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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...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

JOCKEYING FOR JUXTAPOSITION

At the conclusion of INTERESTING FLEISCHER QUOTE I said:

"at present I'm trying more to work around to a response to Curt Purcell's thoughts on crossovers." 

While I so meditated, Curt removed his crossover-essays from GROOVY AGE OF HORROR, so I can't respond to them.  I can, however, respond to one of the sources he invoked: Scott McCloud's use of panel-to-panel transitions in the medium of comic books, as seen in UNDERSTANDING COMICS.  I'm less concerned here with panel-t-panel transition itself, as McCloud is, than with the practice of juxtaposing images and concepts within a narrative, since this practice is vital to the understanding of crossovers.

In UC, McCloud identifies six types of transition, most of which depended on some direct association between the images denoted in each of the two panel-examples.  The one exception to this proposition-- which Curt mentioned at one point in his essay-- was a type of juxtaposition which McCloud termed "the non-sequitur, which offers no logical relationship between panels whatsoever."    Here's one example he used:


McCloud then poses the question: "Is it possible for any sequence of panels to be totally unrelated to each other?"  He answers in the negative:

“No matter how dissimilar one image may be to another, there is a kind of alchemy at work in the space between panels which can help us find meaning or resonance in even the most jarring combinations.”

In Jungian terms, this form of "alchemy" would be one that could be expressed through the technique of *amplification," defined thusly in the online "Glossary of Jungian terms:"

Amplification: using imagery to create a meaningful context around a symbol needing examination. Also known as elaboration of the symbol. In subjective amplification, a dreamer, for example, uses active imagination to associate to a dream symbol in order to grasp it better. In objective amplification, the analyst collects themes from mythology, alchemy, religion, and other sources to illuminate, or amplify, archetypal symbols produced in dreams or fantasy.


Assuming that one sees the above images naively-- that is, not as examples of a visual/narrative theory but expecting that some "logical relationship" exists between the disparate images for some communicative purpose-- the reader must "amplify" what the images mean in order to figure out why the author thus juxatposted them.  For instance, to a given reader the implied triumph of a politician who resembles Richard Nixon might be read as the triumph of a repressive force.  In contrast, the panel showing a piece of abstract art might be amplified to mean freedom from repression, in that abstract art originated as an attempt to deviate from the emphasis on representationalism in the world of canonical art.  Further, if a comics-narrative started with these above images and then continued to build on it with other non-sequitur images, the reader (assuming that he made the above correlation) would then attempt to build on that narrative by forming amplified associations of whatever "meaning or resonance" he detected in subsequent images.

Now, in this situation the reader would have to draw on his own subconscious associations in order to make sense of the randomly-juxtposed images (as well as words, if any were used).  However, this is not how most narratives proceed.

Most narratives, both in canonical or non-canonical art, manipulate the "meaning and resonance" of words and images much more deliberately, along the lines of McCloud's first five examples of panel-to-panel transition.  Further, in a whole work of art-- be it comics, prose, or music-- one is not limited only to horizontal transitions.  Anthropologist Edmund Leach writes:

"So it is Levi-Strauss' bold proposition that the algebra of the brain can be represented as a rectangular matrix of at least two (but perhaps several) dimensions which can be read up and down or side to side like the words of a crossword puzzle."-- Leach, CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS, p. 55.  

In most narratives, there is no need to evoke the subconscious to interpret the logical relationships: one can simply go "side to side" at all times, paying little attention to the vertical (or, as Levi-Strauss calls it, the "harmonic") relationship.  Take this crossover as an example of juxtaposing not images but whole comic-character mythologies:



The first encounter of Batman and Judge Dredd, if one wanted to classify it roughly along the lines of McCloud-ian transitions, might be called "aspect-to-aspect."  Even if a reader knows little or nothing about the mythologies of the two characters, the story by Grant and Wagner is explicit about making clear each hero's nature, particularly in terms of one aspect: relationship to the law.  An online review sums it up nicely: "The Ultimate Law Enforcer vs. the Ultimate Vigilante!" Dredd recognizes no aspect of law enforcement save following the rules and convicting perpetrators; Batman incarnates the idea, as others before me have stated, that the law does not work and that a passionate yet judicious vigilantism is needed. 

