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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...

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: HAWKWORLD (1989)

Hawkman, one of DC's most iconic but never very popular characters, didn't get an immediate reboot after the 1986 Crisis. For a couple of years, a character resembling the Silver Age "Katar Hol" hung around in the Justice League. But when DC green-lighted Timothy Truman's HAWKWORLD, that character had to be explained away by the usual retconning.



The three-issue "prestige format" HAWKWORLD recasts the Silver Age origin from 1962 into the "grim and gritty" mood of the 1980s. Nevertheless, Timothy Truman, both writer and penciller on the project, naturally does not pursue Gardner Fox's notion that Thanagar, homeworld to the characters who will become Hawkman and Hawkgirl, is a pre-lapsarian world without crime or evil. (The Manhawks, who brought about the rise of crime on the planet in Fox's tale, make a minor appearance in Truman's project.) Instead, Thanagar is a space-opera version of a colonial empire. Admittedly, there's a historical backstory in which Thanagar itself suffered an invasion by another extraterrestrial power, which led the Thanagarians to become a bellicose, all-conquering space-power. Truman doesn't devote a lot of space to the process by which Thanagarian cops, called "Wingmen," began using winged outfits to fight crime, but the re-visioning of Thanagar as a warrior culture gives greater logic to the new Hawkman's tendency to utilize a variety of weapons.

This Katar Hol is first seen as a low-ranking Wingman, under the command of a corrupt superior named Byth (who, in the Silver Age, is the villain that the Hawk-heroes encounter in their first appearance). Katar has chosen the life of the policeman out of an idealistic outlook uncommon in his society. However, he soon finds out how his people have degraded all of the alien peoples they've conquered-- many of whom dwell in the "Downside," the literal "underworld" of the cities, while the Thanagarians dwell in comfort in the high towers of the city.




Katar's low rank in the police force doesn't mirror his social status. His father Paran, a famed inventor, belongs to the aristocracy. At one party, wherein non-human beings are relegated to the servant class, he meets a beautiful woman named Shayera, and the two of them hit it off somewhat. However, in time he learns that she's just a pampered child of privilege, making one wonder how she's going to progress to become Katar's crimefighting partner.



Katar's attempt to walk the straight and narrow is doomed to failure. First, Shayera is killed by a bomb set by alien terrorists. Katar goes after the killers, only to find that one of their allies is his own father Paran, seeking to rectify the injustices of his people.




Katar's superior Byth uses the death of Paran to implicate Katar in an arms-smuggling ring, and to condemn Katar to exile on a barren isle. Over the years Katar becomes obsessed with escaping with some sort of artificial wings. Then he finds one of the isle's other inhabitants making just such a pair of wings, and, reverting to Thanagarian type, Katar kills him.




To the hero's shock, he learns-- from R'd Nar, the brother of the man Katar slew-- that the wings were always meant for Katar. Further, R'd Nar becomes Katar's Yoda, teaching the future hero to become more centered. However, Katar never uses the wings to escape the island, for Thanagarian authorities decide to release Katar after his ten-year confinement. Once Katar's back in civilization, he promptly deserts his old life and joins the "Downside," where he takes up his father's cause of helping the downtrodden. He also meets a female "wingman," and eventually learns that not only is her name also Shayera, but that she is the adopted daughter of the original Shayera's father. One might almost call her "Shayera 2.0," given that the original is corrupt and so must be replaced by a character more like the Shayera of the Silver Age.



Katar and Shayera bond over investigating the criminal activities of Byth, who, despite being part of the power structure, has decided to make money on the side by running guns.



The original Byth of the Silver Age was a shapechanger, and Truman works in that aspect as well, making the corrupt cop a user of a shape-changing drug. Katar and Shayera expose his machinations, but Byth escapes the planet and heads for a certain obscure planet, way outside the Thanagarian empire. At this point HAWKWORLD concludes, in order to give the future Hawkman and Hawkgirl a motive for moving their operations to Earth.

