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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...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


I've stated that I didn't intend to write often about null-myths simply if they were imaginatively undistinguished, but I chose to do so in my general review of CREATURE COMMANDOS here so as to provide some background for the characters. In this essay, I'll look at two particular Robert Kanigher stories that show a little more mythic potential than the rest of the COMMANDOS oeuvre, though that potential is sabotaged by the writer's "underthinking of the underthought."

Kanigher, in addition to his long history with DC Comics, proves atypical among comics-creators in that he long displayed a determination to use female characters prominently, even in the unlikely venue of war-comics. To be sure, Kanigher was a formula writer, and he turned out so much work that it's almost inevitable that a lot of it is "underthought." Still, the two stories I'll examine here show some fascinating motifs, for all that they don't get developed.

In Kanigher's first script for the COMMANDOS feature, he chose to add a female member to the all-male monster-team.This two-part story, appearing in WEIRD WAR #109-110, used the same lengthy title "Roses are Red, But Blood is Redder" (with subtitles for each segment, no less). The first story is for the most part a standard commando-mission, in which Kanigher introduces his more acerbic version of the group-leader Matthew Shrieve, where he continuously calls his men "freaks." However, that mission ends with all of the commandos being swept into a raging river.

At the start of the second part, the three monsters emerge from the river more or less intact, though they briefly imagine that they see themselves as normal-looking in the river-waters. Then they scout around and find Shrieve, whose face has been severely injured by the torrent. The Commandos take their fallen leader to a medical convoy. There they conveniently find a doctor of plastic surgery, Myrna Rhodes, and turn Shrieve over to her. Griffith remarks that "he'll be a perfect partner for us now! We've heard the last of him callin' us stand-ins for monsters!" However, Rhodes has worked a miracle, returning Shrieve to his usual handsome self. Shrieve mocks them, and they leave. Rhodes tries to reach out to the embittered soldiers, but the enraged monsters stampede over a table full of chemicals. The result is that the woman who saved Shrieve's looks loses her own, as she grows a headful of Medusa-snakes. She doesn't have the Gorgon's traditional power to turn people to stone-- perhaps because Kanigher felt this would prove hard to work with-- and in fact, the only thing she can do is shock people with her looks, and (if she gets close enough) let her hair-snakes bite her enemies. Despite this limited formidability, she takes the name of "Doctor Medusa" and more or less forces her way onto the team. From then on she serves as Kanigher's vehicle for soulful femininity.

Medusa's addition to the stories doesn't really make them much better, but "Doorway to Hell" is a weird combination of banal war-action and archaic mythology. It starts by referencing the Graeco-Roman myth of Persephone, in which the hell-lord Pluto abducts the mortal maiden to force her into marriage. Then, in contrast to the classics, Kanigher invents a daughter from this union. Inferna is a fire-goddess, playing not to Greek ideas about the afterlife but Christian associations of hell and fire. Inferna makes many fruitless attempts to find mortal bridegrooms, but since she's made of fire, they all end badly.

The Commandos never interact with Inferna until the final three pages of the story, most of which is spent with them seeking out a weapons-cache in Italy. Then Inferna shows up, sans fanfare, and grabs hold of handsome Shrieve, intending to take him down with her into Hades.

For some reason, Shrieve doesn't burn up when Inferna picks him up, though it's implied that eventually he would. However, Doctor Medusa-- who apparently knows all about this made-up goddess-- talks Inferna out of her plans with some feminine sympathizing. Inferna goes away, bemoaning her solitary fate, much as Medusa does. Had this story been longer or better organized, it might've touched on the role of beauty in the female of the species. But in all likelihood, Kanigher was just trying to bang out another quick tale, using some of his favorite tropes.


Despite my love for the classic monsters of literature and film, I must admit I've been a very dilatory votary in terms of making posts along a Halloween theme. But I happened to pick up a TPB that collected the DC war/horror hybrid THE CREATURE COMMANDOS, and to comment on that, I need to devote a little time to "the Horrific Trio" (a term I've coined for three particular monsters, in loose imitation of the "Terrific Trio" cognomen from the 1966 BATMAN series).

There are, as I've pointed out in serial essays like RALLY ROUND THE ROGUES' GALLERY, many permutations of the "monster rally" concept. However, for whatever reason, one particular permutation has become arguably the most popular one in the United States: an ensemble-act consisting of a Dracula-like vampire, a werewolf, and a Frankenstein-like monster. Universal Studios unquestionably began this meme with a trio of forties "monster rallies:" HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN,  HOUSE OF DRACULA, and-- perhaps most widely seen-- ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.  There have been numerous works in all media that only teamed up two of the three, or that added a mummy here and a black-lagoon creature there. But no monster-meme has been more durable than that of the "Horrific Trio," as seen by works as far apart as 1980s's DRAK PACK and 2000's MONSTER MASH.

In the first CREATURE COMMANDOS story, writer J.M. DeMatteis puts forth his premise. During America's involvement in World War Two, American scientists create a commando unit able to strike terror in Nazi hearts by patterning three elite commandos on "the subconscious archetypes-- the symbols of fright and horror that all men seem to share, regardless of social and cultural conditioning." I believe DeMatteis oversimplifies Jung by a country mile, for the Americans choose "symbols" that seem more patterned on Universal monsters than on Jungian archetypes. What the Americans produce are three superhumans that have more in common with Deathlok than with Captain America, and like Deathlok, the Commandos equivocate between loyally fighting for their country and perpetually cursing the government that made them into inhuman monsters. DeMatteis wrote five stories, starting off in WEIRD WAR TALES #93, and Mike Barr wrote one. Then veteran scribe Robert Kanigher took over, writing the final eleven stories, which ended the series in issue #121, except for a one-page farewell when the title WEIRD WAR itself ended with issue #124. 

