Featured Post


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...

Friday, May 24, 2019


In the second part of AND THE HALF-TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE, I referenced two particular works-- one by Gardner Fox, the other by Dave Sim-- each of which demonstrated the dominance of one of the four potentialities.

I've already devoted my movie-blog largely to sussing out the way the mythopoeic potentiality manifests in films and television shows, as well as having devoted countless words to the topic here. Thus it's a given that I'll almost certainly never devote that much attention to the other three potentialities work out. Myth is my main subject, because I believe that the "myth-criticism" outlook provides the groundwork for a pluralist criticism.

Still, once I get an idea in my head-- like what it would look like, to rate particular works on their respective potentials for the kinetic, the dramatic, the didactic or the mythopoeic-- I usually erect at least a template for how such a critical project might work.

Now, I'd been planning to address the topic of clansgression again, with respect to its place in my system. I first formulated this term here, as a catch-all for "the literal transgression of incest" and "every incest-like form of transgression." Like any other trope through which creators communicate to audiences, the clansgressive trope can be used very well or very badly. And in the various reviews I've done here on three of my four blogs, I've often called attention to potentialities of the kinetic, the dramatic, and the didactic, though never emphasizing them as much as the mythopoeic.

This essay's "fifty bad dates" are, in short, the 50 best usages of clansgression that I've reviewed so far. After each individual citation, I'll highlight which potentiality I believe to be dominant in that work, but with no further justification, beyond what's in the hotlinked review. Most of the cited reviews refer to works in which clansgression plays a strong role in the narrative, though there may be a few works where the trope is simply used with a noteworthy intensity.

If nothing else, it may be interesting to see what does or doesn't move my occasional viewers to click on.


APOLLO'S SONG-- didactic

BERENICE-- kinetic

BLACK CAT (1934)-- mythopoeic

BLOOD AND LACE-- mythopoeic



CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010)-- dramatic


[DEATH OF IRIS]-- dramatic


DRACULA (1898)-- mythopoeic

DRACULA (1931)-- dramatic


FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1839)-- didactic



FRANKENSTEIN (1931)-- dramatic

GAME KEEPER, THE-- mythopoeic


HANDS OF THE RIPPER-- mythopoeic

HELLSING-- mythopoeic


ILLEARTH WAR-- dramatic



MAYO CHIKI-- dramatic


MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1971)-- dramatic




PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1909)-- dramatic


PSYCHO (1960)-- didactic

PSYCHOPATH, THE-- didactic

SCORPION KING 2, THE-- mythopoeic

SHE (1886)-- mythopoeic


SPECTACLES, THE-- didactic

STRAIT-JACKET-- dramatic



TEACH ME!-- kinetic

TEARS OF THE SEA-- mythopoeic

TERROR, THE-- dramatic


TOWER OF THE SATYR-- mythopoeic



Tuesday, May 21, 2019


In this essay I studied three AIRBOY stories that were not concurrently published, explaining that "because they seemed to complement one another, like images in a triptych-painting." This time I'm looking at two separate issues of the DC series ARION LORD OF ATLANTIS. These stories are part of a long and rambling story-line, even less cohesive than McGregor's "Panther's Rage," and their authorship is complicated. The series was launched as a back-up series in THE WARLORD #55, with Paul Kupperburg as writer and Jan Duursema as artist, while both were also billed as co-creators of the series. Both Kupperberg and Duursema stayed on the series during its back-up tun and through the first three issues of the character's own magazine. Then, for reasons unknown to me, Doug Moench took over scripting duties for several issues, including issue #4. Since the ongoing story-line was not radically disrupted by this development, I theorize that Moench received an extensive briefing on the developing backstories of the main character, but this can only be a theory for now
I've chosen to unite the two theme-linked stories under the rubric "Sorcerer from the Stars," which is not a title of any story but rather a thematically suggestive reference to the hero from one of the WARLORD covers.

Arion's adventures belong to the genre one might call "sorcery-and-swords," since here the star is a heroic sorcerer in a bygone era where a lot of warriors fight with swords. I mentioned "developing backstories" because Kupperberg and Duursema start their hero's career in media res. and the emphasis is not so much on his being a "lord of Atlantis" as the savior of the ancient city. Readers soon learn that this Atlantis, though existing long before the rise of recorded DC-history, is not the first one, and that this second Atlantis, despite its mastery of super-science, depends on the mage Arion to protect it from things like invading tribes and a new Ice Age.

The creators' concept of Atlantis looks good but has little depth, and the same holds true of the hero's support-cast-- a lover named Lady Chian, a couple of obligatory sidekicks, and a mentor, Calculha, who starts out looking like the spectre of a deceased mystic but eventually proves to be kinda-sorta alive, like the wizard Shazam in the original CAPTAIN MARVEL. Arion himself isn't a deep character either, but in two issues, the creators do give him some interesting "mommy issues."

The reader knows nothing about Arion's parentage throughout the WARLORD run, though in issue #58 Kupperberg foreshadows the coming origin-story by having Calculha tell Arion that he possesses "a kinship with the cosmos." WARLORD #59 introduces the hero's main villain, Garn Daanuth, who appears to be an albino. The two mages, having read all the issues of Doctor Strange (Arion even says things like "curse me for a novice!"), undertake their first big fight by sending their astral forms out of their bodies. In issues #60-61, they fly all the way to past-Earth's dead moon shooting magic bolts at each other. Though neither mage has any particular reason to seek out this particular battleground, it just so happens that their magicks awaken a "sunsphere"  from beneath the moon's surface. The glowing ball of sunlight blasts the evil Garn away from it, but when Arion sees it, he can't help wanting to touch it, and its energies enfold him "lovingly"-- which is more or less where the back-up WARLORD series ends.

As ARION #1 opens, the sun-sphere has now expanded into a huge goddess made mostly of flame, though strangely she wears a crescent-moon amulet. Now, Arion is struggling to get away from her:

The goddess is never given a name as such, but since one panel calls her "the Sun Woman," I'll do the same. The Sun Woman addresses Arion as her son and has only one agenda: to pull him back into her smothering essence. It's not clear whether or not this would kill the mortal magician, but the story's captions seem convinced that the real peril is propinquity: "She has chosen him to roam for all time the whole of cosmos at her side."

