Saturday, June 25, 2016

NULL-MYTHS: SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI (1978)




The recent passing of Muhammad Ali moved me to pull out this moldy oldie. It certainly wasn't the first time that the fictional Man of Steel had adventures with real-life celebrities, but it may well be the worst from any standpoint-- though as usual, my focus is upon the inconsummation of any mythopoeic elements in the story.

As I asserted in the preceding essay, both sports-figures and superheroes excite the adulation of their fans through the action of the "participation mystique," despite the fact that the first group are real human beings and the second are not. That said, to some extent the "Muhammad Ali" of the comic book is by default an unreal fictional creation, not least because he lives in the same world as Superman and various other DC Comics characters. Thus when I speak of the Ali in the comic book, I'll distinguish this character from his real model by using the term "TD-Ali." "TD" is short for my term "template deviation," connoting that the character referenced is a deviation from some original template-- whether that template is a living person or a fictional precursor.

There are differing stories about how the project was initiated. This online essay offers the possibility that the proposal may have come either from DC editor Julie Schwartz or from Real-Ali's promoter Don King. I tend to favor the latter hypothesis. Though fictional Superman had been a "celebrity" for a longer time than the famous boxer, the dominant orientation of the story is to extol the heroism of TD-Ali over that of the Kryptonian, even though TD-Ali only exists within the context of Superman's world.

Of course, it's equally possible that the comics-creators gave disproportionate attention to the heroism of TD-Ali simply because (a) they didn't want to produce anything that Real-Ali's business managers might reject, or (b) they themselves didn't really respect "unreal" superheroes in comparison to "real" sports-figures. In addition, because Real-Ali was one of the world's most famous Afro-American celebrities, the raconteurs certainly didn't want to do anything that might reflect badly on their depiction of such a celebrity. Curiously, though Joe Kubert did an early cover for the project and Denny O'Neil is credited with the "original story," Neal Adams is credited with both penciling and "adapting" O'Neil's script-- which apparently means that Adams provided the dialogue and the specific plot-developments.

The plot was exceedingly tired even in 1978. A race of alien warriors-- given the underwhelming name of "the Scrubb"-- come to Earth. They view humankind as a threat, but instead of simply eradicating Earth right away, their representative "Rat'lar" explains that the Scrubb want to prove themselves superior to Earth-people in the eyes of all other sentient beings: "by showing our standard bearer is the greatest." The first potential gladiator Rat'lar approaches is TD-Ali, though the alien doesn't explicitly say that he's chosen the boxer to be the representative of Earth in the coming obligatory tournament. Superman happens along and argues that he ought to be the one to defend Earth-- and this leads to the paper-thin rationale for Superman to fight TD-Ali for pride of place.



I recall a contemporary reviewer asking if TD-Ali had lost his mind, believing that he could "whup" an alien hero with the power to push planets around. The only rationale for this scene is that Adams must have believed it was important to present Ali as supremely confident of his pugilistic skills, not to mention his talent for "trash-talk." Rat'Lar then asserts that the difference of opinion should be decided by putting the two candidates on an equal footing, and though he doesn't say so specifically, this logically implies that Superman isn't going to be allowed to use his super-powers in the main event either.

Once super-powers are taken out of the equation, one might think that Superman would at least consider bowing out of the contest. But again, in order to extol the superiority of TD-Ali, Superman not only sticks to his guns, he receives training from TD-Ali in the manly art.




I can well believe that Denny O'Neil was responsible for this idea. Several years earlier, O'Neil presided over the scripts of the "New Wonder Woman," in which Diana Price lost her super-powers, and immediately also lost whatever fighting-skills she'd acquired as an Amazon heroine, necessitating that she be re-trained in Asian martial arts. Here too, we see the presumption that once Superman hasn't got his powers, he's just a muscular stumble-bum who must be trained by a superior fighter.

Perhaps as a concession of sorts, Superman's training by his future opponent is interrupted, so that the Man of Steel never gets the full benefit of TD-Ali's instruction. This leads to an inevitable orgy of violence in which Superman is battered into insensibility by the experienced boxer.




