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SIX KEYS TO A LITERARY GENETIC CODE

In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Saturday, January 22, 2022

DEPARTMENT OF COMICS CURIOSITIES #9

I feel like I might have seen one or two Golden Age comics-stories in which American-born Japanese citizens were shown to be nobler than the vicious Nipponese of the Axis alliance. But  before this tale from FOUR FAVORITES #16, I'd never seen a GA story that showed respect for the medieval Japanese tradition of the samurai, even for the purpose of using samurai honor as a club against the modern Japanese. The evil hook-handed villain in the costume is Captain Nippo, recurring foe of the starfish-cowled Captain Courageous.




MYTHCOMICS: “THAT SERIOUS GUY IS A CRIMINAL?” LOVE HINA (2002)

I’ve discoursed several times on Ken Akamatsu’s LOVE HINA, summarizing its series concept here and condensing its joined themes of female sadism and male masochism in CROSSING THE LAWLINES5, thusly:

Ken Akamatsu's LOVE HINA, though, seems to be one of the few works that eventually admits to the sexual nature of the trope, if one can trust the Tokyopop translation. In the last volume, after innumerable incidents in which Keitaro intrudes upon Naru and gets beaten on for it, the two protagonists confess their true feelings to an interlocutor. Keitaro doesn't precisely say that he gets off on masochistic treatment, but he claims that he loves peeping on Naru so much that he doesn't care that he gets beaten for it, while Naru explicitly admits that she loves both his attentions and getting to beat on him for crossing the lines.

Keeping in mind that this sort of wacky, somewhat eroticized violence is not identical with syndromic sadism, though, the question arises: since Ken Akamatsu himself is (I will presume) a biological male, does his idea of masculinity start and end with the vision of the male as a hopeless goof?

 

My answer is, “almost.” Keitaro Urashima begins the LOVE HINA series as a klutzy twenty-something who’s failed his college entrance exams three times. When he gets the job of managing an all-female dormitory owned by his aunt Haruka, he becomes the proverbial “rooster in the hen house”—though only if the rooster was crossed with a punching-bag, since Keitaro is forever blundering into compromising situations with the girls and then getting clobbered by them.

 


Further, Keitaro is almost the only male character in the whole 14-volume series. The only other masculine character is thirty-something Seta, who roams the world doing archaeological digs and who occasionally teaches a course at Tokyo U, the college to which Keitaro has repeatedly applied. In addition to these admirable aspects, Seta is trained in kung fu and occasionally has friendly bouts with “kendo girl” Motoko. He also tutored Keitaro’s principal love interest Naru, who had a strong crush on Seta in previous years. Yet Seta is unaware of Naru’s crush and often proves just as maladroit as Keitaro, so that he never really presents Keitaro with any real competition for the love of Naru or any other of Keitaro's other potential hookups. In the story considered here, the self-questioning “That Serious Guy is a Criminal?,” Seta does not appear, but his daughter Sara does. Sara joins the other dorm-residents in constantly belaboring Keitaro, though she’s only a “bitch-in-training” being that she’s about ten years old and not actually involved in the erotic aspects of the situation (which was probably a distinct relief to most readers).

 


 As the story commences, Naru and the other girls are enjoying a hot springs bath. Naru cautions their visitor Mutsumi that while residing at the inn she may get peeped at by the “beast” Keitaro. Naru sees Keitato approach the bath and prepares, with a look of predatory anticipation, to slug him when he trespasses once again. 




But Keitaro passed by the women's bath, goes back to his room and immerses himself in studies for his next entrance exam. Sarah and the equally mischievous Kaolla break into his room to gratuitously whale on him with blunt objects. To their surprise, Keitaro dodges their attacks without even seeming to notice their presence, because he’s so completely focused on his studies. When he does notice the girls’ presence, he remarks, with complete innocence, “Don’t you normally run in and try to jump-kick me?”

