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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 31, 2013

READING RHEUM #3: THE MAGICMAN ARCHIVES



For some reason, though I found and collected most of the comics containing the Silver Age character "Nemesis"-- one of two superheroes to debut from publisher ACG in February 1965-- I never tried to pick up more than token issues of ACG's other costumed cutup, "Magicman." Neither character was particularly successful, and according to Don Markstein the company itself folded not long after the two of them failed to spark any interest in the superhero-happy readers of the middle 60s.

Now, reading the archive edition of all the "Magicman" stories that appeared in the anthology-title FORBIDDEN WORLDS, I don't see that I missed much. Both superheroes were written by publisher Richard Hughes under a pseudonym, but it was more than obvious that during that period Hughes had no taste for superheroes.  Hughes' speciality was supernatural whimsy, a breed of "horror" that had sustained the company during the post-Code period, when gore and sex were declared verboten by the Comics Code.

Of the two, Nemesis was the better creation.  He was a man killed ahead of his time by mobsters, and the supervisors in the afterlife gave him leave to return to Earth to fight crime with a host of dazzling-- and usually inconsistent-- powers.  He struck up a relationship with Lita Craig, a living woman, a relationship doomed to failure because as a ghost he couldn't marry. The strip's overall tone was rather wacky, but this note of melodramatic tragedy gave Nemesis a little more heft.


Magicman, however, had no strong raison d'etre.  He was the son of the magician Cagliostro, which meant that he inherited fabulous magical powers.  Though born in the 1600s, he aged slowly, and under the name "Tom Cargill" still looked like a 20-year-old man when he went to Vietnam, conjured up a turbaned costume and started fighting North Vietnamese and Communist Chinese.  He didn't remain in Vietnam very long, but his topkick  comedy-relief Sgt. Kilkenny learned his secret and tagged along as Cargill returned to civilian life and went on fighting assorted menaces, mostly of a magical nature.

The one noteworthy aspect of Magicman was the accidental humor of the interactions between the hero and his comedy relief Kilkenny.  One picture says it all:


This also led to a humorous setup in a crossover tale pitting Magicman against Nemesis.  While the two heroes are led to fight one another by a mad genius, Kilkenny decides to put the moves on Lita, and she lets him, being mad at Nemesis for some reason or other.  After all returns to normal, the story ends with Nemesis scolding his girlfriend for her flirty ways and Magicman doing the same to Kilkenny.



To be sure, Magicman had a couple of encounters with a hot witch-woman named "Dragonia," suggesting that he was as straight as Nemesis, even if he didn't have a regular girlfriend.  However, it wouldn't be hard to imagine someone reviving Magicman and targeting him to the LBGT community.  Perhaps Alan Moore could be prevailed upon.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

THE DEAD-ALIVE HAND OF THE PAST. PT. 2

When I wrote the conclusion of Part 1 yesterday I intended to use a Julian Darius essay as my first example of merely "reflective" criticism, but as it happened, that same day a forum-post directed me to a current WIRED essay by the other individual I mentioned in that essay, Noah Berlatsky.

Now this Berlatsky essay is not really literary criticism of the sort he practices (attempts?) on THE HOODED UTILITARIAN.  Although I have many problems with Berlatsky's over-ideological, Freudian-Marxist mtehodology, I must admit that he's the only critic known to me (besides myself) who esteems the William Moulton Marston WONDER WOMAN, so he gets some props for that.  However, the WIRED essay is puffery, coattailing on the popular meme wherein fans complain about the lack of a WONDER WOMAN movie. This meme works out well for Berlatsky, allowing him to proclaim the meme's irrelevance while managing to make a little cash writing an essay about it.  Berlatsky asserts that there's no need for a WW movie, since there's next to no chance that anyone can capture "the feminist bondage submissive pacifist lesbian goofiness" of Marston's WW. 

This essay is particularly relevant to my screed against "reflective criticism" because it relates to the way critics of this persuasion direct attention away from the entire spectrum of art and focus upon a few allegedly exceptional works.  In this essay I defined this attitude as exceptionalism, and Berlatsky's attitude toward anything he deems less than exceptional is mirrored by this Tucker Stone quote:

 I’m a fan of great comics. If it’s not great comics–then I hope it burns in hell with all of its friends.
 
There's no substance in this sort of showboating, of course, especially when it's more than evident that many other critics-- possibly including Stone-- would not hesitate to let Marston's WONDER WOMAN "burn in hell."

I won't spend a lot of time refuting Berlatsky's argument against a WONDER WOMAN movie.  He asserts, "I don’t have any desire to see yet another badly conceived version of the character tramp through yet another mediocre storyline, and doing so won’t honor Marston or his creation."  I can't refute his desire not to see what he considers mediocrity, but mediocre adaptations don't go away because critics don't like them, or even if they did, under what circumstances would all critics agree as to what is "mediocre?"  As for the past about honoring Marston or his creation, give me a break.  No artist of any caliber adapts another artist in order to "honor" the other artist, no matter how much the adaptor may prate about being "true" to the original vision.  Every artist cares about himself first. Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET may come the closest to a true adaptation of the Shakespeare play than any other film, but it's still Branagh first and Shakespeare second.  You don't get Dashiell Hammett from John Huston's MALTESE FALCON; you get John Huston.  If David E. Kelley had successfully launched a WONDER WOMAN teleseries, it would have been Kelley first and DC's WONDER WOMAN second.  If some mad genius tried to launch an HBO series truthfully adapting Marston's WONDER WOMAN, it would be his work first, and Marston's second.

Berlatsky also follows the exceptional program in segregating the Marston WONDER WOMAN from the hoi polloi of superheroes:

There’s not that much to Superman or Batman. They’re pulp action heroes, period. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was deliberately, ideologically feminist, sexual, and even messianic. Marston made it work, and made it popular — those original comics were hugely successful.
He praises the imaginative elements of Marston's WONDER WOMAN:

Amazons playing bondage games where they dress up as deer and eat each other; giant spacefaring kangaroos with extra lungs; evil midget hypnotists who ensorcell women in order to draw forth pink, ropy gobs of ectoplasm; cross-dressing snowmen — Marston is a cracked genius, whose exhilaratingly, perversely sexual feminist, queer, pacifist vision still looks, 60 years later, like it’s 100 years ahead of its time.

And I posted in response:


Though I agree with NB that Marston's WONDER WOMAN is unique in having
more of an organized theme than other genre comics of its time, the
theme alone is not what makes it good, and the lack of a coherent theme
does not make SUPERMAN or BATMAN bad.
The very thing Berlatsky praises in WONDER WOMAN-- the visual craziness of flying kangaroos, winged nymphs, et al-- is just as present in the Batman comics of the day. A guy who looks like a human penguin, another guy with half his face burnt up? How is this not as imaginative in its own way, even if it partakes more of pulp detective fantasies than Greek Myth?
Early Superman isn't on the same imaginative level, I'll give you that, but it gets there with bottled cities, a guy who swear eternal vengeance 'cause he lost his hair, and so on.
I suspect what Noah likes is the "ideological" side of WONDER WOMAN, not the imaginative elements as such.
This is the "unreflective" aspect of such ideologically-oriented "reflective criticism," its unrelenting lack of ability to see the continuity between works in interrelated genres.