The series, with which Truman had limited involvement, lasted only 33 issues and was thus not a success. However, even though Truman doesn't develop the full potential of his Thanagar as well as he might-- for instance, he touches on avian evolution but does not make this relevant to his entire story-- the original HAWKWORLD is certainly one of the more substantial reboots of the "grim and gritty" era.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "THE PLANET OF OUTCASTS" (ACTION COMICS #322-3, 1965)

I've chosen to designate this two-part story by the title of the tale's first part, the other being the less evocative "The Kryptonian Killer." It's a story that probably even a lot of Silver Age enthusiasts barely remember, but it rises to a level of strong mythicity by describing an "ethic of evil" not unlike the one seen in the 1947 JUSTICE SOCIETY adventure "The Injustice Society of the World." Whereas the evildoers in the JSA story were cobbled together from other DC Comics features, "Outcasts" presents the reader with a world full of criminals, the Sisterhood of Evil (no relation to the DOOM PATROL's Brotherhood of Evil).

From this setup, one might expect something along one of the many Amazonian societies seen in popular culture. But the Sisterhood of Evil is the only one I've come across in which the female society is not formed with motives of resentment against the male gender. Oddly, this peculiarity may have come about because the story's author, Leo Dorfman, was following a narrative pattern established by the introduction of one of DC's most famous co-ed hero-groups, the Legion of Super-Heroes.

As all well-informed comics-fans know, the Legion first appeared in the SUPERBOY feature, one of the many "Superman Family" franchises under the editorial aegis of Mort Weisinger. The 1958 story, written by Otto Binder, focuses on three costumed figures, all of whom belong to a club of teen heroes in Earth's 30th century, who travel back to Superboy's time to invite him to join their organization. The story seems to have been a toss-off rather than an attempt to create a new franchise, but fans of the time wrote DC, demanding more Legion-adventures.

Writers under Weisinger's aegis were encouraged to recycle story-motifs frequently, partly in response to the editor's belief that the youthful comics-readership shifted every five years, as the kids got too old for funny-books. Thus it should be no great surprise that two years later, a Supergirl story, written by Jerry Siegel, reproduced the essence of the Binder story, only with the "Maid of Steel" in the role of club-applicant. One year later, Siegel wrote another Supergirl-Legion story, but instead of the heroine meeting the same three heroes she had before, she met three super-powered heroines like herself. (Technically, she'd met Saturn Girl before, but this was the first appearance for new Legion-members Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl.) The story, titled "Supergirl's Three Super-Girlfriends," starts off implying that the future-teens are going to become Supergirl's new BFFs, though this idea gets quickly dropped as the heroine meets a new potential boyfriend, Brainiac 5.



I suggest that Leo Dorfman, given that he was as obliged as any other writer to recycle established motifs, was at least aware of the Legion stories. The opening of "Outcasts" starts out much like "Super-Girlfriends." Three costumed women-- each demonstrating a super-power, and each with a Legion-like code-name-- seek out Supergirl. But instead of representing a "foreign legion" of the future, the three super-women claim to come from the planet Feminax, "peopled only by girls, each of whom has one super-power." Supergirl never troubles to ask how this state of affairs came about, possibly because she's flattered to be invited to the planet's "first Supergirl festival."

However, the only thing the Feminaxians want to celebrate is Supergirl's capture. They resemble the Legion only in that the "thousands" of inhabitants have all come from disparate planets throughout the cosmos. However, they're all villains who have become "outcasts" because of their crimes. None of them have super-powers, and the three ladies who invited Supergirl-- whose real names are Ran-Kor, Tempra, and Lattora-- merely used trickery to fake their supposed abilities.. Ravenne, the perpetually veiled queen of Feminax, invited all the female super-crooks to her world to join a society "pledged to spread crime and wrong-doing throughout the universe." Ravenne also has recourse to technology able to distort the heroine's Kryptonian powers, so that she cannot escape Feminax or fight its criminal inhabitants.



The Sisterhood of Evil doesn't just want to humiliate Supergirl, though; they want to use her in their campaign to spread evil. Ran-Kor-- the only Feminaxian whose name suggests her malign nature-- gives Supergirl a story about how Ran-Kor wants to "quit the Sisterhood," and to that end will help the heroine escape. Supergirl just happens to be imprisoned in a building holding three comatorse super-heroines, whom Supergirl still may be able to revive.