 


Soon all the girls observe that Keitaro is so focused that he isn’t making klutzy blunders anymore, nor giving them any reason to clout him. Akamatsu never makes any direct reference here to philosophical or religious precepts, but surely the artist means for his audience to understand that Keitaro has unintentionally tapped into a unique mental state, possibly one in line with the Taoist idea of “doing without doing.”

 

 

Kitsune takes up the challenge to femininity, declaring, “I’m going to use my feminine wiles to magically change Keitaro back into the pervert he deserves to be.” Clad in revealing clothes, Kitsune waltzes into Keitaro’s room during his studies. Yet he’s so focused he doesn’t notice her at first, much less getting flustered by her lady parts. If anything, Kitsune becomes attracted by Keitaro’s new aura of male reserve, and Motoko chimes in with similar sentiments. “It’s good to see him so focused and not tempted by the lure of the female.” Kaolla and Sarah want Keitaro to go back to his dipstick persona, so that they can continue to rag on him. Gentle Shinobu, the next-oldest, is the only one who doesn’t want to abuse Keitaro, but she too wants him to go back to “normal,” apparently because he seems too inaccessible in his quasi-Zen state of mind.

 





Naru is the last to behold the new Keitaro, and though she somewhat appreciates his focused attitude, she’s offended that he no longer reacts when she flashes him some tit or leg. The nubile eighteen-year-old even starts worrying that she’s losing her sex appeal.

 



At the conclusion Keitaro himself re-asserts the status quo. He bursts in on the girls while they’re bathing and explains to near-naked Naru that he’s finally solved an involved problem he’s been working on for days. However, once he solves the problem, his Taoist reserve disappears, his normal personality returns, and he becomes flustered by seeing all the girls in their birthday suits (except, happily, Sarah, who’s wearing a onesy). It’s certainly another of Akamatsu’s humorous jibes that at first the girls all ignore Keitaro’s trespass because they think he’s in his “serious guy” mode, but that, once he reacts to their charms, he again becomes a “criminal,” and thus fair game for a beating.

 

Keitaro never again gets into “Zen master” mode, but there are other stories in which he shows signs of maturation, and these signs of masculnity inevitably prove attractive to the age-appropriate girls of the dormitory. Thus Akamatsu does imply that women still like the image, if not the reality, of “men who take charge”—though in this comic universe, strength principally signifies durability, as in being able to endure any abuse doled out by the “gentler sex.”


Thursday, January 20, 2022

DEPARTMENT OF COMICS CURIOSITIES #8

The main interest of the "Magno and Davey" story from FOUR FAVORITES #10 is that it's clearly signed by "H. Kurtzman," who would go on to greater fame at EC Comics. The splash panel should remind Golden Age enthusiasts of the wildly extravagant covers Alex Schomburg did for Timely Comics, but it's not nearly as good. The story, such as it is, features a teamup between the heroes' perennial foe the Jo-- er, the Clown-- and an evil scientist, Doctor Steele. Steele, like three other allies that the Clown makes in this series, gets killed at this story's end, so it's a pretty minor "villain team-up."



Sunday, January 16, 2022

NEAR MYTHS: RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE (2008)

 




Though I wouldn’t deem illustrated prose books like the Doctor Seuss canon as relevant to the comics medium, RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE is a fully illustrated graphic novel, even though the book''s credits page is reminiscent of standard children’s books like those of Seuss, announcing that REVENGE is written by “Shannon Hale and Dean Hale” and “illustrated by Nathan Hale.” But this hardbound book is just as much an all-comics sequential narrative as anything from the oeuvre of Will Eisner.


One of the most clever aspects of REVENGE is that even though it’s playing with European folktales after the fashion of SHREK and many others, the world looks like the American West, where everyone dresses in cowboy gear and the bandits wield six-guns, not cudgels. The Hales may have been intending to riff on Baum’s famed “Oz” series, and if so this particular book—which has at least one sequel I've not read—is a credit to the first major fantasy-author of American literature.