There's not a lot of explanation at this time for the Sun Woman's claim of parentage, though Arion's mentor Calculha shows up to defend his student, and Sun Woman recognizes him, accusing the old wizard of having stolen her child from her.

Meanwhile, the astral spirit of evil Garn descends back to Earth, inhabits Arion's body, and causes his sidekicks some aggravation-- including stealing a kiss from Chian-- before they manage to force him to go back to his own body. This temporary overlap of Garn and Arion becomes important later.

Anyway, Calculha gets wounded in his battle. This infuriates Arion, who whips a big ol' spell and banishes the Sun Woman. Then he feels strangely guilty of having "killed" the goddess, though he doesn't know why.

After two more Kupperberg issues that don't advance the magician's history, ARION #4, by Moench and Duursema, announces a "special origin issue." At the opening, Garn Daanuth has struck again, and once he imprisons Arion, Garn proceeds to relate the history that the two of them share. It turns out that Garn, Arion and Calculha all existed in different forms 100,000 years ago, at the time of the First Atlantis, and that Garn and Arion were brothers. Further, their father was the good magician Calculha, while their mother was the evil magician Dark Majistra, seen for the first time in #4.

There's no attempt to chart the romantic history of Calculha and Majistra; it's merely presented as the backdrop for the two sons, with Garn-- drawn, like Majistra, as a dusky Egyptian type-- following in his mother's footsteps while Arion hews to his father, even though the Caucasian Arion shows little physical resemblance to his crimson-skinned papa.

In the First Atlantis, the Magicians' Council uses a series of crystals to keep reality running right. However, Moench-- possibly drawing upon accounts that claimed that Atlantis was doomed by evil magicians-- puts the blame for the doom of First Atlantis squarely upon Majistra. With the help of Garn, Majistra tries to cast a mammoth spell with the magic crystals, Calculha and Arion arrive on the scene, and the old wizard is forced to ask his good son to perform the supreme sacrifice: to fling himself into the magic-matrix created by his mother. This results in the deaths of both Arion and Majistra. Garn runs off somewhere to meditate for the next 100,000 years, and Calculha does the same-- but only after funneling the essence of Arion up into the heavens. Here readers learn that Calculha creates his son's "kinship with the cosmos" by fusing this essence with the cosmic Sun Woman, where he can gestate for the next few millenia until Calculha can summon him back to Earth.

I'm passing over the dime-a-dozen resolution of how Arion escapes death at his brother's  hands in issue #4, because the most mythic aspects of this diptych is the way the hero's encounter with a faux-mother in issue #1 provides a mirror-image of his experience of his real mother in issue #4-- even though the latter story takes place first in DC-time. Readers never find out exactly why Majistra left Calculha and her "good son," though the love of power is the most general reason-- but what matters here is the fact that she favors one son and not the other. This is reverse-mirrored by the experience of Garn and Arion as they come near the sun-sphere, for the faux-mother accepts Arion and hurls Garn away. Of course, the Sun Woman's idea of motherly closeness is rather extreme, and comes close to verging on the allegedly incestuous model of Egypt's Isis-and-Horus dyad. To be sure, this isn't completely reflected in the closeness of Majistra and Garn, though Garn's main motive for desiring vengeance on Arion is that of matricide.

Within the scope of ARION's remaining run, Kupperberg and Duursema, once more re-teamed, revealed that Majistra did survive her apparent death in the usual mystic dimension. This story-line, "the Magic Odyssey," comes close to turning my diptych into a triptych, for in this sequence the recrudescent Majistra snares Arion, planning to sacrifice him so that she can return to the living world. However, this story-line proves underwhelming in the extreme, even though the creators reveal that Arion had yet another faux-mother, a good-spirited type named Jheryl. This character could have provided an interesting contrast to both Majistra and the Sun Woman, and it's certainly interesting, in a psychological sense, that the only "good" mother is the one who isn't at all implicated in Arion's two births. But the character of Jheryl, like the entire story, is flat and uninspired, with Majistra just going through the motions of a typical comics-villain.

The diptych-stories, though marred by Kupperberg's bad dialogue and the aforementioned tedium of the Atlantis-world, are at the very least engaged with the mythic concept of "the hero with two births," seen in archaic tales with both Dionysis and Cuchullain. Given that ninety percent of ARION is just standard "thud and blunder," I'm moderately impressed that Kupperberg and Duursema at least put some sustained imagination into the supernatural heritage of their main character.

Saturday, May 18, 2019


Whereas empirical thinking is essentially directed toward establishing an unequivocal relation between specific "causes" and specific effects, mythical thinking, even where it raises the question of origins as such, has a free selection of causes at its disposal... Cassirer, MYTHICAL THINKING, p. 46.
In Part 1, I wrote:

...the term "patterns" aligns better with the process by which all forms of concrescence-- whether belonging to the mythopoeic potentiality or one of the other three-- in that I at least can picture how various motifs coalesce to reinforce one another and thus become a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
As I reconsidered this in greater depth, I feel it necessary to explain that though the kinetic and the dramatic potentialities certainly do draw upon "patterns" derived from sense experience, those two potentialities don't make substantial use of what I've called "epistemological patterns." I suppose I might term the first type of patterns "existential," since these two potentialities are more concerned with translating existence as the fictional characters *seem* to experience it.

The other two potentialities, however, are rooted in a fictional form of epistemology, because the forms they deal with depend on abstract constructions. Once more with feeling:

The DIDACTIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of abstract ideas.
The MYTHOPOEIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of symbols.

Ernst Cassirer's passage above is one of many I've cited to clarify how modern "empirical thinking" (or "theoretical thinking" in other passages) develop out of mythical thinking. Both "symbols" and "ideas" are abstract constructions, but symbols offer the artist "a free selection of causes"-- which I have aligned with my concept of "affective freedom"-- while ideas depend more upon establishing a chain of cause and effect, which I have aligned with "cognitive restraint." But both abstract constructions depend upon the use of fictive epistemology.