It's a trick, of course. And as if to testify to the superior evil of Earth-women, the supposed super-heroines are actually three famous villainesses from Earth-history, whom Ravenne has plucked from their proper time-frames in order to serve the society of Feminax: Mata Hari, Lady Macbeth, and Lucretia Borgia. (I surmise Dorfman was less concerned with history here than the reader's ease of recognition.)



However, Ravenne, having used Supergirl to resurrect three female fiends, does so only with the aim of causing the trio to "infect" the Maid of Steel with their evil.




Supergirl is entirely dominated by Ravenne's hypnotic control, to the extent that she makes a Kryptonite cocktail with the skills of Lucretia Borgia. Ravenne's main target is Superman himself, but first the arch-villain has the heroine test the potion on two other subjects: Comet the Super-Horse and a villain from the Phantom Zone, name of Py-Ron. Both subjects appear to die horribly. and Ravenne gives the go-ahead for Supergirl to administer the poison to her cousin, and then, to herself.



Ravenne and her fellow conspirators celebrate the demise of the superheroes, though the three historical villains don't get to share the joy, since Ravenne hurls them back to their own eras, complete with mind-wipes. However, the celebration is premature. Dorfman's ace in the hole, his own creation Comet, wasn't slain by the poison, and he uses his telepathic powers to suss out what was going on. He alters the effects of the poison, so that Superman, Supergirl and Py-Ron all survive. Then Feminax pays the ultimate price for almost killing a fellow villain, While the heroes debate their next action, the villain with a fiery name-- who now possesses a Kryptonian's super-powers-- flies over the planet and creates a deluge that wipes out the thousands of nasty ladies. The story ends with a reaffirmation of goodness, as Supergirl says, "Let wrong-doers remember that evil is repaid by evil."



For a story that excoriates criminality, though, "Outcasts" lets evil come awfully close to winning. Maybe that's the main reason that the female villains are not seen as having turned evil due to male mistreatment, because that might have inculcated reader-sympathy. Rather, the Feminaxians live their lives by the motto of Milton's Satan-- "Evil, be thou my good"-- which justifies Dorfman's mass execution of the whole group (one lady-crook's deed is explicitly compared by Supergirl to the assassination of President Kennedy).

There are some myth-motifs that get lost in the wash. Toward the end, Ravenne reveals that she's an old hag beneath her veil, but Dorfman didn't give readers any reason to think she was some stunning young beauty.

More interesting is that as soon as the first trio of evil women fades from importance in the story, another threesome takes its place. I've stated that Dorfman probably started out with three super-girls because of earlier stories in the same vein. But there's no particular reason that there have to be three female villains from the past, and indeed, both Mata Hari and Lady Macbeth are not as fundamental to the story as is Lucretia Borgia.

Neopaganism asserts the existence of a "Triple Goddess" with three phases of "Maiden, Mother, and Crone." Dorfman isn't specifically invoking this trope, but he does have a "Maid of Steel" and a "Crone," at least. No one in the story is the mother to anyone else, though Mata Hari's reputation, unlike that of Supergirl, suggests some level of worldly experience. This, like the secret of Ravenne, would seem to be a motif that Dorfman tossed in without development.

Finally, it's interesting that Dorfman brought in Comet as Supergirl's savior. He is, as I noted here, a quasi-sexual figure for Supergirl even before she finds out that he's a sentient centaur. By herself Supergirl is not able to resist the power of Feminine Evil, but with the help of what Jung would call her *anima* figure, she enjoys the final victory. It is also amusing that, when she believes herself dying at Superman's side, Dorfman tosses in an amusing line that seems calculated to bring back memories of the death-scene in ROMEO AND JULIET:

"I'll lie down by Superman's side. Some day they'll find us here-- The world will know how we died together!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

NEAR MYTHS: "THE SUPER STEED OF STEEL" (ACTION COMICS #292, 1962)

This week's mythcomic will be a Silver Age Supergirl story in which the heroine's ass gets saved by supporting character Comet the Super-Horse. So I decided that before printing that one, I would touch on this quirky, unique 1960s character.

