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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 9, 2017

BEAT COMMENT #33 1/3

Responding to THIS item:


If, as the essay says, it's true that Marvel's Valkyrie and Grandmaster characters are even temporarily popular, it has nothing to do with how good they are, as characters. I for one think they're godawful. I like how the script skirts the fact that Imitation Valkyrie has evidently been capturing people to die in Grandmaster's games for some good little time, But hey, she can't be implicated in slavery and murder, because she represents GIRL POWER!

No, they're popular because Marvel knows how to sell even a crappy script with loads and loads of humor. People remember enjoying the laughs in RAGNAROK and so everything is ennobled thereby. This is the mainstreaming advantage of the MCU that the DCEU didn't quite get, Joss Whedon's belated employment notwithstanding.

Frankly, I think Geoff Johns is probably part of that problem, but that's me.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "SHE TRIED HER OWN ON" (DOMINA NO DO PART 35, 2008?)

Though I've devoted a number of mythcomics to the topic of sexuality, none of the comics I've addressed deal with the act of sex itself, but with sexuality as it occurs within culture, usually in such genres as adventure and romantic drama. Sex itself-- which I talk about under the blog-label "sex" rather than 'sexuality"-- is, within the literary continuum, primarily a cosmological phenomenon, in that it deals with bodily functions. Sex can also have, in literary works, psychological, sociological and metaphysical connotations, but most of these are manifested within the corpus of "sexuality."

What people commonly call pornography is literature that focuses primarily upon some aspect of the sex act. The acts depicted may be "hardcore" or "softcore." In my estimation the more specific the work is about the specificity of the sex act, the less it is about the symbolic discourse surrounding the plot and characters involved. However, I have found at least one exception, thanks to a writeup on TV Tropes.



So far as I can tell, DOMINA NO DO is an original manga work, written by one "Zappa Go" and illustrated by Sankichi Meguro. It's a comedy-romance in the "hentai" style. Most of the material in its 41 chapters is softcore, along the line of LOVE HINA, but there are a few scenes are close to hardcore, though in Japan there are still various restrictions on what is shown. Part 35 displays these restrictions, for even though it's a comic take on the differences between male and female sex organs, a lot of the imagery is adumbrated through devices such as dream-imagery.

Some quick backstory: average high-school youth Takeshi is abducted and taken to a private estate owned by an insanely rich family, the Dominas. He learns that the oldest daughter, Hikari, is a previous acquaintance, with whom he enjoyed a brief friendship back in grade school. However, teenaged Hikari has recently been encouraged by her parents-- a practicing sadist/masochist couple-- to make a marriage of convenience. Desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, Hikari convinces her parents that she still holds a deep romantic longing for her childhood friend. Since her parents are both rich and insane, they more or less buy Takeshi from his worthless middle-class parents-- who almost completely disappear from the narrative-- and make him their permanent "guest' in their capacious mansion.

Most of the stories in DOMINA are, despite their hentai aspects, pretty typical comedy-romance. Obviously, once Hikari is forced to remain in close propinquity to Takeshi, she begins to relate to him as a human being more than as a possession. And in Chapter 35, this is exploited for comic effect with regard to one of Freud's favorite tropes: what he termed "penis envy."



Because the Dominas are super-rich, they have access to all sorts of mystical resources. Hikari, despite having seen Takeshi's penis and having deemed it less than impressive, has dreams in which an incredibly well-hung Takeshi advances on her. She wakes up before anything happens in her dream, and she theorizes that it's because in a previous adventure she seemed to witness Takeshi making love to another girl. Adding to her distress is the fact that she sees Takeshi socializing with Hikari's twin sister Kageri, which threatens her potential relationship with the young man. 



