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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...

Saturday, April 30, 2011


After I finished part one of this rumination, I realized that I hadn't answered one of the questions I myself raised in response to AT-ST Pilot's post:

Is there a unifying thread that unites all the complex corridors of this labyrinth, THE ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE?

After thinking it over it comes down to my rephrasing of this famous question by Heidegger:

"Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Now, some quickie web-research suggests that Heidegger didn't precisely say this: that it was someone's paraphrase from a passage from WHAT IS METAPHYSICS?

The same web-research shows me that whereas religious people seem to think the question profound, empiricists find the question foolish and/or irrelevant.

However, I'm borrowing nothing from the quasi-Heideggerian quote but the basic structure, so that I can unspool my own query thusly:

"Why is there complexity where there doesn't need to be any?"

Though not all canonical prose literature is informed by symbolic complexity, much of it is, in part because such literature is directed at a well-educated audience. Herman Melville knows that his ideal reader will intuit that Something Deep is Signified when he Melville makes reference to "Parsee" fire-worship in MOBY DICK. William Faulkner knows that the moment his ideal reader picks up LIGHT IN AUGUST, the initials of main character Joe Christmas will instantly presage some sort of conjuration of Christian mythology.

But most purveyors of popular narrative aren't shooting for this audience. They aim at what used to be called "the lowest common denominator" (though Raymond Durgnat argued that "highest common factor" would be more accurate). Images and icons of myth are used, but often in a blatant and obvious manner that isn't meant to signify Deep Thoughts.

And yet, complexity occurs, even within apparently shallow waters.

A couple of years back I interrogated Icy Harris in order to learn why the character's demi-creator Oscar Bensol gave him a name that references the Greek overreacher Icarus.

Of course I got no answer from Harris or the SUPERMAN cartoon in which he appeared, nor from the Jim Shooter comics-story on which the cartoon-script was based.

There's a slight possibility that Bensol used the "Icarus" reference accidentally, though if that were true the fact wouldn't reduce its symbolic resonance. But I tend to think that the renaming of the Parasite character was intentional.

But why bother? Probably none of the kids at whom the 1960s SUPERMAN cartoon was directed paid much attention to character names. I may have had a little more propensity to notice such things in my kidhood, but I didn't pick up on this myth-reference until re-watching the cartoon forty years later. It's probable that even if one interrogated Oscar Bensol today-- assuming he's still around-- that he wouldn't remember the mythic in-joke.

The only possible answer I can see is that Bensol recognized, however loosely, than Jim Shooter's Parasite resembled the "overreacher" figures from Greek myth, and chose to point that resemblance out simply because--

It was fun to do so.

It is, however, fun of a different quality than, say, referencing the names of personal friends or relatives for one's fictional creations. But that's another essay.

There are, to be sure, popular narratives which *want* their mythic references to be recognized, or which invoke the qualities of mythic narrative without references to specific myths.

Nevertheless, those usages of myth-material share a certain communicative functionalism with those of Melville and Faulkner above.

With "The Pernicious Parasite," we're dealing with an author communicating a notion he had without any expectation that his audience will discern it-- again, just for the pure fun of it.

I've been accused once or twice of being a "formalist" critic. But it seems evident to me that the "formalism" is present in human nature as a whole, that it goes beyond the merely functional to something that takes pure pleasure in the abstractedness of a fictional gesture (see essays on Suzanne Langer for this reference).

In closing I'll correct one supposition I tossed out in the 2009 essay.

I said, "I do not know anything about Oscar Bensol except that he wrote a lot of Superman and Aquaman cartoons for Filmation in the 1960s. The name could be a nom de plume for practically anyone: it could be a pen-name for Jim Shooter himself, for all I know."

However, I recently a Shooter interview in TwoMorrows' KRYPTON COMPANION, in which the interviewer asks if Shooter is aware that the Parasite story was adapted to a cartoon, and Shooter says that he wasn't aware the adaptation ever took place.

However often fans have critiqued Shooter's reputation for truthfulness-- the dominant opinion best described when Roy Thomas' Beast tells Havok, "Your reputation for veracity is not exactly Washingtonesque!"-- I believe Shooter is not, nor ever has been, Oscar Bensol.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


PLOT-SUMMARY of "Prisoners of the Puppet Master": The Thing, finding himself excluded from Mister Fantastic's lab, quarrels with his FF-partners and storms out. The Invisible Girl pursues him, but breaks off her attempts to reconcile with him when she spies a man about to jump off a high bridge. Thanks to her signal, the Human Torch saves the man, but by so doing goes against the will of the Puppet Master, who was using one of his radioactive-clay puppets to force the man to kill himself as a test of power. The Puppet Master, who lives in a small apartment with his blind stepdaughter Alicia, declares war on the FF. He uses a puppet of the Thing to bring the monstrous superhero to his domicile. The Invisible Girl follows, but the Puppet Master gasses her. The villain then sends the enthralled Thing to attack his partners, and in some odd twist decides to send Alicia along in an Invisible Girl costume, because Alicia happens to resemble the heroine. Reed and Johnny avoid the Thing's attack long enough to dose him with a potion that changes him back to Ben Grimm; ironically, Reed was keeping Ben out of the lab earlier to keep him from learning about the potion, to spare Ben possible disappointment. The three male heroes storm the villain's hideout and rescue Sue, but the Puppet Master not only escapes, he also uses his puppets to unleash a breakout at the local prison. While the heroes are busy quelling the prison riot, they leave Alicia-- now infatuated with the monstrous Thing-- back at the apartment. The Puppet Master returns to claim a special puppet that will make it possible for him to control the whole world. Alicia, hitherto an entirely passive figure, rebels against her evil father-figure, struggles with him, and inadvertently causes him to plunge from a high window to his (temporary) death.

MYTH-ANALYSIS: As with CEREBUS it's difficult to analyze any single storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR from the rest of the serial mythos, for FANTASTIC FOUR is one of the few commercial comic books in which the *kinesis* of sensational kids' entertainment ascends to the level of a fullblown *mythopoesis.*

For example, to fully understand the mythos behind "Prisoners of the Puppet Master," one has to know that on two previous occasions the FF's creators Lee and Kirby dropped hints that their monster-hero The Thing might carry a torch (no reference to Johnny Storm intended) for Sue the Invisible Girl. Clearly the creators never meant to openly pursue this potential conflict of "best friends in love with the same girl." And yet this narrative mytheme continues to pop up throughout the history of the Lee-Kirby opus, particularly in the form of blind Alicia.

