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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

PALE KINGS AND DEMIHEROES

The strongest influence on my theory of the four persona-types has been the work of Schopenhauer, but I'll confess that Northrop Frye's writings on literary dynamis had an impact on the theory, even if I renounced his confusion between dynamis and dynamicity in the essay DYNAMIS AND DYNAMICITY. Frye showed a slight tendency to equate social station with "power of action," probably because he was following Aristotle in his groundbreaking formulations in ANATOMY OF CRITICISM.

To quickly summarize between the personas of the "hero" and the "demihero," one incarnates the value I've called "positive glory" while the other incarnates that of "positive persistence." I won't repeat the distinctions I've made in earlier essays' I merely revisit this topic to correct my possible tendency to assign the persona of the demihero to the "ordinary man" rather than figures of high social station. (Not that this is a dominant tendency, as seen in some of the characters cited in DEMIHERO RALLIES.) 

Since positive persistence is not really correlated with social station, it's entirely feasible for demiheroes to be not only aristocrats, but rulers of whole domains, who may command considerable forces. However, not all kings and princes function to display "glory," and many function simply to keep their positions stable, a practice which allies with the value of persistence, as much as any of the "ordinary man" protagonists I've touched on.



Within the medium of comic books, one example of a powerful ruler is DC Comics' Morpheus, a.k.a. The Sandman. I've reviewed only two works in Neil Gaiman's corpus of Sand-stories, here and here, and in both of these storylines Morpheus is largely concerned with simply keeping his dream-empire stable for however long the universe lasts. He does undertake a personal duel of sorts in "A Hope in Hell," so he's certainly not without courage. However, for the most part Morpheus does not engage in any form of combat, nor is he concerned with the hero's goals of casting out evil in order to promote good. Thus the Lord of the Dream-World aligns with similar demiheroes who only perform positive actions when pressed to do so, like the LOST IN SPACE characters, to whom I've perhaps devoted the most analysis, starting here.



An example of heroic rulership appears in Nozomu Tamaki's DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND. The "bund" of the title is the domain ruled by Mina Tepes, queen of the world's vampires. Mina, like Morpheus, spends a fair amount of time protecting her empire from incursions, and though she and her retinue are much more violent than Lord Moepheus, the difference between them is more one of their personas than of physical dynamicity.  In the arc titled THE SCARLET ORDER, the origin of the vampire race is revealed, and Tamaki makes this narrative reflect elements of heroic glory:

Vampires are in essence spawned by a mystic force known only as "the Darkness," and its goal is much the same as that of the three vampire-lords from the first arc: to successfully begat a child to perpetuate its heritage. Tamaki's description of the Darkness' methods reminded me somewhat of the Hindu myth of Prajapati, who creates a woman to be his mate. Like Prajapati, the Darkness must then seek to overcome the woman's resistance to spawn the offspring he desires. But the unnamed "Woman" does resist the dark god's purpose, just as Mina resisted the corrupt desires of the three lords, and from the fact of the Woman's defiance springs the history of the vampire race.
By comparison, Gaiman's work in THE SANDMAN generally rejects the heroism expoused by earlier DC characters who shared the "Sandman" name. Nor is Morpheus alone in being a great ruler who exists largely to police his domain: this principle also applies to the character Lord Emma in LOVE IN HELL, though admittedly he (she?) is a support-character to the starring demiheroes of the series.

Interestingly, very few American-made superheroes have any propensity to be rulers, whether due to aristocratic birth or simply taking power by force of will. Thus they must be seen as "ordinary men" who make the transition to heroic status, which only shows that even characters who start out as demiheroes can feel the demands of "noblesse oblige."

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