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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...

Thursday, March 31, 2016

ASSORTED STAN AND JACK STUFF PT. 2

I've been meaning for some time to get back to one particular issue I have with Abraham Riesman's muddled meditations on "Stan Lee's Legacy." particularly with respect to Jack Kirby's famous allegations that he did all the plotting work and that Stan Lee did nothing but write the dialogue afterward.

[Roy] Thomas had an experience any comics fan or historian would kill for: He walked the offices of Marvel in the mid-’60s, when Lee and Ditko were working together on Spider-Man and Doctor Strange stories and Lee and Kirby were working together on nearly everything else, including The Avengers, The X-Men, and The Fantastic Four. Here’s the problem: It’s extremely unclear what “working together” meant....Kirby, from the time he left Marvel in 1970 until his death in 1994, swore up and down that Lee was a fraud on an even larger scale: Kirby said he himself was the one who had all the ideas for the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and the rest, and that Lee was outright lying about having anything to do with them. What’s more, he said Lee was little more than a copy boy, filling in dialogue bubbles after Kirby had done the lion’s share of the conceptual and writing work for any given issue. “Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything,” Kirby told an interviewer in 1989. “It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things, for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories.”

At no time does Riesman suggest that Kirby might be exaggerating his claim to near-total creative input. Riesman does credit Lee with coming up with inventing Marvel's "shared universe" approach and with changing the game for all mainstream comics in terms of spoken dialogue, but he makes no argument against the verdict asserted by Kirby's longtime friend and confidante Mark Evanier:

“Unfortunately, from day one, Jack was doing part of Stan’s job, and Stan was not doing part of Jack’s job,” says comics historian Mark Evanier, who worked as Kirby’s assistant and has worked on and off with Lee since the 1970s.

So according to Kirby, he got a raw deal because Lee didn't share the writing-paycheck with him. According to an interview with Roy Thomas (to be identified LATER), Kirby invoked this injustice when he came back to Marvel in the 1970s, claiming that the only way he Kirby would collaborate with a writer would be if the writer wrote full-script descriptions of the stories, so that Kirby would only contribute the art. As most fans know, Marvel's editorial department consented to let Kirby write and draw all of his titles during his second contractual stint with Marvel. I suspect that Kirby knew that the Marvel editors valued his ability to draw vividly, without full-script constraints, and that his demand would lead, as it did, to his finally being able to collect both the artist and writer paychecks that he thought to be his due during the first contractual stint.

I don't begrudge Kirby that privilege, and even though I find little of his 1970s work palatable, from a historical perspective his solo work gives modern critics considerable information about the way he formulated stories when not interacting with another creative presence. What I do cavil at, though, is the idea promulgated by Kirby-- and championed by most anti-Lee writers, including Riesman-- that what Lee was doing was unique in the history of comics, or even Jack Kirby comics.

Here's an interesting aside on the way Kirby worked with another writer, taken from Mark Evanier's KIRBY: KING OF COMICS:

Kirby could do CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN without [Joe] Simon, and he did. A writer named Dave Wood provided scripts, which pretty much meant sitting with Kirby, hearing him spin off a plot, and the going home and typing it up. Jack rewrote whatever he was given anyway."-- KIRBY, page 101. 
Evanier does not cite his source for this view of the Kirby-Wood collaboration, but it's likely that his information came from Kirby. This narrative is probably as accurate a description of a 1957-59 working-relationship as anyone's likely to get after sixty years, but what I find most fascinating is that Kirby's creative process on CHALLENGERS, prior to any significant 1950s collaborations with Stan Lee, was essentially "the Marvel Method." This method meant that the writer simply discussed the plot very generally with the artist, after which the artist created his own version of the story, which might or might not owe anything to the writer's intentions-- at which point the only thing left to the official writer would be the dialogue.

So the question occurs to me, "Let's say that Jack Kirby did the lion's share of the work on CHALLENGERS; then where were his complaints about Dave Wood getting a full writer's paycheck?" I strongly doubt that Wood took anything but the full writer's check; no writer back then would have wanted to work with Kirby for less than the going rate, nor would DC Comics, whose relationship with Kirby was less than amenable, have made any special dispensations for Kirby.

And my answer is a cynical one. Kirby may have harbored some resentments back in the 1950s, but they never surface as they did with respect to Stan Lee for one simple reason: the Challengers were a penny-ante project that never showed-- and I suspect, never will show-- the potential to make Big Money in other media. By the time of Kirby's COMICS JOURNAL interview, there could be little doubt that the work he'd created at Marvel had such money-making potential. I surmise that even though Lee had no more rights to these properties than Kirby did, Kirby inflated the false issue of not getting paid for co-plotting, without mentioning that it was clearly the way he preferred to work.
In fact, though Riesman doesn't spot the discrepancy between what Kirby said he wanted and how he actually worked, Riesman sings the praises of the Marvel Method in terms of freeing comic-book artists from the tyranny of full scripts, and he quotes John Romita Sr, expressing sentiments that may well have mirrored those of Jack Kirby, at least back in his salad days:

“I realized that comics from a script was absolutely paralyzing and limiting,” says John Romita Sr., an artist who worked extensively with Lee in the ’60s and has remained a close friend ever since. “When you had the option of deciding how many panels you’d use, where to show everything, how you pace each page out, it's the best thing in the world. Comics becomes a visual medium!”


In the world of abstract moral judgment, maybe it was wrong for Kirby not to get co-plotting money for both his DC and his Marvel work. However, in terms of real-world interaction, I find it unlikely that any writer would have worked with Kirby under that arrangement-- and as I've said before, I don't think Kirby was capable of producing profitable comic books without writer-input, in any decade whatever.

I don't doubt, as I've said many times before, that Stan Lee has also made claims about his contributions that also lack substance. But when I see Kirby protesting his Marvel treatment with no perspective on how greatly the Stan Lee collaboration boosted his reputation in fans' eyes, I think that he, more than Stan Lee, may need to have his legacy more thoroughly interrogated.



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ASSORTED STAN AND JACK STUFF PT. 1

In this first post, I'm just reprinting my response to an online post regarding the over-emphasis on superheroes in histories of the comics-medium.