Some readers might view Alicia's "remarkable" resemblance to Sue Storm as no more than a device to add a little verisimilitude to a wild fantasy story: if Alicia looks like Sue Storm, the villain can better use her as a pawn in his attack upon the Fantastic Four. But if verisimilitude were the concern here, Lee and Kirby would have simply had the villain enslave the real Invisible Girl along with the Thing and send both of them to attack the other two heroes.

Clearly the creators' main concern here is to introduce romance into the Thing's lonely life. Given the character's grotesque looks, this arrangement must have seemed viable only with a blind heroine. Yet, so that it doesn't seem like Ben has to "settle," his compensation prize is just as beautiful as the woman he originally desires, but with an added bonus. Alicia's blindness confers on her an almost mystic sensitivity, by which she, unlike Sue Storm, can properly perceive Ben's tortured nobility. In contrast Sue's dalliance with the arrogant but undeniably good-looking Sub-Mariner stands as something of an indictment to sighted femininity.

Still, Alicia's progress in the story mirrors in miniature Sue's own in the first thirtysomething issues of the series. Alicia, a grown woman, is as passive as a small child in the first half of the story, entirely deferential to a "bad father" who views her as no better than one of his inanimate tools. Many (though not all) of Sue's appearances present her as a "shrinking violet" like Alicia, usually deferring to Reed Richards' authority. But Alicia does rebel against the Puppet Master's tyrannical designs, and even "kills" her bad dad. Sue never quite goes that far, but prior to her marriage, Sue does become more assertive in Reed's presence, as well as becoming literally more powerful when Lee and Kirby choose to upgrade her superheroic power-level.

A fair number of FF-villains seem nearly omnipotent in terms of their ability to manipulate reality. The Puppet Master, however, belongs to a subgroup of villains who appear to be able to manipulate reality more through *froda* than *forza;* others in this subgroup include the Thinker, the Miracle Man, Diablo and (in one or two particular stories) Doctor Doom. These Faustian pretenders are usually exposed as false gods with feet of clay, and although the Puppet Master does recover from his "death," he always remains something of a second-string villain, even though few if any heroes are able to resist the power he exerts through his radioactive puppets. However, for all that he's not actually related to Alicia, she becomes in subsequent appearances the inheritor of a deeper artistry than her "father" exhibits. Whereas he strives to reduce other people to the mechanical level of puppets, Alicia's intuition of human soulfulness guides her in rendering the human form in the ennobling artistry of sculpture-- allowing her to reproduce artfully the images she cannot see, as well as their indwelling souls.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


In a 4-16-2011 comment on my DARK KNIGHT RETURNS post, a respondent named AS-ST Pilot said:

P.S. I'm having a tough time understanding Frye's ANATOMY OF CRITICISM. In the future, could you post a "Mythopoetics for beginners"-type thing, with some book recommendations? I would appreciate it.

I responded:

I've sometimes thought it's too easy to get lost in the labyrinth I'm constructing here. A little Ariadne-thread would probably be appropriate.

The first question one has to answer when talking about "mythopoetics" is the same one that has to be answered in talking about anything: "Why is it important?" That subjective sense of importance is "the needle" of my title, which guides one's efforts in weaving the thread into a consistent design. (And yes, that metaphor has nothing to do with the labyrinth-related one from earlier.)

The question of myth's significance for literature, and the possible continuity of the two cultural forms, is one that began to preoccupy Western culture near the close of the nineteenth century. Only with that backdrop in mind can one get a sense of what Northrop Frye was trying to accomplish with the ANATOMY, his signature work. Frye claimed that the label of "myth-critic" was somewhat foisted upon him, but in the main he seems to have agreed with it, admitting in his prefatory remarks that the ANATOMY grew out of his desire to better analyze the typological symbolism of Blake and Spenser.

One can see in the ANATOMY many influences from diverse writers concerned with the myth/literature confluence-- Goethe, Eliot, Cassirer and Jung, to name four. Like most innovative thinkers Frye "takes what he needs" from them all and "leaves the rest," for Frye's "needle" was set to correcting the deficiencies of a literary criticism bogged down by what he called "rhetorical value-judgments." Being that I may well be very nearly the only "myth-critic" in the community of comics-readers, I've observed that state of affairs in the smaller comics-world myself:

As most comics-critics are (as seen in my above example) largely ignorant of mythology, they generally prefer to see art as independent of the processes of mythology. Most comics-critics prefer to see literary works as heuristic tools by which authors work through their crises and the like, and for them art is individualized and thus as far as one can get from the formulas and/or rituals by which mythological narratives are sustained. Their conception of art is a bunch of separate trees which no-how no-way comprise a forest, except in the imagination of the learned critic who shapes them into the kind of forest he calls a "canon."

Despite all of Frye's links to the distant, pre-industrial past-- his expertise in medieval and Renaissance literature, his taste for such hermetic literary mythmakers as Blake and Spenser-- Frye was a 20th-century comparativist to the very bone, after the same fashion as Goethe et al. The ANATOMY is on one level an attempt to plead for a "synoptic" vision of all literature that includes THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE as much as THE FLIES. But such a vision was then and is still a hard sell to the purveyors of rhetorical value-judgments.

That comparativist impulse has a touch of irony in that so much of Frye's conceptual structure is predicated on Aristotle. In the POETICS the Greek philosopher makes no bones about stating that literary practices evolved from mythic/religious ones-- tragedies from Dionysian dithyrambs, comedies from "phallic songs." But the derivation holds little importance for Aristotle. Given his views on teleology, one presumes that for Aristotle the mythic forbears of tragedy were viewed as being on a par with the mighty oak's development from the little acorn. Certainly Aristotle had no trouble pronouncing "Tragedy" to be a superior literary form over the "Epic," even while assiduously detailing the different parameters each form followed.

I tend to think that Frye may have followed Cassirer in the belief that no cultural formation was intrinsically superior to any other, even if he sometimes changed his tune on the matter of popular fiction.

In addition to literary and philosophical giants who influenced Frye, the ANATOMY is also easier to understand as a partial development from the Cambridge "myth-ritual school." In AN OPEN QUEST PART 1 I noted:

I won't explore here the controversies surrounding the myth-ritual school, which isn't much in favor these days though it has received some academic re-evaluations of late. At worst, it was too much of a totalizing approach to mythology, assuming that everything in archaic mythology stemmed from some ritual religious act. It wasn't as far-fetched as Robert Graves' penchant to see all myth as recapitulated ancient histories, or (to cite the fellow who let the monocausal cat out of the bag in myth-studies) Max Muller's notion that all myths related to sun-worship. But like all monocausal explanations, pure myth-ritualism left a lot to be desired.