More in Part 3.




Saturday, July 27, 2013

THE DEAD-ALIVE HAND OF THE PAST

“I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to 'succeed'-and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future. If I could do this through the common ills-domestic, professional and personal-then the ego would continue as an arrow shot from nothingness to nothingness with such force that only gravity would bring it to earth at last.” -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, THE CRACK-UP.

I've recently read Walter Cerf's essay "Speculative Philosophy and Intellectual Intuition," which I understand originally appeared in a collection of Hegel essays entitled FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE.  Though the essay doesn't address the subject of literature, concerning itself only with modern developments in philosophy since Hegel's time, Cerf's arguments strike a chord with regard to the problematic status of criticism, both in general and with specific emphasis on criticism of the comics-medium.

After Cerf explains that the notion of "speculation" in the eras of Kant and Hegel was closely tied to the idea of "intuition"-- also a specialized term in philosophical discourse-- he goes on to align his idea of "speculative philosophy" with that of Schelling's "Philosophy of Identity."


It was Schelling who tried to articulate this vision of the true nature of the relation of God, nature, and self-consciousness in his Philosophy of Identity-- so called because the relation was to be one of identity...The vision was of course not a sensuous intuition, but an intellectual intuition.


The idea of a grand design to tie together all aspects of the human topocosm-- which certain German philosophers divided into "the Naturwissenschaften and the Geisteswissenschaften"-- was overthrown, Cerf says, by the rapid advancement of the natural sciences.

The triumphant march of the natural sciences throughout the 19th century turned speculation qua intellectual intuition into speculation qua unwarranted by any acceptable evidences.

The rise of scientific empiricism was tied to-- though not totally responsible for-- the rise of what Hegel called "reflective philosophy."   Cerf says:

It is typical of reflective philosophy... that it relies on arguments, proofs, and the whole apparatus of logic... that it tries to solve intellectual puzzles rather than give the true conceptual vision of the whole; that it sticks to the natural sciences as the source of the only reliable knowledge of nature, thus committing itself... to a concept of experience reduced to sense perception, and to a concept of sense perception reduced to some causal chain...

Cerf add that with very few exceptions  most of "our own contemporary analytic philosophy" would be judged as "reflective" by Hegel.  I'm not enough of a philosophy-nerd to affirm or deny this judgment.  However, Cerf's extension of Hegel's logic certainly applies to much of what passes for literary criticism, as Northrop Frye indicated in his introduction to ANATOMY OF CRITICISM. 

It is clear that criticism cannot be a systematic study unless there is a quality in literature which enables it to be so. We have to adopt the hypothesis, then, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is not a piled aggregate of "works," but an order of words. A belief in an order of nature, however, is an inference from the intelligibility of the natural sciences; and if the natural sciences ever completely demonstrated the order of nature they would presumably exhaust their subject. Similarly, criticism, if a science, must be totally intelligible, but literature, as the order of words which makes the science possible, is, so far as we know, an inexhaustible source of new critical discoveries, and would be even if new works of literature ceased to be written. If so, then the search for a limiting principle in literature in order to discourage the development of criticism is mistaken. The absurd quantum formula of criticism, the assertion that the critic should confine himself to "getting out" of a poem exactly what the poet may vaguely be assumed to have been aware of "putting in," is one of the many slovenly illiteracies that the absence of systematic criticism has allowed to grow up. This quantum theory is the literary form of what may be called the fallacy of premature teleology. It corresponds, in the natural sciences, to the assertion that a phenomenon is as it is because Providence in its inscrutable wisdom made it so. That is, the critic is assumed to have no conceptual framework: it is simply his job to take a poem into which a poet has diligently stuffed a specific number of beauties or effects, and complacently extract them one by one, like his prototype Little Jack Homer.

One may note that Frye is one of the few critics-- if not the only one-- to speak of literature as "an order of words," which assertion firmly aligns him with Cerf's interpretation of speculative philosophy: that one can discover that order not through the solution of puzzles or through a "concept of sense perception," but through an intuition that is not confined to the intellect though it must be filtered through the intellect for the fullest communication.

In the past decade I haven't read as much academic criticism as I did in previous decades.  However, I suspect that not much has changed; that most literary theorists still stick close to what I've called "those well-traveled titans of tedium, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx." It's not surprising, then, that most comic-book critics follow the lead of reflective philosophy, given that Freud and Marx offer reductive paradigms which boast the rock-solid integrity of the physical sciences.  Some critics, like Noah Berlatsky, pursue the theories of the Dismal Duo overtly, as I've demonstrated in this critique.  The majority of them, however, are probably closer to the model of Julian Darius, who toss out penny-ante Freudian (or Adlerian) judgments like this one:

True, men might say that a woman (or a representation thereof) is “hot,” or even that they’d “do her.” But that’s an evaluation of a body, or a statement of what one would be willing to do to it, not a statement about the internal experience of the male in question. Despite these words’ aggression, they are a defensive way of speaking about a primal experience so strong that it alters even the way our brains process information. “I’d fuck her” usually really means “I want to fuck her but know I can’t.”

I suppose this sort of uncritical channeling of Freud and Marx gives the critics some sort of validation, particularly when they're attempting to reduce a given subject-- let us say, "genre-comics"-- to a series of dependable formulas. I've written against such reductive (or "reflective") criticism here again and again, even while fully aware of the "inevitability of failure" in so doing.  I certainly didn't need Hegel-- who doesn't even make the "top five" of my favorite philosophers-- to throw any light upon this depressing situation.  For me both Freud and Marx represent "the dead hand of the past," but their continuing influence shows them to be "the living dead," less after the manner of Marx's "haunting spectre" than of a pair of rotting zombies. 

Yet somehow other critics look at them and see great liberators who can release them and others from the spell of whatever evils they find in "colonial fantasies" or "sexy pictures" or whatever.    For those critics, those evils can be dispelled by the shamans Freud and Marx (and sometimes Adler).  All these critics have to do is insert Character A into Complex B, and solve, as Cerf says above, the "intellectual puzzles." Then they can therefore dismiss any and all visions of "the whole" as "logocentrism" or the like.

Because many comics-critics have unquestioningly accepted the Frankfurt-School parrotings of Gary Groth and his followers-- also a "dead-alive past" in their own right-- current critics have no means, reflective or speculative, by which to way to connect with the whole range of art as it manifests in comic books.  Their theories are therefore increasingly directed to downgrade the pulpish fantasies of past generations and extol the supposedly more sophisticated works of current times.  In Part 2 I'll demonstrate a significant example of this attempt to forget the past in order to champion "the high intentions of the future"-- though I suspect that forgetting the past will merely lead to reliving it, as Santayana warned us.