Now, to repeat my conclusion from Part 1, all epistemology in fiction can only lead the reader to the experience of "half-truths," whereas epistemology in philosophy can lead the reader to the perception of "truth," at least for that particular reader.

In CONVERGING ON CONCRESCENCE PT. 2,  I discussed some of the interpenetrations of the mythopoeic and the didactic potentiality. My example of a work dominated by the mythopoeic potentiality was Gardner Fox's Hawkman origin, but even while establishing that primacy, I also mentioned that the author had utilized "metaphysical tropes that were discursively organized by their pagan proponents." In contrast, the various CEREBUS excerpts I analyzed were all dominated by the didactic potentiality, but I asserted that author Dave Sim was at his best when he created an "expressive underthought to complement the rhetorical overthought."

Nevertheless, even though Fox is of the "affective freedom" party and Sim of the "cognitive restraint" persuasion, both authors construct their narratives around principles of an abstract nature, and so are both purveyors of sacred half-truths.

Friday, May 17, 2019


As I stated in my review of THE GOD KILLER, Don McGregor's Black  Panther saga "Panther's Rage" was not unified enough to qualify as a mythcomic. However, "The God Killer" was a segment of the sage that possessed a complex unity, and so does the segment that followed two issues later, "Thorns in the Flesh, Thorns in the Mind."

Following the title, the first word in "Thorns" is "insecurity." Much of "Panther's Rage" revolves around the internal struggle of the Black Panther, a.k.a. T'Challa, King of Wakanda. Since the feature was a mainstream Marvel comic, the hero also had an external struggle, as he returns to his native land from an American sojourn and finds Wakanda in chaos, thanks to the activities of the revolutionary Killmonger and his many followers. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had conveived Wakanda as a technologized jungle, but McGregor placed less emphasis on technology and more upon Wakanda as a patchwork of exotic, hostile terrains-- deserts, snowy wastelands, swamps, a "lost world" full of dinosaurs, and, in this story, a "forest of thorns" dominated by cacti and brambels.

The story could be said to start off with a literal bang. T'Challa pauses in the thorn-forest during his pursuit of Killmonger to quench his thirst, and a Killmonger henchman, Salamander K'ruel, fires an explosive arrow at the hero. Though the main villain sports a number of underlings with super-villain names and even weird powers, K'ruel seems to have a name modeled on the odd cognomens of Ian Fleming, like Auric Goldfinger and Pistols Scaramanga. I have no idea what the apostrophe in the name "K'ruel" is supposed to signify, though as I recall apostrophized names were a big thing in the seventies, possibly due to the influence of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. As for the "Salamander" part of the name, McGregor later provides a loose connotation, if not an explanation.

When the Panther engages in combat with K'ruel-- who looks like an ordinary native, albeit with strange welts all over his body-- the hero finds that K'ruel is a seeming incarnation of the forest itself. The welts contains thorns, and by grappling with K'ruel, the Panther is stricken unconscious by overwhelming pain.

When he awakens, all of the thorns that had covered his costumed body are gone, and since it's not likely that the villain removed them, one may hazard that they simply dissolved on their own. K'ruel, like innumerable villains before him, chooses not to slay his unconscious adversary, but puts the Panther in a death-trap, the better to make the hero suffer. For once, the villain has a good reason to leave the premises, since the death-trap consists of tying T'Challa to a pair of cacti and allowing one of the local pterodactyls the chance to have a panther-dinner. It's in K'ruel's farewell speech that he draws a loose comparison to himself and the real salamanders of the forest, saying that by the time he returns, "the salamanders... will have swarmed over your body." This doesn't seem like much a threat compared to that of the pterodactyl, though once T'Challa is alone, the hero does find that even a swarm of one proves daunting to his sense of self-worth and security.

In this one-page sequence, one single salamander, of the newt species, starts clambering over the Wakandan king's bound form, and McGregor's prose, however purple, is never better than in his exposition of the utter strangeness of this experience.

The salamander goes its way, and then the Panther is obliged to face a more immediate physical threat as a living pterodactyl comes for its dinner. T'Challa is caught between the flying devil and the deadly thorn-forest below him, but he manages to clamber onto the reptile's back, banishing "self-doubt" as he somehow steers the creature in pursuit of his enemy-- resulting in a most satisfying comeuppance for Salamander K'ruel.

I should note that McGregor interrupts this struggle between the jungle-hero and a living incarnation of the jungle's mysteries with three segues into the lives of the feature's supporting characters. Though all three sequences also deal with "insecurity," none of them are especially mythopoeic. McGregor ends the story not by entirely banishing all insecurity from the hero, but by having him realize that "purpose and self-doubt hover over him as if gamblers waiting for the outcome." Arguably this part of the sage foregrounds the hero's only partial triumph at the end of "Panther's Rage," in which T'Challa makes his last stand against Killmonger, though he is not solely responsible for the evildoer's defeat.


From the first posts on this blog, I've asserted a commonality, though not an absolute identity, between religious myth and all later forms of literature. I've advocated that the element most in common between the two forms is that of "symbolic complexity." Here I want to address in greater detail the way this complexity operates in both myth and literature.

