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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...

Monday, November 30, 2015


I've already responded, here and here, to the specific incident in which one of my comments was deleted at the Hooded Utilitarian. In the interests of full disclosure, I'll note that I was mistaken earlier this year when I expressed the belief that NB had threatened me with across-the-board deletion. However, now that he's deleted a comment w/o genuine justification, in essence the threat is now real. I give him a grudging credit-- certainly more than the Sequart scumbags-- for allowing some latitude for exchange of ideas, even diametrically opposed ones, on his site. But everyone has his limits, I suppose.

So Berlatsky probably will delete this too. I tried to think what would make a good "parting shot," and decided to expand on this disagreement, which I mentioned briefly here.


Addicted to victimage. It's like Robert Palmer's "addicted to love," but more sappy.

Maybe you'll see the opening phrase before you delete the post; maybe not. But this time, it'll see print elsewhere, if anyone who catches sight of the post chooses to check out the original.

 At times I've wondered if I was wasting my time critiquing Frederic Wertham, because the man is dead and gone and his direct influence is a thing of the past. But you, Noah, have made clear that you intend to carry on his tradition of making spurious connections between things you don't like.

I tried, Noah, to think which of your posts best sums up your philosophical attachment to the concept of victimage beyond the boundaries of commons sense. At one time I might've thought the height of your absurdity would've been your attack on an episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD-- I repeat, a single episode-- because one event in the story reminded you of the real-life shooting of Trayvon Martin. Though that essay weeps a lot of crocodile tears at the series' lack of a strong black protagonist, I wonder how long such a protagonist would have appeared on that show-- or any show-- before you performed a little "ultraliberal lynching" on the producer for some other damned thing.

But no, this one wins the prize for being most absurd.

Your tendency to characterize all "power fantasies" as fascist-- another point you hold in common with Wertham-- is simplistic in the extreme. But at least you're consistent, if only on your own terms, when you attack actual power fantasies, be it those of AGENT OF SHIELD or of FOXY BROWN.

The true height of absurdity is reached in your return comment to me here. I asserted that FOXY BROWN-- which I believe to have been an inspiration to many viewers of color, rather than somehow erasing their real history-- has been inspiring precisely because it allows a black woman to be a near-superhuman warrior. I assert also that because Foxy is behaving in the same superhuman way as any model of male superiority-- my example being Conan surviving crucifixion-- that she's achieving a level of heroism rarely given to heroines of the period.

I didn't expect you to agree, and you tried to brush off the significance of Foxy by complaining about "downplaying the effects of violence." OK, still absurd, but not the MOST absurd thing...

That comes when you do a Wertham by trying to claim that a fictional power fantasy has a direct effect on the real world:

You can see why these narratives are poisonous in the discussion of harassment in comics this week. A guy grabbed a subordinates crotch; the subordinate (a man) froze. Some people commented that he should have slugged him. There’s this heroic default idea that people shouldn’t be traumatized or even confused by sexual violence, or any violence. It tends to reduce sympathy for victims.

This is classic Werthamism, since the good doctor liked to cite, as evidence of pernicious comic-books, incidents of juvenile delinquency in which no actual link to comic book-reading had been cited. You didn't provide a link to the place as to where this real-life story was told. I assume it's here, though Heidi McDonald doesn't mention anything about anyone criticizing the assaulted fellow, and I didn't find anyone in the thread claiming the victim should have slugged his assailant. I take your word for it that someone may have said words to that effect-- but why in the hell would it be a "heroic default?" Why wouldn't it be a "self-defense default," as it would be anywhere outside the subculture of comic books? And what in the hell did any of it have to do with heroic power fantasies?

*Maybe* the alleged persons who doled out unasked-for advice were insensitive-- but your distortion is worse than anything they said.  The real-life victim is to you just a club with which to pound on heroic fantasies, though what happened to him certainly happens in subcultures that aren't built around fantasy-concepts. Your rhetoric collapses if you can't show your readers a never-ending stream of victimage, and when you can't find enough to attack in the present, you resort to harrowing up dead guys like Lovecraft and Frazetta, with the balmy notion that you're somehow speaking to modern-day abuses.

You're doing marginalized peoples no favors by depicting them as perpetual victims. But by all means continue. You won't actually change anything, but you'll give me lots of grist for my own critical mill.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


From a CBR thread this time:

Well, I'd automatically put aside comparisons between entertainment and addictive substances. You can put alcohol and tobacco through the proper chemical analyses, and indicate pretty much what makes human beings want them. Thus far, no one's managed to do that with fiction,

The comparison between entertainment and domestic violence is wrong in a different way, Say that it's been statistically demonstrated that nine-tenths of all kids who witness domestic violence grow up to perpetrate domestic violence. But the kids of abusive families are not CHOOSING to see their parents batter one another; it's utterly outside their control. In contrast, patronizing violent entertainment is a CHOICE. The patrons may or may not be messed up by their personal circumstances, and they may or may not be employing what Adler called "negative compensation" to escape his problems. But we don't yet have proof that nine-tenths of, say, all horror-gorehounds become serial killers, perpetrators of road rage, or whatever.

I tend to think that entertainment has been violent since the dawn of humankind-- albeit with oscillations in tune with cultural priorities-- because fictional violence does serve as a stopgap. The contrasting view-- that violence ought to be rigidly controlled-- was once the province of pundits like Frederic Wertham and his fellow-traveler Gershon Legman. Given the effects of wild anti-comics claims, I might have thought that modern comics critics would shun that sort of extremism. Instead, I've seen both Wertham and Legman being represented as sober scholars rather than extremist cranks-- and I guess that too has much to do with current antipathies toward the very idea of representing violence, no matter how unreal it may be.

A follow-up:

I'm not following. The anti-comics movement of the time may or may not have comprised a majority of the populace, but they had power because they appealed to a common belief among the majority, to the extent that that majority thought about comic books at all. That majority believed that comic books were for children, and so the majority of people did not oppose the minority that demanded some form of censorship. So, in effect, the vocal minority got their way by appealing to societal customs-- though the end game of Wertham was to get comics put off limits to children.

I can't see why you'd say Wertham lost. True, he didn't get the scenario he expressly said he wanted: because he didn't trust comic-book publishers to clean up their own houses, he wanted the magazines off limit to kids under 15-- which, I think we'll all agree, would have killed the medium if that scenario had been implemented. But in effect, Wertham won, because he got the U.S. government to intervene at all, regardless of what they actually did about the perceived problem. The Senate probably didn't want to be bothered with monitoring comics on a regular basis, and so they were probably satisfied with horror and crime comics were for the most part exiled from newsstands.

Yes, the comics publishers may have had less than honorable motives for their clean-up campaign, but it can be argued-- and I think John Goldwater did say something to this effect-- why should the guys who were providing clean entertainment be penalized by the ones who were promoting sex and violence?  Even though I myself favor a pluralistic marketplace, where "clean" and "dirty" both have their place, I can empathize with the logic of this statement; obviously the statement of someone who didn't want his own corner of the business destroyed.

"Comics won?" Well, specific comics companies did not win. We'll never know if EC Comics would've lasted much longer, but in effect they were driven off the stands, and Max Gaines only saved his bacon by converting MAD into a B&W magazine format. There's only one way in which I can see that comics benefitted. Because the majority audience didn't have the animus toward superheroes that Wertham did, the "cleaner" comics-atmosphere paved the way for superheroes to become relatively more sophisticated in the Silver Age, ranging from Julie Schwartz's love of SF-themed gimmicks and Stan Lee's emphasis upon dramatic moments. But in between 1955 and 1960, a lot of people were hassled by the Code or lost their jobs because of it.

Friday, November 27, 2015


In Part 1,  I observed that as far as the "dynamic-sublime" was concerned, the domains they generate were strictly separated from one another:.

The dynamicities of the marvelous and the uncanny cannot manifest within the sphere of the naturalistic at all, because they depend on the alteration of one or both of the rules of causation, and anything that even resembles the tropes of the uncanny or marvelous is subsumed into the naturalistic.

