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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...

Monday, August 1, 2011

MYTHCOMICS #22: VOID INDIGO (Books 1-2, 1984-85)




PLOT-SUMMARY (scripter Steve Gerber; art Val Mayerick) : The story starts in a long-vanished civilization in Earth’s past, one ruled by the sorcerous Dark Lords. The four mortal wizards maintain a stranglehold over lesser mortals by summon the powers of the “demon-king Kaok” through an eye-shaped “Living Orb.” Barbarian chieftain Ath’agaar challenges their power, so the wizards abduct him and his mate Ren to their sorcerous lair. After Ren is tortured and sacrificed, Ath’agaar receives the same treatment. The means of his death is especially grisly; a jewel-encrusted spike is pounded through his forehead, just above his eyes. Yet the barbarian rallies and pulls free the spike, which he uses to smash the Living Orb. The resultant magical explosion destroys the entire civilization, though the spike, touched by the Orb’s energy, survives the holocaust. The souls of Ath’agaar, Ren and the four sorcerers are reincarnated throughout many lives until the present time. Through convoluted circumstances, Ath’agaar, whose soul has entered the body of a crimson-colored alien named “Jhagur,” makes contact with the spiritual realm known as “Void Indigo.” Jhagur’s contact with the memories of Ath’agaar causes him to crashland his spaceship on 20th-century Earth. He’s given shelter in Los Angeles by honkytonk floozy Linette Cumpston after he saves her from a beating. They form a bond “like that between a sister and brother” while Jhagur tries to figure out how to pursue his reincarnated foes, who now seek power over modern Earth under the name of “the Death Guild.”


Jhagur’s first move is to send the villains a message by slaying one of their servants, a female transexual named Brita, whom Jhagur eviscerates moments after Brita kills a cross-dressing male prostitute. The cop assigned to Brita’s case interviews the victim’s lesbian lover Amanda Tower, a member of the Guild. When Amanda appeals for the Guild’s help, they send an assassin who shoots her. Jhagur also endeavors to recover the jeweled spike from a man named Mulgrew, but Mulgrew’s high-school daughter Colleen gets hold of the spike and begins falling under the power of Kaok. Linette, conflicted about Jhagur’s dangerous mission, seeks the help of a psychic named Raka. During an intense session, during which nearly-naked Raka embraces seemingly-naked Linette, the psychic predicts that Linette is destined to be “poised between the slayer and his victim.” Jhagur seeks out Mulgrew again, but his daughter takes on the form of a flaming angel and tries to kill Jhagur.


While Jhagur battles the possessed girl, the magical spike flies away and rips an eye from the head of a derelict in order to take the form of the Living Orb. The Orb then sucks Colleen into itself (probably taking her to some extradimensional realm) while Jhagur falls unconscious. The police find Jhagur and take him to a local hospital, which happens to be the same L.A. where Amanda Tower is recovering from her gunshot wound. Despite the fact that Jhagur’s body generates a defensive coating over his flesh, a coating that burns anyone who touches it, Amanda climbs into bed with Jhagur. The two of them share an intense “psychic sex” experience even though their bodies never fully touch. Both of them awake from the shared ecstacy, and Amanda suddenly possesses the ability to morph into a crimson-skinned version of herself, as well possessing powers like Jhagur’s. While the Death Guild lays plans to dominate Earth with the power of Kaok, Jhagur and Amanda leave the hospital and take refuge at Linette’s apartment. The story ends on a cliffhanger, as Amanda promises to aid Jhagur against the Guild but only if Jhagur sexes her up first -- all while a bemused Linette looks on from concealment.


MYTH-ANALYSIS: The curious dual nature of the protagonist, who is both the human Ath’agaar and the alien Jhagur, will be easily understood if one knows that VOID INDIGO (apparently named for the famous jazz song “Mood Indigo”) stems from Steve Gerber’s rejected proposal to reinterpret DC Comics’ Hawkman. Gerber’s proposal would have merged the first two versions of the character, for the first Hawkman was an Earthman whose ancient spirit was reincarnated in modern times, while the second Hawkman was a humanoid alien. But of the two it’s the Golden Age Hawkman’s backstory—in which the hero is killed in ancient times by an enemy and is later reborn to fight the villain again-- that dominates Gerber’s narrative. Gerber also intensifies minor elements of the Golden Age scenario: whereas the knife that kills the first Hawkman doesn’t take on narrative importance, the jeweled spike becomes more central to the VOID INDIGO story, presumably because it would have become the means by which the hero would have met the demon lord Kaok (who has no parallel in the Golden Age story).


