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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...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

SUBCOMBATIVE TROOPERS

"Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition.  Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics-- is nonsense.  Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is-- not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be."-- Robert Heinlein, STARSHIP TROOPERS.

Reading this quote in isolation, one might think that Heinlein was seeking to make some point comparable about will and "the will to power" akin to the philosophical insights of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.  Heinlein, however, is pursuing more limited goals.  STARSHIP TROOPERS might be termed a "bildungsprop."  That is, on a superficial structural level it resembles the literary genre called the "bildungsroman," the novel which primarily describes a young man's maturation.  However, though a young man of a far-future era is indeed the viewpoint character of TROOPERS, and he does undergo a maturational process, that process is not oriented on showing his personal progression, but the positive effects of the era's meritocratic military upon his unsentimental education.  Hence, the intent is closer to being a propaganda-speech on the virtues of the military, which Heinlein constructs with enough sophistry to elide any possible flaws-- and with enough panache that the novel won science fiction's Hugo Award in 1960.  In addition to the novel's controversial merits in terms of its philosophical viewpoint, TROOPERS is also known as the first SF-novel to extrapolate the concept of "powered armor suits" to be worn in battle, as opposed to a warrior simply clad in some form of armor, with or without additional gimmicks.  Heinlein's term "mobile suits" became so well circulated that it entered the name of the later Japanese manga franchise MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM.



My reason for recently rereading TROOPERS, though, was to determine whether or not it fit the combative mode, as did the 1997 film adaptation of the novel.  I suspected that it did not, but I certainly hadn't even begun to think in terms of the combative mode when I first read it, much less formulating that it required both a *narrative* and a *significant* value. 

To cite the short verdict, TROOPERS possesses the *significant* value, in that there are at least two exceptional forces pitted against one another: the highly skilled soldiers of Earth, sometimes though not always garbed in mobile suits, and the alien "Bugs" who represent the "competition" of which Heinlein speaks in the above quote. Yet the narrative value isn't there, for the book is really not constructed around the conflict.  The novel opens with Earth taking military action against an unrelated group of alien combatants, during which POV-character Rico makes considerable use of his mobile suit.  After that, the novel moves back in time, describing in great detail the events that led to Rico's military service.  Eventually the novel shuttles back to real time, and the so-called "Bug War" begins, in which the aliens assail Earth by blowing up Buenos Aires, which coincidentally happens to be Rico's home city.  Eventually Rico takes part in a raid on one of the bugs' world, as he and his men attempt to take prisoner one of the "brain bugs" in the aliens' hierarchy. In the film STARSHIP TROOPERS, this battle is the culmination of the Earthpeople's endeavors.  However, because in the novel Heinlein is seeking to illustrate the chaotic quality of military action-- the better to underscore the true heroism of the ordinary soldier-- the battle is rendered fragmentary by Rico's limited POV.  Rico's part in the action ends when a roof literally falls in on him, and though the mission is judged a success, the battle itself is secondary to Heinlein's focus on the military outlook.  This strategy of eliding the potential for a combative climax compares somewhat to the ending of CORIOLANUS, a work I described in MYTHOS AND MODE 2 as also possessing the significant value but not a narrative one.

Once I finished reading, though, I also assessed the novel in terms of the Rico persona, and decided that he was more dominated by the quality of persistence rather than glory, despite Heinlein's many assertions of the military's glorious record.  This would make him a "demihero" rather than a "hero."  Further, this returns me to a line of thought I formulated in April of this year:

On a tangential note, I think that in general most works that focus on the military-- be they naturalistic or otherwise-- tend to emphasize the "emotional tenor" of "persistence" rather than "glory," as those terms were defined here. The military is more often defined by the quality of winning conflicts through group effort rather than individual excellence, and that may be one reason I couldn't view the heroes of STARGATE as fully in the genre of adventure, despite some superficial likenesses.
I did not claim that military characters could not possess the persona of the hero.  However, such characters' adventures must, in keeping with my alignment of "glory" with the concept of "megalothymia," must show a much more personal stake in a given conflict than one sees in STARSHIP TROOPERS.

For example, I cited one "heroic military" example, that of Marvel Comics' Sergeant Fury. From SGT. FURY #5, here's Fury's very personal reaction to his being challenged by the evil Nazi officer Baron Strucker.



It strikes me that this aspect of "personal glory" is exactly why, in KNOWING THE DYNAMIS FROM THE DYNAMIC, I didn't want to regard the protagonists of STARGATE as "heroes."  At the time I tried to rationalize that the Stargate heroes seemed unheroic because they belonged to the "dramatic" mythos.  In contrast, I had no difficulty in regarding drama-centric Harry Potter as a "hero," even though I had not at that time fully evolved my concept of the four personas.

Now I'm not saying that the various STARGATE heroes-- none of whose names I can remember-- never get mad or offended as Sgt. Fury does above.  But the narrative focus of the teleseries is upon "group effort," and hence victory through persistence, rather than personal glory.  There's no doubt from the first pages of the Fury-Strucker story that there's going to be some monumental combat between Fury and Strucker.  Occasional STARGATE stories may set up such a conflict.  But the narrative emphasis in the teleseries, as in Heinlein's TROOPERS novel, is upon subsuming one's personal goals into the traditions of the military.  Thus all or most of the STARGATE characters qualify as combative demiheroes.


The Johnny Rico case is more complicated.  The original template for Rico is that of a subcombative demihero, but the character-- as well as those featured in the film adaptations-- are combative demiheroes, who deviate from Heinlein's original template.  Thus far, I've seen TROOPERS movies fall into three of the four mythoi-- excluding only "comedy"-- and in all of them, the main characters are extremely combative.  But their mental orientations emphasize the concept of "isothymia," of "emptying out elements of will that seem excessive to one's society or environment."

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