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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...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

LOST IN SPACEFIGHTS PT. 4

Concluding my survey of the LOST IN SPACE series with season 3:

"Condemned of Space"-- the Robinson party lands on a penal asteroid, where the convicts have been held past their release-date. After some tense encounters, John manages to negotiate the convicts' release. (SC)

"Visit to a Hostile Planet"-- the Jupiter returns to Earth, but in a period where their own people deem them invading aliens. The ship escapes w/o serious incident. (SC)

"Kidnapped in Space"-- the Robinsons have some violent encounters with androids armed with guns and grenades (even a few female combatants), but the Robot manages to make peace. (SC)

"Hunter's Moon"-- alien hunter Megazor forces John Robinson to be the quarry in a most dangerous game. The professor beats the hunter in a pitched battle and Megazor returns home. (C)


"The Space Primevals" the group is menaced by cavemen, who are under the sway of an ancient computer. The Robot duels the computer, both unleashing considerable powers, but the Robot loses and the computer must be defeated by other means. (SC)

"Space Destructors"-- Smith falls under the control of a war-computer, programmed to produce an army of universe-conquering androids, all with Doctor Smith's face. Not only does actor Guy Williams (Professor Robinson) get to cut down dozens of androids with his Zorro sword-skills, he also gets to "kill" androids who wear the face of the actor who constantly upstaged him. (C)

"Haunted Lighthouse"-- the group meets an old man running a space-lighthouse. A primitive boy makes a lot of trouble for all involved. (SC)

"Flight into the Future"-- the Robinsons are subjected to intense illusions by an evil computer. In the end the Robot destroys the computer with electrical force. (C)

"Collision of Planets"-- space-hippies are charged with destroying the planet on which the Robinsons reside, and they won't wait till the Jupter is ready to take off. Smith gains Samson-like strength but in his only "fight" he's trounced by the hippie-leader. The professor solves the problem by wrecking the hippies' motorcycles, thus giving the Jupter time to lift off. (SC)

"The Space Creature"-- the Robinsons are put through the mill by a creation of Will's "Id" persona; the creature is defeated but not in a combative manner. (SC)

"Deadliest of the Species" -- the Robot falls in love with a malignant female robot, out to conquer the universe. Using an electrical device created by John Robinson, the Robot puts aside his feelings and lures her to a spectacular death. (C)



"A Day at the Zoo"-- Smith takes over as ringmaster of a space-circus, and cages West and Judy.  West gets free but must save the real ringmaster from a giant dragon. However, he simply uses his ray gun to drive the beast off. (SC)

"Two Weeks in Space"-- Smith invites aliens to stay at his "hotel," the Jupiter-2. They're actually thieves with murderous intent, but John Robinson defeats the two males in pitched combat. (C)

"Castles in Space"-- the travelers give refuge to a fleeing princess, hiding her from bounty hunter Chavo. The skillful hunter defeats West in a fight, but Chavo in turn is vanquished by the superior power of "El Toro," alias the Robot. (C)



"The Anti-Matter Man"-- John Robinson finds his role usurped his double from the anti-matter universe. The two of them battle in an anti-matter void and the impostor plunges to his death. (C)

"Target Earth"-- lookalike aliens try to assume the Robinsons' identity to infiltrate Earth-society, but Will foils their plans. (SC)

"Princess of Space"-- Penny is forced to pose as a princess, but the Robinsons liberate the real one just in time to thwart a robot revolt with very little violence. (SC)

"Time Merchant"-- Chronos, an alien with control of time, gets aggrieved at Will, and John Robinson must bargain for the boy's life. Smith complicates things by using Chronos' time-machine. John ends the struggle in a fight with Chronos and his henchman. (C)



"The Promised Planet"-- a race of juvenile who never grow old try to brainwash the crew. (SC)

"Fugitives in Space"-- West and Smith are condemned to a prison planet. They break out with the help of an alien criminal. However, when the alien is destroyed trying to get his treasure, the police let West and Smith go. (SC)

"Space Beauty"-- Judy wins a space-beauty contest, but the prize is to be married to an alien fire-being. Before the alien can reach Judy, the Robinsons' weather-machine-- activated before the aliens' advent-- causes the area to be blanketed in snow, putting out the alien's fiery ardor. (SC)

"The Flaming Planet"-- an alien warlord, last of his race, wants someone from the Jupter to stay on his world and fight him to the death. The Robinsons manage to distract him by introducing him to a bevy of plant-monsters, with whom he can fight to his heart's content. (SC)

"The Great Vegetable Rebellion"-- when an alien carrot-man tries to turn everyone in the crew into plants, Robinson and West sabotage the stystem that keeps the plant-man's plants alive, and he's forced to capitulate. (SC)



"Junkyard in Space"-- the ruler of a junk-planet wants to take over the Jupiter, but Will manages to appeal to his better nature. (SC)



Friday, April 28, 2017

UNANSWERED POLITICAL QUERY

From a forum on political stuff--

_________

So tonight ABC will air a documentary about all the events that led up to the 1992 LA riots, with special emphasis on the heavy hand of Daryl Gates. The doc is given the somewhat inflammatory title of "Let It Fall."

I don't know how accurate or balanced the doc will be; it may indeed be a superb work of non-fictional filmmaking. As a liberal, I believe that everyone should have access to all aspects of our history, however uncomfortable.

What I find myself wondering, however, is whether or not the doc-- assuming it is, as said, indicting the Gates regime-- will have any beneficial effects as such.

I can imagine that when a filmmaker tackles this sort of topic, his basic moral message is akin to, "Never again." In other words. he wants to shame the Caucasian population so that future generations will never again think about enforcing a new Jim Crow.

But does a document that makes an "anniversary" of a riot 25 years ago have the desired effect? Does it make white people more penitent?

Or does it have the opposite effect, making many of them-- those who are NOT card-carrying members of white racist organizations-- sick and tired of hearing about grievances that date back that far?

I know the Santayana rationale that's always trotted out in these situations. But in terms of pure effectiveness-- will a doc like LET IT FALL appeal to anyone but the already converted?

ADDENDUM: I later commented-- 

Having watched the doc now, I still can't say if it will have any beneficial effects, but I'm impressed with Ridley's work here. I found it even-handed in structure, in that none of the L.A. populations-- white, black, or Korean-- came off looking sinless. 

If any documentary can prove persuasive across ingroups, I think the more even-handed ones have the better chance.

Not that the doc won't have its detractors, of course.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: FABLE OF VENICE (1977)



It's long been observed that American genre-comics tend to travel a more straightforward, plot-determined path to get to their destinations, while similar works in Europe tend to wander about in peripatetic fashion. I don't make this observation for the reasons of elitist critics-- to tout the innate superiority of the European approach-- but to apply the distinction to this week's mythcomic.

Milton Caniff's comic strip TERRY AND THE PIRATES cast a long shadow over the world of comics long after Caniff departed the strip in 1946. The Italian Hugo Pratt was one of many artists who to some extent emulated Caniff's bag of visual tricks. For a comics-critic confined to the English language, it's difficult to assess Pratt's overall work. Almost the only works translated are Pratt's stories of Corto Maltese, and these stories caught the attention of American fans largely thanks to Frank Miller talked up Pratt's work during the height of Miller's popularity.  

The titular hero bears a loose resemblance to the tough adventurer Pat Ryan of Caniff's TERRY, but Pratt's Corto Maltese is much more laid-back and eccentric, and where Ryan is confined mostly to China, Corto wanders many parts of the world during the early 20th century. His creator knew some of these locals from personal experience. According to a preface in NBM's 1990 translation of FABLE OF VENICE, Pratt based this 1977 album-novel on his own experiences growing up in Venice. 

Given the protagonist's name, I find it logical that a particular influence on FABLE must have been Dashiell's Hammett's 1929 novel THE MALTESE FALCON and/or its film-adaptations. The novel is named for a fabulously valuable statue of a falcon, over which the novel's hero and his antagonists contend. The novel, much like Caniff's strip, is usually concerned purely with worldly concerns of profit.

