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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "DADDY LOST HIS HEAD" (VAULT OF HORROR #19, 1951)

In one of my old articles I don't wish to look up right now, I cited EC's 1953 story "Foul Play" as a mythic story, purely because of its imaginative-- if extremely improbable-- gore-met conclusion. These days, though, I'd dismiss the tale as something of a one-trick pony, at least in symbolic terms.

These days I believe mythcomics ought to suggest a greater play with symbolism than many of the better-loved EC stories do, and thus I find that VAULT OF HORROR #19 yields one such story.



"Daddy Lost His Head" doesn't seem to have been one of the more lauded EC-tales, nor did it earn the opprobrium that Frederic Wertham devoted to similar stories in which nasty adults got their comeuppance. Possibly the story lacked a certain impact because a young child deals out the punishment in all innocence, rather than, say, plotting to do away with Mommy and Daddy. Yet, given that "Daddy" was created entirely by male authors in a mostly-male bullpen, it shows a certain pro-feminist outlook.

Kathy is a doe-eyed eight-year old whose real father is long deceased and whose sickly mother married what the opening caption calls a "mean old stepfather." Kathy is first seen weeping because her stepfather Martin Blackson had just given her a beating, though the story never directly depicts corporal violence.

In a rapid-fire exchange between Martin and his wife, he's given a motivation for his hatred of his stepchild: Kathy resembles her original father, and her presence constantly mocks Martin's status with his wife. "I know you never loved me-- that you only married me for security!" The sickly wife doesn't deny this state of affairs. Way to encourage his wrath against your daughter, Mom!

Fortunately the weakling wife isn't the only representation of femininity around. The Blacksons' next door neighbor is an elderly woman with the coy name of "Mrs. Thaumaturge" (Greek for "miracle worker.") Martin doesn't like his neighbor any more than he likes his wife or stepdaughter, and he's quick to accuse her of being a witch, if only to subject Kathy to greater psychological terror. Kathy is thus caught between being curious about the old woman and being scared that, as Martin says, "She'll bake you... in her oven..." Writer Al Feldstein probably didn't mean the reader to assume that Martin seriously believed that his neighbor was a witch. Still, the mean stepfather's evocation of the cannibal crone from "Hansel and Gretel" turns out to be the key to his undoing-- especially when one remembers that the crone of the old tale was also something of a kitchen-witch.

The mother has another attack of her unspecified illness, and passes from this world, leaving Kathy entirely in the hands of the man who hates her. But providentially Mrs. Thaumaturge reaches out to Kathy, and makes her a special doll, made out of some sort of candy, and given a slight resemblance to the mean stepfather. (The colorist makes it look like chocolate.) Because the lonely girl becomes engrossed in playing with her new toy, she fails to do her chores. Martin sends her to bed without supper-- and in so doing, sets himself up for his timely fate. Kathy is so hungry that she can't resist biting off her doll's hand-- at which point, Martin just happens to be using a wood-saw, and well--

And then comes the typical EC "just desserts"-- for once, using a real dessert.


I won't waste a lot of time with Freudian noodlings about the equivalence of beheadings and castrations, though I would venture that such equivalences were much in the cultural air around 1951. But I rather like the empowering wrap-up proffered by the Crypt-Keeper, where the ghoul tells the reader that Mrs. Thaumaturge adopted the girl, and is "giving Kathy flying lessons-- on a broom!"

Though there's some reference to fetish-doll magic here, there's no real metaphysical symbolism of any importance. But when you've got the psychological chutzhpah of a little girl biting off the head of her bad daddy-- who needs metaphysics?

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