Fortunately, even though Frye took many structuring concepts from academics like Murray and Gaster, he quite correctly refashioned them to his own interests, which concerned the better understanding of the humanities as a whole.

Now, having said all that about the ANATOMY, I'd have to say that it isn't the best book to school one in mythopoetics. I probably read it about '79 or '80, ironically a year or so after graduating college (where my thesis, even without Frye, had expounded on the typological similarities between MOBY DICK and THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY). Probably the best Frye work to start one out would be the essay I recommended in "Breaking Open Mouldy Tales," which appeared in the collection A NATURAL PERSPECTIVE.

And even though there are strong philosophical differences between Frye and Joseph Campbell-- for one, the fact that Frye cares more about "the ritual" while Campbell focuses on "the innate idea"-- Campbell probably does a better job of communicating the special joy of mythopoetics in books like MYTHS TO LIVE BY and THE INNER REACHES OF OUTER SPACE. It is a joy of "completing one's partial mind" by virtue of seeing connections where before there was only chaos. Or, to cite once again, the Yeats quote with which I started this blog:

It is the charm of mythic narrative that it cannot tell one thing without telling a hundred others. The symbols are an endless inter-marrying family. They give life to what, stated in general terms, appears only a cold truism, by hinting how the apparent simplicity of the statement is due to an artificial isolation of a fragment, which, in its natural place, is connected with all the infinity of truths by living fibres.


That's not a command, but a statement of what blogger Adam Barnett recently decided to do when he closed down his blog COMICS MAKE NO SENSE.

Long before CMNS, of course, many blogs and sites had taken easy shots at the often wacky, sometimes perverse world of commercial comics, particularly those of the Silver Age. SUPERDICKERY is probably the best-known of these. However, while I might sometimes smile at an image that site reprints, I've never thought there was any particular wit in whatever comment the SUPERDICKERY guys added to the image.

Barnett's CMNS is pretty much in the same vein, but I, like many readers (according to the stats he cited), checked in regularly because nine times out of ten, Barnett added some wacky or perverse comment to a given comics-image that *enhanced* the simple goofiness of the image.

In this blogpost, Barnett, in the midst of suggesting how others might follow his act, suggests how he draws a line between what's funny and what's merely stupid:

If you're going to take over for me as one of the least-respected bloggers on the web, you've got to know where that line is between "Okay, I'll admit that's funny," and "Well, now you're just being stupid."

I won't comment on precisely how Barnett proves his point with some "out-of-context" dialogue from a Superboy comic; one can read that for oneself (as well as my own rave in the comments section). But it seems to me that Barnett provides a good baseline between "funny" and "stupid" by showing how he *develops* the goofiness-potential of a comic that was originally not meant to be either particularly wacky or perverse. The baseline, it seems, has a lot to do with attention to what he calls "details"-- which is what I don't get from SUPERDICKERY's posts.

If as the saying goes, "the devil's in the details," that must apply just as well to whatever devil's in charge of this kind of comedy.


Sooner or later my "1001 myths" project is going to venture into places like Europe and Asia.

Now, starting with the first mythcomics post, I cited the title of the comic in which the story appeared, rather than the name of the feature. I'll continue to do this with any comic book published in the United States. Usually, if I don't have a hard copy of a given comic myself, a resource like Grand Comics Database can show me where a given story first appeared.

However, I'm aware of no resource that can give me the exact issues of V MAGAZINE or WEEKLY SHONEN SUNDAY where a given Barbarella or Urusei Yatsura tale appeared. And even if I had such a resource, it would be of negligible value to any readers here. Most of them, like me, have recourse only to reprinted versions of foreign works.

Fortunately, many translated Japanese manga, whether reprinted in standard comic or TPB format, number each episode of an ongoing series. So for manga, a designation like "ONE PIECE PARTS 54-58" would actually be more useful in pointing the experienced TPB reader to the TPB he wants, rather than referencing an unavailable magazine.

For that matter, last time I heard anything about the matter, the majority of *otaku* don't bother collecting the original anthology books anyway.

European reprints are usually not so conveniently numbered, so with them I may just have to reference album-collections rather than original appearances.

There will probably be other places where I fudge "first publication" a little. In my ELFQUEST review I didn't trouble to mention that one issue of the serial had been published by a mag called FANTASY QUARTERLY.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Since it’s part of my personal identity to be an incorrigible list-maker, I don’t blush to admit that since the age of fifteen (some forty years ago, if anyone cares) I’ve kept a list of the movies I’ve seen. It was, and is, a simple list of titles alone. Usually this brief notation was all the mnemonic aid I needed, though on occasion I might read that I’d seen some flick called THE PSYCHOPATH, but I’d have no idea if it was the one from 1966, 1968 or 1973.

In my young movie-viewing years, I naturally had no recourse, even had I wanted one, to explicitly “dirty movies,” since most of what I viewed was on broadcast television. However, now that I've recently formulated the concept of the “semi-dirty” middle ground, I decided to rummage through the first few pages of the list to figure out which if any of the “clean”-looking films might have concealed a dirty affectivity, whether that of sex exclusively, violence exclusively, or the two conjoined, as I illustrated here with FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Now, in that period there were dozens of films that inspired dirty thoughts, but very few that were “semi-dirty” in the way I’ve used the term. In comedies and adventures, sex functioned to bring together hero and heroine for the closure of romance; in dramas and ironies, sex functioned to show how hero and heroine could have their bonds severed, whether they actually were separated or not by story’s end. But none of these films—most of which I viewed on television== drew attention to sex “as sex,” as a “sensuous frenzy” beyond the limits of the functional.

Still, one exception was the 1964 oddity, GUERILLAS IN PINK LACE.

In this oddball WWII army comedy, directed by star George Montgomery, the actor plays a gambler who masquerades as a priest to escape wartorn Manila. However, he and five USO showgirls are shot down and land on an island held by enemy Japanese. The Japanese accept Montgomery's masquerade and consider him harmless, but all five showgirls lust after Montgomery, despite knowing that they have to keep hands off, because he's supposedly a celibate priest-- and Montgomey doesn't dare reveal his deception. After assorted comic turns, Hamilton and the showgirls manage to capture the whole Japanese occupaton force (or maybe they call in American troops to help: I really don't remember). By this time the five girls have found out that Montgomery isn’t a priest. But the ending doesn't shake out the way it would in most mainstream films of the time-- say, your average Elvis film, where one of the competing ladies would be chosen as The Girlfriend, Implicitly the Future Wife. Instead, the five horny girls jump Montgomery and knock him into a concealing trench, where it’s broadly implied that they’re all going to gang-bang him.