But Pratt, who claims to have experienced uncanny phenomena in his encounters with the variegated cultures of Venice, takes the same idea of a character seeking a fabulous treasure but uses the idea to illustrate the arcane traditions of the Mediterranean cultures. FABLE starts with Corto falling through the ceiling of a room in which a group of Venetian Masons are convening. But where this might lead to some wild brawl in a Caniff storyline, the Masons simply escort the unfortunate sailor out of their sanctum. But the scene gives Pratt a chance to establish Corto's philosophical status with the reader. He shows that he knows something about the esoteric tradition, and yet tells the Masonic leader that "I'm just a free sailor-- at least, I  hope I am!" 

From then on, Corto wanders the streets of Venice, encountering both old acquaintances from past visits and new people, most of whom are directly or indirectly associated with esoteric matters. He has a few dust-ups with the authorities, just like Caniff's hero:




But on the whole, the wandering plot is mostly about the mysteries of Venice, where Corto observes that anything can happen. The treasure he seeks is a supposedly magical emerald, but he quests after this prize not for personal gain, but because a late associate, Baron Corvo, challenged the sailor to find the emerald. The emerald has a storied history like that of the Maltese Falcon, but the gem goes much further back, supposedly passing through the hands of myth-figures like Cain and Lilith and into the slightly more historical-seeming figures of Simon Peter and Simon Magus.

While trying to track down the elusive jewel, Corto meets various people associated with occultism, particularly Hipazia, who believes herself to be the reincarnation of Hypatia, the renowned Neoplatonic scholar who lived in Egypt during the 4th century A.D.  Hypazia projects the sense of being almost other-worldly, though Corto tells a friend "that girl can only love what she can't have."


FABLE puts forth a cornucopia of arcane references from the Greco-Roman world, the Bible, Islam, and even Nordic mythology. I don't think any of them add up to much individually, but these references, like the characters I discussed in this essay, "take on mythic status through their association." No literal magic is seen, so the novel registers an uncanny phenomenality through the trope of "weird societies." In addition, Corto has a bizarre dream in which he has a long conversation with a genie who looks like one of his old adversaries. And though he awakens from this dream, after the treasure-hunt (and murder-mystery) is solved, it turns out that the novel itself is something of a dream. FABLE ends with Corto bringing all of the characters "on stage"-- even those who have died-- to take their bows, and then leaves to appear in his next story. In my experience, this is one of the few times that a "delirious dream" took place WITHIN the context of a "fallacious figment."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

GOOD WILL QUANTUMS PT. 4

Though I don't repudiate anything I wrote in Part 3, it does occur to me that an attempt to describe the virtue of simplicity ought to embrace that virtue, at least for that particular essay. And since last week I was dealing with some of the complexities of the Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN, I may as well take an example of valuable simplicity from that source.

In my essay on THE ENFORCERS, I took pains to demonstrate a level of mythopoeic complexity in the relationship between Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson. I mentioned the character of Betty Brant only in a negative sense: that she did not fulfill the role of "daughter" to Jameson's "heavy father," and that she became connected to Spider-Man's war on crime because she had taken a loan from the Big Man, who, in the tradition of loan sharks everywhere, called in the note with heavy interest. I also noted in a previous analysis that she didn't line up with the usual Oedipal figure of the "mother-substitute:"

So a doctrinaire Freudian reading does not apply, particularly since Parker's sexual needs are still turned outward, toward women more or less his own age. One might make something of the fact that the character's first major girlfriend is a little older than he is: Betty Brant is a working woman, roughly of college-age, when she starts dating the high-schooler. Few stories treat the Betty character as significantly older than Parker, though. So despite the occasional reference to her age-- in one story, her rival Liz Allan makes Betty feel "a hundred years old" simply by addressing Betty as "Miss Brant"-- she doesn't work as a mother-substitute any better than does Aunt May.

So does Betty Brant possess any "density?" Not within the mythopoeic domain, certainly. Whatever storytelling virtue she has would seem to apply only to the dramatic potentiality, which deals with affects. Here's one of the better examples of Stan Lee's skillful dialogue melding with the energetic visuals of Steve Ditko:



Even so, one never knows as much about Betty Brant as one knows about an Ibsen character. Aside from the eventual revelation that her brother Bennett became involved in the criminal life,  she comes from nowhere and doesn't really have a meaningful arc of her own. She is simply-- note my use of the word-- Peter Parker's first love.

But in contrast to the "denser" concerns that make the Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN compelling, simple characters like Betty-- and Ned Leeds, Anna Watson, and others-- have a valuable function. They don't ask the reader to understand them in any depth. Their simplicity is like a breath of fresh air next to all the breast-beating and hairshirt-tearing.

And that is probably the simplest I can get about the aesthetic of simplicity.

Monday, April 24, 2017

GOOD WILL QUANTUMS PT. 3

In GOOD WILL QUANTUMS PT. 2 I said:

But although "density/complexity" is the primary criterion of fictional excellence in any potentiality, there is a role for Raymond Durgnat's "aesthetic of simplicity." Simplicity is the mode or modes through which an author seeks to communicate complexity in a pleasing manner, so that the reader absorbs the complexity without the sense of having it forced down his throat. More on this point later.

I invoked the base idea of simplicity-- though not as an "aesthetic"-- in a February 2008 essay, MOVING FURNITURE, TRADINGS SYMBOLIC SPACES.  

To repeat what I said in “Myths Without Fantasy,” any kind of story may attain to the complexity of myth, and any element of narrative storytelling—a plot-event, a setting, a piece of dialogue, or a turn of characterization—can have the potential to go from a simple variable to a complex one. At the simple level, such elements are manipulated by the author to serve the ends of the story, which (as per this article’s title) I consider to be akin to the simple act of moving one’s furniture from one place to another. However, where one encounters the author bringing in extra levels of associational complexity, often not necessary as such for the story’s smooth functioning, one is dealing with another level of symbolic discourse, where the simple is “traded” for the complex, rather than simply being moved from one spot to another.

 I didn't mention Frye in this essay, but he was credited for the "complex variable" insight in a related essay, DON'T FEAR THE FURNITURE, where I further built upon the simple.complex dichotomy.


Back in this essay I spoke of functions without any great associative complexity as "simple variables," akin to narrative "furniture" that an author had to move about. Somewhat later I used "null-myth" as a term of evaluating such simple variables in terms of their lack of mythicity. "Function" is meant to be more inclusive. Say that I consider Sherlock Holmes mythic while I deem August Derleth's imitation-Holmes "Solar Pons" to be null-mythic. That does not mean that I might not be amused in some way by a Solar Pons tale, depending on how well the author presents his material on the purely kinetic level. But I would not expect the level of associative complexity that makes the Sherlock stories generally more appealing.
Both Holmes and Pons stories share functions that their respective authors did not "invent." The Holmes stories, because of their added associative qualities, may be said to be "super-functional" in that author Doyle forges more felicitous associative connections within the literary elements of his tales than Derleth does. But Doyle doesn't escape the need for narrative functionality.
"Narrative functionality" means that whether a story is symbolically simple or complex, it has to satisfy certain some audience's narrative expectations, even if that audience might be limited to the author's idealized image of "the perfect audience." This is easy to descry with genre-stories: once Conan Doyle establishes (but does not invent) the trope that every detective-story concludes with the detective solving some mystery, then most other stories in that genre will follow the same pattern, in order to be "pleasing" to the reader. And though many literary elitists like to think that artistic fiction is immune to this sort of narrative expectations, I've noted the same distinction between complex and simple forms of art-fiction on assorted occasions, as per my unfavorable comparison of Daniel Clowes to Harvey Kurtzman here.

In the second part of DON'T FEAR THE FURNITURE, I also associated the simply functional elements of literature with the linguistic concept of the *denotative:* 

Even I, a pluralist, would rather read works that strike me as "super-functional" rather than only functional. But that which is purely functional informs every narrative ever conceived, if only insofar as all narratives need the denotative as a buttress for the connotative. So fearing and/or hating the functional is, in the final analysis, not much more profound than the activity of moving around one's old furniture.