And, following that, TD-Ali manages to outpunch a super-strong alien fighter in the main event, with no logic beyond the level of "if you believe in boxers suddenly turning into superheroes, clap your hands."



Admittedly, Superman is given a few face-saving heroic tasks in the jumbled story-line, so that he doesn't come off as a total loser. And perhaps no one should expect much of this sort of cheese, hyped on the cover as "the fight to save Earth from STAR WARRIORS." But certainly the myth of Superman was not well served by this farrago. And if it was even possible to propound a myth for any fictionalized version of Real-Muhammad Ali, it certainly couldn't be done by this sort of feebly imagined celebrity ass-kissing.

THE SPORTING STRIFE

Before examining the item in the upcoming post, I'll offer a few words on the popular reception of the concept of "sports" vs. that of all forms of fictional entertainment.

As a young comics-reader it was always a source of amazement to me that many people, both peers and elders, viewed superhero comics as silly escapism, and yet could turn on a dime and root for athletes who were "fighting" one another within the context of games that had no relation to real activities.

I was aware, of course, that to the sports-fan there was a "reality factor" to the struggles of athletes, particularly in the more conflict-based sports like football and boxing. The rules of the games might be contrived,  but to the avid sports-fans, the struggles of the participants had a special reality to them. The players might not battling for food or to save society, but their professional lives, and therefore their personal prosperity, always hung in the balance.  

On the other hand, it was equally plain to me that the fans did not primarily identify with, say, the home football team because they the fans wanted to see particular players be able to enjoy lives of wealth and prestige. The fans identified with the players in terms of what Levy-Bruhl called the "participation mystique:" Jung defines it thusly:

It denotes a peculiar kind of psychological connection with objects, and consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity.

In other words, even though no fan's individual life changed in any way because of the fact that the home team won, each fan felt personally validated when his chosen representatives succeeded. True, some fans' lives might be changed if they happened to place bets, either successful or unsuccessful, on a game's outcome, but betting activities are not part of the game proper, and certainly can't account for the appeal of the game as such.

So I sometimes asked-- to no one in particular-- how was the sports-fan's validation any different from the superhero-fan enjoying the thrill of seeing his favorite hero triumph over adversity?  The answer again came down to the sports-fan's naive belief in the "reality" of what he saw on the playing-field. 

I don't deny that, aside from things that fall under the heading of "fixed contests," the majority of sports-conflicts represent "real" contentions between athletes of various types, even though those contentions are circumscribed within an "unreal" context. Yet people forget that physical work by human beings, no less "real" than any athlete, behind the adventures of any fictional character, whether it's Superman or Hamlet. Popular characters like Superman are often read more as "play" than as "work," which is the way we now read HAMLET, whether or not that was the playwright's unvarnished intention. But neither superhero nor melancholy Dane is brought into being purely by the activity of play; work has to be done to give the character shape and direction.

Sports-figures are not "authored," though I would argue that when they do become famous-- or infamous-- their "real" actions take on hyper-real status though their way that their fans-- or their anti-fans-- view them through the lens of the participation mystique.

In the final analysis, the "reality factor" that causes sports-figures to receive societal approval might be better termed a "hyper-reality factor"-- as I will show in my examination of the DC work SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI.
  

Friday, June 24, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "SUPERMAN'S RETURN TO KRYPTON" (SUPERMAN #141, 1960)

I've already used this Jerry Siegel story a couple of times, in 2010 as an example of a Jungian incest-motif and in 2012 as an example of sublimity. Since the former subject relates more to mythicity than the latter, I'll explore in more depth some of the thoughts from the 2010 essay.