To be sure, it’s a banging to which Montgomery cheerfully consents. But in 1964, when the so-called Sexual Revolution was just getting started, this was a really dirty ending to a clean-looking movie-- more like something one might get from those lusty Italian filmmakers than from anything in North America.

As for violence, the first one in which I saw violence go beyond the merely functional was probably Arthur Crabtree’s 1958 FIEND WITHOUT A FACE. For the first hour or so, it’s a slow film in which people at a military base are being mysteriously killed by some invisible monsters. But at the climax, a scientist finds a way to render the monsters visible, revealing that they look like disembodied brains with bony spines attached—spines which the “fiends” use to propel them along the ground the way snakes move their bodies.

In addition, the brain-beasts can coil their spine-lengths under them, so as to spring like snakes. Once they reach a victim, they can wrap their “spines” around his neck like a snake’s coils, and then “bite” into the victim’s flesh somehow or other. Of the dozens of monster-films that simply trundled out SF-versions of vampires or werewolves, FIEND is unique in coming up with a monster whose violence seems uniquely disruptive, even though one sees very little actual blood and guts.

Finally, I looked for the first film in which, from today’s perspective, I could see sex and violence conjoined. PSYCHO, of course, would be a good example had I seen it first, but as it happens I first encountered a film from the same year; a film which may sexualize violence even more than PSYCHO does with its infamous shower-scene. This was George Blair’s THE HYPNOTIC EYE, in which an assortment of beautiful women-- all of whom attended performances by a strange hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac)-- apparently go mad and disfigure themselves. Thus, long before Dario Argento would specialize in sadistic set-pieces showing beautiful women being killed or tormented, Blair paved the questionable path with such EYE-brow-raising scenes as a woman setting her hair afire from a stove.

This would seem to be an indictment of male sadism, but interestingly, Blair adds the twist that the master hypnotist is actually subject to His Mistress’ Voice--that is, his female assistant, the signficantly-named "Justine" (Allison Hayes). It seems that Justine herself was disfigured long ago, though she conceals the fact with a face-mask, and now she forces the hypnotist to destroy any of her potential rivals.

Of course there are many films that are better known for pushing boundaries in terms of acceptable levels of sex and violence. But though I don’t find any of these three films to be exceptional in terms of the history of cinema, all are *exemplary* in terms of showing how the kinetic elements of sex and violence permeated even the more formulaic Hollywood oeuvre.


One reason that I felt compelled to write my tardy mini-obituary to Tura Satana is that lately I’d been giving more thought to a paradox involving certain types of exploitation fiction in the vein of FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! The paradox is as follows: certain fictional works can put across the impression of being “dirty” even though one doesn’t really see the “dirt.” It’s a fair parallel to my concept of the uncanny-metaphonemenal, in which certain works can convey the sense that rational order has been violated even though it has not, at least not in the cognitive sense.

In this essay I suggested that functionally the best basis through which one could distinguish between whether a work was “clean” or “dirty”--a basis that would theoretically subsume any particular cultural standards--would be to examine how explicitly the work portrays the kinetic elements of either sex, or violence, or the two conjoined.

To recap: the violence of STAR WARS is clean because, apart from one cut-off arm, one sees very little evidence of bodies being broken or torn, while ALIEN is dirty because it is replete with dozens of scenes that violate the body’s integrity.

I didn’t give parallel examples of sex, but the same standard of explicitness applies. I should note that whether a work is clean or dirty has no bearing on how exciting its kinetic elements may be for a given audience-member. Some may well find the clean but vivid courtship-rituals of NORTH BY NORTHWEST more stimulating than the explicit dirtiness of LAST TANGO IN PARIS.

Complicating the problem even more is that even though sex and violence are cognitively separable, affectively they can flow into one another with very little encouragement. Admittedly, one can never be sure to what extent this is, for denizens of the post-industrial ages, a cultural construction spawned by the haunting spectre of Freud. But even if one concedes that Freud was right in some instances, it’s easy to see places where he overstated his case, to say nothing of All His Children, many of whom I’ve refuted on this blog, ranging from Wertham and Legman to Noah Berlatsky. The one common theme of these Freud-spawn seems to be that they do not recognize the element of “violence” as having its own integrity: it’s always an overcompensation for some sexual desire. Yet even with a film like ALIEN--where it’s clear that the filmmakers consciously sought to overlay the violent elements with sexual elements--the two remain cognitively distinguishable.

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, however, is a even more significant blend of the two elements, even though the opening voiceover ironically insists asserts the primacy of violence:

“Ladies and Gentlemen—welcome to Violence—the Word and the Act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains—Sex!”

In a very different (but not incommensuable) context, George Bataille also asserted that sex was just violence misspelled:

"In essence, the domain of eroticism is the domain of violence, of violation"-- Bataille, EROTISM, p. 16.

I've disagreed with him as well, but Bataille was correct in seeing that the common ground shared by sex and violence is that both are a “sensuous frenzy” that violates human rationality. This quality of emotional frenzy provides the liminal psychic space where the two discrete phenomena intersect: the “Lookout Point” where the two conjoin.

However, what makes PUSSYCAT more impressive than ALIEN is that by the terms of my earlier definition, PUSSYCAT would have to be regarded as “clean.”

Reputedly director Russ Meyer had intended to film some or all actresses in the buff, but the local authorities were watching the shoot too closely, and he was forced to make do with a few discreet shower-scenes. And though the scenes of violence—Varla’s fights with two men, her attempt to slowly crush a strongman with her car’s bumper—are sensationally executed, they also avoid showing much in the way of bodily violation: of seeping blood or broken, disarranged limbs. (With both elements Meyer would become much more explicit in such later films as BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.)

Thus it seems that even though PUSSYCAT looks as clean as STAR WARS or NORTH BY NORTHWEST, it suggests explicitness far more than the other two films, and therefore PUSSYCAT feels “dirty.” Thus, it is “affectively but not cognitively dirty,” a.k.a. “semi-dirty.”

I don’t actually plan to use this term on a regular basis, but it does serve to illustrate that intervening liminal space for possible future use. In the next essay I’ll trundle down memory lane to reminisce about some of the first films in which I experienced the quality of “semi-dirtiness.”

