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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, November 18, 2015

MYTHCOMICS: "A MATCH FOR SATAN" (TRUE CRIME COMICS #2, 1947)

In this essay, I established that because I define the quality of mythicity in terms of its capacity for combinations, there will always greater potential for mythicity in metaphenomenal narratives than in those of the isophenomenal. That said, the following Jack Cole crime comic-- which appeared in the only comic book to be issued by a publisher named "Magazine Village"-- is one of the more mythically complex isophenomenal works. The entire story appears at this location.




Many crime-comics of the Golden Age, like the gangster-films that preceded them, followed a set “rise-and-fall” pattern. A gangster rises to power amid a welter of gore, and finally perishes as the law catches up with him at last. Jack Cole’s “A Match for Satan”is not an exception to this rule.   What sets this tale apart from the herd is Cole’s extraordinary gift for black humor.




Neil  Bowman is the quintessential image of the 1940s hick: tall (6’4”), gangling, wearing a straw hat and ill-fitting clothes. As an additional touch to further indicate uncouthness, Bowman continuously chews on matches, though he never smokes cigarettes or anything comparable. The artist himself had one major similarity to Bowman: his height and build, for Cole is described by Jim Steranko as having “a tall, lanky 6’3” frame. Yet in another respect the artist appears to be have been very unlike the character of Bowman-- for while Cole’s self-portrait in POLICE COMICS #10 shows the artist constantly stuttering, Neil Bowman has “the gift of gab.”  







Throughout the story, Bowman often (though not always) gets out of assorted scrapes with fast talk, often using his ‘dumb yokel’ appearance to deceive others.   Admittedly, crafty Bowman bungles as many crimes as he pulls off. But the story's opening caption tells us that “it seemed so long as one [match] dangled from [Bowman’s] twisted lips, his luck was invincible.” The story will show that whatever "luck" Bowman's match-fetish might bring him is highly variable, as is the title. Does it mean that Bowman himself is "a match for Satan," or that the near-brainless, acquisitive evil represented by a single match is the thing that will bring Bowman to a hellish fate?


A Freudian would surely suspect oral issues in a man who  continually sucks on matches. On page 3 of the story, Bowman goes a step further by eating his matches to make the guards think he’s crazy-- all for the purpose of breaking out of jail.  

In Cole’s tale, then, the human mouth is both a means for brute sustenance (eating: that is, devouring other life) and for higher communication (talking).   But because Bowman’s only mode of communication is deception for the purpose of “devouring” others’ lives, he remains a brute in man’s clothing, and like many such brutes, he ends up deceiving himself at times.  


Never is this more the case when Bowman’s heedlessness turns his talisman against him. Though he's entirely guiltless for his heinous actions, he starts leaving his matches at crime-scenes. Thus Bowman's compulsive habits give the police a means to convict him, through the saliva he leaves on the matches.   Even to the last, Bowman continues to use his mouth to attempt deception, but the match—the only time in the story a match gets lighted—shows us the true reward of the brute: the fires of the electric chair, doubtless to be followed by the more satanic fires of the title.          






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