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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...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

MYTHCOMICS: FROM HELL (1989-96)




A graphic novel as dense as FROM HELL might seem to challenge my assertion that any work with a significant underthought can be boiled down to a concise “myth-theme statement.” Here’s what I came up with:

Royal surgeon Doctor Gull, the epitome of Victorian erudition and respectability, comes to embody the principle of male-over-female ascendance when he takes on the mantle of Jack the Ripper, at once serving the British Crown and his own personal project, that of ascending to mystical supremacy through the killing of women.

As I’ve frequently done in analyzing other collaborative works, I’ll focus on the creative partner whom I consider the dominant influence. Thus, regardless of what artist Eddie Campbell brought to the table in creating this graphic novel, I’ll only discuss Alan Moore here—not least because FROM HELL reflects one of Moore’s most interesting facets. I’ve often recounted how Moore himself has frequently taken on “politically correct” positions in his work, as seen here—and yet, he’s also been attacked for any number of supposed literary sins, often from pundits whose idea of art comes down to being “more politically correct than thou.” It may be significant, as a bellwether of Moore’s artistic impulses, that FROM HELL includes copious references to the non-conformist English poet William Blake, who is not exactly a familiar figure in Ripper-fiction. It was Blake, in one of his most quotable quotes, who said that in writing PARADISE LOST John Milton did better with Satan than with God because Milton was “of the devil’s party” without knowing it. I will show that some of the overthoughts of Moore’s works may “talk the talk” of ultraliberal politics, while the underthoughts don’t always show the author “walking the ultraliberal walk.”

Consider the graphic novel’s title. The proximate relevance of “From Hell” is that the phrase appeared in one of the various letters purportedly written by the Ripper during the killer’s reign of terror. Since in real life “Saucy Jack” was never identified, no one can know with certainty that the real murderer wrote that particular letter. Yet whoever did write it, regardless of his or her reasons for so doing, was clearly conjuring with the idea that Jack the Ripper was akin to a demon from the “bad place.” In Moore’s Ripper-cosmology, the very first letter to coin the name “Jack the Ripper” is a journalistic fraud, born from a capitalistic desire to sell newspapers. However, the “From Hell” letter, which is sent to police some time later, does come from the killer, and mad William Gull has an even more complex reason for invoking the spectre of the devil’s domain, as he confesses to his uncomprehending partner-in-crime Netley:

…in [Dante’s] INFERNO he suggests that the only true path from hell lies at its very heart—and that, in order to escape, we must go further in.



Given the thoroughness with which Moore cites his many references in the back of the novel—including not just other fictional and non-fictional takes on the Ripper, but also copious other aspects of British culture or history that Moore finds relevant—it’s fair to say that he’s sought to synthesize all of the major treatments of Jack the Ripper. One view of the Ripper, that he was a sexual deviate titillated by the killing of women, finds some representation in FROM HELL, as does a more politicized reading, in which the Ripper is a murderer sanctioned by the ruling class to eliminate enemies of the British Empire.  Further, Moore builds upon the historical suggestion that the real Gull was a Freemason to make the fictional Gull a practitioner in the English tradition of High Magick. Gull’s idea of escaping hell—which I understand to be the grubby “real world” of death, endless suffering, and frustrated sex—is to “derange his senses” through the act of brutal murder.



 It’s true that the repressive British government—the incarnation of male rule, despite the sovereignty of Queen Victoria-- begins the career of Jack the Ripper. First, an illicit romance and marriage takes place between Crown Prince Edward and a shop-girl. After the relationship is quashed by those in power, four prostitutes, made desperate by the crushing poverty of their lives, attempt to blackmail the throne with their knowledge of the scandal. This causes Victoria herself to call upon her surgeon—who has somehow become something of a royal hitman—to solve the problem. Gull’s murders of his victims, however, are far more brutal than necessary for the British Crown’s purpose. Gull's purpose is to “derange” himself out of his own intellectual sphere, in order that he can achieve some sort of mystical attainment. Thus Gull is akin to a demon unleashed by an unwise conjurer, one who brings forth the worst in all of London’s inhabitants.



Even Moore’s viewpoint character, Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard, finds his life compromised by the Ripper’s activities. Though Moore’s Abberline is a stolid, unimaginative man unaware of Gull’s magical aspirations, he’s unknowingly pulled into Gull’s greater project via an attempted extra-martial (on his part) affair with one of Gull’s intended victims. Abberline, like the victimized prostitutes, is also a lens through which Moore allows the reader to see the hellish sufferings visited by the upper classes on all the lower ones—though ironically Abberline, in one of his first lines, states that he’s unimpressed with socialists, who are all “middle class”types.