During the period when Mort Weisinger edited the "Superman Family" titles, no writer had any exclusive hold on the characters they created for DC Comics. Still, Leo Dorfman wrote all or most of the stories in which "Super-Horse" is involved with the main action, rather than being a supporting figure. From the beginning, Dorfman seems to have had a rough arc regarding where he wanted the Super-Horse stories to go, even if there was not really a proper conclusion to Comet's story. Dorfman probably never planned an end as such-- I feel sure Comet was mainly a story-device to keep food on the table, and when tastes moved away from the Weisinger-type story in the 1970s, the ultra-equine effectively went into comic-book limbo.



The opening image of the first Super-Horse story shows Supergirl happily astride her Super-Horse as they flee kryptonite rays from alien ships. In the story proper, this occurs only in one of the heroine's dreams, though the real event takes place one issue later.

First, however, Linda "Supergirl" Danvers suddenly gets horse-crazy while watching a western movie. Notice that though she's in high school at this time, she's supposedly more interested in the horse than in the cowboy.




Anna Freud, writing in 1926, carried on Big Sigmund's tradition by claiming that young girls liked horses due to "penis envy." There's no telling what Freudianisms were known to Leo Dorfman, but at the least I suspect he knew that juvenile books about horses-- BLACK BEAUTY, NATIONAL VELVET-- had proved enormously popular with young girls. He seems to have concluded that there was something erotic at the base of it, to judge from Linda's bedtime thoughts about getting "goose flesh" at the idea of sharing adventures with her own horse.

In the space of the story, Supergirl has three dreams about a super-horse helping her in some way. She names him Comet because he has a comet-like birthmark, though as a story-motif the birthmark won't become important until a few issues later. Then Supergirl encounters an identical horse at a real-life dude ranch, and the first story ends on an enigmatic note.



In the next story, Supergirl finds out that Comet is not just a horse, but a telepath, who proceeds to relate his origin via a mental voice. His lineage goes back to ancient Greece, when he was a centaur named Biron. (This seems to be a reference to one of the most famous centaurs in Greek mythology, Chiron.)


It's later revealed that Maldor, the sorcerer who tried to poison Circe, caused Biron to drink the wrong potion. Circe tries to make up for the blunder by using a magic potion that turns Biron the ordinary horse into a super-being. But Maldor has another scheme, using his magic to cause the super-horse to become imprisoned on an asteroid in (appropriately) the constellation Sagittarius. Biron languishes on the desolate asteroid for centuries, until 1959, when a rocket from Argo City happens by with its precious cargo.



Thus Biron becomes fascinated with the teenager aboard the rocket, and follows it to Earth. It's not clear why Biron waits a few years to contact the heroine, but he tells Supergirl that he read the minds of the alien scouts that were preparing for invasion. It's not clear why that would prompt Biron to invade Supergirl's dreams and construct an exact replica of what was going to happen when she attacked the aliens and the newly christened Comet came to her rescue. In this same issue, the aliens invade for real and things play out in reality just as they did in the dream, suggesting that Dorfman's Super-Horse had a little clairvoyance going for him, when it was convenient for the writer.


The rest of the Dorfman stories featuring the relationship of the heroine and her horse focus on the "romance with a secret identity" that had been DC's bread-and-butter since the debut of Superman. A couple of times Comet is temporarily transformed into a human being, in keeping with the original boon he wanted from Circe, and in one story, the transformation happens in werewolf-fashion, whenever a comet passes in the heavens. Because of this development, I hazard that Dorfman had always planned to have his super-equine transform in this fashion, but had to work his way up to that point. Otherwise, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for the writer to presage the transformation with the comet-birthmark.

Whenever Comet does get the chance to become human, however temporarily, he immediately finds some reason to get into a lip-lock with Supergirl and/or Linda. I don't find this as transgressive as many comics-fans do, because he really isn't a horse, but a liminal being between human and horse.



However, I'll admit it's more than a little peculiar when Supergirl becomes jealous of Comet's attentions to another female. Granted, by this time she knows that he's not a real horse, but a transformed centaur. Yet in all the stories post-dating the big revelation, she doesn't really think of Comet as "a guy." So maybe what she's really jealous about is that another woman is getting the jollies that Supergirl usually gets.