Sunday, July 21, 2013

SON OF THE LEE-KIRBY DEBATE PT. 2

Another rejoinder from the listserve mentioned in Part 1
 _______________________________________________

I'll amend my earlier statement to say that though there might be some unaltered Kirby scripts that saw print during the Golden Age, I can't agree that the majority of Kirby works didn't get some refinement from other hands.  The DC works particularly seem to have had a lot of the rough edges from the Timely days smoothed out. 

I believe Jack Kirby was an extremely intelligent man whose means of expression was influenced by the down-to-earth rhythms of the Lower East Side and the pulp magazines he loved growing up.  In Evanier's KIRBY-- and I admit I'm quoting from memory, though I can find the quote if necessary-- Evanier remarked that fans were sometimes taken aback not just by Kirby's Brooklyn-esque accent (I know that I was when I first heard him in public) but also by the way he expressed himself, in which his ideas fairly tumbled over one another in his rush to get them out.  I won't say that Kirby *always* scripted comic books that way; he was capable of attempting more formal, restrained dialogue, particularly in SKY MASTERS, which was his shot at the Big Time in those days.  But I don't think that mode of speech and dialogue ever came natural to him.  In contrast, you and others might consider Stan Lee to be "glib" (and I would agree in some specific instances, though not as a rule), but once he honed his style, it remained constant.  He could be snappy, as in his comedy titles like NELLIE THE NURSE and MY FRIEND IRMA, or he could be grim, as in his 1950s monster stories and westerns like BLACK RIDER.  But Stan was like a lot of the better Golden Age writers; once he formulated his  basic style, he kept it.  There was no backsliding into weird grammar-choices, not for him, or for Bill Finger, William Woolfolk, etc.  Stan was an editor first and a writer second, but as he was not an artist writing was one of the main ways Stan made his bread.  That wasn't the case with Kirby, who was always selling his art first.

I don't invalidate your POV, that you say that you see "word choices" and other narrative tics that have stayed constant in Kirby's work.  If my supposition is correct-- that Kirby almost always wrote his dialogue directly on the artboards, rather than writing a separate script first-- then any "fixup" writer who came later would be working from Kirby's original dialogue.  I fully admit that no one like Joe Simon has ever said outright that he had Kirby's dialogue corrected, though Simon did utter a slightly snarky pronouncement to the effect that "we'd never let Kirby write."  Again, it's just my supposition that he may've been thinking not about plotting, but about the headaches of smoothing out some of Kirby's helter-skelter dialoguing.  But it's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

I agree that Kirby was an "original voice," but his mode of expression varied between many truly powerful moments and a goodly number of wonky, awkward malapropisms.  You and others have mentioned that my opinion alone doesn't define the matter, and you're right.  But an awful lot of comics fans have had problems with Kirby's scripting, even when they may love the narrative power of even his most offbeat concepts, like DEVIL DINOSAUR.  That social verdict isn't something that can be blissfully disregarded.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to an online source, here's what Simon said about Kirby's writing in a COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE interview:

"The standard way that Simon & Kirby worked was that I would write the
story out on the page in longhand. Make little sketches and roughs. And
Jack would take over. Finish the penciling. Then, if we had time, I would
ink….I wouldn't let Kirby write anything. His work was very fragmentary."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SON OF THE LEE-KIRBY DEBATE

I've already held forth here on my reservations regarding the idea of Jack Kirby playing a "lone hand" during his long and estimable career. Still, I threw myself into the debate once more on a listserve, starting with an observation that even if Stan Lee had given Kirby and Steve Ditko every credit that modern fans think that they merited, this credit would never have been noticed by the average filmgoer. Such outsiders would have continued to believe Stan Lee created everything because he was the most visible figure, just as filmgoers think of Alfred Hitchcock as the sole author of his films, even though he never wrote any of them.

_________________________


My point is that the general public doesn't remember all the collaborators for popular works; average audiences are doing good if they can remember one major player attached to a given work. I'm not necessarily making a one-on-one comparison between Lee and Hitchcock, though I think Lee did marshal talent in a manner comparable to the way Hitchcock did-- an important factor in such collaborative endeavors.

Maybe this comparison will sit better with you: Lee and Frank Capra. To underscore the comparison, Capra wrote a very self-serving autobio in which he basically claimed that he, the director, did it all. Later a critic-- Joseph McBride?-- wrote a well-research refutation of Capra's "I did it all" assertion. McBride demonstrated that all of Capra's financial or critical successes stemmed from his collaborations with two key writers-- two writers whom the general public will never know. Sound familiar?

And yet, saying that Capra and Lee didn't do it all isn't the same as saying that they did nothing.

On Kirby and writing: well, they are documented artist-writers, like Jack Cole, who did for comic books what Foster and Caniff did for comic strips. (Raymond started out collaborating with a writer for some years though; don't know how many.) But the problem with Kirby is that his Golden Age work is so tied to the S&K partnership. I have no problem with believing that Kirby plotted his stories, probably with little or no advance notes before he started drawing. But-- DID HE DIALOGUE THEM? Apparently neither he nor Simon kept records; we don't even know if Kirby got a separate writer-payment in those days, the very thing which became the bone of contention in the Marvel years. (Maybe if one of us was an IRS agent, we could check Kirby's 1940s filings!) The Golden Age works, from SANDMAN to BOYS RANCH, are all basically well written pulp entertainment, efficient but not stylistically outstanding.


Then there's a fifteen-year period in which exigencies forced Kirby to collaborate outside the S&K shop, where so many hands contributed. Kirby works with Dave Wood, Stan Lee, and Larry Leiber, possibly rewriting a lot of what he's given, and only rarely does he have a dialogue-credit, as in that one issue of Nick Fury.

Then, toward the end of his first Marvel tenure, he gets sole credit on a couple of features: one of which is passable (Ka-Zar), one of which is ghastly (Inhumans). He goes to DC, and though some of his dialogue-writing experiments with Shakespearean rythyms, a lot of his dialogue is, in a word, goofy.

So again I ask the question--

If Kirby was writing such competent dialogue back in the 1940s-- when he himself was in his late twenties and early thirties-- HOW DID HE LOSE THAT ABILITY?

That one factor makes me doubt that Jack Kirby ever wrote a line of dialogue in the 1940s and 1950s.

I'm not saying that I believe it impossible; that Kirby was once capable of very efficient pulp dialogue, and then just lost the knack.

But an alternate theory would be that Kirby might have had a lot of help over rough spots in his shop days, so that he wasn't fully prepared to write dialogue as a solo talent in the 1970s.

FOOTNOTE: Another member of the listserve provided specifics on Alex Raymond's writer-collaborators--

"Alex Raymond had Don Moore as his writer for most of FLASH GORDON and JUNGLE JIM. Dashiell Hammett, Don Moore and Leslie Charteris were his writers for SECRET AGENT X-9. Ward Green and Fred Dickinson were his writers for RIP KIRBY."