MYTHCOMICS #5:ELFQUEST #1-20 (1978-84)

“Tell me, dark sister—how did you reconcile yourself—to the taint in Cutter’s blood?… Did it thrill you—the mingling of his blood with yours?”

PLOT-SUMMARY: On a world inhabited by three intelligent humanoid species --elves, trolls, and human beings --Cutter, chief of the Wolfrider elf-tribe, decides to seek out and bring together all the elf-tribes, scattered throughout the world after their legendary progenitors, “the High Ones,” descended to earth from the sky. The plot’s first movement is a microcosm of this greater quest, as the savage Wolfriders encounter and establish relations with the sedentary Sunfolk, culminating in the fruitful union of Cutter and his wife Leetah. The second movement begins the quest proper, and takes the Wolfriders down a false trail, as they encounter an elf-tribe called the Gliders. The villainous Winnowill, who controls the tribe through intrigue and deception, claims that her tribe are the High Ones of legend. In the third plot-movement, Cutter and his allies pursue the correct trail at last, guided by Two-Edge, the half-elf, half-troll offspring of Winnowill. Upon reaching the Palace of the High Ones, Cutter learns how Two-Edge has manipulated the quest for his own ends. But he and his friends also learn the true history of his people, the trolls, and the world they share with the native humans.

MYTH-ANALYSIS: As the above summary should make clear, the function dominating ELFQUEST’s narrative mythos is a sociological one. Throughout this epic fantasy the dominant theme—that of “savagery versus civilization”-- has a Howardian ring despite the story’s Tolkienian surface. But where Howard was a Spenglerian pessimist, believing that every civilization would eventually fall to the forces of barbarism, the Pinis are considerably more optimistic. Civilized tribes commit the error of extreme Apollonianism, erecting edifices and customs that shield them too much from life. Savage tribes err in that they try to live in the Dionysian flux, stifling their own capacity to understand the deeper nature of the world. In the Pinis’ world, the tribes can compensate for one another’s overcompensations, bringing about what Jung calls an enantiodromia, a reconciliation of opposites.

That’s not to say that the reconciliation is easily reached. The primal sin that tosses both elves and trolls upon “a world they never made” is as follows: the shapechanging “High Ones,” a star-traveling race of high technology, take the apelike ancestors of the trolls, originally a separate alien race, aboard their ship to be the High Ones' servants. The proto-trolls rebel against their captivity and cause everyone aboard the starship to become stranded on the humans’ world. There, ironically enough, the descendants of the first trolls become consumed with crude technology, becoming master smiths and tunnel-diggers. In contrast, some though not all descendants of the “High Ones” use their shapechanging powers to bond with the world of nature, not least the Wolfriders, who are actually crossbreeds of elf and wolf.

Though the Pinis provide a wealth of character-oppositions, the one with the greatest mythic resonance is the one between Cutter, a humble tribal chieftain who takes on the unifying task of an Arthur or Charlemagne, and Two-Edge, the mysterious half-breed master smith. In myths and legends smiths are often ambivalent figures, sometimes helping, sometimes opposing the ruling powers. Two-Edge manages to do both. On one hand he manipulates Cutter’s quest for purely selfish reasons; he engineers a major conflict between elves and trolls, mirroring the conflict between the two natures in his own body. Yet Cutter, nicknamed Kinseeker, foils Two-Edge’s scheme by bringing in a group of trolls to fight on his side. This act suggests the possibility of a greater brotherhood between all the intelligent races of the ELFQUEST domain (even if human beings are rather marginalized in the final chapters). Still, Two-Edge is as necessary to Cutter finding his way as Merlin is to Arthur.

The complexity of the Pinis’ creation is often ignored in response to the “cuteness factor” seen in Wendy Pini’s art, influenced both by Disney cartoons and manga. It’s fascinating to see how well Pini emulated the dramatic structure of Japanese comics, even though very few had been translated in the 1970s. In terms of Fryean mythos ELFQUEST is dominantly adventure, yet like many of the better manga it’s adventure leavened with very strong dramatic elements. To draw a comparison with some of the mythcomics I’ve surveyed thus far, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is, for all its relative sophistication, still closer to the pure-pulp aesthetic of Siegel and Schuster’s SUPERMAN than either work is to ELFQUEST.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I've no excuse for letting two months go by without writing a memoriam to the late Tura Satana, who passed on Feb 4, 2011.

Her best-known film role-- possibly the only really exemplary one she ever had as an actress-- is of course that of the villainous "Varla" of 1965's FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, which director John Waters called "the best movie ever made."

It's also one of the greatest examples of a movie that seems deceptively simple, but which has layers of evocative symbolism equal to the best of the John Ford westerns, with which PUSSYCAT shares some mythological territory.

Admittedly, Tura Satana wasn't responsible for the symbolism put forth in the script as envisioned by director Russ Meyer and writer Jack Moran. But then I don't think Meyer ever reached the heights of PUSSYCAT either before or after. This may mean that a lot of the stuff I like in the movie comes more from Moran, who had written only one full script for Meyer prior to PUSSYCAT: the still-pretty-obscure WILD GIRLS OF THE NAKED WEST (though he wrote two other film-scripts for Meyer after FPKK).

Nevertheless, Satana lived the role of Varla as few if any other actresses of the time could have. Prior to the film Satana had been best known as an exotic dancer, and by her own account her life was pretty tough. A good actress certainly doesn't have to have lived the experiences of a fictional character, of course. However, in 1965 it might have been tough to find a professional actress who could relate to a leather-clad lesbian go-go dancer who knew karate. Meyer himself admitted that Satana was a one-in-a-million discovery in that she was "strong as a horse" in addition to having some real karate training. Thus Satana's fight-scenes with her two male opponents in PUSSYCAT are a good deal more physically arresting than, say, those of Anne Francis in the HONEY WEST TV show around the same time.

(To be sure, the HONEY WEST fight-scenes are quite well-done; they're just not visually stunning.)

From start to finish the script of PUSSYCAT-- and Satana-- make Varla a titanic figure. Varla and her companions are first seen dancing in a go-go club, inciting the lusts of the men who watch but can't touch, and then the camera cuts to show them racing their cars along a desert road, while Varla herself laughs triumphantly. Though Meyer's biography makes clear that he was no women's libber, it's impossible not to read this moment as showing Varla in a position of strength: she dances for men but they can't control her or rein her in.