Nowadays, I would not associate my idea of the "null-myth" with this base denotative functionality: over time it's come to mean a work that had "super-functional" potential coded into the narrative but which became denatured by authorial confusion or misjudgment. I note that in these older essays I only referenced the potentialities of "the kinetic" and "the mythopoeic." However, I've given other examples in recent essays as to how the other two potentialities are also embraced by the concepts of narrative complexity and simplicity.

To return to the last two examples cited above, the better work of Harvey Kurtzman has a desirable level of complexity, but it is presented in such a way that the author does not "force [the complexity] down the audience's throat." In contrast, though I do not consider Daniel Clowes' to be very complex in terms of any potentiality-- though I suppose it's strongest in the domain of "the didactic"-- it also sins in regard to the aesthetic of simplicity, by conveying his intellectual take on life in a poorly executed emulation of Alfred Hitchcock's storytelling practices.

Friday, April 21, 2017

NEAR MYTHS: GITS: MAN-MACHINE INTERFACE (2001)



I remember liking the anime film adaptations of Masamune Shirow's GHOST IN THE SHELL franchise, though I've not re-screened them in years, and would prefer to see them again only if I should get the chance to read the original 1989 manga-stories on which they were based. Though I didn't have easy access to the 1989 work, I did check out this 2001 "graphic novel." The events of MAN-MACHINE INTERFACE take place about four months after the events of the first continuity but one source claimed that the works are not interdependent.

Unfortunately, I didn't get much out of interfacing with INTERFACE, for much the same reason I didn't enjoy Shirow's earlier success APPLESEED: Shirow just can't shut up about the wondrousness of his cyber-world long enough to tell a coherent story. Most of the story deals with the main hero, android Motoko Aramaki, showing off her ability to download herself into a variety of android bodies while investigating-- well, something. Frankly, I couldn't follow the rudiments of Motoko's mission, though it did involve submarine pirates and pigs being used to grow substitute organs. In fact, Shirow's margin-notes, in which he explains the various aspects of his sci-fi cosmos, are more interesting than the main story.

To his credit, Shirow knows how to give readers both action (one of Motoko's android bodies gets into a big firefight) and fanservice (Motoko often shows off a lot of leg and butt, even while resenting anyone who enjoys the view). Some elements of Japanese mythology are crammed into the helter-skelter narrative, and I'm sure that Shirow has the talent to produce a symbolic discourse by scenes such as this one.



However, the main content is much like that of a 1930s "space engineering" story, where the authors' main interest is always focused upon singing of the wonders of science. In terms of organization MAN-MACHINE INTERFACE also resembles the 1940 origin of Hawkman by Gardner Fox. The mythic content is indubitably present, but it's something of a potpourri.

I didn't have a lot of love for the GHOST IN THE SHELL teleseries, but at least its storytelling proved coherent. Some day in future I may try to reread Shirow's 1986 DOMINION as translated by Dark Horse, since that too offered more organized stories.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE ENFORCERS!" (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10, 1964)



In this long mythcomics analysis of the early Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN, I concluded that the relationship between Peter Parker, his alter ego and his employer Jonah Jameson was one of unending conflict:

From then on, this becomes the new status quo: to make money Parker must continue selling photos to an older man who hates Parker's alter ego, while Jameson, who hates Spider-Man, must continue feeding the fame of "the menace" or face losing the interest of the paper-buying public. (One later tale even asserts that the paper's newsstand sales go down whenever Jameson writes another of his many anti-Spider-Man editorials.) For the young hero, there's no final duel with the older authority. The alienated individual simply goes on jousting against the older man and the conservative society he represents -- on and on, world without end.
I should quickly note that when I speak of Parker being alienated, it has nothing to do with the banality that is Marxist alienation. Parker is not alienated against capitalistic society; he's simply for the most part frozen in time as a young man on the verge, which means that he'll always be opposed to the conservatism of the older generation. Jameson is in a sense more alienated than Parker, because as a good capitalist he must give his audience what they are willing to buy. Since he has wealth, he continually seeks to influence public opinion through the media-- inveighing against Spider-Man on television, or instructing his writers to attack the superhero in the Daily Bugle. Yet Jameson's ability to manipulate the masses is severely limited. In "The Enforcers," Jameson instructs his flunky Fred Foswell to write editorials that will associate the crime-fighter with the Big Man, a master criminal currently causing chaos throughout New York. Foswell objects that they have no proof for such an allegation, and that "if you [Jameson] turn out wrong again, people will lose confidence in our paper." Jameson overrides his sensible employee's objections, but subsequent issues bear Foswell out. On some occasions Jameson may be able to sway the more simple-minded readers, and he can take advantage of reversals in the hero's career to embarrass him. But on the whole Jameson's control of the public media cannot nullify the self-evident fact of Spider-Man's heroism.

In the above-cited essay I also said that although in many ways Jameson functions as a "heavy father," sort of a nasty version of Parker's angelic Uncle Ben, he has little in common with the symbolic kindred of Laius. In contrast to Freud's Oedipus schema, Jameson does not proscribe Parker from any female companionship; their rivalry is entirely based in the desire for public acclaim. Parker is Oedipus only in terms of constantly saving a city from various dooms, while Jameson is a Tiresias who is motivated not by a love of truth but by a bruised ego.

SPIDER-MAN #10 is certainly one of the first times a commercial comics-magazine ever referenced a soap-operatic revelation on its cover, to wit: "Learn why J. Jonah Jameson really hates Spider-Man!" Though Stan Lee had dropped hints about the publisher's motives prior to issue #10, this was the first time Lee foregrounded the basic philosophical difference between them: that Spider-Man appears in every way to be a selfless hero, who requires no reward for risking his life, while Jameson has defined success as "making money."




Though Peter Parker indubitably gets the short end of the stick in his contest with Jameson, "The Enforcers" is psychologically interesting in that this time Parker starts aping Jameson's modus operandi: imagining that the man who makes his life miserable may in fact be the master criminal the Big Man.


This leads to a humorous conclusion: like Jameson, Parker imagines his enemy as a dastardly crook, and he, far more than Jameson, is duly embarrassed when the truth comes out.



To be sure, though, Parker learns from his error and never again misjudges Jameson, while Jameson keeps on repeating his mistakes, in order to keep the comic routine going. That said, there's nothing illusory about the fact that Jonah, while not a criminal, is still an asshat; the kind of boss who makes the world of daily work a crapfest.



However, adults on the verge must learn to live with the minor crappiness of other law-abiding adults, while the corruptions of actual crime are of a different order,



The subplot about why Parker's girlfriend Betty engaged the services of a loan shark is never worked out very well in subsequent adventures, despite a very loose explanation involving Betty's brother, But the Betty subplot is significant in establishing the way crime impacts on the lives of average square citizens. Thus"The Enforcers" is the first Lee-Ditko story to deal with crime as a sociological myth.

That said, one must make allowances for the fact that the story presents a juvenile vision of crime that no adult could take seriously for a moment.



So the Big Man tells New York's major gangland figures, "I'm going to run this little enterprise like a big business," and then the reader must believe that all of these armed gangsters can be beaten into submission by the crime-boss's three oddball henchmen: a big strong goon (the Ox), a short fellow with judo skills (Fancy Dan), and a cowboy with a lasso (Montana). The three Enforcers may have their roots in a trope seen in a fair number of Golden Age BATMAN stories: the trope of the "specialty criminal." Still, from an adult perspective it's awfully hard to imagine a crime-boss rising to prominence with only these three non-powered schmoes serving as his muscle.

That said, throughout his career Ditko would continue to pit his heroes against crooks rooted in the traditions of urban crime, though super-villains like Electro and the Vulture were arguably more popular with readers.The Big Man and the Enforcers might not be impressive representatives of gangland activity, but they represent a trope about crime that was apparently very important to the artist's ethos. It remains a significant irony that none of the gangsters Lee and Ditko created for SPIDER-MAN-- the Big Man, the Crime-Master, Blackie Gaxton, Lucky Lobo-- proved as influential in the Marvel mythology as the crime-boss who debuted over a year after Steve Ditko left the SPIDER-MAN title.








