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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, June 30, 2016

NEAR-MYTHS: "JUST LIKE A WOMAN" (URUSEI YATSURA. 197?)

Rumiko Takahashi's inventiveness with creating memorable characters is, as far as I'm concerned, on a par with that of her more lauded predecessor, Osamu Tezuka. However, it's possible that she's never been as celebrated as Tezuka and her contemporary Miyazaki because she channeled that inventiveness into slapstick humor. Certainly in the U.S. it's rare to see comedy given the same props as "serious" drama, though from my pluralistic standpoint it's easy to see them as possessing the same potential for mythic import.

The first URUSEI YATSURA story, analyzed here, re-interprets the Japanese folklore of tigerish demons called "oni" into an alien lookalike species, of which Lum is the primary representative. Though she's not a literal demon, Lum becomes fascinated with a Japanese teen, Ataru Moroboshi, when he's selected to contend with her in a game of "tag," the stakes being the freedom of the Earth from Lum's people. Though Lum's feelings are not explored in detail, one interpretation might be that she's attracted to him because he's as feisty and demon-like as she is. In the earlier analysis, I said:

Perhaps Lum “stoops to conquer”—which is another way of saying that she conquers the conquering male by drawing him into her (literal) orbit, making him one of her demonic people. Of course this specific “doom” is set aside for the sake of future stories, since Ataru remains largely on Earth. But a lot of later stories end much the same as the first one, with Ataru and/or his male friends condemned to suffer some outrageous fate as a punishment for lustful desires. Perhaps there’s a sense in which, from the outset, Ataru is consigned to a comedic version of the Japanese hell—one where he will be the eternal victim of demonesses who constantly present alternating faces of feminine compassion and feminine sadism.

However, in subsequent stories Takahashi doesn't truly examine the Lum-Ataru relationship in mythic depth. It becomes just a comic routine; Ataru refuses to acknowledge his "marriage" to Lum (or for that matter, whatever genuine feelings he eventually has for her), runs around futilely trying to date other women, and gets punished for it by Lum's demonic powers. Most of the time, the women Ataru pursues are instantly turned off by his overbearing attentions. However, in a couple of stories, Takahashi formulated what might have been the biggest threat to Lum's hold on Ataru: a woman who doesn't care about having a meaningful relatonship.

In "Just Like a Woman," Ataru and his various cast-members meet Princess Kurama. Kurama, like Lum, is a sci-fi rewrite of a form of traditional Japanese creature: the "crow-demon" called *tengu.*
Ataru is kidnapped by a bunch of crow-men, who want him to mate with their princess so that she can repopulate the planet, presumably with human-crow hybrids who look more like Kurama than like her avian subordinates.




Note that in this panel Takahashi rewrites the famous "Snow White" myth. In popular retellings of the tale, Snow White is awakened by "love's first kiss." Here, Ataru has nothing on his mind but hormone-crazed lust. This would presumably be okay with Kurama, since she doesn't want anything from her potential mate but his sperm. However, she doesn't initially find Ataru physically attractive. Ironically, the only thing that makes her at all interested in him is the knowledge that another female covets him, which inspires her, bird-like, to "poach" on another female's territory.




The way Kurama does so, however, has nothing to do with romance: she wants to make Ataru over, so that he's more manly and less the lust-crazed idiot.




Naturally, Kurama's attempt to make a man of Ataru comes to nothing. "Just Like a Woman" concludes by infusing Ataru with "enhancing his anima" his feminine spirit. The goofy result is that Ataru starts acting like a woman in all respects, but a lesbian woman still oriented on babe-hunting.

Kurama doesn't give up at the conclusion of this story. The immediate sequel, "Dream Lover," shows her trying to use a form of aversion-therapy, designed to make Ataru fear the violence and capriciousness of women-- though how this would make the young fellow into good breeding-stock, Takahashi only knows. The sequence is noteworthy for having most of Ataru's female cast persecute and nearly kill him, though once again Ataru's lustfulness re-asserts itself over Kurama's technology.



"Father, You Were Strong" was Kurama's final attempt to remold Ataru before she gave up and started trying to find mates among other URUSEI cast-members, with no greater success than before.
In "Father," she takes Ataru back in time to expose him to the simple virtues of her own father, apparently a human being of medieval Japan who at some point produced Kurama's line by mating with a female tengu.




And of course, Ataru learns no lesson at all, and comes close to corrupting Kurama's image of parental strength and rectitude.




Now, I don't consider any of these stories "mythcomics," because the motifs used in them are not sufficiently organized. Takahashi often used concepts related to behavioral conditioning in her comic tales, but she was generally satisfied just to use them to put a given (usually male) character through the mill for a while, before his original nature re-asserted itself. Even the revelation that Kurama has a "father-complex"-- which would certainly go toward explaining why no man is good enough for her-- is left undeveloped.

Still, even if the characters of Takahashi rarely go beyond their basic comic setups, I feel that there's always a great deal of mythic potential there-- which is more than I can say for the majority of modern manga-artists.

Monday, June 27, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: INU-YASHA [THE BLACK PEARL. 1997-98]




I've always thought Rumiko Takahashi's works get short shrift from American critics of manga. For American readers, Takahashi can be challenging simply because so much of her work is intensely wrapped up in Japanese themes-- theoretically, one of the reasons that URUSEI YATSURA failed to interest American audiences, because its humor was so imbricated with the author's cultural references. In contrast, RANMA 1/2 enjoyed a full publication in the U.S., possibly because its specific Japanese content was subsumed by the subcategory of fantasy-themed martial arts, with which American comics-readers were well acquainted.

Admittedly, Takahashi probably did herself no favors-- as far as ideological critics were concerned-- in that her two landmark serials followed the pattern of sitcom humor. Some of these episodic stories were as brilliant in their way as the better episodes of American sitcoms, but because of the episodic structure, it's easy for the diamonds to get lost in the-- well, not trash, but the less impressive pebbles.

While URUSEI and RANMA both included considerable magical fantasy-content, most of the concepts were "one-offs" designed to set up this or that joke. INU-YASHA, launched in 1996 and concluding in 2008, was Takahashi's first attempt to organize her fantasy-content into an epic structure, roughly akin to the prose fantasies of American and British authors.

INU-YASHA (sometimes translated as "dog demon") is named for one of its central heroes, a young male who exists in Japan's medieval "Sengoku" period, and who is a hybrid of a mating between a human female and a male "dog demon," both of whom have expired at the time that the series begins. The other primary character at the series' outset is 20th-century female teenager Kagome Higurashi, who finds herself transported by magical forces back to Inu-Yasha's time. Partly because Kagome is the reincarnation of a Sengoku sorceress named Kikyo-- who, before her demise, was the lover of Inu-Yasha-- Kagome becomes involved in Inu-Yasha's quest to locate all the pieces of a magical icon, "the Shikon Jewel." Even when Kagome gains the power to cross back into her own time, she continues to periodically return to the medieval fantasy-scape, not only out of a sense of heroic responsibility but also because the two young people have started to form the almost obligatory romantic attachment.



