Tuesday, July 21, 2015
NULL-MYTHS: "NIGHT OF THE SPIDER" (THE ZOMBIE #2, 1973)
The year after Steve Gerber began scripting duties on MAN-THING, he initiated the ZOMBIE strip in Marvel's black-and-white magazine TALES OF THE ZOMBIE. The concept was initiated by editor Roy Thomas, who apparently decided that Marvel's line of monster/horror titles needed a zombie. To this end, Thomas picked out a 1953 stand-alone horror tale entitled "Zombie," which dealt with a dead man named Simon Garth rebelling against the man who brought him back from the dead. The story was then incorporated by Gerber into a slightly more involved backstory. Garth, a coffee-plantation magnate with business dealings in Haiti, was selected to be zombified in a voodoo ceremony. Once he'd been killed and revived, Garth was a living dead man, largely invulnerable to pain or to physical harm. However, he had almost no emotions, and craved, to the extent that he could want anything, to return to the grave. As in the short story, he had one living relative: Donna, a teenaged daughter. He was protective toward her, though there was always the danger that he might slay her. A magic charm, the Amulet of Damballah, floated around through several stories, and anyone who obtained it could command the Zombie to commit any act of destruction.
Though Gerber scored in fannish annals with MAN-THING, as I showed here, the ZOMBIE strip did not prove rewarding. The Zombie, unlike the Man-Thing, had a meager power of speech, but Gerber usually handled Garth in the same way as his mick-monster: using narrator-captions to describe whatever was going on in the protagonist's head.
Unfortunately, whereas the Man-Thing was interesting precisely because the monster was vulnerable to other people's emotions, the Zombie suffered from a lack of affect. Being dead, he usually didn't care about much of anything, even enemies who tried to destroy him. And the experiences Garth did remember from his former life often put the entrepreneur in a bad light, as a manipulative SOB who alienated his ex-wife, daughter, and many if not all of his employees. This didn't exactly make the average reader sympathize with Garth's plight.
Most of the stories are just middling zombie-tales, but on one occasion, in issue #2, Gerber penned a story, "Night of the Spider." that had mythopoeic potential. Like the Man-Thing tale I analyzed in my previous post, this story included some dicey psychological motifs. However, Gerber didn't explore these motifs in depth as he did in the Man-Thing story, so "Spider" falls into the domain of the inconsummate "null-myths."
For reasons too involved to go into, both the undead Garth and his daughter Donna wind up in Haiti; the zombie seeking death while his daughter seeks the reasons for his disappearance. It just so happens that Donna falls into the hands of a mad scientist who's even madder than the usual comic-book stereotype. This fellow has made it his project to change human beings into giant spiders for no particular reason. He kidnaps Donna, changes her into a giant spider, and she kills him. Spider-Donna wanders into the Haitian jungle, kills another local, and then comes across her wandering zombie-dad. She jumps on him and bites him, but neither her fangs nor her venom can kill an undead man. For his part, Garth doesn't fight back; he just endures her attack and then walks off. To Donna's extreme good fortune, injecting her venom into her dad's body reverses the transformation. She changes back to normal, with no memory of her experience and without further repercussions in the remainder of the series.She wonders vaguely if someone abducted and raped her, and though she doesn't really believe that this happened, little does she know that she's the one who's committed an act that I termed "feminine rapine" in this essay.
Gerber's narrator-captions reinforce this. He's already established that Simon and Donna have an acrimonious relationship, in which she's criticized him for his exploitative practices, so his next symbolic step is to compare the figurative "venom" spilled by the women in Simon's life, in the form of constant nagging, to the real venom the spider-thing injects into Simon Garth.
'Women did this to you [Simon]-- tried to kill you with their venom, called "love..." a poison fully as real to you as the one this creature now spews into your veins... they clawed at you, ripped at you, rent your psychic flesh, made you feel impotent-- and you let them-- for in the end, it was they who withered and died."
In potential this is an almost Faulknerian concept: that Simon Garth, even when alive, protected his potency by simply failing to react to female importunities-- that he essentially "played dead" and allowed them to "spend" themselves, much as a rape-victim would simply endure an attack and wait for it to be over. But though this is an interesting concept, Gerber does not go anywhere with it, either in this story or in any future zombie-adventures. And thus this sequence remains an inconsummate one, a path that runs only to a dead end-- much like the exploits of Simon Garth, Zombie.