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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...

Friday, November 22, 2013

SUPERHERO IDIOM VS. COMBATIVE MODE

A narratological theory as complex as mine will perforce have many stumbling-blocks, and one of them is that it could be easy to confuse the topic of the "superhero idiom" with that of "the combative mode."

Some distinctions should become more apparent given input from my movie-review blog.  I recently reviewed THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, which essentially kickstarted the "giant monster on the loose" trope so characteristic of the 1950s decade, though some credit must go to the 1952 re-release of 1933's KING KONG.  BEAST involves a giant prehistoric saurian, a "rhedosaurus," rising from sleep when awakened by an atomic test.  When the creature eventually makes its way onto land and begins eating people. the army is sent to dispatch it.  After some complications as to what kind of force they can use against the dino, they succeed in slaying the monster.

Four years later came another monster-slaying movie with a similar structure: IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.  The two films were initiated by different producers, released by different studios, and shared only one creative person in common: Ray Harryhausen.  However, despite some structural similarities between the two films, I viewed only the second film to be in the "combative mode," while the first was "subcombative."

My reasons for so doing-- that one film posssessed what I term "spectacular violence" while the other did not-- have already been covered in THE NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE PT. 2.  In addition, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA conveys a stronger sense of a "face-off" between the titular monster and his demihero opponent, a tough-minded naval officer.  In BEAST not only does the script prevent a full-on confrontation between the forces of primitive life and the forces of modern technology, the only viewpoint character is a scientist, and though he contributes an idea by which the monster is slain with no further loss of human life, there's no sense of a confrontation between the power of his intellect and the power of the saurian.  In contrast, 1954's GODZILLA improves on BEAST, allowing for a full display of the monster's power before he is defeated by human technology.

Few of the academics who have attempted definitions of the superhero would credence my investigation of the parallels between certain types of sci-fi monster-films and the superhero-- this, in spite of the ways in which some famous monsters have been drafted to become virtual superheroes.  That said, I haven't actually labeled characters in this mode-- mainly, King Kong, Godzilla and Gamera-- as superheroes.  So far as I can tell, the demotic view of superheroes will always center around characters who either wear bizarre costumes, display bizarre powers, or both-- usually, though not exclusively, in a modern-day context.  So I am not claiming that King Kong et al are superheroes as such, but I am claiming that both the majorty of superheroes and certain giant monsters belong to the "combative mode."

However, the giant monsters, even in their most superheroic moments, cannot be considered a part of the "superhero idiom." I have referred earlier to stories "in which a monster is drafted to become a hero in terms of plot-function, even though the monster retains the kenotic *character* of a monster," and this kenotic character is enough to keep the monsters in their own category.  Yet in 2011 I did a list in which I cited my "top 20 live-action superhero films," and I did choose from many genres beyond the borders of the demotic superhero, including sword-and-sorcery (CONAN), space opera (STAR WARS), and wuxia martial arts (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON).  However, all of these genres belong to the superhero idiom because the *dynamis* of their plots and characters are completely *plerotic* -- an argument, I realize, depends on a line of reasoning that I won't recapitulate here, though I recently revisited this topic in June of this year.

I should add, though, that in the same way that a giant-monster film can belong to the "giant-monster" idiom whether or not it utilizes the combative mode, the same applies to superheroes.  Superheroes as such are almost always combative types, and even those whose mythos belongs to drama, irony or comedy are usually no less combative than their adventure-compeers.  Nevertheless, there are "subcombative superheroes," as I've detailed here, here, and here.  The factor that allows such subcombative types to share category-space with their more numerous combative brethren, then, would be their common *dynamis,* which supervenes any differences in terms of their relative *dynamicities.*

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