Monday, August 15, 2011
MYTHCOMICS #24: XENOZOIC TALES #8 (1989)
PLOT-SUMMARY of "In the Dreamtime" (written/drawn Mark Schultz) : In a post-cataclysmic world, mankind's numbers have been drastically reduced by continental upheaveals. In addition, dinosaurs have been reborn, apparently from pre-cataclysmic experimentation. In one of the cities rebuilt from the chaos, Jack Tenrec, a mechanic with a knack for making pre-cataclysm automobiles run, offers driving lessons to Hannah Dundee, attractive ambassador from another city. Once the two are out in the wilderness they approach an area where the government of Jack's city has ordered a new road project. Jack voices his disapproval of the project, as he feels that his people are making the same expansionist mistakes that the older humans did, and that nature may have ways of wreaking vengeance. Hannah is skeptical but both of them are shocked to come across the bodies of the road crew, as well as several forest animals, inexplicably dead. The two flee the site in the car but must make camp as night falls. Before they bed down Jack notes that Earth's two moons (another acquisition of the upheaval) are in alignment ("kissing"), and Jack wonders if the road crew's incursions "offended the spirits." Jack and Hannah fall asleep and experience parallel dreams in which they descend separately into the ocean and have encounters with reptillian humanoids known as "the Grith." Each dreamer experiences a sense of rising as the dream ends, and both awaken to realize that they're breathing poisonous exhumations from a volcanic fumarole. They barely escape in their car and are taken in by searchers from the city. Jack interprets the incident as validation of his beliefs while Hannah takes a more scientific view, asserting that the poison gases were coincidentally released by the increased gravitation from the aligned moons.
MYTH-ANALYSIS: Jack and Hannah clearly represent, respectively, romantic and realistic viewpoints common to human culture. Hannah's skeptical outlook doesn't receive a lot of attention in this particular tale, but despite their implied attraction to one another she makes no bones about finding his outlook overly conservative and superstitious. Jack, despite being handy with cars, is no reductivist, viewing man's culture as inextricably conjoined with nature, railing that "We humans just can't seem to accept things are they are, can we? If it's inconvenient, we can always remake it to our liking. Ha!" Jack has also had a few more encounters than Hannah with the Grith reptile-men, who seem to possess a high degree of psychic skills. Though the dream-visions of the Grith seen by Jack and Hannah don't appear to have been directly sent from the psychic reptiles, Schultz may have meant to use the dreams to prefigure some future dealings Jack and Hannah might have with the Grith. However, no such dealings took place within the six remaining issues of XENOZOIC's run.
Each of the dreams lasts three full pages.
Jack's dream begins as he imagines that he's become a fish in the ocean, after which he encounters, not the Grith as he knows them in reality, but what might called an archetypal version of them. Jack-the-fish behelds three gigantic bipedal reptiles, some with more human than reptillian characteristics, and he thinks that "they are the ancestors of all men, of all Grith, and all fish." He also notes that they seem "soft" and "formless," which might support the notion that these figments are more like patterns for living things rather than actual entities. Jack-fish is caught in a net, at which point he becomes human again. He's hauled out of the water by a gigantic version of Hannah. She looks him over for a moment before the three giant ancestors appear and tell her to fling Jack back into the ocean. She does so, but the ocean has become a boiling cauldron. Jack struggles to escape, and then feels himself drawn upward by "something powerful... more powerful than all the ancestors."
Hannah's dream begins with her walking on a beach hand-in-hand with Jack. He leads her into the sea, but "Jack" transforms into a Grith: one who looks exactly like the real creatures Hannah has seen before. The Grith chains Hannah to the sea-bed in order to prepare her for a "great journey." He disappears and Hannah feels the tectonic plates beneath the ocean-floor shifting. The earth opens up and her body merges with the "flowing strata." She encounters magma, which doesn't harm her until it mixes with water and gives off poisonous vapors. The vapors help Hannah rise upward, so that in the real world she awakens just as Jack does.
Schultz allows for both romantic and realistic interpretations of their visions, but given the paucity of personal baggage in both visions, the more romantic interpretation seems to hold together better. Despite the mutual attraction of the characters, there's very little sexual subtext to their dreams about one another, as one might expect if these were just dreams brought on by their exposure to life-threatening toxins. One might argue that both of them, being fiercely independent, fear being betrayed by the other, given that Hannah is led into the sea by a version of Jack and Jack is hurled into the ocean by a version of Hannah. But the dreams are dominated by what Jungians call "transpersonal" images.
Jack's greater connection to nature apparently makes it possible for him to behold the distant ancestors of all life. But though the ancestors tell Giant-Hannah to return Jack to the sea because "There is something he must learn," Jack doesn't come away from the experience with any token or insight. One might interpret that the "something powerful" that helps Jack escape the boiling water is nothing more than his own will-to-survive, but that hardly seems any sort of life-lesson, mystical or otherwise.
Hannah's vision seems at once more directly participatory (her body merges with the earth) and yet pragmatic as well (her visions recapitulate the processes that are producing the real-life poison gases, and even her own Grith speaks of an "immediate danger" as well as the unexplained "great journey"). Indeed, though Hannah scoffs at Jack's superstition about the aligned lunar bodies ("Two moons kissing; always bad medicine"), his vision doesn't reference the lunar bodies at all but hers ends with such a reference ("I feel the moons tearing at my brain.") One can't help but consider the traditional associations between womanhood and the moon, though the narrative doesn't make any overt references to these.
Not surprisingly, both dreams are visions of a perilous immersion, with Jack being cast into the sea twice while Hannah merges with the earth beneath the waves. Some details are meant to have realistic parallels: presumably both dreamers experience heat in some form because the real-life poisons are raising their respective body temperatures. But in Jack's world-- and XENOZOIC is certainly more Jack's world than Hannah's, whatever her virtues-- objects like moons or earth or poison gases are never just objects, but always possess the power to absorb man (and woman) into themselves. "In the Dreamtime," then, is a cautionary fable against the perils of that absorption, as well as an acknowledgement that it remains a fundamental and ultimately inescapeable reality.