The set of stories I term "The Black Pearl" was the first time Takahashi gave her exploration of Japanese mythology a strong sense of psychological structure. By the time this storyline begins, Inu-Yasha and Kagome have just barely put aside their differences enough to start working together. As mentioned before, both of Inu-Yasha's parents and his former lover are all deceased, but the demon-youth's half-brother Sesshomaru-- seen above-- is still around, and he seeks out Inu-Yasha because Sesshomaru covets a special treasure left behind by the dead demon-father they have in common. To learn the location of the treasure, which Inu-Yasha does not consciously remember, Sesshomaru
presents his half-brother with what seems to be the spectre of Inu-Yasha's late mortal mother.



However, the spectre is actually a "nothing woman," a faceless demon composed of the spirits of mourning women who have lost children. The demon gains the secret Sesshomaru wants. But because she's begun to think of Inu-Yasha as her actual child, the nothing woman sacrifices herself for Inu-Yasha.




This doesn't deter Sesshomaru from plucking the secret he wants from Inu-Yasha's head-- or more specifically, from his eye.



The black pearl that the full-demon brother steals transports him into another world, the otherworldly tomb of the demon-dog father of both Inu-Yasha and Sesshomaru.




While the medium of comics is replete with all sorts of weird fantasy-dimensions, the idea of the two Japanese heroes being forced to root around within the skeleton of a dead demon is one of Takahashi's most psychologically astute fantasy-concepts. (Sort of the inversion of Freud's notion of how all individuals carried the "family romance" around in their heads.)

Within the skeleton-structure, Sesshomaru finds the treasure he seeks: a magical sword named Tetsusaiga, stuck in the earth. In a clever reversal of the Excalibut trope, neither of the brother-rivals can draw the sword, but Kagome can.



I won't go into detail regarding the conclusion of the first battle between Inu-Yasha and Sesshomaru over the sword, for Takahashi doesn't truly resolve it. Both Sesshomaru and the sword continue to play major roles in the long-running series, so the termination of "Black Pearl" is more in the nature of a stand-off.

Throughout the series proper, Inu-Yasha continually seeks to master all the magical powers of Tetsusaiga. This part of the demon-youth's spiritual journey no doubt bears some comparison with other Japanese narratives about heroes mastering sword-craft, real or fantastic. But perhaps because Takahashi herself is female, she's careful to arrange the sword's purpose as one that indirectly reinforces Inu-Yasha's protection of, and bond to, Kagome.

Interestingly, though Inu-Yasha's mother and father do not make literal appearances in the series, it might be argued that negative symbolic versions of such figures appear. Sesshomaru may be viewed as a displacement for a hostile father-figure, in that he is a pure demon and older than Inu-Yasha. In addition, the deceased mortal sorceress Kikyo-- once Inu-Yasha's paramour-- is reanimated with all of her charms-- which are largely the same as Kagome's, since the two females are "related" through the vehicle of reincarnation. I view the "nothing woman" as an anticipation of the role Kikyo plays throughout the series, though instead of being a maternal figure to Inu-Yasha, Kikyo is more in the nature of an "older sister," who overshadows teenaged Kagome with her superior wisdom and maturity. Thus Takahashi's very freewheeling exploration of traditional Japanese mythology is also the medium through which she explores her most frequent theme: that of the enduring sturm-and-drang of male and female.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

NULL-MYTHS: SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI (1978)




The recent passing of Muhammad Ali moved me to pull out this moldy oldie. It certainly wasn't the first time that the fictional Man of Steel had adventures with real-life celebrities, but it may well be the worst from any standpoint-- though as usual, my focus is upon the inconsummation of any mythopoeic elements in the story.

As I asserted in the preceding essay, both sports-figures and superheroes excite the adulation of their fans through the action of the "participation mystique," despite the fact that the first group are real human beings and the second are not. That said, to some extent the "Muhammad Ali" of the comic book is by default an unreal fictional creation, not least because he lives in the same world as Superman and various other DC Comics characters. Thus when I speak of the Ali in the comic book, I'll distinguish this character from his real model by using the term "TD-Ali." "TD" is short for my term "template deviation," connoting that the character referenced is a deviation from some original template-- whether that template is a living person or a fictional precursor.

There are differing stories about how the project was initiated. This online essay offers the possibility that the proposal may have come either from DC editor Julie Schwartz or from Real-Ali's promoter Don King. I tend to favor the latter hypothesis. Though fictional Superman had been a "celebrity" for a longer time than the famous boxer, the dominant orientation of the story is to extol the heroism of TD-Ali over that of the Kryptonian, even though TD-Ali only exists within the context of Superman's world.

Of course, it's equally possible that the comics-creators gave disproportionate attention to the heroism of TD-Ali simply because (a) they didn't want to produce anything that Real-Ali's business managers might reject, or (b) they themselves didn't really respect "unreal" superheroes in comparison to "real" sports-figures. In addition, because Real-Ali was one of the world's most famous Afro-American celebrities, the raconteurs certainly didn't want to do anything that might reflect badly on their depiction of such a celebrity. Curiously, though Joe Kubert did an early cover for the project and Denny O'Neil is credited with the "original story," Neal Adams is credited with both penciling and "adapting" O'Neil's script-- which apparently means that Adams provided the dialogue and the specific plot-developments.

The plot was exceedingly tired even in 1978. A race of alien warriors-- given the underwhelming name of "the Scrubb"-- come to Earth. They view humankind as a threat, but instead of simply eradicating Earth right away, their representative "Rat'lar" explains that the Scrubb want to prove themselves superior to Earth-people in the eyes of all other sentient beings: "by showing our standard bearer is the greatest." The first potential gladiator Rat'lar approaches is TD-Ali, though the alien doesn't explicitly say that he's chosen the boxer to be the representative of Earth in the coming obligatory tournament. Superman happens along and argues that he ought to be the one to defend Earth-- and this leads to the paper-thin rationale for Superman to fight TD-Ali for pride of place.



I recall a contemporary reviewer asking if TD-Ali had lost his mind, believing that he could "whup" an alien hero with the power to push planets around. The only rationale for this scene is that Adams must have believed it was important to present Ali as supremely confident of his pugilistic skills, not to mention his talent for "trash-talk." Rat'Lar then asserts that the difference of opinion should be decided by putting the two candidates on an equal footing, and though he doesn't say so specifically, this logically implies that Superman isn't going to be allowed to use his super-powers in the main event either.