This opposition, in addition to providing the anticipated conflict of the two characters in this crossover, makes clear what resonance each character should possess in order to remain relatively consistent for the sake of the story.  But clearly there are no "subconscious" themes that require amplification here.  The juxaposition by the authors has been conscious all the way, and by and large the readers' appreciation of the authors' skill in making a meaningful juxtaposition is conscious as well.

On the whole, any kind of crossover-- of characters, universes, or what have you-- generally requires the author to give heavy thought to what qualities distinguish the respective focal presences who are being crossed over.  In other words, any theory that stresses the function of the subconscious and/or amplification with respect to the nature of crossovers would seem to be gilding the lily.  When dealing with full narratives (as opposed to panel transitions) one is more likely to get examples of Scott McCloud's alchemy in stories dealing with but one focal presence-- Batman in his early, somewhat delirious solo adventures, for example.
In the above essay, I wrote:

Now, given that I favor Jungian amplification over Freudian reductiveness, I think that all these European, Asian or Gothic-horror exoticisms *mean* something beyond just Bob Kane and Bill Finger copying every pulp device they could find. Clearly the creators thought there was some advantage of emphasizing so much exotica, or readers would have seen more tales in the DICK TRACY-like mold.
Given all my anti-Marx rants here, I would hope that any readers would know that said "meaning" has nothing to do with the usual Marxist blather.  Contrary to Frederic Jameson, examined here, the unconscious/subconscious cannot be reduced to mere political figurations.  McCloud's idea of "alchemy" is far more apposite, but the alchemy of the subconscious seems to flower best when the reader is merely wondering about how to interpret the juxtapositions within one mythos, rather than trying to forage his way through two or more at the same time.

More on crossovers in a follow-up essay, though maybe not before the New Year...


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ANOTHER KIND OF FOXY GRANDPA




I speak of Zorro, the fox, who in a real sense is one of the "grandfathers" of the superhero genre, even if many people don't deem him a "superhero" as such.  In this essay I compared this "uncanny" figure to an "atypical" (now called "naturalistic") hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and a "marvelous" one, Batman:

In the many iterations of Johnston McCulley’s Zorro, most take place in a world that is essentially like that of the Pimpernel: a world which seems to have no metaphenomenal aspects. Zorro, however, is the exception. Where “Scarlet Pimpernel” is simply a code-name for a mysterious figure, Zorro’s costume confers on him a charisma that provides him with greater narrative charisma. The Zorro narratives, while insisting that Zorro is merely a skilled human, emphasize his presence as a spectre of fear to his opponents, and it is this which gives the black-clad avenger the charisma of “the uncanny.”



I stand by my assertion that Zorro possesses a "greater narrative charisma," if only by virtue of his uncanny costume, than a more mundane type like the Pimpernel. However, I must admit that until last week I'd never got round to reading the original Johnson McCully prose story that birthed Zorro-- or as McCully frequently calls him, "Senor Zorro."  (Thus we see that Roald Dahl was not the first one to write about a "Mister Fox.")

I must admit that McCully doesn't write a lot of florid passages about Zorro's supernal appearance, as pulp authors would for characters like the Shadow and the Spider. As the above illustration shows, the original prose character wears a full face-mask, not the half-mask popularized in the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks adaptation.  Only a small handful of cinematic Zorro-costumes followed the example of the novel's costume, but then, McCully himself reputedly borrowed ideas from the movie-- the tracing of the "Z" in the enemy's flesh, for example-- which were incorporated in later editions of the novel.  The full-mask makes it more logical that no one would be able to connect Zorro and Don Diego.  In contrast, when  the hero wears the half-mask, one feels tempted to speak a line like the one from the 2011 GREEN LANTERN film:

"You don't think I would recognize you because I can't see your cheekbones?"

