can it be sin to know? Can it be death?" (Later Chavez takes Milton's epic with him on the mission, and the story is replete with numerous quotations from the work.) Still, despite the Pope's flippancy, he wants Chavez to suss out Lucifer in terms of its religious significance. For the Pope, the solar system mirrors the greatness of God, who dispenses rays of life and love to both the humans on Earth and to the stars and planets, which are embodiments of the heavenly host. This vision suggests that the tenth planet, being furthest from God's glory, must also be equivalent to "that foul thing who led man astray with the fruit from the forbidden tree." Chavez's mission is to find some concrete evidence of Lucifer's evil, since the science-obsessed denizens of modern Earth will believe only the evidence of science.

Through the use of hibernation technology, Chavez traverses the vasty deep separating Earth from Ganymede without any perception of time passing. However, Chavcz's advent is marked by tragedy, since another hibernating astronaut perishes upon being revived. Further, one of Cleaver's scientists asserts that someone tampered with the technology, meaning that someone on the station is a murderer.



This threat does not deter Cleaver from mounting an expedition to investigate Lucifer. However, calamity strikes once more, during which a crewman is lost to the void. Moreover, Chavez tries but fails to save the man, and his failure inculcates in him a guilt far greater than any he felt over his scientific presumptuousness.

Cleaver too feels guilt over the men who died under his command, but whereas Chavez begins to wonder if Lucifer is the source of all his sufferings, Cleaver is determined to make his crewmen's deaths count for something. The tenth planet presents an assortment of scientific anomalies-- a retrograde orbit, an invisibility to radar due to its propensity to annihilate particles in its wake. Yet all of the anomalies are resolved by a revelation both cosmological and metaphysical. Lucifer, on the one hand appearing to be a former sun that has collapsed into a gas giant, is also composed of anti-matter, which means that any "positive matter" that touches its "negative matter" will explode.



Back on Earth, the Pope decides not to wait for Chavez's evidence, and he issues a condemnation of any explorations of the Satanic planet. This results in massive protests demanding the return of the astronauts, although the Earth governments are more concerned with exploiting Lucifer for their own purposes.

Chavez finally concludes that the antimatter planet is a leftover from the Big Bang. During this cosmic event, positive and negative matter contended for supremacy, "just like the battle among angels which was said to have happened before humankind was created." Yet, though his religious training tells Chavez to condemn Lucifer as the Pope wishes, his scientific side tells him that "Lucifer is a treasurehouse of wonders...It hides the puzzles behind which lie the secrets of the universe." In other words, this time an entire world, named for the Tempter, is the stand-in for religion's Tree of Knowledge.

Further complications ensue. The mystery assassin kills two more crewpersons. Additionally, though everyone aboard now knows that they dare not come in contact with the antimatter world, the ship's dotty biologist-- winsomely named "Karloff"-- swipes a shuttlecraft in order to observe Lucifer close up. This means that the other astronauts must seek to block him, for if Karloff encounters antimatter, the resultant explosion will decimate the ship.


Amid much drama-- including the prevention of said catastrophe-- the mystery killer is also revealed: Cleaver was, somewhat improbably, seeking to kill off Chavez because he feared that Chavez's report would dissuade Earth from exploiting Lucifer as a new source of power; power enough to open up humanity's  way to the stars. Further, Cleaver also believes that Lucifer's long-range effect has been beneficial on humanity; that its earlier emanations of antimatter, for instance, caused the prehistoric devastation of the dinosaurs. And even though Cleaver eventually perishes for his crimes, Chavez is "converted" to Cleaver's view of life, deciding that this time, the "original sin" of eating from the Tree of Knowledge is a necessary temptation on humankind's destined path.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: CATWOMAN DEFIANT (1992)

CATWOMAN DEFIANT followed 1989's 4-issue mini-series as a further attempt to promote the character to starring status, probably because her popularity had been received something of a boost from Frank Miller's two BATMAN mini-series, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and BATMAN YEAR ONE. I haven't read the 1989 series, but the only thing CATWOMAN DEFIANT took from Miller's version of the semi-heroic villainess was the ugly grey costume.  However. CATWOMAN finally vaulted into a monetarily successful series the next year, which then lasted for ninety-odd issues until 2001.




SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

DEFIANT isn't a great story by any means, but scripter Peter Milligan and artist Tom Grindberg pave the way for the ongoing series by painting Catwoman as a playfully immoral master burglar, sans Miller's prostitute angle. Further, Millgan's script emphasizes her as the embodiment of feline-- and feminine-- unpredictability.

In fact, Milligan attempts to inject this unpredictability into the story's big revelation. The narrative begins with Catwoman having a heist interrupted by a bunch of fashion-plate hirelings. They want to abduct her in the name of their crime-boss, Mister Handsome, who has a reputation of stealing valuable art-objects and destroying them.




Batman rescues Catwoman from the thugs, and then makes her an offer. Instead of busting her for her attempted burglary, he'll let her go if she'll help him catch the elusive Mister Handsome. Catwoman, who doesn't want to go to jail and would like to get the crime-boss out of her hair, agrees. It's not clear whether or not this adventure takes place around the same time as  Miller's YEAR ONE, but some of Batman's dialogue suggests that he has yet to get used to Catwoman's amoral attitude, or to the effect she has on him.




