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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

MYTHCOMICS: "THE RED GHOST" (FANTASTIC FOUR #13, 1963)

In 1001 COMIC BOOK NIGHTS: A RESOURCE, I cited this 2011 essay as an example of an inconsummate null-myth. In the same resource I did not cite, as one of my consummate myth-comics, what I wrote in this 2012 essay, which was something of a counterpart to the 2011 one. As I recall I left it off the list because parts of the essay were focused primarily upon a discussion of Jung's concept of archetypes.  But certainly FANTASTIC FOUR #13 rates as one of the best of the myth-comics from this period.

I also wanted to bring what I wrote in the FF-essay in line with the concept of the "four potentialities," as detailed here. This expansion seems necessary because most critics make the facile assumption that the only creative faculty that informs art is what I've termed "the didactic," the intent to Make a Point. Most of the critics I've assailed here therefore define "good art" as something that supports their ideology, while "bad art" is anything that opposes that ideology.

In the 2012 essay, I did not deny the story in FANTASTIC FOUR #13-- in full, "The Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super-Apes"-- had its aspects of didacticism, to wit:

The story, appearing during the first few years of the feature's successful launch onto newstands, deals with Reed Richards and his superhero pals launching themselves on a private mission to claim the moon for the democratic powers of planet Earth. By chance, a near-identical mission takes off from Russia to claim the same sphere for the powers of Communism. Now, based on this bare description, one might think that the archetype at work here would be the simplistic one of "good vs. evil," with democracy standing in for the former and Communism for the latter. Marvel Comics did a lot of these simple allegorial tales during this period, and I would imagine that a lot of modern fans are embarassed by this simplication of complex political issues, to save nothing of a possible jingoism associated with them. Indeed, a number of critics would not dignify such stories with any sort of archetypal reading, for they would assume, in line with Marxist hermeneutics, that the story is simply propaganda for the American way of life. And there certainly is an allegorical tone underlying the scenario in which the Russian villain Ivan Kragoff trains apes to serve as his fellow moon-vovagers...
The bulk of my argument was that "Red Ghost" escaped the narrow "good vs. evil" dichotomy characteristic of many other Marvel "anti-Commie" stories by virtue of emphasizing "the imaginative, archetypal essence of the story." However, I didn't devote sufficient space to saying why I felt that archetypal essence predominated over didactic political considerations.

One factor is that, even though there is no "God" as such in the narrative, both the "good" and "evil" representatives of mankind receive identical gifts, as from a beneficent creator-god, The first gift is that both of the rivals' respective countries receive a fuel-source from the heavens, which will allow both Reed Richards' group and Ivan Kragoff's team to reach the moon.



The second "gift" relates to this story's extrapolation of the "cosmic ray" concept introduced in FANTASTIC FOUR #1. As any comics-fan should know, the heroes of the story attempt to reach the moon, but are irradiated by cosmic rays, causing them to crash back on Earth but mutating them and so creating the Fantastic Four. By the time of issue #13, the cosmic rays around Earth seem to have been formulated as something resembling the real-life Van Allen radiation belt. Kragoff knows how the rays affected the Americans, and so he aspires to intentionally snatch the Promethean fire that Richards and Company only stole "by accident."


These two organizing incidents share the purpose of giving the representatives of Communist Russia the same advantages as the Americans. A narrative concerned only with teaching young readers about the evils of Communism would not bother to worry about the factor of "fair play," of giving the bad guys weapons equal to those of the good guys. Indeed, the cosmic rays play some interesting jokes: Kragoff's mindless gorilla becomes even stronger than the Thing, and the Red Ghost gains the ability of becoming immaterial, which arguably makes him more elusive than either Mister Fantastic or the Invisible Girl.

However, the determining factor proves not to be brawn, but brain, as Mister Fantastic is able to utilize one of the weapons on the moon to immobilize the Ghost. Once the heroes have won, they receive approbation from the Watcher, who may viewed as consubstantial with the "god" who made it possible for the two groups to meet on the moon and fight on equal terms.



American comics-readers of the period certainly took some pleasure from seeing their own ingroup validated. Nevertheless, the archetypal essence of the story could be just as easily adapted to a narrative that validated some other ingroup, though of course various particulars would change. In contrast, the didactic elements could not be so easily translated into an opposing arrangement.

When I do a corresponding "null-myth" for this entry next week, I'll endeavor to choose a story that relies on purely didactic elements, to its detriment.

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