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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...

Monday, March 18, 2013

OUR ARMIES AT WAR, WITH MONSTERS

Part 1 and Part 2 of DYNAMICITY DUOS I discussed some of the ways in which individual characters, or small groups of characters, might pass from a lower level of dynamicity to a higher one.  With respect to such characters as Ellen Ripley of the ALIEN franchise, I demonstrated how such a character could begin at the "middle" level of dynamicity and then, in the course of the narrative, pull herself up by the proverbial bootstraps to the "high" level.  Even so, in the film ALIENS Ripley remained remained on the low end of that level, that of the "exemplary" as opposed to the "exceptional" level of her alien opponent. Later, ALIEN: RESURRECTION would transform the heroine into something more than human.

I also want to touch on the question of military might, which is often seen employed by large rather than small groups of characters, a might often pitted against the focal presences of giant monster-films.  I also touched on this principle with respect to small character-groups in TWICE THE MIGHT PT. 2, noting:

...whereas the sense of escalation to a final confrontation is absent from ANGRY RED PLANET, FORBIDDEN PLANET builds this sense by virtue of the baffled astronauts as they attempt to learn the nature of their invincible enemy.

To be sure, when the Id Monster is defeated, it isn't because of the clash between the weapons of Earth-science and the power of the Krell machines. The Monster is defeated by undermining the source of its power in Morbius, who is in essence the Monster's Achilles heel.

Nevertheless, without the clash of energies that establishes how potent the Id Monster is, there would be no narrative perception of the need to seek such a vulnerable point.
Prior to FORBIDDEN PLANET, another 1950s SF-spectacle followed essentially the same pattern.  In Ishiro Honda's 1954 GODZILLA, the audience witnesses the incomparable power of the focal monster.  Though the armies of this film are contemporary ones, as opposed to the far-future forces considered in TWICE THE MIGHT 2, the level of force unleashed by the Japanese military is functionally covalent with the forces unleashed by the heroes of FORBIDDEN PLANET.  The monster is at least affected by the intensity of these forces, though on the whole Godzilla is able to overcome everything humanity throws at him, including a huge electrified fence.



However, one genius-scientist, the war-weary Doctor Serizawa, is able to redeem mankind by unleashing a technological weapon which even Godzilla cannot resist: the deadly "oxygen destroyer," which reduces the giant creature to a skeleton-- though the resilient reptile manages to come back for further rampages in the many sequels.  Serizawa's invention is a tangible expression of the force that mankind as a whole can bring to bear.  So the 1954 GODZILLA qualifies as a combative film, since it both centers upon the results of the combat (the narrative value) as well as evoking the sense of sublime power (the significant value).

Consider in contrast, however, the 1953 adaptation of H.G, Wells' novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  There's no question that the film evokes the grandeur of clashing powers as the American military strives in vain to bombard the near-invulnerable vessels of the Martian invaders.



However, though this would be another example of a work in which the X-level of dynamicity was expressed by both contestants in the significant sense-- exemplary for the military, exceptional for the Martians-- it would not be combative in the narrative sense.  In the film as in the Wells novel, what saves the human race is not some last-minute strategy or new weapon, but a lucky break having nothing to do with Earth's defenders.  In the book, Wells stresses only irony in the fact that the Martians perish from Earth-bacteria, while the 1953 film reverses this ideological interpretation, regarding the bacteria's presence as an expression of divine providence.  But regardless of which interpretation is favored, in neither case can Earth's defenders take any credit for the Martian defeat.



A very different rewriting of this Wells-conclusion appears in the last part of the Moore-O'Neill LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOLUME 2.  The starring characters are all involved in the battle against the Martians' second invasion, though neither Nemo's submarine nor Hyde's supernormal strength are able to do more than to give pause to the aliens.  What defeats the Martians in this second encounter is a mutant strain of bacteria developed by the army and dispenses by the League's government contact Campion Bond.  As in the examples of FORBIDDEN PLANET and GODZILLA, this germ-warfare is yet another last-minute "new weapon" which should be racked up to the account of Earth's defenders, even though Moore typically has his characters express horror at its utilization.  Two of the League-members, Quatermain and Murray, are even implicated in this dubious triumpth in that the two of them unknowingly convey the germ-weapon to their commander.
Admittedly the British army in this story is not as central an opponent to the monsters as the armies seen in the 1954 GODZILLA and the 1953 WAR OF THE WORLDS; the members of the League are the central opponents.  Nevertheless, the combative mode is not dispelled simply because the particular triumph comes about because of the actions of supporting characters.  As long as those supporting characters are strongly allied to the central protagonists, they can be viewed as an extension of the central protagonists' unified will.

One sees this "triumph of the supporting ally" in many venues, so I'll confine myself to one from Marvel's IRON MAN #5, where Iron Man's battle against the computer-villain "Cerebrus" (no relation to the Dave Sim character) is concluded by one such support-character.



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