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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...

Friday, June 24, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "SUPERMAN'S RETURN TO KRYPTON" (SUPERMAN #141, 1960)

I've already used this Jerry Siegel story a couple of times, in 2010 as an example of a Jungian incest-motif and in 2012 as an example of sublimity. Since the former subject relates more to mythicity than the latter, I'll explore in more depth some of the thoughts from the 2010 essay.

I wrote:

In terms of tone, this is less Freudian than Jungian incest. Jor-L and Lora are “heavenly” echoes of the couple that Superman and Lois will become, however long the latter relationship may be deferred. (Critics who make windy arguments about the perpetual childhood of the superhero should remember that in 1940 Jerry Siegel attempted to set the stage for a more mature Superman-Lois relationship, but was overruled by his editors.) But even though the visual resemblance of Lois and Lora is probably just a visual joke, the resemblance of their names may carry a little more psychological heft. Critics may never be sure exactly why Jerry Siegel used the name “Lora” for Superman’s mother, in contrast to the name of the father Jor-L, whose name is certainly derived from JERry SiegEL. But as we don't know of a particular "Laura" who influenced Siegel in these years-- at least I find none in Jones' MEN OF TOMORROW-- it’s possible that consciously or subconsciously Siegel modeled the mother’s name on the girlfriend’s. Not only does “Lora” have the same number of letters/syllables as “Lois,” one finds an interesting congruence given that the first two letters of Lois Lane's first and last names come out to LO and LA. And if one makes a metathetic substitution of the letter ‘R’ for the second ‘L,’ one sees that the name of the prospective wife symbolically embodies that of the mother.
However, wordplay is not the only aspect of the story that might be fruitfully analyzed though the process of Jungian amplification.

Now, it should be said up front that Jerry Siegel was an inveterate fan of wacky humor. Thus even though "Return" is admired by a fair number of critics-- not least Gerard Jones-- for its pathos, Siegel apparently couldn't resist transporting his hero to his former home-world in a rather peculiar way, as seen below:



There's no way of knowing whether or not Siegel's original script specified that the planet-sized creature should look so goony; for all anyone knows, the creature's depiction may have been the choice of artist Wayne Boring. But I suspect that Boring wouldn't have depicted the creature as  being the size of a planet unless Siegel had specified that detail, and that suggest to me that the beast's likeness to a planet is a foreshadowing of the superhero's encounter with an actual planet, the home-world of Superman's birth-parents.

In accordance with the mythology, the hero immediately loses his super-powers on Krypton, but though he's relegated to the status of an ordinary man, his super-costume confers on him a new status. Siegel compensates for his hero's lost power by putting Superman in contract with Krypton's version of Hollywood (note that the "director" below wears something akin to a beret). This in turn leads to the hero being scoped out by Krypton's version of Marilyn Monroe.



Later, the movie-company will also serve as the device by which Siegel returns Superman to his role on Earth. For the time being, Superman's association with the film-world provides a mundane excuse for him to go wandering around Krypton in inappropriate clothing. He uses this excuse when he visits his newly married father and mother, who haven't even given birth to him yet.



The above scene makes it seem as if Superman's priorities are all about connecting with the father he never knew. That wish-fulfillment is certainly present. However, though Superman doesn't try to connect with his mother, Lara intuits their relationship, and does her best to mother-hen him by setting him up with the aforementioned actress / Monroe-double, Lyla Lerrol. Superman mentally compares her to his earlier "LL" loves, Lois Lane and Lori Lemaris, but as I note above, Lyla's nature, being Kryptonian, is most like that of the hero's mother. Thus, by Superman's action of returning to his "mother-world," it may be logically said that he is also returning to his mother-- though more in the symbolic manner of Jung than after the manner of Freud's Oedipus complex.



Arguably, this freedom from future consequences-- in which Superman feels he can do anything, since he's now doomed to perish when Krypton explores-- allows Siegel and Boring to "cut loose" in terms of romantic imagery, as the super-swain pursues his lady love amid sublimely colorful imagery.




To be sure, during one part of the story Superman and Jor-El seek to construct a space-ark capable of saving some of the Kryptonians from the coming destruction. But in keeping with previously established mythology-- which Superman himself apparently forgets until it's too late-- the space-ark is spirited away by the evil city-stealer Brainiac.



By this time, Superman sees no way out, and is content to die bravely with his parents and his beloved. Yet, by the writer's twist of fate, Krypton's version of the fantasy-factory Hollywood serves the cause of "reality" over "fantasy." It's the power of the movies that returns Superman to his usual stomping-grounds-- even though the rationale makes even less sense than the planet-sized goony-bird critter.



It's interesting that after Siegel has played the romance-story so "straight" for the majority of the story, that the author should come up with this daffy scenario: that the infuriated creature's fiery breath acts like rocket propulsion and launches the moviemakers' prop rocket all the way back to Earth's solar system-- thus returning Superman to his role of the dutiful superhero. The last two panels even show the hero waffling on his experience, one moment thinking that he'll always "treasure" the memories of his Kryptonian experience, and in the next, regarding it as a "strange, incredible dream."

Since I'm not advancing the incest-theme in terms of Freud, I don't have to drag in a lot of deadwood about "disavowal" or "fear of castration by the father." The romance with the quasi-maternal figure is derailed not for such fear-based reasons but because the serial character had to be returned to his normal sphere of adventure. However, while many Superman-stories of this period were replete with bizarre whimsy, "Superman's Return to Krypton" is one of the few times that whimsy gave way to a deeper level of archetypal fantasy.


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