Whenever I compare Jack Kirby's almost-solo work on DC's CHALLENGERS with Lee and Kirby's FANTASTIC FOUR, I notice a huge shift in the type of science fiction motifs invoked. 
CHALLENGERS is very much "gosh-wow science fiction," with almost no attention to human characterization.
FANTASTIC FOUR has some of that, but Lee and Kirby concentrate on the impact of weird science upon humans and their civilization. Often this was the type of SF that Kirby, Ditko and others worked on for the "horror" anthology mags, some of which Lee wrote and some of which he plotted and left to his brother for scripting. Lee may have consciously decided to import some of the material he and his colleagues regularly used in the anthology books into the superhero-serial books, or, alternately, the whole shift of focus *might* have been Kirby's idea-- though even if he had the idea first, Lee as editor would have had final say about whether or not to pursue the proposed direction. (I don't want to over-formalize it all: since neither man could have anticipated the long-term result, their attitude might have been on the level of "let's throw it against the wall and see if it sticks for a while.")
There's a valid reason for fans to have made so much of the superhero, though: it was comic books' one claim to creating a specific genre that was had sort-of appeared in earlier media-- the pulp-magazine heroes, for instance-- but arguably had petered out for one reason or another. 
In contrast, with a lot of the other genres you mention, prose short stories and novels cast a much longer shadow, particularly with respect to horror, SF, and crime. That said, one type of fan I've always disliked (getting back to the thread-theme) is the one who *automatically* validates all the famous prose stuff and sneers at all the comics-work as "derivative." The first version on a given theme may not always be the best, and comics-stories have a different aesthetic, since they show pictures of the stuff prose stories describe purely in words.

I gave an example here of a comics-story, Al Feldstein's "Lost in the Microcosmos," that pretty clearly derives from an earlier prose story, and while I haven't read the prose tale, I would hazard that the visual appeal of the Jack Kamen art alone makes it more than simply "derivative."

Monday, March 28, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "ORIGIN OF DOCTOR DOOM" (FF ANNUAL #2, 1964)

I've opined here that the only mythopoeic element in Jim Shooter's SECRET WARS was his attempt to elevate perennial arch-villain Doctor Doom to godhood via his association with Galactus. I've already analyzed the Galactus mythology here, so Doctor Doom is the logical next choice.

Unlike Shooter and some other fans of Classic Marvel, I never cared that much for the series of Lee-Kirby stories in which Doom became a virtual deity thanks to stealing the powers of the Silver Surfer. Doom was always most interesting as an arch-schemer whose devices were forever being undone by his egotism and his self-confessed inability to empathize with other human beings. An early comics-history, whose title I forget, compared him blithely to Shakespeare's "Richard III," probably because the English monarch also combined scheming and disfigurement-- though only belatedly did Lee and Kirby conceive the idea that Doom might also be a ruler in his own right.




Prior to FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #2, Lee and Kirby had published about half a dozen FF-stories pitting the group against Doom, as well as farming him out to titles like SPIDER-MAN. Clearly the collaborators realized that the character had struck a chord in their readership, though Lee and Kirby often tended to treat the character as little more than a gimmicky, Republic serial-villain. They were particularly slow to build upon the intimations of Doom's status as an over-reacher, as seen in his first appearance in FF #5:



FF ANNUAL #2, in addition to reprinting the first Doom-tale, finally expanded on Doom's past, as well as making he villain the ruler of his own postage-stamp realm of Latveria. Just as a guess, I'll speculate that Lee and Kirby may have started out with the bare idea of having Doom trap the FF at an embassy function as the subject of the annual's longest original story, the 25-page "Final Victory of Doctor Doom." After that, at some point the collaborators decided that Doom himself would become the ruler of his own country-- which may have sparked the rewriting of FF #5, and the genesis of a distinct 12-page origin for the super-villain.

Prior to this tale, there had been comics-features built around villains, but I'm not aware of any super-villains who were featured in a non-continued "origin story:" that is, one not literally under the aegis of the hero's series of stories. Doom is seen in his childhood, at a point when his mother is already deceased and his father, a gypsy healer, is indirectly slain by one of the petty lords of Latveria. Young Victor receives an early schooling in the apparent impotence of his father's goodness against the ruthless power of evil, and on one level at least, vows vengeance on the cruel world by becoming cruel in turn.



However, the lack of parental supervision leads Victor to find a cache of his mother's sorcerous possessions. As seen in FF #5 as well, this delving into the occult somehow serves to make the adult Victor into a scientific genius, able to make things like freeze grenades and robots.



Victor's facility with science not only makes him a power to be feared in Latveria, it causes him to be scouted by a rep for an American college.  Lee and Kirby then brilliantly re-write the loose continuity they'd tossed out in FF #5. Now, instead of Reed simply having heard the story of Von Doom, the two have formed an instant antipathy upon meeting. This serves not only as a foreshadowing of later conflicts to come, but as a myth of the encounter between the Old World and the New.



In my essay on the Doctor Strange origin, I remarked upon the opposition between the respective representatives of American and Eastern Europe, but the Doom origin-tale is far more incisive in depicting the gulf between the moody European vs. the cheery, unconflicted American.  Despite Von Doom's rebuff, Reed blithely trespasses on his future rival's space and tries to warn him against a perilous enterprise: the Faustian experiment of contacting "the nether world." Later iterations of Doom's backstory will assert that the scientist hoped to contact his dead mother, but there's no trace of this motive in Lee and Kirby. It seems more likely, given the egotism assigned to the character, that Doom hoped to gain some form of power from the nether world, presumably without actually signing his soul over to Satan.



Though the "Final Victory" tale in the same issue shows Doom regarding Richards as his foe of foes, the last three pages of the story-- during which Doom is disfigured, takes on his "Man in the Iron Mask" persona, and ascends to the throne of Latveria-- do not reference Reed Richards at all, either as Doom's ultimate foe or as a betrayer guilty of sabotaging Doom's project. Only Doom's forays against the FF and the world as a whole are mentioned, for it's the villain's story. On the final page he's shown at his parent's gravesite, devoting his life to the cause of becoming "master of mankind," in a moment just as iconic as any superhero's oath to devote his life to protecting humanity. And the last scene, in addition to suggesting that Doom's rule may be somewhat more benevolent than those he replaced, creates intrigue as to what new and devilish wonders the tormented genius will next evolve.





Tuesday, March 22, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "THE MENACE OF DREAM GIRL" (ADVENTURE COMICS #317, 1964)



In this 2014 essay I cited the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES character Dream Girl as an example of being one of the first recurring female characters to evince a greater level of sexiness than was the norm for stuffy-seeming DC Comics.

I debated with myself as to whether this story by writer Edmond Hamilton and artist John Forte qualified as a mythcomic. The situation depicted on the cover-- very much of the "oddball school" prized by Silver Age enthusiasts-- represents a standard trope that seemed to pervade a huge number of DC comics: that of the "Back-Stabbing Betrayer." Often the betrayer was someone known to the main character-- Superman and Superboy were forever being shafted by their girlfriends, parents, or other relations for some elaborate reason. But occasionally the betrayer was "the enemy within." The Legion, as a cosmopolitan group that was always recruiting new members, also left itself open to infiltration by insidious agents.