By this general rule, both of the examples cited in the earlier essay-- the totality of serial adventures of both Atlas' RINGO KID and Marvel's RAWHIDE KID-- would be metaphenomenal. Even if the Ringo Kid only has one measly adventure with metaphenomenal content, it means that his universe obeys some if not all of the fictional rules common to other fantasy-worlds-- for instance, the greater "Marvel Universe" into which Ringo was officially inducted in the course of a 1970s AVENGERS story.

And yet, it seems counter-intuitive to place Ringo in the exact same type of marvelous domain as a literal superhuman like Captain America, or a domain that seems dominantly uncanny when considered apart from the Marvel Universe, like the domain of Marvel's masked western hero the Two-Gun Kid. Even if Two-Gun Kid had never encountered anything but naturalistic opponents, his attire would still conform to the uncanny trope of "outre outfits," thus placing him within the phenomenal domain of the uncanny.

In the case of the combinatory-sublime, however, tropes that relate to the metaphenomenal domains do not automatically overrule those of the isopheomenal, at least not within the realm of a serial concept. In a serial, if the focal presence does not itself reproduce significant tropes of the metaphenomenal, then one must examine the phenomenality of all ancillary presences in the totality of the stories.

Both RINGO KID and RAWHIDE KID concern isophenomenal cowpokes who dominantly battle against isophenomenal opponents. Both, using the "shareholder" metaphor I introduced, "majority shareholders" in the isophenomenal and "minority shareholders" in the metaphenomenal.  Being a "minority shareholder" means a dimunition of the serial's overall potential for symbolic combinations. Rawhide has a more extensive history of metaphenomenal encounters, so while he's still not in the same kind of fictional world as Captain America and the Two-Gun Kid, he is closer to their combinatory potential than Ringo is.

Heroes whose adventures almost always have elements of the metaphenomenal-- whether marvelous like Captain America, or uncanny like Two-Gun-- would subsume the other two phenomenalities within the dominant one. So the geometrical model would look much like the one used for the DSD, except with the stipulation that the whole is solid, rather than having each circle isolated from the other:

Rawhide's serial adventures don't comprise a unitary sphere of activity, so the phenomenal domains are connected but distinct. One may regard the whole left circle as Rawhide's adventures, with the isophenomenal taking up the majority of the sphere, while the minority "share" within the circle is all of his metaphenomenal activity-- the other circle being simply a set of metaphenomenal tropes possible for a Western comic-book character.

The next figure, however, better describes that of the Ringo Kid, if only because the metaphenomenal portion of the left circle is much smaller than it is in the first example.

More on these convolutions later.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


In my previous essay I visualized the "geometrical approximations of the two sublimities" as a series of "fields of force,." or "domains." In both cases the sublimity-affects were determined by what sort of phenomenal universe they took place in. However, the domains relating to dynamicity did not interpenetrate. For the time being I will designate these domains as DSDs, "dynamic-sublime domains."

The dynamicities of the marvelous and the uncanny cannot manifest within the sphere of the naturalistic at all, because they depend on the alteration of one or both of the rules of causation, and anything that even resembles the tropes of the uncanny or marvelous is subsumed into the naturalistic. An example of this process is cited in this essay, where the uncanny character of PSYCHO'S Norman Bates is recast into naturalistic terms for the teleseries BATES MOTEL.

 In the sphere of the uncanny, marvelous dynamicity cannot manifest, and though naturalistic dynamicity does exist in this sphere, the dynamicity of the uncanny, given the special name "potency," overrules all naturalistic dynamicity. An example of this process is cited in this essay, wherein the only source of the uncanny is the masked vigilante the Durango Kid, whose presence dominates storylines that are in all other respects identical to those of more naturalistic "horse operas."

Finally, dynamicities of the uncanny and the naturalistic can manifest within the sphere of the marvelous, as I showed here with regard to the serial ACE DRUMMOND, where the science-fictional nature of the villain's ray-gun defines the entire narrative as marevelous, overruling the potency of the same villain's uncanny death-trap as well as the naturalistic prowess of the titular hero.

In contrast, the domains relating to the combinatory-sublime-- the CSDs-- interpenetrate quite a bit, because their form of the sublime is not physical, but symbolic. It was because of this symbolic interpenetration of the three phenomenalities that I evolved my 51 percent rule:

I term my solution to this problem the "51 Per Cent Solution."  In business dealings we're accustomed to hearing that a stockholder with 51% of a company's stocks has the greatest advantage, though not an unqualified dominion.

From the beginnings of this blog, I've frequently dealt with the problems of how narratives contain diverse elements that may conflict with one another-- not just elements of phenomenality, but also elements relating to Frye's four mythoi, genre-elements, and so on. It's impossible-- and not really desirable-- to come up with a formula that would faultlessly determine what element held "sovereignty," as Jung called it. The "51 percent rule" was my only attempt to imagine what a statistically determined rule might look like, and I applied it in only a few essays, here, here, and here.  The second essay brings up the example of the Atlas Comics character the Ringo Kid, whose series I decided not to deem metaphenomenal, given that the hero had only one encounter with a metaphenomenal antagonist. a "Doctor Saturn."

  The cinematic version of Ace Drummond also had only one metaphenomenal protagonist, but this version of Drummond-- whom I don't consider identical with the one from the 1936 comic strip-- only had one installment. Thus Ace Drummond satisfies the "51 percent rule," and the Ringo Kid doesn't.

Yet as I played around with the rule in the provisional "super-idiom list" that I mentioned in the first "51 percent" essay, I realized that even some characters who didn't satisfy the "51 percent rule" seemed important to the list. I mentioned in one essay that the protagonists of the comic strips LI'L ABNER and DICK TRACY encountered a substantial number of marvelous or uncanny presences, but that it wasn't feasible to make a statistical breakdown for strips that ran for many years.

But I could and did do a statistical survey on another Old West hero: the Rawhide Kid of Marvel Comics, the company descended from the publisher who did "Ringo Kid" in the 1950s. When I counted the number of Rawhide's purely isophenomenal adventures, and compared them with those in which he'd enjoyed encounters with metaphenomenal entities, the latter worked out to about eight percent of the total stories. So, by the "51 percent rule," Rawhide could not belong to "the superhero idiom" any more than could the Ringo Kid.

And yet, it's evident that for a time, the Kid's creators Lee and Kirby were making a significant attempt to place their combative cowpoke into superhero situations.

Sometimes he encountered crooks who simply wore uncanny outfits, like the Bat from RH #25:

In #35, he encountered a costumed crook with a literally marvelous power.

Like a fair number of Western heroes, he also encountered at least one lost civilization:

And few Marvel-readers can forget Rawhide's momentous "first contact" with an alien resembling an Indian totem pole.

The sum total of these adventures pale in comparison to Rawhide's more mundane adventures-- and yet, something's going on here that isn't going on in the RINGO KID feature. The creators-- not always Lee and Kirby, BTW-- are making substantial use of metaphenomenal elements, so they make up an important, if subordinate, part of Rawhide's fictional mythos.  The "51 percent rule," while helpful as a guiding principle, is too rigid to deal with this loosey-goosey approach to phenomenal integrity.

So, by dint of reading a few posts on shareholder rules, I've happily come across a definition that solves my cowboy conundrum, on this site:

The minority investment can be either minority passive interest or minority active interest. Passive means that the company does not have material influence on the company in which it has this minority interest. Active means that the company is in a position to influence the company in which it has minority interest.

Thus, from the strict view of the "51 percent rule," both Ringo and Rawhide are "minority shareholders" in the realm of the metaphenomenal. However, to extend the above distinction into the realm of literature, Ringo Kid's adventures display only a "minority passive interest" in matters metaphenomenal, while Rawhide Kid's display a "minority active interest"-- that is, Rawhide's encounters with metaphenomenal presences remain a vital part of his mythos, even if they're not numerically superior to all the naturalistic exploits.

