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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...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

LOST IN SPACEFIGHTS PT. 2

Following up with the rest of LOST IN SPACE's Season 1 episodes, which I began analyzing for the combative mode here.

"One of Our Dogs is Missing"-- the Robinsons find an Earth-dog on their planet, also a castaway from a space-voyage. The dog helps them drive away a powerful native monster, but the violence is only functional and is therefore subcombative. (SC)





"Attack of the Monster Plants"-- Dr. Smith causes some of the local flora to mutate wildly, so that the "monster plants" attack the ship. The crew destroys the plants with a chemical attack. (SC)

"Return from Outer Space"-- Will accidentally time-travels back to early 20th-century Earth, and eventually returns to the usual planet. (SC)

"The Keeper, Parts 1-2"-- An alien collector of rare animals shows up and shows interest in collecting Earth-people. In the first part, his weapon fends off laser-fire, but is temporarily incapacitated when its mechanism is broken by a stone from Will's slingshot.  In the second part, the Keeper tries to blackmail the Robinsons into giving up two of their kids, but he changes his mind when exposed to their familial goodness. (SC)



"The Sky Pirate"-- a piratical alien, Captain Tucker, shows up. He poses no violent threat, but an alien blob-monster pursues him for his treasure. When the blob has what it wants, it departs without violence. (SC)

"Ghost in Space"-- an invisible alien, acting like a poltergeist, wreaks havoc upon the Robinsons. At the end he is either slain or driven off by the dawning of the sun. (SC)

"War of the Robots"-- a "robotoid," a robot capable of free choice, menaces the family and is overcome by the Robot in a climactic battle. (C)



"The Magic Mirror"-- Penny must escape from a strange world inside a mirror. (SC)

"The Challenge"-- Will engages in a series of contests with alien boy Quano. overseen by John Robinson and Quano's father, "The Leader." The Leader usurps the tests to challenge the professor, resulting in a duel with "volta swords," which John wins. The story ends with the alien father and son squaring off against a cave-monster. (NOTE: this was the first time actor Guy Williams got to do more sword-dueling a la his earlier character Zorro.) (C)



"The Space Trader"-- an alien trader tries to add Smith to his collection. The Robot cancels his contract and drives him and his pet monsters away with some sort of sonic attack. (C)

"His Majesty Smith"-- an alien race selects Smith to be their sacrificial king; they are defeated by deception rather than force of arms. (SC)

"The Space Croppers"-- a trio of aliens who look like refugees from "Tobacco Road" show up on the planet. They plant a deadly crop which the Robinsons must destroy with gas-bombs. (SC)

"All That Glitters"-- Smith acquires the Midas touch from an alien artifact. Faced with a space-cop who wants to repossess the artifact, Smith chases them away by threatening to "metallize" them. (SC)

"The Lost Civilization"-- When Will plays "Sleeping Beauty" with an alien child-princess, he also awakens her army, all devoted to galactic conquest. John Robinson and the Robot manage to stop the invasion force by clobbering their commander and his flunkies. (C)


"A Change of Space"-- Will and Smith undergo weird changes after entering a space-warp capsule. The capsule's owner threatens the family when he learns they've messed with his property, but no real violence ensues. (SC)

"Follow the Leader"-- an alien warlord's spirit possesses the body of John Robinson. Though the possessed  Robinson has one short fight with Major West, the spirit is only exorcised when Will declares his love for John and causes John to expel the evil from his body. (SC)

______

I'll note that if the series had ended with this season, I probably would not deem it to be in the combative mode, any more than other Irwin Allen serials like "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "Land of the Giants."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

ULTIMATE PRIMACY

Returning to the matter of clansgression once more, I've been meditating upon the involved nature of what Bataille called "right relations" as I put if forth in CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT. 1: 

...there's no cultural consensus that an Old Suitor is automatically to be preferred to a New one, or vice versa. It's not difficult to call to mind multiple examples of Hollywood movies in which it's right and proper that a New Suitor should displace an Old Suitor...
If one were to transpose these "Old Suitor/New Suitor" criteria into familial relations, one would get something along the lines of "primogeniture" (the firstborn's right to inherit from the parents, and, by extension, all other privileges descending from that status) vs. "ultimogeniture" (the exact opposite re: privileges being conferred to the youngest-born). But age is only sometimes a criterion. Often it has more to do with being first to "call dibs," as it were.

A typical example of "right relations" being governed by the "I saw him first' principle appears in the 1960s comedy teleseries I DREAM OF JEANNIE. As the story goes, modern-day Air Force pilot Anthony Nelson opens an antique bottle and frees a beautiful genie named Jeannie, who then schemes for the next four TV-years to get Nelson to marry her.



In the third season the show introduced Jeannie's sister, also called Jeannie, distinguished only by brunette hair. I don't believe that it was ever established which one was older-- maybe it hardly counted once both of them passed 2,000 years-- but regardless, Jeannie II's attempts to move in on her sister's territory was a clear example of alloting right relations by virtue of Jeannie I being "first in line."



 In contrast, from the same time-period, we have the teleseries THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Unlike JEANNIE, this one starts out with a kooky couple that's married from the first episode: i.e., Gomez Addams and wife Morticia. However, in the show's second season, a two-part episode from 1965 revealed that Morticia also had a near-twin sister, Ophelia.



In this flashback tale, it's revealed that Ophelia actually "had dibs" on Gomez, in that their respective families had arranged a marriage between the two. Ophelia was willing to marry Gomez but was also too dizzy to really feel anything about him one way or the other, while Gomez was frankly terrified of the dizzy broad. However, on first sight he falls in love with her milder sister Morticia, and she with him. The comic scenario in which the lovers who are destined to be together is only possible because they have to find some way to get around Ophelia's privilege as both fiancee and (I believe) older sister.

So in both of these examples, we're dealing with a "true love" and a "false love," irrespective of which female character meets the male character first. However, a complication comes up when there's something along the lines of a "No Exit" situation, where three characters are destined to remain apart.