However, sometimes the "betrayer trope" was inverted, and the story revealed that the person apparently scheming for the hero's defeat was actually trying to help him in some bizarre, counter-intuitive manner. Most persons reading this blog will probably know that Dream Girl remains to this day a regular Legionnaire (though I've no idea if the character still keeps the original name and persona). So I'm not giving away much to state that every anti-Legion action taken by DG is actually an attempt to keep the heroes from being killed in an accident that she's foreseen with her prophetic ability.

Hamilton's story is loosely plotted for a DC tale of the period: he also introduces the villainous Time-Trapper to the feature's readers with scarcely any backstory.  This blogpost at the Silver Age Comics website contains some speculations as to why the story has some awkward moments. Yet it may be that Hamilton, though best known for his galaxy-smashing space operas in prose, simply sought to structure the tale as a "day in the life" for the Legion, for they also spend time running about surveying post-atomic debris and carving monuments for worthy personages. Then their seeming routine is broken when a new member shows up.

Saturn Girl expresses imperious disdain toward the new member's claim to read the future:





However, Dream Girl quickly gets the male majority on her side, even as she ticks off all of the female Legionnaires. Of particular interest is the reference one of the girls makes to her "baby-doll face," a characteristic strongly associated with the recently deceased Marilyn Monroe, on whom Dream Girl may be physically modeled.




These juvenile sexual politics ('uh-oh, competition!") have much more potential in terms of sociological myth than the herky-jerky main plotline. I noted that DC, possibly in response to the unwanted attention of Frederic Wertham, tended to keep its post-Code female characters fairly demure in terms of costuming-- though admittedly the company was never a great haven for sexploitation in the Golden Age, either. True, the three "old" Girl Legionnaires aren't fully covered up, and are at least showing their legs. But there were also females who remained completely covered up, like Phantom Girl:



And Shrinking Violet may sport the single worst costume ever seen on a Silver Age superheroine.



But clearly even the ones who showed a little leg were no competition for this:



Costumes as such are not mythic: their ability to attract or repel belongs to what I term the "kinetic potentiality." But DG's ability to fascinate the male of the species does bear some degree of comparison to the many feminine beguilers of myth and folktale, even if her power aligns more with the figure of the Greek prophetess Cassandra. Initially DG's actions seem designed to return the hostility of the Girl Legionnaires by causing them to be expelled for various petty offenses, or by causing their powers to malfunction (DG's Naltorian science is responsible for altering the powers of "Lightning Lass" to those of "Light Lass," for anyone who cares to keep track.) However, as the tale wends on, she targets males as well as females, though as mentioned before, she's only doing it For Their Own Good.

I include "Menace of Dream Girl" as a mythcomic largely because it presages the recrudescence of sexploitation elements in the comics medium, which from then on became a far more prominent element in superhero comics.  In addition, the story proves interesting for building up the previously nominal character of Star Boy. In this story he gains his first strong character-trait, that of being drawn into the "orbit" of Dream Girl. On a comics-forum post, I noted the negligible nature of Star Boy up to that point:

Speaking as I am of marginal characters, I was looking through old LSH stories to see when each Legionnnaire debuted in an actual Legion story, as opposed to being a guest-star in a Superboy or Supergirl tale. I was surprised that Star Boy, introduced in a 1961 Superboy story, doesn't actually appear in a story for over twenty issues of ADVENTURE COMICS. That the editor was trying to insert the character is shown by the fact that he appears in group photos of the membership, in keeping with the status he was given in the Superboy tale-- but Jerry Siegel never puts him in an actual story, and not until #317 in 1964 does Star Boy get something substantial to do. Maybe Edmond Hamilton, who'd been writing the series for about a year, got bugged by his editor and finally decided to make SB the boyfriend to the new female character he introduced in #317: Dream Girl. But for all the emphasis the character got before that, the readers probably could have easily forgotten that he even existed.

At the end of this story Dream Girl leaves the Legion to "perfect" her dreaming-powers, since she didn't exactly shine in making an inaccurate prediction about the Legionnaires getting killed. Star Boy does not leave at that time, but his next major story-arc involves him being forced to kill an enemy to protect his own life, and thus violating the Legion constitution. Expelled, he joins up with Dream Girl, and although they're re-instated in a relatively short time, the two of them always retain an air of ambivalence as far as their allegiance to the group. In contrast to most other superhero-groups, the Legion was like a real club in being subject to infighting and defection, and for all the juvenile nature of the plots, retains a significant place in the development of so-called "comic book continuity."






Sunday, March 20, 2016

THIRD PRESENCE, PERIPHERAL

I return to the subject of the narrative-significant value-schism with respect to the ways in which a narrative value, such as that of the combative mode, may appear in a given story, and yet fail to acquire a concomitant significant value.

One of the foremost examples in my system was mentioned in 2013's OUR ARMIES AT WAR, WITH MONSTERS. The 1953 George Pal film THE WAR OF THE WORLDS pulls off one of the cinematic decade's most impressive displays of contending megadynamic forces, but that battle does not decide the war, or the mode. The Martians are defeated by a third presence in the mix, the microscopic germs that bring death to the invaders. The movie credits the victory to God himself, which was probably not an interpretation H.G. Wells seriously supported. But even if God himself had entered the fray, I might tend to regard the Deity as a "peripheral" presence to the struggle between humans and aliens. Certainly the germs are peripheral to the struggle, since they aren't consciously coming down on either side.

In DJINN WITH SUMMONER PT. 2, I cited four examples where protagonists were empowered by presences peripheral to them. In THE COURT JESTER comic hero Hubert is given the skill of a great swordsman by a hypnotist, but because he loses that skill, and because he defeats the villain largely by a contrivance rather than with megadynamic potency, this victory also lacks the significant value of the combative mode. The other three examples all involve protagonists receiving aid from genies, or genie-like entities, who are similarly peripheral to the protagonists themselves. Going by this train of logic,not only are none of the cited works in the combative mode, neither are any of the protagonists.

While the genies allied to those protagonists are powerful, the protagonists are not empowered by their influence: what is lacking is what I'll term the "transitive effect," using the definition provided by the Free Dictionary:

Expressing an action carried from the subject to the object;
requiring a direct object to complete 
meaning. Used of a verb or verb construction.

The same inconsumation of the transitive effect can take place in regard to the effects of phenomenality upon the combative mode.

Shakespeare's HAMLET is a narrative in which it's clear that the protagonist dwells in a world where strange, metaphenomenal events take place. However, though it may be some Satanic power that inspires Hamlet, it certainly does not empower him, and everything that transpires between the melancholy Dane and his opponents takes place on an isophenomenal plane.