I wrote:

In terms of tone, this is less Freudian than Jungian incest. Jor-L and Lora are “heavenly” echoes of the couple that Superman and Lois will become, however long the latter relationship may be deferred. (Critics who make windy arguments about the perpetual childhood of the superhero should remember that in 1940 Jerry Siegel attempted to set the stage for a more mature Superman-Lois relationship, but was overruled by his editors.) But even though the visual resemblance of Lois and Lora is probably just a visual joke, the resemblance of their names may carry a little more psychological heft. Critics may never be sure exactly why Jerry Siegel used the name “Lora” for Superman’s mother, in contrast to the name of the father Jor-L, whose name is certainly derived from JERry SiegEL. But as we don't know of a particular "Laura" who influenced Siegel in these years-- at least I find none in Jones' MEN OF TOMORROW-- it’s possible that consciously or subconsciously Siegel modeled the mother’s name on the girlfriend’s. Not only does “Lora” have the same number of letters/syllables as “Lois,” one finds an interesting congruence given that the first two letters of Lois Lane's first and last names come out to LO and LA. And if one makes a metathetic substitution of the letter ‘R’ for the second ‘L,’ one sees that the name of the prospective wife symbolically embodies that of the mother.
However, wordplay is not the only aspect of the story that might be fruitfully analyzed though the process of Jungian amplification.

Now, it should be said up front that Jerry Siegel was an inveterate fan of wacky humor. Thus even though "Return" is admired by a fair number of critics-- not least Gerard Jones-- for its pathos, Siegel apparently couldn't resist transporting his hero to his former home-world in a rather peculiar way, as seen below:



There's no way of knowing whether or not Siegel's original script specified that the planet-sized creature should look so goony; for all anyone knows, the creature's depiction may have been the choice of artist Wayne Boring. But I suspect that Boring wouldn't have depicted the creature as  being the size of a planet unless Siegel had specified that detail, and that suggest to me that the beast's likeness to a planet is a foreshadowing of the superhero's encounter with an actual planet, the home-world of Superman's birth-parents.

In accordance with the mythology, the hero immediately loses his super-powers on Krypton, but though he's relegated to the status of an ordinary man, his super-costume confers on him a new status. Siegel compensates for his hero's lost power by putting Superman in contract with Krypton's version of Hollywood (note that the "director" below wears something akin to a beret). This in turn leads to the hero being scoped out by Krypton's version of Marilyn Monroe.



Later, the movie-company will also serve as the device by which Siegel returns Superman to his role on Earth. For the time being, Superman's association with the film-world provides a mundane excuse for him to go wandering around Krypton in inappropriate clothing. He uses this excuse when he visits his newly married father and mother, who haven't even given birth to him yet.



The above scene makes it seem as if Superman's priorities are all about connecting with the father he never knew. That wish-fulfillment is certainly present. However, though Superman doesn't try to connect with his mother, Lara intuits their relationship, and does her best to mother-hen him by setting him up with the aforementioned actress / Monroe-double, Lyla Lerrol. Superman mentally compares her to his earlier "LL" loves, Lois Lane and Lori Lemaris, but as I note above, Lyla's nature, being Kryptonian, is most like that of the hero's mother. Thus, by Superman's action of returning to his "mother-world," it may be logically said that he is also returning to his mother-- though more in the symbolic manner of Jung than after the manner of Freud's Oedipus complex.



Arguably, this freedom from future consequences-- in which Superman feels he can do anything, since he's now doomed to perish when Krypton explores-- allows Siegel and Boring to "cut loose" in terms of romantic imagery, as the super-swain pursues his lady love amid sublimely colorful imagery.




To be sure, during one part of the story Superman and Jor-El seek to construct a space-ark capable of saving some of the Kryptonians from the coming destruction. But in keeping with previously established mythology-- which Superman himself apparently forgets until it's too late-- the space-ark is spirited away by the evil city-stealer Brainiac.



By this time, Superman sees no way out, and is content to die bravely with his parents and his beloved. Yet, by the writer's twist of fate, Krypton's version of the fantasy-factory Hollywood serves the cause of "reality" over "fantasy." It's the power of the movies that returns Superman to his usual stomping-grounds-- even though the rationale makes even less sense than the planet-sized goony-bird critter.



