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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...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

THE MANY FACES OF MIGHT

In DYNAMICITY DUOS PART 1 I considered whether or not mere gangsters could be deemed as "megadynamic" foes for Batman even though they lacked any of the outward marks of exceptional status, such as costumes, gimmicky weapons, a penchant for bizarre crimes, etc.  My answer was affirmative:

I suggest that although these ne'er-do-wells are not in the same league with Batman's truly exceptional foes, as per my example of the Penguin here, they still fall into the range of the megadynamic by virtue of their narrative operations. For one thing, though in both examples Batman defeats the mundane malefactors, he has to work somewhat harder in the second case, suggesting that the lawbreakers here are smarter and/or more formidable.

My phrase "narrative operations" fits with my earlier definition of "dynamicity" as a "narrative value" rather than a "significant value," as seen in DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY.  In DUOS I formulated the notion that though "tough gangsters" who give Batman a run for his money might not be as "exceptional" as the Penguin, but they at least qualified to be rated as "lower-level" x-types, best considered "exemplary" rather than "exceptional" types. 

Later, I wondered if this "lowest division of the highest level" rationale might also solve the conundrum I proposed at the end of MEGA, MESO, MICRO PT. 2. To what extent, I asked at the end of the essay, should one consider a character like Dream Girl-- whose future-forecasting power is essentially strategic in nature-- to be exceptional?  One might say that she, too, belongs on that "lowest division" level.

And yet, even Dream Girl and the "Academy for Gangsters" (the mundane opponents cited in DUOS) are still x-types in terms of the "narrative operations" they serve, operations which might be summed up with the idea of "spectacle."  It's only through spectacle that one can truly view two forms of might contending, and thus created the sublime experience of Kantian dominance.  In contrast, in MEGA, MESO, MICRO PT. 2 I cited the teleseries VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA as a "subcombative adventure," even though the starring characters regularly overcome marvelous, megadynamic threats:

Because of the lack of spectacular violence, I see VOYAGE as a subcombative form of adventure. The heroes are perhaps a little better at combat than the average man-on-the-street, but not by much. 
In the same essay I described the VOYAGE heroes' violence as "functional," and this is probably the most desirable way of describing how the spectacular quality of violence can be neutralized, so that Kantian dominance is not conjured forth.  In THE NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE PT. 2  I furnished another comparative example like the one I made between STAR TREK and VOYAGE, this time comparing two giant-monster flicks, and showing why REPTILICUS' violence was spectacular, and therefore in the combative mode, while that of DEADLY MANTIS was merely functional, and therefore subcombative.

What's interesting to me here are the many manifestations in which a lower-ranking form of *dynamicity* can overcome a higher-ranking form.  Peter Coogan's SUPERHERO: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF A GENRE asks the question, "If Sergeant Bullock defeats and captures the Penguin, is Bullock a superhero?"  Coogan's response is couched in his own hermeneutic, but mine would be, "No, because Bullock has only functional, non-spectacular violence at his disposal."


I've previously analyzed a similar pattern in this essay with the microdynamic hero "Mighty Max," but here's another example of a "mesodynamic" type overcoming a "megadynamic" one:





I recently reread Edwin Arnold's 1905 novel LT. GULLIVAR JONES, retitled as GULLIVER OF MARS when re-published in a 1960s Ace paperback format.  There are several similarities between Arnold's GULLIVAR and Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 "John Carter" novel A PRINCESS OF MARS.  In both works, the hero is translated to Mars via improbable fantasy-devices.  In both, the hero encounters Martian people who dispose of their dead by sending them down a "River of the Dead," and both encounter weird plant-life.  Gullivar even encounters human-eating plant-creatures, though they're not as memorable as the plant-men John Carter meets in his next outing, GODS OF MARS.  Finally, in both novels vicious warlords abduct the hero's potential beloved, and the hero goes in pursuit.

But whereas John Carter and all of his descendants chase down their enemies with true bloodlust, Arnold's Gullivar is a reluctant hero at best.  In Arnold's hands, Gullivar sounds like what one would expect if Oscar Wilde tried to create a spacefaring superhero.  Gullivar is reasonably tough, somewhat like the VOYAGE heroes above: when a warlord's men come to take Princess Heru in tribute, Gullivar brawls a little with them before getting knocked out.  He then spends half the novel in pursuit, mostly observing the weird sights of Mars on the way.  He does have a prolonged encounter with the warlord Ar-Hap, and he does get to slug the evildoer once during a big fracas.  But the violence is merely a disorganized mess, after which Gullivar returns to Earth.  Here, even though the warlord has the potential to be a combative menace, the hero is too functionally depicted to provide much of a challenge. 

I'll probably return to this topic in a part 2, but since I'll probably never write about GULLIVER OF MARS again, I can't resist adding in this historic panel from the Moore-O'Neill LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN:



 

In other words, though Moore is careful not to use full names in order to avoid the wrath of ERB's lawyers, here we have "John Carter" meeting "Gullivar Jones:"

Or, put another way, "John" meeting "Jones:"

Or maybe even-- if you give Moore enough credit for punnery:

"J'onn"-- meeting "J'onzz."


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