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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, February 13, 2018


The most famous sword-and-sorcery heroine was launched in the pages of Marvel Comics' CONAN THE BARBARIAN in 1973, but for the next three years no one at the company managed to find a proper venue to exploit her popularity with fans. She received an origin in 1975, one whose approach to the subject matter of rape has long been a bane to feminists, and later that year she finally received a berth in the second volume of MARVEL FEATURE, followed by her own comic. During this period artist Frank Thorne became inextricably associated with the character, not only drawing her adventures but also appearing at conventions in "wizard's garb" alongside models in Sonja-costume.
Thorne's tenure with Marvel's "she-devil with a sword" ended in 1978. Roughly a year later, the artist began a new swordswoman series, GHITA OF ALIZARR,  in the pages of Warren's 1984 black-and-white magazine, producing enough material that in the 1980s Catalan published two albums of the character's adventures. The first collected adventure is the only one I'll address here.

Ghita exists in the same sort of feudal fantasy-world as that of Red Sonja; one where the author has built his universe out of an assortment of archaic cognomens and/or nonsense-words. Ghita's name, as the artist cheerfully admits in his afterword to the first volume, is taken from the Hindu religious tome "The Bhagavad-Gita," the name of her city Alizarr appears to be a random nonsense-word, and the city's principal deity is named Tammuz, but has no resemblance to the Mesopotamian god. An additional Mesopotamian name, Nergal, appears as well, but again Thorne's version of this myth-figure is in no way beholden to the archaic myth.

Though Alizarr, the city of Tammuz, is currently beseiged by savage, Nergal-worshiping trolls, Ghita-- a dead-ringer for Sonja, aside from being blonde-- has no interest in participating in the war. She's been a whore for many years, and is currently the favorite of Alizarr's king, Khalia, though she seems to sleep with whoever she pleases. At the start of the adventure, she's just finished doing the two-backed beast with her old friend Thenef, who's drawn to look like Frank Thorne's wizard-persona. Thenef, sixteen years the senior to Ghita, has been something of a mentor to the young woman, which has apparently led to his becoming the court magician, even though Thenef is a fake with barely any real grasp of magic. Ghita's only comment on the impending invasion is to wonder if the leather-skinned trolls might prove tolerable lovers.

Then Ghita and Thenef are ordered to attend the bedside of King Khalia, severely wounded in a battle with the trolls. Khalia anticipates that he will soon die of his wounds, but he's come up with a solution to the troll problem. Khalia orders his favorite, his court wizard and some courtiers to descend into the royal mausoleum, where Thenef is expected to use the mystic "Eye of Tammuz" to revive Alizarr's long-dead warrior-king, the mummified Khan-Dagon. (In Philistine mythology, Dagon was sometimes given fertility-associations.) Thenef has no clue as to how to revive a dead man, and so he stands in danger of being revealed as a fraud. To save Thenef's life, Ghita takes hold of the Eye of Tammuz and crams into the gut of the dead mummy.

The gem works. Khan-Dagon returns to life, all signs of physical corruption erased. However, as soon as he sees Ghita, the former king has no ear for Khalia's purpose. The revenant kills Khalia, whose courtiers flee. Khan-Dagon throws Ghita down and proceeds to rape her. Only Thenef remains, but though he's not courageous enough to fight the rapist, he passes Ghita a dagger. She stabs Khan-Dagon back to death, possibly by dislodging the magical jewel in his gut, which Ghita keeps thereafter.

It's not clear from the narrative whether or not Ghita's been raped before, though one assumes that her profession forced her to deal with intemperate male attentions. She is, not as ultraliberal critics would wish, traumatized by the experience, but she is changed, for it appears that some of Khan-Dagon's personality has been transferred into Ghita's soul. As she and Thenef seek to flee not only the mausoleum but the beseiged city, Ghita takes along Khan-Dagon's sword and tries to wear his armor as well. The duo encounter Dahib, a half-troll conceived from the union of a human and a troll, and he uses his trollish talents to alter the armor so that Ghita can wear it (though, as with Red Sonja, not a lot of the swordswoman's charms get concealed). Then Ghita undergoes her heroic baptism of fire, when the trio encounter a small party of trolls. Ghita slaughters them all with Khan-Dagon's sword, and she escapes the city in the company of the false wizard and the devoted half-troll (who thinks the former whore to be the incarnation of the goddess Tammuz).

The remainder of Ghita's first adventure then focuses on her masculine desire to force the trolls out of Alizarr, rather than simply fleeing to the nearest possible refuge. This isn't to say that the former concubine accepts her unwanted transformation. Shortly after killing the trolls, Ghita muses, "Khan-Dagon. You are within me, and I loathe your presence." If an ultraliberal encountered this line out of context, he might assume that it was an automatic condemnation of "toxic masculinity." But in time it becomes clear that Thorne doesn't view Ghita as a victim. In his afterword he ventures that he would like to think of Ghita as being kin with the works of Rabelais. Be that as it may, Thorne's softcore sword-and-sorcery also has much in common with George Bataille's concept of the interpenetration of sex and violence./ On page 64 of the 1983 Catalan edition, there's a scene in which Ghita and Thenef have riotous intercourse after taking refuge with Dahib's tribe of fellow half-trolls. The caption, which seems to combine the POVs of both Thenef and Thorne, reads in part:

The seedy delirium of bordello life would mold Ghita. The implicit violence of whorish sex would breed explicit violence in the sword of Khan-Dagon. 
But despite the implied equivalence of To be sure, Ghita does not forget her old nature easily. At first she lays plans to re-take Alizarr with the help of the half-trolls and a giant monster right out of a Japanese "tentacle porn" comic.

But later she has her own monologue, renouncing Khan-Dagon's "mad schemes"-- even though he doesn't seem to be literally possessing her-- and swears that she will again become a true woman. A strange child appears to Ghita, as if to reflect back on an earlier statement that Ghita is infertile, but the child turns out to be none other than the goddess Tammuz, claiming that she somehow stage-managed Ghita's destiny. Ghita and her forces succeed in driving the trolls and killing their leader, but afterward she returns Khan-Dagon's sword to the sepulcher, in order to forswear the dead man's influence upon her feminine nature. However, since this story ends
with Ghita swearing to rule Alizarr with Dahib and Thenef-- and since there was at least one more adventure in her future-- it seems axiomatic that Ghita probably picked up that sword again.

Thorne's surging lines are true to the Rabelaisian spirit he invokes, but I must note that he doesn't delve as deeply into fantasy-imagery as he did in the RED SONJA title, one of which I analyzed here. As if to acknowledge the absence of wild fantasy, an incident in GHITA shows a forest-unicorn seeking out the swordswoman in the belief that she's a virgin fitting of his attention. It's probably not complete coincidence that RED SONJA #1 dilates on the same theme, portraying a more fulfilling-- and less explicit-- union between a girl and her horse.

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