It's interesting that after Siegel has played the romance-story so "straight" for the majority of the story, that the author should come up with this daffy scenario: that the infuriated creature's fiery breath acts like rocket propulsion and launches the moviemakers' prop rocket all the way back to Earth's solar system-- thus returning Superman to his role of the dutiful superhero. The last two panels even show the hero waffling on his experience, one moment thinking that he'll always "treasure" the memories of his Kryptonian experience, and in the next, regarding it as a "strange, incredible dream."

Since I'm not advancing the incest-theme in terms of Freud, I don't have to drag in a lot of deadwood about "disavowal" or "fear of castration by the father." The romance with the quasi-maternal figure is derailed not for such fear-based reasons but because the serial character had to be returned to his normal sphere of adventure. However, while many Superman-stories of this period were replete with bizarre whimsy, "Superman's Return to Krypton" is one of the few times that whimsy gave way to a deeper level of archetypal fantasy.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

CENTRIC AND DIFFUSE WILL PT. 3

This essay is not only a follow-up to parts one and two in the series, but also to the April essay RADICAL CONFLICTS. In addition, the endeavor to expand upon the conceptual word-pair and "centric/ diffuse" is also an attempt to formulate better language for the way in which a "dominant" story element achieves dominance over other elements.

Back in 2011, in essays like this one, I put forth the distinction of "dominant" and "subdominant" elements, and said of the latter:

"Subdominant” indicates that a given narrative makes extensive use of the elements of one mythos even though the narrative as a whole fits another mythos better.
But I never made extensive use of these terms. The word "dominance" descends from the Latin dominus, meaning a lord or master,  and this imagery more or less accords with the thoughts I expressed in JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY. And yet, though I don't reject any of these meditations, in recent years I've been drawn less to the image of a "master" lording it over lesser elements, and more drawn to the image of the circle. If a given narrative has elements characteristic of all four Fryean mythoi, one may see the central circle as being the myth-radical that most determines the total content of the narrative.  Below is one of the few images I could find on the Web, in which four circles (the four mythoi) are contained within a greater circle, but one of the inner circles, the smallest, approximates occupies the center position--though it's smaller than I'd like insofar as providing a useful illustration.




With this model in mind it's more feasible to see how the author of a given narrative may allow the "sphere" of his narrative to encompass all four moods represented by the four myth-radicals. In this essay I used BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER teleseries as an example of a narrative-- admittedly, an extended narrative compose of several interrelated stories-- in which the authors sought to put their central character through all four of the psychological situations that Theodor Gaster calls his moods of "the invigorative," "the jubilative," "the purgative," and "the mortificative" (cited with greater detail in the above-cited AFFECTS VS. MOODS). My conclusion, of course, was that the "centric will" of the extended narrative focused upon providing the audience with invigorative scenes of Buffy triumphing over assorted enemies.

In RADICAL CONFLICTS I alluded briefly to Aristotle's use of two terms, "simple" and "complex," which the philosopher linked to whether or not a given work possessed a particular sttrucuring element, that of the *anagnorisis.* I'll now proceed to swipe his categories for my own use.

Many narratives, extended or otherwise, never stray from one dominant myth-mood, and so these would be *simple* narratives. But if there is a pronounced use of even one other mood-element, then the narratives would be *complex.* Buffy is an example of a "sphere" that encompasses all four radicals. In the ADVENTURE/COMEDY VS. COMEDY/ADVENTURE, PART 1,  I cited two extended narratives, that of the BATMAN teleseries and the INFERIOR FIVE comic book series, which I then believed to be concentrated largely upon the invigorative and jubilative moods. I later modified this view with regard to BATMAN, in that I found a sort of gentle irony pervading that narrative. However, even INFERIOR FIVE, with only two discernible moods, would be complex, and its illustration would look something like this, where "B" was the center radical, that of comedy, while "A," representing the radical of adventure. was somewhat off to the side.