Hikari's youngest sister Akari and one of the estate's many maids observe Hikari sulking around, and for some reason decide she needs a lesson in male sexuality. Then, when that doesn't seem to soothe Hikari's adolescent sensibility, her grandmother decides to let her walk a mile with male equipment. Not only does this mean that she has to adjust to new bathroom habits, she even gets to find out what it feels like for a male to get busted in the balls. Since she did that very thing to Takeshi in the previous adventure, this causes her to experience a degree of guilt, and for the first time, she tenders an apology to Takeshi, who can barely understand the change in Hikari's attitude. The grandmother then takes off the spell, and everything goes back to normal-- except that Hikari has one more comic dream. I won't describe the dream, which almost seems like a direct refutation of Freud.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

NOBODY EXPECTED THE SEXUAL INQUISITION

I just posted this short diatribe on CBR Community:

What a tool John Oliver is:
“Because it is reflective of who you [Dustin Hoffman) were, if it happened, and you’ve given no evidence to show that it didn’t happen, then there was a period in time, for a while, when you were creepier around women. So it feels like a cop-out to say, well, this isn’t me. Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
I like how the media whores are focusing on a single clip from the panel that makes it sound like Oliver won the argument, when in fact, Hoffman made a very cogent defense of his position; that he was willing to apologize for possible offense but that he didn't appreciate being judged simply because somewhat made an allegation. It's pretty obvious that there was no "evidence" that Hoffman could have given that would have pleased this rabid witch-hunter.
I'm so glad I never thought he was funny in his Daily Show appearances.

As yet I haven't seen a complete transcript of the remarks Hoffman and Oliver made to each other at a function given by the Tribeca Film Institute, but here's one of the partial breakdowns. Youtube has a few films of the event, but either they're incomplete or the sound gets bad at some point.

I haven't had the occasion to rail against the abuses of ultraliberals on the subject of sexuality since July's HOW TO HANDLE A TOXIC MALE. Thus I've had no occasion to address what's now being called the Weinstein Effect, which came about following the investigation into Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual abuses in October 2017.

While the investigation of Weinstein has been so well documented that it's clearly justified, one can't say the same of most of the "Me Too" brigade. Another of Oliver's idiocies is his claim that Hoffman's accuser "has no reason to lie." This shows an absurd ignorance of the way human beings operate in the real world. The ultraliberal narrative would have people believe that every single person-- whether male or female, hetero or homo-- is crying "Me Too" because they couldn't speak at the time due to fear of recriminations. Oliver apparently cannot even countenance the idea that people might lie, or at least exaggerate, in order to feel validated. Just as soldiers have lied about their martial exploits in order to be seen as heroes, Franken's accusers have by this time been exposed to dozens upon dozens of celebrations of the "courage" of the women who came forward, no matter how belatedly. I don't doubt that Al Franken may indeed have smooched or groped a woman without her consent at least once in his life. But is that really "sexual abuse," and does it justify the senator's resignation-- which, it has been alleged, may transpire soon?

Leeann Tweeden, the radio host who made the first allegation against Franken, got an apology-- though not a confession-- from Franken in response. Her response was to read it on an episode of THE VIEW on November 17, and thus she joined the ranks of women who had suffered in silence, but who would now display their immense courage by giving testimony against powerful men who could no longer hurt them. In the course of the interview she claimed that she was not calling for Franken's resignation. She claimed that what she was attacking was not comparable in any way to lesser sexual approaches, claiming, "I don't want men to be afraid to talk to women at a bar."  Another VIEW lady chimed in by saying something about how men had to learn how to seduce a woman, and though Tweeden isn't responsible for that remark, I think she and the women of THE VIEW are on the same page in having unrealistic expectations about men.

Make no mistake: actual rape is a crime. But the things Tweeden described Franken doing, while also illegal, were not in the realm of forced sexual assault. Based on Tweeden's descriptions, they amoun to little more than attempts by a male to get a female in the mood. They are, to be sure, supremely stupid ways for men to romance women, and they almost always fail, since women don't as a rule "get in the mood" in this fashion. I'm not defending these lame attempts at seduction, but they simply should not be considered to be as invasive as rape. They are crimes at the time they occur, but are they crimes over a decade later?