I'll start with my reading of Jung:

In Jung's view, myth, both in its archaic and modern manifestations, is a creative response to the archetypal experience.  He opposes the idea of "myth as primitive science" advanced by E.B. Tylor and James Frazer, claiming that primitive man possesses an "imperative need... to assimilate all outer sense experiences to inner psychic events."  I agree, but with the caveat that in many instances primitive humans did look for aspects of "outer sense experiences" that were regularly replicated.  This is the sort of thing Tylor mistook for primitive science; the idea that, for instance, a story about a sun-god was an attempt to understand how the real sun worked.
In Jung's paradigm, it's impossible to imagine a primitive trying to explain the regular motions of the sun in terms of a figure like Helios driving his chariot across the sky.  However, it would be fair to state that many of the features of the physical world that science would study in terms of their etiology-- the movement of celestial bodies, the characteristics of vegetation, et al-- were sacred clues to the nature of divine power.  The "empty and purely formal" archetype is the principle around which these "clues" aggregated.  For Jung the emotional wonder of beholding the sun as a sacred mystery would be the keystone of making a myth about it, while the specific local details of any given myth were the "ions and molecules" upon which the organizing power acts.-- JUNG LOVE, FIRST LOVE (2012)

Since Jung was focused almost entirely upon explaining everything in myth and literature in terms of "inner psychic events," I've frequently turned to Joseph Campbell to deal with the specific ways that myth and literature translate "outer sense experiences" into archetypal discourse.

For my purpose it doesn’t matter whether or not most modern psychologists dominantly recognize the Oedipus complex as valid. Within the sphere of literature, any storytelling trope that has expressive significance to humankind is, phenomenologically speaking, “real.” This is why the “four functions” that Joseph Campbell applies to mythology have so much potential for pluralist literary studies. Campbell's approach allows not only for the psychological and the sociological aspects of humankind, which I find to be the two modes on which most literary analyses draw. Campbell's formula also allows one to interpret aspects of the “cosmological” (the nature of physical reality) and the “metaphysical,” (the nature of reality beyond the physical). And just as myth-criticism doesn't judge a myth as "wrong" because it's built upon a cosmological or metaphysical conceit that moderns don't recognize, the same holds true for literary studies. Thus the Oedipus complex, whether "real" or not in the psychological sense, becomes real in the literary continuum by virtue of its expressive power. But of course, in contrast to Freud's exaggerated claims for his complex's universality, Oedipus shares his reality with Jung's Mercurius and any number of other formulas.-- INCEST WE TRUST PART 5 (2010)
In the first citation I spoke of ancient myth-tellers orienting their stories upon "sacred clues" regarding "the nature of divine power." Such "clues" might be better termed "epistemological patterns," whether they fall into one or more of Campbell's four categories. Further, when I used the phrase "the nature of the divine power," I was not speaking of my own interpretation of the symbolic process in myth and literature. Rather, I sought to approximate the way that an ancient myth-teller *might* believe that his observations about celestial movement or vegetative reproduction reflected something vital about either his gods or the ways in which the gods chose to make the world.  For me, as a modern amateur pundit, I believe that both myth and literature utilize epistemological patterns-- whether sociological or psychological, cosmological or metaphysical-- to create structured fictional worlds in which those patterns confer meaning, or at least perspective, upon real life as it is lived, without any imposed meaning or perspective.

Now, Wikipedia supplies a detailed definition of epistemology as it is generally used in philosophy.

Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. Much debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truthbelief, and justification,[1][2] (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification. Epistemology addresses such questions as: "What makes justified beliefs justified?",[3] "What does it mean to say that we know something?",[4] and fundamentally "How do we know that we know?

By this definition, neither myth nor literature are relevant to epistemology as it exists in philosophical discourse. These expressive forms assert epistemological patterns but even the most complex works of myth and literature do not seek to subject these patterns to sustained philosophical inquiry. I wrote last year:

...literature is not concerned with outright declarations as such. Sir Philip Sidney argued that "the poet never affirmeth, and therefore never lieth." This is tantamount to Sidney's stating that the poet's declarations are structured more as possibilities than absolute truths. Obviously, there are some poets who do "affirm" more than others, but Sidney's analysis is on target. Commonplace language deals with strong propositions, but literature favors weaker propositions.-- STRONG AND WEAK PROPOSITIONS PT. 2.

(Parenthetically, I'll note though this quote addresses only literature, I see the same spectrum in archaic mythology as well: some myths are oriented on "affirming" truths that are pleasing to a given community, while others are more free-form.)

So if philosophical epistemology is concerned with the nature of absolute truth-- even if it might be, as in William James, to disprove its existence-- then mythico-literary epistemology is concerned only with "half-truths," with exposing its audience to pure possibilities. Supposing that one could find a particular storyteller who first contextualized the daily revolution of the sun as "Helios driving his chariot across the sky." That storyteller might "affirm" this story in a religious sense, in that he might choose to believe that Helios or some other god inspired to relate the narrative, or he might know that it was purely his own conceit. But no matter what his personal attitude toward his story might be, the story can still go one of two ways for his audience: either believing the story as a literal revelation or simply regarding the narrative as a useful metaphor for a largely incomprehensible physical phenomenon.

The phrase "epistemological patterns" more or less supplants a term I used only once in COSMOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS, that of "simulacra of knowledge:"

Thus it should be seen that the forms of knowledge within a fictional universe should not be downgraded because they do not align with what is deemed "scientific knowledge" in the real world. All forms of knowledge in a fictional universe should be deemed *simulacra of knowledge.*  The same holds true for the other functions. Audiences need not believe in Jung's psychological concepts to regard Fellini's Jung-influenced films as illuminating the human condition; need not validate the socialist fallacy of "the rise of the proletariat" in order to derive pleasure from Jack London's IRON HEEL, nor even credit Dave Sim's fusion of Judaism, Islam and Christianity to get insights out of CEREBUS THE AARDVARK.

Further, the term "patterns" aligns better with the process by which all forms of concrescence-- whether belonging to the mythopoeic potentiality or one of the other three-- in that I at least can picture how various motifs coalesce to reinforce one another and thus become a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Finally, I will trace back my preference for "half-truths" over alleged "philosophical truths" in my definition of "affective freedom from 2016's AFFECTIVE FREEDOM, COGNITIVE RESTRAINT:

What I’ve repeatedly emphasized that the world of affective freedom is a whole package: that the ability to imagine impossible things is crucial to human nature, whether it leads to specific inventions or not. Depicting a shaman as a bird-human hybrid may not have led directly to any fantasies of personal flight, and thus the shaman-dream might have no relevance at all to the development of powered flight. I argue, rather, that whether the subjective outpourings of myth and fiction do or don't lead to useful developments, all of them are equally important in determining the meaning of human freedom.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


I know I shouldn't trifle with referencing dopey, politically slavish BEAT-posts, but since I didn't get an answer to one of my dissenting posts, here it is.