Saturday, April 15, 2017

SHADOW BOXING WITH BATGIRL'S GREATEST ENEMY

Just to get the title-explanation out of the way, the "greatest enemy" of Batgirl-- and indeed, of most if not all fictional characters-- is the ideological critic, the sort who reads fiction in order to see only what he wants to see. I've already critiqued the misrepresentations of Ennbee's Guardian essay on the KILLING JOKE DVD, and I truly meant to leave it at that. But it occurred to me that are deeper issues involved in the ideological reading of KILLING JOKE than just whether or not a given critic renders a careless, ideologically over-determined reading.

A bigger issue is that ideological critics like Ennbee are unable to understand the inevitable contradictions inherent in their position. For instance, here's Ennbee arguing that even if the DVD adaptation had been better than the source material, it still would have been a bad idea:

Rebooting stories that are racist and sexist is one way that racist and sexist narratives and ideas get replicated and perpetuated. You can sometimes change the story and make it better – and then, sometimes, you can’t. The Killing Joke didn’t have to be as wretched in cartoon form as it turned out to be, but remaking it was always going to be a bad idea.

Now, here's Ennbee arguing for what DC Animation should have done, rather than perpetuating an evil sexist story:

Instead, maybe, DC could have done an animated Birds of Prey – a series in which numerous female superheroes, not least Barbara Gordon, fight crime together without having to ask Batman for permission. 

As I mentioned in the previous essay, Ennbee made no mention of the film's allusion to Barbara Gordon becoming Oracle at the end; of continuing her heroic activities in another manner. This by itself is mere sloppiness on his part. But Ennbee's real whopper is that he doesn't even get that without the Moore-Bolland KILLING JOKE, there is no BIRDS OF PREY, at least in the historical sense.

Sure, it's *theoretically* possible that, had DC never published any story in which Barbara Gordon or anyone else was shot and paralyzed, the company could have published its first all-female team-book without such a character: without "Barbara Gordon in her new identity as Oracle." Such a book would still have to employ any number of narrative contortions to satisfy Ennbee's political purity test, of course. But from what Ennbee wrote in the Guardian essay, one would never know that BIRDS OF PREY was in any way dependent on the events of the Moore-Bolland work. He makes it sound like BOP was totally untainted by the events of the very graphic novel that, quite unintentionally, determined a new direction for the then-moribund adventures of Barbara Gordon.

To sum up briefly: Moore asked DC for permission to have Batgirl be crippled by the Joker in KILLING JOKE. Later he stated that he never expected the character to remain a paraplegic, given the many miracle-cures abounding in the DC Universe, and indeed DC did toy with the idea of reviving Batgirl via one such cure, "the Lazarus Pit" of Ra's Al Ghul. This idea was dropped, and credit for a better direction is usually given to writers Kim Yale and John Ostrander, who spearheaded the idea of reconfiguring Gordon as a mysterious dispenser of information to the superhero community. Thus Oracle made her debut roughly a year after her fate in KILLING JOKE, in Ostrander's SUICIDE SQUAD #23.



Once the character was revealed to be the now-paraplegic Barbara Gordon, she became a more prominent player in the DC Universe, particularly in the Bat-corner of that cosmos. This new role-- which gave Gordon greater prominence than she had enjoyed as Batgirl in the late 1980s-- engendered a one-shot team-up with Black Canary in 1996, which in its turn led to the regular BOP title.



To be sure, the first fifty-plus issues of the regular series, largely scripted by Chuck Dixon, were basically no more than decent formulaic action-stories. Gail Simone, debuting on BOP #56 in 2003, distinguished herself on the title and made both the character of Oracle and the feature's "girl power" theme more appealing to fans. 



Now, though I consider Simone's contribution to the BOP concept to be vital in a creative sense, there's no question in my mind that from first to last, BIRDS OF PREY is intimately tied to the supposedly sexist injuries inflicted on Barbara Gordon by Moore and Bolland. I have no idea whether Ennbee thinks well of the comic book itself, though he certainly seems to be stumping for an adaptation, if only one produced by female creators. 

In earlier years Simone apparently agreed to some extent with Ennbee's characterization of KILLING JOKE as sexist, for she listed Batgirl's paralysis as one of the casualties of dastardly male creators on her WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS site.  In this essay I expressed my disapproval of Simone for ham-handedly listing characters regardless of the context of their suffering in each given narrative, and over the years I've become (in contrast to Ennbee) even less sympathetic to the "WIR" complaint. But Simone's protest against female marginalization becomes even more ironic, when one realizes that BOP was her first major success in the comic-book field, and that her success stemmed in large part from the fact that DC readers were invested in the fate of Paraplegic Barbara Gordon. That Simone wrote some really good stories with PBG-- quite possibly better than anything Alleged Misogynist Alan Moore could have rendered, given the same subject-- does not obviate Simone's indebtedness to Moore's 1988 ambition desire to shock his complacent audience with an event of arresting violence. That indebtedness also does not "go away" even if Modern Moore recants his 1988 ambitions. BIRDS OF PREY, DC Comics' first all-female team-title, owes its existence to the Big Event of a heroine being sliced, diced, and stuck in a Frigidaire-- though it appears that even before Simone, Yale or Ostrander became involved, there was always the possibility of a Resurrection from the Refrigerator.

To explain the other part of the title now: this complaint comes down to mere "shadow boxing" with the ranks of ideological critics in general. From experience I know that, should I post my analysis of Ennbee's faulty logic on HU, Ennbee would not be capable of arguing any of my points. He has established a persona whereby everything he writes is for the betterment of marginalized people, so if you challenge him on logic or anything else, you must be a low-down defender of the status quo. I would be curious to know if Gail Simone perceived herself in any way indebted to Moore, but from what little I know of her during her Comic Book Resources, she has never really forsworn WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS, so that may not be a likely scenario either.

At the end of NEGATIVE I.D. I said that "one must distinguish between the artistic potential of a controversial trope like girlfriend-killing, and any particular negative example of same." Even if I agreed with Ennbee that the gut-shooting of Barbara Gordon marked Moore, Bolland and DC Comics as unregenerate masculinists-- which I don't-- I would still contend that what didn't kill Barbara Gordon made her stronger, rather than reducing her to a victim. Simone herself pursued that theme in BIRDS OF PREY more than once, and any animated adaptation of the property that didn't allow Barbara Gordon to suffer for a good narrative reason would surely end up as far worse than the 2016 KILLING JOKE.








Friday, April 14, 2017

OBJECTING TO OBJECTIFICATION AGAIN

Now that I've finished my review of the 2016 DVD-adaptation of the Moore-Bolland KILLING JOKE graphic novel, I may as well return to a long-neglected subject: how the word "objectification" came to be used as a buzzword for anything a given critic does not like.

Here's a sampling from online reviews, with my responses, and golly gee, the first one I found-- just a little above my own, when searching "Killing Joke+ dvd+ objectification-- is my old pal ENNBEE, telling the GUARDIAN readers that you just can't update "sexist source material."

Well, certainly not as easily as a critic can lie about what a film shows:

Pursued by a creepy stalker mafia tough-guy villain, Batgirl makes amateurish mistake after amateurish mistake, prompting Batman to sneer to her face that the bad guy “led you like a lap dog”.

Does Batgirl make some mistakes in handling the "creepy, etc." villain? Yes, but not in the repetitive manner asserted by Ennbee. Nor, despite Ennbee's claim, does the Batman character ever "sneer" at the Batgirl character. I can well understand why Ennbee would make such a claim, since he's addicted to victimage. But as written, Batman has no reason to bust Batgirl's lady-balls. The storyline, whatever its failings, does make clear that Batman values Batgirl as a partner, and when she starts going off the rails, he loses an ally thereby. He gives a tough and unsympathetic assessment of the ways in which Batgirl has allowed herself to let the villain get inside her head, and he dismisses her from the case not because she's a woman, but because she has fucked up.