As one might expect, the authors only emulate a few basic tropes of the Rapunzel folktale. The female protagonist is like her original  also stolen from her mother at a young age, and she ends up getting imprisoned by a witch in a tower-like contrivance until Rapunzel’s locks grow long enough to reach the ground. However, the folktale Rapunzel remains in her tower until she becomes a nubile maiden, and she uses her long locks to allow her lover access to her tower. But the Hales’ Rapunzel is twelve when she finds out many unpleasant truths about Gothel, the woman she was raised to believe as her true mother. Not only did Mother Gothel (using the same name as the witch in the folktale) steal Rapunzel from her real mother, the sorceress is also a hard-hearted tyrant, enslaving many nearby communities. Because the old woman is a mistress of plant-growth magic, she can control what plants do or don’t grow in the terrain, and so everyone bends the knee to her. Apparently, she can’t grow anything in her own womb—though the story doesn’t explicitly say so—since she adopts young Rapunzel for the purpose of having a successor. When Rapunzel rebels, she gets stuck in a mile-high hollowed-out tree to break her spirit—and when that doesn’t work, Gothel abandons Rapunzel.


As one might expect in these post-feminist times, this young girl does not wait for a prince to save her; she frees herself and goes on a quest to unseat Gothel and to find her true mother. What I didn’t expect is the Hales’ adeptness with humor and drama, which keep REVENGE from reading like a dull “girl power” diatribe. Rapunzel finds that her long hair, when braided, can be wielded against opponents either as whips or as lassos, which is certainly a livelier development than we got from Disney’s TANGLED. The heroine does make a male ally—Jack of “beanstalk” fame, who dresses rather like Paul Newman’s “Butch Cassidy.” There’s a little “pre-teen romance” toward the end, though no more than a young reader could tolerate. On the whole the book emphasizes fast-and-furious adventure, as Jack and “Punzie” (as Jack nicknames the long-locked girl) visit various locales, both seeking out Gothel’s keep and avoiding such menaces as bandits, dwarves, and a pack of hungry coyotes. The action-sequences, while not a patch on the greatest fight-scenes from the history of comics, are far better than one can find in most comic books of the 21st century.


On a closing note, the only specific folktales referenced here are those of “Rapunzel” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” According to the theories I advanced in this essay, both of these are ‘innominate texts,” and so the crossover of these versions of the long-haired lass and the beanstalk boy would be a “high-charisma crossover.”


Friday, January 14, 2022

COSMIC ALIGNMENT PT. 2

I made this statement in the first essay wherein I discussed the concept of alignment:

In CROSSOVERS PT. 3,  I reviewed the way in which two villains, Mister Hyde and the Cobra, had debuted in the THOR feature but were recycled into that of DAREDEVIL. The two super-crooks never became firmly attached to the latter feature either, and they subsequently drifted into such venues as SPIDER-MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA. Since the two evildoers never became strongly associated with any single feature, I would still tend to view them as Thor-villains who bring about a charisma-crossover every time they venture into a new character-cosmos.

But the more I thought about it, the less necessary it seemed to align such all-purpose villains as Hyde and the Cobra with any particular hero-cosmos, be it that of Thor, Daredevil or Captain America. The continuity-nut in me is driven to note that the Cobra probably ended up battling Captain America more than anyone else, due to a large quantity of stories where he took charge of the "Serpent Society."



 Yet, because of the nature of the Marvel Universe, wherein editor Stan Lee broadened the parameters of inter-company crossovers beyond any previous comics-company. it's possible for a figure like Cobra or Hyde to have what I like to call "floating alignment." They are never identified with any single cosmos, in the way the Riddler, my example from CROSSOVERS PT. 5, is always aligned with Batman. 



Ironically, though, the earliest major example of a floating alignment appeared not at Marvel but at Silver Age DC Comics. After the original Doctor Light debuted as a foe of the Justice League, it became a running schtick that afterward the florescent felon went around challenging individual members of the League, managing to log in appearances in three of Julie Schwartz's 1960s superhero features: the Atom, the Flash and Green Lantern.  