Once super-powers are taken out of the equation, one might think that Superman would at least consider bowing out of the contest. But again, in order to extol the superiority of TD-Ali, Superman not only sticks to his guns, he receives training from TD-Ali in the manly art.




I can well believe that Denny O'Neil was responsible for this idea. Several years earlier, O'Neil presided over the scripts of the "New Wonder Woman," in which Diana Price lost her super-powers, and immediately also lost whatever fighting-skills she'd acquired as an Amazon heroine, necessitating that she be re-trained in Asian martial arts. Here too, we see the presumption that once Superman hasn't got his powers, he's just a muscular stumble-bum who must be trained by a superior fighter.

Perhaps as a concession of sorts, Superman's training by his future opponent is interrupted, so that the Man of Steel never gets the full benefit of TD-Ali's instruction. This leads to an inevitable orgy of violence in which Superman is battered into insensibility by the experienced boxer.




And, following that, TD-Ali manages to outpunch a super-strong alien fighter in the main event, with no logic beyond the level of "if you believe in boxers suddenly turning into superheroes, clap your hands."



Admittedly, Superman is given a few face-saving heroic tasks in the jumbled story-line, so that he doesn't come off as a total loser. And perhaps no one should expect much of this sort of cheese, hyped on the cover as "the fight to save Earth from STAR WARRIORS." But certainly the myth of Superman was not well served by this farrago. And if it was even possible to propound a myth for any fictionalized version of Real-Muhammad Ali, it certainly couldn't be done by this sort of feebly imagined celebrity ass-kissing.

THE SPORTING STRIFE

Before examining the item in the upcoming post, I'll offer a few words on the popular reception of the concept of "sports" vs. that of all forms of fictional entertainment.

As a young comics-reader it was always a source of amazement to me that many people, both peers and elders, viewed superhero comics as silly escapism, and yet could turn on a dime and root for athletes who were "fighting" one another within the context of games that had no relation to real activities.

I was aware, of course, that to the sports-fan there was a "reality factor" to the struggles of athletes, particularly in the more conflict-based sports like football and boxing. The rules of the games might be contrived,  but to the avid sports-fans, the struggles of the participants had a special reality to them. The players might not battling for food or to save society, but their professional lives, and therefore their personal prosperity, always hung in the balance.  

On the other hand, it was equally plain to me that the fans did not primarily identify with, say, the home football team because they the fans wanted to see particular players be able to enjoy lives of wealth and prestige. The fans identified with the players in terms of what Levy-Bruhl called the "participation mystique:" Jung defines it thusly:

It denotes a peculiar kind of psychological connection with objects, and consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity.

In other words, even though no fan's individual life changed in any way because of the fact that the home team won, each fan felt personally validated when his chosen representatives succeeded. True, some fans' lives might be changed if they happened to place bets, either successful or unsuccessful, on a game's outcome, but betting activities are not part of the game proper, and certainly can't account for the appeal of the game as such.

So I sometimes asked-- to no one in particular-- how was the sports-fan's validation any different from the superhero-fan enjoying the thrill of seeing his favorite hero triumph over adversity?  The answer again came down to the sports-fan's naive belief in the "reality" of what he saw on the playing-field. 

I don't deny that, aside from things that fall under the heading of "fixed contests," the majority of sports-conflicts represent "real" contentions between athletes of various types, even though those contentions are circumscribed within an "unreal" context. Yet people forget that physical work by human beings, no less "real" than any athlete, behind the adventures of any fictional character, whether it's Superman or Hamlet. Popular characters like Superman are often read more as "play" than as "work," which is the way we now read HAMLET, whether or not that was the playwright's unvarnished intention. But neither superhero nor melancholy Dane is brought into being purely by the activity of play; work has to be done to give the character shape and direction.

Sports-figures are not "authored," though I would argue that when they do become famous-- or infamous-- their "real" actions take on hyper-real status though their way that their fans-- or their anti-fans-- view them through the lens of the participation mystique.

In the final analysis, the "reality factor" that causes sports-figures to receive societal approval might be better termed a "hyper-reality factor"-- as I will show in my examination of the DC work SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI.
  

Friday, June 24, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "SUPERMAN'S RETURN TO KRYPTON" (SUPERMAN #141, 1960)

I've already used this Jerry Siegel story a couple of times, in 2010 as an example of a Jungian incest-motif and in 2012 as an example of sublimity. Since the former subject relates more to mythicity than the latter, I'll explore in more depth some of the thoughts from the 2010 essay.

I wrote:

In terms of tone, this is less Freudian than Jungian incest. Jor-L and Lora are “heavenly” echoes of the couple that Superman and Lois will become, however long the latter relationship may be deferred. (Critics who make windy arguments about the perpetual childhood of the superhero should remember that in 1940 Jerry Siegel attempted to set the stage for a more mature Superman-Lois relationship, but was overruled by his editors.) But even though the visual resemblance of Lois and Lora is probably just a visual joke, the resemblance of their names may carry a little more psychological heft. Critics may never be sure exactly why Jerry Siegel used the name “Lora” for Superman’s mother, in contrast to the name of the father Jor-L, whose name is certainly derived from JERry SiegEL. But as we don't know of a particular "Laura" who influenced Siegel in these years-- at least I find none in Jones' MEN OF TOMORROW-- it’s possible that consciously or subconsciously Siegel modeled the mother’s name on the girlfriend’s. Not only does “Lora” have the same number of letters/syllables as “Lois,” one finds an interesting congruence given that the first two letters of Lois Lane's first and last names come out to LO and LA. And if one makes a metathetic substitution of the letter ‘R’ for the second ‘L,’ one sees that the name of the prospective wife symbolically embodies that of the mother.
However, wordplay is not the only aspect of the story that might be fruitfully analyzed though the process of Jungian amplification.

Now, it should be said up front that Jerry Siegel was an inveterate fan of wacky humor. Thus even though "Return" is admired by a fair number of critics-- not least Gerard Jones-- for its pathos, Siegel apparently couldn't resist transporting his hero to his former home-world in a rather peculiar way, as seen below:



There's no way of knowing whether or not Siegel's original script specified that the planet-sized creature should look so goony; for all anyone knows, the creature's depiction may have been the choice of artist Wayne Boring. But I suspect that Boring wouldn't have depicted the creature as  being the size of a planet unless Siegel had specified that detail, and that suggest to me that the beast's likeness to a planet is a foreshadowing of the superhero's encounter with an actual planet, the home-world of Superman's birth-parents.

In accordance with the mythology, the hero immediately loses his super-powers on Krypton, but though he's relegated to the status of an ordinary man, his super-costume confers on him a new status. Siegel compensates for his hero's lost power by putting Superman in contract with Krypton's version of Hollywood (note that the "director" below wears something akin to a beret). This in turn leads to the hero being scoped out by Krypton's version of Marilyn Monroe.