No matter who wrote the original three Commandos, they were always very crude renditions of the mythologies of the "Horrific Trio." Nor for the most part did the writers manage to give any of the sinister-looking soldiers any viable characterization. Two of the soldiers-- Vincent Velcro and Warren Griffith-- reluctantly submitted to genetic tinkering that turned them into a vampire and a werewolf, respectively. The third member-- not counting their human commander, Matthew Shrieve-- worked a little better, in that he was blown apart by an explosive, which prompted American scientists to experiment by giving him a super-strong "patchwork body." I found it risible when the comic showed me a fanged, widow's-peak-wearing vampire and a wolf-man running around in green army fatigues. However, the green-fleshed "Lucky" Taylor had a certain Hulk-like appeal, given that he was a loyal soldier who found himself into a patched-up monster who couldn't even speak coherently. In place of real characterization, the heroes merely indulged in Marvel-style whinging, and their human leader Shrieve was no better. He was pretty vanilla under deMatteis and Barr, while Kanigher's "solution" was simply to turn Shrieve into a jerk who continually disparaged his own troops as "freaks." Kanigher had a lot more generosity toward his original creation for the commando-team, Doctor Medusa, more on whom in the next essay. For good measure, the venerable DC "war weirdie" G.I. Robot (whose basic concept appeared back in 1962) pulled a couple of guest shots in the Commandos feature, before he too lost his berth with the end of WEIRD WAR.

Though I consider all of the Commandos' adventures to be null-myths due to their lack of imagination, it's interesting to speculate as to why the creative talents behind it had so little understanding of the Horrific Trio's appeal. DeMatteis gives his readers pretty much what one would expect of the Universal critters: Griffith the wolf man is a savage berserker, Velcro (hate that name!) is also bloodthirsty but has a more worldly, ironic manner of speaking, and Taylor the patchwork man is mute and sensitive despite being the "heavy lifter" of the group. Yet, while the 1940s "monster mashes" are much less mythically resonant than the individual Universals featuring Dracula, the Monster and the Wolf Man, there's some modest attention to how each of them develops as a symbolic creation. DeMatteis, though, signals an indifference to expanding on the symbolism of the three Commandos. Despite using Marvel-style dialogue, the co-creator (with artists Broderick and Celardo) of the feature apparently patterned his plotting after that of most DC war features, in which characters tend to remain static. 

Somehow, the combination of savage werewolf, urbane yet manipulative vampire, and brutal yet sensitive hulk works in many combinations, even when they don't work together, or even they're played for comedy. But THE CREATURE COMMANDOS never catches any of that combinatory fire.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


Once more I return to the endlessly fascinating subject of the process of domain-transgression, of moving from the domain of the subcombative to the combative, from the isophenomenal to the metaphenomenal, from the functional to the super-functional, and so on. In FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN, BURNING BRIGHT, I used the term "amplitude," or more specifically "peak amplitude," to designate the energy a creator needs to bring to a work to move from one level to another:

Wheelwright is not saying that there is an archetype of "Eagle-ness" that sends its *eidolos* down to the huddled masses that they might worship the Glory of the Eagle. The "characteristic amplitude" is not bestowed upon the "eminent instances" by something outside history, and yet, the eminence of the eagle is not *simply* the humdrum concatenation of all the particular times that various human cultures decided that eagles looked cool, as a materialistic blockhead like Roland Barthes would insist. Wheelwright compares his notion of "archetypal content" and "amplitude" to Goethe's concepts of beauty, though personally I think Kant's concept of the beautiful and the sublime might make a better comparison.
I enlarged upon this idea with respect to functionality in THE AMPLITUDE ATTITUDE PART 3:

"Peak amplitude," then, represents the artist's ability to go beyond the mean values of both modes, and to "storm" into the more rarified domains of the sublime. Of course the artist will always have some need of the mean values, what I've also called "the purely functional." But the term amplitude may serve better to bridge abstract concepts like "functional" and "super-functional," or any other such concepts I continue to explore here.
One "abstract concept" to which I've not yet applied the "amplitude" concept is the knotty problem of assigning serial works to a given domain-- that of the combative mode, or of the metaphenomenal-- when all stories in the series don't share the same characteristics. I first addressed this in 2012's  CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER-IDIOM LIST, putting forth the idea of a "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.  Thus, if one wished to determine the dominant mythos of the Briefer work, one would count up the total number of stories and determine which mythos-type was statistically dominant.  Only an unqualified 50/50 split between mythoi would make such a determination useless, but the paucity of these exceptions proves the rule: most creators start with a given mythos, make only token shifts to other mythoi, usually proving "loyal" to a particular emotional *dynamis.*

Yet I decided that this was not quite enough. Therefore I articulated the idea of "active shares and passive shares" in an essay of the same name, seeking to explore why it should seem to me that, say, a gunfighter who fought just one metaphenomenal threat was an example of a passive share, while another gunfighter who fought a greater number of metaphenomenal threats-- though not even close to a "51 percent majority"-- comprised an "active share."

