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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, July 17, 2013

APES AND ANGELS PART 2

Having coined two new terms-- "idealizing will" and "existential will"-- in Part 1, I'll proceed to give examples of how they apply to characters in fictional narrative.

I should have said earlier that these two forms of will, these "two souls" that seem to dwell in every human's breast, only appear in fictional characters to the extent that their creators choose to emphasize one or both.  It is possible to have characters who are purely devoted to glorious ideals, or purely devoted to the persistence of ordinary existence.  It is also possible to have combinations of the two, but one form of will must dominate over the other, by the same logic I pursued in JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY and other essays with regard to the admixture of mythos-elements in a given work.

Consider the Hulk.  He is possibly the most famous comic-book icon to combine aspects of both the negative "existential will" of the monster-- in that he both yearns for normalcy even as he rejects its demands on him-- and the positive "idealizing will" of the hero.  I've commented here that one of the factors that causes audiences to regard him dominantly as a "superhero" is because he has a rogues' gallery:



However, it must be admitted that some characters best characterized as "monsters" may also have, if not a rogues' gallery, an assemblage of colorful opponents.  Godzilla has one group of foes in his movies, another in his 1978 cartoon, and yet others in his Marvel Comics adaptation.


However, most of Godzilla's foes tend to be either rival giant monsters like himself, or aliens, who may also be considered a species of "monster" depending on their treatment.  Their motive for fighting the Big G usually come down to variations on the theme of persistence: the other behemoths resent someone trespassing on their territory, or the aliens want to get rid of humans in order to enjoy the fruits of Earth. In contrast, most of the Hulk's enemies are villains who desire to rule the world, or to become famous for kicking the Hulk's ass, and other such glory-based motives. 


Both the Hulk and Godzilla are called "monsters" in their respective texts again and again.  There's no question that both do incarnate the "existential will" in this respect.  However, most Godzilla fans cringe at those films that attempt to directly posit the King of Monsters in a superheroic role, as was seen at its worst effect in the stupefying GODZILLA VS. MEGALON.  This scene of a "heroes' handshake" is particularly egregious:



Arguably some fans' rejection of "Superhero Godzilla" in the 1970s had a decided effect on the film series' development.  Only two more films in the so-called "Showa Series" followed MEGALON, after which that series was followed by the "Heisei Series," wherein "the 'new' Godzilla was portrayed as much more of an animal than the latter Shōwa films." Since then, Godzilla has yet to show heroic tendencies again.  Therefore I think it fair to consider the Big G to be a figure almost completely based in the "existential will."

In contrast, from the Hulk's first six-issue series, he has been portrayed as a character in which "hero" and "monster" constantly struggle.  In this scene from INCREDIBLE HULK #112 (vol. 2), we see the Hulk playing the Good Samaritan as one would not expect of a total monster.



The Hulk's adventures are full of such examples of the "idealizing will," often credited to his alter ego Bruce Banner's better nature.  His sometimes membership in various versions of the Avengers supergroup-- not to mention the Defenders-- also contribute to this reputation.  Thus I would judge that though the "existential will" is present in the Hulk, the "idealizing will" is the one his raconteurs chose to emphasize in most if not all of the character's exploits.

Then we have a figure that was conceived as an overt competitor to Toho Studios' Godzilla, Gamera.



In contrast to the usually ferocious Godzilla, Gamera was given a wholly inexplicable loving attitude toward children, probably because Japanese children became inordinately fond of the turtle-monster, like these two from GAMERA VS. VIRAS:


Gamera, unlike Godzilla, was re-conceived as a defender of Earthpeople early in his career (though not in his initial film).  The giant turtle's motives for fighting monsters on the behalf of humans remained murky in its own "Showa series," but in a later "Heisei" series, Gamera was given a new origin that explained his protective instincts.

So was Gamera a hero, in that he often acted as heroically as did the Hulk?  I would say not.  Even under the revised origin of the Heisei version, Gamera is still dominantly a monster first, even if his "existential will" has been channeled into a heroic tendency by his creators, Atlanteans who impressed their "idealizing will" upon the turtle-creature's habits.  Even though Gamera is beneficent, he inspires fear more than invigorating identification, and so he becomes one of the "monsters who do good" even though the vast majority of them have only negative impact.

The Hulk does bad things at times, whether his character is that of the bemused, childish giant or the tougher "Mister Hyde" persona of Bruce Banner.  In fact, he's proven more capable of destructive pique than Japan's genial turtle.  But on the whole, the raconteurs of THE HULK create the expectation that he will usually do the "right thing"-- the idealistic thing.  In contrast, the primary function of monsters is to destroy stuff, whether they do after the baffled manner of a hostile animal (Godzilla) or like an animal trained to be a "watchdog" (Gamera).




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