Later, the movie-company will also serve as the device by which Siegel returns Superman to his role on Earth. For the time being, Superman's association with the film-world provides a mundane excuse for him to go wandering around Krypton in inappropriate clothing. He uses this excuse when he visits his newly married father and mother, who haven't even given birth to him yet.



The above scene makes it seem as if Superman's priorities are all about connecting with the father he never knew. That wish-fulfillment is certainly present. However, though Superman doesn't try to connect with his mother, Lara intuits their relationship, and does her best to mother-hen him by setting him up with the aforementioned actress / Monroe-double, Lyla Lerrol. Superman mentally compares her to his earlier "LL" loves, Lois Lane and Lori Lemaris, but as I note above, Lyla's nature, being Kryptonian, is most like that of the hero's mother. Thus, by Superman's action of returning to his "mother-world," it may be logically said that he is also returning to his mother-- though more in the symbolic manner of Jung than after the manner of Freud's Oedipus complex.



Arguably, this freedom from future consequences-- in which Superman feels he can do anything, since he's now doomed to perish when Krypton explores-- allows Siegel and Boring to "cut loose" in terms of romantic imagery, as the super-swain pursues his lady love amid sublimely colorful imagery.




To be sure, during one part of the story Superman and Jor-El seek to construct a space-ark capable of saving some of the Kryptonians from the coming destruction. But in keeping with previously established mythology-- which Superman himself apparently forgets until it's too late-- the space-ark is spirited away by the evil city-stealer Brainiac.



By this time, Superman sees no way out, and is content to die bravely with his parents and his beloved. Yet, by the writer's twist of fate, Krypton's version of the fantasy-factory Hollywood serves the cause of "reality" over "fantasy." It's the power of the movies that returns Superman to his usual stomping-grounds-- even though the rationale makes even less sense than the planet-sized goony-bird critter.



It's interesting that after Siegel has played the romance-story so "straight" for the majority of the story, that the author should come up with this daffy scenario: that the infuriated creature's fiery breath acts like rocket propulsion and launches the moviemakers' prop rocket all the way back to Earth's solar system-- thus returning Superman to his role of the dutiful superhero. The last two panels even show the hero waffling on his experience, one moment thinking that he'll always "treasure" the memories of his Kryptonian experience, and in the next, regarding it as a "strange, incredible dream."

Since I'm not advancing the incest-theme in terms of Freud, I don't have to drag in a lot of deadwood about "disavowal" or "fear of castration by the father." The romance with the quasi-maternal figure is derailed not for such fear-based reasons but because the serial character had to be returned to his normal sphere of adventure. However, while many Superman-stories of this period were replete with bizarre whimsy, "Superman's Return to Krypton" is one of the few times that whimsy gave way to a deeper level of archetypal fantasy.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

CENTRIC AND DIFFUSE WILL PT. 3

This essay is not only a follow-up to parts one and two in the series, but also to the April essay RADICAL CONFLICTS. In addition, the endeavor to expand upon the conceptual word-pair and "centric/ diffuse" is also an attempt to formulate better language for the way in which a "dominant" story element achieves dominance over other elements.

Back in 2011, in essays like this one, I put forth the distinction of "dominant" and "subdominant" elements, and said of the latter:

"Subdominant” indicates that a given narrative makes extensive use of the elements of one mythos even though the narrative as a whole fits another mythos better.
But I never made extensive use of these terms. The word "dominance" descends from the Latin dominus, meaning a lord or master,  and this imagery more or less accords with the thoughts I expressed in JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY. And yet, though I don't reject any of these meditations, in recent years I've been drawn less to the image of a "master" lording it over lesser elements, and more drawn to the image of the circle. If a given narrative has elements characteristic of all four Fryean mythoi, one may see the central circle as being the myth-radical that most determines the total content of the narrative.  Below is one of the few images I could find on the Web, in which four circles (the four mythoi) are contained within a greater circle, but one of the inner circles, the smallest, approximates occupies the center position--though it's smaller than I'd like insofar as providing a useful illustration.




With this model in mind it's more feasible to see how the author of a given narrative may allow the "sphere" of his narrative to encompass all four moods represented by the four myth-radicals. In this essay I used BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER teleseries as an example of a narrative-- admittedly, an extended narrative compose of several interrelated stories-- in which the authors sought to put their central character through all four of the psychological situations that Theodor Gaster calls his moods of "the invigorative," "the jubilative," "the purgative," and "the mortificative" (cited with greater detail in the above-cited AFFECTS VS. MOODS). My conclusion, of course, was that the "centric will" of the extended narrative focused upon providing the audience with invigorative scenes of Buffy triumphing over assorted enemies.

In RADICAL CONFLICTS I alluded briefly to Aristotle's use of two terms, "simple" and "complex," which the philosopher linked to whether or not a given work possessed a particular sttrucuring element, that of the *anagnorisis.* I'll now proceed to swipe his categories for my own use.

Many narratives, extended or otherwise, never stray from one dominant myth-mood, and so these would be *simple* narratives. But if there is a pronounced use of even one other mood-element, then the narratives would be *complex.* Buffy is an example of a "sphere" that encompasses all four radicals. In the ADVENTURE/COMEDY VS. COMEDY/ADVENTURE, PART 1,  I cited two extended narratives, that of the BATMAN teleseries and the INFERIOR FIVE comic book series, which I then believed to be concentrated largely upon the invigorative and jubilative moods. I later modified this view with regard to BATMAN, in that I found a sort of gentle irony pervading that narrative. However, even INFERIOR FIVE, with only two discernible moods, would be complex, and its illustration would look something like this, where "B" was the center radical, that of comedy, while "A," representing the radical of adventure. was somewhat off to the side.



In the above example, then, the radical of jubiliation / comedy would incarnate the *centric will* of the narrative, while the radical of invigoration / adventure would be relegated to the narrative's *diffuse will."

Monday, June 20, 2016

CENTRIC AND DIFFUSE WILL PT. 2

In Part 1 I chose to address two subjects-- that of the forms of narrative violence, and that of the four myth-radicals  under the conceptual umbrella of my word-pair "centric and diffuse force." In the next two essays I'll give each topic separate consideration.

In Part 1 I wrote:

For instance, I've written numerous times about the disparate effects of different forms of violence, particularly "functional violence" and "spectacular violence." Either one of these can be centric in the formal sense: that the climax of a narrative depends on one form or the other, and in fact in this essay I contrasted two films which both had violent conclusions, though only one showed enough sense of "spectacle" to be labeled "combative." I stress "sense" of spectacle because the combative film displayed the intent to produce spectacle even though the execution of said spectacle was lousy.
The gist is that the conflict expressed through the narrative will of one story is functional at the core, while for the other story it's spectacular at the core, despite poor execution. But neither of these obscure films is ideal for illustrative purposes.