In the above example, then, the radical of jubiliation / comedy would incarnate the *centric will* of the narrative, while the radical of invigoration / adventure would be relegated to the narrative's *diffuse will."

Monday, June 20, 2016

CENTRIC AND DIFFUSE WILL PT. 2

In Part 1 I chose to address two subjects-- that of the forms of narrative violence, and that of the four myth-radicals  under the conceptual umbrella of my word-pair "centric and diffuse force." In the next two essays I'll give each topic separate consideration.

In Part 1 I wrote:

For instance, I've written numerous times about the disparate effects of different forms of violence, particularly "functional violence" and "spectacular violence." Either one of these can be centric in the formal sense: that the climax of a narrative depends on one form or the other, and in fact in this essay I contrasted two films which both had violent conclusions, though only one showed enough sense of "spectacle" to be labeled "combative." I stress "sense" of spectacle because the combative film displayed the intent to produce spectacle even though the execution of said spectacle was lousy.
The gist is that the conflict expressed through the narrative will of one story is functional at the core, while for the other story it's spectacular at the core, despite poor execution. But neither of these obscure films is ideal for illustrative purposes.

Most horror-films concern themselves with one megadynamic presence in the film, against which characters of lesser dynamicity must contend. In 1931 two films, DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, set the pattern for monster-oriented horror films in the era of sound films. Each film must find some way for lesser mortals to extinguish the source of horror and thus provide narrative closure for the viewer. Both films were patterned upon the scripts for stage-adaptations of the respective prose novels, but directors Tod Browning and James Whale chose very different approaches to the material. Though the film medium was capable of depicting violence in much greater detail than anyone could manage on a theater-stage, Browning chose to follow the example of the Dracula stage-play, keeping the depiction of violence to a minimum. To be sure, the extremely muted conclusion, in which the camera watches Van Helsing execute the vampire from across the room, may have been an instance where the studio bosses would not allow the spectacle of staking, for fear of critical reprisals.




Whale, despite having had experience directing on the stage as well as on film, seems to have done as much as he could to emphasize cinematic spectacle, often focusing on images that would have been difficult or impossible to put on screen.  For instance, the climactic confrontation of Frankenstein and his creation in an old mill shows them squaring off in an old mill.




Following which they look at one another through the mill wheel, as if one were the funhouse-mirror reflection of the other.









And though the scientist can't stop his creation, the aroused populace can, by the spectacular effect of burning down the mill with the creature in it.




Now, I'll reiterate the judgment I've pronounced elsewhere: as in the majority of horror-films there is only one megadynamic presence in both of the films, neither can participate in the combative mode. However, the narrative center of FRANKENSTEIN is to show the viewer the monster's rampage and his resultant destruction in the most spectacular manner possible, and so all the "centric will" of the narrative expresses spectacular violence. This does not mean that every violent act is necessarily spectacular: Karl's whipping of the chained Monster is merely functional, as is the mid-point scene in which Frankenstein and his colleague Waldman subdue the monster with the help of a drug-injection.

In contrast, all of the violence in Browning's DRACULA must deemed functional because most of it is intimated. (Allegedly Browning didn't even want his vampire to appear on-screen, only to be suggested by the reactions of other actors.) The most violent moment in DRACULA comes near the conclusion, when the vampire thinks himself betrayed by Renfield and so breaks his pawn's neck. But if even one wished to deem this a moment of spectacular violence, then it would belong to the diffuse will of the narrative, since the centric will focuses upon functional violence. By the same token, the moments of functional violence in FRANKENSTEIN are diffuse while those of spectacular violence are centric.

The principal exception to the "rule of one powerful presence" in most horror films is the "monster mash" film. The mere existence of more monsters means more potential for spectacle, as well as for the possibility of spectacular combat between two or more monsters.


Of the four "monster mashes" that emerges from Universal in the 1940s, 1943's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and 1948's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN   are the only two in which some sort of "monster-battle" takes place.