Still, even this was an imperfect solution, given that in the real world of high finance, active minority shares are still based on their numerical superiority over passive minority shares. If I were to state that RAWHIDE KID could be metaphenomenal based on 7% of his adventures, then why would I not state that the teleseries LOST IN SPACE was in the combative mode, since 23% of that show's adventures qualified as combative, as I put forth in PASSIVELY AGGRESSIVE:

Since 19 episodes out of the total of 83 were combative, this means that 23% of the show's episodes featured megadynamic forces in contention. In my analysis of Marvel's RAWHIDE KID stories from 1960 to 1973, I found that only about seven percent of that character's stories were metaphenomenal, but I still judged that the *WAY* they were employed gave Rawhide a "minority active interest" in that phenomenality. However, once one is below the 50th percentile, the quantity does not matter with respect to judging either phenomenal or combative elements. I judged that the Rawhide Kid saga showed a repeated intent to associate the hero with metaphenomenal elements, and that these became a vital part of his mythos. John Robinson and the Robot sometimes accomplish superhero-like feats-- Robinson sword-demifighting his way through an army of androids in "Space Destructors," or the Robot defeating a universe-conquering "robotoid" in "The War of the Robots"-- but these seem to be anomalies in the "mythos" of this series.

However, there was a better way to speak of this distinction than the perhaps confusing references to a given serial work's "mythos." Thus I return to the distinction Northrop Frye made in his essay "Archetypes of Literature:"

We may call the rhythm of literature the narrative and the pattern, the simultaneous mental grasp of the verbal structure, the meaning or significance. We hear or listen to a narrative, but when we grasp a writer's total pattern we 'see' what he means.

Since both the original run of THE RAWHIDE KID and the original broadcast of LOST IN SPACE are completed serials, it's possible to look back at them and gain a "mental grasp of the verbal structure, the meaning or significance." Neither serial satisfies the "51 percent rule," which might be best compared to one of Frye's "narrative values." But RAWHIDE KID satisfies the significant value of the metaphenomenal, giving it an "active minority share." By contrast, LOST IN SPACE  does not satisify the significant value of the combative mode, for the reasons stated above, and so it proves a "minority passive share."

This linking of two disparate critical concepts, then, provides a more systematic rationale for the verdict announced at the end of KNIGHTS OF COMBAT AND CENTRICITY PT. 2:

...it's often occurred to me that the Spirit himself might not be a combative hero, were I going purely by the 51 percent rule. Yet over the years I've refined this theory to take in the possibility that a series, such as that of the Spirit, may participate in the combative mode even if the majority of the character's individual adventures are not combat-oriented. In my final post on the LOST IN SPACE series, I mentioned that the series, despite various spectacle-oriented episodes, had a "dominant ethos" that was "directed away from combative resolutions." This is pretty much the same as saying that the dominant "significant value" of a series can overrule any disparate elements in the series. I have not yet applied this principle to stand-alone works like IVANHOE, but I have already implied that the subcombative significant value of TROILUS overrules the effect of any battle-scenes in the play. Thus IVANHOE would seem to be an exception of a combative work that does not have the traditional climactic fight-scene, even though it's still thematically important that the hero be willing to undertake such a conflict. These formulations may also call for a modification of my positions on the narrative-significant schism as it related to the combative mode.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


Mike Baron's BADGER series has great mythic potential. The base concept ties into the national trauma of Vietnam, in that ex-soldier Norbert Sykes becomes a superhero after manifesting a multiple personality disorder. Though Norbert has three other personalities other than that of the costumed hero The Badger, none of them appear in "Snake Bile Cognac." The persona of the Badger-- who has an uncanny rapport with animals, and often claims to talk to them-- is not much more high-functioning than the others, however, as shown by this done-in-one story.

In his BADGER stories Baron tends to toss lots of pop-culture stuff into the mix, as I discussed here. However, "Cognac" confines itself to two main subjects: Badger's animal mystique and his mastery of martial arts, and Baron plays them off one another with great skill.

The adventure begins in typical wigged-out fashion. Norbert Sykes is at his home in Wisconsin, watching a television show about exotic cookery. Norbert's mild interest converts to horror when he witnesses chef Herbert Ng kill a snake on live-TV in order to extract its poisonous bile and use it in his recipe for "snake bile cognac." Infuriated, Norbert dons his Badger costume and journeys all the way from Barneveld to San Francisco to avenge the snake's murder.

After getting into a fight with a couple of Herbert's waiters, Badger challenges Herbert to a fight. Despite the fact that the Vietnamese chef is said to be a master of "phoenix eye fist," Herbert refuses to fight and gives Badger permission to hit him. Badger can't do it, so Herbert decides he wants to get to know this tortured avenger better. The two of them go on a hike in the country, with Norbert singing the theme song to "Rawhide." They meet a bear and Norbert shows off his animal-whispering skills.

Later, Herbert invites Norbert to go rock-climbing with him, and asks, while they're several miles up a mountain, if Norbert still holds rage against him. Norbert says yes, so Herbert says that they will return to the city and fight. If Badger wins, Herbert will cease making snake bile cognac; if he loses, he must have a meal including said cognac.  Norbert agrees, and moments later, saves Herbert from falling off the cliff.

The two of them return to the city and battle for four pages. Herbert wins, and Norbert/Badger imbibes the snake bile, presumably with its poisonous qualities nullified. However, the bile causes the crazy man to have visions of two of his childhood movie-idols, Warren Oates and John Wayne. Both of these perhaps-imaginary spirits tell Badger to stop obsessing about the snake. Badger gets testy and John Wayne punches Badger out amid various quotes from "McClintock."

When Norbert awakens, he's got over the snake obsession, and makes nice with Herbert before going back home. In a final coda, Herbert reveals to one of his nephew-waiters that he Herbert will no longer make the snake bile cognac. When the nephew protests that Herbert won the fight, the chef replies that Badger was the real winner for having used his "power of chi" to save Herbert's life on the cliff-- apparently without even being fully aware of using said chi.