Most horror-films concern themselves with one megadynamic presence in the film, against which characters of lesser dynamicity must contend. In 1931 two films, DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, set the pattern for monster-oriented horror films in the era of sound films. Each film must find some way for lesser mortals to extinguish the source of horror and thus provide narrative closure for the viewer. Both films were patterned upon the scripts for stage-adaptations of the respective prose novels, but directors Tod Browning and James Whale chose very different approaches to the material. Though the film medium was capable of depicting violence in much greater detail than anyone could manage on a theater-stage, Browning chose to follow the example of the Dracula stage-play, keeping the depiction of violence to a minimum. To be sure, the extremely muted conclusion, in which the camera watches Van Helsing execute the vampire from across the room, may have been an instance where the studio bosses would not allow the spectacle of staking, for fear of critical reprisals.




Whale, despite having had experience directing on the stage as well as on film, seems to have done as much as he could to emphasize cinematic spectacle, often focusing on images that would have been difficult or impossible to put on screen.  For instance, the climactic confrontation of Frankenstein and his creation in an old mill shows them squaring off in an old mill.




Following which they look at one another through the mill wheel, as if one were the funhouse-mirror reflection of the other.









And though the scientist can't stop his creation, the aroused populace can, by the spectacular effect of burning down the mill with the creature in it.




Now, I'll reiterate the judgment I've pronounced elsewhere: as in the majority of horror-films there is only one megadynamic presence in both of the films, neither can participate in the combative mode. However, the narrative center of FRANKENSTEIN is to show the viewer the monster's rampage and his resultant destruction in the most spectacular manner possible, and so all the "centric will" of the narrative expresses spectacular violence. This does not mean that every violent act is necessarily spectacular: Karl's whipping of the chained Monster is merely functional, as is the mid-point scene in which Frankenstein and his colleague Waldman subdue the monster with the help of a drug-injection.

In contrast, all of the violence in Browning's DRACULA must deemed functional because most of it is intimated. (Allegedly Browning didn't even want his vampire to appear on-screen, only to be suggested by the reactions of other actors.) The most violent moment in DRACULA comes near the conclusion, when the vampire thinks himself betrayed by Renfield and so breaks his pawn's neck. But if even one wished to deem this a moment of spectacular violence, then it would belong to the diffuse will of the narrative, since the centric will focuses upon functional violence. By the same token, the moments of functional violence in FRANKENSTEIN are diffuse while those of spectacular violence are centric.

The principal exception to the "rule of one powerful presence" in most horror films is the "monster mash" film. The mere existence of more monsters means more potential for spectacle, as well as for the possibility of spectacular combat between two or more monsters.


Of the four "monster mashes" that emerges from Universal in the 1940s, 1943's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and 1948's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN   are the only two in which some sort of "monster-battle" takes place.

Short though it is, there can be little doubt that the conclusion of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN satisfies the requirements for not only the same spectacular violence found in FRANKENSTEIN, but also its expression in the combative mode. Violence that is both spectacular and combative forms the core of the film's centric will.




ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN-- in which the comedians meet not only the Monster but also the Wolf Man and Dracula-- is another matter altogether. All three monsters are megadynamic presences, and so the script might have chosen to have two or more monsters fight each other in the midst of the comedians' antics. But clearly the script chose to emphasize the humor of having the beleaguered protagonists constantly running from the three "titans of terror." The closest thing to a monster-fight is when Dracula and Wolf Man have a shoving-match, with Costello-on-a-gurney in between.




But the two monsters don't have a real encounter, as Dracula mostly runs away from the lycanthrope. There are moments of spectacular violence here, like the Monster punching through a wooden door.



Or the creature's demise, just as fiery as his first cinematic death in sound cinema.



But as with my example of Dracula's brief moment of violence in the 1931 film, these spectacular moments represent diffuse will because the narrative's core is the use of violence in a functional way, to provoke humor as helpless humans run for the hills at the mere suggestion of megadynamic monsters. To be sure, the Monster's death comes about because the pier he's standing upon is set ablaze by a square-jawed hero-type, but this character is strictly peripheral-- and therefore diffuse-- to the dominant will of the narrative.

More later.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

NEAR MYTHS: [THE COUNTER-EARTH SAGA] (1972-73)

What I call the Counter-Earth Saga is comprised of issues 1-2 of MARVEL PREMIERE and the first five issues of the title WARLOCK. The project began as a collaboration between writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, and Kane's dynamic art visually re-defined Lee and Kirby's leftover character "Him." Thomas left the project as writer after WARLOCK #2, ceding most of the scripting-duties to Mike Friedrich until the last issue, #8. Kane absented himself from the second issue, but then came back for issues 3-5, after which artist Bob Brown filled in for the remaining three issues. The absence of both Thomas and Kane from issues #6-8 is my main rationale for excluding those issues from the saga, although there was also a shift in tone, as Friedrich attempted to emphasize up an altered version of the Fantastic Four mythos, possibly with the hope of goosing sales-- to no avail, since issue #8 concluded on a cliffhanger, eventually resolved in a three-issue arc of THE INCREDIBLE HULK.


Kane and Thomas collaborated on a number of occasions, but their results were at best mixed. The Counter-Earth saga may be their best work together, though the storyline is sketchy and was justly mocked by one letter-writer as "Jesus Christ Superhero."






Him, recuperating from his tussle with Thor, crosses paths with another part of Thor's mythos: the High Evolutionary, a high-tech version of Wells' Doctor Moreau, given to transforming ordinary Earth-animals into humanoid versions of their bestial selves. This experiment turns out badly, particularly when one of the Evolutionary's creation, a wolf-man called "the Man-Beast," unleashes chaos. A later story transforms the Earth-born scientist into a godlike being, and Him meets the Evolutionary just as he's about to play God for real, using his super-science to create "Counter-Earth," a near-exact duplicate of Earth, situated on the other side of the sun. The Evolutionary intends to bring into being a world free of sin and greed, and Him, who's also suffered from mankind's evildoing, considers the scientist a kindred spirit.










However, though the Evolutionary succeeds in creating his ideal world, he falls asleep from the effort (a parallel to God "resting" on the seventh day of creation). The Man-Beast and other beast-men then invade the scientist's sanctum and introduce evil into Counter-Earth's Edenic world. Somehow, as if in fast-forward mode, Counter-Earth repeats the whole history of Earth, apparently coming up to 20th-century times in jig-time-- the only difference being an absence of Marvel-Earth's superheroes. Him watches as the Evolutionary wakes up, fights with his offspring, and is almost killed. Him transforms himself into a new form, complete with a snazzy new costume, and drives the "rebel angels" away, but they take refuge on Counter-Earth, intent on further degrading the Evolutionary's creation. The super-scientist considers destroying his creation outright, but Him-- who is re-christened "Adam Warlock"-- suddenly wants to save the planet's humanity from the Man-Beast's depredations, thus taking on the role of God's son, sent to save humankind from evil.