Of similar relevance is the alignment of new protagonists when they appear within the corpus of established features. If a given new character appears within an established feature and then graduates to his or her own feature within a very short period of time, then it's a High Stature crossover, in which the protagonist(s) of the established feature cross over with a new character thrust into the position of a series-star. For instance, the TV-character of "Maude" debuted on two episodes of ALL IN THE FAMILY before she got her own series. She would have been a Sub in the 1971 episode, but since the second episode, aired in 1972, spawned the regular series about four months later, I would judge that she was a Prime in the 1972 crossover. 



Of course, dozens of characters may debut with the author's hope of creating a "spin-off" serial feature, and many never go beyond "Sub" status. One example was the 1985 Atomic Knight, a revamping of an earlier Silver Age feature, but after a couple of random appearances no one gave this polished paladin a shot at a feature, so as far as I know he went back into Sub Limbo thereafter. 




Others can be much delayed. Marvel's Inhumans debuted in a 1965 issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, and the Black Panther appeared in the comic in the following year. It practically goes without saying that Lee and Kirby intended for both the Panther and the Inhumans to appear in serials at some point, but neither did for some time, and so for all of those appearances they register as Subs. In a special FF issue dated November 1967, both the Inhumans and the Black Panther crossed over with the Fantastic Four in fighting Psycho-Man. The Black Panther would not get a regular berth for another year, when he became a regular member of the Avengers in 1968, so within the compass of that story, he remained a Sub type. However, the special placed a more immediate push to see if readers wanted an Inhumans series, since in an issue of THOR, also dated November 1967, the denizens of Attilan received their first feature, albeit only a backup strip. So the FF ANNUAL would be a High-Stature crossover because the Inhumans had just become Primes around the time when the issue came out, while the equally enjoyable Panther had to wait another year for Prime status. 

Now, I reiterate that although all of these examples have dealt with ongoing serials, crossovers of varying types also appear in more limited forms, and the alignment of characters may be judged qualitatively rather than quantitatively.



Take the character of Nancy Callahan from Frank Miller's SIN CITY. She makes a very small debut as a support-character in the first graphic novel, THE HARD GOODBYE. with no hint that she's going to be important later.



She is still a Sub when she shows up in THAT YELLOW BASTARD,  but she's integral to the story of the Prime character John Hartigan, who protects her from a maniac while falling into age-inappropriate love with her. Her importance in this story trumps any of her other, more minor appearances, so she becomes a Sub aligned with the cosmos of John Hartigan.



To date Frank Miller has not created a sequel to BASTARD in comics-form, but he did write one for live-action film in SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR.  In this story, which I should note does not really line up with the continuity of HARD GOODBYE, Nancy decides to train herself in archery to gain vengeance on the man she holds responsible for the death of John Hartigan, and she also persuades the muscular Marv to join her in her quest. Given that Miller seems to have dropped all interest in further installments of SIN CITY, this was probably his final word on the character, as she becomes a Prime by reason of taking on the same level of superordinate presence as Marv. Thus in this story-- one of several in the anthology-film-- we have another High-Stature crossover, between Marv and Nancy. even though there will probably be no further appearances for either character. The alignment of Nancy-to-John is in fact reversed, for within the DAME tale, Hartigan becomes a subsidiary character in Nancy's story, in that Hartigan appears as an almost impotent ghost who simply observes the exploits of his beloved and her rough-hewn accomplice. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

MYTHCOMICS: "THE RANGERS VS. TOMAHAWK" (TOMAHAWK #112, 1967)




Though I wasn't looking for a mythcomic to ring in the New Year, a story set during the "birth of this nation," the era of the Revolutionary War, seems moderately appropriate. The cover accurately depicts a scene in the story by writer Bill Finger and artist Fred Ray: a falling-out between the titular hero and one of his subordinate "Rangers," which, contrary to the cover-copy, would only qualify as "the scrap of the century" if the reader was only considering scraps of the 18th century. The fight is only a tiny part of the main story-- henceforth called RANGERS for short-- while the true emphasis centers upon a conflict in the bosom of hero Tom Hawk, a.k.a. "Tomahawk."

