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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, 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."


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