Clearly the moral logic of a "statute of limitations" does not affect the court of public opinion, and now a senator, one who seems to have promoted good works in his governmental career, must be judged guilty over acts he MAY have committed years ago.

And that's how the Sexual Inquisition works.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "WORLD WAR III" (JLA #36-41, 1999-2000)

Last week I devoted a mythcomics essay to a THOR arc in order to purge the bad memory of THOR: RAGNAROK. In contrast, the JUSTICE LEAGUE film, released the week after the THOR flick, provided a much stronger translation of a comic-book concept, in this case of DC's most venerable team-feature. So this week's essay is more in the nature of celebration than of catharsis.



The JUSTICE LEAGUE comics title of the 1960s has never received a lot of respect even among Silver Age comics-fandom, and one reason may be that the early comic, for several years written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, is perceived as being too "old school." Most team-features in both the Golden and the Silver Ages followed what I'll call a "plot-based model," in which "character moments" are kept to a minimum, as the author concentrates on the events of the plot, usually showing how the members of the team work to overcome some common enemy. The plot-model seems like an easy row to hoe, as indicated by countless spoofs of the model, but DC Comics pursued it almost exclusively, even when Marvel Comics in the 1960s advanced a "character-based model" that over time become the dominant paradigm.

Both models have their weaknesses. The character-model lends itself to bathetic soap-opera, which in modern comics has further degenerated into allegedly arty bathos. The plot-model often depended not on symbolically rigorous concepts but on weak contrivances. This vacuity dominates most of the Silver Age team-books-- BLACKHAWK, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, SEA DEVILS, and RIP HUNTER TIME MASTER  Fox's JUSTICE LEAGUE was one of the plot-modeled team-features of the Silver Age to overcome the model's limitations, for Fox was largely responsible for making the League's adventures all about the heroes' experience of "the sense of wonder." Only a few of the Fox-Sekowsky adventures are symbolically dense enough to qualify as mythcomics, as I've shown with "Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers" and "The Justice League's Impossible Adventure." But aside from a few clunking null-myths, such as "The Plague That Struck the Justice League," most of the Fox oeuvre offers at least strongly conceived "near myths." In fact, the current JUSTICE LEAGUE movie approaches its team-building story in much the same way that Fox launched the original series.

Prior to Grant Morrison's run on the JUSTICE LEAGUE title, few raconteurs on the book showed Fox's penchant for the sense of wonder. There were some uneasy attempts to shift the feature in the direction of the character-model-- "Justice League Detroit," anyone? But Morrison, aided by the pencil-work of Howard Porter, is the first author to exploit the original plot-model for all that it was worth, as well as providing enough "character-moments" to make his project palatable to Marvel-ized tastes.

Seventeen years before the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie, Grant Morrison also sought to devise a bridge between the wonder-scape of Fox's JLA and that of Jack Kirby's slightly later "Fourth World." Morrison was far from the first raconteur to provide a crossover between the superheroes and the "science fiction quasi-deities" of Kirby's universe, but he seems to be the first who understood how to get the best out of both worlds. Kirby's Fourth World cosmos is very different in tone than the Fox-scape, but the two are fundamentally both indebted to the "plot-model," and Morrison alone found a way to meld the two aesthetics. The current film only achieves this synthesis once or twice, but then, the filmmakers were primarily concerned with introducing the heroes, and the film's use of Fourth World characters and concepts is much more scattershot.

Morrison crossed over Kirby's "New Gods' and the JLA in his arc "Rock of Ages," but this, while a great deal of fun, wasn't nearly as mythically resonant as the author's final arc in his tenure, "World War III." Earlier issues also introduced the League to the champions of "Wonder-World," which in essence was a Mount Olympus for superheroes who had evolved to the level of gods. However, the gist of the story was to pit the League and some of Kirby's New Gods-- Orion, Metron, Mister Miracle and Big Barda-- against a seemingly unstoppable threat, the Wonder-World champions were primarily created to be the victims of the new menace.