I won’t attempt to explicate Gull’s “Mystic History of Great Britain” and how that discourse fits into the greater history of worldwide patriarchal dominion.  But even though Gull is unquestionably a devil, he is, like Milton’s Satan, a fascinating one. He sums up the copious mythological altercations of males and females thusly:

‘Tis in the war of Sun and Moon that man steals woman’s power, that Left Brain conquers Right—

While Gull’s employers may be concerned with keeping their reign over unruly women, as well as other outsiders like Jews and revolutionaries, Gull is not defined by their political motives. Though I find Moore’s use of the “left brain-right brain” paradigm anachronistic, the writer makes it explicit that Gull kills women so that he can gain access to their mysterious, irrational “right brain” power. This hyper-intellectual version of the Ripper is validated insofar as his murders do vouchsafe him visions of other times and places, so that FROM HELL, unlike many Ripper-stories, enters the domain of the marvelous. Yet, despite Moore’s condemnation of Gull’s brutality and masculinism, the author can’t help but make Gull a “sacred monster” whose evil outstrips that of his contemporaries. When his fellow Masons call Gull to account, he tells them frankly that he does not deem any of them his peers.  Following his final whore-murder, Gull has a vision of the 20th century’s marvels, and he excoriates the dwellers of the future for their shallowness:

With all your shimmering numbers and your lights, think not to be inured to history. Its black root succors you. It is inside you… See me! Wake up and look upon me! I am come amongst you! I am with you always!



Naturally, the idea of Jack the Ripper equating himself with Jesus Christ can’t help but carry a satirical tone. Yet Moore seems altogether serious about seeing the Ripper as a “black root” at the heart of all mankind.  This “root” seems more or less akin to Jung’s “Shadow,” which for Jung remains part of human psychology no matter how advanced humans may become. Because of such moments, in which Moore seems to have become fascinated with his incarnation of evil, he escapes the banality of merely political creators, who ceaselessly promote the idea that all darkness will give way to some intellectual light.

In keeping with its title, FROM HELL is a profoundly pessimistic novel, drenched in a Spengleresque mood of historical futility. Perhaps its most depressing—albeit bracing—aspect is even though no reader is likely to believe that Gull can escape hell through his techniques of derangement, Moore offers no light at the end of the tunnel for anyone else, either.   

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

MYTHCOMICS: "CORPSES, COAST TO COAST" (VOODOO #14, 1954)

Like the 1951 story "Crawling Evil," "Corpses-- Coast to Coast" is a story credited only to "the Iger Shop" on the Grand Comics Database. Within the realm of comic books, "Corpses" is a rare zombie-story in which no literal zombies appear, since the whole thing is a dream. And the whole story is also celebrated by a few online sites as a weird fever-dream. However, in contrast to most of the dim-witted attacks on Communism seen in comic books, "Corpses" is also a clever spoof of the movement, particularly its history at organizing labor unions in the United States.

First, here's one of the sigils designed for the 1905 association "Industrial Workers of the World," a.k.a. "the Wobblies:"



And here's the first page of "Corpses," which also presents a three-letter sigil for the world's new conquerors, the United World Zombies.




The narrator of the dream, identified in the narrative as "Z-One," is focused on just one highly improbable form of striking labor: that of grave diggers. Z-One, although he claims that he's an undertaker by trade, is actually one of the men responsible for the strike. Instead of being concerned that his establishment is being filled up with unburied corpses, he and his confederates simply make the cadavers "the raw material of one of the greatest revolutions ever planned."



The dead bodies-- including females as well as males-- are then "reactivated" at a special plant and sent out to conquer America. Not surprisingly, zombies sound a lot like the 1950s idea of doctrinaire Stalinists. "No fear, no minds," says Z-One's superior (getting the order of things somewhat backward), as he reminisces about some "old days" to which the reader is not privy (but may well go back to 1905 and those other unionizing efforts).



In no time, and with no real sign of warfare, the zombies take over the world, and invite all "non-zombies" to either "become zombies or die."On page 5 Z-One explains that there are some jobs that "regular zombies"-- presumably the ones that died and deteriorated somewhat-- can't do as well as can living people who are transformed into "synthetic zombies."