And then there's this willful misreading of the whole arc of the Batgirl-prologue:

In response, Batgirl whines that Batman doesn’t trust her, has impulsive sex with him, and then indulges in a series of violent emotional tantrums before deciding to retire her Batgirl identity on the grounds that the stress is too much for her.
Really, Ennbee? When a woman protests a man's verdict, it's just "whining?" They oughtta kick Ennbee out of the Liberals' League for that one. It goes without saying that Ennbee would not approve of the sex-scene, but after the sex-scene there's only one "emotional tantrum," in which the villain Franz attempts to kill Batman, almost succeeds, and is beaten to pudding when Batgirl comes to Batman's rescue.

I'm reading along as I write this, so I'm betting that Ennbee will still top this. Let's see--


As a bonus, Batman hypocritically lectures her on the dangers of objectification while the bad guy compulsively and smarmily sexualizes her, and the cartoon lingers on a closeup image of her butt when she jogs. Girls aren’t emotionally or mentally tough enough to be heroes, is the message; they’re just too darn emotional. But hey, they look good in those tight costumes, right?
Bingo! Yes, ultraliberals cannot divorce the hero's actions from those of the villain. I pointed out that Batman letting Batgirl shag him would be problematic in real-world terms-- that is, if Batman were a person. And I'd expand on that to say that a fictional portrait of sex between two people who shouldn't be together is practically the foundation of Western drama. There is of course nothing hypocritical in Batman's warning: he's not talking about objectification per se but about the effect one crook's smarminess is having on one character's psyche. There is also no blanket condemnation of women as crime-fighters. Will Ennbee even mention the DVD's reference to Barbara Gordon's transformation into Oracle?  I'm betting not, but I'm sure I can find more prevarications.

Let's see, after he quotes one of the creators about what they meant to do, Ennbee decides that the faults in KILLING JOKE are not those of the specific creators, but of all males, and that only female creators could have possibly obviated them (though probably not in an adaptation of KILLING JOKE, which is explicitly beyond saving):

Perhaps different creators could have managed to craft a non-misogynist Batgirl story, especially if those creators were women. But a big part of the problem is, simply, that this is a Killing Joke adaptation. 

I won't waste repeating Ennbee's driveling, repetitive claims that Batgirl's failure is automatically the failure of all females, and therefore leads to a "misogynist cartoon."

However, this particular review-subject didn't allow for Ennbee any enlightened posturings on the subject of race. Therefore he drops the subject of KILLING JOKE and starts harping on why the new GHOSTBUSTERS was racist because it didn't automatically make the black character a great scientist. I think the movie's greatest crime was that it wasn't funny, but I'm not surprised that Ennbee decided to cram both race and sex into one pre-digested package.

Damn, when I started this, I thought I'd just skim a few representative quotes from different reviewers. Once again, though, Ennbee's addiction to both victimage and prevarication has taken up the whole dang post. More later, perhaps.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: [THE 'LONG ORIGIN OF SUPERMAN], SUPERMAN #1 (1939)

Batman's first origin, short though it is, still qualifies as a bonafide mythcomic. However, not so much Superman's.

I didn't reference the short one-page origin from ACTION COMICS #1 in my analysis of the two-part story that introduced the Man of Steel to comics-audiences, largely because it wasn't part of the story proper. Now, as I explore the subject of "how short can a myth be," I have to ask whether the single-page origin by itself constitutes a myth. And my answer is that it could do so-- but it doesn't.




The main Superman story in ACTION was not even the complete story that Siegel and Shuster had assembled in their pitch to the comic-strip syndicates. Even the full story, later fully printed in SUPERMAN #1, doesn't explain anything about the character's provenance or powers. It seems likely that the editors of ACTION #1 felt the need of at least a quickie explanation, and thus readers were given a one-page summary of "who he is and how he came to be" on the inside front cover.

But despite establishing some major myth-motifs. the one-pager never brings them together into a cohesive myth-scenario, so that it is at best a "near myth." In contrast, the two-page origin from 1939 expands on the fragments of 1938, and does assemble a genuine, albeit short, myth-continuity.

The first page is largely "the beginning:"




While the last page provides both the "middle"-- the general sense of Clark Kent growing to manhood, the death of his parents-- and the "end," in which Kent decides to become a costumed hero.


By the time the two-page origin appeared in the SUPERMAN #1 (dated Summer 1939), the comic strip, launched in January 1939, had fleshed out much of the backstory, conveying the first visual depictions of the hero's real father and mother. I may explore the comic-strip origin in more detail at some time, but for now, suffice to say that Superman does have at least one very short mythcomic in his repertoire. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: [THE ORIGIN OF BATMAN], DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (1939)



I remarked in THE LONG AND SHORT OF MYTH PT. 1 that the shortest comics-story in which I've found mythic content was this 1962 BLONDIE comic-book story.  For one reason or another, though, it occurred to me that there were a couple of much better examples of two-page wonders. And here's the first of them.



I noted in LONG AND SHORT that most features this short are more in the nature of "vignettes" than of developed stories, saying that "even when [such narratives] do possess super-functionality, it's used for very restricted purposes." However, whereas the Blondie two-pager is the essence of what I've called an "unpopular myth," this two-pager-- which leads into a Gardner Fox story but which has been sometimes been credited to Bill Finger-- has become a very popular myth in many iterations, in many media-- and this despite the vignette's probable indebtedness to Lee Falk's PHANTOM comic strip.



Clearly the Batman origin satisfies my demand that even in two pages the author must create enough elements of Aristotelian complication to make possible a mythic discourse. I'm not quite sure from the PHANTOM excerpt that it does so, since I haven't seen the sequence in context. The maybe-Finger narrative, however, presents the (originally juvenile) reader with a more dynamic opening that Falk's Phantom origin. Young Bruce Wayne actually witnesses the deaths of his parents, whereas the current Phantom only knows from hearsay how his ancestor suffered and thus bequeathed the role of the "Ghost Who Walks" to his descendants. Young Bruce's torment then becomes the fulcrum, the "middle" of the narrative, in which Bruce struggles to make sense of his parents' deaths by dedicating himself to crimefighting. The climax, in which a grown-up Wayne muses on the alleged "superstitious" nature of criminals, may be the primary element that the author derived from Falk, for the Phantom's undying nature is clearly an appeal to the superstitions of tribal peoples in the hero's jungle domain.

In theory, this vignette could have functioned as part of a a great myth-tale, much as Frank Miller's re-interpretation of the Bat-origin functioned within the greater scope of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS narrative. However, this was not the case with the greater story that is preceded by the origin-vignette. I've established that Fox wrote some strong mythopoeic Bat-tales during this period, one of which, "Peril in Paris," appeared one month after Batman's origin. But the lead story of DETECTIVE #33-- the hero's seventh appearance, titled "The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom"-- is not one of the character's more notable outings. To the best of my knowledge no one has ever bothered to revive the villains behind the deadly dirigible-- Doctor Carl Kruger and his "Scarlet Horde"-- and Kruger's main schtick was to imitate the conquering ways of Napoleon Bonaparte with 20th century technology.




Happily, the Batman origin stands on its own, even if it has been subjected to endless ideological readings like those of Christopher Nolan, more or less along the lines of "Batman is a fascist because he's a rich guy who wants to keep down disenfranchised poor people, who wouldn't be holding people up for their belongings in a non-capitalist world." To such ideologues, it would be irrelevant that few of Batman's early rogues were common crooks. Even before the introduction of the Joker and the Catwoman in 1940, and the many other villains to come, the first year of Batman's feature was devoted to other exotic figures like Kruger, with names like Doctor Death and the Monk. None of these figures make good stand-ins for the oppressed proletariat. One might argue that over the years Batman encountered far more ordinary thugs than he did super-crooks, but one would still have to demonstrate some sense that these malefactors are opposed to some absolute vision of a law informed by rich (implicitly white) privilege. In contrast, many Bat-adventures focus on the ways in which crime victimizes ordinary citizens-- which I suppose an ardent Marxist would choose to view as mere "protective cover" for the "real" meaning.