So on this BEAT-post, "culture critic" Samantha Puc goes on for a while about how certain toilers in the MCU have cagily announced that someone in the heroic ranks is gay, but they're not quite ready to "out" him or her. I certainly hope it's the new "Captain Whose Name May Not Be Spoken," because with her there's no history to mess up. But Puc, in the course of assessing the MCU's history with LGTB stuff, cites a link labeled as "accusations of queerbaiting."

Except that it's not, you know. It's a weirdly unfocused complaint that shippers of a gay Captain America and a gay Bucky didn't get their needs satisfied by AVENGERS ENDGAME. Hello? Bueller? How does this subject relate to the Wiki definition of queerbaiting?

a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then not actually depict, same-sex romance.

Xena and Gabriele-- that's queerbaiting. It's obvious that during the production of the XENA series, the producers observed that a lot of fans liked the idea of the two heroines being warm for each other's form, and though the two were never stated to be lesbians, there were numerous scenes in which they were shown together in intimate situations. One transparent episode even showed another warrior-woman, Najara, attempting to "steal" Gabrielle from Xena. The signs, however submerged, were still clear.

Neither the essay to which Puc links nor anything Puc wrote supports the idea that the MCU's versions of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are gay for each other. I'm not saying that the MCU-stewards wouldn't do so if they felt it in their interest.

But the signals are not there, and all people Puc can create is a lot of noise.

Thursday, May 9, 2019


I hadn't watched Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE for a long time, and what I saw was probably the cut American release. I've now watched the full Italian-language version via Arrow's 2017 DVD, plus a plentiful helping of commentaries. And one of those commentaries, "Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis" by film-critic Kat Ellinger, brings me back to a topic I've frequently discussed here: the problems of subjecting all fiction to political agendas.

Ellinger's analysis of BIRD specifically and gialli generally is well-handled, and I don't dispute any of her individual points. However, I find myself at odds with what I consider a political interpretation of Argento, albeit one not nearly as toxic as, say, a site like the defunct HOODED UTILITARIAN.

For one thing, Ellinger follows the lead of many modern critics in valuing artistic works when they take the form of a quasi-Marxist oppositionalism to anything smacking of the reigning hierarchy. For instance, Ellinger claims that the 1960s saw something of a breakdown in the "macho" roles exemplified by the beefcake actors of the Hercules films, a breakdown symbolized by an Italian character-type she calls "the inept." Though I'm sure the critic is aware that Italian cinema was full of comedians who, like most comedians elsewhere, often portrayed fools and klutzes, Ellinger attaches particular importance to the fact that one of the most famous "inepts" was found in the persona of sixties icon Marcello Masroannni. Ellinger makes much of the fact that Mastroanni played the part of an "inept" even though visually he shared the look of the standard male hero: square jaw, broad shoulders, et al. Parenthetically I'll agree with Ellinger on her interpretation of Mastroanni, for even when he does play a character who's supposed to be tough and wily, like Marcello Poletti in THE TENTH VICTIM, the actor often finds himself in more risible circumstances than any of the boulder-shouldered heroes of muscleman films.

Though Ellinger never invokes such worn-out boogiemen as "the patriarchy," I feel that she's backdooring some of these concepts when she praises Argento's film for some of its supposed oppositionalism to images that reinforce the dominant hierarchy. She brings up the Italian crime films that were contemporaneous with Argento's work, and mentions approvingly that, while the crime films would show pimps and gangsters who were manly and dashing, BIRD presents the viewer with a mousey guy whose charms are something less than obvious.

Similarly, Ellinger praises Argento for including, as many Italian directors of his time would not, images of homosexuals and non-standard types, like a cross-dresser seen in a police lineup. Now, I don't disagree with Ellinger in her saying that Argento does a good job in evoking humor and even a little pathos in these characters. However, I don't think that a work is good simply because it satisfies an aspect of what we now call "identity politics."

In summation, I tend to distrust critics who have become so politicized that they project a knee-jerk reaction against the very concept of normative masculinity. I touched on these matters somewhat in my 2011 essay WAPSTERS VS. FACTSTERS. Kat Ellinger's essay on Argento reminds me of the group of 1980s feminist critics I termed "Factsters," In that essay, I decided that the "Factsters" were much closer to sussing out the nature of art than the far more prickly "Wapsters," given that the former understood how pornography "could include sexual representations by and for women." Nevertheless, even the Factsters were not willing to validate "pornography for men," just as Ellinger approves of Argento because BIRD seems to be spotlighting both women and non-traditional sexuality over the idea of the Dominant Male Hero. This is a shame, because in fictional worlds like the medium of film, dominant men and women are both fantasies, rather than exhortations to "go thou and do likewise."

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Back in March 2014 I was deeply involved in sussing out metaphors for my conception of intelligibility. In the essay RIDDLE, MYSTERY, ENIGMA, I used those terms as analogues for the different types of phenomenality I've analyzed under the concept of the NUM formula. In this essay I'll use just two of these terms for a totally different purpose: to denote two poles of what's commonly called the "mystery genre."

Though mystery may have roots going back to the Greek Oedipus and the Hebrew Daniel, it's not inappropriate to credit Edgar Allan Poe with creating the genre. Poe was so deeply invested in working out his personal epistemology, his quest for the meaning of knowledge. that he conceived of both the "riddle" and the "enigma" versions of the genre.

In the earlier essay, I used this definition of riddle:

a "riddle" is a perplexing arrangement of words that does (as Macmillan says) does finally have some rational or quasi-rational answer

This would aptly describe the "rational pole" of the mystery-genre, as represented by the stories of the so-called "first detective," C. Auguste Dupin. In each of his three tales, Dupin is confronted by some bizarre phenomenon that no one else can explain, but which he alone can resolve through his analytical power. The first of the Dupin stories, "Murders in the Rue Morgue," devotes its first four paragraphs to a discussion of said power, starting out by characterizing the genius of people like the story's main character, who will be able to entangle "enigmas," "conundrums," and "hieroglyphics" with equal acumen:

THE mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension pr�ternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.