DC Comics' original ANGEL AND THE APE series from the 1960s was a lightweight comedy series about a girl and a gorilla, two detectives who solved weird crimes. Aside from the following house ad, which carried a strong "King Kong" vibe, Angel O'Day and Sam Simeon (guess which is which) had no relationship beyond their business partnership.




A 1991 mini-series by Phil Foglio revived the concept with a little more sexual interplay, and also added a new continuity-wrinkle: lady detective Angel was the sister of another 1960s DC character, "Dumb Bunny" from the INFERIOR FIVE series.  In one issue of the mini-series, the sister with the questionable intellect reveals that she's interested in Angel's partner.




Then, a little later, Sam the Ape has a confrontation with long-time super-villain Grodd (his grandfather, actually), and this results in the revelation that Sam doesn't have any feeling for Dumb Bunny, but that he does carry a torch for his partner Angel-- who certainly doesn't have any reciprocal feeling for him.




This does cause Dumb Bunny some aggravation for a time, though by the story's end she's shunted off to a more acceptable romantic interest (who is at least of her species...)  There's no indication that "the one who saw him first" will end up with Sam, possibly because of that whole "not-the-same-species" thing, though Angel and Sam are still partners at the end of the mini, which to my knowledge remains non-canonical in DC continuity.


So does "clansgression" in the sense of "sister-competition" over a male even exist here, given that one sister wants Sam for a boyfriend, but doesn't get him, while the other doesn't want him, but does remain at least in his company? I would say that Foglio is toying with the more normal trope seen in the previous examples, but has deliberately flummoxed the pattern because he doesn't really want to depict an interspecies romance. Yet one may still say that clansgression exists here in the same I said it could in Wilkie Collins' novel THE MOONSTONE:

My verdict is yes, but with the qualification that the MOONSTONE's "incest" is only transgressive-- and clansgressive-- *in posse.*  Because a unison of two near relations of roughly the same age strongly *suggests* a unison between blood-siblings, the basic situation of a sexual relationship between cousins will always carry a potential for transgressivity, no matter whether the author makes use of that potential or whether the audience recognizes it.-- CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT. 4.

If Sam had been a human character, I would expect that in a roughly similar scenario Foglio might have left the door open for some future liaison between the detectives-- in which case the sibling-rivalry would have become *in esse.*

Friday, October 28, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "AMAZONS" (1989)

I

I've been able to find out little about the genesis of this project, aside from what writer-artist Frank Stack (a.k.a. underground comics-creator Foolbert Sturgeon) says in his introduction to this 1989 Fantagraphics one-shot. I've seen an online source label the art as hailing from 1972, but I think that source conflated the Fantagraphics work with a one-shot Rip Off Press publication, AMAZON COMICS.

Stack's second and apparently last Amazon story was presumably completed under the auspices of publisher Fantagraphics. Like a lot of underground comics, it's full of ribald language and violence. Unlike most undergrounds, Stack obviously researched his subject in detail. He lists his sources and influences in the introduction, but even without that information, it would be obvious that he emulated the tradition of Greek line-drawing from the Classical period. I'm not expert enough to say if he succeeds in imitating the specific look of Greek art from the Bronze Age, when the story takes place. However, since AMAZONS is a work full of verbal anachronisms, any possible inconsistencies in the art-style become of negligible significance.

The plot amounts to an "untold story" of the Trojan War. Nine Greek soldiers, led by the Iliad's central hero Achilles, are scouting the countryside around Troy to eyeball possible Trojan maneuvers. The ten men then come across a Trojan patrol on horseback, and to the Greek's surprise, the four riders turn out to be a quartet of Amazons (traditionally the allies of the Trojans in post-Homeric stories of the conflict). The male soldiers try to take the Amazons prisoner. The female warriors fight back, taking advantage of their mounted status to harry the Greeks and generally make them look like fools. The two groups reach a standoff, which is broken when Achilles confronts, battles and loses a fight with the Amazon leader, Hippolyta. Having taken each other's measure, the factions exchange prisoners and go about their separate ways. A couple of the warriors take advantage of the cessation of hostilities to have a little quickie sex.

Though a lot of underground comics pursue the path of satire, AMAZONS is balls-to-the-wall comedy. Its pervading joke is that both the Greeks and the Amazons don't talk in the elevated language of the Iliad and its imitators, but in a rude demotic style. The Greek soldiers are, as Stack himself says in an authorial aside, are "male chauvinist bullies," and they talk like military grunts have probably always talked. Achilles' first words to his troops are, "Shut up the bitching and keep your eyes peeled for Trojans." The other Greeks are a bunch of gross dickheads, tossing out anachronistic slang like "Boogie till you puke" and "What's with them bloody bitches?" The Amazons are no less vulgar, referring to Achilles as "this big macho faggot" and the soldiers as "dumb grunt dogface asshole jock straps."

Stack's attitude toward the marvelous aspects of the Trojan War are a little ambivalent. On one hand, everyone's aware of the legend of Achilles' invulnerability, and at one point an Amazon arrow ricochets off his chest, though one of the female warriors deems it an "optical illusion." On the other hand, in the big fight-scene, Hippolyta scores some pretty good hits on the Greek leader. Possibly she has special dispensation, since she claims to be a "sacred queen" in contrast to his "sacred king" status.




Aside from a few of these references to prevalent Greek religious beliefs-- more enjoyable than usual, when voiced by hard-bitten, foul-mouthed warriors-- there's no attempt at cultural characterization here. Achilles gets the best lines, since Stack has to distinguish him from the "dumb jock straps" he commands, but all the Amazons sound about the same. Still, this may be the wittiest "women's lib" comic book ever authored by an American artist, and no connoisseur of comic-book fight-scenes can afford not to enjoy the five-page Achilles-Hippolyta fracas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

THE QUANTUM THEORY OF DYNAMICITY

From the beginnings of this blog I've maintained that a narrative's "mythicity" inheres in its ability to focus on *symbolic discourse;* which is another name for the author's use of narrative to explore the way his (or her) symbolic representations interact with one another. This creative propensity on the part of authors I've given the name of *mythopoesis,* one of the four potentialties.