The menace is Maggedon, the Anti-Sun, a non-sentient weapon created by "the Old Gods" who, in Kirby's cosmology, preceded the newer super-deities. Mageddon escapes its exile at the end of space-time and destroys the Wonder-World heroes by emitting radiations that fill the heroes with rage and despair, so that they murder one another. That done, the super-weapon then makes a beeline for Earth. and as it approaches, the world undergoes the first symptoms of Maggedon's influence. Nations begin gearing up for a world war, and even the Justice League's regular villains become pawns of the extraterrestrial invader. Said villains include master planner Lex Luthor, who helmed an analogous bad guy-group in "Rock of Ages," and two old Fox-fiends, the Queen Bee and a substantially revamped Shaggy Man. For good measure, Morrison adds a villain he created in earlier issues of this tenure: Prometheus, a computer-nerd gone berserk.

Yet, although this is clearly a plot-heavy continuity, forcing the Leaguers and their allies to prevent a war opening up on multiple fronts, Morrison doesn't neglect the "character moments." The evildoer Prometheus plays the part of Faust to the League's long-crippled intelligence gatherer, Barbara "Oracle" Gordon, offering her the chance to walk again if she betrays the good guys. The then-current Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, experiences a crisis of self-confidence, and the angel Zauriel-- allegedly Morrison's substitute for an unavailable Hawkman-- must remonstrate with his fellow angels to coax them to come to mankind's aid. Morrison gets a lot of humorous mileage out of the sometimes manic Plastic Man, but even characters who aren't overly funny get good lines. These include Kyle Rayner telling Luthor that he's being "outsmarted by a giant eyeball," and even the brutal Shaggy Man referring to Orion as "Mr. 'Was-God-an-Astronaut.'" Morrison crafts strong moments for all of the heroes, and even strives, in his use of the New Gods, to pepper their dialogue with Kirby-ish touches, like calling Maggedon's interior "techno-active."





At the same time Morrison knows that the "friendly enemies" relationship of DC's most iconic characters, Superman and Batman, lies at the core of the modern JLA. The climax of WAR involves Superman trying to defeat Mageddon directly, with the result that the super-machine enslaves him. There's more than the suggestion of Biblical imagery here, in that Metron poetically describes Maggedon as "dragging its broken chains across the stars"-- and during Superman's captivity, he carries much of the resonance of Samson chained in the Temple of Dagon. One panel even makes Superman's eyes look overshadowed, as if he might be as blind as Samson, though this may have been no more than a fortuitous accident.


Maggedon enslaves Superman by filling him with a despair that plays on the hero's sense of "survivor guilt." Batman, speaking to the hero through a telepathic link, essentially "out-guilts" the machine, causing the Man of Steel to rally and to defeat the Anti-Sun with his own solar-based powers: the "positive sun" besting the "negative sun."



I should note in closing that though Morrison pays full respect to Kirby's Fourth World, the later author places a lot more emphasis on the idea of humankind's evolutionary destiny, which, in essence, argues that everyone can be a superhero. The author's meditations on metaphysical evolution are arguably better worked out in the later "Being Bizarro" sequence from ALL-STAR SUPERMAN. Nevertheless, I can find no substantive flaws in Morrison's homage to the wonder-working proclivities of the Silver Age JUSTICE LEAGUE, which, like all good homages, is as much about what the modern author likes as the thing being homaged.




Wednesday, November 29, 2017

BLAZING RATIOCENTRISM

Like many if not all comics-readers, Alan Moore's 2007 BLACK DOSSIER was the first time I'd ever heard of THE BLAZING WORLD, a utopian fiction published in 1666 by Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle. From what I've read online, Cavendish's work has only been revived in the last decade or so by feminist scholars.