Varla's such a "go-go" type that she's honestly perplexed by the notion of altruism-- though she's no "noble savage:" when it looks like the whitebread Tommy is going to out-drive her during their car-race, she simply cheats in order to win. And when she dies, the film ends with a summing-up worthy of old Warner Brothers gangster pictures:

LINDA (looking at Varla's dead body as Kirk draws her away): "But-- you're just going to leave her?"
KIRK: "Well-- she's not goin' anywhere!"

RIP, Tura Satana.

Monday, April 11, 2011


PLOT-SUMMARY FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS 1-4: Not needed this time as I'm talking about one major myth-theme in the work. Besides, no comics-fan worth his salt hasn't read it, IMO. Oh, and I already reviewed the story way back in some issue of COMICS JOURNAL.

Some time after the commercial if not critical success of Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, I attended a convention-panel on which Gary Groth grilled Frank Miller about TDKR. By then Groth’s patrician contempt for Miller’s work was well-known, but though I’m sure that Groth must have asked all manner of probing questions, I only recall one. The essence of Groth’s rather nerdy query was finding fault with a sequence in TDKR #2, in which Batman nonlethally subdues a criminal gang with a spray of rubber bullets. Groth said something like, “You do know rubber bullets can kill people, don’t you?”

I don’t remember Frank Miller’s reply, but what he should have said was, “Not in Batman’s world.”

There are many fascinating symbolic aspects to Miller’s rewriting of iconic DC characters, but the most important one is the matter of the Wrath of the Batman. In 1986 Miller was far from the first to have transformed Batman’s image from that of a cool avuncular crimefighter to that of a vigilante haunted by trauma and barely repressed fury. But no one took the idea as far as Miller did.

I mentioned earlier that TDKR hasn’t always enjoyed a good critical reputation. I’m convinced that this is not because of assorted gaffes, like Groth’s carp about rubber bullets, nor is it about Miller’s supposed “bad writing.” For most critics, including but not limited to those of elitist orientation, TDKR’s sin is to validate vigilantism, and thus, supposedly, to validate “fascism” as well.

In our world, it’s unlikely that any act of vigilantism has been morally justifiable. But as I noted earlier, Batman’s world is not our world. As with the plot-device of inquisitorial torture, which I examined here, the idea of an absolutely correct vigilante justice—one that never victimizes the wrong target—is the very cornerstone of Batman’s world. It’s a world with its own laws, the laws of thematic escapism.

Precisely because Miller can frame the Bat-Wrath in terms of a world he himself called “Romantic,” he gives it a greater depth, a greater resonance, than one finds in a work of thematic realism. It’s often overlooked, amid all the fulminations about fascism, that Batman’s trauma-born rage nearly masters him at several points in the story, turning him away from life and toward death. Yet though half-cavalier about his own death, Miller’s Batman consistently refuses to cross the line that real fascism never hesitates to violate: he will not take life. Groth’s carping about the “rubber bullets,” intended to task Miller with the reality-principle that would doom real-world vigilantism, clearly misses that Miller is using the “fantasy-principle” to make a salient point about an iconic character.

That’s not to say that Miller’s Batman is squeaky-clean. Throughout TDKR’s narrative Batman takes clearly sadistic pleasure in maiming the criminals he refuses to kill, which is without question a diversion of his wrath against the man who killed his parents: “who stole all sense from my life.” But in an escapist world, even sadism can be sublimated to redeem the world. And thus in the end Batman refuses a dramatic Viking death and chooses to preside over an underground Maquis-style movement that will “bring sense to a world plagued by worse than thieves and murderers." And it doesn't matter whether or not one believes that what Frank Miller thinks of as "worse" is what the reader would think.

In Batman's world, Batman is The Law.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I've recently finished reading the fourth volume of Ernst Cassirer's PHILOSOPHY OF SYMBOLIC FORMS. Though I finished the first three volumes some years back, I put off volume number four because I'd received the impression that Four wasn't much more than a summing-up of the other three books, which centered, respectively, on the three forms Cassirer terms, "language, myth, and theoretical knowledge."

The reviews were essentially true: there isn't a lot in Volume Four that I hadn't encountered in other Cassirer works. Since my primary interests are literary, I've often felt the lack of a "Poetics" from the post-Kantian philosopher. Perhaps such a poetics might have dealt with some of the problematic areas of Cassirer's inspiration Immanuel Kant-- such as the fact that Kant, for all of his insight into the affects of literature, had few vital insights into the mythico-religious narratives of humankind, with which literature shares common cultural ground.

However, as always Cassirer offers some tantalizing hints:

"Kant showed us that this basic feature of [man's] pure observation [in contrast to the mere "attentiveness" of other animals] as it is found within the world of aesthetic objects where it does emerge in its highest power and sublimation. It is in no way limited to this sphere, but rather proves to be distinctive of and decisive for every form of 'seeing' and 'picturing,' for every creation and grasping of worlds of form and of values in this world. The turn to form, as it is found not only in art, but in language, myth, or theoretical knowledge as well, is always a kind of retuning that the subject undergoes in itself, in the totality of its sensitivity to and attitudes toward life."-- METAPHYSICS, p. 45.

As Cassirer sees it, this power of "observation" allows man to comprehend "a world of objects not just according to how they effect him and what they accomplish for his vital interests but according to what they are and mean in themselves." The word "observation" almost puts me in mind of some positivistic historian of science, the sort who would validate humankind's powers of observation only in terms of *techne,* in terms of what one observes about the physical universe and how it can be used to further one's own properity, what Cassirer, following Kant, calls the "vital interests."

However, as the quote above illustrates, humankind's ability of observation go beyond merely establishing the utilitarian boundaries as to what aspects of the world can be made to work in man's favor. If this were all there was to "observation," to "theoretical knowledge," then humankind's observational skills would just be a more articulated version of any animal's ability to work with its surrounding environment to achieve the ends of survival.

Thus it is no coincidence that in the quote above Cassirer yokes "the worlds of form and of values." Admittedly, just as we lack a Cassirer poetics, we also lack a phenomenology that would show us precisely how these spheres interact. But the study of the symbolic processes underlying them remains the most plausible key to that interaction, and remains Cassirer's key insight for modern culture.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


(I would think it would be self-evident that no one would read, or want to read, this analysis w/o having read the entire CEREBUS run. Nevertheless, SPOILERS, SPOILERS, and MORE SPOILERS.)