Alongside a review of a 1969 film-production of HAMLET, I also reviewed the 2006 film SERAPHIM FALLS. The presence of metaphenomal entities is even more ambiguous than it is in HAMLET, and the questionable entities have no visible effect upon the struggle of the film's two protagonsits, which also takes place upon an isophenomenal plane.



I haven't yet reviewed 1998's MULAN, but although the heroine receives aid from two unambiguous metaphenomenal entities-- a tiny ancestral dragon and an intelligent cricket-- nothing that they do makes any difference to Mulan's isophenomenal struggle against the invading Huns. So, even though Mulan exists in a metaphenomenal world in terms of dynamcity, in a combinatory sense-- as described here--Mulan's conflict is also isophenomenal.

In this group-review post, I scrutinized three low-budget westerns, one of which was unquestionably metaphenomal in terms of the potency wielded by the villains against the isophenomenal hero. However, the other two films dealt only with a cowboy-hero fighting other mundane crooks. The only metaphenomenality in either PHANTOM OF THE RANGE or its remake is that the crooks hire a henchman to pose as a ghost-- albeit in one of the least convincing disguises of all time.

Because the phony ghost adds no power to the villains-- the main hero doesn't even contend with the ghost, who is shot by his confederates-- his slight metaphenomenal presence does not activate the transitive effect, any more than do the cricket and the dragon in MULAN. Thus PHANTOM OF THE RANGE is an unusual example of being a combative film with a peripheral metaphenomenal precence, but not actually a film that is both combative and metaphenomenal in a transitive sense-- which is what brings all such films into the realm of what I still call the Superhero Idiom.

Friday, March 18, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "THE GOLDEN FLEECING" (UNCLE SCROOGE #12, 1955)



In my essay GRAND ALLUSIONS I set down some of my criteria as to why mythicity was not related to an artist's penchant for simply loading various references to archaic myth within the story. I gave a definition of "null-myth" that no longer applies in my more current essays: "an empty allusion to something that the author thinks will grab the reader's attention." The earlier isn't entirely without relevance to the definition founded in the concept of consummation, but it doesn't take in all those forms of "null-myths" that may make no actual allusions but still manage to drain any symbolic potential from the narrative via confused or inadequate depiction.

In the earlier essay I came down on Jack Kirby's ETERNALS for simply making empty allusions. Yet it's quite possible to "empty" a given myth-concept of its original content and yet "fill" it with a new content. (Kenosis and plerosis, all in one operation.)

Carl Barks' 1955 retelling of the "Golden Fleece" narrative manages to perform this operation. Because "The Golden Fleecing" is a humorous comic-book story aimed at young readers, it's a given that Barks had to leave out huge chunks of the best-known version of the story, the ARGONAUTICA of Apollonius Rhodius. Barks does include copious references to characters like Jason, Medea, and some of the Argonauts who sailed with Jason. But it's a given that the artist can't possibly allude to the more adult aspects of the Jason-tale. The principal elements Barks borrows are the Fleece itself (which may or may not have been woven from the wool of a golden ram), a sleepless dragon who guards the Fleece, and a gang of half-woman, half-bird "harpies."

Indeed, the very name of the harpies carried an unexpected adult connotation: according to the commentary in Fantagraphics' reprint of this story, some Disney editor forbade Barks from using the classical name of the bird-monster, because the word was slang for "prostitute" in some cultures. Barks was forced to change the name of his bird-women to "Larkies." But in classical myth, the harpies had an even more dire significance: they seem to have been death-spirits that "snatched" up people (their name is often translated as "snatchers")  or, alternately, stole food from mortals and caused them to starve to death. In the ARGONAUTICA the harpies are not directly concerned with the Fleece: Jason and his men seek out the soothsayer Phineas for his counsel, but they can only get his aid if they dispel the harpies, who keep Phineas in a state of near-starvation by befouling whatever food he tries to eat.



Uncle Scrooge's motives for seeking out the legendary Golden Fleece are necessarily not as noble as those of Jason. He's sitting around his vault one day, when he takes it into his head that he ought to have a new "loafer coat" like those worn by "other rich men." But because Scrooge is the incarnation of Scottish stinginess, he doesn't just indulge in the usual rich man's pursuit of "conspicuous consumption." Rather than buying an expensive coat at a retail store, Scrooge decides that he wants a coat of gold, made from one of his many golden bars. His tailor informs him that a coat made from metallic gold would not be practical, but he puts into Scrooge's head the classical idea of the Golden Fleece.

Scrooge regards the legends of Jason as quaint old stories. Fortuitously enough, a mysterious Arab named Ali waylays him, telling him that he Ali can lead Scrooge to the Golden Fleece itself, and as proof, Ali displays a small hunk of golden wool. Donald and his nephews are suspicious of Ali and his burnoose-cloaked brethren, but Scrooge is caught up in the fantasy of becoming a "modern Jason," and agrees to go with the Arabs all the way to fabled Colchis in their ship, explicitly modeled upon the example of the antique Argo. As the ship embarks, one of the Arabs catches Donald spying and snatches him up. Once the ship is under way, the Arabs cast off their burnooses and reveal to both Donald and Scrooge their true natures: they are not brothers but sisters, and they are all the half-bird, half-woman beings called "Larkies." At the same time, Donald's nephews give chase with their own resources, aided in part by the Junior Woodchucks' Guidebook, a "reservoir of inexhaustible knowledge" (the 1950s answer to the modern Internet tablet).

In no narrative time at all, the ship reaches "the Valley of the Mists" in Colchis, where the Larkies make their home, not far from the ancient temple where the sleepless dragon guards the Fleece. Donald and Scrooge are imprisoned in a bird's nest atop a tall pinnacle, and only then do they find out why the Larkies wanted Scrooge. He was meant to serve as a "taster" in a cooking-contest designed to determine which of the Larkies will become the new queen, and now that Donald has been brought along for good measure, he too must perform the same task.

One of the Larkies makes a secret deal with the Ducks: if they will give her dish the thumbs-up, she'll give them the knowledge they need to capture the Fleece (in effect, she serves the function of Phineas the seer in the epic of Apollonius). However, once the Ducks are gone, the Larkie gets the idea that her sisters won't like the tasters having escaped, so she overtakes the Ducks and gives them some bad info that will lead to their re-capture. The Larkies overtake the Ducks before they can enter the temple of the Fleece, but fortunately, the nephews also show up and drive away the bird-women.  The five Ducks are then able to enter the temple, and though they still have the sleepless dragon to deal with, the nephews cleverly manage to use the Fleece itself to lull the dragon to sleep.