This metaphor also solves my above-referenced problem as to how I should rate long-running strips like LI'L ABNER. It have enough fantastic content to satisfy the 51 percent rule, or it may not-- but certainly a strip that produces such weird entities as "Evil-Eye Fleegle" and "the Schmoos" has at least a "minority active interest" in matters metaphenomenal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


As one of my intermittent attempts to better illustrate the complexity of my theory of the two sublimities, I decided to explore some visual comparisons.

In the March essay WITH ENFOLDED HANDS, I compared the three phenomenalities to the three distinct parts of a seed. Though I still like this image, I have to admit that it doesn't capture the way all of these abstractions interact in the world of finished artworks. I noted in that essay that even in a work as devoted to loopy fantasy as Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, some references to coherence still had to exist for the story to make sense. Thus the Cheshire Cat may take his leave of Alice in a fantastic manner, but when the feline fades out, it still serves the same narrative purpose as if he simply got up and walked away.

Thus I turn to the pleasures of geometry, and find more satisfaction in describing the three phenomenalities as three interlocking circles.

Each of the circles should be seen as representing not a distinct section of physical matter, as is the case with the seed, but rather a non-physical "field of force." Because there are no true physical boundaries between the three phenomenal domains, it may be easier to imagine each of them having limited influences over the other than would be the case with my earlier seed-metaphor.

In this 2014 essay I described the workings of the combinatory-sublime according to the two principles of causality, "intelligibility" and "regularity" (later superseded by a better term, "coherence," which I've edited into this passage):

...the combinatory-sublime arises rather from the transgression upon the reader's expectations in terms of intelligibility and causal coherence. DIRTY HARRY, a naturalistic work which conforms to general expectations regarding intelligibility and coherence, has its own proper level of mythicity but is not likely to inspire a high level of the combinatory-sublime because of said conformity. ENTER THE DRAGON conforms to expectations regarding coherence but not intelligibility; being "anti-intelligible," it has a higher potential to arouse the combinatory-sublime. And STAR WARS, which violates both intelligibility and coherence, has the greatest mythicity of the three in reality, as well as the greatest potential for symbolic combinations and thus for the combinatory-sublime.
This geometrical arrangement approximates the way the phenomenalities evolve from one another. Had I found on the Net an image of three rings that were both interlocked and surmounting one another, that would have hewed closer to my conceptual premise. But this one works tolerably well. The red ring is the naturalistic phenomenality, representing adherence to both coherence and intelligibility. The blue ring, only indirectly tied to the Region of the Red, flouts both coherence and intelligibility. The interceding green ring takes one principle from each of its neighbors: abiding by the principle of causal coherence like Region Red, but transgressing the principle of intelligibility like Region Blue. (If I cared about exact parallels, Region Red ought to be Region Yellow, and the parallel would be stronger-- but it doesn't exactly weigh heavily in my scales.)

Thus, for the sublimity of the combinatory. But what about the dynamic-sublime, to which I've devoted much more space on this blog?

Here's the geometrical visual on the sublimity of power:

My reason for choosing concentric circles is because each "field of force," and the sublimity it represents, registers as independent of the other two, perhaps more like three planetary orbits rather than interlocked rings. I established this principle in SUBLIMITY VS. MYTHICITY PT. 3:

As far as the film DIRTY HARRY is concerned, there is no being more powerful than Harry Callahan, though some of his foes, particularly Scorpio, are capable of challenging the hero.  The same holds true for Lee and his foe Han in ENTER THE DRAGON, and for Luke Skywalker and his opponent Darth Vader in the first three STAR WARS films. 

To pursue the orbit-simile, Dirty Harry's "planet" is one that obeys all the laws of a naturalistic cosmos, so that's why his type of power elicits the *admiration* of the audience.

The "planet" of DRAGON's Lee, however, allows for a transgression of the law of intelligibility. This doesn't precisely give Lee more physical power than Dirty Harry, but the flouting of intelligibility means that Lee *seems like* he possesses a greater *potency,* as defined here in a three-part essay series beginning here. This quality of anti-intelligible potency gives rise to the audience's *fascination.*

And finally, Luke Skywalker exists on a "planet" that allows for the transgression of both intelligibility and causal coherence. This doesn't necessary mean that every protagonist in a marvelous phenomenality necessarily has powers that transgress coherence, just because Skywalker does: obviously Indiana Jones does not have such powers. But he too exists in phenomenal worlds wherein such powers are possible. Thus, when a non-powered hero like Indiana Jones triumphs over, say, a Thuggee priest who can rip peoples' hearts out of their chests, Jones acquires roughly the same aspect of the "dynamic-sublime" as Luke Skywalker-- and both characters elicit the audience's *wonder* (also sometimes called *exaltation* in various essays here).

However, this aspect is only "real" on the "planets" of the marvelous phenomenality, because it is a narrative, rather than a significant, value. Both Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker have no power, or even potency, within the narrative worlds of Lee and Harry Callahan, because these are worlds where causal coherence cannot be transgressed.

I'm strongly considering adding yet another specialized term to my already overburdened lit-crit continuum: "domains." The word would connote all of the above-described fields of force, whether they pertain to combinatory values or dynamicity values. In the near future I'll probably experiment with it in a planned follow-up to UNCANNY CITY.  But what will be the use of it, at least over the long haul, is more than I can say.


In contrast to my previous post, there's no complications about this story-- whose art and story are both credited to Al Feldstein-- having been derived from an earlier model. However, "The Flying Saucer Invasion"-- published in what was technically the *second* issue of WEIRD SCIENCE, not the thirteenth-- might have been vastly improved had it swiped from another author.

The cover-- showing a military fellow dismissing the rumors of flying saucers as "poppycock" while overhead a real saucer zooms in for the kill-- gives away the whole game. Gaines and Feldstein are reputed to have had a strong interest in the "flying saucer craze" that took America by storm in 1947. Yet "Invasion" reads like nothing more than a recitation of a few basic UFOlogy cliches-- for example, that the saucers only show up in rural settings, never urban--and that the government's sole response was to try to cover up the whole business. Most of the story's eight pages are devoted to rather static head-shots of people's stereotypical reactions. Page six is easily the high point of the story. Here the reader gets to witness a comic-book character dissing the disreputable aspects of the comic book medium, when a psychologist deems the saucer-sightings "a pathological illusion aggravated by continuous publicity given it by press, radio, and comic books."

The big twist ending-- that the saucers are real-- comes as no surprise at all, and the story doesn't even hint at the more captivating myths of UFOlogy. Feldstein's real focus is the government cover-up, which rates as a sociological myth, but of a very low mythicity. Perhaps this sequence's only interesting myth-motif is that after the saucer-debunking Secretary of Defense gets finished undermining the testimonies of the rural citizens--one of whom speaks with a comic Southern accent-- he also plows over the testimony of an Air Force lieutenant. The fact that the lieutenant is depicted with a stock "leading man" handsomeness suggests that he incarnates an American heroic archetype, and that the Secretary, by dismissing him, has metaphorically undermined American fighting-capacity, anticipating a similar motif later found in the RAMBO films. However, that one motif doesn't make up for a generally lackluster narrative.


My first choice for a "mythcomic" from the House of Entertaining Comics creates some problems. Though I didn't say so when I began this series, it's generally been my intention not to count anything that was a direct adaptation of a story published in another medium. For instance, I consider Robert E. Howard's short Conan story "The Tower of the Elephant" to be one of the great myth-stories of popular fiction. But I would never cite the Thomas-Smith adaptation of the story, published in Marvel's CONAN THE BARBARIAN #4. It's arguable that Thomas and Smith may have added their own mythopeic elements to the mix, but nevertheless, the source of the mythic structure is a prose story, not a comics-story.