I've now read THE BLAZING WORLD, though not any of Cavendish's other works, most of which tended to fall into the format of Renaissance-era philosophical discourses. WORLD's level of philosophical thought feels fairly derivative of the Greek and Roman authors then being re-discovered in Europe, supplemented by a few tropes dear to the heart of English aristocrats, such as the topic of aristocratic rule. It's probably not fair to judge Cavendish by WORLD alone, since utopian novels are generally boring affairs, including the 1516 Thomas More work that started the whole thing. But though I can validate feminist academia's project to reclaim lost female voices from the days of a dominant patriarchy, I have my doubts, based on WORLD, that Cavendish ranks as more than a curiosity. Certainly it's silly to deem WORLD "the first science-fiction novel," just because Cavendish's utopian otherworld includes SF-tropes like hybrid animal-men. If you're going to judge a work as science fiction simply because of the presence of such tropes, then Cavendish is obviously still a long way from first, out-firsted by the classical author Lucian of Samosata. It's possible that the main reason Moore referenced Cavendish was because of the work of those aforesaid feminist scholars, because there's not a lot of common ground between the respective themes of Moore and Cavendish.

In short, Cavendish's WORLD is an example of what I've caused ratiocentrism. Her viewpoint character, a young noblewoman called "the Lady," is precipitated into what SF-authors now call a parallel world. The Lady is instantly married by the Emperor of the Blazing World. As Empress, she's in the position to learn about all the government and philosophy of her new realm, though there's never much of an explanation about the otherworld's most prominent feature: humanoids with animal aspects, such as "bird-men," "bear-men," and, perhaps most improbably, "lice-men." All of the animal-men have particular societal functions, which sounds like a simple restatement of the Great Chain of Being, as re-formulated by European Christian scholars. This is one of the things that seems least like Alan Moore's anarchic system of belief, and though he puts the animal-men into his version of the Blazing World, he doesn't assign them any particular thematic function. Either he or artist Kevin O'Neill did stick in a cameo shot of one moderately famous insect-man: "Turan," mentor to the Simon and Kirby Silver Age character "the Fly."

I believe that Moore's re-use of the Blazing World is in essence just another synonym for the occult concept of "the astral plane," on which Moore had already descanted in his 1999 PROMETHEA series for ABC Comics. But whereas Moore is fascinated with the influence of the irrational upon human thought and desire, Cavendish clearly falls into the category of reason-worship. In one section, the Empress rails against the abstruse syllogisms of the realm's logicians, who are satirically pictured as descended from magpies, jackdaws, and parrots. The Empress says:

I have enough, said she, of your chopped logic, and will hear no more of your syllogisms, for it disorders my reason, and puts my heart on the rack; your formal argumentations are able to spoil all natural wit; and I'll have you to consider: that art does not make reason, but reason makes art, and therefore as much as reason is above art, so much is a natural rational discourse to be preferred above an artificial: for art, is for the most part, irregular, and disorders men's understandings more than it rectifies them, and leads them into a labyrinth whence they'll never get out...

In the end, though the Empress does not forbid the bird-men to carry on their logic-chopping, she stresses that they need to keep these labyrinthine meditations to themselves, rather than letting them escape to cause societal unrest with the greater populace. I think I'm justified in seeing the long shadow of Plato-- or rather, of his own fictional utopia, the Republic-- as having provided the better part of Cavendish's ideas about reason's precedence over art.

I don't know exactly why Moore chose to allude to Cavendish's concept, though it may be largely because she's a female creator from the generation immediately after that of Shakespeare, whose influence is much more significant in DOSSIER. I strongly doubt that Moore worships reason as Plato' and Cavendish do, given that Moore concludes DOSSIER by talking about what I termed 'the opposition between "matter's mudyards" and the "radiant synthesis" of this multi-story mashup.' But then, no author ever really adapts another author with complete fidelity. Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of HAMLET is really Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET, not Shakespeare's, Steve Ditko's SPIDER-MAN is nothing like the raw Simon-Kirby concept with which Ditko started, and Alan Moore's idea of THE BLAZING WORLD is only minimally connected with that of Margaret Cavendish.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "INTO THE VALLEY OF DEATH" (THOR #360-362, 1985)

To get the crappy taste of the mediocre THOR: RAGNAROK out of my mouth, I went back to some of the original comics. I chose to seek out stories from Walt Simonson's 1980s tenure, since Simonson's work got a distinct "shout-out" in RAGNAROK's credits.