PLOT-SUMMARY of “LATTER DAYS 33-35:” Having reached the end of his days, Cerebus the Aardvark lies bedridden at his estate. He receives a visitor: Sheshep, his only son by human female Joanne. Sheshep, who shows no trace of aardvark ancestry, reveals that he plans to overthrow the religious orthodoxy Cerebus worships, with the help of his mother. Sheshep shows Cerebus the fruit of the grafting techniques he and Joanne have derived from Cerebus’ old enemy Cirin: a human infant hybridized with a lion cub. Moreover, the baby is a clone of Sheshep, and he believes that when the technique is perfected, they will produce a monstrous sphinx-like creature, one that shares Sheshep’s consciousness, and that in that form he will rule the world as a living Sphinx: “Harmaclus, the Egyptian god of morning.” Cerebus is appalled by his son’s perfidy and tries to get out of bed and kill him, but the Aardvark collapses and dies. His spirit leaves his body and he finds himself ascending into a radiant heaven populated by all of the people he knew in life. At the last moment Cerebus realizes that he’s approaching something more like a hell than a heaven. He tries to retreat, calling on God for help, but the light sucks the spirit of Cerebus into nothingness.

MYTH-ANALYSIS: A full myth-critical analysis of the 300 issues of CEREBUS is clearly impossible in this venue. Aside from the sheer quantity of issues involved, such an analysis would also have to deal at length with author Dave Sim’s own philosophical shift during the course of the CEREBUS serial project, in which he essentially converted from a position of religious relativism to one of absolutism. Based on my exchanges with Sim, I feel certain that Sim would not philosophically agree with the idea of his work being analyzed in terms of its archetypal “fictional myths.”

Nevertheless, the conclusion of CEREBUS is a stunning mythopoeic creation, eclipsing any comparable fiction-myth from so-called “artcomics.” Over many years a series that began as a simple funny-animal parody of Marvel’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic-book adaptation took on increasing layers of mythic and literary complexity, referencing the Bible, famous literary figures, and what James Thurber called “the war between men and women.” Yet one part of the CEREBUS myth remained grounded in the mythos of Robert E. Howard, who made a similar use of a fictive Egypt as a locus of obscenity and decadence. Howard’s Hyborian world was always represented as a distant “ancestor” of later real-world civilizations, but toward the end of CEREBUS Sim dispenses with this sort of fantasy-worldbuilding, and begins letting real-world culture, particularly that of the Old Testament mindscape, bleed into Sim’s world of “Estarcion.”

To be sure, Sim’s vision isn’t always coherent. The idea of pagan recrudescence is never far from either ancient Christian polemics or modern versions of same, including Sim’s own. Yet in a mishandled attempt to reference the division between the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds, Sim has Sheshep tell Cerebus that the new worshippers of “Harmaclus” [sic] will be “a new group of believers… called Muslims!” Given that Sim stated on many occasions that he deemed the Koran to be a holy book equal to those of the Jews and Christians, this conflation of Muslims and archaic Egyptian pagans is puzzling in the extreme.

Nevertheless, Sim is inspired insofar as he draws parallels between the theriomorphic deities of ancient Egypt and modern Judeo-Christian fears of human-animal hybrids. I confess I do not know by what cultural quirk the Old Testament’s rules against plant-grafting became so inflated in modern American culture that even George W. Bush railed against the potential for blasphemous hybridizations, presumably in reaction to the innovations of cloning technology. However, Sim’s Sphinx-metaphor is ideal for portraying that fear of physical and spiritual pollution.

Sim also adroitly suggests that Sheshep’s grand design is doomed to failure. Sheshep believes that his consciousness will merge with that of the Sphinx (though he confesses that as yet he and his mother haven’t managed to keep the hybrids viable). Cerebus, though not directly referencing the Greek “law of identity,” exposes the foolishness of Sheshep’s plot, pointing out that Sheshep can’t experience the sensations of even the infant-hybrid he holds. There’s an additional irony that Sheshep, born of a union of a human woman and a humanized fantasy-animal, rejects his father’s beliefs but physically wants to become theriomorphic, like his father. Admittedly, he does trump his father by wanting to become an animal with more noble associations than the humble aardvark.

There’s relatively little in these three final issues that directly concerns Sim’s controversial opinions on male-female relations. Of course Sim’s demonization of femininity has its mythopoeic role to play: in contrast to the real world’s cloning experiments, which were produced by a dominantly male scientific hierarchy, in Cerebus’ world the evil of hybridization results from the impious efforts of evil feminist Cirin, the aardvark’s estranged wife Joanne and “mama’s boy” Sheshep. Furthermore, when Cerebus ascends into the “false heaven,” he sees foremost in the crowd of phantasms the three human beings who had the greatest impact on him—two of whom are male, while the other is his first true love Jaka. But it’s the face of Jaka, not the two men, that corrodes before Cerebus’ eyes to reveal her demonic nature: the male phantasms, though presumably no less demonic, aren’t seen as insidious specters.

Certain other sections of CEREBUS possess similar levels of mythicity. I imagine I’ll cover a few of them in my “1001 myths” project, but as none of them are as rich as the conclusion, I felt that “the last had to be the first.”


(1) In the "1001 myths" posts I won't deal with anything that is a *direct* adapation. For instance, many of the Tarzan novels have mythic resonance, but I won't cite any of their comics-adaptations, because the stories originated outside of comics.

However, if someone scripted a new Tarzan building in part on concepts created by the prose novels, I could conceivably include that story, if indeed it extends the mythic elements in a new direction. The BLONDIE comic-story I recently analyzed is, as far as I know, original to that comic book, even though it certainly builds on tropes articulated in the comic strip.

(2) There are, to be sure, many excellent stories in comic books that won't appear here because they are not plurisignative. A pertinent example is Will Eisner's SPIRIT story "Ten Minutes," which is a marvelous experiment with telling a comic-book story in seeming "real time." However, it's also a monosignative story, concerning only one level of symbolism. I may examine the relationship between mythicity and overall excellence in a future essay.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Socrates: How about sounds and colours: in the first place you would admit that they both exist?
Theaetetus: Yes.

Socrates: And that either of them is different from the other, and the same with itself?

Theaetetus: Certainly.

Socrates: And that both are two and each of them one?

Theaetetus: Yes.

No matter how much time I've frittered away on message boards, I'm always pleased when I come across something so wonderfully absurd that I have to write an essay to refute it.

Take this CBR thread, which begins by asking the question as to what posters would say if God revealed himself to them.