As to the origin of those jollies, deponent saith not, except to observe that at no point in his career do you see cousin Superman fantasizing about riding a horse, regardless of gender.

ADDENDUM: I noted above that at fifteen, Linda/Supergirl seems a little old to form a crush on a horse rather than on a boy. However, I should also note that no one would have thought that the girl-readers of the feature would be that old, and THEY might indeed be of an age to have horse-crushes-- not that it's automatic with every young XX, but middle-school seems to be a little more likely for the crush to form.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

MTYHCOMICS: "MARGO'S STORY" (THE SHADOW STRIKES #24, 1991)

The 1989-92 run of THE SHADOW STRIKES only lasted 31 issues, and so was probably not judged a great success at the time. The title doesn't seem to have many fans today, and there may not be much support for my championing of the (mostly) stand-alone story of issue #24, "Margo's Story."  Back in the day the tale created a slight rumpus in its day for positing that Margo Lane-- a support-character from the pulp-series who assumed iconic status in the radio show-- was actually not a purely Caucasian character, like most of the series' regulars, but a half-black who happened to favor her white father.

I can't assess the racial politics of either the SHADOW pulp or the radio series. A 1934 Walter Gibson story introduces Jericho Druke, an Afro-American agent of the mysterious hero,. so the pulp did have at least one positive image of a person of color. Still, neither the pulp nor the radio show were set up to critique society in any fashion.

Gerald Jones not infrequently addressed topics of race in his comics-work, not always with complete success. However, "Margo's Story" is one of his better attempts. I said that "Story" is largely stand-alone, by which I mean that it takes place in the context of a larger ongoing storyline, though one need not read the encompassing issues to understand the tale. 



At the start of the narrative, Harry Vincent-- one of the pulp-serial's most-used viewpoint characters-- has fallen out of favor with his shadowy boss. The hero's perpetual enemy Shiwan Khan kidnapped Margo Lane in the previous issue, and Vincent denounced his "chief" for letting it happen. The Shadow's response is to exile Vincent from his network, so that none of Vincent's old comrades will speak with him. Yet at the story's outset, Vincent feels somewhat less than liberated. He remembers how the hero saved Vincent from taking his own life, and he describes the life of obedient service he pursued to his master's uncompromising crusade for justice. But when he speaks of breaking free of the Shadow, he imagines that "I'm dead again." 



Unable to do anything about the kidnapping of Margo-- with whom Vincent is half-in-love-- he chooses to investigate who Margo was before she became an aide to the Shadow, as if finding her identity will shore up his own. Ultimately Vincent's quest leads to Harlem, and a new version of Jericho Druke.








Druke, being a Shadow agent, also refuses to speak to Vincent, but by chance the detective gets new information from one of Druke's clients.

Vincent, in the tradition of most hard-boiled detectives, doesn't so much trace down clues as blunder from one milieu to another-- in this case, journeying from Harlem to New Orleans. Clearly Jones chose these two milieus to be complementary images of the Black Experience in the United States, and Jones tries his best to capture that elusive experience in his own terms:

.. he led me-- slowly-- at the pace of the city. Away from the breezes of the river and the fanned air pouring out of the tourist joints, where the air was like hot jello you had to swim through. I thought I knew what "muggy" meant fro, New York, just like I thought I knew what a Negro neighborhood was like from Harlem.
Does white writer Jones capture "the Black Experience?" Maybe not, but as far as melding the generally apolitical "Shadow" mythos with a more politicized understanding of the American underclass, Jones does a better than average job. I appreciate that he makes Vincent a man of his time. He doesn't become enraged at the revelation of white men's injustice, but it moves him because it's something that simply never impacted on his world before. He's shocked to learn that Margo, his possible inamorata, is actually half-black, and he doesn't immediately think that it doesn't matter, though it does explain for him a lot of mysterious aspects of Margo's life, particularly when he converses with Margo's long-unseen mother.