One of the movie's more clumsy contrivances was its revision of a longtime THOR antagonist. Skurge the Executioner. In RAGNAROK he's nothing but a polyglot of poorly conceived tropes, for he starts out as an incompetent comic relief, graduates to being the cowardly stooge to the central villain (though by chance he's saved from performing the act of execution for which he's named), and then does a turnabout near the conclusion to die a sacrificial death. Only the turnabout is indebted to Simonson's treatment of the character, though the Marvel artist did so with infinitely greater care than the movie's scripters.

In this essay, I examined the 1964 Lee-Kirby story that gave birth to the Executioner and his most frequent partner-in-evil, the Enchantress, as well as some of their exploits both together, separately. and in tandem with mortal super-villains. The Executioner's primary image in his first appearance is that of a man enthralled by a beautiful and fickle woman, though not without some independent thought (he betrays the Enchantress's plans because he covets Thor's hammer). He betrays her in a more insulting manner in AVENGERS #83, choosing to leave the Enchantress for another woman because his inamorata frequently flaunted her romances with other men in his face. The two characters continued to scheme together for the most part up until 1985, when Walt Simonson apparently decided that the Executioner-- on whom he bestowed the proper name "Skurge"-- ought to get a truly Viking sendoff.

The THOR issues cited above-- subsumed under the Tennyson-derived title of the first issue, "Into the Valley of Death"-- followed a long epic storyline involving the fire-demon Surtur and the evil elf-lord Malekith, the latter of whom was adapted in 2013's THOR THE DARK WORLD. But after the conclusion of that epic, the titular thunder-god had a new problem. As a result of Malekith's mischief, a handful of mortal souls-- all unconscious, so that they would not affect the narrative-- were unjustly stranded in the Nordic death-realm Hel, ruled by the goddess Hela. In contrast to the hyper-violent and largely unmotivated villainess of RAGNAROK, Marvel's Hela was all about her realm: both protecting anything within her compass and trying to lure heroes like noble Thor into her grasp. As a death-goddess, both the archaic goddess of the Scandinavians and Marvel's version of her incarnated a negative image of femininity, the "womb=tomb" that would inevitably devour even the most puissant male warriors.



Simonson's strong emphasis on female characters in Thor's Asgardian world, whether beneficent or maleficent, was uncharacteristic during its formative Lee-Kirby period, when the Enchantress and Thor's girlfriend Sif were the only female characters to make regular appearances. Female characters were so rarely seen in the "Thor Boys' Club" that in the 1970s scripter Roy Thomas even devised a continuity-based explanation as to why the Asgardian women were hardly ever seen in the magazine. Lee and Kirby's comic-book adventures were not inappropriate for an adaptation of Nordic myth, which tended to emphasize masculine martial achievements. Simonson, however, chose to give equal emphasis to the feminine side of the Nordic god-home, to the extent that, even prior to "Valley," one saw a great deal of "the war between men and women."



Comics-authors have not often depicted this "biological warfare" with a very even hand, as witness the polar opposites of Dave Sim and the Brothers Hernandez. Prior to "Valley," though, Simonson approached his faux-Viking world with a strong dramatic sense of the pain that both men and women could inflict upon one another. Long faithful Sif, for instance, is to some extent distracted from her love for Thor by an alien who falls in love with her, Beta Ray Bill. Thor remains faithful in spirit but he's enthralled by a love-spell, placing him under the romantic control of Lorelei, the sister of the Enchantress, though technically Lorelei's real lover Loki is pulling the strings. During Thor's enchantment, Lorelei causes him to strike Sif down, and only the most literal-minded reader could resist the temptation that he's striking her because of her potential betrayal. In a parallel development, the Enchantress-- now gifted with the proper name "Amora"-- throws Skurge over for another lover.



