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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, September 21, 2015

GOALS, OR ROLES?

In 2012's THE NARRATIVE DEATH-DRIVE PT. 2  I ended the essay thusly:

As a closing clarification, I am not saying that concrete goal-affects do not appear in hero-villain narratives.  Maybe the Joker sends Batman a mocking note so that Batman will come chase him, but clearly the Penguin would rather get away with the loot rather than tilt with the Caped Crusader again.  But the act of reading about Batman's struggles with both types of villains is in itself an example of an "abstract goal-affect," since the pleasures we derive from reading fiction cannot be said to promote either gain or safety in a direct relationship.
I have the general habit of recalling fragments of stuff I've written and wondering whether or not it fits into the overall schema-- which, I have no doubt, is the same way synoptic critics like Frye and Fiedler also work, since no system springs out of anyone's head a la Athena. I became concerned as to whether this statement had overemphasized the role of "goals" within the diegesis of a given story-- say, a Batman vs. Penguin story-- and had thus come into conflict with the principles stated in HERE COMES DAREDEVIL, THE MAN W/O IDENTITY:


 Daredevil is not a phenomenon with a real existence (at least not in materialistic/positivistic terms), but a fictional construct.
Ergo, neither Daredevil nor any other PURELY fictional character is subject to the "law of identity."
By that principle, the Penguin too is a fictional construct, and though he's been constructed so that he does possess what I called "concrete goal-affects" within his own diegesis, he's defined more by his "role" as a fictional construct than by his "goal" as an actual willing subject, since he isn't one. Unless one of the raconteurs working on him re-defines his roal, the Penguin is defined by the abstract affects of villainous glory than by getting gold, jewels, etc.

Parenthetically, something like this did happen at one point with the Riddler. In some Bat-universe stories-- I can only attest to a story-arc in GOTHAM CITY SIRENS-- the Riddler reforms and becomes a private detective. For all I know the character may have turned back to crime by now, but during that arc he ceased to be a villain as such, though it's debatable as to whether he then assumed the role of "hero" or "demihero."

Fortunately, a quick survey of some of my writings on "persona-types" and the forms of will they incarnate don't seem to place undue emphasis upon the diegetic motives of characters, and I see that in ESTRANGED SPORTS STORIES I did stress "role" over "goal:"

 ...it's the intent behind the narrative, not the conscious intent of the protagonist, that denotes the nature of his persona.

This observation helps me out with a related problem I've been considerering recently. I've defined the monster-persona against the hero-persona as one relating to whether or not their primary role emphasized the "idealizing will" or "the existential will"-- two terms I devised after I wrote this passage in MONSTERS, DEMIHEROES AND OTHER WILLING BEASTS, and which I've interpolated in place of the original, now outdated terms:

King Kong, Gamera and Godzilla may follow the plots of heroes in these assorted works, but I assert that in terms of fundamental character they still represent "existential will," while the not much more intelligent Hulk represents "idealizing will."
But the concept of "existential will" is harder to sell when the monsters are clearly intelligent human beings, like my sometime examples of Doctor Moreau and Victor Frankenstein. Still, I've argued that their obsessions, even if they are motivated by a desire for glory, are subsumed by the "intent behind the narrative." Unlike a genuine glory-oriented villain like Fu Manchu, the two monstrous mad scientists embody the quality of "negative persistence" as much as do big hulking monsters like Kong and Godzilla.

Similarly, because of my tendency to identity Sadean activity as examples of Bataillean expenditure rather than acquisition-- probably best summarized here-- I find myself thinking twice regarding two monsters who are very popular for their overt Sadean qualities.

The first is Freddy Kreuger of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST series. He's become popular, I'm convinced, not because he's a nasty child molester (if indeed that was the intention in the original series) but because he stalks and slays his victims with an imaginative panache atypical of the average slasher-monster.




The second is Pinhead of the HELLRAISER film-series. He doesn't warp his infernal domain quite as flamboyantly as Freddy does with his dream-worlds. But he incarnates the idea of suffering as Sadean glory, and so he does have a highly imaginative "ideal" behind his depradations that is foreign to most monsters.




But in both cases, the narrative's intent supersedes Freddy's snarky cleverness and Pinhead's cerebral viciousness. Their obsessions imprison them far more than do those of the great villains like the aforementioned Fu Manchu, and so I can still align them more with the quality of persistence than with glory.

Perhaps a useful distinction also arises from the concept of "paired opposites' I've formulated: to wit, "hero is to villain as monster is to victim (or, more formally, 'demihero.'"  The monster is designed to prey on a victim who is usually weaker than he, although in many cases the demihero may "step up" and conquer the monster through strength, guile, or a combination thereof. The villain may be just as obsessed as the monster, but characters like the Joker and Lex Luthor-- who make rather good comic-book parallels to Freddy and Pinhead-- are always oriented on challenging heroes, often despite having been beaten by said heroes on many, many occasions. That kind of glory may have only negative consequences, but it's still the same glory we descry in Milton's fallen Lucifer.

On a closing note, I've read that Pinhead has recently been executed by his creator Clive Barker in the world of prose. Pinhead did not appear in the last HELLRAISER film, which I have not seen, and it seems unlikely that Doug Bradley will essay the role again, any more than Robert Englund will again play Freddy, after publicly claiming that he would not do so. I personally won't mind if the characters never appear in film again--

But the crossover-loving part of me wishes that someone could engineer a comic-book meeting between Freddy and Pinhead, one worthy of their respective forms of sadistic nastiness. True, one such comic-book crossover I reviewed here  turned out awful. But the idea of a good writer managing to do justice to both Freddy's American wisecracks and Pinhead's dry Brit humor is a tempting one indeed-- though admittedly, not tempting enough to make any Faustian bargains.


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