But, given that I've sought to maintain some degree of symmetry between the mode of the dynamic and the mode of the combinatory, and their respective sublime affects, I must then ask: is dynamicity also a discourse, and if so, of what?

In one essay I denied the potential of dynamicity to be a discourse, but I'll retract that now.  When the focal presences of a narrative engage one another-- said presences ranging from sentient characters to inanimate objects-- these encounters will form a "discourse" composed of that interaction relating to the power, or lack of power, that characterizes each such presence.

In the majority of narratives, this encounter takes the form of violent conflict. However, violence is not necessary to portray a conflict of dynamicities. For instance, Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER culminates when the titular character faces the possibility that an unscrupulous character has gained the "power" to expose her to societal scandal. Hedda's only method of overcoming her opponent consists of a pyrrhic victory: she kills herself, leaving the extortionist with nothing.

Thus, regardless as to whether a character's dynamicity-- or, what I've called "might" in some older essays-- is expressed in violence or not, each character possesses a *quantum* of dynamicity. In stand-alone narratives, this quantum tends to be unchanging from the start to the finish of the narrative. With serial characters, however, the quantum may change any number of aspects from story to story.

Therefore, my symmetrical arrangement now reads:

Mythicity= the discourse of symbolic constructions

Dynamicity= the discourse of quantum constructions.

Now, further consideration of the aspects of quantum-dynamicity leads me back to the distinctions I've made between two particular types of violence: "functional" and "spectacular." One of my last observations on this subject appeared in CENTRIC AND DIFFUSE WILL PT. 2.  I stated that though the initial outings for Universal's DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN were both subcombative, the former displayed only functional violence because most of the violent interactions were merely "intimated," while the latter embodied spectacular violence because of that film's greater attention to the emotional effect of the conflict within the narrative. Now I would add that there is also more of a "quantum discourse" in FRANKENSTEIN simply because the intent behind the violent depictions is more efficacious, a point also made in INTENT VS. EXECUTION.

Within the sphere of works that do use literal violence, subcombative works cannot develop the full potential of the quantum discourse. Seeing the Frankenstein Monster pitted against mere villagers is never much of a challenge to his powers, even if on occasion they may be able to overpower him by sheer numbers, as in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.




In contrast, the sole combative work in the Universal Frankenstein series does give the Monster a viable opponent in the Wolf Man, short though the battle may be.




The battle between the Monster and the Wolf Man supplies a definite discourse in the sense that the authors must figure out how their respective powers will play off against one another; something that the authors of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN need not do with the merely functional encounter of the Monster and the villagers.

Now, just because an author arranges a combative situation, that doesn't automatically mean he manages to arrange all the quanta in pleasing proportions. Jack Kirby, of course, was the master of all types of fight-scenes, and excelled all of his contemporaries in terms of the "multi-character battle," as seen in this spread from FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3,




This isn't even Kirby's best multi-character "discourse," but one can see how skillfully the artist composes all the chaotic visual elements with considerable attention to the "quantum* of each one's powers.

As an example of a "bad discourse," we have this scene from the first SECRET WARS mini-series, in which penciller Mike Zeck was reportedly constrained to follow the artistic dictates of his editor and collaborator Jim Shooter.



Though one sees all of the dynamicity-quanta in play-- Spider-Man dodges Storm's lightning-bolt, catches Nightcrawler in webbing, etc.-- there's no sense of creative free play here.  The discourse, although it does belong within the domain of the spectacular and the combative, is so uninventive as to come as close to "functional violence" as one can come within a combative work. 

In any case, the formulation of functional and spectacular violence in terms of their energy-quanta also gives me a parallel to this 2014 statement on my distinction between symbols in their 
incarnations of "stereotype" and "archetype."

A stereotype is defined by bare functionality.
An archetype is defined by some degree of "super-functionality."




Monday, October 24, 2016

MY DALLIANCE WITH DYNAMIS

It was about four years ago that I wrote I made a distinction between *dynamicity* and *dynamis.* I've noted that though I continued to write about the former without stinting, *dynamis* fell by the wayside. By 2013 the concept was more or less subsumed by the notion of the "combinatory-sublime," in its turn subsumed by a more generalized "combinatory mode."

I'm sure that I dwelt on the Greek term for so long purely because Frye had invoked it to mean "power of action" in THE ANATOMY OF CRITICISM. Frye actually does not use the term all that often in the whole of the book, though I would say that his Aristotle-derived concept of dynamis informs the framework of his theory. But I found that Frye had failed to distinguish between physical power of action of characters within the narrative, and the power of action conferred upon those characters by extra-diegetical forces, meaning, the author and/or the culture of the author.

In NOTES ON NORTHROP FRYE AND THE NUM-THEORY, written contemporaneously with the GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW essay-series, I said:

The most problematic aspect of Frye’s *dynamis* schema is that in its attempt to cohere with Aristotle’s pattern, it implies that “the marvelous” is located purely within the mythoi of myth and romance.  I’m sure that, even staying within the confines of the canonical “high” literature with which Frye concerns himself, the scholar was quite cognizant that there exist many literary works which have marvelous content but which are not adventure-romances as Frye himself defines that mythos.  Apuleis’ novel THE GOLDEN ASS concerns a man magically changed into an ass, who then listens in on the secret conversations of human beings, while Shakespeare’s TEMPEST concerns a genuine practitioner of magic—but neither work is centered upon what Frye terms the *agon,* the conflict between representatives of good and evil.  If one agrees with me that these two works belong to other mythoi—my choices would be “comedy” for one and “drama” for the other—then it does not make logical sense to say, or even to imply, that aspects of marvelous phenomenality appear only in the adventure-romance category.
GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW PART 3 used Frye to fight Frye, counteracting the logical problems of one work with solutions from another:


...I've drawn attention to a dichotomy Frye introduced about 4-5 years before the publication of ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, in an essay entitled "The Archetypes of Literature," sort of a dry run for ANATOMY.  The dichotomy was between what he called the "narrative values" and the "significant values" of any given narrative.  The former set of values denote those aspects of the narrative that are important to its function as a narrative, while the latter set are relevant to those that cause the narrative to be significant to audiences in a moral, ethical or aesthetic sense (my definition).  As it happens, though Frye does not repeat these terms in ANATOMY, he does, within the same chapter that introduces his reformulation of "power of action," draw a distinction between "fictional modes" and "thematic modes."  These are so close in essence to the earlier terms that I choose to keep using the earlier ones.
Later, in the aforementioned DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY, I gave a pertinent example:


...in future uses, I'll define *dynamis* only as a significant value, in that the character "power of action" in the story is pre-ordained by the type of story in which he finds himself, be it adventure, comedy, irony or drama.
*Dynamicity,* in contrast, denotes a "narrative value" in that the level or character of a protagonist (as well as that of his allies or antagonists) is a value *within* the sphere of the narrative.  To cite one of my earlier examples, Ranma Saotome doesn't know that he's in a comic universe. His level of power, as well as his struggles against the aforesaid antagonists, are no less dynamic than those of adventure-heroine Buffy Summers.
Without pressing the point too much, this means that even though Buffy Summers and Ranma Saotome may have roughly covalent levels of *dynamicity,* their *dynamis* is very different. Buffy is not made "the goat" nearly as often as Ranma is, and this disparity in *dynamis* comes about because of those extra-diegetical forces I mentioned above.  Joss Whedon and Rumiko Takahashi both display a strong penchant for intense action and for incongruous moments of humor, but in these two particular works, Whedon has chosen to emphasize the "adventure mythos" while Takahashi has concentrated upon the "comedy mythos."

Frye's concept of a "power of action" based in his four mythoi was, in essence, a little too limiting as I continued, throughout 2012 and 2013, to investigate the concepts of Kantian sublimity as it applied to literature. However, the more I investigated sublimity, the less it seemed to me that it could be explained purely by the reader's experience of fictional dynamicity, which was the only part of Kant's sublimity-concept that I found useful for literature. I did, slightly before the CROSSBOW series, intuit a parallel between the affects of "the dynamic-sublime" and those of mythicity, as seen in SUBLIMITY VS. MYTHICITY, where I quoted a section from a 2011 essay:


Neither Burke nor Kant demonstrate any great fascination with mythic symbolism as such. However, I would expand some of the terms they use to describe the sublime, such as "might" or "magnificence," to include the sense of a greater mythic pattern that brings the events of a given story into the wider "family" of mythic narrative.


Yet it still took me another year to realize that the "greater mythic pattern," for authors more than philosophers, is the totality of plot-functions and character-types from which they may choose, This led to the TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I series, whose key statement appears in Part II:

The "infinity" of which Yeats speaks here-- like the "richness and profusion of images" I found in Edmund Burke-- suggests another form of the sublime with a different nature than the "dynamically sublime."  It is one that overwhelms in a manner roughly analogous to the "mathematically sublime," but the "magnitude" is one that stems not from physical size, but from the magnitude of how many conceivable connections can be made within a given phenomenality.

I then followed up on my phenomenality-statement in OUT WITH THE OLD PROBABILITY, IN WITH THE NEW INTELLIGIBILITY:

Now I would rephrase [my earlier statement] to say that the combinatory-sublime arises rather from the transgression upon the reader's expectations in terms of intelligibility and regularity. DIRTY HARRY, a naturalistic work which conforms to general expectations regarding intelligibility and regularity, has its own proper level of mythicity but is not likely to inspire a high level of the combinatory-sublime because of said conformity. ENTER THE DRAGON conforms to expectations regarding regularity but not intelligibility; being "anti-intelligible," it has a higher potential to arouse the combinatory-sublime. And STAR WARS, which violates both intelligibility and regularity, has the greatest mythicity of the three in reality, as well as the greatest potential for symbolic combinations and thus for the combinatory-sublime.

In this essay I reversed an earlier claim in which I opined that mythicity was not affected by the narrative's phenomenality. I still maintain that a given metaphenomenal work, in contrast to any given isophenomenal work, inherently possesses more potential for "symbolic combinations" by virtue of violating one or more of the expectations regarding causal nature.  These combinations, however, are also pre-determined not only by the author selecting the nature of his work's phenomenality, but also by his selecting the types of plots and characters that will determine his "thematic" or "significant" approach. Thus, in 2014 I meditated on the role of a character's mythic type, rather than his power, as having a noteworthy impact on the impression he makes:

At present I have not found a necessary connection between the two forms of the sublime.  It does suggest to me how some figures of comparatively low dynamicity can suggest that they are more powerful than they really are. I conclude that it is because of the effect of the combinatory-sublime, which seems to invest such figures with a larger-than-life "mana."-- THE PHENOMENALITY OF PSYCHOS.

Or, to put it as I might have back in 2012: "Norman Bates might not have much in the way of *dynamicity,* but he sure does have a dynamic *dynamis.*"

Friday, October 21, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: DAREDEVIL: LOVE AND WAR (1986)



A comment from fellow blogger A. Sherman Barros reminded me of this interesting Miller/Sienkiewicz collaboration, completed during the same year that they began their collaboration on the 1986-87 limited series ELEKTRA ASSASSIN. LOVE AND WAR is paced like a longish short story, while ASSASSIN is structured more like a novelette. I'll henceforth abbreviate the first title to LOVE, for the symbolic discourse of the story has much more to do with love than with war.

To be sure, the story is rooted in the ongoing conflict between Daredevil and his crime-lord nemesis the Kingpin. However, though the hero swashes a few buckles here and there, this is more of a dramatic tale than an adventure-story. Certainly it has little in common with the comic irony of ELEKTRA ASSASSIN, where the heroine's credo was that "no one is innocent." In LOVE, all of the action centers upon an innocent "damsel in distress," though there's a certain irony about the way her damsel-ness registers upon many of the males in the narrative.



