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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...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

ANT-ATOMY LESSON PT 2

Re: the aforementioned "practical application":

In EXCLUSION CONCLUSION I mentioned that though I had opposed the particular type of exclusionism endorsed by Peter Coogan's 2006 critical book SUPERHERO: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF A GENRE, but admitted that my own system was also founded on various forms of exclusion, as with, say, assigning certain works, especially those of a serial nature, to one Fryean mythos rather than another.

The difference between my system and Coogan's, I believe, is that I don't assert that my categories are proscriptive in nature.  I articulated the "51 percent rule" as a means of dealing with the potential of a given author or set of authors who may choose to vary the elements of the stories they produce, particularly for a serial concept.  I admitted that though there might be potential exceptions to the rule, 'most creators start with a given mythos, make only token shifts to other mythoi, usually proving "loyal" to a particular emotional *dynamis.*'

Now, in Part 1 of this series I examined in some detail the first two stories featuring the Marvel Comics character Henry Pym.  This is a prime example of a story-concept in which the authors began with one scenario, appropriate to a "one-off" non-continuing character, and then changed that scenario for the purpose of making Pym into a recurring hero, and a costumed one at that.

There's no question that Ant-Man belongs to that category I have loosely termed "the superhero idiom."

But what about Henry Pym in his original conception?

Well, at the beginning of GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW PART 4 I said:


I established in Part 3 that though Northrop Frye had dealt with the nature of protagonists’ power-of-action—henceforth called *dynamis*—purely in terms of its physical nature, and thus as a “narrative value,” *dynamis* of any kind or degree must possess “significant values” as well. As I observed here, *dynamis* can apply to either of the principal axes of narrative—plot or character—though in this essay I will deal with it only with respect to characters.

At present I’ve discerned only two (though there may be more) universally applicable significant values. Universality means that they will apply to any *dynamis,* no matter whether one speaks of characters who symbolize “might” in their respective narrative worlds—which can be anything from Superman to Dirty Harry—or those who represent a more compromised form of *dynamis,* as with Kafla’s “Joseph K” or Graham Greene’s Henry Scobie, who both exist primarly not to act but to suffer.



At the time I wrote this (March 2012) I had not yet revised my terminology for what I called the "physical nature" of *dynamis*; I was still following Frye's example re: his term "power of action."  In August 2012 I finally gave this "narrative value" its own term, that of *dynamicity.*  Thus I can recast the theory expressed in March to say that protagonists in any mythos are defined by one narrative value, that of *dynamicity,* and two significant values.  In GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW 4 I specified that one of these would be *centricity,* the quality of being the focal presence of the story, and the other would be *conviction.*  However, I set aside the second term in STATURE REQUIREMENTS, where I stated that "conviction" could be used as an ancillary term for a process of audience-conviction but that the term *stature* would take its place, connoting the power-of-action alloted to a protagonist based on the mythos dominating his story or stories.

So, Henry Pym.

Clearly the Pym of "The Man in the Ant Hill" doesn't demonstrate high *dynamicity.*  Given that he's drawn by action-expert Jack Kirby, it's not surprising that this hubristic scientist wins one of his fights with a human-sized ant.  But during the bulk of the story, Pym is shown running like mad from the attacking ants.  Going by the three-part dynamicity scale introduced in this essay, Pym is at best *mesodynamic,* and not the sort of rare type (like Jack Burton) who can exceed his limitations.

Is Pym the imaginative center, the focal presence, of "Ant Hill?"  I would say so.  I have seen innumerable stories in which some cipher-like viewpoint character comes across some oddball metaphenomenal presence-- which can include normal creatures, like Pym's ants, who are only unusual/dangerous because of the protagonist's special situation.  In fact, about a month before Pym became Ant-Man, Kirby again illustrated a story of a man stuck amidst a hive of giant insects-- this time, bees.



In this story, the bees were the stars, the main character was a viewpoint character who lacked centricity. But the Pym story really is about him first and the ants second; it is his struggle to achieve humility that motivates the story.

Finally, with respect to the remaining significant value, Pym's stature is not that of any type of adventure-protagonist, but that of a hero belonging to the mythos of drama, like most of the characters in these suspense/horror tales.  His *pathos,* not his *agon,* is the most important aspect of his story.

Now, within my system it is possible for the protagonist of a dramatic narrative to have aspects similar to characters belonging to the "superhero idiom."  Harry Potter, my go-to example for the drama, has the *megadynamicity* and *centricity* I associate with the normative superhero, but he does not conform to the superhero archetype because he belongs to the dramatic mythos rather than the adventure-mythos.

But where one may deem Potter a *hero*-- or even a "superhero"-- purely within the sphere of his mythos, the Henry Pym" of "Man in the Ant Hill" is not even close to being a drama-hero, even though he is both the viewpoint character and the focal presence of the story.  He is best deemed a *demihero,* in that he incarnates what I've termed "instinctive will" rather than "intellectual will."

In contrast, the moment Pym appears in "Return of the Ant Man," he shifts toward the domain of the intellectual will.  True, Pym doesn't start out with the desire to become a costumed superhero; this decision is thrust upon him by the intrusion of enemy spies upon his project.  However, even before the "anti-radiation gas" project ever begins, Pym is taking a much more "proactive" stance than he did as a demihero, when he foolishly tested his serum on himself without any sort of back-up plan.  He's not only re-concocted his serums, he's decided to pursue his studies of ants on a basis that suggests personal risk, which is why Pym designs a costume strong enough to protect him from ant-bites.  Whereas in the "Ant Hill" he plans to make a "grand gesture" to embarass his rivals but is undone by his own ineptitude, in "Return" he successfully makes a bigger-than-life gesture by turning his experimental garb into a superhero costume, saving not only his own life but the lives of the FBI agents. 

Thus as Ant-Man Pym does fulfill all three of the values I've determined for the superheroic figure within the adventure-genre, possessing megadynamicity, centricity, and adventurous stature.

In closing I will mention that the narrative opposition of heroic and demiheroic qualities is one that informs one of the superhero genre's most famous tropes: that of the double identity.  But that's another essay.

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