Perhaps the one element of the origin-vignette that has remained irreducible to simple politics is the conclusion, in which Batman is inspired by the ominous appearance of a bat. In later years some writers would try to impute greater complications to the Bat-origin, but the simplicity of the original story foils all of these overly labored efforts. The original writer, be it Fox or Finger, intuited that the bat's main importance was to reflect the tormented darkness in the young hero's soul, not where the bat came from or what might have brought it through that window at the most propitious moment.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

BEFALL, DULL CARE

The lyrics of this traditional folklore song adjure the listener to bid "begone" to "dull care" in favor of song and dance.

I prithee, be gone from me, Begone! dull care, You and I shall never agree. Long time hast thou been tarrying here, And fain thou wouldst me kill, But i' faith, dull care, Thou never shall have thy will.

However, an awful lot of modern literature is devoted to embracing "dull care" as an indication that the author is able to accomplish the "tough-minded" task of representing reality-as-it-really-is. This is more than simply an attention to verisimilitude. Rather, it is a philosophical rejection of the idea that the world can ever transcend what various authors have termed "the dull round of existence."

By the criteria I introduced in VERTICAL VIRTUES PT. 2, "transcendence" of a purely horizontal, non-sublime nature can occur in naturalistic works like Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND. Of course, WIND, though not in any way sublime, is focused on portraying the life of Scarlett O'Hara as intensely interesting. In JOINED AT THE TRIP PT. 4, I mentioned another work of naturalistic phenomenality-- J.M. Coetzee's DISGRACE-- though not in a direct one-on-one comparison to GWTW. But I will make such a comparison now: DISGRACE is the sort of work that is dedicated to telling a dull story, for the apparent purpose of showing reality as dull, the better to contrast said work to the excitement of escapist fiction.

Now, my ruminations on the different forms of transcendence obliged me, in COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS PT.. 4, to refine my earlier concepts of the two forms of the sublime, in order to locate both forms within more general principles" the "combinatory-sublime" with a "combinatory mode" and the "dynamic-sublime" within a "dynamicity mode." I have also stated that works within the uncanny and marvelous phenomenalities inherently possessed greater potential for combinations than did the naturalistic. However, though the principal use of both phenomenalities is to evoke different forms of "strangeness," there have been many attempts to vary this dominant approach. In COMBINATORY-GLORY, I said that "not all works in the marvelous phenomenality are equally able to inspire the affect of the combinatory-sublime." My proximate reference was to a traditional folktale, "The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," because even though the tale shows its protagonist encountering assorted fearful monsters, the creatures don't really inspire the sublime sense of "strangeness" because the story's focus is upon the tale's main joke: that the young man overcomes all these monsters but learns "fear" (of a sort) from a woman.

That said, the folktale does not offer what I'm seeking: a narrative that manages to undermine the potential of the combinatory-sublime appropriate to the marvelous, just as DISGRACE fails to evoke even the limited horizontal transcendence possible in naturalistic works of art. I haven't reviewed too many metaphenomenal works that fully embrace "dull care," but I have encountered such works in "arty" prose science fiction or fantasy. Some examples would include Samuel R. Delany's novel TRITON and Kazuo Ishiguro's THE BURIED GIANT. These two novels have a few of the virtues of Mitchell, but they tend to favor the vices of Coetzee. I also regard both novels, like DISGRACE, as inconsummate works, by reason of their tendency to "overthink the overthought."  But if nothing else, the Delany and Ishiguro works serve to illustrate that not all works in the marvelous phenomenality necessarily deliver the appeal of the combinatory-sublime.

At the same time, just as GONE WITH THE WIND delivers on "horizontal transcendence" in marked contrast to the failings of DISGRACE, there are certainly uncanny or marvelous works that lack vertical transcendence (a.k.a. sublimity) but manage to produce some level of horizontal transcendence, thus taking advantage of the more general pattern of the combinatory mode. Ishiguro's earlier SF-work NEVER LET ME GO, while also devoted to "dull care," at least benefits from a better handling of interpersonal relationships, though nothing comparable to the level of Mitchell's accomplishment.

Friday, April 7, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE THREAT OF THE HORRIBLE HEX" (HOUSE OF SECRETS #64, 1964)


I've devoted space to a number of Silver Age stories that are remembered principally by those who lived during said age. Some of the characters, like Archie's Jaguar, have at least been revived in later years, to the extent that knowledgeable fans know that a 1960s Jaguar existed, even if they have never read that version's adventures. However, the DC character Mark Merlin-- whose history is covered in this Don Markstein article-- has been effectively erased from DC history, and for that reason he may be the most obscure serial character I've covered so far.

In comics there have generally been two broad types of magician-heroes. The first is the type that can conjure up a multitude of spells and effects, and this type's distant ancestor is probably Lee Falk's comic-strip character Mandrake. The second is "the supernatural sleuth," who may or may not possess special powers, but at least has keen insight into the nature of supernatural menaces. The strongest contender for an ancestor for this type is probably the 1908 "John Silence," a creation of Algernon Blackwood.

There are some memorable magical sleuths in prose, but most of those in the comics medium have been unremarakble. DC's Mark Merlin, whose creation is attributed solely to artist Mort Meskin, is no exception. He debuted in HOUSE OF SECRETS #23 (1959) and lasted until #73 (1965), in he was replaced by another character, a Doctor Strange-wannabe named Prince Ra-Man. Though Merlin lasted longer in the SECRETS berth than Ra-Man did, it seems likely that the former only lasted because the editors had no high expectations of him. I have yet to read more than scattered adventures of the character; and the one I reference here may be the best-known outing for Merlin, since it was reprinted in a 1970s issue of PHANTOM STRANGER. My inexpert impression is that even in his early years, DC didn't have any real interest in delving into the horrific potential of the truly supernatural, for Merlin spent a lot of time fighting aliens and monsters, like most DC heroes in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Here's the cover to Merlin's third appearance:




So no one should come away from this essay thinking that Mark Merlin's oeuvre offers some treasure-trove of neglected excellence. The most interesting thing about "Horrible Hex" is that the script-- attributed to Arnold Drake-- seems to be one of the few times this staid DC-hero actually went up against genuine supernatural menaces, tied into not only the New England witch-hunts but also to the custom of Pennsylvania hex-signs.




Since I don't have a scanner and there are few images to swipe, I'll keep my comments brief. Merlin finds himself embroiled in stopping a curse that has repeatedly slain the offspring of a Pennsylvania family.  Merlin finds out that the source of the curse are the spirits of three long-dead wizards from Puritan times. The hero takes the curse upon himself, faces the spirits in a mystic battle, and defeats their curse, saving the life of a modern-day innocent.





The point I find most interesting about Drake's story is not its metaphysical content-- which is only of marginal quality-- but the fact that the three wizards all represent three types of "otherness" with which the early Puritans contended. One-- the one on the cover with the peaked hat-- is a "central casting" sort of witch, Caucasian in racial heritage but loosely representing the Puritan horror of the independent female. Significantly, the witch's name is "Spinster Toten," her unmarried status connoting that she is not under male control, and her personal name, in addition to resembling the word "totem," may also reference one of the best known figures of the real witch-craze, Tituba. The other two wizards may derive from Tituba's alleged knowledge of extra-Christian magical systems. "Black Moon" is a standard comic-book picture of an Amerindian medicine-man, so that he represents the Puritans' long-standing antipathy for Native American culture. Finally, the last wizard is Peter Stalb (seen on the cover in a Puritan-style hat). Though Caucasian, Stalb is also a man who has studied the occult arts in Asia and Africa, and since his main weapon is the use of a voodoo-doll, it's fair to assume that he's a stand-in for the Puritan fear of both black people and their black magic.
The story itself is nothing special, but I found it interesting that even one story in a generally mediocre series managed to tap into the mindset of America's most notorious encounter with the occult.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

GOOD WILL QUANTUMS PT. 2

I gave one definition of the word "potentiality" in Part One, but I was aware when I gave the term a Jungian-Fryean connotation that it also had jargonistic applications in the world of quantum mechanics.  Not being heavily into quantum mechanics, I was not aware of one datum stated in the Wikipedia article: that David Bohm and Basil Hiley defined "quantum potential/ potentiality" as "an information potential which acts upon a quantum particle." I did not have this in mind when I invoked the metaphor of the quantum particle in the essay THE QUANTUM THEORY OF DYNAMICITY, but the Bohm-Hiley statement provides a strong parallel to one of my long-stated statements about the relationship of literary archetypes to the information that they can be made to convey, as referenced in JUNG LOVE, FIRST LOVE. 

