Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER-IDIOM LIST

Having arrived at a deductive conclusion as to the progression of the affect of identificatory conviction throughout the four mythoi, I should add that the same degrees of conviction apply to the *dynamis* of the characters typical of these mythoi.

I've seen a fair number of superhero lists over the years.  Mikel Midnight  still maintains a page that correlates many of them, though unfortunately the most inclusive known to me, THE COMICS INTERNATIONAL WEBSITE, seems to have gone the way of the dodo.  Jess Nevins still maintains a list called the GOLDEN AGE HERO DIRECTORY, but this list aims at collating all adventure-heroes in Golden Age comic books.  But the most problematic aspect of most such lists is that they're generally focused purely on external points of similarity.  I'm aware of no list that seeks to list any protagonists, superheroic or otherwise, according to the Fryean mythos to which they belong.

I've compiled a provisional list for my own use, but I admit that when I first began it, I focused, as most comics-fans do, upon external resemblances.  Thus I would list, say, THE INFERIOR FIVE within the superheroic idiom simply because the characters did their thing in costumes. 

Now, as a result of investigations such as this one, however, I've determined that the Inferior Five would be appropriate only in a list of superhero-idiom types within the comedy-mythos.  Considered in terms of the level of conviction aroused by the Inferior Five, they have more in common with "non-costumed" types like Johnny Thunder or Ranma Saotome than with even the most tongue-in-cheek version of Batman or Plastic Man.

This formulation doesn't merely help distinguish between types of superheroes, of course.  Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are both magically-powered teen heroes, which would move some critics to dump them both in a vague category called "young adult fantasy."  But, if I can judge Percy Jackson by his one film adaptation, that character is far more oriented toward adventure than toward the *purgative* aspect of drama seen in J.K. Rowling's famous character.

I will note in passing that it is possible for different iterations to change a given character in terms of his mythic alignment.  An example appears here on You Tube, a 5-minute Wonder Woman pilot commissioned by producer William Dozier after the success of the BATMAN teleseries.  IMDB describes it thusly:


'At the height of the popularity of "Batman" (1966), producer William Dozier produced this short film in hopes of getting approval from Warner Brothers to produce a pilot episode for a "Wonder Woman" series, based on the comic book. Unlike "Batman," which was campy adventure, "Wonder Woman" was going to be a straight comedy series, along the lines of "Captain Nice." The resulting short written by several writers on the Batman series failed to win Dozier that approval.'


It's interesting that the synopsis-writer makes the same distinction I did above, to the effect that an adventure with comedic touches is not the same as a "straight comedy," oxymoronic though that phrase may sound.

There are perhaps more impressive examples of mythos-shifting than this unsold pilot, of course.  The late Don Markstein's TOONOPEDIA chronicles one example in Dick Briefer's Golden Age FRANKENSTEIN feature, noting how Briefer's version of the famous monsters started out with serious undertones (what I'd probably label "drama"), then shifted to comedy for a time, and then back to a serious theme before the feature perished.  This degree of change might encourage some critics to scoff at any attempts to schematize such a character, precisely because he and his author could shift in approach that much from year to year.  But I reject that as a know-nothing approach to the problems of categorization.

I term my solution to this problem the "51 Per Cent Solution."  In business dealings we're accustomed to hearing that a stockholder with 51% of a company's stocks has the greatest advantage, though not an unqualified dominion.  Thus, if one wished to determine the dominant mythos of the Briefer work, one would count up the total number of stories and determine which mythos-type was statistically dominant.  Only an unqualified 50/50 split between mythoi would make such a determination useless, but the paucity of these exceptions proves the rule: most creators start with a given mythos, make only token shifts to other mythoi, usually proving "loyal" to a particular emotional *dynamis.*

The same rule can be adapted for use in determination of the more limited categorizations that we call "genre," and my next essay will explore such genre-divisions in response to another online fan's genre-dicing endeavors.

CORRECTION TO EARLIER STATEMENT: Apparently it was only the link I tried that was bad:
AN INTERNATIONAL CATALOGUE OF SUPERHEROES is still extant after all.

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