Similarly, I would never include any of EC's famous adaptations of Ray Bradbury's work. Yet what about "swipes?" As this Wikipedia entry makes abundantly clear, publisher William Gaines had the habit of delving through published SF-stories and "lifting" ideas, which were then redone as "new" stories by raconteurs like Al Feldstein. The story goes that Gaines lifted one of Bradbury's stories, and that Bradbury wrote him, politely asking for payment for said adaptation-- a bit of indirect dickering that led to several fully approved Bradbury adaptations by E.C.

Yet a swipe doesn't have to be an exact reproduction of the original story. I have not to my recollection read the 1936 Henry Haase prose tale "He Who Shrank," but this blog-summation of the story suggests to me that writer Feldstein and artist Kurtzman only swiped the basic idea of a protagonist who is (a) exposed to a element that causes him to shrink endlessly, and (b) because of this, finds himself plummeting through a host of recursive micro-universes.

The dominant Campbellian function evoked here is the *cosmological,* in that Feldstein's protagonist Karl is constantly witness to all the wonders of the microscopic world, seen for the first time on an equal footing. I can't prove it, but when he shrinks into the "sweat ducts" of his mentor and learns that the older man has tuberculosis, that sounds a bit more like Kurtzman's wry sense of humor than Feldstein's-- though for all I know it might appear in the Haase story.

In addition, the story is particularly accomplished in the psychological arena, in that Karl is constantly shifting from being a godlike giant, able to cause havoc to lesser beings with no more than a sneeze, to dwindling into relative nothingness-- which is perhaps a little further than even Jonathan Swift went with the basic "relative size" trope.

Interestingly, the story's conclusion holds out some meager hope that someday Karl may shrink into some super-advanced cosmos where he can be cured of his affliction-- though the dominant effect of the story is to remind the story's interlocutor (who listens to Karl's story) that even Earth's advancements may pale before "what exists in the infinite cosmos."

Monday, November 23, 2015


I'm sure I'll have more to say on HU's lynch-happy attitudes in future, but this should be the last time I respond to Ng Suat Tong's hubristic advice to the late Frank Frazetta. Maybe if I'd known that Ng would only answer one question, I would have asked why scenes of interracial sex would cause the writer to think, even sarcastically, of the "light under a bushel" aphorism. I would think that an ideologue like Ng would be glad that Frank Frazetta didn't conceal from readers-- either during his life or thereafter-- his supposed mammoth racial complexes. If these Frazetta drawings had not surfaced, Ng wouldn't have had an excuse to compare interracial erotica with actual slavery (cf. his Thomas Jefferson hyperbole).

Here, I'll address only the subject of "non-ideological" art, which I brought up in opposition to all of the completely ideological interpretations of Frazetta's oeuvre. In my addenda to my comment-preservation, here's what I remembered saying before NB deleted it:

It's been a couple of days since I checked back, but the remark that probably scored the deepest hit in that post had nothing to do with bad faith; it had to do with interrogating the defenders of Ng Suat Tong's essay in the way that they pretend to interrogate purveyors of mass entertainment. (Author Ng chose not to defend his own essay.) In essence, I asked one of the defenders-- not NB-- as to whether he liked to think that all of his personal inclinations were entirely determined by ideological factors, since that's the complexion all of them choose to place upon Frank Frazetta. I didn't even directly mention any individual's leanings toward sexy entertainment, though of course that too would fall under the heading of such personal inclinations. 

 Another thought: since one of the defenders said she found Frazetta's work boring, I remarked that were Frazetta alive, he might find her (performance art) boring, too, but why would either opinion be a matter for ideology? Why couldn't both opinions be purely a matter of personal taste?

Now, in earlier ARCHIVE essays I've already expatiated on the subject of the non-ideological elements in art, though in this essay I used the term "non-political," meaning essentially the same thing. At one point I cited this essay to NB when he wanted to know my stance on something-or-other, and he refuted just one aspect of the essay. So even if NB doesn't agree with anything I've written on these matters, he certainly does know pretty much what I mean by "non-ideological." Thus, an angel dies when he claims not to understand my position:

Gene, are you saying that pornography is not ideological? Or that pleasure is nonideological? I think both of those things are really not the case. Saying that these are racist images doesn’t mean that someone who takes pleasure in them is evil. It just means that the images are racist. Not because Frazetta hated black people (we can’t see his soul), but because reproducing racist stereotypes means you’re reproducing racist stereotypes. Sometimes, some people reproduce racist stereotypes in order to undermine them, or to think about them, or to critique them, or reclaim them. Frazetta doesn’t seem to be doing any of that. He just thinks racist imagery is sexy and funny. That doesn’t make him a monster, but it does make him, (a) boring, (b) dumb (c) in these particular drawings, racist (and hey, sexist also, as Nix points out.) If you dont’ think the drawings are racist, you need to do a bit more than say that the characters are enjoying themselves. The black slaves in Gone With the Wind enjoy their servitude; that doesn’t mean it’s not racist. In lots of rape fantasies, the fantasy is that the woman enjoys the rape, so the fact that the woman here seems to enjoy being reduced to little more than the marker sexy-white-woman doesn’t change the fact that these are sexist either. There are various ways for artists to deal with their control of the art too. Frazetta is pretty straightforward; his presence in the art is pretty much always, “hey, I”m a badass”. In this case, that comes off meaning, hey, I’m a badass because I can take this black guy and this white woman and bang them together for my pleasure. It’s interesting that you don’t actually have an alternate reading, Gene. It’s just, “oh, porn, that can’t mean anything, la-dee-dah, sex is just sex, black men, white woman, means nothing.” If the pairing doesn’t matter, why is it repeated obsessively? If sex has no meaning, why represent it? Keep telling yourself that dollar signs aren’t symbols, though, if it makes art easier to bear for you.

He feels it easy to make all of these wild accusations and associations even *after* I've repeated my stance that art can have aspects that have nothing to do with the political and ideological:

If you’re saying that the material is not totally reducible to ideology, as Ng did, then that’s not contrary to my basic position. I’ve stated above that I can see *some* ideological content in certain scenarios, like the “white goddess” trope mentioned earlier. I don’t think simple pornographic drawings are automatically implicated in whatever ideological content *may* be present in Tarzan narratives though, so that really would be a “contra.”

Since I clearly said in my first sentence that ideological content could appear in 'certain scenarios," clearly I'm not saying that art as a whole-- be it in the form of pornography or with respect to the many pleasures art generates-- never has ideological content. NB does answer the question I posed to another poster: that he can't countenance what he deems "racist stereotypes" unless they're serving an ideological purpose (critique, reclamation, etc.)  It's pretty amusing that he tries in his opening sentence to make me the mirror of his own ideological obduracy.

It's also ironic that NB cites GONE WITH THE WIND; a work that strongly appealed to a racist audience within the U.S (though not only to them). The racists in the overall audience would have been outraged by the consensual white-black sex Frazetta depicted, but of course that can't be allowed to matter. NB's trying to draw a parallel between objectionable stereotypes in the novel and in the drawings, but his whole case for the Frazetta drawings being objectionable is based in an unsupportable interpretation. One minute NB says we can't know if Frazetta hated black people; the next he mind-reads the artist to say that his only reason for drawing this erotica was because he Frazetta found it "sexy and funny," as well as taking pleasure in being an artistic "badass."

To answer one of NB's few coherent questions, I haven't said that depictions of interracial sex "mean nothing," I just don't think their meaning inheres in passing a political purity test; that they're good if they're used to "subvert the dominant" and bad if they're primarily for pleasure. I think it's possible Frazetta, being an artist, undertook the project just to see if he could pull off (in a technical sense only; ha ha) a set of erotic images involving black and white pleasure. It's even possible that, even if Frazetta never intended the drawings to "go public," that he took some pleasure in imagining how such images would have scandalized Middle America; the same Middle America that might have called him a "wop," or so it's been alleged.

To do my own mind-reading act again, I think what's really at issue here is that Frazetta validates the fantasies of white males, whether he shares them all or not: hence the shots Ng takes at Frazetta's jungle comic books (about sixty years old at the time of Frazetta's death). Is that what NB means black-white imagery being "repeated obsessively?" Who knows? With most if not all HU people, it's "sentence first, evidence not at all"-- especially if it's a white male who dares to play with racial (not racist) imagery without having it vetted by ultraliberal sensibilities.