However, Z-One admits that even world conquest can have its down side, for "it seems that zombies can be just as stupid as so-called people!" For reasons that the dream does not explain, one faction of zombies attacks the government of "Big Z" with nuclear weapons, and even the leader himself perishes. Z-One ascends to power, hoping to "make the world safe for zombiocracy." There the dream ends, and the tale-teller delivers one last loony revelation to his listeners-- though, since there's no evidence for it in the story proper, I tend to disregard it as a lame joke.




In some ways this is a pretty even-handed spoof, since Z-One is also taking stabs at particular phrases associated with American hegemony ("making the world safe for democracy") or even the capitalistic ideal of slave-workers ("They work 24 hours a day, and never need any rest.") But what most makes me consider the story mythic is the idea of human cadavers being transformed into zombie laborers, simply because the grave-diggers are striking and thus leaving the country open to the reign of the dead.

The whole story appears on Comic Book Plus.

NEAR MYTHS: "STATUE OF LIMITATIONS" (WOLFF & BYRD #15, 1997)

Batton Lash, best known as writer-artist of the comedy feature SUPERNATURAL LAW, a.k.a. WOLFF AND BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE, passed away of brain cancer on Jan. 12, 2019. I met Lash only once at a San Diego con, but enjoyed talking to him and generally enjoyed WOLFF AND BYRD.

I haven't read all of the comics, but from the dozen or so stories I've read, Lash stuck closely to a basic template. Some supernatural being-- a ghost, a vampire, a swamp monster-- gets in trouble with the law and the titular counselors defend him, usually finding some obscure legal reason to exonerate the piteous creature. Sometimes the creature escapes the long arm of the court, sometimes he's successfully re-socialized, but readers could always expect lots of puns, like the one in the story I'm looking at here.



"Statue of Limitations" is a little unusual in that Lash parodies one of the lesser lights of the monster-world: the statue that comes to life. Indeed, the best known examples of "living statues" don't usually have horrific overtones, ranging from the classical tale of Pygmalion and Galatea to comic takes like ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, a 1943 stage musical and later a 1948 film.

This time the supernatural boogie-person doesn't actually cause any chaos herself. She's an archaic statue known as Cerelia , and she's on display at a big-city museum. An ordinary schmo named Tim Jacobsen becomes so entranced with Cerelia's, uh, "statuesque" beauty that he jumps atop the statue in front of many other museum-visitors. Lash doesn't say much about what Jacobsen may have been trying to do, but the eventual effect is that the statue comes to life.

Usually, when inanimate beings come to life, they can't wait to get out there and taste the joys of life. But Batton Lash suggests that maybe a statue, whose purpose has always been standing around and being looked at, has no such desires. The museum-managers are irate at Jacobsen for having animated their priceless exhibit (what Lash cleverly calls a "sex objet d'art"), but Cerelia doesn't show any sign of running away. She's been brought to life many other times in her existence, always by men who idolize her as "the perfect woman," just as Jacobsen does. Wolff and Byrd have to play referee between their client Jacobsen and the museum-owners, who want their statue back-- though I wonder if a simple statue would have been more of a money-maker than one that comes to life and is perfectly willing to be stared at, unlike, say, most real women.

A more obvious comic take on this theme would've been only to spoof Jacobsen's idealization of women, and Jacobsen certainly comes under fire for this male tendency. (He gets a living woman at the end of the story, but it's suggested that he's going to over-idealize her too.) However, Cerelia is interesting precisely because she's the incarnation of feminine stasis, making it hard to say which came forth, the idealization of femininity or the feminine attempt to get idealized . As Cerelia herself puts it:

I suppose I could just sit here and let you adore me-- but that's as far as I go.

Monday, January 14, 2019

SUBS AND COES PT. 2


The principles of subordination and coordination also serve to further elucidate many of the complications regarding focal presences that I’ve touched on in earlier essays.

In CREATOR AND CREATED ENSEMBLED HE THEM, I gave various examples regarding the ways in which figures in horror-fiction did or did not share center-stage (and thus the centric will).

I opined that in Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, the titular medical student and his abominable creation share center-stage, which means, in my current jargon, that they are “coordinated.” However, the Universal film-series promotes the Monster to the position of the sole focal presence, while both his creator and all of the other scientists who interact with the Monster are “subordinated.”  The Hammer film-series takes the opposite tack: Baron Frankenstein incarnates the centric will of all his films, and his various creatures are subordinated.

