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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, July 4, 2011


"Fairy tales have their uses, Charlie-- and some questions don't have answers."

PLOT-SUMMARY for "Transformation" (script: O'Neil; art: Cowan): The Question journeys to the island of Santa Prisca (named for a fictional saint of the non-DC real world), looking for his kidnapped mentor, Professor Rodor. Hector Gomez, whose father Rodrigo knew Rodor in college, wants Rodor to use his scientific knowledge in an experiment. Hector is the bloody-handed tyrant of Santa Prisca, yet he wants to attempt, using a particle accelerator, the alchemical transformation of common clay into gold. According to Hector, witnessing such a transformation will cleanse and purify the accumulated evil of his soul. The Question breaks into Hector's compound but is knocked unconscious by some guards, who bring him to the accelerator room. With Rodor's help the transformation takes place and Hector seems to become a Christlike figure after witnessing the alchemical transformation. The Question wakes up, and finds that everyone in the room has disappeared except Rodor, who has descended into a trancelike state as a result of witnessing the event. With some mysterious help the Question and his friend get back to the States. Several days go by, during which Rodor remains entranced. The Question feeds Rodor and tells him stories of a mysterious man in Santa Prisca who is performing many beneficent deeds. After Question finishes one story, Rodor suddenly snaps out of his trance and ends the narrative with the quoted "fairy tales" line.

MYTH-ANALYSIS: Most O'Neil/Cowan QUESTION stories are hard-edged stories of crime and corruption. "Transformation" was a departure from the hero's normal milieu; a vacation from evil as it were.

Hector Gomez never gives a specific reason as to why he wants to transform his soul. He never says that he regrets his deeds or that he's weary of the path of evil. Gomez tells Rodor that if the experiment fails, Gomez will torture Rodor for weeks and the thought of doing so "thrills" him. Gomez, a tall, commanding figure, expresses revulsion for his father Rodrigo, who suffers from a hunchback, and tells Rodor that he kept Rodrigo alive "because my greatest joy was making you suffer. I greatly enjoyed watching something so hideous writhe in pain."

What then is his motive for wanting to be cleansed? From what O'Neil gives the readers, it would seem to be pure intellectual curiosity about whether the operation can be performed or not. Just as the experiment begins, Gomez tells his listeners that they will either witness "the ultimate vindication of mankind's highest aspirations, proof that the things of the spirit exist-- or yet another of the dismal failures in our pathetic attempts to prove that we are more than mud." However, despite the story's invocation of Christian imagery, Gomez's "things of the spirit" arise not from contact with angelic hosts or obedience to Christian precepts. The alchemical transformation here has more in common with the Hindu/Buddist concept *paravritti,* which means "mind turning over" and connotes the concept that the mind is capable of finding its own way out of darkness. The clay's transformation into gold shows Gomez the way to effect such a transformation in himself: a transcendence of what the Question calls (in another context) the "world's way" of dog-eat-dog corruption.

As the Question makes his escape with his entranced friend, who has apparently had no more than a paralyzing brush with transcendence, the hero rambles about how Saint Prisca was a fictional saint who never really existed, but adds "that doesn't mean she was a bad person." Fiction, then, holds a transfomative power even as alchemy does, though the Question still asks the pertinent question, "Can something change a monster into a saint? Is just wanting that change enough to cause it?" To that question Rodor responds that some questions don't have answers, which is certainly the case with Hector Gomez, since O'Neil and Cowan never again return to the question of his transformation.

On a side-note, one of the stories the hero relates to Rodor mentions that the mysterious benefactor travels in the company of a hunchback. Within the narrative this suggests a continuing interdependence of health and deformity, beauty and ugliness, gold and clay. It might also connote "reconciliation with the father" in quasi-Christian terms, albeit a father who remains physically less attractive than the son, the "clay" that gives birth to the "gold."

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