The seven stories in the saga are good superhero fare, but wildly uneven with regard to the mythopoeic theme Thomas and Kane attempt. Often Thomas' script is content to simply quote famous well-known incidents from the career of Jesus of Nazareth: giving him disciples, having him awakened on a boat during a storm, and so on. Most of Warlock's imitations of Christ are superficial at best, and his attempts to inspire fallen humanity conflict with his own violent super-battles.










The one myth-trope that Thomas and Kane succeed at is one that bears no relationship to the familiar appearance of the Nazarene. The Evolutionary gives Warlock a green gem to place upon his brow, and Warlock finds that he can use this gem to re-arrange matter. The placement of the gem resembles the mythoi of the Hindus, wherein various characters may sport mystic "third eyes." However, I suspect that Thomas and Kane were not that conversant with Hindu mysticism. Their primary concern was probably to give Warlock a matter-altering power akin to that of DC's Silver Age Green Lantern, whose adventures were delineated by Kane during most of that character's first run. In addition to being able to evaporate missiles and bullets, Warlock can also devolve the Beast-Men he battles by devolving them back into simple, mindless animals. This, accidentally or intentionally, duplicates one of the main myth-functions of Jesus as he's represented in scripture: that of an exorcist of demons. True, Jesus is today looked upon as more of a healer than an exorcist, and not every incident of healing in scripture directly references the expulsion of demons. Nevertheless, in the Warlock comic Thomas does emphasize the need to vanquish evil in the form of "the beast in man"-- and this is at least an interesting motif, if not a developed one.

NEAR MYTHS: FANTASTIC FOUR #66-67 (1967)

The character of Warlock began in a two-part FANTASTIC FOUR story, as an artificial human created by the evil scientists of a complex called "the Beehive," who wanted to rule the world with the help of a superman. Just as the Frankenstein Monster is never given a proper name in the original Shelley novel, the scientists only refer to their creation as "Him." As shown on this cover, Him occupies a special cocoon most of the time.












The usual association of cocoons would suggest the transformation of an ugly pupa into a splendid butterfly, and indeed, at the conclusion of the story Him proves to be a Greek god in appearance. Like Galactus before him, he shows an Olympian lack of concern for his creators, knowingly bringing about their destruction when he takes his leave.









Him was not one of the more inspired creations of Lee and Kirby, and long after the comic's publication, Kirby complained that Lee had totally distorted the intent of his idea, which was apparently a riff on Ditko's Rand-inspired crimefighters. This may well be, though I find myself wondering why, if the idea was so important to Kirby, he didn't seek to recapitulate the idea later in some other feature, when he was full-scripting everything he published. It may be that he expressed the idea too obscurely for Lee to understand, so that Lee chose to script the issues according to his own lights.


The strongest myth-trope here is that of beauty hidden under the expectation of ugliness. The members of the Fantastic Four never meet Him; they simply come into the story when the scientists kidnap the Thing's girlfriend Alicia, hoping to use her sculptress-skills to gain an idea of what the artificial man looks like. Since this knowledge wouldn't have helped them control Him, it's likely that the real idea beneath this superficial plot-rationale is akin to the myth of Eros and Psyche. In this tale the mortal woman Psyche becomes the lover of the god Eros, but he conceals himself from her sight when they make love. Her feminine curiosity is pricked, especially when a person envious of her romance tells her that her lover may be a monster. Psyche manages to steal a look at her lover, after which he leaves her forever.


The scenes in which the blind Alicia seeks to know the nature of the cocoon-bound creation carry a little of this mythic trope. Otherwise the two-part tale is merely a decent thrill-ride, excellent in that department but lacking the development of a mythcomic. The same is the case of the last time Him appeared in a Lee-Kirby comic, when he tried to steal the girlfriend of the God of Thunder in THOR #165-66. Fortunately, there were better things in the future for "Old Goldskin." 







Wednesday, June 15, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: [THE MAGUS SAGA] (STRANGE TALES #178-81, WARLOCK #9-11, 1975-76)

Though I rated Jim Starlin's THE PRICE as one of the worst of the null-myths, the writer-artist did have a short period in which he showed immense creativity with respect to the mythopoeic potentiality. During his run on the CAPTAIN MARVEL title he attracted the adulation of fans for giving that rather mediocre hero a new lease on life, not least by introducing a new major villain, Thanos, a demigod devoted to the worship of Death.

The CAPTAIN MARVEL material is straight-out space opera, but Starlin's series of WARLOCK stories-- which I've given the title of "the Magus Saga"-- combined spacefaring adventure with a broad approach to religious satire. He remarked in one online interview that "I’d grown up very Catholic, parochial school, and Warlock was a way of working a lot of things out."




The character of Warlock has a complicated history I'll touch on elsewhere, but in essence, he already had some strong religious associations in his first series, and Starlin took those basically respectful references to Christian belief in a 180-degree direction. Warlock, technically the offspring of Earth, took off to the stars, and found that the cosmos was endangered by a fanatical religious movement, the Universal Church. Starlin continued to imbue his cosmic hero with touches of Christian religiosity; in issue #179, he tells a group of aliens clamoring for his leadership to "rule themselves." Yet this version of Warlock, rather than communing with God-in-Heaven, finds himself opposed to the Church, which is controlled by the Magus, a being who has set himself up as God. Further, in due time Warlock learns that he is the Magus, or, more precisely, that Warlock will transform into the Magus in an alternate timeline. Aided by such dubious allies as the aforementioned death-lover Thanos, his female pawn Gamora and comic-relief Pip the Troll, Warlock must find a way to prevent the Magus from being born.




One of Starlin's other creative breakthroughs related to the hero's powers.  During the character's first series, he received a "soul gem," a jewel he somehow affixed to his forehead, which gave Warlock the power to re-arrange physical matter. Starlin made little use of this power, instead giving Warlock the somewhat vampiric power to consume the souls of those he attacked. This version of the soul gem seems to borrow equally from two creations of prose author Michael Moorcock: Dorian Hawkmoon, who wore a jewel in his skull, and Elric, a swordsman whose blade could consume the souls of opponents. In addition, Moorcock had also portrayed characters who were alternate versions of one another, though Starlin's ecclesiastical satire seems entirely original. In any case, though Marvel had many feature-heroes whose super power, as Roy Thomas once wrote, was that of breast-beating, Starlin's Warlock was rare in showing some degree of emotional complexity.