Stevenson’s JEKYLL AND HYDE anticipates this same pattern. No one reading the tale  cares that much about Jekyll, because he is subordinate to the presence of the mysterious Hyde. Of the film-adaptations I’ve seen, only THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL subordinates the peril of Hyde to the tortures of Jekyll.



Though most narratives have tended to emphasize the creator over the created, or vice versa, I’ve always explored some of the situations in which two opponents share center-stage, rather than following the more common paradigm in which a superordinate protagonist faces off against a subordinate antagonist.  However, in the former situations there’s usually some intrinsic connection between the characters of this sort of ensemble. I mentioned in ENSEMBLES ASSEMBLE the kaiju film THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, in which a good giant monster contends with a bad giant monster. However, though the monsters are separate entities, the bad one is the de facto clone of the good one, so that they are almost as intimately tied as Jekyll and Hyde. There are no literal links between the characters of my other example of “opposed centrics,” Hjalmar Poelzig and Vitus Verdeghast of 1934’s BLACK CAT. However, though these two war-weary enemies are not even related to one another as much as are the Gargantuas, the narrative emphasizes their many similarities, to the extent that they seem like symbolic siblings.



Of course, this too is a question of emphasis. Just as creators and creations can take on individual superordinate status, so can siblings. The two films examined here, 1935's THE BLACK ROOM and 1964's DEAD RINGER, contain siblings who are aggrieved with one another, but neither film focuses on both siblings. In BLACK ROOM the “good twin” is subordinate to the bad twin, who then attempts, unsuccessfully, to emulate the good brother. DEAD RINGER takes the opposite tack: it’s a good twin who must masquerade for a time as the bad twin, and the film emphasizes that character’s “Jekyll-like” agonies rather than the menace of the film’s Hyde-figure.

The Jekyll-Hyde paradigm is the most common model for fantasy/SF narratives: the supernormal "creation" is the focus of the story, not the person who created it. However, when there's a particular type of "intrinsic connection" between creator and created, this can result in a greater focus upon the creator-figure. For instance, in the 1956 FORBIDDEN PLANET, the menacing Id Monster is the concatenation of Doctor Morbius's unleashed passions, so the centric will focuses on him, not upon the deadly thing he's created.  



To cite a (deservedly) more obscure example, I noticed upon reviewing Ulli Lommel's 1980 BOOGEYMAN that the viewpoint character had an unusually close relationship to the titular monster, unleashing it much as does Morbius:

...it's slightly interesting that although Willy is set up to look like another Michael, Lacey is both the person who revives the evil ghost and the person through which it manifests. She's also the one who apparently fantasizes about her brother killing hot women, which isn't totally off-the-beam since he almost does kill one woman. But the fact that she's both the one who unleashes her brother's madness and the malice of her mother's lover makes me wonder if she's not the true "boogieman" of the movie.

The concept of coordination is also one that allows me to break down the way centricity works with large ensembles that may, for a time, include individual members who are out to cause harm to the group as a whole, much as Hyde has a hostile attitude toward Jekyll. Some examples of this narrative strategy would include:

Wonder Man and the Swordsman in THE AVENGERS





Terra in THE NEW TEEN TITANS



Both Plastique and Lashina in SUICIDE SQUAD



Demonia in OMEGA MEN



However, again some sort of “connection” is necessary before such a “stealth enemy” might be considered as being coordinated with the rest of the ensemble. Terra, Lashina and Demonia remain in their respective ensembles for many exploits before their perfidy is uncovered, so that for a time readers may internalize them as being “real members.” However, I've stated in Part 1 that each story’s centric will is separate from that of every other story. Therefore, as long as Plastique, Wonder Man and Swordsman have functioned as members of an ensemble even for the better part of one story, then they are coordinated with the other members of the ensemble,  even if that one story ends with the “stealth enemy” being exposed and ejected. 

SUBS AND COES PT. 1


Upon re-reading my May essay TRANSITIVE AND INTRANSITIVE ENSEMBLES, I now believe that transitivity does not apply to the principle of centricity.

The word “transitive” descends from the Latin verb “to go across.” In past essays I’ve applies the term to other literary domains, such as dynamcity and phenomenality. Because there are gradations between the constituent levels within these domains. I’ve often investigated narratives in which it’s unclear as to whether a fight within a narrative “goes across” the conceptual barrier separating the subcombative from the combative, or whether a particular focal presence within a narrative goes across the conceptual barrier separating the naturalistic from the uncanny.