In closing, I'll note that one of my other deleted remarks responded to NB's wacky reference to Jung, asking me if I thought Jung was a capitalist. I didn't directly respond to this nonsense, except to say that though I'd critiqued his affections for Freud and Wertham on other threads, on this one I hadn't brought up anyone's ideological influences and that I'd only responded to things posters had said, so he ought to do the same. Maybe that's the real reason that last big post got deleted.


What a complete and totally piece of Leftist Liberal Progressive Democratic Trope & horseshit! Gee Whiz, man, look at it for what it is…FREAKING ART!, and leave all the self-loathing, delusional, Leftist psycho-babble angst manure out of it…complete and total nonsense, and so totally typical of the self-centered introspective auto-flatulent smelling morons that have ruined this country…. -- Poster under the name "DaleinAtlanta"," from a 2013 post on this HU comment-thread.

I found this apt summation of the HU mentality while buzzing through the site's longest thread relating to Frank Frazetta. I don't agree with the poster on everything. What I call "ultraliberals" haven't as yet "ruined this country." They're just annoying because of their hypocrisy; the way they pretend to intellectual honesty when in fact they're as primed to lynch their pre-selected victims as any Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. I also don't know that any of the HU staff suffer from the horrors of foul body odor. I'm only aware of the *intellectual* stench of their "delusional, Leftist psycho-babble manure." (I left out "angst" and "self-loathing" because these qualities can't be logically demonstrated via the critics' own printed words.)

It should be evident from the toss-off title of this post that I wasn't anticipating a major altercation with respect to Ng Suat Tong's recent essay about the black-on-white sex-art of the late Frank Frazetta. I also stated that I wasn't going to try to preserve all the comments I put on HU-- which may or may not disappear in future-- but I am going to expand on the arguments already there. The only reason I gave a quick-read to HU's earlier Frazetta essay, and its resultant comments-thread, was to see either one discussed anything of substance with regard to Frazetta's use of alleged racist tropes. I don't claim to be an expert on the oeuvre of Frazetta, and I was willing to see whether or not the HUddites could present evidence more compelling than Ng did. I found little substance, but an awful lot of psycho-babble circle jerking, though a few readers tried to argue against the dominant tendency to lynch the then-recently-deceased Frazetta-- and yes, in more nuanced terms than Dale above.

So I return to Ng's essay, which, in one of the deleted comments, I called "thoroughly illogical." No one will read that condemnation now, but I can at least expand on it here.

In his opening paragraph, Ng displayed his capacity for even-handedness:

What could possibly be so disgusting that it could be auctioned but not included in the printed catalog? Surely nothing as pathetic as cunnilingus, female ejaculation, or facials. So perhaps bestiality or necrophilia? Don’t those horrible Europeans also sell Crepax doggy art? What’s wrong with that? As it turns out, it was nothing quite so gross, just a “simple” case of white slavery (+/- rape).

So far NB has not deleted any of my numerous attempts to get Ng to justify the remark re: "slavery."
Ng himself only responded to a side-point I addressed-- which I'll get to later--, and thus the essayist himself never enlarged on why he felt that the Frazetta drawings implied any element of compulsion. The posters who commented never showed the cojones to admit that (1) there was nothing in the sex-pictures that indicated that any slavery at all, be it historical or contemporary, or (2) that,  counter to Ng's proposition, the white girl is enjoying her sex with the one black stud who does her. In one of the drawings she even encourages him to commit what looks like that "horrible Crepax sin" that Ng works into his essay.

At no point does Ng say anything about the provenance of the drawings, but he claims that their subject matter is comparable to pornography's "white slavery/inter-racial trope." He also claims that these antics are usually presented as "fun and games." I don't want to know how this species of porn gets from Point A-- "interracial slavery of any kind"-- to Point B, "fun and games." But I know that there's nothing in the drawings presented on HU that involves slavery, or even the trope of rape, which another HU contributor laid at Frazetta's door.

Surprisingly, it's not even clear from Ng's short, muddled piece that he has a problem with the way Frazetta had rendered the Negroes in the sex drawings: this objection is raised only by other persons in the comments-thread. So, without even proving his charge of slavery-- except through a very tenuous association on the part of the author-- Ng then tries to prove racism in the drawings through a second association, even more tenuous. He reprints a Frazetta pen-and-ink drawing of Tarzan battling a bunch of African savages, using it to "prove" that this in itself is a racist image. I've made my own observations on problematic aspects of Edgar Rice Burroughs in my essay TARZAN THOUGHTS, but it would never occur to me that a simple illustration of the white ape man fighting with Black Africans was automatically racist. If one reversed the races of the principals, would it still be racist?

I knew that abstract thoughts like this would receive no substantive reply, so I queried Ng about his most fevered assertion: "The Tarzan of the comics (let’s forget about Burroughs for the moment) was, of course, deeply invested in white supremacy and purity; with the great apes afforded an even greater status than the Africans who appeared in them periodically." Ng did answer my question, and sure enough, he proved his statement about the superiority of the apes with one incident from a 1930s Hal Foster comic strip-- which I think may come down to projection on his part. I guess the fact that he mentioned a few other non-Tarzan jungle comics also constituted some sort of proof in his eyes.

I'll expand on my other responses in Part 3, but I'll close this part by saying that one of Frazetta's best known artworks should have been used to head Ng's essay. And why--?


Friday, November 20, 2015


I've never claimed to be an expert in the culture of archaic Greece, so I can only make tentative assertions based on fragmentary evidence. Within the halls of academia, there may be extensive analysis of the provenance of these terms, but the most thorough references I can find on the Net credit Hippocrates and related medical authors for using the two terms in my title-- "kenosis" and "plerosis"-- to mean "an inadequate diet" and "a more-than-adequate diet." It should surprise no one that these arcane technical terms originally connoted something having to do with the body, pertaining to whether it was too empty or too full-- both conditions that are opposed to one's diet being, as in the Goldilocks tale, "just right."

In Theodor Gaster's schema, there are two primary types of ritual action performed for both kenosis and plerosis, and each is focused on creating a distinct mood for the witnessing audience:

First the rites of mortification, symbolizing the temporary eclipse of the community. Next the rites of purgation, by which all noxious elements that might impair the community's future welfare are eliminated. Then the rites of invigoration, aimed at stimulating the growth of crops, the fecundity of humans and beasts, and the supply of needed sunshine and rainfall throughout the year. Finally, when the new lease is assured, come the rites of jubilation; there is a communal meal at which the members of the community recement their bonds of kinship by breaking bread together, and at which their gods are present.

These descriptions may or may not be adequate to describe all forms of archaic ritual activity, but they adapt well to the Fryean scheme of the four mythoi, which is my main concern here.

In Part 1 I asserted the logic of Alfred Adler's compensation theory, in which individuals might seek to compensate for various forms of conflict-- or what Hans Selye calls 'stress"-- in various ways. Some compensation strategies might prove negative in that they weakened the individual who pursued said strategies, while others would be positive, in that they made the individual stronger in some way.

I've been exploring, and will continue to explore, the ways in which fiction does or does not succeed in terms of the mythopoeic potentiality. This is a purely formal argument that does not impact directly on considerations of positive and negative compensation, though in Part 1 I stated that any such considerations would have to line up with my analysis that fiction had to be true to its greatest potential.