However, the plan fails. Batman gets decoyed, and Catwoman is knocked out and taken to the lair of Mister Handsome. He places her in an abandoned mine-shaft, chaining her to a stone statue of Venus, Roman goddess of love, and then speaks to her through a closed-circuit TV. He reiterates his desire to see all forms of beauty destroyed, ostensibly because of the death of his beautiful wife, and rants about the pleasure he'll take in seeing Catwoman's good looks destroyed by the "beast" he's also set loose in the mine-shaft. However, there's one other inhabitant down there with Catwoman: a time-ravaged old woman named Mary. Mary identifies herself as the supposedly dead wife of Mister Handsome, and says that when she began aging, her husband cast her down into the shaft, intending to let her die at the hands of "the Beast," a mindless freak of nature.







Mary promises to aid Catwoman's escape if the master thief will kill her husband for her. Catwoman demurs at the prospect of assassination but accepts the help. The two women manage to reach one of the upper levels, but Mary then falls back down into the shaft. Angry at the older woman's apparent death, Catwoman broaches Mister Handsome in his lair. There she finds him admiring his face in a hand-mirror, despite the fact that he's wearing a face-mask that merely makes him look handsome. Milligan has thus set up the reader to expect that the crime-boss is ugly beneath the mask, but when Catwoman whips off the mask, it's actually Mary, who faked her death in the shaft so that she could force Catwoman to kill her. She also reveals that she killed her betraying husband and took over his identity, seeking to use his crime-organization to castigate the beauty that Mary had lost. Catwoman refuses to kill Mary and even keeps her from being killed by the Beast, though she does so only by sending an unwitting Batman into danger-- thus punishing him for using her in his crimefighting schemes.

Milligan loads the script with numerous references to the "Beauty and the Beast" story, and the tale even ends with Catwoman looking into Handsome's hand-mirror, as if to invoke another fairy-tale mirror, one that could pronounce its holder "the fairest of them all." But what makes DEFIANT mythic is that, even though the script deals with such feminist issues as men tiring of women victimized by the ravages of age, the author plays off the issues of beauty and ugliness as symbolic entities, rather than as elements for some predetermined allegory.

NEAR MYTHS: "THE JUNGLE CAT-QUEEN" (1954)

The back cover copy for this week's mythcomic, CATWOMAN DEFIANT, correctly states, "Since Catwoman made her debut in BATMAN #1 in 1940, she has become one of comics' most popular villains." However, like other Bat-villains of the Golden Age, Catwoman's potential for symbolic discourse always remained somewhat restricted. I've mentioned some of this potential in other essays, as I did in LEAD US NOW INTO TRANSGRESSION:


... because the established mythology at the time of this 1954 comic continually emphasized a romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman-- that's the narrative value-- the scene (which isn't in the story) takes on a significant value of "battle of the sexes," which is certainly one motif within the story proper (a reformed Catwoman returns to crime because she wants to challenge Batman again). We cannot know if the adult raconteurs who crafted the story (Edmond Hamilton and a "Bob Kane" ghost) were aware of the S&M associations of the whip, particularly when it's wielded by one gender against the other, but if they did they may've assumed that the scene would "tease" readers into buying the comic even though, being 1954 juveniles, they might not know consciously why the scene seemed appealing.

The one Golden Age story that comes close to realizing Catwoman's potential-- 1954's "Jungle Cat-Queen" from DETECTIVE COMICS #211-- was also her last appearance during that Age, after which she vanished from DC Comics for undisclosed reasons, only re-appearing in 1966.

The feline villainess, who had briefly reformed a few years earlier, came back to the criminal life with a vengeance, and makes one of her most potent appearances robbing a mail-plane with the help of a big black panther, and then escaping in her "Cat-Plane."




Batman and Robin are quick to pursue in their Batplane, and just as they're nearing her island hideout, Catwoman performs a "wing-ecdotomy" on the Dynamic Duo's vehicle.




The site of a giant cat-plane shredding the Batplane's wings is alone worth the price of the story, but there's more to come. The heroes bail out and land on the island. They come across a small coterie of white hunters, but the hunters trap the heroes, revealing that they're crooks working with Catwoman. When the villainess shows up, she's attended by a lion and a tiger, suggesting that she's somehow become a "mistress of animals," when before the biggest creature she ever controlled was a housecat. It'll later be revealed that all the big cats have been circus-trained-- implicitly brought into Catwoman's hands by the crooked hunters-- but for the time being, Catwoman plays her image as a "mistress of animals."



For no good reason, she forced the captive crusaders to don animal-skins a la Tarzan, and chases them through the island-jungle with the cats. She claims that she plans to unmask them when she catches them, but this may be a cover for preserving their lives against the other crooks, since she's seen luring her own beasts off the heroes' trail. Inevitably, Batman and Robin get the upper hand over the beasts and their trainers, but Catwoman gets a reward her for refusing to kill the good guys, in that the script allows her to get away at the end.



Given that one of the big attractions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' TARZAN mythology is sexual in nature, scripter Edmond Hamilton seems to be upping the sexual elements by having Batman (and, to a much lesser extent, Robin) turned into jungle-men. There's naturally no actual sex between Bat and Cat here, but their contention through the agency of controlling lower animals may be deemed a displacement of such sexual energies.