However, there are no comparable conceptual barriers in the domain of centricity. When I wrote the ENSEMBLES essay referenced above, I tried to apply “transitive” to characters who, though they might seem subordinate in some way to a featured character, actually participated in an ensemble with that main character, and so qualified as centric presences. The main example of this was Robin, boy sidekick to Batman. Conversely, another “boy sidekick” could be “intransitive” even though that character served some of the same narrative functions as Robin to Batman, and here the example was Junior Tracy with respect to his preceptor Dick Tracy. Whereas Robin would align with the “centric will” expressed by the narrative, Junior would align with the “eccentric will,” as he existed to enhance the “centric will” incarnated only in Dick Tracy.

An author’s decisions about how much emphasis to place upon a character, or set of characters, may be made consciously, or he may proceed subconsciously, simply following other author’s templates. However, a given decision as to who gets ‘center-stage” in a given story is not constructed from the same sort of intra-textual discourses that I find in the construction of dynamicity or phenomenality. Whether the author is writing a stand-alone narrative or a serial one, each story or story-arc must keep a single focal presence, or a single ensemble of focal presences, and that is a predetermined decision, made for the sake of narrative clarity.

Within serial narratives, the ongoing composition of the centric will may change over time.  However, each change takes place within either a new story or a new story-arc. In the first few exploits of Batman, he alone incarnates the centric will of the feature. After Robin enters, the Batman and Robin team becomes an ensemble of two, still incarnating much the same centric will. Twenty years later, Batman plays a lone hand again, and then, if Robin only occasionally appears, his status is that of an “eccentric” guest-star. However, when a new story presents a new Robin, the ensemble-of-two is reborn as if it never left.

In contrast, the phenomenality of the BATMAN feature is built up through a discourse.  As long as Batman, with or without Robin, fights crime wearing a wild costume, this confers an element of the uncanny upon any adventure, even if the hero fights nothing but commonplace pool sharks and holdup-men. In such stories, the element of the uncanny vies with that of the naturalistic, and dominates it, satisfying the reader’s desire for a discourse in which something unreal dominates specters of the allegedly “real.” But centric will does not dominate eccentric will. The latter simply exists as a contrast to the former.

While cogitating on the possibility that centricity might be described through some better metaphor, I meditated a bit on Jung’s use of the term “superordinate.” Since this word is  defined as  “a thing that represents a superior order or category within a system of classification,” it seemed to apply to my idea of a centric will that was simply a given of the author’s whim, rather than through intra-textual discourse.

So I then meditated whether or not the different functions of “characters in an ensemble” and “characters not in an ensemble” could be related to the superordinate position of the centric will. I started playing with the terms “coordination” for the first and “subordination” for the second, and then promptly looked them up on the Net to see if anyone had made previous use of them.

As it happened, I found that the terms did have a previous usage in linguistics, albeit not one that I remember from early language classes. These terms can apply to either conjunctions or to clauses, but the clauses seem most applicable to my project.

A subordinate clause is a clause that would make no sense if taken out of the whole sentence. A coordinate clause is a clause that has meaning independent of the sentence.

It seems axiomatic that the total meaning of a given narrative can be rendered into a single sentence, since students are perpetually forced to come up with such sentences when teachers assign them to boil down a work’s “theme statement.” With that in mind, from a structural standpoint, every character, setting, or event in a narrative is not unlike a clause within the narrative’s overall “theme sentence.”

Just as it’s possible for a sentence to consist of just one clause, a narrative can have a centric will represented by just one focal presence/ clause (Batman by himself).

However, as a sentence can also consist of several clauses, the centric will can also be comprised of an ensemble of two “clauses” or more. In the latter case, the individual members of the ensemble have, at least within my analytical system, the status of “coordinated clauses.”

There are, of course, other presences within the narrative, presences that I have identified as incarnations of the “eccentric will.” Their stature is not on a par with that of any of the “coordinated clauses.” They have, as per the cited definition, no meaning when taken out of the narrative’s  “theme sentence.” Thus Junior Tracy, unlike Robin, can only be a “subordinated clause.”

What makes Robin “coordinated” and Junior Tracy “subordinated” is essentially a matter of what I’ve called *stature.” Originally I used the term in STATURE REQUIREMENTS  to denote the stature that characters in different mythoi had with respect to one another. However, in that usage as in this one, stature is a quality that can only be deduced from the author’s arrangements of the story’s focal presences, and not—as I’ll say again, hopefully for  the last time—not from intra-textual discourse.

