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...

Saturday, November 30, 2019


I finally got around to reading this 1941 story, a follow-up to the CAPTAIN AMERICA story "The Case of the Black Talon," which stands as one of the first times in comics that a villain introduced in one feature made a "crossover" appearance in another-- though one of the characters in the CAPTAIN AMERICA ensemble, Bucky, was also a charter member of the Young Allies.

This is however no mythcomic, and what myth-material appears has less to do with the Black Talon-- whose evildoing role could've been fulfilled by nearly any similar fiend-- than with the myth of American "Manifest Destiny," linked with the struggle to find resources with which to defeat the Axis powers. Oddly, Otto Binder, who created the Talon, wrote most of the first issue of YOUNG ALLIES, but "Evil Web" is totally the product of Stan Lee and artist Al Gabriele. As the cover suggests, this is pure wild-and-woolly pulp at its finest, though with none of the subtler aspects of the Simon/Kirby story. There's only one quickie reference to the reason Black Talon has one black hand, and significantly, it's used to put down the savagery of the Nazis.

That said, "Evil Web" is certainly chauvinist, for eventually the Talon and his heroic enemies will contend over a newly risen island rich in raw materials/ The island's discoverer is named Livingstone, and Lee even goes so far as to directly align him with the historical explorer, though a better analogue might be Christopher Columbus. The moment after Livingstone conceives of turning the island over the Allies, its residents-- a race of fish-men who not only can breathe air but who talk like Indian stereotypes-- attack him, and never once does the white guy think that the island might belong to the people inhabiting it.

Livingstone hides from the savages on the island, but sends out a "message in a bottle." The Young Allies find the bottle and notify the man's daughter, who insists on going along to rescue her dad. But the Nazis are monitoring her, so the Black Talon goes after the heroes.

Eventually, after the heroes fight lots of thugs and a giant spider, everyone gets to the island, and then the fish-men, despite saying words like "gettum" and "make-um," start looking more like African cannibals, and Toro even routs them with an elephant attack a la Tarzan. The fish-men then disappear from the story, and the Allies manage to blow up a whole Nazi camp, which effectively returns the island to the Allies. "We were here first," Bucky helpfully explains. For a finale, the Allies call in two senior heroes, the Human Torch and Captain America, to help take down the Talon.

The only other incident worth mentioning is that even though the Negro member of the team is drawn in the grotesque manner of most "comic Negroes" of the time, he does get to kick a little ass, and even rescues his fellow teens from a death-trap at one point.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


Might is an ability that is superior to great obstacles. It is called dominance [Gewalt] if it is superior even to the resistance of something that itself possesses might.-- Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT.

Plainly, Kant, in formulating his linked concepts of "might" and "dominance," is never as concerned as I am with sussing out the diverse ways in which two mighty forces may contend to produce the sense of dominance. And at present I now see two major archetypal tropes by which fiction creates the sense of dominance, though to be sure I'm not claiming that the two tropes, that of "give-and-take" and "the killing stroke," are necessarily the only ones.

"Give-and-take" refers to the sort of battles in which at least two entities, both possessed of some analogous level of might, come to blows in some manner as to show that both characters can "dish it out" as well as being able to "take it." In my 2015 essay COMBAT PLAY PT. 4, I correlated the ideal of an equally matched battle as one that depended on the ethic of fair play, whether or not the two fighters both subscribe to that ethic:

 ...the notion of "fair play" becomes important within the sphere of fiction and fantasy, possibly more important than it can ever be in the real world of political negotiation and compulsion. In my own lit-critic cosmos, the ideal of "fair play" assumes the role of "self-limitation" that is, in Nietzsche's philosophy, occupied by "self-overcoming."