There were flaws in the saga, of course. From the first Starlin-- who borrowed many visual tropes from Kirby and Ditko-- seemed to display the same "tin ears" as those artists when he wrote dialogue, though not nearly to the same extent. His sense of humor also was something less than stellar, though he outdid himself in STRANGE TALES #181, when the humorless hero, subjected to mental reprogramming, resisted by imagining all of his tormentors as clowns, whose mighty church was nothing but a tower of rubbish-- albeit with a few diamonds thrown in. Not a few comics-fans speculated that Starlin might have also been satirizing the comics-industry-- though, to be sure, the "diamonds in the garbage" metaphor was not original to Starlin and could be applied to just about any human endeavor.



I also rather liked that the Magus' church was run by a "female pope," the Matriarch, who also combined aspects of Judas and Mary Magdalene. Starlin wrote other Warlock stories, but his first venture into the intersection of cosmic adventure and religious satire remains his outstanding accomplishment.

Friday, June 10, 2016

CENTRIC AND DIFFUSE WILL PT. 1

The epic poet is all taken up with what he called klea andron, “glorious deeds of men,” of individual heroes; and what these heroes themselves ardently long and pray for is just this glory, this personal distinction, this deathless fame for their great deeds.-- ― Jane Ellen HarrisonAncient Art and Ritual

When I first coined the terms "centric and diffuse force" in this essay, I was seeking to provide a distinction that accounted for my observation that even narratives that possesses "opposed megadynamic forces" might not manifest the combative mode. 1953's WAR OF THE WORLDS employs the same narrative trope seen in 1954's GODZILLA: the spectacle of modern-day humankind hurling all of its technological forces against a metaphenomenal threat. However, because that contest is not the "focus," as I called it, of the former narrative, I stated that the 1953 film could not possess the narrative value of the combative mode.

In PERIPHERAL GENIES I invoked the centric/diffuse "word pair" only in a very limited sense, to suggest some of the ways in which a given protagonist might have access to megadynamic forces, even though he himself may not register as megadynamic. Drawing upon my "djinn-summoner" distinction, I said that while in the examples I cited in that essay failed to achieve the narrative value because their powerful "genies" were peripheral to their own spirits. "Peripheral," going by the definition I cited, means pretty much the same in my system as "diffuse." Both connote for me the image of something either out from the center, or without a center-- which in its turn relates back to my use of the term "focus."

Without indulging in any orgies of cross-comparisons, I will now put forth the notion that the "types of narrative violence" I proposed in SACRED AND PROFANE VIOLENCE PART 1 might be better termed "centric and diffuse will," since "will," at least according to the Schopenhauer/Nietzsche model I've constructed, takes in all forms of sex and violence, in both their isothymic and megalothymic manifestations.

For instance, I've written numerous times about the disparate effects of different forms of violence, particularly "functional violence" and "spectacular violence." Either one of these can be centric in the formal sense: that the climax of a narrative depends on one form or the other, and in fact in this essay I contrasted two films which both had violent conclusions, though only one showed enough sense of "spectacle" to be labeled "combative." I stress "sense" of spectacle because the combative film displayed the intent to produce spectacle even though the execution of said spectacle was lousy.

 But I've been toying lately with the notion that there's another potential application of the centric/diffuse terminology, and that is to distinguish the ways in which audiences receive ways in which the narrative impacts upon the audience, rather than dealing exclusively with the way dynamicity manifests within the diegesis of the narrative. In short, "diffuse will" can apply to all of the "forces" in the narrative that are peripheral to whatever holds the "center" in the narrative-- which is usually one of the radicals that describes the narrative's primary mythos-- which "centric will" can apply purely to those forces around which the narrative is truly centered. I suggest that the centricity of the primary radical has for modern audiences a ritualistic quality, not unlike the klea andron of which Harrison writes in the above quote. That manifestation of centric will is almost always the most important thing in the story and thus provides an imaginative center, even if a given author may choose to wander from that center to some extent.

ADDENDUM: I retooled this essay-- originally set down yesterday under the title "Centric and Diffuse Violence"-- because after a little thought I decided that the use of "narrative violence" as expressed by Bataille was interesting to explore somewhat, but was ultimately too confusing for prolonged usage. Therefore I revised the essay to speak of "narrative will" instead, to better reflect one of the cornerstones of my theory, first expressed here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: [LINUS THE RAIN KING], PEANUTS (1960)

In an earlier post, I stated that at some point I wanted to retroactively bring one of my earliest blog-essays, LINUS THE RAIN KING, into the mythcomics list. However, I only wanted to do so if I could round the material out a bit-- which is now possible thanks to the posting of two our of the three strips on Pinterest. Otherwise, I've added nothing new.

________________

STRIP ONE: Linus and Charlie Brown stand in an open field while rain starts coming down: CB is wearing a baseball hat and; glove. CB walks away, complaining that the rain interrupts every time you want to do something. Alone, Linus recites the well-known "Rain rain go away" chant. The rain stops. Shocked, Linus runs home and tells Lucy, "Hide me" in the last panel.

STRIP TWO: It's raining again as Linus leads Lucy outside to show her what he can do. He chants the words again, and even Lucy is startled by the rain coming to a halt. Linus gets hysterical: "Do you think I'm a demon? Do you think they'll stone me? I DON'T WANNA BE STONED!" Lucy calms him down and asserts that they have to wait for it to rain one more time, to be sure that the rain-stopping isn't just coincidence. (Apparently she's a believer in "the third time's the charm!") The strip ends with another gag.




STRIP THREE: While they wait, Linus continues to worry about being thought a demon, and Lucy assures him that science will find some use for him. Charlie Brown wanders up, giving Lucy the chance to explain to him (and any readers coming in late) what's going on. The rain starts. Lucy urges Linus to "say the words," and then yells at him, flustering him. Linus utters a mangled-up version of "Rain rain go away," and the strip ends with the three kids being drenched in a torrent of rain, as Lucy calls Linus a "blockhead."



Now, a Christian critic might make this little tale into a meditation on false gods or hidden talents or other themes. I don't think it's that allegorical. However, I also don't think Schulz' well-documented knowledge of Christian themes is entirely irrelevant, either. There's no doubt that Schulz's overriding purpose is to make his readers laugh, even as a superhero artist's purpose is to give thrills and chills. But humor and mythicity are not mutually exclusive, and here the humor proceeds from the notion of a mundane little boy finding himself in a very mythic situation, sans any guidance apart from Lucy's dubious help.

Most probably Schulz rooted the idea in a commonplace fantasy-- how many kids and adults alike have wanted the power to bid halt to an inconvenient rainfall? But it doesn't remain a commonplace fantasy in Schulz's world, which is what lends it the quality of mythicity. Linus' anguish about being thought a demon, while comic, is nonetheless a logical extrapolation of his mythic situation.