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).




Tuesday, July 16, 2013

APES AND ANGELS

"Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast,
And each will wrestle for the mastery there,
The one has passion's craving crude for love,
And hugs a world where sweet the senses rage;
The other longs for pastures fair above,
Leaving the murk for lofty heritage."-- Goethe, FAUST.


In Part 2 of RETURN OF THE MASTERY MASTER I meditated on the utility of the terms I'd derived from Schopenhauer, "the intellectual will," derived from what he called "abstract representations," and "the instinctive will," derived from what he called "intuitive representations."  These representations, said Schopenhauer, stemmed from humankind's dual tendency to build representations from both "percepts"-- which humans share with animals-- and "concepts," which only humans possess due to the faculty of reason.

Now, when I read the above Goethe quote, I thought it implicit that Goethe was not writing about only his character of Faust having "two souls."  Clearly he was implying that all humans possessed this two-souled nature, though instead of speaking of reason and intuition, Goethe speaks of "lofty heritage" and "passion's craving crude for love."  These concepts, however poeticized, may come a lot closer to describing the "two souls" that struggle within the "breasts" of fictional characters.

By the third part of the MASTERY MASTER essay-series, I debated the possibility of using Frank Fukuyama's Hegel-derived terms "megalothymia" and "isothymia" as a theoretical foundation for the dichotomy of "goal-affects," the concrete affect "persistence" and the abstract affect "glory."  However, Fukuyama's terms are still not that useful in describing specific ways in which fictional characters mirror the affects of their creators and their audiences.  The idea of determining these affects as having been produced by two variant forms of "will" still holds appeal for me.

The failing of my first set of Schopenhauer terms is that they rely too directly on the philosopher's formulations rather than extrapolating them into the necessary literary continuum.  Since Goethe is clearly translating philosophical concepts into emotive qualities, he suggests a possible avenue for identifying the types of "will" that truly impact on the ways human beings imagine fictional personas.

Obviously the "world where sweet the senses rage" is the world of Schopenhauer's "intuitive representations," not to mention the elements that Jung, in refuting Freud, calls "physiological concepts."  Yet to call such elements "physiological," "intuitional," or "instinctive" are all overly specific in a literary context.  However, they all connote the subject's will to "hug" the world of sensual reality, the will to remain so attached as against any contravening will. 

This will I'll term the "existential will," because it is a will to remain attached to all the affects that call up everyday sensory existence; our feeling of being inextricably a part of the physical world.
In my argument here defining the quality of "persistence" in the demihero and monster personas, I stressed that the good demihero Jimmy Olsen was defined more by his life in the workaday world than by his forays in heroism, and that sort-of-bad monster  King Kong was defined by his "craving crude" for a blonde charmer.


Now, though Schopenhauer speaks of "concepts" in an affect-free manner, it's patently true that human beings do derive emotional validation by attaching themselves to abstact conceptions, or what Jung calls "superordinate ideas."  Such ideational states allow one to imagine "leaving the murk for lofty heritage."  Whatever the psychological truth of such devotions-- and there are any number of ways to deconstruct a real human's ideas and/or ideals-- fictional characters can be constructs patterned on such ideals, and are in their own context "real." 

This will I'll term the "idealizing will," because it seems obvious to me that any "idea" to which a subject becomes emotionally attached becomes an "ideal."  When I spoke of "intellectual will" with respect to heroes and villains, I favored the notion that they made conscious decisions to defend good or to champion evil, as per my oft-cited Milton quote: "sufficient to stand, but free to fall."  But of course fictional characters do not make conscious decisions; they incarnate the ideals of authors who make conscious decisions based on their perceptions of good and evil.  In this essay I defined the parallel striving of both heroes and villains after the abstact goal-affect of "glory:"

Heroes and villains are more focused on “grand gestures,”made in defiance of consequences. Not all villains are larger-than-life like the Joker: Batman often fights criminals who are no more than *mesodynamic*...  Even the mundane crooks as portrayed in these stories want more than simple survivial. Typically they desire wealth, which may be seen as establishing a form of willed control over their environment. This will to control often manifests in the crooks forming their own society counter to that of honest citizens. Unlike monsters, who are most often seen as forces gone out of control, villains seek to exercise total control, be it of city-neighborhoods or the entire world. The hero responds in turn with his own counter-efforts to control the pernicious counter-society of crime. Those efforts—whether they stem from a vigilante like Batman or a constituted legal authority like Judge Dredd—also go beyond the criteria of simple survival, emphasizing the power of the law to curtail the will of the lawbreakers.       

In conclusion, I believe that these new portmanteau terms also line up well with the Fukuyama terminology: the "idealizing will" with "megalothymia," and the "existential will" with "isothymia." 
Thus, if I were to rewrite the relevant sections of this essay, I could omit the mental gymnastics necessary to state why Fu Manchu incarnated "intellectual will" as a villain while Baron Frankenstein incarnated "instinctive will."  The two characters are not adequately separable, even in a metaphorical sense, in terms of an "intellect vs. instincts" dichotomy.  But one can demonstrate from the corpus of the film CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN that Baron Frankenstein, despite his intellectual attainments, has no real "ideal" in mind when he starts piecing together dead bodies, even though he might use such idealism as a rationale. Rather, this Frankenstein is like a big child who wants to do something because it's been forbidden.  In contrast, Fu Manchu possesses both intellectual attainments and a demonstrable ideal: to restore the glory of his people.

A side-point: I don't want to give the impression from the quoted paragraph above that I think all "mundane crooks" are necessarily worshippers at the Fane of Evil; some of them may commit crimes out of frustration or petty pique, as well, which would make them closer to the persona of the "monster." But many mundane crooks have ideals by which they justify their depredations, and when they demonstrate these, they fit in every way the persona of the true villain.

Monday, July 15, 2013

TO THE POWER OF XYZ, PT. 2

In STATURE REQUIREMENTS I said:

...although the significant value of "conviction" provides an ancillary function in terms of how readers apportion value to different characters in different mythoi, the central value is best covered by the word "stature." 
Thus the original conception of the term "stature" was to distinguish the different audience-expectations within the four Fryean mythoi, as per this observation:


... the four mythoi each bestow a different type of *stature* upon their focal presences. Given my pluralistic stance, it would be incorrect to assume that a comic hero has *less* stature than a serious hero. The comic hero fulfills the stature appropriate to an unserious character, just as the serious hero does for his endeavors.
This stature qualifies purely as a "significant value," given that it depends on the audience's perception of the intentions of the narrative as either comic, dramatic, adventurous or ironic, rather than being a structuring element of the narrative, and thus a "narrative value."


In DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY I pointed out the problem with Northrop Frye's conflation of the idea of physical power within a narrative-- which I termed "dynamicity"-- and the idea of a "power of action" appropriate to a given mythos, which I termed "dynamis."  It was in this essay that I first advanced terms for the three Aristotle-derived levels of *dynamicity*: "...the X-type (for exceptional), the Y-type (for the merely good), and the Z-type (for less than good).

I then made clear in this essay that characters could possess great dynamicity but could have a stature resulting from their *dynamis* that acted in some fashion contrary to expectations.

...comic and ironic characters aren't necessarily less powerful overall than those of adventure and drama. What separates them is not lacking power to save themselves, but lacking *stature.*
In COMIC HERO VS. COMIC DEMIHERO I extended the term "stature" to apply not only to which of the four mythoi to which the narrative belonged, but also to the four "persona-types" with which I classify focal characters and/or presences.


...although Thunder does indeed have a different "mythos-stature" than a character like Mandrake, given that one belongs to the comedy and the other to adventure, in terms of "persona-stature" the two of them are closer to one another than either is to a demihero character like Thorne Smith's Topper...

This seems logical in that types of narrative form and types of focal personas must have different levels of stature according to their design by their creators.

The purpose of extending this concept to types of narrative dynamicity is to account for the way in which many stories find ways for characters of lesser dynamicity-- and thus lesser stature-- to conquer those with greater dynamicity/stature.  Whenever this formula is employed-- that of *megadynamicty* being overthrown by *mesodynamicity* (as with the film THE DEADLY MANTIS) or by *microdynamicity* (as with MIGHTY MAX), one is generally dealing with a refutation of-- or at least a temporary avoidance of-- the logic of the combative mode, which generally declares that exceptional force can only be overcome by exceptional force, or at least by exemplary force gifted with some measure of strategic ability, as we see at the conclusion of the film BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, cited here.

In the future this distinction may have some consequence for the "ethic of the combative mode" I mentioned back in March.










TO THE POWER OF XYZ

In MEGA, MESO, MICRO PT. 2 I said:

I'm currently debating with myself as to whether the "meso, meso, micro" distinction applies across the board to all heroes. It's a possibility that it may that it applies principally to (1) naturalistic heroes like Dirty Harry, (2) uncanny heroes like Zorro and Tarzan, and (3) heroes whose marvelous abilities stem entirely from their weapons, as with (as cited here) Batman.

In other words, it may be impossible or just impractical to speak of such distinctions with regards to characters who possess marvelous intrinsic powers.
Later, I decided in THE MANY FACES OF MIGHT that the two marvelous characters cited-- Dream Girl of the comics-feature LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES and Ben Richards of the teleseries THE IMMORTAL-- qualifies for the "exceptional" level of power, my so-called "x-type," even if they might be on the lower level within that sphere of action.

...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.

I still affirm this.  Yet there do exist characters who possess marvelous powers or attributes-- whether "intrinsic" or in some added-on form-- who do not belong in this sphere.  Very recently in SHEEP, SANS ELECTRICITY ,my reading of Philip Dick's DO ANDROIDS OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, I determined that the book did not belong in the *megadynamic* sphere, because "in Dick's ANDROIDS, the violence is purely in the functional mode, even if the combatants are dueling with laser tubes."  In contrast, when I review the 1982 BLADE RUNNER I don't doubt that I will judge it to be a combative work, wherein such characters as Rick Deckard, Pris and Roy Batty take on the aura of spectacular violence.

But it's not enough to discriminate between functional and spectacular violence alone, since there also exist cases in which some characters have marvelous  attributes yet manage to remain essentially outside the sphere of direct combat.   In this essay I presented the microdynamic cartoon-character
 "Mighty Max," whose only "power" is possessing a cap that transports him to scenes of trouble.  Thereafter for the most part he either eludes the megadynamic villains or tricks them into defeat.



A better known character from DC Comics is "Ambush Bug," who from the first is meant to be more of a pest than a threat.  Ambush Bug's only power is to teleport, which allows him to dodge the assorted frustrated heroes who attempt-- and sometimes succeed-- in reining him in.  In the Bug's own features, his creators move him even further from the realm of spectacular combat-- not because comedy itself cannot be combative in nature, but because AMBUSH BUG seeks to be the opposite type of comedy.  The same is true of Dick's book: the fact that it is not a combative drama does not mean that drama cannot be combative.



And here's a "worthless" character introduced by the creator of such powerhouses as Superman and the Spectre in ADVENTURE COMICS #323 (1964).




With "Double Header" it's logical to assume that Jerry Siegel was having some fun with the
idea that not every super-power would place its possessor in the lofty position of the Legionnaires.  Thanks to a quick netsearch I've learned that some later writer actually brought back Double Header and put him in the Legion of Substitute Heroes, which in my opinion misses the point.  The Substitute Heroes were a lot like Dream Girl in that their powers could have megadynamic effects under the right circumstances, but that those circumstances were rare compared to the regularity with which the more powerful Legionnaires could achieve such effects. Like Dream Girl the Subs depended more on strategy than on sheer power, even as Dream Girl in ADVENTURE COMICS #370, when she and two other female characters use subterfuge to thwart the villain Mordru.



So these four examples of marvelous powers or attributes are, for various reasons, not "x-types." Those like Ambush Bug and Dick's humdrum android-hunter might be deemed "y-types," in the "fair-to-good" range, while Mighty Max and Double Header belong in the "adequate-to-poor" range of the "z-type."

I could just say that all four of them are subcombative, which they are.  But I want to work out another aspect of the types of dynamicity, which will appear in Part 2.



STALKING THE PERFECT TERM: EXALTATION

At the conclusion of A FINAL PARTING OTTO-SHOT I wrote:

... my formulation of three "sympathetic affects"-- "admiration" as a parallel to "fear," "fascination" as a parallel to "dread," and "ecstasis" as a parallel to "awe"-- is more properly a response to Lewis than to Otto. But in my final anslysis both scholars' formulations suffer due to a mutual overemphasis of the antipathetic affects.

As I've contemplated the term "ecstasis," I find that it doesn't make a good parallel to "admiration" and "fascination."  The latter two terms describe affects, but "ecstasis" can be deemed as much a cognitive as well as an affective state.  Whether one does or does not believe that there exists any sort of ecstatic state through which a human being can commune with a higher power-- a concept that seems to offend the Lutheran Rudolf Otto-- the word does connote that potential.


