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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...

Thursday, August 31, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: MAN OF THE ATOM (1997)



I didn't follow the early 1990s Valiant line with any regularity. Thus I was unaware of an attempted reboot of the Valiant universe in 1997, and to this date I don't even know how successful the reboot was or how long it lasted. But I happened to have one section of the reboot, probably gleaned from a secondhand purchase.

MOTA (as I'll call this section for short) was written by Warren Ellis and penciled by Darick Robertson. It's in the nature of a prelude, and was even published in May, referencing a Big Event that would be published in the following summer. This caused me to debate whether or not a partial prelude could be a mythcomic, given that I've frequently argued that the symbolic density necessary for a mythcomic usually needs the complications arising from a "beginning, middle, and end" structure.

Nevertheless, I have on occasion identified sections of greater works as mythcomics. Wally Wood's KING OF THE WORLD was not the entirety of his never-finished "Wizard King trilogy," but that section did reach a sort of stopping-point, even though it wasn't the end proper, and so its emotional and symbolic arc was achieved even though the second section Wood published was somewhat less well-organized. Thus, my answer to my debate is, "Yes, MAN OF THE ATOM can be a mythcomic."

Since I've decided not to research the totality of events surrounding this publication, this review will be brief. The emotional and symbolic arc revolves about two principal characters, who may or may not be original to Ellis and Robertson: physicist Frank Seleski and his sister, theological writer Helena Seleski. The first few pages resound with lots of witty banter between the siblings and Frank's wife Anneliese, though Anneliese has nothing to do with the plot proper.

The Seleski siblings, despite their differing professions, have a mutual obsession: to learn the secrets of creation and to see what Helena calls "the footprints of God." Helena's course is to blackmail a corrupt Vatican cardinal so that she gets access to forbidden texts of the Vatican Library. This is the less interesting of the two plot-threads, partly because it involves another Valiant franchise, "X-O Manowar," going back in time and creating the New Valiant Universe. Since I didn't read the Manowar comic, this doesn't resonate much with me.

I also wasn't a regular reader of either the Silver Age DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM or Valiant's first rethinking of that Gold Key superhero. However, I have somewhat more acquaintance with that character, so the Frank Seleski plot-thread, in which a new incarnation of Solar appears, possesses greater symbolic relevance to me. Frank, lecturing to his physics class, launches into a fascinating discussion of the potential dynamics of time-travel. In particular, he opines that even if time-travel is possible, a traveler can never "remake" his reality, but can only create a new, divergent reality (which is certainly a more elegant solution to the "reboot mentality" than DC's influential CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS). No sooner does Frank put forth this pure hypothesis than he begins to suffer incidents that seem like the very temporal tamperings he's theorized about. First a student is killed in line with a part of Frank's hypothesis, and then Frank himself gets a "superhero epiphany" as he encounters a real time-traveler, who is apparently a new incarnation of the "Solar" character. The character justifies the combination of metaphysical and cosmological quests with lines like this one:

"You will know me in the future. You'll see me then. You'll see me touch the smallest part of God."

Though this prelude can't offer more than a handful of "signs and wonders" that portend coming events, Ellis's vision seems rich with diverse references to strange fetishes, Kirlian photography, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and "the suppressed monologue of the blessed Virgin Mary's manifestation at Fatima." Whether future issues in this reboot took full advantage of this rich story-material or not, I can't say at this time.

But MOTA does make me want to seek out some of the other material involved in this relaunch.

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