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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...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "MISTER MONSTER:ORIGINS" (1992)

My analysis of MARSHAL LAW: FEAR AND LOATHING pointed out how Mills and O'Neill crafted a darkly ironic world that existed "between shit and piss," wherein human striving was essentially futile in the face of an Oedipal stranglehold. However, though Freud's writings often seem just as thoroughly pessimistic, it isn't impossible (with a nod to SEINFELD) to have a "Festivus for Oedipus"-- that is, to use Freudian tropes to put across themes of adventure and comedy.



Though the genres of horror and the superhero have often been at odds in the minds of fans and practitioners, Michael T. Gilbert's MISTER MONSTER feature is a happy exception, and to judge from his essays in ALTER EGO, Gilbert himself is that rare animal able to appreciate the strengths of both genres, and to see them with a certain humorous tone without assuming (as I think Mills does) that "satirical disdain= truth."

The character of Mister Monster might qualify for the definition of "found art," since in 1971 Gilbert happened across a 1947 issue of the Canadian SUPER DUPER COMICS. In this issue, an artist named Fred Casey had just taken a monster-fighting plainclothes hero, "Doc Stearne," and put him in the superhero togs of "Mister Monster" for the costumed character's first and only appearance. As Mister Monster was obviously in public domain, Gilbert chose to revive the character, keeping both the superhero name and his not-especially-secret ID (while giving "Doc" the somewhat humorous personal name of "Strongfort.") Since Gilbert's re-creation of the character in 1984, Mister Monster-- a hard-nosed fighter against evil, though made somewhat lovable by his occasional blunders-- battled vampires, Martians, mummies, and even a doppelganger for Godzilla (whose trademarked name was obviously off-limits to casual usage). But in all his peripatetic adventures, he didn't have an origin.

I should note up-front that one major element of this origin is a variation on a fantasy-theme largely originated by Lee Falk's PHANTOM and popularized by Michael Moorcock: "the Eternal Champion." In ORIGINS we learn that Mister Monster is part of such a tradition: that for centuries there has been a line of heroes who took the name "Mister Monster" in various historical periods, always with an eye to fighting supernatural evil. 



In ORIGINS, however, the foremost scions of evil, the Inner Circle, lay an insidious plan to bring an end to the "Monster" family line, by compromising his ability to have an heir. 

Jim Stearne, who would eventually be the father to the current crusader Strongfort Stearne, had a "steady girlfriend," Gloria, who under ideal circumstances would have become the mother to Strongfort. However, the Inner Circle manipulated events so that Gloria became disenchanted with the demands of the hero's life, and married someone else. 



The Circle then maneuvers Jim Stearne into marrying one of their own kind. Not only will she talk him out of continuing his career as a monster-fighter, she's in theory unable to bear a child, being that she is a vampire able to "pass" for human. But before the vampiress-- significantly named "Lilith," after the "bad mother" demoness of Jewish lore--  can manage to kill Jim with her emasculating attentions (mostly through over-feeding him), Lilith does give birth to a male child, Strongfort. The psychological myth here has some resonance with the standard Freudian narrative, given that Young Strongfort, a potential monster-hunter from the first, begins to realize that his mother is a hostile force in his life, while his father has become a fat, useless hulk. To further complicate the story, the adult Strongfort has blocked all of this out, partly because he's ashamed of knowing that his father shirked his heroic duty, so that Gilbert has to have other character reconstruct the past action in one way or another.

A more negative artist would have used the Oedipal conflict of son and mother to satirize the impotence of human relationships. But although Gilbert does play the conflict up to its melodramatic heights, he also emphasizes the sheer force of Young Strongfort's innate heroism, as he resists the adult vampires who try to kill him near the story's end.



I won't give away the ending, which reveals the most important reason why the adult Strongfort has blocked out most of his childhood experiences. But, as if to put the Freudian cherry atop the milkshake, it's also revealed that Strongfort's current girlfriend Kelly Friday is actually the daughter of Gloria and the man she married on the rebound. But though Strongfort is evidently having sex with the daughter of the woman who was almost his own mother, here too the emphasis is on the invigorating effects of self-knowledge. The hero ends up learning that the father he'd learned to be ashamed of died a hero, and though the reader is meant to laugh at some of Mister Monster's pretensions, Gilbert shows this voyage to self-knowledge as essentially ennobling. At the same time, there are a lot of jokes in ORIGINS that reflect Gilbert's own nostalgic pleasure in weird popular creations. Whereas in MARSHAL LAW Mills  his version of "Mars Attacks" cards in order to sneer at American pop culture, Gilbert enjoys "sending up" famous tropes like the "injury-to-the-eye" motif, in such a way that one can step back from the tropes while still seeing their fundamental appeal.

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