In the end, the Ducks all manage to return to Duckburg, and Scrooge has the Golden Fleece woven into the coat he so desired. But it proves useless to him, because the new coat is "the coldest contraption" he's ever worn. To make a very bad pun, "All that glitters proves to be cold."

I've skipped over a lot of Barks' characteristic details, which add far more verisimilitude to the Ducks' adventures that one usually found in children's comics-tales. But there are a couple of psychological myths here of deeper import.

One is the myth of the folly of desire. Scrooge's desire for easy profit is, as in many Barks stories, the motor that makes the story run, as he drags Donald and the nephews into perilous adventures. I'll forego the ultraliberal cant about Scrooge being the epitome of capitalism and imperialism. The Larkies are just as driven as he by foolish egotism, and one can hardly call them either capitalists or imperialists. In fact, while Scrooge does play treasure-seeker in foreign lands many times, which at first glance might *seem* to conform to the outline of the demonic imperialist, it's worth noting that this time the foreigners come looking for Scrooge. who just happened to be "the first sucker to fall for our Golden Fleece story." In other words, they use the allure of their ancient legends to play the modern capitalist for a fool, and while Barks clearly means for us to laugh at Scrooge's stinginess and rashness, the Larkies are certainly not innocent victims of modernity.

The other myth concerns the association of the Larkies, and their Greek progenitors, with ordure and foulness. The humor behind the "tasting-contest" rests on the absurdity that all the Larkies can make are nauseating foods that the Ducks can hardly stand to eat. The original Harpies had nothing to do with bad cooking, of course, but Barks has very cleverly taken from the epic poem the bird-women's association with bad food. Whereas in the poem Phineas' food is made bad because the Harpies (presumably) shit on it, the Larkies are monsters of feminine pride, taking pride in their awful cooking and demanding that helpless males choke it down to stroke the Larkies' egos. Significantly, Barks also wrings humor out of their defeat. The nephews try to divert the Larkies with fireworks, and then, rather than actually shoot rockets at "ladies," the nephews scare the Larkies away with-- mice, carried into the air by balloons. I've raised objections on other occasions to the old "ladies are all scared of mice" schtick, but it's hard to see the routing of the Larkies as any sort of assault against feminine courage.

In closing I'll note that a few of Barks' efforts to provide verisimilitude come close to being "cosmological myths" in their own right, though they're nothing I care to analyze at this time.




Wednesday, March 9, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "WILD RICE" (THE SPIRIT, 1948)

This down-side of the "myth of money" appears the year after the more jovial P"Gell story, and this time Eisner is concerned with tragedy, not comedy.




The titular character's real name is Rice Wilder, though she garners the nickname "Wild Rice" because she rebels against her privileged life. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Rice-- whose image Eisner specifically modeled upon that of upper-crust film star Katharine Hepburn-- experiences a feeling of being "trapped in a world of gold and jewels that made an invisible cell around her." She runs away from her overprotective family a few times, and when she commits a few petty thefts, her family's wealth protects her from the consequences of these actions. She allows herself to participate in a "business-merger" type of marriage, but rejects her husband's embrace at the wedding reception. The unnamed husband is only seen in one panel and so does not stand as a character in his own right; he's merely another manifestation of the world of privilege that imprisons Rice.

However, as Rice flees to her room, she discovers a petty thief attempting to loot the place. He slaps her down before she can alert the partygoers, but the pain actually intrigues her. Presumably Eisner didn't wish to suggest that Rice was any sort of masochist, merely that the experience of being struck provided a huge contrast to the sterility of her rich girl's life.  Her very next words are to ask the thief is his life is "exciting," but he's only concerned with getting his loot and leaving, though he does evince a small attraction for the "society dame." This niggling validation inspires Rice to force him to take her away from her cloistered existence, particularly when she tells him that she recognizes him from wanted posters as "Mike Caliban."

Caliban reluctantly takes her along, but romance isn't on his mind; by the next day he's sent a ransom note to Mister Wilder (like the unnamed husband, barely a character at all). The Spirit promptly gets on the case, and his task is made easier by the fact that Rice decides to take up the role of a gun-moll for real, holding up a bank on her own. It's not clear whether or not Caliban allows her to do this. When Rice returns to Caliban's hideout, she hears him conversing with a confederate about the ransom-scheme. Rice rebels, and Caliban beats her down-- this time, with no suggestion of any sexy turn-ons. The Spirit, having traced Rice's path thanks to her careless clue-leaving, intrudes on the scene, and informs Rice and the two thugs that a squad of cops are waiting outside.

Caliban's crook-buddy tries to rush out of the hideout, and is shot down, though not killed. The Spirit tries to persuade Caliban to give up without violence, but he's concerned with being tried for ransom. He pathetically asks Rice to intercede; to admit that she went along of her own free will-- and though she's seen him for what he is, she agrees to testify to the truth. After Caliban gives up-- though his buddy remains wounded and defensive-- Rice tries to make a break for it herself, less because she fears prison than because she's never been able to attain the freedom she's desired. She bursts out of the hideout, only to be shot dead by the wounded hoodlum. Yet she dies with a smile on her lips, regarding death as the freedom she's always sought.

I don't want to over-interpret Eisner's unquestionable Shakespearean reference, but I don't think it's sheer chance that he appropriates the name "Caliban." The Bard's character is a brute whom the play's leading-lady rejects outright, and his sexual attempt on Miranda is a classic example of "lower class" trying to infringe on an "upper class" specimen of femininity. Though Eisner provides no other references to "The Tempest," it seems probable that the comics artist is reversing the playwright's meaning: this time it's the privileged upper-class female who foolishly seeks freedom with a brutish lower-class crook. Given the limitations of story-length, Eisner provides no details as to why Rice felt so restricted by upper-class life, but her unhappy fate may be glossed by the more eventful lives of characters like P'Gell and Silk Satin. The "femmes fatales" of the Spirit don't depend on men or other women to give them what they need; they learn how to employ womanly wiles to achieve their ends. Rice, for all of her rebelliousness, still wants someone to extend to her the "silver spoon" of happiness-- and in Eisner's world, total dependence on others, even if it doesn't lead to actual death, comprises an ineluctable dead end.


MYTHCOMICS: "MONEY, MONEY" (THE SPIRIT, 1947)

I remarked in THE SPIRIT KILLETH THE MYTH that the Spirit's most mythic aspect was the sexual vibe he had with the many female foes and support-characters he encountered. Certainly Eisner was never interested in building the standard superhero "rogue's gallery," and although he turned out some memorable grotesques, few of them hold a candle to the galleries of contemporaneous heroes like Batman or Dick Tracy.