Short though it is, there can be little doubt that the conclusion of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN satisfies the requirements for not only the same spectacular violence found in FRANKENSTEIN, but also its expression in the combative mode. Violence that is both spectacular and combative forms the core of the film's centric will.




ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN-- in which the comedians meet not only the Monster but also the Wolf Man and Dracula-- is another matter altogether. All three monsters are megadynamic presences, and so the script might have chosen to have two or more monsters fight each other in the midst of the comedians' antics. But clearly the script chose to emphasize the humor of having the beleaguered protagonists constantly running from the three "titans of terror." The closest thing to a monster-fight is when Dracula and Wolf Man have a shoving-match, with Costello-on-a-gurney in between.




But the two monsters don't have a real encounter, as Dracula mostly runs away from the lycanthrope. There are moments of spectacular violence here, like the Monster punching through a wooden door.



Or the creature's demise, just as fiery as his first cinematic death in sound cinema.



But as with my example of Dracula's brief moment of violence in the 1931 film, these spectacular moments represent diffuse will because the narrative's core is the use of violence in a functional way, to provoke humor as helpless humans run for the hills at the mere suggestion of megadynamic monsters. To be sure, the Monster's death comes about because the pier he's standing upon is set ablaze by a square-jawed hero-type, but this character is strictly peripheral-- and therefore diffuse-- to the dominant will of the narrative.

More later.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: [THE COUNTER-EARTH SAGA] (1972-73)

What I call the Counter-Earth Saga is comprised of issues 1-2 of MARVEL PREMIERE and the first five issues of the title WARLOCK. The project began as a collaboration between writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, and Kane's dynamic art visually re-defined Lee and Kirby's leftover character "Him." Thomas left the project as writer after WARLOCK #2, ceding most of the scripting-duties to Mike Friedrich until the last issue, #8. Kane absented himself from the second issue, but then came back for issues 3-5, after which artist Bob Brown filled in for the remaining three issues. The absence of both Thomas and Kane from issues #6-8 is my main rationale for excluding those issues from the saga, although there was also a shift in tone, as Friedrich attempted to emphasize up an altered version of the Fantastic Four mythos, possibly with the hope of goosing sales-- to no avail, since issue #8 concluded on a cliffhanger, eventually resolved in a three-issue arc of THE INCREDIBLE HULK.


Kane and Thomas collaborated on a number of occasions, but their results were at best mixed. The Counter-Earth saga may be their best work together, though the storyline is sketchy and was justly mocked by one letter-writer as "Jesus Christ Superhero."






Him, recuperating from his tussle with Thor, crosses paths with another part of Thor's mythos: the High Evolutionary, a high-tech version of Wells' Doctor Moreau, given to transforming ordinary Earth-animals into humanoid versions of their bestial selves. This experiment turns out badly, particularly when one of the Evolutionary's creation, a wolf-man called "the Man-Beast," unleashes chaos. A later story transforms the Earth-born scientist into a godlike being, and Him meets the Evolutionary just as he's about to play God for real, using his super-science to create "Counter-Earth," a near-exact duplicate of Earth, situated on the other side of the sun. The Evolutionary intends to bring into being a world free of sin and greed, and Him, who's also suffered from mankind's evildoing, considers the scientist a kindred spirit.










However, though the Evolutionary succeeds in creating his ideal world, he falls asleep from the effort (a parallel to God "resting" on the seventh day of creation). The Man-Beast and other beast-men then invade the scientist's sanctum and introduce evil into Counter-Earth's Edenic world. Somehow, as if in fast-forward mode, Counter-Earth repeats the whole history of Earth, apparently coming up to 20th-century times in jig-time-- the only difference being an absence of Marvel-Earth's superheroes. Him watches as the Evolutionary wakes up, fights with his offspring, and is almost killed. Him transforms himself into a new form, complete with a snazzy new costume, and drives the "rebel angels" away, but they take refuge on Counter-Earth, intent on further degrading the Evolutionary's creation. The super-scientist considers destroying his creation outright, but Him-- who is re-christened "Adam Warlock"-- suddenly wants to save the planet's humanity from the Man-Beast's depredations, thus taking on the role of God's son, sent to save humankind from evil.