Love is the cause of the Kingpin's lastest crime. His wife Vanessa-- whom, according to Miller, he rescued from an obscure low-wage life-- was injured during the events of Miller's first run on the DAREDEVIL series. Vanessa had been up to a point successful in getting the Kingpin of Crime to retire from criminal activity, but her injury-- which came about indirectly because of her husband's involvement in criminal affairs-- also had psychological consequences. At the beginning of LOVE, she's entered a neurotic state of regression. The Kingpin decides to engage the services of Doctor Paul Mondat, a noted psychotherapist. But being a manipulative SOB, Kingpin wants to make sure the physician brings all of his resources to bear. Thus the crime-lord gives his thugs orders to abduct Cheryl Mondat, the significantly younger wife of Paul, who is also blind and has implicltly married the doctor after having been his patient at some point in time.

So far as getting Paul Mondat to co-operate, Kingpin's scheme is successful. However, the kidnapper selected to abduct Cheryl Mondat is a dangerously unhinged junkie named Victor. Whenever Victor appears, Miller treats the reader to the lunatic's never-ending mental ramblings-- among which is a line of thought in which he convinces himself that he and his kidnap-victim are in love. That Cheryl remains sedated during her abduction is no barrier to Victor. In fact the woman's utter helplessness spurs the kidnapper-- whom Siekiewicz renders as if the man were some weird human-mandrill hybrid, put through some Picasso-like fragmentation process-- to think of Cheryl as a princess, and he Victor as "her most loyal knight."





Daredevil learns about the snatch, and gets on the trail. He succeeds in finding Cheryl, though Victor escapes. The hero takes the unconscious blind woman back to Matt Murdock's brownstone, and assumes his civilian identity in order to talk to her when she wakes. As Murdock he convinces Cheryl to stay hidden, without telling her that he plans, as Daredevil, to liberate her husband from Kingpin's grip. He also manages not to tell her that he's almost as besotted with her helpless beauty as Victor is.

As it happens, though, Paul Mondat has found his own weapon to gain leverage against the crime-boss. As Vanessa begins to regain some of her normal responsiveness, she becomes dependent on Paul, and experiences only fear at the nearness of her husband. Paul, for his part, begins to feel a protective instinct toward Vanessa, and is perhaps a little tempted by her as well: "When [Vanessa] wakes and sees me-- I can only think of Cheryl-- She is much like Cheryl was-- before Cheryl became-- so capable."

During Paul's mental rehabilitation of Vanessa, he succeeds in making her become dependent on him. Then Paul challenges Kingpin to retaliate. As "beauty killed the beast" in KING KONG, Kingpin is utterly unable to deny his beloved wife anything. Thus, by the time Daredevil successfully breaks into the villain's stronghold, his mission is made irrelevant. Kingpin has given both Paul and Vanessa their freedom, and the wherewithal, to leave the country.

As for the damsel in distress, she does get some agency in the end. The demented Victor, using more luck than skill, tracks Cheryl to Murdock's brownstone and tries to kill her in the delusion that he's saving her. Instead, against all probability she manages to kill Victor. Daredevil's only function in the "happy ending" is that at some point he manages to return Cheryl to her husband. On the next-to-last page, Paul and Cheryl, along with the recuperating Vanessa in a wheelchair, prepare to board an airplane and return to Europe, where Vanessa will receive further treatment. The story's last image is that of the Kingpin, his bulk filling the panel, as he contemplates the temporal power he enjoys, even as he tries to forget the loss of the wife who now hates and fears him.



There can't be much doubt that Miller wanted to make a comment about the tendency of men to feel the "Sir Walter Reflex." However, Miller isn't explicitly condemning the reflex, as an ultraliberal feminist would prate about men not giving women agency. Miller seems to suggest that the protective instinct is hardwired into the male genome. (However, if there is a feminine "nurturance instinct" in women, it seems not to manifest in most of Miller's females.) It's significant that Cheryl, despite her being blind and inadvertently attracting almost every male character in the story, does prove, as her husband says, "capable." This trope was also seen in the character of Becky Blake of the DAREDEVIL series, and though Miller did not create her, arguably he gave her as much or more agency than did her writer-creator Roger McKenzie.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

MORE AMPLITUDE ATTITUDE

In January and February 2016 I wrote three AMPLITUDE ATTITUDE essays, starting here, on the subject of using this term to gauge the different elaborations of the combinatory mode. In the first essay, I mentioned that even though the Justice Leaguers were the stars of the Gardner Fox story "Secret of the Sinister Sorcerers," they were also merely functional presences within the story, and that the greatest "amplitude of associations" (a.k.a., "super-functionality") belonged to the three villains of the story.

Now, at the same time, I must specify that this amplitude remains on the level of what I've called "the underthought," since this level of authorial concentrations deals with what Frye called "the progression of images and metaphors," presumably without any prior intellectual arrangement. The "overthought," in contrast, is what I (though not Frye) have called the author's "predetermined complexes of ideas."

With this determination of symbolic discourse in the JUSTICE LEAGUE story in mind, I started re-considering the role of the villains in a much earlier story, "Injustice Society of the World."  This tale of the Justice League's predecessors, the Justice Society, was scripted by Robert Kanigher, though Kanigher substantially built upon the Justice Society mythos largely created by Gardner Fox.

In my analysis, I wrote:

Much of the time, the JSA heroes won their battles a little too easily, partly because so many of their foes were just ordinary thugs and swindlers. I've argued elsewhere that one has to respect the gumption of commonplace crooks in challenging do-gooders who had godlike powers, but it still didn't usually give rise to many memorable battles.
Kanigher, though, seems to understand the potential appeal of a group that expouses an ethic of evil opposed to that of the heroes' belief in good.

In essence, the Kanigher story follows the same opposition in terms of the mere functionality of the heroes and the super-functionality of the villains. And yet, Kanigher's approach lacks the sheer combinatory delight that Fox appears to take in all the beings of "Magic-Land." The "complex of ideas" in "Injustice Society" may not be all that "complex" compared to the more high-minded artcomics. Still, the basic concept seems to proceed from a straightforward idea; that of turning the goody-goody ethics of the established Justice Society adventures on its head, by devices like showing robots impersonating representatives of law and order, or having the Justice Society undergo a faux trial for their "crimes against crime."