Further, Jones manages to make the fantasy of the Shadow's organization relevant to the political realities, for Vincent concludes that her experience of racial injustice is precisely the thing that makes her join the ranks of the Shadow. And by the story's end, "dead man Vincent" finds that he can only find his own resurrection by joining the ranks of the faithful once more.

RACE-BENDING FOR FUN AND POLITICS

This week's mythcomic deals with the politically incendiary topic of race-bending, possibly the most divisive topic in the comics-subculture.

In art and literature, race-bending refers to any situation in which an audience's expectation of a character's racial makeup-- usually though not invariably associated with the character's phenotype-- is contradicted by a new iteration of said character.

Race-bending falls into two categories; the overt and the covert.

The overt form refers to all depictions within a given narrative, where a character starts out being depicted with one racial appearance but is given a different appearance within a subsequent narrative. One of the most memorable cases of recent years appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wherein the Caucasian comics-character Nick Fury was played by Samuel L. Jackson. Within the MCU iteration, the Nick Fury who co-ordinates the Avengers has never been anything but a black man, and so he has no direct connection with the earlier depiction.

The reverse of the overt form is not seen very often these days. However, the main character of the 1999 book PAY IT FORWARD is a black male, who becomes a white character in the 2000 movie of the same name.

The covert form refers to depictions that stand outside the narrative as such. For instance, in the prose debut of the Oriental villain Fu Manchu, the character is unquestionably Asian. However, though Fu is still supposed to be a Chinese character within all of his film appearances, he's almost always played by Caucasian actors, such as Boris Karloff, Henry Brandon and Christoper Lee.

A similar extrinsic distortion takes place on those occasions when an actor of color plays a character whose racial identity as a Caucasian is historically relevant. In the 1993 MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Denzel Washington plays the traditionally white-Italian character Don Pedro, but there is no attempt to rewrite the character to take account for his sudden negritude. It's more as if Washington is simply playing a Renaissance-era Italian without reference to the actor's actual race, just as one sees in the "white Fu Manchu" films.

In the United States, leftist ideologues approve of race-bending when it serves the perceived interests of an ethnic minority, and to disapprove of it when it serves the perceived interests of an ethnic majority. Thus Jackson playing Nick Fury in 2008's IRON MAN is "good," while Scarlett Johanssen playing the Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in 2017's GHOST IN THE SHELL is "bad." I use the term "perceived interests" because ideologues don't care how good a given actor's performance is. The primary concern of the ideologues, despite all their high-sounding rhetoric about "diversity," comes down to "who gets paid."

This state of affairs is without a doubt a reaction against the early practices of Hollywood casting. Though I reject all political cant about a "cult of whiteness" in the United States, it's quite true that the main reason white actors played Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and even a few Negroes in Hollywood is because the dominantly white film-going audience wanted to see actors of their own ethnic persuasion. Since this system mitigated against non-white actors regardless of the level of talent involved, clearly it was an unethical system. However, the current, one-sided political correctness ideology-- which does not care how well Scarlett Johanssen can play Kusanagi, only that she is not Asian-- is no great improvement.

Though I've discussed the covert form in the previous paragraph, my concern in the forthcoming mythcomic is that of the overt form, wherein a creator decides that he will literally change the established racial identity of a given character.

Monday, October 1, 2018

NEAR-MYTHS: ANGEL SANCTUARY 1-20 (1994-2000)



Before venturing even a short review of Kaori Yuki's ANGEL SANCTUARY, I feel constrained to observe that I am not the audience it was designed for. Like a lot of the manga influenced by the popular manga-artists' group CLAMP, SANCTUARY was meant to be fanservice for teenaged girl readers in Japan. That means that hardly a page goes by in which the reader is not regaled with willowy, somewhat androgynous males-- though at least there's a fantasy-justification for this trope, since most of the characters are supposed to be the angels of Judeo-Christian belief.

In theory the main characters who appear in the early books are two mortal teenagers, Setsuna Mudo and his sister Sara. Their ordinary life going to school in Japan is a sham, however, because Setsuna is deeply in love with Sara. Her reciprocation is a little more ambivalent at the outset-- she yells at him a lot, and tries to set him up with a date (albeit with a girl not as attractive as Sara herself is)-- but in due time, she too acknowledges a deep passion for her sibling. However, at the same time super-powerful angels begin invading Setsuna and Sara's world? Is it heavenly vengeance for their sins?