I’ve written extensively elsewhere about the transformation of market expectations that led many authors to transform comic-book icons of juvenile pulp (like earlier versions of Hawkman) into concepts more properly deemed “Adult Pulp.” As I noted in this essay, this does not mean simply that the features became more sexy or violent. I demonstrated how certain features took on more of those qualities without necessarily “graduating” to this different set of cultural expectations.


Unfortunately, when Marvel Comics’ Epic line published VOID INDIGO, sex and violence were all that mattered to distributors and retailers, who felt that the publisher had failed to provide sufficient warning of the feature’s adult content. No adult advisories appear on the covers of either the graphic novel publication of “Book One” nor the two comic-book format issues that comprise the unfinished “Book Two;” however, the GN does carry an ad-insert noting that the forthcoming comic book is “recommended for mature audiences.” In any case, in 1985 distributors and retailers were aghast at the first three pages of VOID INDIGO #1, which reaction insured that Gerber and Mayerick did not continue the opus beyond #2. Many years later a letter from Gerber appeared in COMIC BUYERS’ GUIDE soliciting artists for a new version of INDIGO, but no further Jhagur adventures appeared.


Even Gerber’s less extreme work is generally marked by gruesome scenes worthy of the most horrific EC Comics, but INDIGO is one of the first features in which the author attempted to justify their use thematically. On the inside front cover of INDIGO #2 appears a passage from a book “written” by author Delilah Stone. Stone, who appears in just one panel of the story proper, begins her screed by stating, “The fundamental principle of escapist culture is the systematic denial of humanity’s dark side.” Stone/Gerber disputes “escapist culture’s” notion that humans “are creatures whose basic nature is to do good.” Three written paragraphs don’t prove sufficient to make Gerber’s case, but the events of INDIGO would have also validated this Marcuse-like theme on the therapeutic benefits of sensationalism. Though the Dark Lords and their later incarnations are clearly the villains of the narrative, Jhagur’s murderous mission certainly connotes a “dark side” as well. When Linette asks Jhagur what gives him the right to kill the emissaries of the Guild, the alien hero makes the chilling reply, “I do not decide. I listen to the void-- and I am told.”


Not all the violent incidents in INDIGO are tinged with sex, but Gerber embraced the chance to entwine sex and violence, the basic elements of sensationalism, as much as he could. In the bloody encounter of Brita and the prostitute she solicits, the visual confusion of their respective sexualities connotes the confusion of their moral natures, which in turn leads to violence. Fourteen-year-old Colleen, changed into a naked angel by Kaok’s power, embraces Jhagur with flaming arms and loins as she declares, “I am to consume you—first with ecstacy, then with flame!” Linette goes to Raka for guidance, but as she crosses into Raka’s magical circle her clothes disappear. Raka’s embrace with Linette isn’t explicitly sexual, but Mayerick’s visuals depict the bodies of the two embracing women morphing into the image of the jeweled spike, as Raka rambles about how “[Jhagur’s] pain creates your pain—and I must accept them both--” Amanda’s psycho-sex encounter with Jhagur gives her some of his power to inflict violence. But despite her mental toughness—a toughness Jhagur admires-- Amanda wants a bodily climax at the story’s climax.


Further, if the ambience of Gerber’s HOWARD THE DUCK is any indicator, probably the platonic relationship between Jhagur and Linette would have developed a sexual vibe. Raka’s vision reveals that Linette was once abused, though not actually violated, by her father. This would account, at least in pop-psych terms, for the character’s sexual looseness. Jhagur, who saves Linette from being robbed and beaten by one of her bedpartners, stands in reasonably well for a father-figure, but his desire to court death would remind Linette of how her abusive father died drunk while her mourning mother also deserted Linette through suicide. The addition of a sexual female into the platonic household shared by Jhagur and Linette would probably have pushed Linette to think of Jhagur as more than either substitute daddy or sexless brother—which thought would of course be a symbolic culmination of the very incest Linette resisted from her father.


Because INDIGO is an unfinished narrative, it’s difficult to judge how important some motifs would have been in finished form. Is it significant when the spike, with its masculine imagery, morphs into the shape of an eye, which should connote a more feminine value? Linette is recommended to Raka by a friend named “Delphine:” this may have been Gerber’s cryptic reference to that other famous prognosticator, the Delphic Oracle of classic times. None of the male characters have mythically-resonant names, unless one counts the joke that Jhagur’s name reminds Linette of “Mick Jagger.” Yet in addition to the Greek-influenced name of Delphine, Gerber uses the Biblical names of “Delilah” for his spokesperson, while Delilah’s niece is visited by a vision of Raka, calling herself “Aunt Rachel.” Whether Gerber meant to invoke specific aspects of the Delilah and Rachel myths will remain unknown. However, even the suggestions of symbolic complexity are sufficient to deem VOID INDIGO one of comics’ most intriguing missed opportunities.

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