The character is largely forgotten by modern comics-readers, but he enjoyed a long run at DC Comics from 1947 to 1972. In the forties and fifties he wore a coonskin cap seven years before the affectation was popularized by Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett" series, and his longevity probably qualifies him as DC's most successful "western" character prior to Jonah Hex. For most of his early years, Tomahawk's character was identical to almost every other DC starring character: a man of boundless competence, never at a loss for a plan, whether he was fighting Indians, British soldiers, or the occasional revived dinosaur. Bill Finger, however, displayed in many of his scripts an interest in the hidden depths of the human psyche, and RANGERS is a done-in-one story wherein the indefatigable hero has something of a breakdown-- which of course is never again referenced in any ensuing stories. 



The basic idea of the story may have been derived from the 1960 WWII film CIRCLE OF DECEPTION, in which British intelligence feeds false information about the pending European invasion to an officer and then contrives to let him be captured, so that the Nazis will torture the information out of him and act on the bad intel. RANGERS's setup involves Tomahawk himself volunteering to be captured by a regiment of German mercenaries, a.k.a. "Hessians," but only so that he can pretend to break after some time in captivity and feed the commanders false information. 





However, the "competent man" finds himself exposed to an evil deeper than he ever encountered in earlier exploits. The commander, (or rather "commandant") of the Hessian mercenaries is Von Grote, an anticipation of Nazism long before the phenomenon actually existed. Finger cleverly sells this by referencing the common knowledge that the sign of the swastika was widely dispersed across many continents, so that it's slightly logical for this Nazi-in-training to wear an Indian medallion with the symbol, and to place the same symbol on the uniforms of his men. 



Because Von Grote (in German the name means "big," though Finger was probably thinking of "grotesque") is a foretaste of the twentieth century's concept of Ultimate Evil, Tomahawk's tortures are far more intense than the stalwart woodsman ever expected. Thus he becomes obsessed with finding and killing the Hessian commander, and he refuses medical treatment for his injured leg. "I want [my leg] like it is-- so every time I take a step and the agonizin' pain shoots up through my body-- I want it to remind me-- remind me of Von Grote -- the man I gotta kill!" 



I won't say that this transition of a bland hero into an obsessed avenger was ground-breaking-- I imagine that even DC Comics occasionally had some of their war-heroes go off the deep end, however temporarily. But Finger isn't content to anticipate the Ultimate Evil of Nazism in Revolutionary America; he also glosses the semi-crippled hero's predicament with that of a sea captain who "swore to kill a great white whale which had taken his leg." The fact that Finger recounts the supposed existence of Moby Dick in the 1770s (or his real-life model "Mocha Dick") is treated lightly: after one Ranger tells the story, another one says. "I bet someone will write a book about it one day." Yet Finger is careful to mention that the whale kills not only the obsessed captain, but his crew as well.






While Tomahawk's subordinates struggle to cope with the changes in their leader's psyche, Von Grote, being a pre-Nazi, does what comes naturally: he establishes a prison camp for captured American soldiers. No tortured or starved prisoners are ever seen, though the villain has a good line about using stables to hold people instead of horses. Tomahawk and his men invade Von Grote's camp, and after hero and villain match their chosen weapons against one another-- frontier tomahawk vs. German knife-- Von Grote reveals that he's set a trap to capture and execute all of the rebels. Tomahawk finally reveals that his obsession has imperiled his men, so he finds a last-minute solution to overpower the Hessians, one that, with typical DC irony, involves the hero turning the villain's own weapon against him. Tomahawk then captures but does not kill Von Grote, and promises his men that he'll get his leg repaired now that he's sane again. The last panel, in which a wooden swastika is seen burning, creates a similitude between the defeat of these proto-Nazis and the future defeat of the ultimate Axis evil. (I'd reprint the end scene like the others here, from Read Comics Online, except that the scene loses something by sharing page-space with one of DC's goofy humor-strips.) 