Herbert Ng never appears again to my knowledge. But although his combination of kung fu and cookery probably would not appeal to ultraliberals, Baron gives the character a good deal more cultural gravitas than the author generally does to one-shot characters.


Mike Baron's long-running feature, THE BADGER, always showed a high level of inventiveness, for all that most critics of the 80s and 90s tended to ignore it. Possibly Baron's conservative politics played into that indifference, though it's more likely that most critics didn't like the author's unapologetic paeans to popular culture.

To be sure, BADGER's inventiveness is sometimes unfocused. For instance, the two-part adventure in BADGER #60-61 is a simultaneous salute to exotic kung-fu movies, the "car comics" of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, and the Three Stooges. In fact, the Three Stooges are transformed into the Chisums, kung-fu masters in cowboy threads, who have martial arts specialties related to the venerable kid's game "scissors paper stone." The best line in the two-parter comes from "Curly," when he announced their common mission to purchase cattle sperm: "We're the Chisums; we're here to buy jism."

The Badger's battle with these malcontents leads him to a plot to sacrifice a great steer to a demon named Motorhead, patron of monster trucks. So the hero's wizard-buddy conjures up a rival demon, Ratfinque (that's the "Big Daddy" homage), who is the patron of hot cars. I can't say that Baron's admixtures of pop-culture icons works well enough to attain a high mythicity, but it's worth celebrating just for associating the comic violence of the Stooges with the extravagant mayhem of martial arts films.

I'll note in passing that although BADGER may've enjoyed its longevity thanks to its adventure-elements, but fundamentally, I think it's dominantly a comedy, not unlike Rumiko Takahashi's RANMA 1/2, whose combination of adventure and comedy elements I discussed here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Hawkman, one of DC's most iconic but never very popular characters, didn't get an immediate reboot after the 1986 Crisis. For a couple of years, a character resembling the Silver Age "Katar Hol" hung around in the Justice League. But when DC green-lighted Timothy Truman's HAWKWORLD, that character had to be explained away by the usual retconning.

The three-issue "prestige format" HAWKWORLD recasts the Silver Age origin from 1962 into the "grim and gritty" mood of the 1980s. Nevertheless, Timothy Truman, both writer and penciller on the project, naturally does not pursue Gardner Fox's notion that Thanagar, homeworld to the characters who will become Hawkman and Hawkgirl, is a pre-lapsarian world without crime or evil. (The Manhawks, who brought about the rise of crime on the planet in Fox's tale, make a minor appearance in Truman's project.) Instead, Thanagar is a space-opera version of a colonial empire. Admittedly, there's a historical backstory in which Thanagar itself suffered an invasion by another extraterrestrial power, which led the Thanagarians to become a bellicose, all-conquering space-power. Truman doesn't devote a lot of space to the process by which Thanagarian cops, called "Wingmen," began using winged outfits to fight crime, but the re-visioning of Thanagar as a warrior culture gives greater logic to the new Hawkman's tendency to utilize a variety of weapons.

This Katar Hol is first seen as a low-ranking Wingman, under the command of a corrupt superior named Byth (who, in the Silver Age, is the villain that the Hawk-heroes encounter in their first appearance). Katar has chosen the life of the policeman out of an idealistic outlook uncommon in his society. However, he soon finds out how his people have degraded all of the alien peoples they've conquered-- many of whom dwell in the "Downside," the literal "underworld" of the cities, while the Thanagarians dwell in comfort in the high towers of the city.

Katar's low rank in the police force doesn't mirror his social status. His father Paran, a famed inventor, belongs to the aristocracy. At one party, wherein non-human beings are relegated to the servant class, he meets a beautiful woman named Shayera, and the two of them hit it off somewhat. However, in time he learns that she's just a pampered child of privilege, making one wonder how she's going to progress to become Katar's crimefighting partner.

Katar's attempt to walk the straight and narrow is doomed to failure. First, Shayera is killed by a bomb set by alien terrorists. Katar goes after the killers, only to find that one of their allies is his own father Paran, seeking to rectify the injustices of his people.

Katar's superior Byth uses the death of Paran to implicate Katar in an arms-smuggling ring, and to condemn Katar to exile on a barren isle. Over the years Katar becomes obsessed with escaping with some sort of artificial wings. Then he finds one of the isle's other inhabitants making just such a pair of wings, and, reverting to Thanagarian type, Katar kills him.

To the hero's shock, he learns-- from R'd Nar, the brother of the man Katar slew-- that the wings were always meant for Katar. Further, R'd Nar becomes Katar's Yoda, teaching the future hero to become more centered. However, Katar never uses the wings to escape the island, for Thanagarian authorities decide to release Katar after his ten-year confinement. Once Katar's back in civilization, he promptly deserts his old life and joins the "Downside," where he takes up his father's cause of helping the downtrodden. He also meets a female "wingman," and eventually learns that not only is her name also Shayera, but that she is the adopted daughter of the original Shayera's father. One might almost call her "Shayera 2.0," given that the original is corrupt and so must be replaced by a character more like the Shayera of the Silver Age.

Katar and Shayera bond over investigating the criminal activities of Byth, who, despite being part of the power structure, has decided to make money on the side by running guns.

The original Byth of the Silver Age was a shapechanger, and Truman works in that aspect as well, making the corrupt cop a user of a shape-changing drug. Katar and Shayera expose his machinations, but Byth escapes the planet and heads for a certain obscure planet, way outside the Thanagarian empire. At this point HAWKWORLD concludes, in order to give the future Hawkman and Hawkgirl a motive for moving their operations to Earth.