By the same token, though, though there were many comic-book artists who sprinkled gorgeous man-killers throughout their heroes' adventurers, Eisner seems to be the only one who really gave some thought to the nature of women. Eisner might not be anyone's model of a socially-concerned proto-feminist, but Eisner's world is not exclusively a man's world, as is the case with most action-adventure comics. Even Caniff, who rivals Eisner in terms of presenting many glamorous women with considerable agency, largely writes as if women exist to be both a comfort and a disturbance to men. In THE SPIRIT at least, there's a greater sense that the world belongs to women as much as men, no matter what the former may have to do to get their slice of the pie.

In addition, Eisner seems to be one of the few Golden Age artists who really thought about the effect of money on society's denizens. Though every artist of the time surely had some experience with the Depression, most of the stories deal with money as that stuff crooks stole from banks, or as fabulous treasures unearthed by enterprising young delinquents. The story under consideration here does, in truth, deal with a buried treasure, but only as a device to move the story along, not as a goal in itself.

Of all the Spirit's feminine foes, P'Gell-- named for a disreputable French district, "Place Pigalle"-- is the one who most pushes the boundaries of the 1940s' G-rated society with respect to sex:




Though of course one never sees anything, there's not much doubt that P"Gell is the kind of woman mothers don't want their sons to meet. She marries many times in her career, and though one never knows exactly how many times she actually "gives it up" to her husbands, P"Gell remains something of an inexhaustible well. She and the Spirit naturally fancy one another, though his perpetual Boy Scout persona forces him to keep her at arm's length-- possibly not just because of her shady tendencies, but also because she might well reduce him to the status of a burnt-out husk. Thus their only "intercourse" consists of him seeking to prevent her from committing crimes, and her skirting past him, often as she does at the conclusion of "Money, Money."



One of P'Gell's past lovers initiates the story: a never-seen-before rogue named Ahmed-the-Trader. The Spirit ambushes this burnoose-clad villain as he sneaks into Central City, but Ahmed gets away. Later the Arab confers with an accomplice, Mr. Quinse, The two of them have somehow learned that there's a lost pirate treasure buried under the girls' school run by P'Gell, during one of her infrequent attempts to "go straight." Qinnse has used P'Gell's sordid reputation against her, so that all of her students are removed, leaving her and her stepdaughter Saree penniless.

P"Gell lucks out, though, for she notices that the impatient Arab has broken into her school, though at the time she doesn't know why. She sics the Spirit onto Ahmed in exchange for a profitable bounty, and then makes a deal with Quinse to share in the treasure. ("Ho hum," she sighs, "Wonder why people work so hard when it's so easy to make money.") P'Gell and Quinse return to the school just in time to see the Spirit engage Ahmed in a sword-battle. (Saree, standing to one side, sees the life-or-death fight through the rosy glasses of a romance-paperback.) P'Gell warns Quinse that if the Spirit is killed, Ahmed will come after Quinse for having double-crossed the Arab. Once again Quinse must share his wealth before P'Gell will intervene to help the Spirit.

Ahmed is jailed, after which the Spirit reveals to his cop-confidante Dolan that despite all of P'Gell's conniving, she's worse off than before, thanks to being sued by her students' parents and taxed heavily for her income from the treasure. However, the siren gets the last laugh, revealing that she's seduced and married Mr. Quinse. Thus, she now owns a piece of the same fellow who put her in financial difficulties in the first place, and one suspects that Quinse, like most of P'Gell's husbands, will not be heard from again.

What gives this short tale the heft of a sociological myth is akin to the one analyzed here. Quinse, in the interests of filthy lucre, uses P"Gell's lurid past against her in an attempt to eject her from her house. He succeeds in enraging the upper-class mothers of P'Gell's students, but P'Gell rises to the challenge by outmaneuvering him in the rest of their encounters-- after which she essentially co-opts his wealth by seducing the gullible chump.

Though many Spirit stories give the titular hero no more than a walk-on role, here he does have some symbolic resonance, in that he's the protector of a masculinist social regime that governs who owns what and how money is used in society. However, P'Gell confounds him with her ability to get around the restrictions of the law, as much through her cleverness as her sex appeal. In this she bears a striking resemblance to the con-woman played by Barbara Stanwyck in the 1941 Preston Sturges comedy THE LADY EVE. Certainly Sturges and Eisner display the same enthusiasm for the Myth of the Clever Woman, though Eisner goes even further in positing a woman who gets away with having a lot of sex but is never "tied down" by any of her encounters with the largely male world of "law and order."

NULL-MYTHS AND DAMNED STATISTICS

My statistics for one particular post took an unusual spike recently. Because Reddit linked to my old review of a Dick Matena story, over 800 viewers at least gave a cursory glance to that post. I think the post was only selected because it contained Matena's satirical image of Hitler selling Watchtower pamphlets. Perhaps needless to say, none of my other posts were affected by this temporary upsurge.

Re: "null-myths"-- while I may continue to write about them whenever the mood strikes me, I'm coming to feel that I've illustrated as much as I can regarding the misuse of the mythopoeic functionality, so I won't be doing null-myth entries on a regular basis from now on. This may lead me to do more mythcomics posts each week-- this week, I'll get in two for sure-- but time will tell.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

THE SPIRIT KILLETH THE MYTH

I don't imagine that Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT occupies as much importance for younger comics-fans as it did for my generation.

Even in the salad years of THE COMICS JOURNAL, few critics could avoid making some assessment of Eisner's seminal SPIRIT work, consisting of weekly comics-stories-- usually seven or eight pages in length-- which were published from 1940 to 1952. Though a portion of these stories were ghosted, particularly during Eisner's military service, Eisner is dominantly credited with bringing a level of craft to the comic-book short story of the Golden Age.



From the elitist view of most Journalistas, most Golden Age work was crude and uncompelling save for a few occasional gems. Eisner sometimes promoted himself as a lone crusader for stylistic creativity amid the pedestrian trash represented by most genre-fiction of the time, particularly the superheroes. Though the Spirit was clearly modeled after the example of other masked mystery-men, Eisner avoided most of the tropes associated with the genre and made his domino-masked crimefighter into a sort of genre-dilettante. The great majority of the SPIRIT stories are crime stories that take equal inspiration from the tropes of the "gangster drama" and of the "hardboiled dick," with a modest sprinkling of some more fatalistic tales resembling postwar "films noirs." In addition, the Spirit also wandered into the genre-terrains of the horror-tale, science fiction (usually Earth-based, though one sequence took the hero on a space-voyage), romance, farce, and even a little satire. Eisner showed an uncanny chameleonic talent to reproduce almost any genre-aesthetic he set out to emulate. If he had a parallel to any of the great directors of Hollywood's Golden Age, it would probably be Howard Hawks, who showed a similar ability to shift across a variety of genres.