Compared to some of the great popular fictions of the time, McCully's novel is slight, and probably would have been forgotten had it not been adapted to the film-medium.  A substantial portion of the novel deals with Don Diego's romance with Senorita Lolita Pulido: he romances her in his identity as the mysterious but manly thief Zorro, and then turns around, pretending to be too effete as Diego to bother with details like wooing.  Superman's creators purportedly took strong influence from the Zorro model, but the Diego of the novel projects less weakness (though he does often speak of being fatigued) than the languidness of the bored aristocrat.

One interesting detail is that the novel is resolved when lone hero Zorro is joined in his efforts by The Avengers-- what is what, in just one line, a group of aristocratic young supporters call themselves when they rally to this Spanish Robin Hood.  I haven't checked yet to see if they make it into the best-known film adaptations, though they may be the basis for the serial Zorro's Fighting Legion.

Though McCully doesn't spend a lot of time describing Zorro, toward the novel's end Diego relates an interesting take on how the very identity of Zorro empowered him:

"It is a peculiar thing to explain, senores.  The moment I donnned cloak and mask, the Don Diego part of me fell away.  My body straightened, new blood seemed to course through my veins, my voice grew strong and firm, fire came to me!  And the moment I removed cloak and mask I was the languid Don Diego again.  Is it not a peculiar thing?"

I hardly need point out (though I will) that this is the essence of "uncanny phenomenality," in which no marvelous phenomenon actually takes place but there is some phenomenon that suggests the breaking of reality's borders.  This, more than the practical considerations of the costume, is what makes Zorro a hero of the uncanny.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

EXEMPLARY STAN, EXCEPTIONAL JACK 'N' STEVE PART II

To recap: fannish opinion usually considers that famed editor/writer Stan Lee didn't do anything of worth prior to Silver Age Marvel Comics; that he must have been coasting on the talents of his artists-- largely Kirby and Ditko, though sometimes the argument is extended to all the Marvel artists as a whole.

I for one find this argument may be a bit too pat.  Whether one agrees with it or not, though, depends on whether one believes that the work Kirby and Ditko did prior to their collaborations with Lee was substantially like the work they did slightly later with Stan Lee.  Many fans have seen no essential differences between the Kirby of CHALLENGES OF THE UNKNOWN and the Kirby of FANTASTIC FOUR.  I take the position that there are considerable differences between these two phases of commerical creativity.

However, "Defending Stan Lee" in terms of his pre-Marvel creativity presents two large problems.

The first is that in many of his public statements following the success of the Marvel line, Stan himself dismissed his Golden Age work in the comic book medium.  Of course, in so doing Lee was patently attempting to design a story of heroic proportions: in which his Marvel Comics work alone shone above the dreck he'd been creating for the previous twenty years.  While it's quite likely that Lee had no deep and abiding regard for the work he'd done prior to Marvel, his judgment of it isn't centered in any critical process as such.  One suspects that if an early comics-character like Lee's "Jack Frost" had become as extraordinarily popular as the Human Torch was in that era, and continued to be revived to good effect, Lee would probably not have minded linking his name to that chilly concept.

The second problem, though, is that unless one goes out and buys tons of hard-to-find Lee Timely-Atlas comics, there's no way to assess the quality of Lee's "dreck."  Recent years have seen a greater turnout of reprints of the Timely-Atlas line, but I suspect that we're not going to see omnibus editions devoted to goofy teen-comics like MARGIE, WILLIE and NELLIE THE NURSE-- even though it's arguable that it was in stories like these that Lee honed the brand of "insult humor" he used so well in his Silver Age superhero comics.

The expected riposte from Lee-loathers would probably be, "So what?"  While Steve Ditko didn't enter the comics field until 1953 and didn't work for Timely/Atlas until 1955, Jack Kirby had been working in comics only a little longer than Stan Lee had.  In contrast to Lee's middling record, Kirby, albeit in concert with Joe Simon, had turned out a plethora of conceptions.  Not all of them were successful, but even co-creating only Captain America and the Boy Commandos would put him (in many fans' estimation) far ahead of Lee's co-creation of such minor figures as the Destroyer and Headline Harris.

For many fans, this ends the discussion.  Early Kirby created more famous characters than early Lee did, so Kirby alone was the creative one, period.

However, that's not a viable measure of creativity as such.