The series, with which Truman had limited involvement, lasted only 33 issues and was thus not a success. However, even though Truman doesn't develop the full potential of his Thanagar as well as he might-- for instance, he touches on avian evolution but does not make this relevant to his entire story-- the original HAWKWORLD is certainly one of the more substantial reboots of the "grim and gritty" era.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


I've chosen to designate this two-part story by the title of the tale's first part, the other being the less evocative "The Kryptonian Killer." It's a story that probably even a lot of Silver Age enthusiasts barely remember, but it rises to a level of strong mythicity by describing an "ethic of evil" not unlike the one seen in the 1947 JUSTICE SOCIETY adventure "The Injustice Society of the World." Whereas the evildoers in the JSA story were cobbled together from other DC Comics features, "Outcasts" presents the reader with a world full of criminals, the Sisterhood of Evil (no relation to the DOOM PATROL's Brotherhood of Evil).

From this setup, one might expect something along one of the many Amazonian societies seen in popular culture. But the Sisterhood of Evil is the only one I've come across in which the female society is not formed with motives of resentment against the male gender. Oddly, this peculiarity may have come about because the story's author, Leo Dorfman, was following a narrative pattern established by the introduction of one of DC's most famous co-ed hero-groups, the Legion of Super-Heroes.

As all well-informed comics-fans know, the Legion first appeared in the SUPERBOY feature, one of the many "Superman Family" franchises under the editorial aegis of Mort Weisinger. The 1958 story, written by Otto Binder, focuses on three costumed figures, all of whom belong to a club of teen heroes in Earth's 30th century, who travel back to Superboy's time to invite him to join their organization. The story seems to have been a toss-off rather than an attempt to create a new franchise, but fans of the time wrote DC, demanding more Legion-adventures.

Writers under Weisinger's aegis were encouraged to recycle story-motifs frequently, partly in response to the editor's belief that the youthful comics-readership shifted every five years, as the kids got too old for funny-books. Thus it should be no great surprise that two years later, a Supergirl story, written by Jerry Siegel, reproduced the essence of the Binder story, only with the "Maid of Steel" in the role of club-applicant. One year later, Siegel wrote another Supergirl-Legion story, but instead of the heroine meeting the same three heroes she had before, she met three super-powered heroines like herself. (Technically, she'd met Saturn Girl before, but this was the first appearance for new Legion-members Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl.) The story, titled "Supergirl's Three Super-Girlfriends," starts off implying that the future-teens are going to become Supergirl's new BFFs, though this idea gets quickly dropped as the heroine meets a new potential boyfriend, Brainiac 5.

I suggest that Leo Dorfman, given that he was as obliged as any other writer to recycle established motifs, was at least aware of the Legion stories. The opening of "Outcasts" starts out much like "Super-Girlfriends." Three costumed women-- each demonstrating a super-power, and each with a Legion-like code-name-- seek out Supergirl. But instead of representing a "foreign legion" of the future, the three super-women claim to come from the planet Feminax, "peopled only by girls, each of whom has one super-power." Supergirl never troubles to ask how this state of affairs came about, possibly because she's flattered to be invited to the planet's "first Supergirl festival."

However, the only thing the Feminaxians want to celebrate is Supergirl's capture. They resemble the Legion only in that the "thousands" of inhabitants have all come from disparate planets throughout the cosmos. However, they're all villains who have become "outcasts" because of their crimes. None of them have super-powers, and the three ladies who invited Supergirl-- whose real names are Ran-Kor, Tempra, and Lattora-- merely used trickery to fake their supposed abilities.. Ravenne, the perpetually veiled queen of Feminax, invited all the female super-crooks to her world to join a society "pledged to spread crime and wrong-doing throughout the universe." Ravenne also has recourse to technology able to distort the heroine's Kryptonian powers, so that she cannot escape Feminax or fight its criminal inhabitants.

The Sisterhood of Evil doesn't just want to humiliate Supergirl, though; they want to use her in their campaign to spread evil. Ran-Kor-- the only Feminaxian whose name suggests her malign nature-- gives Supergirl a story about how Ran-Kor wants to "quit the Sisterhood," and to that end will help the heroine escape. Supergirl just happens to be imprisoned in a building holding three comatorse super-heroines, whom Supergirl still may be able to revive.

It's a trick, of course. And as if to testify to the superior evil of Earth-women, the supposed super-heroines are actually three famous villainesses from Earth-history, whom Ravenne has plucked from their proper time-frames in order to serve the society of Feminax: Mata Hari, Lady Macbeth, and Lucretia Borgia. (I surmise Dorfman was less concerned with history here than the reader's ease of recognition.)

However, Ravenne, having used Supergirl to resurrect three female fiends, does so only with the aim of causing the trio to "infect" the Maid of Steel with their evil.

Supergirl is entirely dominated by Ravenne's hypnotic control, to the extent that she makes a Kryptonite cocktail with the skills of Lucretia Borgia. Ravenne's main target is Superman himself, but first the arch-villain has the heroine test the potion on two other subjects: Comet the Super-Horse and a villain from the Phantom Zone, name of Py-Ron. Both subjects appear to die horribly. and Ravenne gives the go-ahead for Supergirl to administer the poison to her cousin, and then, to herself.