Probably to no one's surprise, the thread doesn't particularly stick with that topic. My participation in it has thus far been minimal. However, at one point I made a simple objection when one poster equated "truth" with "scientific fact."

Since this isn't the case even for the most naive of naive positivists-- who must deduce their philosophical truths logically, rather than observing them in nature-- I stressed the need for a distinction. Thus I harvested this delightfully absurd response from one of my sometime opponents:

A child in his imagination may truly say "I'm Daredevil", but he'd be ill-advised to go jumping off tall buildings.

That's why I keep going back to comics-messboards. Where else can you find someone attempting, however indirectly and incorrectly, to establish Aristotle's "law of identity" (possibly derived from the doctrines of his mentor Plato; see above) with a comic-book character?

The obvious problem is as follows:

Daredevil is not a phenomenon with a real existence (at least not in materialistic/positivistic terms), but a fictional construct.

Ergo, neither Daredevil nor any other PURELY fictional character is subject to the "law of identity."

Rather, the Man Without Fear is, like all other purely fictional characters, is governed by "the law of identification."

Now, there is a "law of identification" out there in the Googleverse that has been coined in respect to religious matters. However, my current usage applies principally to literature. It can be *applied* to religion with some alteration, which may make for some future essay.

My law goes like this:

Because Daredevil is a construct whose sole purpose is to be identified with, whenever anyone does so, that person brings into being the only reality (or "truth" if one prefers that term) that Daredevil can possibly have.

Therefore, neither a foolish child nor a discriminating adult is in any way wrong to say "I'm Daredevil," as long as either of them has actually identified with the character. Both would be wrong to apply that identificatory process to the world of real phenomena, as the poster points out in his tut-tutting manner. But if the act of identification is real, one can say with complete accuracy, "I am Daredevil-- or David Copperfield-- or Captain Ahab-- or Freewheelin' Franklin Freekowski."

Nor, even by the assumptions of positivism, does that act of identification cease to be real within what the poster chooses to call "the imagination," unless of course the matrices of memory cease to preserve even the imperfect record of the experience.

Now, the phenomenology changes somewhat when dealing with fictionalized versions of historical figures, no matter how greatly they may have been altered from their original forms. It's not possible to invoke the law of identification to say, "I am Spartacus," because one always knows (or assumes) that there was some real Spartacus way back when. Similar problems pertain even to deific figures who have no ties to recorded history but whose adherents assert that (for instance) Great Shiva has existed since the dawn of time.

The salient point, though, is that one need not attempt to "jump off tall buildings" to prove one's identity with Daredevil: the identity exists through the act of identification.

Fortunately for all those readers who don't like Daredevil, their antipathy keeps them from sharing his identity-- which I am sure would please them as much as I am pleased not to share any identity with David Boring.

Friday, April 1, 2011

MYTHCOMICS #2: BLONDIE #150 (1962)

PLOT SUMMARY for "Shaved and Clipped" (2pages):

Though it's Dagwood's day off, Blondie orders him to shave. "Why can't I give my face a day off?" gripes Dagwood. "Because,"retorts Blondie, "I have to feed that face! No shave-- no supper!" Dagwood goes to the bathroom upstairs and lathers up. Suddenly from downstairs Blondie yells for him to come quick: "It's an emergency!" In his haste Dagwood trips over a carpet-sweeper and tumbles down the stairs. Blondie calmly takes money out of his wallet, explaining that she just read about a shoe sale and must hurry to get a bargain. She leaves Dagwood on the floor with the departing words, "Aren't you lucky to have a wife who saves you money-- I'll be late-- you'll have to fix your own supper!"

MYTH-ANALYSIS: The comic-book cover reproduced above is a rare example of a gag-cover that actually reflects one of the stories inside. (Some of these stories may be comic-strip reprints but most of the Harvey Comics BLONDIES seem to be originals, possibly produced by Chic Young's studio).

The cover actually demonizes Blondie as being even more of a money-grubbing vampire than the inside story. In the story she's a little shocked to see Dagwood tumble down the stairs, though she doesn't pause before plundering his wallet. On the cover Blondie seems positively gleeful as she reaches out for the rain of money, and entirely unaware of Dagwood's impending injury. Indeed, since Dagwood trips on a housekeeping item-- rather than something not directly connected to Blondie, like a child's toy-- one could easily imagine that the carpet-sweeper is Blondie's trap, set to catch an unwary breadwinner.

The vast majority of BLONDIE stories, in comic strips and books, are simply gag-vignettes rather than stories. Like this one their primary purpose is to set up Dagwood as the guy who gets humiliated in some way by his wife, boss, kids, neighbors or complete strangers. Dagwood is almost always the Goat of the World, and most of the stories depicting his goat-ness are no more than *monosignative.*

I rate this 2-page tale as plurisignative, however, because it so adroitly sums up the logic of the BLONDIE franchise--which is to say, a logic in which BLONDIE is always the "domme" to Dagwood's "sub."

It begins with Blondie nagging Dagwood to shave, but less like a wife speaking to a husband than like a mother addressing a small child. The first panel shows her reminding Dagwood that she told him to shave "an hour ago" while the second shows him trying like a child not to hear her, promptly a motherly "I'm talking to you!" Dagwood's rebellion, reasoning that he the breadwinner should be allowed a day off from shaving, is quickly overruled by an appeal to his stomach: "no shave, no supper."

Gilles Deleuze notes that in narratives of masochism like those of Sacher-Masoch, the masochist insists on a contract that establishes just what his tormentor can or can't do to him. But as soon as Dagwood acquiesces to his marital contract with his innocently-sadistic wife, Blondie changes the rules. Her desire to buy some new bit of finery-- a constant motif in the BLONDIE comics-- overrules her promise to feed Dagwood's face if he shaves it. She cries "emergency," prompting her victim to take his pratfall, the direct result of (1) her telling him to go upstairs and (2) her careless deployment of the carpet-sweeper. Then, after Blondie has ignored Dagwood's pain and "clipped" him of his money (note the double-entendre of the story-title), she puts aside the contract for her own narcissistic pleasures, and tells him he has to make his own dinner. Dagwood, lying on the floor in pain, gets the last pathetic word" "*Gulp!* She won't have to feed this face after all!" Based on similar strips, one can even imagine a coda in which Blondie comes home with her purchase and insists that Dagwood admire her new acquisition, while he can only think about how his hard-eared money has been frittered away.

If I had a continuous run of the BLONDIE comic books, to say nothing of the strips, both would prove valuable in illuminating the interdependent mythos of male masochism and female sadism.