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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...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

WEAKLINGS WITH WEAPONS PT. 2

One of the most famous tropes of the superhero idiom is that of "strength concealed by weakness," or, alternately, "strength evolving from weakness." -- DJINN WITH SUMMONER, PT. 1.

The two  DJINN essays focused largely on characters who make use of "genie-like" entities to do their fighting for them. In some cases, like that of Ahmad from the 1924 THIEF OF BAGDAD and the eponymous star of Disney's ALADDIN, the main character demonstrates high dynamicity, at least for an ordinary human with no special powers. This dynamicity does not depend primarily on having a great weapon, like the aforementioned Richard Mayhew, but on a mastery of otherwise ordinary weapons.

There are a handful of exceptions. One is Michael Moorcock's sword-and-sorcery hero Elric. Born an albino, Elric is only able to fight normal human opponents thanks to sorcery. As  the panels from CONAN #13 show, Elric can only match Conan's formidable strength by the use of his sword Stormbringer, which gives him  both physical power and fighting-skill.





Despite his dependence on his sword, Elric is still a megadynamic hero in a way that, say, Hubert Hawkins of THE COURT JESTER is not. Elric may not be able to fight without his sword,  but he must exert his own will to battle his enemies. Hubert's talents are thrust upon him by an outside manipulator, and so he remains at base a weakling even with a weapon. Stormbringer qualifies as a method of *interiorization,* which I defined as a situation in which "the hero's true, powerful self is concealed within him, and must be summoned from within." Magic potions are far more often used than magical weapons, ranging from the lotion that makes the classical Jason temporarily invulnerable to Popeye's spinach and Hourman's Miraclo pills.

Charms are even dicier than weapons. I've stated on other occasions that I consider Bram Stoker's DRACULA to be a combative novel, which implies that the starring vampire is opposed by other megadynamic forces, the vampire-hunters organized by Van Helsing-- or more specifically, the more physically prepossessing members of the coterie, mainly Jonathan Harker and Quincy Morris. Van Helsing, though not an active figure in the battles with Dracula, is the only member of the group who understands the undead's true nature, and so he's able to marshal such weapons as crosses and holy water against the Count. However, the power of these charms-- implicitly stemming from the power of Stoker's Catholic deity-- are not powers inherent in Van Helsing or any of his aides. The charms cannot be used without human hands guiding them, but the charms' power is not tied to the *will* of Dracula's antagonists. The megadynamicity of Stoker's vampire-hunters inheres not in their weapons, but in the personal fighting-skills of Harker and Morris in particular.

Thus, when the Van Helsing of the 1931 DRACULA wields a cross against his opponent, Dracula must yield, but he yields to the power of God, not to the power of Van Helsing.



Nevertheless, a vampire-hunter's *amplitude* may get boosted quite a bit by his daring or unconventional use of charms or similar devices, just as I demonstrated in WEAKLINGS Pt. 1 with respect to the Jack Burton character. In the 1958 HORROR OF DRACULA, As played by Peter Cushing, Van Helsing becomes a younger, more active man, who first stuns the Count by running along a table in spectacular swashbuckler-style in order to escape the vampire and expose him to the sun.



Moments later, Cushing uses a mundane object to make a cross. I'm fairly certain that Stoker never shows anyone stymie Dracula with a near approximation of a cross; I've always believed that the original Count was affected only by genuine religious icons. So Van Helsing is perhaps inventing an "allergy theory;" that vampries aren't affected by Christian supernatural forces but by their (the vampires') own allergic reaction to anything that even looks like a cross. Thus, even though Van Helsing neither receives power from a cross, nor channels any of his own through it, he does gain megadynamic status from his inventive handling of an otherwise mundane weapon.


Throughout the various works of supernatural horror, there are many other situations where a potential victim repels a monster with the help of supernatural forces that they summon through some charm or other medium, and once again, one can only determine megadynamicity on a case by case basis. For instance, at the conclusion of the 1932 MUMMY, the evil sorcerer Imhotep is foiled when a bolt of fire from the statue of Isis burns up the Scroll of Thoth and returns the mummy to the dust of his origins.


Isis, or whatever force is left of the once-popular deity,only intervenes in answer to the call of her former priestess Anck-es-en-Amon, currently occupying the body of a modern woman, whom Imhotep plans to kill. But there's no implication that either the priestess or her modern descendant have any power of their own; they only call up greater power that is not intimately associated with them, summoners who have no real contact with their djinns.

However, on occasion charms may be used as channels for inner power, rather than for external force. The obscure 1981 film JAWS OF SATAN looks, from this VHS art, much like the first image of Van Helsing seen above: a priest wielding the power of God through the instrument of the cross.



However, the script is more ambivalent about where the main character, Father Tom Farrow, gets his ability to fight demons. In this review I wrote:


Farrow certainly doesn't believe he's worthy of a visit from the Dark Lord himself, but in time, he finds out that he shares a special heritage. Back in the days when St. Patrick allegedly cast all serpents out of Ireland, one of Patrick's followers-- not the saint himself-- attracted the ire of the local druids. They cursed him and all his progeny to be slain by snakes, which were to be commanded by Satan himself in the form of a cobra-- or something like that.  
Though it's a ridiculous premise, I have to give the filmmakers props for the audacity of invoking ancient Irish curses to explain a bunch of hostile snakes. In the end, Farrow gets his Catholic moxie together, confronts the King Cobra with his cross, and exorcises it in a flash of flame. It's a poverty-row version of the EXORCIST exorcism, but I found that it does imply a greater conflict of supernatural forces, so that this cheapjack horror-film does become a combative drama. It helps that Farrow also isn't just any old priest, but someone with a special destiny and ancestors to avenge.

That "special destiny" is suggested in the climactic scene, where in my view Farrow seems to be pulling power out of himself, rather than down from heaven, in order to set his Satanic opponent on fire. So, like the Peter Cushing Van Helsing, Father Tom joins the company of the megadynamic elite for the way he combines his own strength with the charms of his faith.

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