Were Lee's Golden Age stories dreck?  I've read only a smattering of his works, though it's not always easy to tell what Lee did or did not write, as demonstrated here by blogger Nick Caputo.  Some have been bad, and some have been good-- but only in a special way: the way I would term "exemplary," but never "exceptional."

I said in EXEMPLARY AND EXCEPTIONAL 2 that I felt a story could be very ordinary in some respects yet exemplary in just one, as was the first Batman story.  The same is generally true of early Lee work like his war-comics, humor comics, and superhero comics.  A collaboration between Stan Lee and Dan deCarlo (Stan 'n' Dan, as they were then billed) might be, in terms of plot, a fairly ordinary cute-girl comic like MILLIE THE MODEL, but it would in my view be exemplary if it possessed some quality above the ordinary.  I did perceive a sprightliness, an effervescence, in Lee's early humor work that I don't see in a lot of the humor comics of the period, which I do dismiss as entirely ordinary.




Kirby's work, however, also has its moments of badness and goodness, but when it was good, it was good in the "exceptional" sense, or, to gloss John Romita's remarks, once again, in its sense of "completeness."  Even enjoyable Kirby works might present a number of narrative problems, as I argued in my analysis of the first CHALLENGERS story.    But Kirby's narrative lapses never diminish that sense of artistic integrity.

I mentioned in Part 1 that one of my forum-foes dismissed not only Lee, but pretty much every comics-writer in the Silver Age.  It seems puzzling to me that this opponent could see special qualities in everything Kirby did, and nothing in the work of his contemporaries, even though most if not all of them were engaged in addressing the same pre-teen audience, and were usually employing most of the same story-motifs.

I suggest, in my intersubjective way, that what this individual took for absolute quality was just one type of creative quality: the quality of the artist who brings "integrity" and "completeness" to his narrative world because almost everything in it constitutes something of significance to the artist.  This is the world of the exceptional.

However, the world of the exemplary does not cease to exist in comparison to the exceptional, even though many fans have expressed such opinions.  Stan Lee probably was never a visionary creator as Kirby was.  He probably wasn't even as productive of new concepts as another non-artist writer like Gardner Fox was.  But I find it amazing that many fans can view creativity in terms of absolutely nothing else than "new concepts"-- particularly since even "new concepts" are always derived in part from previous ones.

Lee's type of "exemplary" creativity was certainly not focused on blazing new trails, in contrast to the highly personal approaches of Kirby and Ditko.  But fans who can dismiss twenty years of work as being uniformly bad just because earlier generations of fans never said much good about the work recalls the parable about how medieval doctors refused to investigate the nature of any disease not covered by the works of Galen.

In other words, the fannish narrative of Lee as dreck-producing drone-- even when it's been put forth by Lee himself!-- is just another example of "received wisdom."

Which, as we all should know--

Is no sort of wisdom whatsoever.

EXEMPLARY STAN, EXCEPTIONAL JACK 'N' STEVE

"...there were a few guys who did what I would call a complete world on paper.  If you looked at one panel of Jack Kirby, you knew where you were.  You were in Jack Kirbyland.  And when you were in Ditkoland, you knew where you were.  The reason I called myself a generic illustrator [is] because my stuff, I could make you believe you were in anybody's land... whatever those guys do has an integrity, a completeness about it; they created an entire world." -- John Romita, Interview in COMICS JOURNAL #252, 2003.

As the essay's title should suggest, I'm referring back to the entwined critical concepts I introduced back in this 2010 essay.

My initial definition was as follows:

for me "exemplary" means principally "that which is a good example of something," while "exceptional" means "that which goes beyond what is expected."

A rough parallel can be made between my categories and the dichotomy suggested by Romita above, with "generic illustration" standing in for "that which serves as a good example," while his idea of a "complete world" parallels "that which goes beyond the expected."

In part two of that brief essay-series, I compared the first Batman story, which was exemplary purely in terms of its accomplishment of introducing the hero, and the Englehart-Rogers stint in DETECTIVE COMICS, in which the creators attempted to boil down the appeal of the Batman mythos into six exceptional issues.