And yet, like a lot of Kanigher's work, the writer doesn't seem to elaborate his characters in a symbolic sense. Kanigher produced dozens, perhaps hundreds, of stories for DC Comics over a period of roughly thirty years. The 1966 tale "Beware of Poison Ivy" proves one exception to this tendency, but usually Kanigher doesn't lavish as much sheer symbol-happy imagination upon his characters as does Gardner Fox. Kanigher favors almost schematic arrangements of his plots and the characters caught up in them, and thus I think most though not all of his stories follow the process of "the overthought" rather than that of "the underthought." As a result, even the individual villains in the Injustice Society story leave something to be desired in the mythicity department; they only take on mythic status through their association. This also stands in contradistinction to Fox's creativity in giving each of his "Sinister Sorcerers" a distinct mythic persona.

On a side-note: I would say that O'Donoghue's PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST also elaborates its symbolic discourse through an overthought-process: everything in it is predetermined by O'Donoghue's scathing opinions on "damsel in distress" fiction. There's a rough parallel, too, in the menaces that dog Phoebe's track: they only have mythic status in the sense that they're a concatenation of stock horrors familiar through pop-fictional usage. Phoebe herself is something of an incarnation of what Nietzsche called "negative will," in that she exists just to be tormented, and thus I would tend to see her also as possessing less amplitude than her tormentors, even though she too is "the star of the show."


Thursday, October 13, 2016

NON-ADDICTIVE VICTIMAGE

Two of this week's essays are devoted to situations in which female characters are "victims' (and, in one case, "Victims" with a capital letter). Late last year I accused Noah the Huddite (hmm, sounds rather Biblical)  of being "addicted to victimage," So now I'll toss out a few more words to explain why I don't consider it an addiction simply to enjoy this category of fiction

First, NTH wanted-- and probably still wants-- to find "victims" in every form of literary work. By his cited examples, it didn't matter if a fictional woman is being treated to literal Sadean humiliations or is seen simply getting her rocks off in a way that-- horrors!-- might entertain straight males.  His outlook was to evince extreme hypersensitivity to the maltreatment of anyone who was not a "straight white male," even to the extent of reading narratives like Rorschach tests, designed to let him see in them whatever he wanted to see. That said, there have been others, notably the founders of WAP, who have made slightly more cogent arguments about the marginalization of women in a male-centered culture. I might not, at the end of the day, truly subscribe to their arguments any more than I do to those of NTH. But at least I can see why the early members of WAP might have been naive enough to see pornography as no more than an excuse to celebrate "Woman as Victim." NTH, writing at this point in history, has no such excuse.

I once speculated that Heidi McDonald might be something of a "Wapster." She didn't carry on about every little transgression made by straight white males, but she sometimes expressed the idea that fiction ought to conform in all particulars to progressive ideals, particularly those related to the equitable depiction of women in comics. Back in 2014 I wrote my first essay on the principle of "equity" in response to one of her BEAT-posts, and said, in part:

The whole "who's exposed more" question should never have been one of pure equity.  Equity is something to be observed in the workplace or the boardroom, but not in fiction.  Fiction is a place where fantasy reigns, and as I said in the essay, it's simply a lot harder to sell hyper-sexualized fantasies to women than to men.  I tend to think that this is because in general men are hornier bastards than women, but others' mileage may vary.
Equity should never have been the question because equity of this sort is not feasible.   There will probably always be more sexualized female characters in pop fiction than sexualized male characters-- but that doesn't mean that the latter don't occur at all, or that one can slough off all the chiseled chins and buff bodies as manifestations of "idealization."

 With some alterations, it should be evident that it is also not feasible to avoid a preponderance of "female victimage" in fiction, even though it is obviously desirable to reduce victimage of all kinds in real life.

Why not feasible? Because although fiction is not real life, its characters' "unreal lives" inevitably follow some though not all patterns taken from real life.

I devoted some space to the differences between male and female biology in SACRED AND PROFANE VIOLENCE PART 2, but only a few sentences apply to this essay:

With some exceptions, the so-called "great apes" follow the example set by a majority of birds and other mammals in that most male apes possess greater size, about 25 percent larger than the females. This gives the biggest ones a generally greater capacity for imposing their will, either on females or on other males.
Now, I wouldn't have written as much as I have on the subject of "the Fighting Woman Archetype" if I believed that the greater body mass of the human male decided all questions of supremacy. But if it's almost inevitable that most men are stronger than most women, then this physical factor inevitably will be reflected in fiction. This inequity will at all times comprise an "is" that cannot be negated by any *ought.*  Even comic books, which have arguably been a greater haven for the Femme Formidable than any other medium, can't refute the basics of physical law. Thus, there's a certain inescapable physical-- and narrative-- logic that female characters can be more easily victimized than male ones.

That said, to be victimized is not quite the same as being victims. As I noted earlier, the Victims are not Femmes Formidables, but they still show an unwavering persistence in the face of their travails. In contrast, Phoebe Zeit-Geist only gets one or two moments to defy her assailants, but her torments-- whether any reader actually enjoyed them or not-- were apparently meant to make readers give some thought to the prevalence of the "damsel in distress" archetype in fiction. O'Donoghue's hyper-intellectual attitude is in some ways just as scornful toward the archetype as the animadversions of the Wapsters; he's just not framing his critique as a political statement.

More on these matters at a later date.