The seven stories in the saga are good superhero fare, but wildly uneven with regard to the mythopoeic theme Thomas and Kane attempt. Often Thomas' script is content to simply quote famous well-known incidents from the career of Jesus of Nazareth: giving him disciples, having him awakened on a boat during a storm, and so on. Most of Warlock's imitations of Christ are superficial at best, and his attempts to inspire fallen humanity conflict with his own violent super-battles.










The one myth-trope that Thomas and Kane succeed at is one that bears no relationship to the familiar appearance of the Nazarene. The Evolutionary gives Warlock a green gem to place upon his brow, and Warlock finds that he can use this gem to re-arrange matter. The placement of the gem resembles the mythoi of the Hindus, wherein various characters may sport mystic "third eyes." However, I suspect that Thomas and Kane were not that conversant with Hindu mysticism. Their primary concern was probably to give Warlock a matter-altering power akin to that of DC's Silver Age Green Lantern, whose adventures were delineated by Kane during most of that character's first run. In addition to being able to evaporate missiles and bullets, Warlock can also devolve the Beast-Men he battles by devolving them back into simple, mindless animals. This, accidentally or intentionally, duplicates one of the main myth-functions of Jesus as he's represented in scripture: that of an exorcist of demons. True, Jesus is today looked upon as more of a healer than an exorcist, and not every incident of healing in scripture directly references the expulsion of demons. Nevertheless, in the Warlock comic Thomas does emphasize the need to vanquish evil in the form of "the beast in man"-- and this is at least an interesting motif, if not a developed one.

NEAR MYTHS: FANTASTIC FOUR #66-67 (1967)

The character of Warlock began in a two-part FANTASTIC FOUR story, as an artificial human created by the evil scientists of a complex called "the Beehive," who wanted to rule the world with the help of a superman. Just as the Frankenstein Monster is never given a proper name in the original Shelley novel, the scientists only refer to their creation as "Him." As shown on this cover, Him occupies a special cocoon most of the time.












The usual association of cocoons would suggest the transformation of an ugly pupa into a splendid butterfly, and indeed, at the conclusion of the story Him proves to be a Greek god in appearance. Like Galactus before him, he shows an Olympian lack of concern for his creators, knowingly bringing about their destruction when he takes his leave.









Him was not one of the more inspired creations of Lee and Kirby, and long after the comic's publication, Kirby complained that Lee had totally distorted the intent of his idea, which was apparently a riff on Ditko's Rand-inspired crimefighters. This may well be, though I find myself wondering why, if the idea was so important to Kirby, he didn't seek to recapitulate the idea later in some other feature, when he was full-scripting everything he published. It may be that he expressed the idea too obscurely for Lee to understand, so that Lee chose to script the issues according to his own lights.


The strongest myth-trope here is that of beauty hidden under the expectation of ugliness. The members of the Fantastic Four never meet Him; they simply come into the story when the scientists kidnap the Thing's girlfriend Alicia, hoping to use her sculptress-skills to gain an idea of what the artificial man looks like. Since this knowledge wouldn't have helped them control Him, it's likely that the real idea beneath this superficial plot-rationale is akin to the myth of Eros and Psyche. In this tale the mortal woman Psyche becomes the lover of the god Eros, but he conceals himself from her sight when they make love. Her feminine curiosity is pricked, especially when a person envious of her romance tells her that her lover may be a monster. Psyche manages to steal a look at her lover, after which he leaves her forever.


The scenes in which the blind Alicia seeks to know the nature of the cocoon-bound creation carry a little of this mythic trope. Otherwise the two-part tale is merely a decent thrill-ride, excellent in that department but lacking the development of a mythcomic. The same is the case of the last time Him appeared in a Lee-Kirby comic, when he tried to steal the girlfriend of the God of Thunder in THOR #165-66. Fortunately, there were better things in the future for "Old Goldskin."