But as the title also suggests, I think I've come up with a better example of the dichotomy: the Great Myth of Marvel Comics.  American comics fandom knows no more vital myth: in the beginning there was chaos, until the Three Gods of Comics sorted Kosmos out of chaos, and trailblazed the way to the promised land of Adult Fandom.

But with the orderliness of Kosmos, each god had to be assigned his divine domain.  To the God KIRBY, fandom assigned the heights of heaven, wherefrom he rules forever. To the God DITKO, fandom assigned the great seas of churning anxiety, where he too rules in great dignity.  And finally, to the God LEE, fandom cast him into the Land of the Dead, because as we all know he never "created" anything and couldn't have done squat if it wasn't for Kirby and Ditko.

I would hope readers might detect a note of sarcasm in the last sentence.  No, *I* don't believe the beloved fannish fiction that Stan Lee was nothing without the stellar presences of Ditko and Kirby, but if I had a quarter (inflation you know) for every time I've heard some fan make that statement, I'd probably be rich enough to publish my own line of comics (and not even miss the dough when the line went belly-up).

As I mentioned here, I'd recently been embroiled in yet another Lee-Kirby-Ditko argument in which not a few of my opponents argued in such terms.  In fact, one participant not only dismissed everything Stan Lee had ever done, but also every other Silver Age comics writer: Broome, Fox, Binder, Kanigher.  There was no attempt to offer any argument as to why they were bad, of course, or why Kirby and Ditko shone so brightly above the muck and mire.

In Part 2 I'll suggest some arguments as to why this perception came about, and why (keeping in line with my project of intersubjectivity) it's both right in some ways, and wrong in others.








Wednesday, December 14, 2011

INTERESTING FLEISCHER QUOTE

From the Michael Fleischer interview in COMICS JOURNAL #56 (1980):
"A lot of people think that a story is the place to be a good citizen.  The place to be a good citizen is not in your stories.  The place to be a good citizen is in your life and in your behavior... a story is an arena for the expression of real feelings, and not for the expression of platitudes or the feelings you think people ought to have."

This is actually a pretty good statement as to why I validate a writer like Frank Miller, even though I wasn't entirely happy with the implications of his 300 graphic novel (as noted in my review of the film-adaptation) and can't begin to understand his perverse political take on the Occupy Movement. 

Now, I will note briefly that what we consider "canonical literature" is often if not always informed by some meditation on moral nature.  Such moral concern causes me to label it the literature of "thematic realism," while those forms leaning more toward kinetic concerns I designate in terms of "thematic escapism."  I won't say that the dividing line between the two is hard and fast; it's more like an equator, approximated rather than physically locatable.

Yet I do feel that great literature is never purely defined by morality, as some critics, like John Gardner and Wayne C. Booth, have implied.  Expressiveness in the Cassirerean sense remains at the heart of both forms of literature.

Food for future thought? We'll see, but at present I'm trying more to work around to a response to Curt Purcell's thoughts on crossovers.  So morality will have to wait for later.

Friday, December 9, 2011

SHORT THOUGHTS ON DAREDEVIL AND SPIDER-MAN

(For some reason all my posts with the word "quick" in the title get a lot of views.  Let's see if the same thing happens with the word "short.")

The following is excerpted from a Yahoogroup argument, hence the exclusion of a person's name:

_________________

I disagree with [Blank]'s comment that the early Daredevil stories are a "mess." The series doesn't show the dynamism of the Usual Marvel Suspects, but it seems to have started in a gimmicky vein, just as the Hulk did. However, Lee and Ditko found a way to make the Hulk more compelling, while Lee, Wood and Colan and others pretty much kept DD a standard superhero, who was perhaps more like a Golden Age character than any other Marvel hero. Throughout the Lee run there are strong issues, average issues, and weak issues. There aren't any brilliant issues, but IMO that's a long way from being a "mess." A mess is the first 6 issues of the Lee-Kirby HULK.


I think Lee's vision of the character followed the same arc as Spidey-- super-powers make it possible for a retiring/reticent character to bust out and do all sorts of wild id-indulging things. Frank Miller's id is all about unleashing copious quantities of violence, though, while for Lee, the id was all about having wacky fun while beating up no-goods. Still, Lee was pretty good about remembering that Matt Murdock's reticent identity had a different character than Spidey's did, and that MM was more consciously adult than PP.