VERTIGO REVISIONS

I asked on the Captain Comics Forum whether or not there were any "big events' in the comics industry around the turn of the century, and one poster asserted that around that time Vertigo Comics revised certain contractual terms, resulting in many properties being published by Image and other publishers. I will update this item when I have more information, but here I wanted to preserve my thoughts on the subject.

_______

Right now I think that we're at a point when the comics medium is about as popular as it's going to get. While American comics will probably never again have the huge readership seen in the Golden Age, and probably won't even ever equal the medium's popularity in Asia, we're now at a point where collections of genre works-- which to me means BONE as much as BATMAN-- share bookstore shelf space with the arty stuff, even when that "shelf space" is a virtual one like on AMAZON.

I had not heard anything about what Mark said about Vertigo changing its licensing terms, and thus making it possible for Image to upgrade its, er, image. At a glance this would seem to make it possible for Image and other companies that aren't the Big Two to cross over into the profitable "young adult" market, since by all indications no one can beat the Big Two at superheroes.


So if this change took place in the late nineties, then yes, that would be an industry game-changer, and might indeed mark the conclusion of the Late Bronze Age, as Image and others managed to garner the bookstore acceptance that many eighties companies-- not least my old stomping-ground Fantagraphics-- sought for so long.


Does anyone have further info on the licensing revisions?

Friday, January 11, 2019

EMANCIPATION VS. FREEDOM PT. 3

In Part 1, I quoted Fukuyama on a philosophical question posed by Nietzsche:


 Is recognition that can be universalized worth having in the first place? Is not the quality of recognition far more important than its universality? And does not the goal of universalizing recognition inevitably trivialize and devalue it?


Contemporary television serials are possibly one of the best mediums by which ideologies can produce widespread, albeit trivialized, forms of the ethic of emancipation. When television was dominated by conservative and occasionally ultraconservative creators of content, the emancipation ethic followed the "melting-pot" paradigm that I mentioned in Part 2.  Persons who did not conform to the WASP image of normality were not condemned for their differences, but there was the expectation that, say, a heroic Black American would be devote his energies to the benefit of the American status quo.  A character like Barney Collins of the 1966 MISSION IMPOSSIBLE provides an apposite example. In the Hegelian terms promoted by Fukuyama, Barney received "recognition" of his talents and his heroic nobility because he served the status quo by curbing the excesses of foreign dictators. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, then, provides a fair example of the trivialization of recognition along conservative political lines.





 In the ultraliberal morass of current television, a series, or a group of related serials, are far more likely to pursue liberal ideals of "identity politics," whether the identity is defined in terms of a character's race, religious heritage, or sexual proclivities. My apposite example of this current trend is the so-called "Arrowverse," usually identified with show-runner Greg Berlanti and incarnated in four current TV-shows on the CW Network: ARROW, THE FLASH, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, and SUPERGIRL (which originally debuted on CBS but moved to CW in the show's second season).

The Arrowverse's identity politics orientation does not touch on the matter of religious heritage very often, so this aspect does not come into play. In terms of the representation of racial identity, the four shows have not followed the tendency of race-bending established franchise-heroes. Green Arrow, the Flash and Supergirl, depicted as Caucasian in the comics, are all played by Caucasian actors, and most of the "Legends" follow the same pattern, with the exception of short-lived members like Hawkgirl and Kid Flash.

However, the Berlanti-verse has invested heavily in the idea of "gender-bending" various characters in terms not of sexual identity but in terms of sexual proclivities, to wit:

ARROW started the ball rolling with the character of Sara Lance/White Canary. Sara was an original creation for the teleseries, though she was loosely patterned upon the comics-character Black Canary, and was apparently conceived as a lesbian early on. Sara did not stay on ARROW but was later spun off on the LEGENDS OF TOMORROW show. However, a gay version of Mister Terrific-- who debuted in the comics as a straight character in 1997-- joined the ARROW show in 2015.




THE FLASH, though it rewrote the hero's origin so that he now had a Black American "father" and "sister," didn't "gender-bend" any previously existing characters, such as those based on DC-characters Vibe and Killer Frost. In the course of one of the Arrowverse-crossovers, however, regular FLASH villain Captain Cold was revealed to have a gay doppelganger in another universe.