One can't tell from this story whether or not Finger was familiar with the complexities of Melville's novel, in which Moby Dick often seems to be the incarnation of cosmic evil; the sense that the universe cares nothing about human suffering. From the Ranger's summation of the supposedly "real" story, Finger may have believed that the white whale was nothing but a brute beast, rather than cosmic evil. Even one character in the book, the whaler Starbuck, makes that interpretation, and professes that to seek vengeance on a brute beast is "blasphemous."

 Yet Von Grote is not just a Nazi, but a Nazi sadist. (Tomahawk seems astonished that his enemy takes pleasure in suffering). The concept of a pitiless Human Evil is not equivalent to the concept of a pitiless Cosmic Evil. But in both MOBY DICK and of this Bill Finger story, the correct response to evil is not to forget all other considerations save vengeance, with the result that one sacrifices one's own comrades. 

In closing, I will note that the only thing that makes this story "uncanny"-- like Melville's novel, but unlike the movie CIRCLE OF DECEPTION-- is the contrivance of the spring-action knife, the  "diabolical device" with which the villain strives to impale the hero.  



Sunday, January 9, 2022

FROM ELFLAND TO NEW YORK CITY

 



I mentioned last year, in my review of the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST episode “To Reign in Hell,” that on occasion I’d contemplated the possibility of subjecting that series to an episode-by-episode analysis as I’d done with a few select teleserials. I’ve now re-watched the first season of the 1987-90 show, and I’ve decided that despite the artfulness with which BEAUTY was crafted, it’s more appropriate just to do seasonal overviews of the show on the NUM blog. But since I generally don’t post on theoretical matters over there, I’m going to descant a bit about the nature of the program, in part because BEAUTY was a great favorite of mine back in The Day.


In my “Reign”-review, I devoted almost half the essay to explaining the show’s setup, so I’ll repeat that explanation here:


As of this writing I’m not sure where the 1987-1990 series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST stands. During my contemporaneous viewing of the show, I remember thinking that it did offer a great deal of mythic material. In effect, the show took the romance-dynamic of the literary fairy tale, probably with strong reference to Cocteau’s cinematic adaptation, and transferred that sensibility to the mean streets of New York—or rather, transplanted it beneath those mean streets. This was “the World Below,” an urban faerie-domain beneath the Big Apple. In place of sprites and deathless queens, this world of subterranean tunnels became a haven to all the outcasts from the normal world above—sort of a demi-America within America. The outcasts, almost always attired in quasi-European garb, are led by a spiritual patriarch known only as “Father,” but Father recognizes only one of his children as his True Son, and he’s the greatest outcast of all. Where the original “Beauty and the Beast” had the beastly protagonist cursed by faeries, Vincent is condemned by biology to have the strength, claws, and face of a lion-made-human. And though Vincent does not rule his bizarre domain the way the Beast of the short story ruled his isolated mansion, he becomes the sole focus of the one outsider who comes and goes from the underworld with impunity. “Beauty” Catherine Chandler, a young lawyer is brought to the Tunnels by "Beast" Vincent to save her life, who subsequently forms a “soul connection” with the tender yet passionate lion-man.


But I also said, just before getting into the review proper:


I suspect that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST deserves to rate with the other three programs I mentioned above: as a show with a high incidence of high mythicity episodes. For now, I’ll concentrate on this 1988 offering.


This suspicion may yet be justified by either of the last two seasons, but only a few episodes of Season One qualify as high-mythicity narratives. The problem in my eyes is that the show’s transitions between its two settings—mundane New York City and the “Elfland” of the World Below—mitigates against a strong concrescence of mythic ideas.