In the COMBAT PLAY series I already used images from a Jack Kirby bout between Thor and Ulik, so for variety's sake, this time I'll illustrate with scenes from an analogous fight between THE NEW GODS' hero Orion and his evil half-brother Kalibak:

However, the second archetypal trope has less to do with evenly matched combat than with a character, possesses of some level of personal might, who finds a weakness in a mighty opponent's defenses. In my 2012 essay MIGHT VS. DOMINANCE, I pointed out that in the 1940 THIEF OF BAGDAD the climax is not one of direct contention:

There is no one-on-one combat as such between the principal heroes and the principal villain in THIEF, as usually takes place in related adventure-films.  Earlier sequences show Jaffar triumphing over the heroes with his magic with no real contest, but when Ahmad and Abu join in flouting his forces with the help of a flying carpet, Jaffar seems to run out of magic and flees, only to receive the same fate most villains get even when they do engage in combat.

In this case, Jaffar is struck down by an arrow, sent from a bow wielded by the film's hero Abu. Some dialogue suggests that the bow's bolts cannot miss when they're aimed at "injustice." In some instances, such as that of Neil Gaiman's protagonist in the novel NEVERWHERE, I've cited examples where a "killing stroke" is brought about by a magic weapon wielded by a subcombative character. However, Abu's combative credentials should prove beyond reproach for most viewers, given the manner in which he overcomes a gigantic spider in an earlier scene.

It may be of some interest that both combative tropes take place in Homer's ODYSSEY. During the imprisonment of Odysseus and his men in the cave of the Cyclops, it's made abundantly clear that even as a group the mortals are unable to battle Polyphemus directly. Thus they come up with a way to wound him that also allows them to escape the cave.

However, should any reader doubt the pugnacity of Odysseus, the epic concludes with the traveler returning to his island home Ithaca, where he, his son Telemachus, and a few other allies decimate the ranks of Penelope's unwanted suitors, who are initially unarmed but who, during the onslaught, do manage to acquire weapons and are able to put up a fight before being slain.

I'll note for the time being that most of the "monster-slaying" films I discussed in the essay WEAKLINGS WITH WEAPONS PT. 3 depended on the monsters being slain in Cyclops-fashion, by some human being who uncovers an Achilles Heel. That said, I usually don't view such works as combative unless they've first depicted some "give-and-take" in which the monster withstands the onslaughts of conventional human weapons.

Friday, November 22, 2019


In part because I've been ruminating so much on the nature of my concept of the combative mode, I've found myself meditating on its lack in the investigation-oriented quasi-genre known as the "police procedural."

Someone once opined that Chester Gould's DICK TRACY was the first true police procedural. Of course it's likely that there were a number of novels or serials of a procedural nature that predated TRACY; stories devoted to, say, Pinkerton agents or whatnot. Gould, with his strong predilection for bouts of combative violence and a larger-than-life protagonist, doesn't seem to reflect the normative aspects of the procedural-- probably defined in the public mind most by the 1951 teleseries DRAGNET, which arose rather quickly from the 1949 radio serial.

Not all procedurals are devoid of overt violence. But even those that occasionally allow for gun-battles or personal combat are not concerned with combat-scenes of personal glory. Most procedurals are dominated by the image of police officers comprising an irresistible force that can sweep over the urban city like, well, a dragnet.

Yet this force is, in an operational sense, invisible to the eye of the viewer. Even the rare outbursts of violence, precisely because they are so rare, don't remove the sense that the police are inexorable in their power to overtake criminal malcontents.

There are, to be sure, some serials that borrow from the more extravagant genres. Nine times out of ten, the original HAWAII 5-O series (1968-80) was a mundane cop show, and if it had a shootout at the end, the regular players were hardly ever injured. However, the show occasionally crossed genre-paths with the spy thriller, and in that tradition, central protagonist Steve McGarrett (Jack Lor)  encountered the Asian spy chief Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). Wo Fat only appeared in eleven of the show's 278 episodes, but the villain's ability to slip free of the Hawaii police chief's grasp added some spice to the overall predictability of the series. To that end, the series ended with an actual combat-scene between McGarrett and Wo Fat, resulting in the wily spy being jailed at last-- although in the final scene, there was the suggestion that even prison would not end the villain's menace.

