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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...

Monday, December 29, 2014

OBJECTS, GIVEN LUSTER

I've never asserted that it's unilaterally easy to identify the focal presence of a given story. I've stated before that I think Dracula is the focus of his eponymous novel. Yet I understand what an author like Marv Wolfman means when he states-- as he did in ALTER EGO #113-- that the human protagonists are the real stars of the book. I presume that Wolfman strove to write his renowned TOMB OF DRACULA along the same lines, emphasizing the vampire's various foes more than the vamp himself. Yet, though I respect this POV, I'd still argue that DRACULA is an "object-oriented" novel, in that the narrative is far more concerned with mapping out the villain's nature than any of the heroes. It's certainly possible to revise the Stoker narrative so that the revision focuses on one or more of the vampire-hunters, as with the 2004 film VAN HELSING. However, I wouldn't say that the TOMB OF DRACULA feature accomplishes this shift in emphasis.







One can scarcely argue against a narrative's "object-oriented" status, though, when that narrative's only viewpoint character is the abstracted mass of all humanity. Case in point: "The Destruction of the Earth," from EC Comics' WEIRD SCIENCE #14. "Earth" is one of many Al Feldstein stories of the period that preached against the destructive capabilities of hydrogen bomb technology.

The story begins in  a standard manner. A scientist named Holman meets with two government officials in Washington, trying to convince them not to execute a new hydrogen-bomb test. He shows them copious proofs to indicate that the bomb can trigger a chain reaction that will destroy the Earth. The politicians, concerned only with their own political advancement, ignore Holman's warnings and conduct the test. But Holman doesn't get to come back on stage for an "I told you so," nor does either politician get any chances at a mea culpa. Once the chain reaction begins on page five, the rest of the story is devoted to showing the spectacle of Earth's devastation and the extinction of humanity.

So, in such a story, what is the story's focal presence? The chain reaction? It causes chaos on a global scale, just as Rene Clair's THE CRAZY RAY causes all humanity to become frozen. But the story really isn't concerned with the abstractions of physics. The focus would seem to be the Earth itself, albeit in the status as a planet whose violent destruction illustrates mankind's hubris. Further, it doesn't stand in the relationship of "monster to victim," as Wonderland does to Alice. Rather, the Destroyed Earth itself is a victim, and therefore aligns more closely with the concept of the demihero.


Elsewhere I've written that it's almost impossible for a place to be a heroic entity, but the closest I've been able to find-- albeit without readily-available illustrations-- is a Gardner Fox story from STRANGE ADVENTURES #109 (1959), more easily found in reprint form in FROM BEYOND THE UNKNOWN #24 (1973) . Whereas the Feldstein story is rife with moral preachment, the Fox story-- "Secret of the Tick-Tock World"--  is an almost ludicrous example of the sort of "gimmick-oriented" story published by DC Comics in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"Tick-Tock" is the second in a series called "Space Museum." Each story, to the best of my knowledge, began with a father and his young son visiting their local museum in a generic space-opera future. The boy would inquire about some relic, and the father would tell a stirring story associated with the relic.

In this case, the relic is a simple, regularly-ticking Earth-watch. (It will surprise no one that Fox did not anticipate the digital revolution.) The watch was worn by an Earth-astronaut as he departed home in a spaceship equipped with a faster-than-light drive. The astronaut makes it to another solar system, where he finds a succession of planets that reproduce exactly different time-periods that parallel those on the single planet Earth--an idea probably borrowed from E.R. Burroughs' Caspak trilogy, in which a prehistoric land reproduced different evolutionary eras within the same terrain.

Once the Earthman reaches a planet that approximates the Earth of his time, he descends to talk turkey with the natives. He learns that the planet is threatened by an energy-burst that has already destroyed other worlds in the system. The Earthman, showing boundless faith in exact historical parallelism, jumps to the conclusion that the same destructive phenomenon once menaced Earth, but some mysterious something kept said phenomenon from dooming Earth.

Without regurgitating the story in depth, the Earthman figures out that the "something" were Earth's watches, whose regular ticking somehow drove the destruction away. Therefore, on the Earthman's advice, the planet's population mass-produces Earth-style watches-- and so they transform their planet into a "tick-tock world" that banishes the evil energy-phenomenon.

From the viewpoint of verisimilitude. "Tick-Tock" is a very silly story. However, despite its overarching silliness, it is in one sense more deeply mythical than "Destruction of Earth." Fox knew a great deal about primitive traditions, and surely knew that in some cultures a mundane activity is given soteriological status-- a trope also seen in the mythic tale trope that declares that Nordic peoples should always be careful paring their nails, lest the toss-offs be used in constructing the doom-ship Naglfar.

Again, though one might argue that the Earth-astronaut plays an active role in the story, he really is not the story's focus. Its focus is the spectacle of an entire world resounding with titanic "tick-tock" sounds, by which planetary doom is averted. This trope loosely aligns the "Tick-Tock World" with the agon of the heroic figure, though I would hesitate to classify this particular focal presence as a "hero."



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