Well, no, the angels are there to claim their own, for both of the mortal teenagers are reincarnations of angels who were important in the many (and utterly confusing) internecine wars in heaven. Some angels want Setsuna to claim the heritage of his original (female) precursor, Alexiel, and there's another faction that want Sara to do-- well, something or other. I confess that I couldn't follow Yuki's sprawling plots, which by and large seemed to have no real function beyond giving her more reasons to draw willowy males.

I have nothing against feminine fanservice, but I have to say that-- when compared to other manga-artists of her time-- Yuki doesn't have a great design-sense, and a lot of her characters look pretty similar, like the ones in this panel--



--which doesn't contribute to a lot of clarity plot-wise or character-wise. The incest plotline is always kind of "there," but its psychological ramifications are largely set aside in order to pursue the artist's goal of greater sexual fluidity, of males turning into females and vice versa. Okay, that's not my thing, but I'd like to think I could appreciate the sexual dramatics if there was good characterization. There are a few amusing moments here and there, but the heavy drama usually goes nowhere.


Like a lot of Japanese artists, Yuki tosses Judeo-Christian concepts and other mythic tropes into a manga-mixmaster that seems more concerned with quoting exotic names-- "Adam Kadmon," "Yggdrasil," and so on-- that on getting any symbolic value out of the quotations. I did get that ultimately the real villain of the story is God himself, who's a butthead who deserted his creations when they didn't turn out like he wanted. But though this sounds daring on the face of things, Yuki's execution of the "divine rebellion" theme is jejune at best.

The serial's best aspect is that it's got lots of pretty art, which was perhaps the creator's main concern from square one. One just shouldn't expect character-design on the level of the greats, like Oda and Takahashi.




Saturday, September 29, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "THE 24-HOUR MAN" (AMAZING ADVENTURES #35, 1976)

H.G. Wells' 1897 WAR OF THE WORLDS novel spawned countless "BEM-chases-babes" stories along the lines of this image from INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN:



Despite later uses of Wells' alien invasion concept, though, the novel barely alludes to sex. Marvel's 1970s "War of the Worlds" comic book, however, almost had to delve into such matters, given that it was designed to emulate the success of the company's own CONAN comic. That said, whereas the original "Conan" stories and most sword-and-sorcery stories replaced "BEM-and-babe" with "beast-and-babe," Marvel's take on Wells was not nearly as given to outright usages of sex appeal. "War of the Worlds"-- later retitled "Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds"-- thus kept a foot in both the world of barbarian fantasy and that of the science-fiction invasion-drama. When the Martians return to Earth after their failed attack at the turn of the 20th century, their second invasion proves wildly successful, and one of the few Earth-men capable of mounting a defense is buff, long-haired warrior Killraven, who wields a sword as often as he fires a ray-gun. Killraven is joined by a small coterie of freedom-fighters. though in issue #35, Carmilla Frost, M'Shulla Scott, and the slightly dim stalwart Old Skull are the only ones following the main hero. Hot female characters, good and bad, are frequently seen, but rarely does the hero get rewarded with sexual favors, as did most sword-and-sorcery heroes. Indeed, the only ongoing sexiness was between Carmilla and M'Shulla, one of the first white/black racial hookups in commercial comic books.



Further, Earth under the Martians sometimes resembles Wells' ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, for almost every issue pits Killraven and his buddies against some perversion of humanity, brought into being by Martian experimental science. Even Killraven himself is a perversion of sorts, since from the first issue by Gerry Conway and Howard Chaykin, he's been given a special psychic affinity with the invading aliens, the better to spy on the Martians and learn their weaknesses.