Monday, December 5, 2011

FOXY GRANDPA STORIES

As I've recently gotten involved in some ongoing arguments on the old Lee-Kirby credit thing, I've decided to post a few of my observations here as well, starting with this one:

_____________

...none of the stories Stan Lee tells as to the origin of characters he originated are any more far-fetched than those of Kirby.

Remember how Kirby said he came up with the Hulk? Seeing some news story about a woman lift a car off her child, or somesuch. This is what I call a "foxy grandpa" story, because it makes gramps look really clever. Kirby doesn't mention any other factors in his creation of the Hulk-- not any suggestions from Stan about making the Hulk look like Frankenstein, nor whether he Kirby was aware of Dick Briefer's use of that character (I've heard someone claim JK knew of DB), or any influence from THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.

Lee's spider-on-a-wall for me is not an insidious credit-hogging ploy. It's another "foxy grandpa" story, which we only know to be untrue because of the testimony of Ditko and a few others.

Consider too that by the time Spidey got popular, Stan probably didn't remember particulars as to who did what any more. Of course, even if you'd asked him at the time about Spidey's true genesis, he might not have cared to admit having derived any part of it from the Fly, given the reputation of litigious Archie Comics.

Did Lee hog credit at times? Probably, but you've also got to remember that in the 1960s nobody cared about the fine details of who did what but a handful of earnest fans.


Kirby's descriptions of how he came up with stuff are of a piece with Stan's; lots of generalized metaphors with very few details about corporate or cultural influences.











Saturday, December 3, 2011

RISING AND FALLING STARS

At the onset of this essay I wrote:

Q: When is a superhero not a superhero?

A: When the *dynamis* expressed by either the plot-functions or character-functions within the corpus of a given superhero's exploits is not commensurate with those characteristic of the pure adventure mythos, aligning rather with another mythos, such as that of irony, drama or comedy.
Many fans would not find that answer either funny (which it isn't supposed to be) or intriguing (which it is).  Not a few would see no point in slicing and dicing the qualities of what makes superheroes run, much less superheroes across different mythoi (or as those fans would doubtless call them, "genres.") 

I do have a point, of course.  Having evolved my own definitions for what does and does not belong in the superhero idiom, I find it encumbent on me to formulate reasons as to why I assign a given work in one category or another.  Anything else would be mere whim, assignable to Kant's notion of "agreeability" rather than rational judgment.

And then, of course, there's always the additional motivation of having made a wrong judgment in the past oneself.

In this essay I wrote near the conclusion:

...in my "Defining the Superhero" article for COMICS INTERPRETER, I toyed with the notion that Paul Atreides of DUNE might technically fall within the range of the superhero idiom, albeit one in the *mythos* of drama rather than the more normative adventure *mythos.*

The above recap is an oversimplification of what I wrote in the INTERPRETER article.  I didn't actually bring up any of the complexities of the Fryean mythoi in that article, so I didn't differentiate him from, say, Superman in that respect.  Back then I only focused on arriving at a fundamental definition of the superhero as a type of hero associated with the metaphenomenal, though back in 2002 I was still a long way from positing the NUM theory.  Only later would I define DUNE as a drama, albeit a drama in an agonistic mode (term defined here).

Similar questions of categorization arose in the three-part essay series ADVENTURE-COMEDY VS. COMEDY-ADVENTURE, from which the above Q/A was taken.  In all of these essays I contrasted an example of some superhero-ish work in which "elements" of either comedy or adventure predominated, though I usually didn't break down the elements specifically, as the first quote specifies, into those of either plot or character.  I did do so in this essay, analyzing DOCTOR WHO and STARGATE, but those were both negative examples, works that did not fall into my category of the "pure adventure."

