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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...

Monday, February 13, 2017

HEROES AREN'T HARDBODIES TO FIND

Backing up a little: though I've stated that there out to be a "unity of action" between a work's overthought and underthought, that doesn't mean that the two have to agree in all respects. Given that they spring, respectively, from the didactic and from the mythopoeic potentialities of the creative mind, it would hard to imagine such perfect agreement.

After all, I established in THE UNITY OF OVERTHOUGHTS AND UNDERTHOUGHTS  that certain stories could be "underthought-dominated stories," my example being the "Origin of Metamorpho." In that story the symbolic discourse is very complex and the didactic discourse is very simple, which is entirely the reverse of the POGO sequence discussed in that essay. Since it's my project to suss out complex mythicity wherever I find it, whether accompanied by a strong didactic theme or not, I make no bones about including both (1) works that are "underthought-dominated" and (2) works where the two thoughts are equally strong: for instance, Morrison's FLEX MENTALLO.

An "overthought-dominated" work will align itself with the sphere of "thematic realism" as I've examined it in many earlier essays, while an "underthought-dominated" work will align more with the sphere of "thematic escapism." In works like MENTALLO, though, the artist has a foot in both worlds, so that the two potentialities interact to a greater extent, as I stated in Part 2 of THE ETHIC OF THE COMBATIVE:

I have maintained, however, that the relationship between "realistic works" and "escapist works" is closer to that of conjoined siblings, dependent on one another for life.  
The course of said interaction, though, doesn't always run smooth. Note my comment in the FLEX MENTALLO review:

Wally observes that the Golden Age of superheroes was “pretty simple,” boiling down to the “Charles Atlas hard body homoerotic wish-fulfillment.”  (I disagree, but this one interpretation doesn’t undermine the general strength of Morrison’s theme.) Wally then observes that the Silver Age changed the paradigm. “Strange transformations, multiple realities, dreams, hoaxes… it was like the hard body began to turn soft...” I could carp that this description mostly applies to the line of Superman comics supervised by Mort Weisinger, with a little Julie Schwartz on the side, but it’s still a stimulating reading.

Now, Morrison has stated in interviews that sometimes he comes up with bizarre fantasies through a process akin to free association. However, there's nothing "free" about this association: it's a familiar opinion in a number of film studies I've encountered, and I feel reasonably sure that Morrison encountered some comparable opinions in his own reading. The notion of the hardbody as a homoerotic fantasy appears in Wertham's SEDUCTION, and it seems to come up almost any time a film-studies prof chooses to analyze any sort of action or adventure film. Case in point: here's a review-except describing Neal King's 1999 HEROES IN HARD TIMES, from this site:

"King's analysis remains valuable for the contribution it makes in taking seriously an oft derided and dismissed form of popular culture that speaks directly to issues of masculinity…. This book will be a useful resource for those interested in understanding how images of hyper-masculinity--the "hard man"--represent both the excess and the ordinary parts of masculinity in cinema. King's methodology is helpful in reading media texts, and his provocative interpretations of these films--particularly his readings of homosocial sadomasochism--will likely generate much discussion." 


Unlike the majority of the film-critics, Morrison isn't explicitly trying to put his heroes on the psychiatrist's couch so that he can find out what terrible traumas caused them to overcompensate by becoming superheroes. Unlike many if not all of the academic critics, Morrison doesn't seem to be indulging in a "nyah-nyah, you think you're manly when you're really GAY" sort of ressentiment. Still, Morrison is in the business of shocking his audience, so whether or not he really believes that Golden Age heroes were homoerotic wish fantasies, the appearance of such a statement in the voice of his viewpoint character suggests that it may hold at least a provisional truth for Morrison-- though to be sure, the character making the statement is a superhero fan who is not, in any obvious way, gay.

So here we have the overthought and the underthought, while definitely bound together by the narrative's unity of action, coming down on opposite sides of Adler's compensation theory. Underthought is saying that superheroes are a part of the collective unconscious, and that lines them up with the idea of "positive compensation," which benefits the organism. Overthought is saying that superheroes at least begin as homoerotic fantasies of "hard men," which seems to align with "negative compensation"-- although apparently the same fantasies can become soft and thus "feminized"-- which *might* be a type of positive compensation in Morrison's world.

The entire homosocial/homoerotic reading of adventure-fiction, of course, might be just as rooted in "negative compensation" as Dirty Harry's massive magnum or Clark Kent's blue undergarments: critics may like to feel like they've one-upped the hardbody. But in so doing, they overlook a basic principle of adventure-fiction: that characters, male and female alike, may simply get harder because the body gets harder when you exercise properly, eat all the right foods, and punch a super-villain in the mush twice a day.




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