However, though Dupin never meets a problem he cannot solve, other Poe characters do so. In 1844, the same year that Poe wrote the last Dupin story, he also completed the less-heralded stand-alone story, "The Oblong Box," which I believe ends with an "enigma," defined earlier as:

"a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation"

Since the events of "Oblong Box" aren't as well as known as those of "Rue Morgue," I'll summarize the former's action. Poe's unnamed narrator takes a sea-cruise, and finds that the guests include his former fellow college-student Wyatt, his wife, and his two sisters, who also bring aboard the ship a mysterious "oblong box." The extremely nosy narrator observes some odd discontinuities in the behavior of Wyatt and his fellow travelers, and wonders if it somehow bears on the unseen contents of the box. While the unnamed fellow doesn't come to the correct conclusion, the resolution of the mystery-- one of the few in mystery-fiction that doesn't involve a crime as such-- is explained at the end. And yet, despite the (accidental) solution of the mystery, the nature of Wyatt's relationship to the oblong box is one that remains enigmatic even after the basic situation is understood-- with the result that the narrator is haunted by the disclosures, as C. Auguste Dupin never is, as the story's closing lines relate:

My own mistake arose, naturally enough, through too careless, too inquisitive, and too impulsive a temperament. But of late, it is a rare thing that I sleep soundly at night. There is a countenance which haunts me, turn as I will. There is an hysterical laugh which will forever ring within my ears. 

I would say, then, that all mysteries after Poe tend to follow either the rational model of the Dupin stories, where the detective's acumen resolves all the problems, and or the irrational model of "The Oblong Box," where even the solution of a given problem merely generates a sense of greater mystery, often of some mystery that remains insoluble.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


Hopefully this will be the last barely illustrated mythcomic I'll do for a while. At least this time, though, I'm motivated by the desire to touch on LUPIN III, the best known series of Monkey Punch, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. By coincidence so did another major manga-artist, Kazuo Koike, but I've already done two LONE WOLF analyses.

LUPIN III was launched in 1967 in WEEKLY MANGA ACTION, a Japanese "men's manga." The creator constructed a loose backstory for the titular character, who was supposedly the grandson of the 1905 "gentleman thief" Arsene Lupin, but Monkey Punch was not particularly concerned with continuity. Though 35 volumes of Lupin stories were released in Japan, few of these have been translated into English, not even online. However, there have been enough reprints-- largely from 1990 editions of the earlier works-- to establish that the Lupin stories usually follow a proscribed pattern. Lupin III is a master thief devoted to ripping off the fabulously wealthy, often though not always aided by his gangster-confederates Jigen and Goemon. Though Lupin often seems extravagant and foolish--  Monkey Punch's art emphasizing his frenetic, Jerry Lewis-like energy-- most stories show him winning in the end, demonstrating that he can out-think almost anyone who challenges him, either on the right or wrong side of the law.

The one opponent who frequently gets the upper hand against Lupin is Fujiko Mine, a busty adventuress who's also a slick master thief and manages to hijack Lupin's loot at the end of some stories. She's like Irene Adler to Lupin's Holmes, though the principal weapon in her arsenal is her hotness, which often causes the priapic Lupin to lose his cool. Her precise feelings for Lupin are not stated outright in the translated manga, but at the very least the two of them enjoy one-upping one another.

"Research Animals" is an atypical comic romp even for an artist as gonzo as Monkey Punch. The first panels take place in a shadowed forest at nighttime, which looks forbidding save for one potentially comic image, the sight of a bound man hanging upside down from a tree.

The man is Lupin, and as he awakens, he sees that Fujiko stands before him. He speculates that she knocked him out in his sleep, which all the backstory we get. Fujiko, whose usual pattern is to horn in on the master thief's schemes, explains that she's become curious to know Lupin's "true identity." The thief-hero rails at her past history of stabbing him in the back, but Fujiko's current scheme has nothing to do with profit. She's become a member of the "United Nations Secret College," and in order to graduate from this institution, she has to analyze Lupin's criminal genius.

Lupin breaks free and tries to attack Fujiko, and, to complicate things further (and also to set up a later joke), a dog pops out of nowhere, apparently responding to Lupin's cry of "Sic 'em," and joins the melee. However, Fujiko isn't alone either: two of her college-confederates lasso Lupin and drag him to a temporary tent-HQ. The dog simply vanishes until it's time for it to play its role later.

At this point, Lupin is subjected to a series of comical tortures: being conked on the head by a machine wielding differently-sized hammers, or having spears hurled at him. Fujiko doesn't seem to take any sadistic pleasure in clobbering Lupin; she seems blase about his sufferings, though going by the translation it's hard to see what she has to gain from her loopy experiments, or what her findings are going to mean to the United Nations. It's not impossible to imagine her going through this rigmarole because she simply wants to one-up Lupin in a new way. Certainly Monkey Punch gives the reader no clue, though gender-conflict still seems to be at the root of things.

Then one of the other students tells Fujiko that Lupin's agility is "at the level of a wild  dog." Fujiko looks outside the tent and sees Lupin's dog skulking around. At the same time she hears the embattled Lupin yipping in canine fashion, and jumps to the conclusion that Lupin is actually outside in a dog costume, while his dog has taken his place on the experimental table. (Absurd as this sounds, such a scenario is not unusual in the ongoing series.) The dog saunters off and Fujiko tells her two aides to pack everything up to leave. She then wonders if they ought to take the dog with them for future analysis, but-- surprise! It's been the real Lupin all along, and in a conclusion that could appear only in a dominantly male venue, the master thief spends the last panel taking his pleasure with Fujiko, quite against her will.