On the average, most current procedurals-- the dozens of spawn of LAW AND ORDER and CSI-- don't tend to emphasize battles of personal glory, and therefore most of the characters don't qualify in my book as combative heroes, even though they, like Steve McGarrett, may occasionally get a big kung-fu kickass scene of some sort. I may explore some examples of these subcombative cop shows at some future date, but for the time being, they show a nodding resemblance to the military drama, in which force is not "invisible" in the sense I've stated here, but is still subordinate to other factors, some examples of which I discussed in my review of Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS.


One peculiar phrase from this Tom Spurgeon essay caught my attention, due to its puzzling content:

The model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory.

Though in the same paragraph Spurgeon passes remarks on the oddness of the comics medium, he never defines qualities he found in other media had that struck him as more normative. Maybe he made some mention of "l'difference" in other essays, but I find it interesting that he didn't think he had to prove his case. To the extent that many of his essays were directed at the sort of comics-readers who clustered about THE COMICS JOURNAL-- which admittedly used to include me-- it's a shame that he didn't think he even had to prove his case.

For me the peculiarity of the phrase is that it doesn't seem to take into account how much "self inventory" factors into all of human culture. I'm reminded of this quotation from Friedrich Nietzche on the matter of memory:

The so called unconscious inferences can be traced back to the all-preserving memory, which presents us with parallel experiences and hence already knows the consequences of an action. It is not anticipation of the effects; rather, it is the feeling: identical causes, identical effects . . .

As far as I can see, what Spurgeon calls "self inventory" is indistinguishable from Nietzche's concept of "the all preserving memory," with its idea that "identical causes" must align with "identical effects." It occurs to me that Spurgeon may've had some idea that comics fans were given to self-inventory because of the fandom's emphasis on checklists and completing issue-runs, though he does not make this express correlation in the essay. But how is that type of inventory different from any of the many "self inventories" that literary authors undergo to produce the fiction that's important to them. Hemingway was obsessed with the nature of masculine action, so much of what he wrote has him making inventories of how actions of courage or forbearance impacted the people in his stories. A poet like W.B. Yeats made inventories of the myths of many cultures, trying to tie them into one another in a grand pattern, while Faulkner was concerned with defining the American South. In all of these examples the authors drew upon their memories of whatever was important to them-- more or less in line with what Nietzsche calls "identical causes"-- and from that their creative priorities explored "identical effects," in which each artist saw his own face reflected in his fictional mirrors.

In a less artistic vein, "self inventory" seems to me the main way in which we take stock of our own natures. If an individual deems himself a good person, doesn't he take inventory of all the good things he's done? Or if that individual is down on himself, doesn't he do the opposite, inventorying all of his failures or embarassments? 

I frankly can't see any way that any person, whether interested in comics, Russian literature, or jai alai, doesn't resort to making inventories from one's memory in order to validate (or invalidate) himself. Maybe there are individuals who "live in the now," not resorting to delving into memory on a regular basis. But they would be rare individuals in the history of humankind. Perhaps this is why Nietzsche also wrote on the subject of memory:

it is possible to live almost without remembering and live happy, as evidenced by the animal, but it is still impossible to live without forgetting. Or more simply, there is a degree of sleeplessness, rumination, the historic sensibility that is harmful and ultimately fatal to living things, be it a man, a people or a civilization “

Thursday, November 21, 2019


Though on average my mythcomics essays are once every two weeks, I decided to get ahead of Thanksgiving week. This essay analyzes two stories done about five years apart by different creators, linked only by the use of the same villain in two IRON MAN stories, a type of discourse-linkage I explored in my essay on three interlinked AIRBOY stories.

Prior to this date, I'd only found one example of a mythically concrescent IRON MAN story, the Stan Lee-Don Heck tale "Suspected of Murder." The mythic discourse behind that story was basically psychological, but it always seemed strange to me that the feature wasn't stronger on the sort of resonant fake science that made for good mythcomics in, say, FANTASTIC FOUR. I sampled a number of Iron Man stories from different periods, and though technology is often mentioned in many narratives, most authors just seem to pull any old sort of fake-science out of the hat, without trying to relate it to real-science. This relation isn't absolutely necessary, but it generally helps.

