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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, May 24, 2017

NULL-MYTHS: "THE MAKING OF A MAN" (ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #145, 1963)

Just to show that the same author can produce a "poor myth" as easily as a "good myth" when he uses his favorite conceits badly, here's a story that ACQ's Richard Hughes published about four years after "Queen of Uranus." In contrast to "Queen," which was a pretty decent insight into feminine psychology, here Hughes attempted to use his Thorne Smith bag o'tricks to define the male star of the portentously titled "Making of a Man."



The story starts out in typically Hughesian fashion, presenting protagonist Bill Weston as a brow-beaten weakling who, thanks to the influence of a mean aunt who threatens to send him to an orphanage, continually dodges conflict throughout his life. Hughes may have thought of the majority of comics-readers as similar dreamers who "sought refuge in... books," and yet dreamed of being he-man adventurers. (Indeed, Hughes' fan-favored feature HERBIE is postulated on almost nothing else.)



By a series of unfortunate accidents, Weston gets stuck in a rocket that takes him to the far-off planet Lomara. On the fortunate side, though, Weston is able to breathe the atmosphere of Lomara. Even more fortunately, for no particular reason being on Lomara endows Weston with super-strength a la Burroughs' John Carter.



Hughes then takes the next logical step, having Weston rescue a princess, name of Lynda (Hughes was not Burroughs' equal in coming up with exotic names). However, in a strange inversion of the John Carter mythos, Lynda and other, uniformly-gorgeous females rule the planet. The ugly pot-belled goons that attacked Weston and held the princess captive are the males of the planet's humanoid species, and whom Lynda regards as being "of a lower order." Weston, rather than becoming a sword-wielding warlord a la Burroughs, uses his scientific knowledge to repel the males' next assault on the females. This sounds like a great escape from Weston's earlier humiliating routine. Yet Hughes clearly doesn't want Weston to even think about staying on the alien world, for at battle's end he's already thinking about going home (naturally, so that Weston can deal out a comeuppance to the bullies of Earth).



It turns out that even though the battle was won, the war is bound to be lost to the men, who have greater forces and who desire "an equal voice in government." Clearly this was a toss-off story for Hughes: he was interested neither in the female Lomarans' claim to greater mental powers or the male Lomarans' desire for equity, only in what both of them could do for his protagonist's damaged ego.



I'm not sure about how conscious Hughes was of his title's irony. Since he drops the John Carter fantasy almost immediately, that might suggest that the writer meant to play around with the usual tropes of "manhood-making." Still, the story seems too clumsily assembled to suggest intentional irony. The real reason Hughes is in such a hurry to get Weston and Lynda back to Earth is because Lynda brings with her a treasure-trove of diamonds, and that allows him to buy out his old company and kick out his mean boss.



So, is the moral that "the making of a man" is all about-- marrying a rich babe who has a fortune? Even for a comedy, this is a pretty muddled message.

The whole story can be read here. In line with the thoughts expressed in this essay, the story is subcombative because Weston's "John Carter" act is not carried through to the climax.

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