The World Below, a.k.a. “The Tunnels,” bears only a mild relationship to the enchanted mansion where the original Beast of the literary fairy tale dwells; in a deeper sense, the subterranean domain is symbolically identical with the faery otherworlds of Celtic myth. These fantastic realms are almost pictured as existing underground, which by itself suggests a strong identity between the people of faerie and the spirits of the dead. All of BEAUTY’s subterranean dwellers begin as inhabitants of the mundane world above, but rather than passing through the veil of death, they are reborn into new lives, laboring to keep their commune-like existence secret from ordinary mortals, aided only by a network of “helpers” who also guard the secret of the Tunnels while still continuing to live in the surface world. In Season One at least, the World Below harbors no supernatural wonders, with the exception that some characters boast gifts that one might explain as “psychic.” Further, the European attire of the dwellers, couple with a marked capacity of some of them to recite Shakespeare and Wordsworth, makes this “demi-America” into a crypto-Europe, not unlike the uncanny environments one finds in the Gothic works of Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, and, most importantly, Edgar Allan Poe.


However, a difficulty arises whenever the stories transition into New York. Most fairy tales, whether spawned in folklore or literature, make the mundane world as sketchy as possible, so as to focus on the wonders of faerie. But New York, the domain of heroine Catherine Chandler, must boast at least the broad trappings of reality. The base conflict of the series is that, while the leonine Vincent can occupy the World Below and enjoy a semblance of normalcy, his spirit, at once gentle and savage, cannot possibly prosper within drab reality. In the original fairy tale, the Beast’s story ends when he loses the vesture of animality and becomes a man who can marry the Beauty in her world. But there are no miracle transformations for Vincent, and thereby rests the “impossible love” of Vincent and Catherine.


The first season of the series ends with Catherine considering the possibility of turning her back on the mundane world, and of attempting to live with Vincent in the Tunnels, at least on a trial basis. This development of course would have eliminated the main conflict of the series and the show could have ended in a manner not unlike the climax of the fairy tale. However, the writers found a rather clever way to prolong the agony, by making Catherine Chandler into a Woman with a Mission. Catherine, a child of privilege, suffers trauma and is “reborn” in a different sense than the Tunnel-dwellers: she becomes a do-gooder, obsessed with the holy mission of saving innocents from injustice. A few of Catherine’s altruistic missions are undertaken on behalf of the Tunnel-people, and when this is the case, the potential for mythic symbolism is high. But more often, Catherine defends the banal citizens of a jejune New York, the sort of New York one could find in any bland television cop-show.


It's not that it’s impossible to lend a mythic aura to people and places that would usually be deemed mundane; one can find “big-city” myths in everyone from Faulkner and Dos Passos to Chandler and Spillane. But as I also commented in the “Reign” essay, episodic TV shows are turned out on an exacting schedule. One might argue that the writers of BEAUTY were doing pretty good just to keep building up the Gothic world of the Tunnels, without expecting them to re-imagine the mundane Big Apple as well. Nevertheless, Catherine’s enemies—who inevitably become the enemies of her protector Vincent—are comprised of a boring amalgamation of thieves, pushers, grifters and serial killers, and their presence undermines a lot of the mythic potential of the stories. For that matter, most of the “innocents” are not that symbolically complex either.


Returning to the matter of metaphenomenality, the World Below is usually depicted as an uncanny dominion, just as Vincent’s lion-like appearance is implied to be a freak mutation, albeit one with some rather advantageous abilities. His fangs and claws are just barely within the boundaries of the uncanny, but the empathic bond Vincent shares with Catherine clearly belongs to the world of the marvelous, and so that phenomenality holds sway for every episode.


I think the mythopoeic potentiality was important to the writers, but not quite as much as the dramatic potentiality. Everything in the series had to revolve around the “impossible love,” and thus even episodes weak in myth were capable of generating intense dramatic situations, far more than one could ever find in “any bland television cop-show.” Thus I find that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST most deserves praise for its mastery of dramatic concrescence.