Not until writer Don McGregor teamed with artist Craig Russell, however, did the series earn plaudits with Bronze Age readers. Thus at the time they worked on "The 24-Hour Man," the creators had been receiving some acclaim, which may have encouraged them to experiment along lines of science-fiction speculation. (I should note here that Russell only supplies layouts to this 1976 story, with Keith Giffen receiving pencil-credits.) As in many science-fiction novels, the apocalyptic devastation of the existing world is an excuse to cast aspects of real history into new shapes. This may be one reason that McGregor chose to set the story in Atlanta, Georgia-- though, as I noted here, he barely references the city's Civil War history, except in relation to the movie "Gone with the Wind." McGregor's allusion to the spousal rape of Scarlett O'Hara has little or nothing to do with Margaret Mitchell's meaning, so it would seem that McGregor largely mentions the Mitchell work simply as a jumping-off point for his own concerns, the evocation of the Gothic theme of the persecuted woman.



Killraven and his friends stumble onto a cemetery outside the no-longer-inhabited Atlanta, and in said graveyard they find a never-named young woman ranting over the body of a withered humanoid figure clad in golden armor. When the apparent madwoman flees the cemetery, the warriors chase her, to keep her from harming herself. Then it becomes apparent that the woman has a guardian, a huge, multi-legged serpent-beast, whom she calls by the name G'Rath, and who prevents her from leaving. Killraven and the others intervene to defend the woman, but unbeknownst to them, G'Rath has a ally named Emmanuel ("God is with us" in Hebrew). human-looking except for possessing green hair and green skin.While the heroes battle the monster, Emmanuel covertly takes the gold armor from the dead humanoid, dons it, and proceeds to steal Carmilla from her allies.



Given the earlier mention of rape on the story's first page, the reader would be justified in assuming that Emmanuel abducts Carmilla in order to rape her-- though the unnamed madwoman's has already raved about having carried "G'Rath's child." In Emmanuel's conversation with Carmilla, it's implied that he does not plan to violate her. He wants feminine understanding from her, but he and G'Rath are symbiotically bound to one another in some way. The previous child of G'Rath perished after nine months in his mother's womb and one day outside it, for he was a "24-hour man"-- and so is Emmanuel. McGregor supplies no details as to how this symbiosis came about, nor does he even attribute this biological anomaly to Martian science. In apocalyptic worlds, of course, "mad science" sometimes just happens on its own, and apparently that's what gives a non-human creature like G'Rath the power to impregnate a human woman with a changeling. Emmanel's role in the symbiosis is never clear, though if he didn't have green hair and flesh, maybe he could pass as a "judas goat," able to move freely among humans long enough to catch a potential mate for his "father/sibling."

At any rate, Killraven's group manages to interrupt G'Rath's impending nuptials, and though both G'Rath and Emmanuel are destroyed, the heroes mourn the passing, since the two of them no more chose their own biological destiny than does a mayfly. One page is particularly strong in evoking Carmilla's fear of having her own biology hijacked by an invader, of possibly going as mad as the unnamed madwoman as a result.



Though I'm not a Freudian, it's hard not to perceive some psychosexual symbolism here. Though in actual mythology serpents can be as readily feminine as masculine-- a point Freud missed in his analysis of the Medusa figure-- it's hard to imagine G'Rath as anything but a "penis-monster." And if G'Rath is a penis, then what could Emmanuel be, but that which transmits male genes, that which is doomed to perish if *it* does not unite with a female egg? As I said, this similitude begs to be acknowledged, though not for a moment do I think that it "explains" the story, which is more concerned with grand tragedy than with Freud's reductive concepts.

McGregor and Russell even manage to tie Emmanuel's tragedy in with that of Killraven, the only member of the group who has been biologically altered. Toward the story's end, Killraven says, "You were right, Carmilla Frost. We could not save him. By our  separate natures and needs, we were forged as opponents, for our own survival. He would shattered you, the way his mother was shattered-- but it is more than passing odd-- it is still as if we shared a common curse."

The common curse may be that of all humanity in the Killraven world has been permanently reduced to a state of abjection by the Martian incursion. And yet McGregor adds in the final panel that the heroes "are only vaguely aware of the hint of beauty amid the darkly perverse events." This observation might bring some critics back to the jumping-off point, wherein spousal rape is more "romantic" than vanilla sex-- or it might also say something about the interactions, however unwelcome, of violence and sexuality.