My essay XX MARKING THE SPOT works as something of a preface to this week’s mythcomic. Only in the last week of March, publicly allotted as “Women”s History Month,” did it occur to me devote at least one entry to a mythcomic relevant to this topic. I’ve often covered the mythic incarnations of women in fiction throughout the "1001 myths" project, but very few of the female characters I surveyed were actually created by female authors. To be sure, even had I thought about what month it was earlier, I’m not sure that I could isolated three more female-authored mythcomics. Whether the lack of such creations is the fault of nature or culture is a matter for each individual to decide. But I have found one for this week, and from a rather unlikely source.
Marvel’s licensed STAR WARS comic book began in the same year that the original Lucas film debuted and ended about three years following RETURN OF THE JEDI, the final installment of the original film-trilogy. While the earlier SF-series STAR TREK became well-known for having inculcated a strong and lasting female fandom, STAR WARS has not been quite as well celebrated for its female adherents. On one hand, Lucas’ space-opera concept has been viewed by many as a quintessential form of “boys’ enterainment,” which some critics, notably Ursula LeGuin, have considered irrelevant to female interests. On the other hand, the sheer kinetic and emotive appeal of the original trilogy crossed barriers of both age and gender to become a genuine American myth purely in terms of mainstream popularity. That said, I don't know that any of the various iterations of the franchise in other media enjoyed the same degree of mainstream approval.
Marvel’s STAR WARS title was not in any sense of “fan-favorite” during its nine years of publication. Thanks to the popularity of the film, the comic sold extremely well, so much so that in more than one interview Marvel editor Roy Thomas credited the franchise with having saved the company from economiccatastrophe. For most of the title’s history, one would be accurate to assume that the majority of its stories were at best good formula space-opera, devoted to depicting the main characters of the franchise—Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids—having assorted non-canonical adventures. Along the way, raconteurs created their own characters, whose character-arcs could be much more elastic than the ones licensed from Lucasfilms. In the long sequence I’m examining, which I’ve entitled “The Nagai Invasion,” one particular character, created by writer Jo Duffy, becomes the central mythic persona in a continuity that, in some ways, put the “war” back in STAR WARS.
For most of the comic’s history, Jo Duffy contributed formula stories largely indistinguishable from those of male writers like Archie Goodwin and David Micheline. Not surprisingly, male artists illustrated all of her stories prior to issue #84. With this issue, Cynthia Martin then took over penciling duties for almost every subsequent issue, and arguably she added a grimmer, more restrained aesthetic, rooted in the use of fined-lined artwork and generous use of white space. Presumably, her main influenced were from manga artists: I note the use of the surname of manga-artist “Go Nagai” being used as the name for a new breed of aliens menacing Luke Skywalker’s Rebel Alliance. In addition, the physical model of the Nagai resembles that a body-type often seen in manga, one in which the men are all lean, epicene, and pale-skinned.
I won’t dwell overlong on the main plot of the long sequence, except that the incursion of the Nagai—and their team-up with assorted leftover stormtroopers—forces the STAR WARS characters to go to war once more. During this continuity, Duffy’s original character Dani—a humanoid woman belonging to a red-skinned race called “Zeltrons”—becomes a sort of “walking wounded” that I've never found in any George Lucas narrative.
In the critical subplot of “Invasion,” the Nagai—led by military officer Den Siva—are curious about the battle-abilities of the Zeltrons. Den’s forces capture Dani, and he personally suhjects her to a process designed to analyze her biological nature. It also causes the young woman—typically portrayed as something of a “fun-time girl,” despite being a warrior—to intense pain. The structure of scenario is almost identical to scenarios in which a captive soldier is tortured for information by his captors, though in this case the torture itself supplies the Nagai with the information they want, irrespective of the victim’s suffering. While watching the torment Den informs an aide that the process often kills its subjects.
Dani survives an experience that may he compared to that of rape—the machine penetrates her body with assorted light-beams, though none strike the most obvious area—and in consequence, she becomes highly traumatized. Den, however, becomes fascinated with the Zeltron’s strength of character. When she is liberated from imprisonment by her ongoing boyfriend Kiro, Den personally tracks the two of them down, engages Kiro in a knife-duel, and apparently kills him. A later issue, #102, gives Kiro an ambiguous revival, though he never returns to Dani’s side and thus leaves her doubly traumatized.
However, Duffy and Martin handle the trauma in a manner more in line with Japanese samurai-dramas than with American Lifetime movies. Dani’e experiences cause her to focus upon Den Siva as the incarnation of her nightmares, and he for his part goes to great lengths to track her down and possess her.
However, in a twist one won’t find in the average melodrama, Den becomes so besotted with the Zeltron that he betrays his own people to save her life, and eventually becomes an ally to the Alliance.
Dani, despite her consuming hatred of the Nagai general, eventually becomes reconciled to this particular fortune of war. There is no attempt to mitigate Den’s “mental rape” of his prisoner, though Duffy may have intended to comment on the way real war usually treats its combatants. In the final issue, Den and Dani are last seen in one another’s company, even though the most she can say of him is, “I don’t love him, or even like him-- but at least we understand each other.”
George Lucas’s unique take on American action-serials and space-opera has many virtues that go overlooked by elitist critics, and the Duffy-Martin work on the STAR WARS comic does, to be sure, include many of the aspects that made the original film-trilogy popular, such as light humor and non-stop action. But I would imagine that the type of trauma depicted in Dani's character-arc would have been beyond Lucas's skill-set. Dani's degradation might be said to place her within the sphere of "the abject" as the concept was formulated by Julia Kristaeva. I touched upon said concept in this essay, though probably not in total agreement with Kristaeva. For instance, I would view Den Siva, the source of Dani's degradation, to have also entered a state of abjection simply because he has become infatuated with her, thereby causing him to betray his own people. In my view this is the only common ground that the characters share-- certainly Duffy and Martin never suggest that Dani and Den can lose themselves with the bounties of romantic love-- as well as the only reason Dani could say that the two of them "understand each other."
As a coda, I chose not to research any statements made online by Duffy or Martin before finishing my essay. That done, I was not surprised to learn that from this 2011 interview that the STAR WARS comic was cancelled while Duffy had yet to complete her long-term narrative, and that she was forced to condense her conflict as rapioly as possible in order to give her sequence an effective conclusion. While as a reader I would have liked to have seen her continuity played out to its full effect, I can't say that I am enamored of Duffy's plans to conclude Dani's character-arc by having her sacrifice her life in battle. Perhaps it would have been an impressive sequence. Yet I confess that the ending as it stands-- in which Dani and Den remain together, bound in a non-romantic alliance-- seems far more original, and more evocative of the mythology of wartime alliances.