However, most SPIRIT stories were done-in-one episodes, and even when Eisner extended a sequence over several weeks, each episode was still constructed so that readers didn't necessarily need to read any other segments of the overall story-arc. This emulation of the short story's tight construction had its strengths, for it allowed Eisner to provide a level of what I've called "lateral meaning" beyond the abilities of most Golden Age practitioners:

Most readers quite logically are concerned with lateral meaning, which takes in both "the function of sensation" and "the function of feeling"-- RETHINKING THE UNDERTHOUGHT.
In the series THE LONG AND SHORT OF MYTH, particularly Part 3, I expatiated on the many ways in which the comic strip's physical limitations limited its ability to expand into the realm of super-functional symbolic discourse, a.k.a. "mythicity." Comic-book stories, even short ones, seemed to display more potential than comic strips in this regard, if only because the former could deliver a coherent "beginning, middle and end," and because symbolic complexity functions best against such a developmental background.

Now, though I've enjoyed dozens of Eisner's SPIRIT stories, I would say that their main appeal is the aforementioned "lateral meaning." Whereas many Golden Age stories were almost entirely about sensation, Eisner could usually bring out a wide variety of feelings-- comic, tragic, adventurous and even ironic-- in a manner comparable to the best Hollywood directors. This facility with genre-tropes led some critics, notably Gary Groth, to devalue Eisner even as Eisner devalued his fellow laborers in the comic-book vineyards-- a definite case of "what goes around comes around."

Eisner's space-limitations didn't inherently restrict his ability to infuse a genre-tale with a deeper symbolic underthought, as one may see in my analysis of his story "The Curse." However, very few Spirit-stories seem to traffic in matters symbolic-- and even in "The Curse," the Spirit himself is a figure of low mythicity in a story dominated by his one-shot "guest stars."

In this 2009 essay, I noted that even though the Golden Age BATMAN comic lacked the dramatic heft of the SPIRIT stories, BATMAN was the superior feature in terms of "evoking mythopoeic fantasies." Part of this may be due to what I perceive as Eisner's disinterest in the superhero's "rogue's gallery." Characters like "the Octopus" and "Mister Carrion" had their visual appeals, but they tended to be rather flat as myth-characters.

The only myth-trope which Eisner exploited with great ardor was that of the femme fatale. Some of these were fairly ordinary types, like the first major female foe, the Black Queen:



However, because Eisner had the chameleon's gift for facial expression, he could evoke in his female characters more emotional intensity than one found in the works of most Golden Age comics-artists.



While many of Eisner's genre-tales lack any significant underthought, the "femme fatale" tales-- regardless of setting or plotline-- form a consistent symbolic motif in the SPIRIT tales. "The Curse," indeed, is predicated on the unpredictability of the female heart, and such characters as P'Gell and Silk Satin often displayed the same sphinx-like aura of mystery.



This is rather a long preface to this week's myth-comic. But the body of Eisner's work, whatever its shortcomings, deserves a little more attention to sort out the priorities of the artist who most deserves the sobriquet of "the Howard Hawks of Comic Books."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

NULL-MYTHS: "THE BLUE FLAME" (BORIS KARLOFF TALES OF MYSTERY #45, 1973)

Though there's been a recent reprint of selected stories from this Silver Age Dell title, I'd be surprised if more than a handful of online comics-fans even remember the magazine's existence. In terms of its historical placement, the KARLOFF title was largely notable as one of various magazines that circumvented the Comics Code by branding their horror-tales with the rubric "tales of mystery." However, for fans growing up in the sixties, the KARLOFF stories at least flirted with scary stuff, in contrast, say, to DC's HOUSE OF MYSTERY, which presented nothing but warmed-over science fiction gimmickry.




Many of the KARLOFF stories are pleasing routine spook-stories, and probably none of them are worthy of being styled "mythcomics." "The Blue Flame" (author unknown) is interesting because it's a good example of a slapdash story that plays around with the rudiments of a strong psychological myth, but bollixes it up.

The plot: at a ritzy English manse, a party celebrates the impending marriage of Bryan and Anitra, each of whom is the young heir to a fortune, and whose engagement seals a contractual merger of their wealth. Bryan relates to Anitra a family legend revolving around the traditional ring, the Blue Flame, which is worn by all brides in Bryan's lineage. Back in medieval times, twin brothers Nordyke and Erik inherit the holdings of their late father, but the old man specifically bequeaths the Blue Flame to Nordyke, the older of the twins. Resentful Erik breaks into a treasure-room, intending to steal the ring. Nordyke surprises Erik just as the Blue Flame unleashes its hidden magic: a fiery blue demon that promptly turns both brothers to ashes.

The story concludes without any explanation of how this medieval legend got started, given that no human beings were around to witness the events in the treasure-room. Bryan even goes so far as to claim that Erik managed to return the demon to the ring before the envious brother met his fate. Why the demon couldn't simply have killed both men and flown off, no one, including Anitra, stops to question. Anitra doesn't take the story seriously, until Bryan lures her off to a secluded room. He then activates the ring-- having immense faith in the accuracy of an old legend-- because he wants to have the demon kill Anitra, now that the contracts for the merger have been signed.

Bryan then gets his comeuppance for his credulous acceptance of old legends. Instead of a blue demon, out of the ring comes medieval prince Nordyke. He not only doesn't kill Anitra, he treats his listeners to a quick summation as to how he got imprisoned in the ring instead of the demon, while it was the demon who turned to ashes, unable to return to the ring. The fate of Brother Erik is not mentioned, but because Nordyke sees Bryan as a modern-day incarnation of Erik's evil, Nordyke conjures Bryan into the ring, and twists the knife by saying that Bryan's ring-prison will then be worn by "yon beauteous lady." Anitra enthusiastically invites the resuscitated prince to share her favors and her fortune.

Even ignoring all of the slapdash improbabilities, there's a lot of squandered potential here. The motif of rival brothers-- or at least, brothers who are respectively good and evil-- is a venerable one. Often the brothers fall out over a woman they both desire, but here the primary motivation is wealth. Erik envies Nordyke getting the Blue Flame, even though he Erik knows nothing of its powers, and is in fact informed that it may have a curse upon it. The result of Erik's attempted theft works out okay for Erik, while, generations later, Nordyke finally visits some vengeance upon Erik's descendant, and for good measure receives both money and sex for his long imprisonment. But there's no emotional resonance to any of this hackneyed scripting: it's just a very bad imitation of the classic "surprise ending" of horror tales.