Ravenne and her fellow conspirators celebrate the demise of the superheroes, though the three historical villains don't get to share the joy, since Ravenne hurls them back to their own eras, complete with mind-wipes. However, the celebration is premature. Dorfman's ace in the hole, his own creation Comet, wasn't slain by the poison, and he uses his telepathic powers to suss out what was going on. He alters the effects of the poison, so that Superman, Supergirl and Py-Ron all survive. Then Feminax pays the ultimate price for almost killing a fellow villain, While the heroes debate their next action, the villain with a fiery name-- who now possesses a Kryptonian's super-powers-- flies over the planet and creates a deluge that wipes out the thousands of nasty ladies. The story ends with a reaffirmation of goodness, as Supergirl says, "Let wrong-doers remember that evil is repaid by evil."

For a story that excoriates criminality, though, "Outcasts" lets evil come awfully close to winning. Maybe that's the main reason that the female villains are not seen as having turned evil due to male mistreatment, because that might have inculcated reader-sympathy. Rather, the Feminaxians live their lives by the motto of Milton's Satan-- "Evil, be thou my good"-- which justifies Dorfman's mass execution of the whole group (one lady-crook's deed is explicitly compared by Supergirl to the assassination of President Kennedy).

There are some myth-motifs that get lost in the wash. Toward the end, Ravenne reveals that she's an old hag beneath her veil, but Dorfman didn't give readers any reason to think she was some stunning young beauty.

More interesting is that as soon as the first trio of evil women fades from importance in the story, another threesome takes its place. I've stated that Dorfman probably started out with three super-girls because of earlier stories in the same vein. But there's no particular reason that there have to be three female villains from the past, and indeed, both Mata Hari and Lady Macbeth are not as fundamental to the story as is Lucretia Borgia.

Neopaganism asserts the existence of a "Triple Goddess" with three phases of "Maiden, Mother, and Crone." Dorfman isn't specifically invoking this trope, but he does have a "Maid of Steel" and a "Crone," at least. No one in the story is the mother to anyone else, though Mata Hari's reputation, unlike that of Supergirl, suggests some level of worldly experience. This, like the secret of Ravenne, would seem to be a motif that Dorfman tossed in without development.

Finally, it's interesting that Dorfman brought in Comet as Supergirl's savior. He is, as I noted here, a quasi-sexual figure for Supergirl even before she finds out that he's a sentient centaur. By herself Supergirl is not able to resist the power of Feminine Evil, but with the help of what Jung would call her *animus* figure, she enjoys the final victory. It is also amusing that, when she believes herself dying at Superman's side, Dorfman tosses in an amusing line that seems calculated to bring back memories of the death-scene in ROMEO AND JULIET:

"I'll lie down by Superman's side. Some day they'll find us here-- The world will know how we died together!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


This week's mythcomic will be a Silver Age Supergirl story in which the heroine's ass gets saved by supporting character Comet the Super-Horse. So I decided that before printing that one, I would touch on this quirky, unique 1960s character.

During the period when Mort Weisinger edited the "Superman Family" titles, no writer had any exclusive hold on the characters they created for DC Comics. Still, Leo Dorfman wrote all or most of the stories in which "Super-Horse" is involved with the main action, rather than being a supporting figure. From the beginning, Dorfman seems to have had a rough arc regarding where he wanted the Super-Horse stories to go, even if there was not really a proper conclusion to Comet's story. Dorfman probably never planned an end as such-- I feel sure Comet was mainly a story-device to keep food on the table, and when tastes moved away from the Weisinger-type story in the 1970s, the ultra-equine effectively went into comic-book limbo.

The opening image of the first Super-Horse story shows Supergirl happily astride her Super-Horse as they flee kryptonite rays from alien ships. In the story proper, this occurs only in one of the heroine's dreams, though the real event takes place one issue later.

First, however, Linda "Supergirl" Danvers suddenly gets horse-crazy while watching a western movie. Notice that though she's in high school at this time, she's supposedly more interested in the horse than in the cowboy.

Anna Freud, writing in 1926, carried on Big Sigmund's tradition by claiming that young girls liked horses due to "penis envy." There's no telling what Freudianisms were known to Leo Dorfman, but at the least I suspect he knew that juvenile books about horses-- BLACK BEAUTY, NATIONAL VELVET-- had proved enormously popular with young girls. He seems to have concluded that there was something erotic at the base of it, to judge from Linda's bedtime thoughts about getting "goose flesh" at the idea of sharing adventures with her own horse.

In the space of the story, Supergirl has three dreams about a super-horse helping her in some way. She names him Comet because he has a comet-like birthmark, though as a story-motif the birthmark won't become important until a few issues later. Then Supergirl encounters an identical horse at a real-life dude ranch, and the first story ends on an enigmatic note.

In the next story, Supergirl finds out that Comet is not just a horse, but a telepath, who proceeds to relate his origin via a mental voice. His lineage goes back to ancient Greece, when he was a centaur named Biron. (This seems to be a reference to one of the most famous centaurs in Greek mythology, Chiron.)

It's later revealed that Maldor, the sorcerer who tried to poison Circe, caused Biron to drink the wrong potion. Circe tries to make up for the blunder by using a magic potion that turns Biron the ordinary horse into a super-being. But Maldor has another scheme, using his magic to cause the super-horse to become imprisoned on an asteroid in (appropriately) the constellation Sagittarius. Biron languishes on the desolate asteroid for centuries, until 1959, when a rocket from Argo City happens by with its precious cargo.