Because of my concept of *thematic escapism,* I've validated a lot of narratives that other critics have viewed as "fascist." I won't repeat my various arguments here, but one that I advanced in the March essay POSSE COMIC-TATUS might also be seen in terms of Adlerian compensation for the mythos of adventure. In that essay I wrote:

In my essay TORTURED, PROSAICALLY, I largely defended the trope of inquisitorial torture from the usual attacks on it, but noted two exceptions, in which the television programs 24 and HAWAII 5-O indulged in the trope purely for the sake of showing the hero in the position of doling out violence without restraint. These shows were in part bad because there was no sense that the authorities involved might face any consequences for their actions, and in part because they were, in Sadean terms, stupid and unimaginative. At least when a Mickey Spillane hero tortures someone, there's a sort of brain-fevered fascination with the act itself, and I've often thought that Spillane's ideological posturings were just an excuse to bring about retributive violence. In other words, Spillane, like Sade, esteemed violence for its own sake, not as a means for preserving the police state.

The exploits of Mike Hammer and Jack Bauer depend heavily on retributive violence, which means that they pertain to the mythos of adventure, which according to my adaptation of Gaster's four moods is primarily meant to be "invigorative" in its effect upon its audience.  But I would have to say that the Sadean air that Mickey Spillane brings to his righteous heroes is one that can "strengthen" the reader if said reader is able to read it as a wild fantasy, rather than mistaking it for a rendition of reality. In contrast, the "stupid and unimaginative" fantasy of the teleseries 24 lacks any of the qualities seen in the Spillane works. Both are "plerotic" works, in that the audience is supposed to feel invigorated by seeing evildoers defeated by the representatives of social good. But I label only Spillane as being a "good plerotic meal," while the contrasting examples are the sort of meals that will make one feel full, but in a way that weakens the body and the mind.


I haven't revisited Theodor Gaster's concept of "kenosis and plerosis" for some time, but it's occurred that some of my writings on the subject should be cross-compared with my observations on Adler's concept of "positive and negative compensation."

In this April essay, I cited what I found to be the closest Alfred Adler came, at least in a particular collection of his works, to giving examples of positive and negative compensation with respect to a particular bodily activity: that of sight:

As a negative example of overcompensation, Adler posits a situation in which a paranoiac is so impelled by "the drive to see" that "the weakness of the overcompensation expresses itself in hallucinatory fits and visual appearances"... In contrast to this, Adler gives a positive example of a documented writer with poor vision: Friedrich Schiller, who exorcised his nearsighted demons by creating a fictional hero reputed for faultless aim and vision: William Tell.

I further observed that many elitist critics tended, unlike Adler, to view all such heroic fantasies as if they were negative compensations, as if they were automatically bad for being "escapes from reality." Since I have from the beginnings of this blog championed the idea that "fictions of escape" cannot be judged by the same terms as "fictions of realism,"  my verdict in this essay was that the only sin of a given fictional narrative can manifest is that of not living up to its potential as fiction:

This, then, would be my criterion for both "negative compensation" in literature and the only ways in which fiction can be correctly seen as escaping responsibility. Only when a given work of a given mode fails to be true to its own mode would it be "escaping" from anything in a negative manner; that of escaping from its own potential as fiction.
That said, aside from the very broad categories of "thematic realism" and "thematic escapism," I've also tried to map out how particular types of potential are oriented according to other criteria. Northrop Frye was my original guide in terms of viewing every fictional narrative as being principally dominated by a type of *mythos:* each of which owed something to Frye's elaboration of material from myth-ritual scholars like Gilbert Murray. I kept two of Frye's terms for these mythoi, "comedy" and "irony," and substituted modern terms "drama" and "adventure" for his terms "tragedy" and "romance." In my opinion the substituted terms were more in keeping with the actual affects that each mythos was meant to invoke, not to mention being more in tune with the formulations of Theodor Gaster. Gaster was certainly a primary force upon Frye's meditations in 1957's ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, though Frye, being more taken with the Aristotelian model provided by Murray, did not say much about Gaster's formulations.  I, in contrast, was particularly taken with the predominant "moods" that Gaster identified in his four types of myth-ritual narrative, and how these moods followed patterns of what the archaic Greeks called "kenosis" and "plerosis." Over the years I've endeavored to meld Frye's schema of the four mythoi with Gaster's schema of the four moods, as in this 2012 essay:

In the first part of HERO VS. VILLAIN I aligned drama with irony in terms of what Theodor Gaster terms *kenosis,* the process that expels harmful energy from society, and adventure with comedy in terms of *plerosis,* the process that brings positive energy back into the community, in the following terms:
,,,plerosis is best conceived as the life-force engendered by the contest of hero-and-villain, taken seriously for the adventure and humorously for the comedy, while life is purged or otherwise compromised in the black-comic irony and in the drama.
In the rituals Gaster describes, one must assume that both *kenosis* and *plerosis,* as societal rituals, were intended to have beneficial effects upon the society that practiced them.  The question of "escaping from potential as fiction" does not even come up in the context of religion.

However, because fiction is almost always presumed to be man-made, the question of whether or not it does its job well-- whether one uses terms like "positive and negative compensation," or "consummation and inconsummation"-- is one that recurs again and again.

In Part 2 I'll address some of the complexities involved in applying Adler's compensation argument to my adaptation of Gaster's concepts of plerotic and kenotic narratives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I’ve commented here that for all the plaudits given to Jack Cole’s PLASTIC MAN, it’s rarely acknowledged that in a formal sense, many of the stories are not well-written.

This isn’t entirely a disadvantage from a pluralist creative vantage point. Some creators are at their best when they’re channeling the random associations of what Jung termed “fantasy thinking,” rather than constructing the sort of “well-wrought urns” generally prized by elitist criticism. Much if not all of Cole’s best work is characterized by a delirious pleasure in transgressivism, often, as noted here, in a passion for scenarios of sadism and murder. In the earliest adventures of Cole’s stretchable sleuth, the hero battles such demented menaces as a gigantic, city-destroying eight-ball, a cripple-legged giant who walks on his hands, and a mad scientist named “Hairy Arms,” whose torso is so shriveled that he appears to be all head, legs, and (of course) arms.

Viewed as mythic texts, most Plastic Man stories are like free-floating archetypes that have no firm associations linked to them. On occasion, as with the story I analyzed here, he used his symbolic constructions to produce a consummate psychological myth. But Cole's PM story for POLICE COMICS#16—incidentally, the fourth story in which Cole partnered Plastic Man with comedy-relief Woozy Winks—rates as inconsummate for the way it raises symbolic questions but doesn’t answer them.

The splash page is quite in keeping with my quasi-Sadean reading of Cole: the reader sees a head-shot of Plastic Man, sweating profusely as he’s besieged by tiny green devils telling him to “kill” and “murder.” This is a foregrounding of how the hero will go berserk at the story’s end.

When the story proper opens, Plastic Man is first seen in disguise, having used his shape-changing power to become the image of a Native American. Woozy is telling him that it seems “silly” for the hero to investigate rumors of a modern Indian uprising. Plastic Man demurs, claiming that he won’t countenance “revolt against the U.S.A.”—though he thinks that he can break up the possible rebellion if he can undermine the Indians’ chief, known as “Great Warrior.”

Obviously, even for the time, this is not a particularly progressive view of White America’s checkered history with the country’s aboriginal peoples. But I’m not inquiring into Cole’s political mentality, which I suspect was conservative. Rather, I’m investigating the way his symbolic discourse slip-slides all over the place.

That night the “powwow” commences, and Chief Great Warrior is indeed trying to incite the other tribesmen to make war upon “the accursed whites” at a time when “the nation is busy with foreign wars.” The hero-- sort of an “Indian Rubber Man” (heh)—shows up to denounce the chief. The chief wants to know why those assembled should listen to a total stranger. Plastic Man promptly morphs himself into a totem pole, and almost all of the Indians—except for Great Warrior—instantly believe that “the Great Spirit” has come into their midst to denounce their chief. Great Warrior even correctly figures out that the impostor is really the modern-day crusader Plastic Man, but his people act as if he’s “mad” to consider the possibility that their talking totem pole is just a well-documented superhero playing on their superstitions. Because his own people don’t believe him, Great Warrior jumps into a quicksand bog and dies while promising to curse his enemies from the grave. Plastic Man, who has resumed his Indian disguise, lets Great Warrior perish, while marveling that the dying chief doesn’t cast any reflection in the bog. (Ordinarily one wouldn’t expect to see a reflection in a bog, though Cole renders the mire as if it was clear water.)