Supporting the story's tenuous association of the ring and the female are a couple of hazy references to Arabic lore. The brothers' father tells them that he took the ring from the hand of a "wicked emir," who placed the curse upon it (and who presumably is responsible for the rather ineffective demon of the ring). The name "Anitra" is not Arabic, but was invented by Henrik Ibsen for his dramatic poem PEER GYNT, where Ibsen bestowed said name upon the character of a Bedouin princess. But this confluence of factors may mean little or nothing, since it's said that the name "Anitra" become inexplicably popular in the decade of the 1970s.





MYTHCOMICS: "THE ORIGIN OF METAMORPHO" (BRAVE AND BOLD #57, 1965)



“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”-- Prospero, THE TEMPEST.

If the Drake-Premiani DOOM PATROL could be deemed DC Comics' to the success of Marvel's FANTASTIC FOUR, then METAMORPHO might be the company's response to the Hulk, who regained a regular berth at Marvel comic a few months before "the Element Man" got his first tryout in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. The concept of the Hulk followed the general outline of Stevenson's "Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde," but writer Bob Haney may have borrowed from an even loftier literary source.

The origin-story introduces the four central dramatis personae of the series, who remain largely unchanged for Metamorpho's short Silver Age run. They are: daredevil soldier-of-fortune Rex Mason; his sometime employer, megalomaniacal plutocrat Simon Stagg; Stagg's daughter Sapphire, who loves and is loved by Mason; Java, a prehistoric "Java Man" restored to life and educated by Stagg. Winsomely illustrated by Ramona Fradon, the origin-tale establishes that Mason, despite working for Stagg, constantly defies the older man's authority and aspires to marry his daughter. Stagg seems to have no objection to Mason as a suitor, but he doesn't countenance any sort of defiance. Java, however, comically pines after the beauteous Sapphire and hopes to unseat his handsome rival.

Stagg sends Mason and Java on a mission to a hidden Egyptian pyramid, to retrieve a legendary artifact, "the Orb of Ra." Stagg secretly instructs Java to "maroon" Mason, though given the paucity of food and water in an ancient pyramid, this sounds pretty much like a death-sentence. When Mason and Java approach the pyramid in a small private aircraft, the pyramid emanates a crimson radiance, leading Mason to comment that "it must be a rose stone." The radiance creates thermal updrafts so that pilot Mason has to make a forced landing, after which said radiation simply vanishes. The two explorers examine hieroglyphs inside the pyramid, and Mason claims that the glyphs tell the story of how a meteor fell in Egypt and was used for the wand known as the Orb of Ra. Moments later, they find the Orb itself, at which point Java severs their working relationship, knocking out Mason and leaving him in the pyramid. Java escapes with the Orb, picked up by another plan piloted by Stagg's men.

Inside the pyramid, ancient Egyptian mechanisms convey the unconscious Mason into another room, where he's exposed to the rays of the original meteor. Mason tries to save himself by swallowing a pill designed by Stagg to preserve his life, and the result of the two influences is to mutate Mason into a quadripartite being: Metamorpho, the Element Man.



Revulsed by his freakish new form, Metamorpho learns that he can transform himself into any element, be it solid metal or evanescent gas. He uses this talent to fix his plane and to journey back to Stagg's estate. He wreaks vengeance on Java by clobbering him, and then threatens Stagg. To the billionaire's good fortune, he happens to have on his person the Orb of Ra, made of the same meteor that empowered the Element Man. Metamorpho grows weak in the presence of this Egyptian kryptonite, and so he makes his peace with Stagg, on the condition that Stagg finds some way to reverse the transformation. Metamorpho tries to keep his big change secret from Sapphire, but she finds out when Java, furious at his rival's return, tries to burn the house down. Metamorpho promptly rescues his jet-set lover from the fire. Though she's initially put off by his unappetizing looks, she affirms her continuing love for him and suggests that he start using his talents as a "walking chemistry set" to help others.

Bob Haney's "loftier literary source" for this unusual scenario is in my opinion Shakespeare's TEMPEST. The borrowing was very probably unintentional. Obviously there are assorted differences between the central dramatis personae of the play and those of the comic book story. Simon Stagg is primarily concerned with his authority, while the sorcerous "heavy father" Prospero, exiled to a small island, resents any man who approaches his beautiful daughter Miranda. Sapphire Stagg is no sequestered innocent like Prospero's daughter, though Java bears a strong relationship to brutish Caliban, even to the point that both brutes have been given modern-day education by their elderly perceptors, and both lust after the daughters of their figurative "fathers." In the play, Prospero encounters Caliban on the island, while in the comic book, Rex Mason is responsible for bringing the caveman's bog-preserved body to Simon Stagg-- so that ironically Mason participates in the "birth" of his future rival. Rex Mason, whose name might be interpreted as "King of the Stoneworkers" or even just "King of Stone," seems a hybrid of two Shakespeare characters: Ferdinand, the shipwreck-survivor whose good looks bedazzle Miranda, and Prospero's fairy-like servant Ariel, whose "metamorphic" contrasts with the earthbound nature of Prospero's other servant Caliban. Haney even recasts some of the emnity between Ariel and Caliban-- which is, to be sure, not romantic in nature-- into the rivalry of Java and the Element Man.

Some changes were necessitated by the serial nature of the comic-book feature. Some critics, and at least one 1950s SF-film, have argued that Prospero's hostility to both Caliban and Ferdinand indicates his subconscious lust for his daughter, It wouldn't have been impossible for a Silver Age comic to suggest similar psychological content, however obliquely, but if the matter even crossed Haney's mind, this may the reason Stagg apparently doesn't care about anything but punishing a servant's rebelliousness. At no time during the remainder of the series does Stagg change this orientation-- though it may be of interest that in Metamorpho's very next outing, the villain is an older man who once coveted Sapphire's mother, and who kidnaps Sapphire with the express intention of making love to the daughter of the woman who spurned him.



Further, THE TEMPEST's story revolves around a "heavy father" becoming reconciled to his daughter loving another man-- thus leading to the final scene in which Prospero abjures magic and "drowns his book." In addition, the magician also releases his aerial servant Ariel from bondage. But though METAMORPHO is the Element Man's story, it also puts Simon Stagg in the catbird seat: able to control the new incarnation of Rex Mason though a sort of "magic wand," as well as with the promise of restoring Mason's humanity. For his short run Metamorpho was permanently stuck having to live not only with his beloved, but also with two scheming "relatives," a "father-in-law" and his "thing of darkness." To be sure, the remainder of the series played down the Freudian intensity in favor of loony tongue-in-cheek adventure. But the Element Man's origin-story remains one of the more remarkable products of the period.