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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, March 22, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "THE MENACE OF DREAM GIRL" (ADVENTURE COMICS #317, 1964)



In this 2014 essay I cited the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES character Dream Girl as an example of being one of the first recurring female characters to evince a greater level of sexiness than was the norm for stuffy-seeming DC Comics.

I debated with myself as to whether this story by writer Edmond Hamilton and artist John Forte qualified as a mythcomic. The situation depicted on the cover-- very much of the "oddball school" prized by Silver Age enthusiasts-- represents a standard trope that seemed to pervade a huge number of DC comics: that of the "Back-Stabbing Betrayer." Often the betrayer was someone known to the main character-- Superman and Superboy were forever being shafted by their girlfriends, parents, or other relations for some elaborate reason. But occasionally the betrayer was "the enemy within." The Legion, as a cosmopolitan group that was always recruiting new members, also left itself open to infiltration by insidious agents.

However, sometimes the "betrayer trope" was inverted, and the story revealed that the person apparently scheming for the hero's defeat was actually trying to help him in some bizarre, counter-intuitive manner. Most persons reading this blog will probably know that Dream Girl remains to this day a regular Legionnaire (though I've no idea if the character still keeps the original name and persona). So I'm not giving away much to state that every anti-Legion action taken by DG is actually an attempt to keep the heroes from being killed in an accident that she's foreseen with her prophetic ability.

Hamilton's story is loosely plotted for a DC tale of the period: he also introduces the villainous Time-Trapper to the feature's readers with scarcely any backstory.  This blogpost at the Silver Age Comics website contains some speculations as to why the story has some awkward moments. Yet it may be that Hamilton, though best known for his galaxy-smashing space operas in prose, simply sought to structure the tale as a "day in the life" for the Legion, for they also spend time running about surveying post-atomic debris and carving monuments for worthy personages. Then their seeming routine is broken when a new member shows up.

Saturn Girl expresses imperious disdain toward the new member's claim to read the future:





However, Dream Girl quickly gets the male majority on her side, even as she ticks off all of the female Legionnaires. Of particular interest is the reference one of the girls makes to her "baby-doll face," a characteristic strongly associated with the recently deceased Marilyn Monroe, on whom Dream Girl may be physically modeled.




These juvenile sexual politics ('uh-oh, competition!") have much more potential in terms of sociological myth than the herky-jerky main plotline. I noted that DC, possibly in response to the unwanted attention of Frederic Wertham, tended to keep its post-Code female characters fairly demure in terms of costuming-- though admittedly the company was never a great haven for sexploitation in the Golden Age, either. True, the three "old" Girl Legionnaires aren't fully covered up, and are at least showing their legs. But there were also females who remained completely covered up, like Phantom Girl:



And Shrinking Violet may sport the single worst costume ever seen on a Silver Age superheroine.



But clearly even the ones who showed a little leg were no competition for this:



Costumes as such are not mythic: their ability to attract or repel belongs to what I term the "kinetic potentiality." But DG's ability to fascinate the male of the species does bear some degree of comparison to the many feminine beguilers of myth and folktale, even if her power aligns more with the figure of the Greek prophetess Cassandra. Initially DG's actions seem designed to return the hostility of the Girl Legionnaires by causing them to be expelled for various petty offenses, or by causing their powers to malfunction (DG's Naltorian science is responsible for altering the powers of "Lightning Lass" to those of "Light Lass," for anyone who cares to keep track.) However, as the tale wends on, she targets males as well as females, though as mentioned before, she's only doing it For Their Own Good.

I include "Menace of Dream Girl" as a mythcomic largely because it presages the recrudescence of sexploitation elements in the comics medium, which from then on became a far more prominent element in superhero comics.  In addition, the story proves interesting for building up the previously nominal character of Star Boy. In this story he gains his first strong character-trait, that of being drawn into the "orbit" of Dream Girl. On a comics-forum post, I noted the negligible nature of Star Boy up to that point:

Speaking as I am of marginal characters, I was looking through old LSH stories to see when each Legionnnaire debuted in an actual Legion story, as opposed to being a guest-star in a Superboy or Supergirl tale. I was surprised that Star Boy, introduced in a 1961 Superboy story, doesn't actually appear in a story for over twenty issues of ADVENTURE COMICS. That the editor was trying to insert the character is shown by the fact that he appears in group photos of the membership, in keeping with the status he was given in the Superboy tale-- but Jerry Siegel never puts him in an actual story, and not until #317 in 1964 does Star Boy get something substantial to do. Maybe Edmond Hamilton, who'd been writing the series for about a year, got bugged by his editor and finally decided to make SB the boyfriend to the new female character he introduced in #317: Dream Girl. But for all the emphasis the character got before that, the readers probably could have easily forgotten that he even existed.

At the end of this story Dream Girl leaves the Legion to "perfect" her dreaming-powers, since she didn't exactly shine in making an inaccurate prediction about the Legionnaires getting killed. Star Boy does not leave at that time, but his next major story-arc involves him being forced to kill an enemy to protect his own life, and thus violating the Legion constitution. Expelled, he joins up with Dream Girl, and although they're re-instated in a relatively short time, the two of them always retain an air of ambivalence as far as their allegiance to the group. In contrast to most other superhero-groups, the Legion was like a real club in being subject to infighting and defection, and for all the juvenile nature of the plots, retains a significant place in the development of so-called "comic book continuity."






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