So here we have a much more nonsensical version of the situation seen in Robert E. Howard's story, "The Frost-Giant's Daughter." In my discussion of this story here, I noted that although many readers wouldn't care for Conan taking his pleasure with the daughter of the title, her near-rape is entirely her own responsibility, given her attempt to set up Conan to be killed. Lupin III's life may not be in danger, but it's also hard to fault him for taking revenge for the pains he suffers. Going by the discontinuous nature of the series, I strongly doubt that Monkey Punch ever references this event again. Still, given the flamboyant nature of the Lupin-Fujiko relationship, it's hard to imagine her bearing a grudge against him for his retaliation. If anything, in Monkey Punch's fantasy-universe, it would have done no more than embolden her to even greater efforts to undermine and flummox her destined opponent.

ADDENDUM: I should note that since it was a regular thing in many Monkey Punch stories to show Lupin waving his wang about (usually obscured by the Greek symbol for "manhood,") it may be significant that most of Fujiko's assaults on Lupin in "Research Animals" consist of pounding on his head to test his stamina. I don't know if the contrast "big head vs. little head" had any natural parallel in Japanese culture, but since it's likely that the artist had encountered the symbolism somewhere, one might assert that Fukiko's making a quasi-sexual assault on Lupin long before he turns things around and does the same to her.

Monday, May 6, 2019


I don't consider "the Time Traveler" to be the star of Wells' TIME MACHINE, and from one standpoint I might teem "time itself" to be the star. However, the bulk of the narrative does center itself upon the Eloi/Morlocks period of future-history, and so it's possible to see that one period as the focal presence of the Wells narrative.-- TREES, MEET FOREST (GOD).
 The true "hero" of a marvel tale is not any human being, but simply a set of phenomena.-- H.P. Lovecraft.

Since I've recently reviewed both H.G. Wells' TIME MACHINE and the 1960 George Pal adaptation, I decided to analyse both these works and those works most probably influenced by Wells' "Eloi-Morlocks" trope in terms of the "investment/fascination" concepts.

The fact that H.G. Wells chose not to give his focal character a name would seem to underscore Lovecraft's observation that "the phenomenon" is the star of the novel. Since an abstraction like time can't really be the "star of the show," I've determined that "Morlock-Earth" is the exothelic center of the Wells narrative, since it's the "entity" through which Wells expresses his beliefs about the ultimate degeneration of Earth and/or the universe. Thus Wells' work functions by concentrating the reader's emotions on fascination with the phenomenon of the decay of Earth and its inhabitants.

In contrast, though the 1960 movie starts off almost identically to the novel in terms of plot, the David Duncan script gives the traveler (Rod Taylor) the name of George (with other elements in the script implying that he's actually "H. George Wells"). Further, Duncan builds up George's relationship to his Victorian contemporaries, particularly with David Filby (Alan Young), so that George seems like a much more well-defined character, and so indicates that the scripter's strategy is to create the viewer's emotions on investment in George's fate.

The scenes of George's first time-ventures reinforce this strategy, for in contrast to the novel, George travels to the near future and meets James Dilby, grown son of George's now-deceased friend David. George's moments of grieving for his friend give him greater dimension, as do his humorous moments observing the changes in a dress-shop opposite his own domicile, allowing him some very mild "voyeurism" as he watches a dress-dummy continually undressed and re-dressed. This plays into George's later romance with Weena, in contrast to the Time Traveler's largely paternal relationship to the (much younger) Weena of the novel

Duncan's main purpose in having George visit the 20th century is to make Wells' vision of cosmic degeneracy more relatable to 20th-century audiences, by grounding the events of "Morlock-Earth"  in the development of nuclear-war and America's use of bomb shelters. Of course, given that Morlock-Earth is many thousands of years in the future, Duncan's future only works if one assumes that the pattern of aerial bombing and human retreat into bunkers kept happening over centuries-- though, to be sure, Wells' SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME does describe a situation in which aerial bombing gets lost and has to be rediscovered over the eons.

Finally, as I noted in the film review, Rod Taylor's George is much more proactive than the Time Traveler. The Time Traveler, even though he has some affection with the child-like Weena, never raises the possibility of educating the Eloi to advance themselves. Every contact he has with them suggests that they've descended too far into imbecility for that. In contrast, George's efforts to get the Eloi to think and fight for themselves bear fruit: not only does Weena start wondering about how the women of George's time wear their hair, one of the male Eloi comes to George's defense during the big fight-scene, actually striking a Morlock in emulation of George's fisticuffs. This revelation, that the Eloi are not beyond saving, telegraphs Duncan's ending to the film. In the book, the reader doesn't know just why the Traveler, having returned to Victorian London to relate his story, gets back in the machine and leaves, never to be seen again. But the film makes it indisputable that George is returning to bring 19th-century enlightenment to the Eloi and to defeat the savage Morlocks, more or less following the pattern of 19th-ceutury concepts of imperialistic noblesse oblige.

Having described George's impact as a culture hero, though, I have to remark that a protagonist's act of playing "culture hero" doesn't always lead to the pattern of investment. I remarked in my review of the TIME MACHINE film that four years earlier, the studio Allied Artists produced a B-film, WORLD WITHOUT END which anticipated the quasi-imperialistic developments of David Duncan's adaptation of the Wells work. In fact, the estate of Wells allegedly filed a lawsuit against the company for copying the author's book, even though the film's writer-director Edward Byrnes reversed the basic setup of the Eloi and the Morlock, though it's not impossible that he also borrowed from other SF-works for his scenario. In WORLD, four modern astronauts accidentally time-travel to a post-apocalyptic future, where they find savage "mutates" on the surface and an effete, though technologically gifted, civilization dwelling beneath the Earth.