ADDENDUM: I thought about expanding these remarks for a Part Two, since I didn't really answer the concern with which I started: how to prove that one may in theory have a taste for "female victimage" in fiction without being "addicted" to it. However, I've decided to sum up here. My basic point is that even if an author uses or even emphasizes female victimage in a given story, this does not pre-determine that he's getting his rocks off on seeing women suffer: both of my examples, O'Donoghue and Hewetson, are clearly using female victimage for other thematic purposes than those of, say, the Marquis de Sade. It remains one of my central postulates that fiction should privilege the ideal of absolute freedom, and that there is no particular trope-- no matter whom it offends-- which holds the exact same content that the politically correct seek to transform into a modern taboo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: "THE COMPLETE SAGA OF THE VICTIMS" (1974/1988)



In my previous post I cited Michael O'Donoghue's PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST as a mythcomic, based in part upon its ironic-- yet still grandiose-- recreation of almost every "damsel in distress" trope known to popular fiction. But what got me interested in exploring ZEIT-GEIST was that I first happened to reread the Headpress TPB that collected six stories devoted to the Skywald Comics series THE SAGA OF THE VICTIMS. Five of these stories, scripted by Alan Hewetson and penciled by Spanish artist Suso Rego, appeared in Skywald's SCREAM magazine, while the conclusion to the "saga," never published in English because the company went out of business, was expressly put together by Hewetson and Rego (and possibly some uncredited assistants) for the Headpress edition.

PHOEBE was devoted to putting one completely unclad female through the wringer in the service of irony. VICTIMS is in a sense just as absurd, placing not one but two young women-- Rhodesian-born Josey Forster and American Ann Adams-- in constant danger from such menaces as a sacrificial cult, a vampire (who's also a robot), a pterodactyl, an octopus, and a Nazi dwarf with his own submarine. Yet in a couple of ways VICTIMS was somewhat more serious in tone. Although the girls' world was absurd, they were not. They are first seen as two winsome modern women, wearing revealing (but not sluttish) apparel. They're seen to be somewhat sexually active, but the narrative doesn't focus on their being subjected to punishments because of their lubricity. 



 Of course, SCREAM was one of three black-and-white horror anthologies published by Skywald, so it might be argued that VICTIMS, like a lot of horror-material, is concerned with putting pretty ladies on display so that they can scream, suffer, and die-- some would say, purely for the pleasure of male readers.

Josey and Ann are admittedly not "tough girls," like some of those seen in 1970s cinema-- notably the characters played by Pam Grier and Margaret Markov in two "salt and pepper"action-flicks, flicks which might have influenced the Victims' appearance. However, though Hewetson does torment his heroines with endless horrific perils--



--the girls prove themselves pretty gutsy and capable of taking on their opponents, as when Ann manages to strangle one of their captors into unconsciousness.From my Fryean perspective, the fact that the girls' gutsiness is validated-- rather than being seen as another crazy aspect of a crazy world, after the fashion of Elektra's "super ninja" status in Elektra in ELEKTRA ASSASSIN-- I term VICTIMS a "drama" rather than an "irony." Like the vast majority of horror fiction, it's all about using horror to purge the reader through an exposure to *antipathetic affects,* rather than using such affects to tear the reader's sense of rationality apart, a literary *sparagmos* if there ever was one.


That's not to say that there's no humor in the story, particularly in the girls' encounter with the dwarf submarine commander, who's much more entertaining than O'Donoghue's evil Nazi from PHOEBE...



...nevertheless, Hewetson does give the girls some dramatic heft. In the next-to-last story, the last published by Skywald, the girls cry to the uncaring heavens, giving the reader a grindhouse version of LEAR's storm-scene.


This story ends with the girls being taken to a huge Manhattan mansion, whose base suddenly sprouts rocket-flames and takes off, implicitly for outer space. The much-delayed conclusion then reveals that the ultimate source of the Victims' torments is an alien from another universe, who has very involved, and fairly senseless, reasons for persecuting them.


In what seems like a pretty nasty ironic conclusion, the alien destroys both girls. However, Hewetson doesn't follow O'Donoghue's lead in rendering the damsels' distress pointless. The last words of VICTIMS show that, despite their destruction, the young ladies survive as "two bits of flotsam-energy," waiting to be reborn again-- at which point, "Boom! All over again!" The symbolic discourse of VICTIMS isn't nearly as organized as that of PHOEBE, despite the fact that both are imitating the mode of the serial chapter-play. Thus Hewetson's story isn't a "mythcomic." But the potential is there, nonetheless, and it's a fun read as well.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "THE ADVENTURES OF PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST" (1965-66)


Somewhere in Leslie Fiedler's voluminous writings, he asserts-- and I obviously must paraphrase-- that even though Western literature is replete with dozens of images of women suffering cruel fates at the hands of men, this does not necessarily make the women into mere victims. On the contrary, in some cases-- such as the classic English novel CLARISSA, written by one of the founders of modern prose literature-- woman's ability to survive the perils that ought to break her spirit provides proof of her *perdurability.*

"Perdurability," though not exactly a commonplace word, would almost do as well for me as "persistence," one of the two literary goal-affects I first categorized amidst these Hobbesian-Bataillean meditations. Persistence is certainly not a quality confined to females, but I'd argue that from one point of view it's possible to assert a logical-- though not to say "necessary"-- correlation between "femaleness" and "persistence," as well as a concomitant correlation between "maleness" and the other goal-affect, "glory."



I don't imagine that Michael O'Donoghue, the writer who created Phoebe Zeit-Geist, was thinking in quite these terms. My reading of PHOEBE is that it was meant as an extreme satire of all the "women in peril" stories that had permeated popular culture for decades. O'Donoghue might not have known Richardson's Clarissa from a hole in the ground (so to speak), but he almost certainly knew of the long tradition of melodramas that placed women in peril, perhaps epitomized by the 1914 film-serial THE PERILS OF PAULINE. Some of these melodramas put the woman in peril so that she could rescue herself; sometimes she is set up to be rescued by a more dynamic male character. Since O'Donoghue consistently places his heroine in situations where she cannot rescue herself, clearly he expected the audience to default to the latter formula-- for throughout the episodic storyline, Phoebe is almost never rescued in "the nick of time," or if she is, it is only to subject her to some even more terrible danger and/or humiliation.