The usefulness of the plot/character dichotomy in that essay impacts on my intention to make my categorization process as rigorous as possible.  For instance, if I wish to make a wiki-list of all superhero works that fall into the adventure mythos, that list would consist of:

All works of "pure adventure" (in which both plot and character clearly evoke adventurous *dynamis*

Works in which the plot alone conveys the adventurous *dynamis* and overrides the character-*dynamis*, which belongs to another mythos

Works in which the characters alone convey the adventurous *dynamis* and override the plot-*dynamis*, which belongs to another mythos

As per my remarks on DUNE, often two of the most easily intertwined mythoi are that of adventure and that of drama.  Therefore I'll now cite five examples of works in which (a) adventure dominates plot and character, (b) drama dominates plot or character, and (c) adventure dominates plot or character.  Since in KNOWNING THE DYNAMICS FROM THE DYNAMIC I used the TV franchise STARGATE as a negative example, it amused me to have all five examples "follow a star."

STAR WARS serves as an unreserved example of the "pure adventure," in which both plot and characters evoke the dynamis of adventure.  One can certainly detect elements of drama, comedy and even irony in the film-series (much as I did with four other franchises in this essay).  But few would debate that STAR WARS is first and foremost an adventure film-series, though naturally many would not agree with my assigning Luke Skywalker to the superheroic idiom.


As noted above I've already given a negative example, so I'll recapitulate what I said about STARGATE in KNOWING:

Over time the first serial and its epigoni took on an increasing resemblance to the "starship melodramas" of the STAR TREK franchise. I don't think STARGATE was ever as much about what Faulkner called "the human heart in conflict with itself," as all of the TREKshows have arguably been. But in the STARGATE franchise the adventure-mythos became somewhat dennatured. I view this as a lack of heroic *dynamis* within the overall plot-structure, rather than within the concept of the characters

So in STARGATE the mythos of drama pervades the plotting of the series, overshadowing characters who would otherwise fit adventure-archetypes.

Another negative example, but one in which the mythos of drama dominates the characters rather than the plot, would be the 1978-80 versions of BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA.  The plot, in which noble humans repeatedly faced the menace of Cylon invaders, clearly takes inspiration from STAR WARS, but the characters lack the *dynamis* of the adventure-mythos, tending toward drama in its manifestation of "melodrama." 

Thus neither STARGATE nor the first BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA make it onto my master list (one shouldn't even have to ask about the second GALACTICA, a "pure drama" in all respects).

On to positive examples that *would* make my hypothetical list:

DC Comics' STARMAN, in most of the iterations of the franchise, has usually been a "pure adventure."  However, the Starman introduced by James Robinson, whose continuing series ran from 1994-2001, exemplifies the type in which the plot is the main source of the adventure-dynamis.  Jack Knight, the serial's hero, is from the first framed as an eternally reluctant fighter, who ends the series by getting out of the superhero business and embracing family life.  This *dynamis* fits the archetypal characters of drama more than adventure, but Robinson is largely successful in using the characters' dramatic arcs to ramp up the spirit of adventure, as opposed to its negative example, STARGATE, in which dramatic plots dominates adventurous characters.

My final example must be one in which characters with the adventure-*dynamis* override a plot with a dramatic emphasis.  My choice here is  the 1978 American STAR BLAZERS, adapted from the Japanese anime TV-series SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (which I have not seen in its original form).  Like GALACTICA, most of the story took place aboard a ship with a multitudinous crew, which of course was exploited for melodramatic plot-developments.  However, in contrast to GALACTICA, the heroics of main characters Derek Wildstar and Mark Venture against the formidable "Leader Desslock" received far more emphasis than any of the melodramatic situations aboard ship.  Like many Japanese anime of the period, STAR BLAZERS taps a vein of world-weariness that may stem from Japanese culture's reactions to postwar anomie.  Nevertheless, even if the main heroes are not quite as uncompromised as Luke Skywalker, their *dynamis* is allied to that of those space-opera heroes who conform to the superheroic idiom.

I realize that these five examples by themselves would not be sufficient to prove my case.  I believe that I could make a full-fledged textual analysis of plot and character motifs in all five works that would so prove it.  But that would be an undertaking too complex for a blogpost, and detractors would simply disregard sustained critical analysis if it did not lead to some preformed conclusion, like the popular "Superheroes are fascist," which still comes up from time to time.  Given those circumstances, I'm content to let this argument rest with no more than an outline of my methodology.