As it happens, though, Otto himself utilizes a word that fits the level of emotional engagement which befits those sympathetic to the marvelous-metaphenomenal, when he speaks of "the shamanistic ways of procedure, possession, indwelling, self-imbuement with the numen in exaltation and ecstasy."  Unlike "ecstasy," "exaltation" dominantly implies a purely affective state of mind.  Following my tendency to view "awe," then, as implying an antipathetic affect toward the marvelous-- one in which the subject feels himself abased by or otherwise separated from the marvelous-- "exaltation," in line with Otto's disapproving view of magicians and mystics, satisfying connotes the affect of sympathizing, and even taking part in, the marvelous.  Thus from now on it should be understood that the three categories of the NUM formula are thus distinguished in their affective aspects:

THE NATURALISTIC-- antipathetic aspect FEAR, sympathetic aspect ADMIRATION

THE UNCANNY-- antipathetic aspect DREAD, sympathetic aspect FASCINATION

THE MARVELOUS-- antipathetic aspect AWE, sympathetic aspect EXALTATION

Sunday, July 14, 2013

PASSION FOR THE CLIMAX

I've just finished a review of the 2002 film MINORITY REPORT.  Not having seen the movie since it played in theatres, I had no clear memory of its status as a combative film, though I remembered a certain amount of spectacular stunt-work.  This raised the possibility that it, unlike the source material, might be a work in the combative mode, since I've indicated that it's impossible to convey the significant value of combative sublimity without the use of spectacle.

However, MINORITY REPORT's only important scene in this regard occurs less than halfway through the film. Prior to this scene, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) finds himself accused of being guilty of murder, albeit a murder than hasn't happened yet.  Though Anderton is a cop himself, he goes on the run from the authorities to prove his innocence.  This is a science-fiction twist on a venerable trope from the genre of mundane crime, and within crime movies there's usually no need for spectacle as such.  In this type of story, it's most desirable to show the protagonist as overmatched by the united might of the police tracking him. Rarely if ever does a protagonist in this sort of story become involved in a spectacular fight with police.

Viewers of cinematic science-fiction, however, expect some degree of spectacle, and so it would appear that director Spielberg and his scripters crafted a couple of major FX-scenes-- only one of which involves direct combat-- both of which occur early in the film and which may serve to assuage audience-expectations.  Following Anderton's escape from the police on a vertical freeway and his big fight with a half dozen armed police, the film then eschews showy spectacle for low-key suspense, after the fashion of the classic films noirs from which Spielberg claimed to have copied.  Anderton eventually uncovers the villain who framed him-- or, to be specific, his wife, acting on his behalf, does so-- but though there is a final confrontation between hero and villain, they do not fight.  The villain threatens the hero with a gun and is shot down by police; also a familiar trope out of crime films, which often take the execution of justice out of the hands of individual heroes and utilize the legal authorities to provide such violence.

So the question occurs: how important is it to the mode of the combative that there should be a literal combat near the climax, rather than at any other point in the narrative?

Though it's possible that I'll encounter some exceptions, there seems no way to demonstrate the persistence of the narrative combative value unless there is some sort of spectacle-oriented struggle at or very near the climax. On occasion there may be scenarios in which the central protagonist throws down with an apparent antagonist, only to break off the fight because he realizes it's all a big misunderstanding. Another variation is seen in my review of the 2012 DARK SHADOWS,
wherein vampire protagonist Barnabas Collins has a violent conflict with the villain but is taken out of the fight, after which the villain is destroyed by the main character's allies. But as long as there has been some narrative plot-thread to leads inevitably to some sort of spectacular combat, it doesn't matter if the combat follows the dominant pattern of the main hero overcoming the villain.  In fact, though it's rare for a combative film to end in the defeat of the hero, it does happen, most memorably in 1982's BLADE RUNNER.

Despite Spielberg's attempt to give Tom Cruise's fans some of the same thrills they enjoyed in his MISSION; IMPOSSIBLE success (even using the same stunt-team), MINORITY REPORT is a subcombative work, most comparable in structure to other works that depict violence at early points in the story, as I demonstrated here with regard to Shakespeare's subcombative drama CORIOLANUS.  This would also be another illustration of my concept of a narrative "diffuse force," as discussed here with regard to the 1953 film WAR OF THE WORLDS-- and which I've also discerned in a recent re-read of the Wells source novel, as well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

THE UBERMENSCH AND THE PRINTING PRESS

The popular origins of “superman": One finds it in the late romanticism of the serial novel; in Dumas pere: The Count of Monte-Cristo, Athos, Joseph Balsamo, for example. So then: many self-proclaimed Nietzscheans are nothing other than … Dumasians who, after dabbling in Nietzsche, “justified" the mood generated by the reading of The Count of Monte-Cristo."-- Antonio Gramsci.

I posted my review of the 1933 INVISIBLE MAN film not only on my blog, but on another site, CLASSIC HORROR FILM BOARD, that allows for some discussion of members' film reviews.  In response I got a response that discussed in some detail the question of how fantasy-characters from prose and film anticipated the real-life tyrannical figures of World War II, which interested parties can read here. Ordinarily I don't have any compunctions about quoting posters on forums of all kinds, but I don't choose to reprint any of the observations by the poster Telegonus this time.  Rather than arguing with any of the specific opinions expressed, I prefer at this time to discuss some of the questions relative to what the idea of the "superhuman" means within a literary context, as opposed to what it has come to mean in a philosophical or political context.

Nietzsche was certainly not the first to wax philosophical about the nature of larger-than-life conflict in art and life, but as we see in the Gramsci quote above, the German philosopher became associated almost indelibly with the idea of the ubermensch, variously translated as "superman" or "overman."  Gramsci's own definition of the "superman" is a good deal looser than I would like, since it includes characters like "Athos" and the "Count of Monte Cristo," whom I personally regard as just above-average adventurous types.  I can't speak to whether or not Dumas actually influenced Nietzsche or Nietzscheans generally, nor do I know anything about Dumas' fictional interpretation of historical figure-and-alleged-mage Joseph "Cagliostro" Balsamo.  But in any case Dumas is far from the first literary figure to deal with larger-than-life conflict; Nietzsche and Nietzscheans generally would have probably encountered "superman" figures first in stories of myth and folklore.

Before one can ask what the idea of "the superman" means in the literary world, one must regard the world of literature as separated into two great intersecting worlds from our current POV: the pre-modern world and the modern world.  The pre-modern literary world is one in which the majority of the populace at all or most times is illiterate and functions at an oral level of communication, and only a small minority is educated.  Some mythic figures-- however one believes that they originate-- become the centers of religious complexes.  Some figures, whatever their origins, become best known as figures in oral folklore, which on the whole would seem to be *principally* for entertainment.

In the case of religious myth-figures, some sort of extra-human power would seem to be implied in the very idea of religion.  Mircea Eliade once commented that the hierophany (manifestation of a god) was always also a kratophany (manifestation of power), be it the strength of Heracles, the ability of Aphrodite to make mortals fall in love, or even the power to become a holy sacrifice, as with Dionysus in his form of Zagreus.  Folklore proper, perhaps because it often stems from oral and/or rural roots, tends to deal more with clever if powerless trickster-heroes as well as types who possess superior power: types like the "Jack" of beanstalk-fame would seem to outnumber types like the German "Strong Hans."

