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...
Monday, May 2, 2011
MYTHCOMICS #7: GREEN LANTERN #16 (1962)
PLOT-SUMMARY for “The Secret Life of Star Sapphire” (Broome/Kane): Carol Ferris, boss of the aircraft company for which Hal Jordan (aka Green Lantern) works, is flying solo for sport. Her plane is brought down in a desert by a group of aliens, all females dressed in Greek-looking armor, calling themselves the “Zamarons.” The aliens explain that although they have an advanced civilization, made up entirely of immortal women, their tradition requires them to seek a mortal queen. They want Carol to become that queen, who takes on the hereditary name “Star Sapphire.”
However, Carol doesn’t want to leave Earth, and her greatest tie to it is her love for Green Lantern. To make Carol realize that all men are weaklings in comparison to Zamarons, the aliens transform Carol into Star Sapphire, who can use the sapphire in her tiara to summon formidable energies. The Zamarons use mind-control to force Star Sapphire to fight Green Lantern. She wins the first contest, but loses the second. The Zamarons then consider Carol unworthy to be their queen, so they take away her power and her memory. However, when Green Lantern finds Carol and her plane in the desert, she still has the star sapphire with her (an inconsistency explained in a later story) and the hero wonders whether some connection exists between the two women.
MYTH-ANALYSIS: In a general sense the relationship of Hal and Carol follows the seminal Clark-and-Lois pattern, in which a woman prefers the hero to his humbler, more normal alter ego. Now, since Green Lantern’s secret identity is that of a daring test pilot, Carol doesn’t reject Hal for being cowardly, as Lois originally does Clark. But though Carol does have strong feelings for Hal, they’re overshadowed by the powerful image of the hero. Also, where Lois and Clark are equals in the workplace, Carol is Hal’s boss. This may not reflect feminist proclivities on the part of scripter John Broome. Since Carol is “minding” the company for her parents while they’re vacationing, she may be more comparable to the lady ranch-owner of B-westerns, who inherits land from her father and then must be protected from evil by a young hero.
However, the “evil” here springs from conflicting emotions in the heroine’s own soul. “I seem to be two people,” she muses during her first combat with the hero, “one wanting to conquer Green Lantern—the other at the same time wanting him to defeat me!” The first “person” is the part of Carol that likes being a woman in charge of a corporation, which may be the closest one gets to being a “queen” in American society, and clearly likes taking chances as a man would. (Green Lantern thinks of Carol as “pretty nervy” for taking a plane out on a solo flight.) The second “person” in the equation, however, wants the hero to defeat her so that she can be a normal woman who can be married, whether she chooses Hal or Green Lantern. In the future appearances of Star Sapphire in the Silver Age, this Jekyll-Hyde disparity takes on its own life without further tampering by the Zamarons.
John Broome’s concept of the Zamarons illustrates how easily a purely functional narrative device can accrue enough symbolic resonance so as to become what I have termed “super-functional.” Broome does not relate what event caused the Zamarons to regard all men as “a distinctly inferior species,” but their history is presumably a SF-take on the Greek legend of the Amazons, even as the Zamarons’ name plays on “amazons.” Artist Gil Kane, whether acting on his own or on editorial instruction, followed through on the association by garbing the technologically-advanced aliens in anachronistic Greek armor.
Some influence from William Moulton Marston’s WONDER WOMAN is likely. Both Marston and Broome make their female warriors immortal as a means of explaining how they can perpetuate their single-gender societies over time without recourse to sexual reproduction. However, the Zamarons are thoroughgoing “female chauvinists,” and their low opinion of men inverts the “male chauvinism” of the real world’s two-sexed society. It’s a chauvinism that the character of Carol Ferris has apparently internalized, since she’s more attracted to Green Lantern than to Hal Jordan precisely because the former is more powerful, and therefore more manly. Following Star Sapphire’s first victory over Green Lantern, Carol argues with the Zamarons for a second battle: “I feel sure Green Lantern can defeat me!” And her faith in her hero is justified in the second fight, where he does indeed overcome her. Were the two characters fighting with hands and feet rather than abstract energy-forces, Carol’s desire to be defeated would seem overtly masochistic.
The Zamaron “tradition” in which the immortals must have a mortal queen is also another functional device that takes on deeper symbolic complexity. Since the character of Carol is mortal, Broome’s script has to give the Zamarons some reason to want a mortal queen. In addition, they must have some reason to pick Carol over all the other women on Earth. Broome chooses to say that the Zamarons search throughout the galaxy to find “a perfect replica of their former queen,” a story-motif that resembles the reincarnation-scenarios of works ranging from Rider Haggard’s SHE to Gardner Fox’s original HAWKMAN. One might make something of the notation that the name of the aliens’ planet, “Zamaron,” means “Land of Lovely Women”—connoting perhaps that even among warrior-women, looks count for a lot. Notably, this process of selection inverts the way Hal Jordan is chosen to be Green Lantern, in that Jordan is affirmed for his intestinal fortitude.
One must note that Star Sapphire is meant to mirror Green Lantern in that both summon their power through similar devices: a ring housing a jewel and a jewel set in a tiara. For Star Sapphire, though, the jewel becomes a token of her double identity, one that can and does re-activate her alternate persona. At times Green Lantern may seem a little schizophrenic in his desire that Carol should want his alter ego more than his heroic identity, but essentially he is in control. But exposure to power does Carol Ferris no good, and over time Star Sapphire does become the “Hyde” to Carol’s “Jekyll.” It’s ironic that the SUPERMAN franchise eventually foreswears the gender-triangle of Clark-Lois-Superman, GREEN LANTERN—which appears more progressive at first glance—ends up turning the triangle into a quadrangle, one that eventually breaks into pieces.