Now, though Bernds' four protagonists have a few distinguishing characteristics, I stated that I found them "exceedingly dull," which didn't help me invest any emotions in their project to restore the ravaged Earth (anticipating Duncan's concept by four years). There is, as I discussed in the review, a concluding battle in which an astronaut named Borden (Hugh Marlowe) fights and kills a mutate in single combat, but Bernds underplays this potentially exciting scene, as if it's no more than a necessary evil. With neither strong characterizations nor physical vitality to enliven the astronauts, they seem to play a role not unlike Wells's Time Traveler: they're just there to illustrate a theme. The true star of the show is the fallen Earth that is to be redeemed, what I tend to call "Mutate-Earth" even though the mutates are destined to pass away. Even the film's title, apparently derived either from a passage in King James or some secondary use of said passage, affirms the idea that humanity, though bifurcated into savages and decadents, will be brought together, and that even the brave astronauts who accomplish this are merely part of some cosmic scheme.

Four years after the debut of Pal's TIME MACHINE, the idea of bifurcation is again used in Ib Melchior's THE TIME TRAVELERS. A group of scientists, all pretty unmemorable, accidentally travel to the far future, to 2071 A.D. Once there, they find the world rendered uninhabitable from nuclear radiation, and haunted by deformed mutants above-ground, just as in WORLD WITHOUT END. And there's also, as in WORLD, just one enclave of technologically-advanced humanity left, though TRAVELERS' script does not in any way portray the future-people as decadent. Their only fault is that the future-humans are devoting all of their efforts into escaping Earth for greener pastures in Alpha Centauri. However, at the climax the mutants invade the enclave and destroy the Alpha Centauri rocket. Humankind is only redeemed because the time-travelers are able to access their temporal portal once more, and to transport themselves and some of the future-humans into an even more distant future-- one in which, in contrast to Wells' novel, Earth has become a virtual Eden once more. And just as I considered Wells' "Morlock-Earth" to be central to the novel, even though the hero also travels to the time of Earth's ending, "Earth 2071" is also central to THE TIME TRAVELERS, even though that fallen world, like that of WORLD WITHOUT END, implicitly leads to the rebirth of humankind with a tone of Judeo-Christian transcendence.

Saturday, May 4, 2019


After re-evaluating Joe Simon's BROTHER POWER issues here, I occasionally contemplated checking out Simon's 1960s magazine SICK. I never read it in The Day, but its first incarnation enjoyed some duration, presumably providing Simon with his daily bread for the decade. I picked up a back issue at random, and found that the issue was modestly entertaining, evincing a darker sense of humor than the MAD of the 1960s.

Humor magazines didn't get a lot of fan-coverage over the years, and similarly, not many online fans have labored to scan issues of old humor mags, and so this essay will be almost image-free, like my analysis of THE MAIDEN AND THE DRAGON. However, "Giant Killer" is only one page, consisting of five panels, so it's not that hard to describe. SICK didn't provide credits in their contents-page, and the signature on the piece is difficult to make out, so based on other info I'm tentatively crediting the work to SICK contributor Arnoldo Franchione. In the unlikely event that someone corrects me, I'll issue a retraction. (Hah.)

PANEL 1: The "Giant Killer" of the title is the Biblical David, seen at the moment of his first heroic act,  at the moment that he slays the hulking warrior Goliath with a stone from his sling. No one else is seen but the two combatants. Goliath looks to be over ten feet tall and is bearded; David is a beardless youth with something of a Dudley Do-Right profile.

PANEL 2: The colossal feet of dead Goliath are seen at right, and out of nowhere a bunch of identical, black-bearded figures appear to acclaim David. Though the context would suggest that they are Israelites, they look like the stereotype of the Arab, since all of them wear the traditional burnoose and thawb (robe) that mark said stereotype. Here's an approximation of the visual stereotype, taken via Google from a news-story on a controversial high school mascot.

PANEL 3: The burnoosed men, all smiling toothy smiles, take David upon their shoulders. He seems genially pleased with their attention.

PANEL 4: The maybe-Jews start walking, carrying David along, as he raises his arms over his head in a "aren't I great" gesture. He doesn't notice that the group is approaching a palm tree.

PANEL 5: At left David is now dead, hanging by the neck from the palm tree, and the maybe-Jews are walking away in triumph.

Now, the obvious "lateral meaning" here could be boiled to, "One day you're a hero, the next you're a blood sacrifice." And if Franohione had chosen to make his ironic point with, say, a historical figure like Julius Caesar, maybe that would be all there would be to it.

But because Franchoine chose to invoke the myth-story of the Israelite king David, this means that this one-page cartoon reaches into a different set of references. In my essay NARRATIVE AND SIGNIFICANT DISCOURSES  I noted how some myth-works may "structure [a] narrative... as a commentary on other narratives"-- the narrative in this case being the grand scheme of patrilineal descent that ties King David to Jesus of Nazareth (however tortuously).

In the Old Testament, of course, David does not get sacrificed. The very popularity he gains from killing Goliath endangers his life, when current monarch Saul tries to eliminate the competition. But David lives to a ripe old age, and his passing has nothing to do with hanging-- though images of hanging play a definite role in the fate of the House of David.

Long after David has become king, one of his sons, Absalom, attempts to stage a coup and become the new ruler. The rebellion fails. Absalom flees, but he's captured and killed after his long hair gets caught in a tree's branches, pulling him from his steed.

Much later, Jesus of Nazareth suffers a death that involves an image of hanging, albeit not by the neck.

Finally, contemporaneous with the death of Jesus, his betrayer Judas-- who is admittedly not tied to the House of David-- chooses to execute himself (at least in one of the Gospels) in the same manner as Franchione's hero.

I don't advance here the view that Franchione was attempting any sort of structured allegory. Nevertheless, I think there is a raw creativity here that goes beyond the simple ironic moral of the one-page narrative. I'm particularly interested in the appearance of David's killers, for they don't share the image of "saintly Israelites" that SICK's readers would have seen in the cinema of the sixties. They look, rather, like "evil Arabs." For the audience of the time, would have been an image that could be seen as guilty of sacrificing a heroic Biblical figure. It would be going too far to implicate Franchione, decades after the fact, for perpetuating a disguised version of the Jewish "blood libel." At the same time, there's something going on in this brief cartoon that goes beyond just a quick ironic joke, in which the triumphant figure of the Biblical David is travestied by subjecting him to an execution not unlike many other sacred sacrificial figures.