For the next six pages, the curse takes effect through Will Hawes, a random white man in Plastic Man’s home city. Cole gives the reader no clue as to why Great Warrior’s dead spirit—now seeming more like that of a shaman than of a chief—shows up in Hawes’ mirror and hypnotizes “ordinary, inconspicuous Will Hawes.” Perhaps the mere fact that he’s an ordinary white guy makes him the ideal pawn to carry out a reign of terror: setting bombs and other traps (most sadistically, a box that shoots poison needles into its victim). Hawes kills two persons in authority—the mayor and the police commissioner—and tries to blow up Plastic Man and Woozy Winks as well, though they both survive thanks to their respective powers. Hawes finally confesses to the cops, who don’t believe his story of an “Indian in the mirror.”  However, Great Warrior belatedly decides to pick on the man who arguably brought about his death. He appears, once more in reflection-form, to both Woozy and Plastic Man. Great Warrior promptly hypnotizes Plastic Man into becoming a one-man army, attacking the city (though unlike Hawes, the hero isn’t seen causing any deaths). The cops don’t believe Woozy’s story about the ghostly Indian chief, but they do manage to corral Plastic Man.

Cole left himself less than a full page to return his hero to his status quo, and he does so with one of the worst “cheats” in the history of comics. Woozy shows up at the police station with the son of Great Warrior, who has not been mentioned, any more than there’s any clue about how Woozy found him. With all the cops watching, the son summons the spirit of Great Warrior to appear in a mirror, vowing to live “a life of shame” (whatever that is) if his father does not clear “the innocent name of Plastic Man.” Great Warrior is so vexed by the threat of shame to his family that he shows up, makes a verbal confession of all crimes to the dumbfounded cops, and then disappears forever (presumably exculpating Will Hawes as well, though he isn’t mentioned).

What we’re left with is a extremely mixed message. On one hand, the Indians are kept on the reservation, thus keeping them from having an effect on the American power structure. On the other, though Cole evinces absolutely no sympathy for the Indians’ complaints, he does show that same power structure being assailed by the supernatural power of Great Warrior, even though the ghost chooses to act through white “sleeper agents.”  During the U.S.A’s involvement in World War II, pop fiction often displayed narrative tropes in which foreign agents successfully masqueraded as “real Americans”—a trope taken to its most demented limits in the 1942 film BLACK DRAGONS, which involved Japanese spies being surgically transformed into Caucasians. Unlike many of Cole’s crazy-ass tales, this story feels as though the author might be trying to work out some personal demons about American political history—but if so, the story of Great Warrior fails in that respect. 


In this essay, I established that because I define the quality of mythicity in terms of its capacity for combinations, there will always greater potential for mythicity in metaphenomenal narratives than in those of the isophenomenal. That said, the following Jack Cole crime comic-- which appeared in the only comic book to be issued by a publisher named "Magazine Village"-- is one of the more mythically complex isophenomenal works. The entire story appears at this location.

Many crime-comics of the Golden Age, like the gangster-films that preceded them, followed a set “rise-and-fall” pattern. A gangster rises to power amid a welter of gore, and finally perishes as the law catches up with him at last. Jack Cole’s “A Match for Satan”is not an exception to this rule.   What sets this tale apart from the herd is Cole’s extraordinary gift for black humor.

Neil  Bowman is the quintessential image of the 1940s hick: tall (6’4”), gangling, wearing a straw hat and ill-fitting clothes. As an additional touch to further indicate uncouthness, Bowman continuously chews on matches, though he never smokes cigarettes or anything comparable. The artist himself had one major similarity to Bowman: his height and build, for Cole is described by Jim Steranko as having “a tall, lanky 6’3” frame. Yet in another respect the artist appears to be have been very unlike the character of Bowman-- for while Cole’s self-portrait in POLICE COMICS #10 shows the artist constantly stuttering, Neil Bowman has “the gift of gab.”  

Throughout the story, Bowman often (though not always) gets out of assorted scrapes with fast talk, often using his ‘dumb yokel’ appearance to deceive others.   Admittedly, crafty Bowman bungles as many crimes as he pulls off. But the story's opening caption tells us that “it seemed so long as one [match] dangled from [Bowman’s] twisted lips, his luck was invincible.” The story will show that whatever "luck" Bowman's match-fetish might bring him is highly variable, as is the title. Does it mean that Bowman himself is "a match for Satan," or that the near-brainless, acquisitive evil represented by a single match is the thing that will bring Bowman to a hellish fate?

A Freudian would surely suspect oral issues in a man who  continually sucks on matches. On page 3 of the story, Bowman goes a step further by eating his matches to make the guards think he’s crazy-- all for the purpose of breaking out of jail.  

In Cole’s tale, then, the human mouth is both a means for brute sustenance (eating: that is, devouring other life) and for higher communication (talking).   But because Bowman’s only mode of communication is deception for the purpose of “devouring” others’ lives, he remains a brute in man’s clothing, and like many such brutes, he ends up deceiving himself at times.  

Never is this more the case when Bowman’s heedlessness turns his talisman against him. Though he's entirely guiltless for his heinous actions, he starts leaving his matches at crime-scenes. Thus Bowman's compulsive habits give the police a means to convict him, through the saliva he leaves on the matches.   Even to the last, Bowman continues to use his mouth to attempt deception, but the match—the only time in the story a match gets lighted—shows us the true reward of the brute: the fires of the electric chair, doubtless to be followed by the more satanic fires of the title.          

Monday, November 16, 2015


In Part 2 I drew comparisons between H.G. Wells-- at least as he was when he wrote THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME in 1933-- and that modern species of ultraliberal that I've called "Neopuritans." One thing I neglected to mention, though, is that Wells himself uses the term "Puritan" in an approving manner in order to characterize his ideal world-state:

The Air Dictatorship is also called by some historians the Puritan Tyranny. We may perhaps give a section to it from this point of view.

"Puritan" is a misused word. Originally invented to convey a merely doctrinal meticulousness among those Protestants who "protested" against the Roman version of Catholicism, it came to be associated with a severely self- disciplined and disciplinary life, a life in which the fear of indolence and moral laxity was the dominant force. At its best it embodied an honourable realization: "I shall do nothing worth while and nothing worth while will be done unless I pull myself together and stiffen up my conduct." If the new Air Dictatorship was schooling the world with considerable austerity, it was certainly schooling itself much more so.

I don't know if "Puritan" carried the same negative value for 1933 English-speaking audiences as it generally does for many if not all such audiences today. It may be that Wells thought that the term's associations with austerity-- and with the process of rejecting the corrupt hierarchy of "the Roman version" of the Catholic Church--  would resonate with his readers, to whom he hoped to justify any and all measures in order to defeat all the evils of the world-- capitalism, nationalism, religion. Modern Neopuritans will not usually go quite as far as Wells in desiring to see humanity purged of everything that suggests contrariness, but they too define the world, as Wells did, in terms of finding security and placating fears.

I don't know what if any response Wells may have made to the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. But given that he posits a World State so well-managed that it can, as I mentioned before, change the nature of the human animal so as to "evolve" away from combativeness, I feel sure that Wells never "got" Nietzsche's assertion that the "will to power" pervaded even the most non-combative situations:

From THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA, "On Self-Overcoming" (trans. Thomas Common):

WILL to Truth" do you call it, you wisest ones, that which impels you and makes you ardent?
Will for the thinkableness of all being: thus do I call your will!
All being would you make thinkable: for you doubt with good reason whether it be already thinkable.
But it shall accommodate and bend itself to you! So wills your will. Smooth shall it become and subject to the spirit, as its mirror and reflection.
That is your entire will, you wisest ones, as a Will to Power; and even when you speak of good and evil, and of estimates of value.

