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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, May 25, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: ODKIN SON OF ODKIN (1981)

To elaborate on his definition of mythical thought, Levi-Strauss drew an analogy to "bricolage": "Mythical thought is therefore a kind of intellectual 'bricolage'" (p. 17). The French verb, "bricoler," has no English equivalent, but refers to the kind of activities that are performed by a handy-man. The "bricoleur" performs his tasks with materials and tools that are at hand, from "odds and ends." He draws from the already existent while the engineer or scientist, according to Levi-Strauss, seeks to exceed the boundaries imposed by society. "The scientist creating events (changing the world) by means of structures and the 'bricoleur' creating structures by means of events" (p. 22).-- Janine Mileaf.

As I said in my previous essay, Wally Wood's second installment of his "Wizard King" concept-- completed at a time when Wood was seriously ill, with considerable fill-in work from his assistants-- was by no means as successful as 1978's THE KING OF THE WORLD.



For my purposes, though, ODKIN is the perfect illustration of the virtues of the "near-myth." Levi-Strauss' view of the process of "bricolage"-- which other sources compare to the idea of a "brick-layer"-- was articulated only with regard to "mythical thought," but in truth it compares to any creative thought, and therefore to the whole of literature. When Aristotle perceives the genesis of the great tragedies in the ritual dramas of the so-called "goat songs," he affirms that simple components can be used to construct larger, more ambitious structures.

Wood, who never found a long-term hospitable berth at any comics company, paid most of his bills by taking on diverse assignments. This may have inclined him to a sort of "handyman" approach to his art. KING OF THE WORLD shows Wood extending himself to emulate the classical rigor of Hal Foster's PRINCE VALIANT, but even in KING there are some rambling, episodic sequences, and a few concepts that don't fit the faux-medieval fantasy-world (more on which shortly). ODKIN, however, really is a work of "odds and ends," comprised of three chapters that have no more rigor than a "Dungeons and Dragons" scenario. In fact, the first chapter-- which barely relates to the other two chapters-- is titled "Table Top Land," and is named for a miniature table-game that a wizard uses against his enemies.

The latter chapters explain the meaning of the title, for Odkin literally dies in chapter two, and is resurrected in chapter three through the technological magic of the wizard Alcazar. So the second Odkin is "odd kin" indeed: Alcazar tells Second Odkin: "in a sense you are your own father and mother." In KING Wood flirted with incest-tropes by claiming that Odkin and his father shared the same mother. In addition, the lost King Atlan was preserved from death in the same way as Odkin: whenever the evil Anark managed to slay the King, the monarch simply came to life in another identical body, also implicitly the creation of Alcazar. This element was the only time I felt one of Wood's "bricks" had been badly laid, for the idea of extra bodies seems purely science-fictional, and was an idea he recycled from the "Noman" feature in 1965's THUNDER AGENTS.






In addition, the big conclusion of Odkin's quest lacks the dramatic heft that Wood set up in the first book. Odkin has been manipulated, albeit out of necessity, into infiltrating the crypt in which Atlan has been placed in an eternal sleep, much like a medieval Arthur waiting for rebirth. However, the only way Odkin can free Atlan is to chop off the head of his sleeping body, so that Atlan's spirit will re-incarnate in one of the bodies controlled by Alcazar. Since Odkin is under the wizard's control when he does the deed, this removes any potential drama from the situation-- and even First Odkin's subsequent death lacks much in the way of pathos. Later, Second Odkin must return to the site of the first one's death, in order to reclaim the magical Sword of Atlan, much as Noman often had to seek out one of his dead android bodies in order to reclaim the irreplaceable invisibility cloak.  Odkin beholds his own dead body-- but Wood can only give the scene a strange detachment. Then the story moves move on to a short-term quest, sending Odkin after a mystic jewel that's been stolen by a dragon, which seems to be little more than an unsatisfying analogue to Bilbo Baggins' encounter with Smaug. Wood also tosses out the names of two opposed gods, "IAM" and "AMNOT," but though these sound like principles of affirmation and negation, Wood refuses to invest any attention to the metaphysical symbolism he himself suggests.



In short, ODKIN SON OF ODKIN is an assortment of odds and ends, lacking the relative unity of KING OF THE WORLD. But certainly many of those conceptual "bricks" possess considerable mythic power by themselves, even if they aren't assembled into a satisfying structure. In contrast to the works I've labeled inconsummate, the symbolic value of the building-blocks has not been distorted. The value merely "lies in state," like one of Atlan's bodies, and fails to come alive.

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