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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...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

NULL-MYTHS: "THE BLUE FLAME" (BORIS KARLOFF TALES OF MYSTERY #45, 1973)

Though there's been a recent reprint of selected stories from this Silver Age Dell title, I'd be surprised if more than a handful of online comics-fans even remember the magazine's existence. In terms of its historical placement, the KARLOFF title was largely notable as one of various magazines that circumvented the Comics Code by branding their horror-tales with the rubric "tales of mystery." However, for fans growing up in the sixties, the KARLOFF stories at least flirted with scary stuff, in contrast, say, to DC's HOUSE OF MYSTERY, which presented nothing but warmed-over science fiction gimmickry.




Many of the KARLOFF stories are pleasing routine spook-stories, and probably none of them are worthy of being styled "mythcomics." "The Blue Flame" (author unknown) is interesting because it's a good example of a slapdash story that plays around with the rudiments of a strong psychological myth, but bollixes it up.

The plot: at a ritzy English manse, a party celebrates the impending marriage of Bryan and Anitra, each of whom is the young heir to a fortune, and whose engagement seals a contractual merger of their wealth. Bryan relates to Anitra a family legend revolving around the traditional ring, the Blue Flame, which is worn by all brides in Bryan's lineage. Back in medieval times, twin brothers Nordyke and Erik inherit the holdings of their late father, but the old man specifically bequeaths the Blue Flame to Nordyke, the older of the twins. Resentful Erik breaks into a treasure-room, intending to steal the ring. Nordyke surprises Erik just as the Blue Flame unleashes its hidden magic: a fiery blue demon that promptly turns both brothers to ashes.

The story concludes without any explanation of how this medieval legend got started, given that no human beings were around to witness the events in the treasure-room. Bryan even goes so far as to claim that Erik managed to return the demon to the ring before the envious brother met his fate. Why the demon couldn't simply have killed both men and flown off, no one, including Anitra, stops to question. Anitra doesn't take the story seriously, until Bryan lures her off to a secluded room. He then activates the ring-- having immense faith in the accuracy of an old legend-- because he wants to have the demon kill Anitra, now that the contracts for the merger have been signed.

Bryan then gets his comeuppance for his credulous acceptance of old legends. Instead of a blue demon, out of the ring comes medieval prince Nordyke. He not only doesn't kill Anitra, he treats his listeners to a quick summation as to how he got imprisoned in the ring instead of the demon, while it was the demon who turned to ashes, unable to return to the ring. The fate of Brother Erik is not mentioned, but because Nordyke sees Bryan as a modern-day incarnation of Erik's evil, Nordyke conjures Bryan into the ring, and twists the knife by saying that Bryan's ring-prison will then be worn by "yon beauteous lady." Anitra enthusiastically invites the resuscitated prince to share her favors and her fortune.

Even ignoring all of the slapdash improbabilities, there's a lot of squandered potential here. The motif of rival brothers-- or at least, brothers who are respectively good and evil-- is a venerable one. Often the brothers fall out over a woman they both desire, but here the primary motivation is wealth. Erik envies Nordyke getting the Blue Flame, even though he Erik knows nothing of its powers, and is in fact informed that it may have a curse upon it. The result of Erik's attempted theft works out okay for Erik, while, generations later, Nordyke finally visits some vengeance upon Erik's descendant, and for good measure receives both money and sex for his long imprisonment. But there's no emotional resonance to any of this hackneyed scripting: it's just a very bad imitation of the classic "surprise ending" of horror tales.

Supporting the story's tenuous association of the ring and the female are a couple of hazy references to Arabic lore. The brothers' father tells them that he took the ring from the hand of a "wicked emir," who placed the curse upon it (and who presumably is responsible for the rather ineffective demon of the ring). The name "Anitra" is not Arabic, but was invented by Henrik Ibsen for his dramatic poem PEER GYNT, where Ibsen bestowed said name upon the character of a Bedouin princess. But this confluence of factors may mean little or nothing, since it's said that the name "Anitra" become inexplicably popular in the decade of the 1970s.





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