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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, 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.


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