Then, toward the end of the section:

Thus did Life once teach me: and thereby, you wisest ones, do I solve you the riddle of your hearts.
I say to you: good and evil which would be everlasting- it does not exist! Of its own accord must it ever overcome itself anew.

With your values and formulae of good and evil, you exercise power, you valuing ones: and that is your secret love, and the sparkling, trembling, and overflowing of your souls.
But a stronger power grows out of your values, and a new overcoming: by it breaks egg and egg-shell.
And he who has to be a creator in good and evil- verily, he has first to be a destroyer, and break values in pieces.
Thus does the greatest evil pertain to the greatest good: that, however, is the creating good.-
Let us speak thereof, you wisest ones, even though it be bad. To be silent is worse; all suppressed truths become poisonous.
And let everything break up which- can break up by our truths! Many a house is still to be built!-


Nietzsche is probably saying a great many things here, but the one most apposite to Wells and his Nanny-World-State is that even though the "wisest ones" like to think that they're serving an abstract morality with their "values and formulae of good and evil," in truth they're just as in love with the exercise of power-- their "secret love"-- as are outright tyrants.

Nowhere does Wells show the would-be tyrant's love of absolutism than in Section 4 of Book Five, when he indulges in a rant about the supposed virtues and vices of the England in which he himself lived:

The contrast between present conditions and conditions seventy years ago is paralleled in history by the contrast between English social life in 1855 and 1925. There also we have a phase of extreme restraint and decorum giving way to one of remarkable freedom. We can trace every phase. Every phase is amply documented. There are not the slightest grounds for supposing that the earlier period was one of intense nervous strain and misery. There was a general absence of vivid excitation, and the sexual life flowed along in an orderly fashion. It did not get into politics or the control of businesses. It appears in plays and novels like a tame animal which is not to be made too much of. It goes out of the room whenever necessary.

One wonders if Wells was aware that one of the "remarkable freedoms" of Victorian England was its proliferation of extremely well-concealed pornography.  However, to hear Wells tell it, this was more or less an invention of 20th-century England:

By comparison England in 1920 was out for everything it could do sexually. It did everything and boasted about it and incited the young. As the gravity of economic and political problems increased and the structural unsoundness of the world became more manifest, sexual preoccupations seem to have afforded a sort of refuge from the mental strain demanded by the struggle. People distracted themselves from the immense demands of the situation by making a great noise about the intensifications and aberrations of the personal life. There was a real propaganda of drugs and homosexuality among the clever young. Literature, always so responsive to its audience, stood on its head and displayed its private parts. It produced a vast amount of solemn pornography, facetious pornography, sadistic incitement, re-sexualized religiosity and verbal gibbering in which the rich effectiveness of obscene words was abundantly exploited. It is all available for the reader to-day who cares to examine it. He will find it neither shocking, disgusting, exciting or interesting. He will find it comically pretentious and pitifully silly.

As noted earlier, I didn't give SHAPES an exhaustive reading, but from what I could see, at no point in the book did Wells identify what authors he deemed to be responsible for literature "displaying its private parts."  The passage above shows an extreme Puritanical outlook unmediated by logic or personal taste-- in tone very like the rants of Frederic Wertham and Gershon Legman. Yet, for all the flaws of those worthies, at least they cited a lot of particular works that frosted their respective butts. No specific accusation, no matter how unjust, can be as egregious as a blanket condemnation like Wells'.

It's been remarked that Wells' world-state is just another version of Plato's Republic, except for the fact that Plato's city was never supposed to encompass the whole world. Plato too believed in the suppression of "inconvenient truths" for the betterment of the greater good, and Nietzsche may have had him in mind when he spoke this particular aphorism:

To be silent is worse; all suppressed truths become poisonous.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I can appreciate the fondness with which many fans regard the original Marv Wolfman-George Perez NEW TEEN TITANS. The book was one of the first DC comics-features that rivaled the sales-figures of the then-dominant Marvel titles. In addition, unlike many other books that sought to emulate the success of Marvel's X-MEN title, TITANS did have its own identity. As far as mastering the soap-opera dramatic potentiality exploited so well in X-MEN, Wolfman and Perez reached roughly the same heights as Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne. The TITANS title never quite came up to the same level as X-MEN in the mythopoeic department, though, and the issues featured here, TITANS #5-6, provide a good example of the feature's failings.

The four issues previous established the members of the 1980s incarnation of the Teen Titans-- old characters Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Beast Boy (renamed Changeling), and new characters Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. The mystical heroine Raven was responsible for drawing together this ad hoc assemblage of heroes, though only with issues 5 and 6 were her reasons for "team-building" revealed.

The explanation is accompanied by an origin for the Raven character: one worthy of all the "Satanic panic" stories of the 1970s. Raven's mother was an Earthwoman, going by the name "Arella" by the time the Titans meet her. Arella in her youth was a discontented rolling stone who rolled her way into a Satanic cult. The cult performed a ritual meant to summon up Satan himself: what they got was a near-omnipotent demon-god from another dimension, Trigon. Trigon assumed a comely human guise in order to seduce Arella and lie with her. Apparently he went through all this trouble just to see the look on her face when he lets her see what he really looks like: a four-eyed monster with red skin and antlers. He deserts her, leaving her pregnant with the half-demon offspring of a demon. Arella can get help from no one on Earth, but for obscure reasons an otherworldly cult of pacifistic magicians goes out of its way to locate Arella and transport her to their own magical domain, Azarath. The mystics of Azarath teach Arella to "expunge all my feelings of hate and greed, and all of the more basic violent emotions."  It's not clear from the dialogue whether or not the priests had hoped to do the same for her daughter Raven, though that would be the most likely reason for them to have taken in Arella. In any case, Raven had too much of the Old Devil in her to live in peace and harmony, so she left Azarath, anticipating that some day Trigon would return to Earth. Unable to enlist help from Earth's more established heroes, she assembles a new Teen Titans, and issues #5-6 comprise the story of how the teen heroes manage to forestall Trigon's invasion.

In many respects this story could have been a routine "demonic invasion" plotline, in addition to providing a melodramatically tortured background for Raven. The story does connect all the necessary dots to build up said heroine's backstory. But it's in Wolfman and Perez's portrait of Trigon that the mythopoeic dots fail to connect, thus rendering the storyline inconsummate.

Wolfman and Perez spare no cliches in their attempt to make Trigon the baddest of the bad. He incinerates a little girl with a gesture; he blows up a planet in a moment of pique (rather than for a military advantage, like Tarkin of STAR WARS), and he's apparently bedded dozens upon dozens of wenches over the years. But all of his offspring, it seems, have either failed to survive the rigors of birth, or they have been assassinated by revolutionary zealots. He wants Raven, his only surviving spawn, to reign beside him over the many worlds he controls-- but Wolfman and Perez don't give this avatar of evil a reason for wanting an heir. In his battles with the Titans, Trigon seems to have insuperable powers, and he doesn't seem prey to age or sickness, so he can't want an heir for the reasons that mortal beings want them.

Here we encounter a situation not unlike the one analyzed here: because the TITANS book was meant to circulate on the newsstand-- where juvenile readers might pick it up-- it would have unlikely, though not impossible, to state certain things outright. Certainly when I first read the story, I assumed that the demon-lord's motivation is to have his daughter reign at his side not out of sentiment-- to which Trigon is clearly immune-- but because he intends to make her his queen in all respects.

I note that nowhere in the story does Trigon allude to a formal marriage between himself and his offspring, but of course, why would a demon care about such formalities? It's possible that this idea wasn't consciously on the minds of Wolfman and Perez. But even so, the problem of characterization-- a mythic characterization, rather than one dependent on mundane dramatics-- is still lacking. And this is without even observing that Wolfman and Perez's idea of Satanic evil-- that of being a big, mean dictator who kills a lot of innocent people-- is banal in the extreme.

In keeping with the Greek-derived name adopted by this motley band of superheroes, there may well be some TITANS stories that deserve to be considered mythic. But the Tedium of Trigon is not one of them.