I'll pass over the ways in which religious myths become transformed into literary myths, most often in the form of prose and poetic epics and theatrical enactments.  One may see in theatrical plays a movement away from the "supermen" who proliferate in religion and prose epic, if only because such things are difficult to stage.  But in any case these various manifestations of literary work remain pre-modern in terms of their overall cultural structure, no matter how many specific differences may exist between, say, the Greek Dark Ages and "classical Greece."

The printing press changes that cultural positioning by making possible the middle class, and thus eroding the power of "the Few" represented by the aristocracy and gradually placing more power in the hands of the "Many."  Wikipedia gives this description of the incredible growth of literacy due to the effectiveness of the Gutenberg press:

European printing presses of around 1600 were capable of producing 3,600 impressions per workday.[5] By comparison, movable type printing in the Far East, which did not know presses and was solely done by manually rubbing the back of the paper to the page,[45] did not exceed an output of forty pages per day.[7] The vast printing capacities meant that individual authors could now become true bestsellers: Of Erasmus's work, at least 750,000 copies were sold during his lifetime alone (1469–1536).[46] In the early days of the Reformation, the revolutionary potential of bulk printing took princes and papacy alike by surprise. In the period from 1518 to 1524, the publication of books in Germany alone skyrocketed sevenfold; between 1518 and 1520, Luther's tracts were distributed in 300,000 printed copies.[47]

The 1500s did not see the rise of a true "popular literature"-- a literature aimed at the "unwashed masses" who worked for a living.  I would speculate that one was brewing even then, as well as in the intervening centuries. But the 19th century, for better or worse, becomes the flashpoint in which we observe the birth of a significant quantity of superhuman figures not born directly from well-known myths or religious stories.  Some of these characters, like 1818's FRANKENSTEIN, were crafted with an eye toward the current culture of "high art," but became in time a vital icon of pop culture.  Others, like DRACULA and THE INVISIBLE MAN-- both published nearly a century later, in 1897-- seem much more targeted toward a "bestseller crowd," though both have become classics recognized by at least some members of the literary community. 

More importantly, this was the century in which the idea of literary "genres" became driven by audience appreciation, rather than by the approbation of the Few.  Ghost stories, for example, had been in existence since mankind's beginnings.  Yet only in the early 19th century-- in response to innovations in the late 18th, particularly from authors like Ludwig Tieck and E.T.A. Hoffmann-- did the ghost story become postulated as a form that others could imitate, as took place at the famous convocation at the Villa Deodati, the crucible from which FRANKENSTEIN in particular took shape. 

As an American, I naturally tend to privilege the rise of genre-specific fiction magazines in the 1930s as a further elaboration of popular literature's growth.  But had such genre-specific magazines never arisen in the United States, it seems obvious that such developments were also taking place in Germany and France before the rise of the pulps.  A futher effect of genre specificity oriented toward a popular readership meant that one did not necessarily have to write just one fantastic story about a vampire or an invisible man.  One could write endless stories of "supermen" in many situations, whether one concentrated upon an English explorer constantly coming across lost cities (Allan Quatermain, Tarzan) or a German "air pirate" having adventures with hyper-technological ships (the dime-novel "Captain Mors" series).

As to what the proliferation of supermen means in terms of literary values, and not just as a literary phenomenon, that must wait for a Part Two.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

THE READING RHEUM #2: CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #16-21



I mentioned here that I'd probably never write anything more about Edwin Arnold's book GULLIVER OF MARS, but I do want to write a few words about the "Gullivar of Mars" published by Marvel in the early 1970s, in the issues above specified.

I remember liking this one pretty well at the outset.  Though it's just another riff on Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter" series, it's a minor improvement on Arnold's lackadaisical, pseudo-comic adventure.  In the first few issues, Gil Kane's art is strong, and the script introduces a rather interesting buddy for the colorless main hero: one totally independent of anything in the Arnold book, and one whom I liked a good deal better than Gullivar.  This was "Chak," seen below as he and white-haired Gullivar are about to be devoured by your basic sea-creature.



Though the illustration gives the impression that Chak is a bird-man, the birdlike countenance is really a mask, crafted in imitation of his species' normal physiognomy.  Underneath the bird-mask, Chak looks pretty much like a human being with purple skin.  Chak was a mutant and the only one of his kind, which could have set up the series for some good angst, had it lasted longer.  However, like a lot of Marvel series of the period, it soon fell victim to pinch-hitting, including various contributions by Gerry Conway, George Alec Effinger, Wayne Boring and (most pleasingly) Gray Morrow.

I have to say that though Roy Thomas was doing some of his best CONAN scripts during this period, his scripts for GULLIVAR show an unfortunate tendency for a lot of not-very-witty, super-referential "jokes."  Later, Thomas would only get worse and worse at this, though GULLIVAR has two of his worst ever.  In one, Gullivar, on the back of some alien horse-creature, pursues another rider while he remarks about "doing the Rogers thing-- Roy, not Buck!"  And at one point he calls the completely red aliens of Mars-- one of whom is seen in the cover above-- "rednecks!"

Gullivar was revived for one black-and-white appearance somewhere, but to my knowledge has yet to be revived for an Ultimates version.

STINKING ULTRALIBERALLY PART 2

Recenlty I started a "Paula Deen" topic on a board to see if I could coax anything resembling rational thought out of posters there.  I failed utterly, but as a minor positive result of this fracas, one of my opponents posted this link to an editorial by a lawyer named Daryl K. Washington, posted on the BLACK LEGAL ISSUES website on 6-29-13. 

Like most individuals who became acquainted with the Paula Deen controversy in the past month or so, I knew that Deen had been accused of racial and sexual violations with respect to her restaurant staff, but few details about the alleged violations made it into the news.  What most national news concentrated on was that Deen had admitted in a sworn deposition that she may have used The Big Taboo Word at times in her life.  But because she admitted this, the media went on to report, as gospel, the things that her opponent Lisa Jackson claimed that Deen said.  Washington is a little more careful than most media-outlets to report the most famous of these as "alleged," but  he nevertheless prints it in full, possibly because he's aware of its power to inflame:

Paula Deen, while planning her brother's wedding in 2007, was asked what look the wedding should have. She replied, "I want a true southern plantation-style wedding." When asked what type of uniforms the servers should wear, Paula stated, "well what I would really like is a bunch of little n*ggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around...
 
It's amazing to see how many online media-sites report that Deen admitted to saying this.  What she confirms in her 6-11-13 deposition is that she thought about having a "traditional Southern wedding" in 2007, but did not do so because she anticipated an adverse reaction from the media. I read her entire deposition, and at no time does she claim that she used The Taboo Word in public, or within the hearing of anyone who might be offended by it.  Here's what she really says:

I don’t recall that. I recall – I do recall, once again, in my bathroom at the house, and why we would have been in the bathroom, I was probably filming and changing clothes, that’s the only reason why we would have been in that bathroom, they must have run out during my lunch break or something from filming, and I remember us talking about the meal.
And I remember telling them about a restaurant that my husband and I had recently visited. And I’m wanting to think it was in Tennessee or North Carolina or somewhere, and it was so impressive. The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive.
And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that somebody would misinterpret.