This isn't to say that O'Donoghue was totally unaware of the more capable heroines of fiction. Indeed, according to an essay on THE COMICS JOURNAL site, the editors of the literary magazine EVERGREEN REVIEW asked O'Donoghue to do something along the lines of Barbarella, the saucy siren of French comics. Barbarella had debuted in 1962 and, according to Wikipedia, had three of her adventures translated for EVERGREEN in the same year that PHOEBE began. Barbarella wasn't exactly a tower of strength in the comics I've read, but she was sometimes capable of extricating herself from trouble, and so, assuming that O'Donoghue even looked at the translations, I'd assume that he decisively rejected that approach. If anything, O'Donoghue's approach with PHOEBE has strong affiliations with the ouevre of Sade, who liked nothing better than images of degraded women, though on occasion he does torture his fictional men as well.



So is PHOEBE ZEIT-GEIST a Sadean work? Well, sort of. Once Phoebe loses her clothes in the opening chapter, her lithe feminine charms remain on constant display throughout the narrative; not even at the conclusion, with its ironic "victory," is she allowed to put on any clothes. So O'Donoghue, whether or not he personally enjoyed his heroine's humiliation, played to the "sexploitational" tastes of some potential readers. Of course, the fact that PHOEBE appeared in a literary magazine meant that it wasn't overtly directed at pure porn-lovers-- not even to the extent that the original BARBARELLA was-- and in theory, one could interpret the trope of continuous exposure as hypothetically ironic. And although Phoebe is subjected to loads and loads of sadistic punishment-- including being killed outright-- O'Donoghue treats these torments in a much more cartoonish fashion than Sade. Sade would certainly never conjure up an Eskimo magical ceremony to restore one of his deceased victims, and if he had one of those victims beat to a pulp by a huge lesbian (O'Donoghue's cunningly named "Blob Princess"), Sade would have savored every wound. But when Phoebe endures this fate, she somehow suffers pain without having any wounds to mar her flesh, at least as rendered by Frank Springer's luscious, Caniff-style artwork.

I called the work episodic, and therefore there's no point in summarizing the faux-plot. What makes the work mythic, however, is the over-the-top inventiveness with which O'Donoghue tortures his bizarrely named heroine. He also takes a number of shots at other contemporary forms of pop culture. At one point the author teases the reader into thinking that Phoebe may be rescued by a super-competent Bond-like agent, only to have him killed out of hand before he even begins the case.

Strangely, though the satirist's intention may have been to lampoon popular fiction-formulas-- like having Phoebe facing the prospect of rape by a Komodo lizard-- there's a sense in which he reveals his own dependence on those formulas. O'Donoghue sets things up so that the reader never sees what happens to his imperiled heroine, thus making fun of the reader's desire to see the narrative played out. And yet, not fulfilling the narrative expectations is just as much a storytelling trope as fulfilling them. I would say that when O'Donoghue simply shows Phoebe surviving the ordeal without explanation, he's simply tapped into tropes like those of the animated cartoon, where the characters can survive insane violence for no reason but because the author says that they can. By conjuring up so many stock villains to menace Phoebe-- Nazis, poncey gays, lesbians, foot fetishists-- O'Donoghue gives them new life in this ironic form, rather than undermining their influence by creating new and more viable menaces. In any case, Phoebe may not really be a *femme formidable,* but she is at least a *femme perdurable.*

Friday, October 7, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "A HOPE IN HELL" ( SANDMAN #4, 1989)



Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN series remains at the forefront of the Vertigo books that contributed so much of the cultivation of the superhero idiom into the form of adult, rather than juvenile, pulp.

To be sure, Gaiman's "Sandman"-- an immortal, almost conceptual being who belongs to a small family called "the Endless"-- was not a superhero as such, and most of his stories did not even participate in the combative mode that I deem the primary domain of the superhero. But Gaiman, perhaps much more than earlier groundbreakers like Moore and Miller, infused DC's superhero universe with the qualities of myth and fantastic literature. Small wonder that Gaiman received something less than a warm welcome by the elitist critics of the 1990s. The JOURNAL, which specialized in well-rounded discussions even with many creators their critics did not like, couldn't seem to get a handle on Gaiman's work, resulting in not one but two really blah JOURNAL interviews.

The overall quality of THE SANDMAN, the feature that made Gaiman famous, is to be sure uneven. In many stories the Sandman-- usually given names like 'Dream" or "Lord of Dreams"-- is a peripheral presence, looking on as misguided mortals destroy themselves in pursuit of foolish dreams. But in the earliest issues, Gaiman had to establish Dream himself as a sympathetic character. In the first issue, Dream escapes captivity after having been bound by a mortal sorceer, and in issue #4, which I'm considering here, he journeys to Hell itself, to get back a sacred helmet acquired by a demon during Dream's durance vile.




The centerpiece of the story is a word-battle between Dream and a demon named Choronzon. This form of contest seems roughly derived from the word battles of opposing bards in archaic Celtic tradition, though the implication here is that to some extent, the two supernatural beings do "become" the creatures of which they speak. This too bears a striking resemblance between the literal battles of Celtic magicians, such as the magical battle of the wizards Fruich and Rucht, cited here.  Literal magical battles took place in a number of Celtic stories, but here, Gaiman is to an extent using a less directly violent, somewhat theoretical version of the transformations. Nevertheless, if Lord Dream fails to "trump" his opponent in terms of his imagined transformations, he will pay the price of becoming the demon's servant in Hell.



Throughout the story Gaiman emphasizes Dream's reliance on "hope"-- hope for his own abilities and powers, in particular. By the end of the contest, Dream asserts "Hope" as a cosmic principle that can in theory cancel out even the destruction of the universe. Even after the contest is won, and the sore-loser demons threaten to menace him anyway, Dream defeats the denizens of Hell by telling them that "the dream of Heaven," and the hope to be free of Hell, are in truth the only things that sustain them against perdition's horrors.



"A Hope in Hell" is a good, though not great, Gaiman story: clearly it functions in large part to help readers map out the "Sandman universe." However, it's still a foretaste of Gaiman's best work in the title, and paved the way for the tendency of "adult pulp" titles to find ways to express conflict that did not involve major property damage.