Thor has been freed of his enchantment when he decides to pursue the mortal souls sent to Hela's realm, but not of his troubles with Sif. Thor's excursion includes several male Vikings and Thor's best friend Balder, but Skurge, Thor's long-time sparring partner, volunteers to go along as well.

Far more than the surviving Nordic myths, Simonson's version of Hel is dominantly feminine. There are various male revenants who battle the Asgardian heroes, and a huge dog, Garm, who stands as sentinel outside the death-realm. But Hel is not only ruled by a goddess, it's constantly represented by female presences. Angerboda, a "mother of monsters," gives Thor directions to the death-domain, and then tries to kill him as well. When the male warriors enter Hel, they're beguiled by what seem to be living women: Balder by the deceased Nanna, Thor by Sif and Skurge by Amora. But all of these blandishments are cast aside, and Thor is obliged to battle Hela herself-- whose touch can destroy the living with old age-- in order to return the lost souls back to the living world. Significantly, both male and female are humiliated during the conflict. Thor removes Hela's cloak, showing her to be a half-dead old hag. However, Hela claws Thor's handsome face so badly that he's obliged to cover it with a cloth for the rest of the story.



Though Hela gives the Asgardians safe passage, she tries to undermine their brotherhood by making Skurge look as if he betrayed them. This backfires on her when Skurge replies with major masculine violence, using his executioner's axe to destroy Hela's ship Naglfar. The Asgardian expedition is forced to retreat from the endless hordes of Hel, but the enemy is in danger of overwhelming them before they can cross the bridge over the river Gjoll. Thor plans to hold the bridge while his allies escape. Skurge, who has become his "brother in pain," rabbit-punches Thor and takes his place.



While the Asgardians escape with their prize, Skurge holds the bridge against incredible odds, until finally being overwhelmed and becoming one of the spirits in Hel. (A later story frees Skurge from Hel, admitting him into Valhalla, the domain of the honored dead.) Back in Asgard, Thor sends the souls back to their mortal bodies, after which Thor and Balder swear to drink to Skurge's memory.



It would be easy to see this opposition between the masculine world of force and the feminine world of manipulation as unflattering to the latter. I don't think that this was Simonson's intention. Hela is a goddess of immense stature, Sif is conflicted in her romantic inclinations but never less than honest, and even the Enchantress comes off as empowered in her determination not to be tied down to one lover. (In a later issue, though, she's torn between mourning the Executioner and feeling outrage that he's left her in this typically display of male courage.) Further, near the end of the arc, Balder reflects that "the sword is an evil gift to the living." This isn't just indicative of Balder's particular character, but also of the greater theme about the "male and female war." Positive and negative images of both genders twine their way through "Valley," and though Thor's facial wounds are eventually healed, the travails endured by him and and his spiritual double Skurge represent the inevitability of the "war of the sexes," as well as the deeper nature of the wounds inflicted.




Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: 'SPIDEY SAVES THE DAY!" (SPIDER-MAN #40, 1966)

“I had a big argument with Steve Ditko, who was drawing the strip at the time. When we had to reveal the identity of the Green Goblin, I wanted him to turn out to be the father of Harry Osborn, and Steve didn’t like that idea,” Lee explained. “He said, ‘no, I don’t think he should be anybody we’ve seen before.’ I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘Well, in real life, the bad guy doesn’t always turn out to be someone you’ve known.’ And I said, ‘Steve, people have been reading this book for months, for years, waiting to see who the Green Goblin really is. If we make him somebody that they’ve never seen before, I think they’ll be disappointed — but if he turns out to be Harry’s father, I think that’s an unusual dramatic twist that we can play with in future stories.’ And Steve said ‘Yeah, well, that’s not the way it would be in real life.’ And I said ‘In real life, there’s nobody called The Green Goblin.’ And so Steve was never happy about that, but since I was the editor, we did it my way.”