SUPERGIRL, though it introduced "Black Jimmy Olsen" as the Arrowverse's most notable "race-bending" up to that point, did not signal its investment in LGTB concerns during the show's first season on CBS. When the second season commenced on the CW, the original-to-TV character of Alex Danvers, adoptive sister to Kara "Supergirl" Danvers, belatedly discovered that she was a lesbian without ever having realized it, thanks to an encounter with a cop named Maggie Sawyer. Sawyer, a character who debuted in the SUPERMAN comics-universe, was "ambiguously gay" in her first appearances, though eventually her lesbian status was fully embraced by DC. The TV-version of Sawyer did not remain as a regular on SUPERGIRL but Alex Danvers remained as the representative for this particular strand of identity politics. In the fourth season, the show introduced a new character who will be defined as "trans," and though created for the teleseries, Nia Nal is loosely patterned after "Dream Girl" of the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES franchise.



LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, obviously, started out with a lesbian character as one of the regular members, and she was eventually joined by regular girlfriend Ava in Seasons 3 and 4, whose status is that of a support-character, rather than being a member of the Legends team. None of the Legends regulars were gender-bent, though in Season 4 the group recruited DC character John Constantine. In the comics Constantine has been loosely defined as bisexual, but according to online essays, the comics have not tended to focus on the character's homosexual encounters very often, while Season 4 made one such liaison a going concern for several episodes. There has also been a suggestion of possible romance between Constantine and "Citizen Cold," the gay doppelganger of FLASH's Captain Cold.




Now, what's my point in laboriously listing all the examples of gender-bending in the Arrowverse? Obviously nothing I could write would change Greg Berlanti's patent conviction to his liberal emancipation ethic. His interpretation of the liberal ethic seems based on the "monkey see, monkey do" principle, essentially taking the position that the only way TV can help achieve equity for LGTB people in reality is to bombard viewers with LGTB characters, and hope that said viewers, if not already liberal in their sentiments, will become more liberal in attitude by exposure to such characters.

Here, however, Berlanti's intent is far more consistent than his execution. Speaking only for myself, I consider most of the LGBT characters in the Arrowverse to be extremely mediocre,  both as characters and as representatives of identity politics. The only character who seems authentic both as a character and as a homosexual is Mister Terrific of the ARROW series, expertly portrayed by the actor Echo Kellum.



In some cases, the actor may be good but the character-arc is mediocre. Like many fans, I applaud the fact that the Arrowverse gave actor Matt Ryan the opportunity to portray John Constantine once more, following the demise of the 2014 NBC teleseries in which Ryan first essayed the character. However, his homosexual story-arc was jejune in the extreme, as are most of the arcs involving Sara and Ava,  which are also not well-served by the wooden line-readings of Cathy "White Canary" Lotz. Chyler Leigh provides decent thesping for the character of Alex Danvers on SUPERGIRL, but since her primary function on the series is to be an ally to the central heroine, being a lesbian doesn't really hurt or help her.

I assume that Berlanti's deluge of LGBT characters within a relatively short span of time is predicated on roughly similar liberalizing strategies seen in earlier eras. I stated in Part 2 of this series that the racial liberalization seen in television shows and even comic books of the 1960s broke down many of the old barriers of white privilege vis-a-vis creating all characters as WASPs. However, it's my conviction that people didn't respond so much to mediocre Black American characters like the aforementioned Barney Collins, but to those the audiences found more distinctive and memorable, like the contemporaneous 1960s character Alexander Scott of I SPY.



Berlanti follows the current trend of identity politics, assuming that as long as you keep showing "noble gays" to the public in great quantity, the public will embrace gay people in response to this fervent appeal to social equity. But I don't think that's the way it worked for the liberalization of 1960s attitudes toward Black Americans as fictional characters. White people may remember the presence of a Barney Collins or a Julia Baker (from the titular series JULIA), but mediocre characters don't change opinions. Whatever the real-life failings of Bill Cosby, his portrayal of Alexander Scott puts across a character who is enjoyable because he is rounded as well as being black. Similarly, even though Nichelle Nichols' Lieutenant Uhura appeared in far fewer scenes than did Diahann Carroll's Julia, the former made a more lasting impression because her character was better conceived, both as a character and as a black woman.



Both the melting-pot paradigm and the paradigm of identity politics substitute political status in place of vivid characterization. They fail because they conceive of the audience as imitative monkeys, and when their politics become known, they're more likely to conjure forth King Kong than Curious George.