Thus Biron becomes fascinated with the teenager aboard the rocket, and follows it to Earth. It's not clear why Biron waits a few years to contact the heroine, but he tells Supergirl that he read the minds of the alien scouts that were preparing for invasion. It's not clear why that would prompt Biron to invade Supergirl's dreams and construct an exact replica of what was going to happen when she attacked the aliens and the newly christened Comet came to her rescue. In this same issue, the aliens invade for real and things play out in reality just as they did in the dream, suggesting that Dorfman's Super-Horse had a little clairvoyance going for him, when it was convenient for the writer.

The rest of the Dorfman stories featuring the relationship of the heroine and her horse focus on the "romance with a secret identity" that had been DC's bread-and-butter since the debut of Superman. A couple of times Comet is temporarily transformed into a human being, in keeping with the original boon he wanted from Circe, and in one story, the transformation happens in werewolf-fashion, whenever a comet passes in the heavens. Because of this development, I hazard that Dorfman had always planned to have his super-equine transform in this fashion, but had to work his way up to that point. Otherwise, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for the writer to presage the transformation with the comet-birthmark.

Whenever Comet does get the chance to become human, however temporarily, he immediately finds some reason to get into a lip-lock with Supergirl and/or Linda. I don't find this as transgressive as many comics-fans do, because he really isn't a horse, but a liminal being between human and horse.

However, I'll admit it's more than a little peculiar when Supergirl becomes jealous of Comet's attentions to another female. Granted, by this time she knows that he's not a real horse, but a transformed centaur. Yet in all the stories post-dating the big revelation, she doesn't really think of Comet as "a guy." So maybe what she's really jealous about is that another woman is getting the jollies that Supergirl usually gets.

As to the origin of those jollies, deponent saith not, except to observe that at no point in his career do you see cousin Superman fantasizing about riding a horse, regardless of gender.

ADDENDUM: I noted above that at fifteen, Linda/Supergirl seems a little old to form a crush on a horse rather than on a boy. However, I should also note that no one would have thought that the girl-readers of the feature would be that old, and THEY might indeed be of an age to have horse-crushes-- not that it's automatic with every young XX, but middle-school seems to be a little more likely for the crush to form.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


The 1989-92 run of THE SHADOW STRIKES only lasted 31 issues, and so was probably not judged a great success at the time. The title doesn't seem to have many fans today, and there may not be much support for my championing of the (mostly) stand-alone story of issue #24, "Margo's Story."  Back in the day the tale created a slight rumpus in its day for positing that Margo Lane-- a support-character from the pulp-series who assumed iconic status in the radio show-- was actually not a purely Caucasian character, like most of the series' regulars, but a half-black who happened to favor her white father.

I can't assess the racial politics of either the SHADOW pulp or the radio series. A 1934 Walter Gibson story introduces Jericho Druke, an Afro-American agent of the mysterious hero,. so the pulp did have at least one positive image of a person of color. Still, neither the pulp nor the radio show were set up to critique society in any fashion.

Gerald Jones not infrequently addressed topics of race in his comics-work, not always with complete success. However, "Margo's Story" is one of his better attempts. I said that "Story" is largely stand-alone, by which I mean that it takes place in the context of a larger ongoing storyline, though one need not read the encompassing issues to understand the tale. 

At the start of the narrative, Harry Vincent-- one of the pulp-serial's most-used viewpoint characters-- has fallen out of favor with his shadowy boss. The hero's perpetual enemy Shiwan Khan kidnapped Margo Lane in the previous issue, and Vincent denounced his "chief" for letting it happen. The Shadow's response is to exile Vincent from his network, so that none of Vincent's old comrades will speak with him. Yet at the story's outset, Vincent feels somewhat less than liberated. He remembers how the hero saved Vincent from taking his own life, and he describes the life of obedient service he pursued to his master's uncompromising crusade for justice. But when he speaks of breaking free of the Shadow, he imagines that "I'm dead again." 

Unable to do anything about the kidnapping of Margo-- with whom Vincent is half-in-love-- he chooses to investigate who Margo was before she became an aide to the Shadow, as if finding her identity will shore up his own. Ultimately Vincent's quest leads to Harlem, and a new version of Jericho Druke.

Druke, being a Shadow agent, also refuses to speak to Vincent, but by chance the detective gets new information from one of Druke's clients.

Vincent, in the tradition of most hard-boiled detectives, doesn't so much trace down clues as blunder from one milieu to another-- in this case, journeying from Harlem to New Orleans. Clearly Jones chose these two milieus to be complementary images of the Black Experience in the United States, and Jones tries his best to capture that elusive experience in his own terms:

.. he led me-- slowly-- at the pace of the city. Away from the breezes of the river and the fanned air pouring out of the tourist joints, where the air was like hot jello you had to swim through. I thought I knew what "muggy" meant fro, New York, just like I thought I knew what a Negro neighborhood was like from Harlem.
Does white writer Jones capture "the Black Experience?" Maybe not, but as far as melding the generally apolitical "Shadow" mythos with a more politicized understanding of the American underclass, Jones does a better than average job. I appreciate that he makes Vincent a man of his time. He doesn't become enraged at the revelation of white men's injustice, but it moves him because it's something that simply never impacted on his world before. He's shocked to learn that Margo, his possible inamorata, is actually half-black, and he doesn't immediately think that it doesn't matter, though it does explain for him a lot of mysterious aspects of Margo's life, particularly when he converses with Margo's long-unseen mother.

Further, Jones manages to make the fantasy of the Shadow's organization relevant to the political realities, for Vincent concludes that her experience of racial injustice is precisely the thing that makes her join the ranks of the Shadow. And by the story's end, "dead man Vincent" finds that he can only find his own resurrection by joining the ranks of the faithful once more.


This week's mythcomic deals with the politically incendiary topic of race-bending, possibly the most divisive topic in the comics-subculture.