When I wrote QUANTUM THEORY, I was simply seeking to provide symmetry. I had established that I regarded mythicity as a discourse within the combinatory mode, and it eventually occurred to me that dynamicity could equally be defined as a discourse, but one within the corresponding mode of the dynamic mode. In THEORY I cited various ways in which I perceived "power" as taking different discursive forms within various works within the same genres: comparing, for instance, the "poor discourse" of the Shooter-Zeck SECRET WARS to the "good discourse" of the Lee-Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR. In essence, I represented the two modes principally with reference to Jung's two "irrational functions" when I stated:

Mythicity= the discourse of symbolic constructions
Dynamicity= the discourse of quantum constructions.

I did not draw any parallels in THEORY between the symbolizing nature of the "intuition function," nor to the sensory nature of the "sensation function." I used the term "quantum constructions" simply because in physics the word "quantum" is defined as "is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction." Since I was speaking of both mythicity and dynamicity as relationships between literary phenomena, I coined the term "quantum constructions" as short-hand for the ways in which different entities interact with one another on the plane of dynamicity, be it through direct violence, like that of a superhero, or through indirect influence, as per my example of Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER.

However, in the ensuing months I continued meditating on the subject of the four potentialites that I extrapolated from Jung's four functions. Many writers (not least Jung) had opined that the rational function of thinking developed out of the irrational function of intuition, but not as much had been written about a corresponding relationship between the rational function of feeling and the irrational function of sensation. Indeed, my initial statement of the potentialities from FOUR BY FOUR might have suggested too much distinction between the four:


The KINETIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of sensations.
The DRAMATIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of discrete personalities.
The DIDACTIC (formerly "thematic") is a potentiality that describes the relationships of abstract ideas.
The MYTHOPOEIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of symbols.

Slowly the logical symmetry settled in. If "symbolic constructions" are at the root of "ideational constructions," then there must be a parallel between the other two functions. What I initially called "quantum constructions" originally implied simply the perceiving subject's experience of his own body and other bodies as giving the subject either pleasant or unpleasant sensations. "Discrete personalities" was a reference was based in my understanding of Jung's interpretation of feeling as a more rational meditation as to WHY one's own body or other bodies became a source of a variety of sensations, including those situations in which the pleasant and unpleasant might intertwine. At the time I choose not to delve into PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES to review Jung's position, given that my extrapolation of the potentialities is not strictly Jungian anyway.

My solution to the problem of philosophical symmetry, then, is to propose that all four of the potentialities can be viewed as means by which the perceiving subject-- whether a real person or a literary construct-- sorts out different *QUANTA* of information that the subject encounters in the world. But the solution comes with another problem: how are these quanta at once alike and yet different?

One cornerstone of my theory is the rethinking of Aristotle's "pity and terror" into what I consider a more pleasing terminology: that of "sympathetic affects" and "antipathetic affects," as explored in this 2013 essay.  Another Wikipedia essay states that the term "affect" has in psychology assorted connotations.

Many theorists (e.g., Lazarus, 1982) consider affect to be post-cognitive: elicited only after a certain amount of cognitive processing of information has been accomplished. In this view, such affective reactions as liking, disliking, evaluation, or the experience of pleasure or displeasure each result from a different prior cognitive process that makes a variety of content discriminations and identifies features, examines them to find value, and weighs them according to their contributions (Brewin, 1989). Some scholars (e.g., Lerner and Keltner 2000) argue that affect can be both pre- and post-cognitive: initial emotional responses produce thoughts, which produce affect. In a further iteration, some scholars argue that affect is necessary for enabling more rational modes of cognition (e.g., Damasio 1994).

Plainly the function of sensation as Jung and I conceive it is entirely "pre-cognitive," while that of feeling is "post-cognitive." It doesn't help me at all to use 'affect" in both senses, so from now on I will take the first-stated position: "affects" are *quanta* that belong to the post-cognitive function of feeling. In contrast, the function of sensation, being non-judgmental, is concerned rather with dynamicity in its purest state, as stimuli that either enhance or detract from the subject's life-quality. This brings me back to Kant's concept of dynamicity as "might" or "strength," and thus I reconfigure the earlier statement of the potentialities thusly:


The KINETIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of strength-quanta.
The DRAMATIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of affect-quanta.
The DIDACTIC (formerly "thematic") is a potentiality that describes the relationships of idea-quanta.
The MYTHOPOEIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of symbol-quanta.

Within a fictional context, as stated before, all of these quanta are, unlike real energy-quanta, only real insofar as readers/audiences experience them as incarnations of the author's *WILL,* as stated in SEVEN WAYS FROM SCHOPENHAUER.  This "unified field theory" of the four potentialities will probably not inspire in critics the degree of enthusiasm quantum physicists experience as they cover a similar unification between the "four physical forces," but such a theory does make it somewhat easier to talk about the different forms of "will" which creators choose to emphasize.

As a closing note, I return to this statement from the first GOOD WILL QUANTUMS:

...I perceive a general principle: that density is the means by which the reader subconsciously rates one creator above another: because the reader believes that Creator A can better describe a set of relationships so "densely" that it takes on the quality of "lived experience."

But although "density/complexity" is the primary criterion of fictional excellence in any potentiality, there is a role for Raymond Durgnat's "aesthetic of simplicity." Simplicity is the mode or modes through whcih an author seeks to communicate complexity in a pleasing manner, so that the reader absorbs the complexity without the sense of having it forced down his throat. More on this point later.

Monday, April 3, 2017

NULL-MYTHS: OLD MAN LOGAN (2008)

It was only after watching the 2017 film LOGAN that I learned that it had been based on a graphic novel-- actually a compilation of stories from Marvel's ongoing WOLVERINE title-- and that the writer was none other than one of the worst scripters currently in the business, Mark Millar. This is not entirely a fair opinion, since I've read few of Millar's works since my bad experience with the atrocious WANTED.


However, once I read the Millar GN, I was happily disabused of the idea that anything by Millar could have had quality in its original form. Like the 2008 movie WANTED, the 2017 LOGAN-- directed by James Mangold, who also helmed the respectable 2013 WOLVERINE-- just borrows dribs and drabs from the Millar continuity. In fact, the only things Mangold really takes away from Millar's GN are the ideas that (1) in some future setting, Wolverine has gotten very old and beat-down by coping with everyday life, which is a consequence of the fact that (2) most mutants and superheroes are out of the picture. 

Though LOGAN is far from being a game-changing movie, I can appreciate that Mangold uses some subtlety, refusing to dilute his story by telling the viewer what happened to the heroes. In contrast, Millar's OLD MAN is just Millar regurgitating the same brain-dead concept that informed the WANTED graphic novel: that all the super-villains get together and wipe out most of the heroes, sparing only a few like Hawkeye the Archer and (inevitably) Wolverine. 

As with WANTED, Millar's work is made visually bearable by his collaboration with a good if somewhat slick artist. Conceptually, though, it's just channeling the same old vibe that had begun to get tedious in Alan Moore's work in his "grim and gritty" period: What If the Superheroes, the Ones Who Always Win, Went Down to Dusky Death (and Degradation)? Incidentally, though I've scoffed at Alan Moore's claims that every writer in the business is guilty of ripping off his wonderfully ironic and deeply intellectual concepts, in the case of Millar Moore's ire would be fully justified.