The seasoned PEANUTS reader knows that the situation is funny because Linus is not a demon and Schulz is not going to let him be stoned. However, that reader also knows that were this sort of miracle to occur in his world, stoning is not an unlikely outcome for anyone who seemed to arrogate to himself the powers of dat ol' storm-god Yahweh. Somehow, to get back to the status quo, Schulz must undo one mythic situation with another. This he does by having Linus mangle his magic words, essentially "un-saying" them. Since the reader has accepted the author's ability to confer this unexplained power on Linus, he accepts just as readily the author indirectly stating (through Lucy) that once Linus has blown the "third time" test, that was his last chance to prove the power real: thus the whole arbitrary rain-stopping power goes away and everything's back to normal.

Although-- no, don't even get me started on the blanket.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "WHO HAS BEEN LYING IN MY GRAVE?" (STRANGE ADVENTURES #206. 1967)

"[Jack} Miller said he had a book that was in trouble, and would I come up with some kind of a superhero. I was tuned in to what was happening around us at that time. One of the things was a movement of young people toward Asian philosophies, Asian rituals, etc. So here I was in the middle of a Zen-Buddhist movement and I thought, "Maybe I can use that for my main character," and I came up with this notion: the Deadman, who is able to enter other people's bodies. I introduced the idea that some power somewhere made it possible for him to do this. My intention was to get much more involved in that aspect of it and get some concept of what this power was like, and the structure of the machine that the power used around the world. What I had in mind was comparing two civilizations, our world, and that other world, and to indicate that I thought they were probably pretty much alike. There were baddies in heaven just as there were on earth. That was the way I wanted to go with it, but I never got a chance to. We had a disagreement. I was to have received a major page-rate increase, and the boss man reneged on that deal. So I walked away."-- Arnold Drake, SEQUENTIAL TART interview.


In one of my early essays on adult pulp, I cited a particular scene from Neal Adams' run on DC Comics' "Deadman" feature as a example of how even color comics began to push the envelope into the vein of hard-boiled violence. The entire 1960s "Deadman" series deserves to be analyzed in terms of its contribution of envelope-pushing, but here I'm only addressing the very first issue of the series. As noted in the interview-excerpt above, writer Arnold Drake asserted that he was the principal source of the concept. Initial artist Carmine Infantino may have had some creative input as well, but given that most DC comics-features were prepared from a full script, it seems likely that Drake largely formulated this unusual approach to a spectral superhero.

For most of DC Comics' history, the company had generally steered clear of such subgenres as hard-boiled crime and visceral horror. Thus, it was far beyond the company's "comfort zone" to feature a cover like this one.




Or a scene in which the main hero-- not a crimefighter, but a simple costume-garbed trapeze artist named Boston Brand-- dresses down a nasty cop and gets him to lay off the fortune-teller who works at Boston's circus.




Disrespect for the law was one of the verboten tropes in the Comics Code, as was any reference to illegal drugs. As if Drake wanted to combine two forbidden tropes in one, later in the story the nasty cop is seen dealing in drugs-- though it's suggested that he might be a phony cop, which was probably a concession to the dwindling influence of the Code. But even with that caveat, this scene alone depicted a world far beyond the safe juvenile havens of DC's regular superheroes.

Drake's first DEADMAN story is also unique in proposing a view of life that I find comparable to that of Martin Buber's conception of the "I-it" and "I-thou" relationships, which I last addressed here. In most DC Comics, the paradigm was the "cops and robbers" trope, in which the robber related to the greater community as an "it" to be exploited, while the cop existed in a "thou" relationship to said community, protecting it from various depredations.

From the beginning of the opening story, though-- whose title is a peculiar echo of a line from the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"-- Drake creates a seedy sub-cosmos that anticipates the later transformations of Gotham City. The carnival-cosmos of Boston Brand, soon to become Deadman, is just a business that's just barely holding on: "Movies killed the circus, and TV buried it." Brand is the top dog at the circus-- of which he owns a percentage-- because he constantly risks his life doing a trapeze-act without a net. His dialogue with co-owner Lorna shows that he refuses her attempts to see heroism in him, and that he regards most of his circus-colleagues as "sick,dangerous children."




In contrast to traditional "cops and robbers" comics, the reader of this sequence is drawn in two different directions: perhaps wanting to believe that the lead character is a tough guy with a heart of gold, while also seeing that he demonstrates contempt not only for his colleagues, but also for his audience, telling Lorna that "the dumb johns pay their money to see one thing-- they're here to see me DIE!" This is patently his way of keeping any and affection at a distance, either from Lorna-- whose relationship to Brand seems more intense than that of a simple partner-- or from the simple-minded strongman Tiny. However, the diminutive Hindu mystic Vashnu asserts that his goddess Rama Kushna, who permeates the entire universe, intends to reward Brand with 'some special gift, waiting for you alone."



The gift is, to say the least, ambivalent: Brand, who has perhaps tempted fate by billing himself as "Deadman," is shot during his high-wire act by an unknown assailant. Deadman lives on as an impalpable ghost, but Rama Kushna herself intervenes to inform him of the gift she's given him, the power to possess other bodies.







There's a rich, implicit irony in this cosmic joke: the man who wanted to keep everyone at a distance, regardless of his true feelings for them, finds himself reduced to a spirit who can only have agency in the world by invading the bodies of others. In a sense he must use the bodies of the living in an "I-it" relationship, since he takes over their bodies without their consent. Yet he must relate to them in the "I-thou" constellation as well, since he puts them in danger by using them in his personal quest to find his killer. Indeed, in "Grave" he briefly considers ignoring the crimes of the drug-dealing cop and his circus-contact, since that crime has nothing to do with finding his killer. But he proves himself a hero, albeit a reluctant one, by taking down the two dealers before pursuing his own destiny.

Neal Adams took over the art-chores in STRANGE ADVENTURES #206, while Drake contributed his last Deadman script, the Biblically titled "Eye for an Eye," before severing relations with DC. It's inarguable that Adams' dynamic art made the feature popular with fans. Adams and his collaborators, notably editor Jack Miller, put forth their own conceptions of the Eastern mysticism underlying the first story. Readers will never know how Drake might have explored "the structure of the machine that the power used around the world," which I take to be the author's metaphor for the pantheistic presence of Rama Kushna. I feel safe in venturing, however, that in some way Drake would probably have explored the connectedness between all human beings in this melodramatic mystery-context. Perhaps the only answer to the titular question of "who's been lying in my grave" would be nothing less than--

Everyone.

ADDENDUM: It occurs to me that I may have oversold what Drake might have done with the series had he remained, so I read issue #207 for comparison's sake. Said story was a pretty routine story about Lorna's "bad biker-brother" showing up and making trouble for the circus, as well as becoming the first-- but not the last-- suspect in Boston Brand's murder.