According to this essay, Ditko later claimed that the argument about the Goblin happened, but that it merely served as a "straw that broke the camel's back." It appears, then, that when Ditko worked on his next-to-last issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, all of the setup elements in #37-- in which Norman Osborn assaults Spider-Man and seems implicated in the attempted murder of Professor Stromm-- were completed "under protest." Ditko then walked away from Marvel with SPIDER-MAN #38, obliging Lee to coinplete the remainder of the Green Goblin story in #39 and #40 with the artistic aid of John Romita.

It's interesting that in this much later expatiation about the Green Goblin story, Lee emphasizes "an unusual dramatic twist that we can play with in future stories." In 1966, though Lee couldn't have known back then how long the Spider-Man franchise would last, he must have guessed that the concept had more than a few good years in it. However, there's no indication in the previous Lee-Ditko stories that either creator had much of an idea about what I'd call "the myth of the Green Goblin." He was, in all of his appearances, simply a masked mystery villain who haunted the hero's tracks. Lee and Ditko occasionally exploited the mystery of the Goblin's identity very briefly, but there was no real sense as to why he was more of a menace than, say, Mysterio. Even the story in #39-- the punnily-titled "How Green Was My Goblin"-- is little more than set-up.



However, "Spidey" in #40 shows Lee going from zero to sixty. For all the blather from fans who want to believe that Lee's artists created the whole show, it's patently absurd to think that John Romita--who had just assumed the job, and who subsequently claimed that he assumed Ditko would eventually return to the feature-- was the primary creative force here. Lee understood that continuing readers wanted a payoff, and thus he almost certainly reverted back to the much-lauded moment in SPIDER-MAN #10, where Jonah Jameson reveals his jealousy of the featured hero in a self-examining soliloquy.

The bulk of the story falls into two main sections. It begins with an unmasked Spidey chained and captive in the Goblin's lab, and trying to get the villain-- who has just revealed his identity-- to keep talking until Spidey can break free. The Goblin does indeed keep talking, revealing his origin as he does so, and then he sets the hero free for a culminating fight. The hero wins, but with the knowledge that even if the villain goes to jail, he'll reveal Spidey's identity. Fortunately for the hero, Norman loses his memory of ever having been the Goblin. For a time, his threat was ended, though every time the character re-appeared, Lee teased the reader with the possibility that the Goblin might still return, as indeed he did, though not for several years.

It's the origin, though, that gives the story the mythic resonance earlier Goblin stories did not have. In essence, it's a Jekyll and Hyde story, but one in which the villain is changed by accident, a la the Hulk. But unlike the majority of latter-day Jekylls, Norman happens to be a father, whose son Harry is one of Peter Parker's friends.



While Norman tells Peter the story of his origins, he ends up revealing that his idea of being a father is tied up in conspicuous consumption:



Note that in the second panel, Norman considers his excellence as a parent dependent on what other people would think:"I wanted everyone to see what a great father [Harry] had." Lee's main purpose in making Norman a ruthless businessman was to show how he had lost his way: that he'd become obsessed with making money, deluding himself that he was doing it for Harry. Thus he's a Jekyll who's already given in to his dark side before he ever comes across the "Hyde formula"-- which he examines for no reason but to see if it can make him more money. Significantly, the formula was created by Professor Stromm, the man Norman sent to jail, so in a sense Norman's transformation into the Goblin might be seen as Stromm's revenge.



I would imagine that the main reason that Lee has the formula turn green before it explodes in Norman's face was to give a reason as to why he later chose to become a green-hued super-villain.




Still, it's interesting that, though Lee doesn't make the connection, one of the main associations of the color is that of-- money. One thing neither Lee nor his collaborators even comment on, even subconsciously, is the question as to why a tough-minded businessman would chosen a Halloween motif for his super-villain costume. I realize that originally Lee and Ditko merely wanted a mystery villain with no particular motive for riding a mechanical broomstick and tossing explosive pumpkins. Yet, since a goblin is one of many impish creatures who were designed to be caricatures of human beings, Norman's decision to become a murderous man-witch makes a certain amount of sense.