 In OLD MAN Millar trades on the cumulative histories of the standard Marvel heroes for cheap shock-with-no-awe, showing no appreciation for said histories. For instance, Millar knows that Wolverine started out life as an opponent for the Incredible Hulk, so by the rules of fannish consistency, Logan as an old man must once again face the Hulk. But this is a Hulk who, for no stated reason, has become as much of a villain as the Red Skull. He's also become a gross hillbilly who rules his territory in the villain-conquered U.S, alongside a passel of green, gamma-mutated offspring. There had been other attempts to show the Hulk becoming a darker figure-- Peter David's "Maestro" iteration of the character, not to mention a few intimations of Hyde-like nastiness in the character's first appearances. But as far as I can tell, the only reason that Bruce Banner becomes a cannibalistic redneck is because he couldn't find any regular humans to have sex with. So he had sex with his first cousin, the She-Hulk, and-- presto, Instant Hillbilly!

About the only nice thing I can say about this worthless work is that I smiled a little when Hawkeye and Wolverine start tooling around in a rebuilt Spider-Mobile. But it was definitely a smile of short duration.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: [THE NAGAI INVASION], STAR WARS #94-107 (1984-86)

My essay XX MARKING THE SPOT works as something of a preface to this week’s mythcomic. Only in the last week of March, publicly allotted as “Women”s History Month,” did it occur to me devote at least one entry to a mythcomic relevant to this topic. I’ve often covered the mythic incarnations of women in fiction throughout the "1001 myths" project, but very few of the female characters I surveyed were actually created by female authors. To be sure, even had I thought about what month it was earlier, I’m not sure that I could isolated three more female-authored mythcomics. Whether the lack of such creations is the fault of nature or culture is a matter for each individual to decide. But I have found one for this week, and from a rather unlikely source.



Marvel’s licensed STAR WARS comic book began in the same year that the original Lucas film debuted and ended about three years following RETURN OF THE JEDI, the final installment of the original film-trilogy. While the earlier SF-series STAR TREK became well-known for having inculcated a strong and lasting female fandom, STAR WARS has not been quite as well celebrated for its female adherents.  On one hand, Lucas’ space-opera concept has been viewed by many as a quintessential form of “boys’ enterainment,” which some critics, notably Ursula LeGuin, have considered irrelevant to female interests. On the other hand, the sheer kinetic and emotive appeal of the original trilogy crossed barriers of both age and gender to become a genuine American myth purely in terms of mainstream popularity. That said, I don't know that any of the various iterations of the franchise  in other media enjoyed the same degree of mainstream approval.

Marvel’s STAR WARS title was not in any sense of “fan-favorite” during its nine years of publication. Thanks to the popularity of the film, the comic sold extremely well, so much so that in more than one interview Marvel editor Roy Thomas credited the franchise with having saved the company from economiccatastrophe. For most of the title’s history, one would be accurate to assume that the majority of its stories were at best good formula space-opera, devoted to depicting the main characters of the franchise—Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids—having assorted non-canonical adventures. Along the way, raconteurs created their own characters, whose character-arcs could be much more elastic than the ones licensed from Lucasfilms. In the long sequence I’m examining, which I’ve entitled “The Nagai Invasion,” one particular character, created by writer Jo Duffy, becomes the central mythic persona in a continuity that, in some ways, put the “war” back in STAR WARS.



For most of the comic’s history, Jo Duffy contributed formula stories largely indistinguishable from those of male writers like Archie Goodwin and David Micheline. Not surprisingly, male artists illustrated all of her stories prior to issue #84. With this issue, Cynthia Martin then took over penciling duties for almost every subsequent issue, and arguably she added a grimmer, more restrained aesthetic, rooted in the use of fined-lined artwork and generous use of white space. Presumably, her main influenced were from manga artists: I note the use of the surname of manga-artist “Go Nagai” being used as the name for a new breed of aliens menacing Luke Skywalker’s Rebel Alliance. In addition, the physical model of the Nagai resembles that a body-type often seen in manga, one in which the men are all lean, epicene, and pale-skinned.



I won’t dwell overlong on the main plot of the long sequence, except that the incursion of the Nagai—and their team-up with assorted leftover stormtroopers—forces the STAR WARS characters to go to war once more. During this continuity, Duffy’s original character Dani—a humanoid woman belonging to a red-skinned race called “Zeltrons”—becomes a sort of “walking wounded” that I've never found in any George Lucas narrative.

In the critical subplot of “Invasion,” the Nagai—led by military officer Den Siva—are curious about the battle-abilities of the Zeltrons. Den’s forces capture Dani, and he personally suhjects her to a process designed to analyze her biological nature. It also causes the young woman—typically portrayed as something of a “fun-time girl,” despite being a warrior—to intense pain. The structure of scenario is almost identical to scenarios in which a captive soldier is tortured for information by his captors, though in this case the torture itself supplies the Nagai with the information they want, irrespective of the victim’s suffering. While watching the torment Den informs an aide that the process often kills its subjects. 


Dani survives an experience that may he compared to that of rape—the machine penetrates her body with assorted light-beams, though none strike the most obvious area—and in consequence, she becomes highly traumatized. Den, however, becomes fascinated with the Zeltron’s strength of character. When she is liberated from imprisonment by her ongoing boyfriend Kiro, Den personally tracks the two of them down, engages Kiro in a knife-duel, and apparently kills him. A later issue, #102, gives Kiro an ambiguous revival, though he never returns to Dani’s side and thus leaves her doubly traumatized.

However, Duffy and Martin handle the trauma in a manner more in line with Japanese samurai-dramas than with American Lifetime movies. Dani’e experiences cause her to focus upon Den Siva as the incarnation of her nightmares, and he for his part goes to great lengths to track her down and possess her. 






However, in a twist one won’t find in the average melodrama, Den becomes so besotted with the Zeltron that he betrays his own people to save her life, and eventually becomes an ally to the Alliance. 


Dani, despite her consuming hatred of the Nagai general, eventually becomes reconciled to this particular fortune of war. There is no attempt to mitigate Den’s “mental rape” of his prisoner, though Duffy may have intended to comment on the way real war usually treats its combatants. In the final issue, Den and Dani are last seen in one another’s company, even though the most she can say of him is, “I don’t love him, or even like him-- but at least we understand each other.”




George Lucas’s unique take on American action-serials and space-opera has many virtues that go overlooked by elitist critics, and the Duffy-Martin work on the STAR WARS comic does, to be sure, include many of the aspects that made the original film-trilogy popular, such as light humor and non-stop action. But I would imagine that the type of trauma depicted in Dani's character-arc would have been beyond Lucas's skill-set. Dani's degradation might be said to place her within the sphere of "the abject" as the concept was formulated by Julia Kristaeva. I touched upon said concept in this essay, though probably not in total agreement with Kristaeva. For instance, I would view Den Siva, the source of Dani's degradation, to have also entered a state of abjection simply because he has become infatuated with her, thereby causing him to betray his own people. In my view this is the only common ground that the characters share-- certainly Duffy and Martin never suggest that Dani and Den can lose themselves with the bounties of romantic love-- as well as the only reason Dani could say that the two of them "understand each other."

As a coda, I chose not to research any statements made online by Duffy or Martin before finishing my essay. That done, I was not surprised to learn that from this 2011 interview that the STAR WARS comic was cancelled while Duffy had yet to complete her long-term narrative, and that she was forced to condense her conflict as rapioly as possible in order to give her sequence an effective conclusion. While as a reader I would have liked to have seen her continuity played out to its full effect, I can't say that I am enamored of Duffy's plans to conclude Dani's character-arc by having her sacrifice her life in battle. Perhaps it would have been an impressive sequence. Yet I confess that the ending as it stands-- in which Dani and Den remain together, bound in a non-romantic alliance-- seems far more original, and more evocative of the mythology of wartime alliances.