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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...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

BAD WILL ON TOP

One of the great curiosities of comic-book mythography is that even though the heroes-- and occasionally, the demiheroes-- are the protagonists with whose will the audience identifies, often much of the mythicity resides within the villains and/or monsters who are in the position of supporting players.

This week's mythcomic is a rare exception: the villains of the story do no more than provide base functions in the story, and the focus is upon the heroine Wonder Woman and the cultural matrix of Paradise Island in which she originates.

In contrast, as I detailed here, Will Eisner's feature THE SPIRIT was such a genre-chameleon that it's arguable that the titular hero had little myth to call his own, and most of his villains were no better.

By contrast, a character like Batman could also try on a number of "genre-hats," but there seemed to be a greater conviction about keeping an "essential Batman" in most of the character's iterations-- though this didn't necessarily mean that he was always the mythopoeic center of the story.

In 1942's "Laugh, Town, Laugh," Batman remains the *endothelic* center of the story, but one may well argue that the story is much more about exploring the manic nature of his enemy, the Joker. The celebrated "Killing Joke" barely concerns Batman at all, except in the "everycop" role so often enacted by Eisner's Spirit. Only that slight focus on the fact that the Joker is part of Batman's mythos, and not the other way round, keeps "Killing Joke" from being a Joker story.

Arguably the sidekick-figures are even more relegated to functional roles: Robin just performs his usual routines in the 1942 story, while Barbara Gordon doesn't even take on her Batgirl identity in Alan Moore's tale, though one might argue that her maiming has an extra level of irony simply because she's a superheroine caught by surprise and taken out, like any ordinary mortal.

There's a bit more parity in 1966's "Beware of Poison Ivy." Since this was the debut of the titular villainess, it's understandable that the bulk of the story is devoted to Ivy's allure. Nevertheless, both the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder have substantial myth-roles in the story, although Kanigher plays with those roles a bit by having Batman, the sage dispenser of advice to his young ward, be the one pole-axed by Ivy's erotic charms, while Robin has to be the adult in the relationship, trying to rein in his mentor. Even the three one-note arthropod-villainesses of "Poison" contribute a certain amount of mythicity.

Another interesting variation is that of the "newbie hero," as seen in "The Menace of Dream Girl." Although the magazine is focused on the adventures of the Legion, most of the characters in the story are quite flat, although as I noted in the essay, Star Boy gets a very slight boost from "nothing character" to "character defined by romantic interest." Clearly Dream Girl-- who is given an ambivalent portrait, allowing the new reader to wonder whether or not she is a villain-- is the mythopoeoic focus of the story, half Cassandra and half Marilyn Monroe.

More to follow in a future Part 2.

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