She also states very clearly that she does not use the Taboo Word in public because she tries to call people what they want to be called:


What I find interesting about Washington's post is that he opens by admitting that "many people have been making this incident about the "N" word only," but neglects to mention that this is because the media chose to focus only on this aspect because, for one big reason, the case has yet to be tried and no one knows what validity, if any, claimant Lisa Jackson's assertions have.  No one knows what evidence she can muster.

Washington, for example, uses the word "alleged" in one sentence, and then turns around and treats the allegation as a declaration of irreproachable fact.

Paula Deen indicated that she used the N word over 20 years ago. That is not what's being alleged against her. She went as far as telling a guy he was as black as a blackboard. That lady is something else and I'm glad I never supported any of her ventures. 


Later, after citing all of Jackson's allegations against Deen, Washington immediately demands that she should not be given a "free pass," hearkening back to an argument he made in the first paragraph, where he claims that:

I personally find it to be offensive whenever someone from another race is accused of using the "N" word they are somehow given a pass because of the use of the "N" word by some in the black communities. Let me be the first to say that I find the use of the word by anyone to be wrong.

Washington is right about this much: if there is any verifiable proof that Deen or her employees instituted a racially divided workplace-- as in requiring that black workers use a specific bathroom-- then neither Deen nor anyone else should be given a "free pass" for that.

But my point is that the media has drawn attention ONLY to The Taboo Word, and that as a result of that ALONE, many of Deen's sponsors have deserted her PRIOR to any findings by the court.  The lawyers who inquired into Deen's history with the Taboo Word are of course required to do so in order to build their case, but that doesn't mean that Jackson's case isn't falsified, be it only in part or in toto.

One of the reasons that the media feels free to quote Jackson's accusation as veracious, of course, is that Deen had the temerity to admit that she once considered holding a Southern-style wedding with black waiters impersonating slaves.  To many people, this is an outright admission of a nostalgia for the actual condition of slavery. It's not hard to find books or movies-- like some of those in the oeuvre of Shirley Temple-- that romanticize the institution of slavery.  But here we're dealing with what George Orwell might describe as a "thought-crime;" Deen committed the crime of simply *thinking* about indulging in a Southern-style wedding.  She didn't actually DO it, but even to admit to thinking about it is, for some people, tantamount to incriminating her in genuine workplace abuses.  If there is substantial testimony that she has lied about her normal habits interacting with persons working in her restaurant, as with the ALLEGED "blackboard" remark, then that testimony may expose her as a practicing racist.

But thinking about doing things offensive to others is not, contrary to Jesus of Nazareth, anywhere near as bad as actually doing them, as implied by Matthew 5:28--

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.


Friday, July 5, 2013

SHEEP, SANS ELECTRICITY



Having finished my reread of Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS and judged it subcombative in terms of its narrative values, I promptly launched into a reread of Philip K. Dick's DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, which like the Heinlein book had been adapted into a film very much in the combative mode.  Going on memories of previous readings I suspected that the Dick book would also prove to be subcombative, and I was correct, but for the opposite reason.  Most of the book avoids much in the way of direct combat, pursuing instead the internal conflict of android hunter Rick Deckard as he agonizes about the interrelationships of humans and their android creations.  Only at the very end does Dick include a "shoot-out" in approved Old West fashion, even though opponents Deckard and his foe, rogue android Roy Batty, are both armed with "laser tubes."  However, Dick's approach to the fight eschews anything like the spectacle one might expect in such a duel.  Thus ANDROIDS possesses the  narrative value of the combative mode-- but not the significant value. It's not enough that there should be two megadynamic forces that appear within the same film.  In my NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE essays, here and here, I stated that "the spectacular mode of violence" was "necessary for the manifestation of combative sublimity."  But in Dick's ANDROIDS, the violence is purely in the functional mode, even if the combatants are dueling with laser tubes.  It's rare to find megadynamic forces handled in a humdrum functional manner, though Dick's motive for so doing may somewhat akin to Heinlein's reason for not winding up STARSHIP TROOPERS with a big colorful battle.  In both cases, however different their themes, the authors sought to make their protagonists seem more "ordinary" despite their marvelous surroundings and/or resources. 

Having made that determination, I ask: what about Philip K. Dick's anxiety-filled, vaguely schizophrenic works has made them so amenable to adaptation into huge, spectacular SF-adventure thrillers?  I also recently reread Dick's short story "Minority Report," and though I have yet to rescreen the Tom Cruise adaptation, it's my recollection that the Cruise film, like Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER, amps up the presence of spectacular violence by a factor of 12.  Indeed, the only violence in the short story is one man shooting another, albeit with a ray-weapon.  In future I'll probably reread the source stories for TOTAL RECALL, PAYCHECK and SCREAMERS, and see how the original prose pieces stack up against their cinematic manifestations.



So what makes Dick so attractive?  I don't get the impression that most Dick-derived films, aside from the original TOTAL RECALL, have been box-office winners-- and the first RECALL was also an Ahnold film during the height of his popularity.  BLADE RUNNER lost money on its first screening, though eventually it may have become profitable through the home-rental market, due to its fully deserved status as a "cult film." Dick may also impress filmmakers because of the fecundity of his ideas, or because BLADE RUNNER offers them a much-admired template to follow.  But in the end, the word I used earlier-- "anxiety-filled"-- may hold the key.   Dick himself, who was attempting to focus on the dramatic interactions of his characters, only used violence in a functional way, to punctuate crises in the lives of those characters.  But filmmakers-- who are known for resorting to all manners of spectacle to attract butts to stay in seats-- are able to use the paranoiac scenarios Dick invented, and then simply "add violence as needed."

That said, I want to reiterate, as I said in NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE, that the difference is not one of mere degree; it's one of narrative function.  A work in the subcombative mode, whose violence is merely functional, doesn't just change into a combative one purely through the injection of spectacular violence.  The spectacular violence is not epiphenomenal; it becomes part of the diegesis as soon as it's included, and it changes the nature of the narrative.  This distinction is comparable to a similar observation by Rudolf Otto. He opposes the idea that religious awe was simply different from ordinary fear in "degree."  For him it was clearly a difference "in kind." 

Thus, in NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE PART 2, I compare two monster-movies of roughly the same period: 1957's DEADLY MANTIS and 1961's REPTILICUS.  Both films include giant monsters that get shot at by soldiers, and even suffer attack by flamethrowers.  But the guns and flamethrower in MANTIS are different in "kind" from those in REPTILICUS, because of the way the filmmakers of each respective movie treats these human resources.  In REPTILICUS these naturalistic weapons become spectacular, megadynamic forces, but in MANTIS they remain functional and mundane because MANTIS as a film is less interested in sheer spectacle for its own sake.


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."