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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...

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.








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