In art and literature, race-bending refers to any situation in which an audience's expectation of a character's racial makeup-- usually though not invariably associated with the character's phenotype-- is contradicted by a new iteration of said character.

Race-bending falls into two categories; the overt and the covert.

The overt form refers to all depictions within a given narrative, where a character starts out being depicted with one racial appearance but is given a different appearance within a subsequent narrative. One of the most memorable cases of recent years appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wherein the Caucasian comics-character Nick Fury was played by Samuel L. Jackson. Within the MCU iteration, the Nick Fury who co-ordinates the Avengers has never been anything but a black man, and so he has no direct connection with the earlier depiction.

The reverse of the overt form is not seen very often these days. However, the main character of the 1999 book PAY IT FORWARD is a black male, who becomes a white character in the 2000 movie of the same name.

The covert form refers to depictions that stand outside the narrative as such. For instance, in the prose debut of the Oriental villain Fu Manchu, the character is unquestionably Asian. However, though Fu is still supposed to be a Chinese character within all of his film appearances, he's almost always played by Caucasian actors, such as Boris Karloff, Henry Brandon and Christoper Lee.

A similar extrinsic distortion takes place on those occasions when an actor of color plays a character whose racial identity as a Caucasian is historically relevant. In the 1993 MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Denzel Washington plays the traditionally white-Italian character Don Pedro, but there is no attempt to rewrite the character to take account for his sudden negritude. It's more as if Washington is simply playing a Renaissance-era Italian without reference to the actor's actual race, just as one sees in the "white Fu Manchu" films.

In the United States, leftist ideologues approve of race-bending when it serves the perceived interests of an ethnic minority, and to disapprove of it when it serves the perceived interests of an ethnic majority. Thus Jackson playing Nick Fury in 2008's IRON MAN is "good," while Scarlett Johanssen playing the Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in 2017's GHOST IN THE SHELL is "bad." I use the term "perceived interests" because ideologues don't care how good a given actor's performance is. The primary concern of the ideologues, despite all their high-sounding rhetoric about "diversity," comes down to "who gets paid."

This state of affairs is without a doubt a reaction against the early practices of Hollywood casting. Though I reject all political cant about a "cult of whiteness" in the United States, it's quite true that the main reason white actors played Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and even a few Negroes in Hollywood is because the dominantly white film-going audience wanted to see actors of their own ethnic persuasion. Since this system mitigated against non-white actors regardless of the level of talent involved, clearly it was an unethical system. However, the current, one-sided political correctness ideology-- which does not care how well Scarlett Johanssen can play Kusanagi, only that she is not Asian-- is no great improvement.

Though I've discussed the covert form in the previous paragraph, my concern in the forthcoming mythcomic is that of the overt form, wherein a creator decides that he will literally change the established racial identity of a given character.

Monday, October 1, 2018


Before venturing even a short review of Kaori Yuki's ANGEL SANCTUARY, I feel constrained to observe that I am not the audience it was designed for. Like a lot of the manga influenced by the popular manga-artists' group CLAMP, SANCTUARY was meant to be fanservice for teenaged girl readers in Japan. That means that hardly a page goes by in which the reader is not regaled with willowy, somewhat androgynous males-- though at least there's a fantasy-justification for this trope, since most of the characters are supposed to be the angels of Judeo-Christian belief.

In theory the main characters who appear in the early books are two mortal teenagers, Setsuna Mudo and his sister Sara. Their ordinary life going to school in Japan is a sham, however, because Setsuna is deeply in love with Sara. Her reciprocation is a little more ambivalent at the outset-- she yells at him a lot, and tries to set him up with a date (albeit with a girl not as attractive as Sara herself is)-- but in due time, she too acknowledges a deep passion for her sibling. However, at the same time super-powerful angels begin invading Setsuna and Sara's world? Is it heavenly vengeance for their sins?

Well, no, the angels are there to claim their own, for both of the mortal teenagers are reincarnations of angels who were important in the many (and utterly confusing) internecine wars in heaven. Some angels want Setsuna to claim the heritage of his original (female) precursor, Alexiel, and there's another faction that want Sara to do-- well, something or other. I confess that I couldn't follow Yuki's sprawling plots, which by and large seemed to have no real function beyond giving her more reasons to draw willowy males.

I have nothing against feminine fanservice, but I have to say that-- when compared to other manga-artists of her time-- Yuki doesn't have a great design-sense, and a lot of her characters look pretty similar, like the ones in this panel--

--which doesn't contribute to a lot of clarity plot-wise or character-wise. The incest plotline is always kind of "there," but its psychological ramifications are largely set aside in order to pursue the artist's goal of greater sexual fluidity, of males turning into females and vice versa. Okay, that's not my thing, but I'd like to think I could appreciate the sexual dramatics if there was good characterization. There are a few amusing moments here and there, but the heavy drama usually goes nowhere.

Like a lot of Japanese artists, Yuki tosses Judeo-Christian concepts and other mythic tropes into a manga-mixmaster that seems more concerned with quoting exotic names-- "Adam Kadmon," "Yggdrasil," and so on-- that on getting any symbolic value out of the quotations. I did get that ultimately the real villain of the story is God himself, who's a butthead who deserted his creations when they didn't turn out like he wanted. But though this sounds daring on the face of things, Yuki's execution of the "divine rebellion" theme is jejune at best.

The serial's best aspect is that it's got lots of pretty art, which was perhaps the creator's main concern from square one. One just shouldn't expect character-design on the level of the greats, like Oda and Takahashi.