I would've liked to have found a mythic Mandarin story, since he stands as one of Iron Man's better villains, politically incorrect though he is. Instead, I found the Living Laser.

Though the character debuted as a solo villain in an AVENGERS tale, he was often utilized as a "cannon fodder" type, often teamed up with other low-ranking malcontents. However, in both of these stories, respective writers David Micheline and Howard Mackie at least attempt to pattern the villain's powers after what real lasers can do.

Though "Light Makes Might" picks up from the ongoing plot of the previous issue, that issue only introduced the hero's main foe in the last few pages. A "B-plot" was established, in that Iron Man rescues Tony Stark's then-current girlfriend Bethany and her estranged (and drug-addicted) husband Alex from an evil organization, and that B-plot concludes in #153, as well as ending the three-year collaboration of David Micheline and Bob Layton during that period. But the focus of "Light Makes Might" is the creators' attempt to beef up the mojo of the Living Laser. Not only does he put the captured hero in a pretty clever death-trap-- one whose solution is just as clever-- he also shows off new powers: to create laser holograms, to blind enemies with light-flares, and to turn functionally invisible.

At the conclusion of "Might," the Laser's powers go berserk, and the hero, to keep him from triggering the weapons in the sanctuary (poised to strike at the U.S.), hurls the Laser into the sky, where he explodes into a display of colored lights. The sacrifice doesn't make Iron Man happy with himself, but the story doesn't dwell on the hero's emotions in this regard. Bethany, after her rescue, chooses to stay with her husband and to leave Tony, which act contributes to Tony's later return to alcoholism.

At the time issue #211 appeared, the IRON MAN feature saw a number of short-term creative talents before Micheline and Layton returned for another run. Assistant editor Howard Mackie and artist Alex Saviuk collaborated on "Seeing the Light," which established that the Living Laser was still alive. Neither individual worked on the feature again, but Mackie followed the lead of Micheline's story quite well, getting a certain amount of decent melodrama out of the Laser returning as an insubstantial phantom-- though this did not nullify his laser-powers, nor his desire to be avenged on Iron Man.

Considering that he'd never written the feature before, Mackie also did a better than average job of catching the character-interactions of regulars Tony Stark and James Rhodes. Even the Living Laser, who is in all likelihood is no one's favorite villain, is at least two-dimensional. Mackie's versions of the characters are all somewhat tentative about their ability to function-- Tony at one point tells James "we both know what it's like not to be able to help ourselves"-- and this may've been intended to gloss this issue's B-plot, in which Bethany comes back long enough to watch her husband Alex die of an overdose. This death had the effect of freeing up Bethany Cabe for a possible return as Tony Stark's girlfriend, though after her role in #211 she disappeared from the feature for some time, indicating that her creators Micheline and Layton had no interest in such a comeback.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019


By the title, I mean that, since the passing of the former COMICS JOURNAL editor on November 13-- a JOURNAL obituary appears here-- this post will almost certainly be the last time that I debate anything he said in life.

One-sided debates with Spurgeon on this blog were infrequent but not unprecedented. I had debated him off and on on CBR and THE BEAT, usually in the context of my finding fault with what I deemed elitist pronouncements. I summed this background up in a CLASSIC HORROR FILM BOARD post:

I never met him in the flesh, though I argued with him often on a messboard in the early 2000s. The messboard was later deleted, so all of our arguments were consigned to the ether.
I would say that this essay captures his frequent if not constant ambivalence toward the comics medium, which I think I suggested was more of an ambivalence toward pop culture in general.
Still, I would certainly say he endeavored, on THE COMICS REPORTER, to be as inclusive as a news-blog could be, covering both the perceived "highs" and the "lows" of the medium to some extent. This made the blog a good follow-up to what the magazine COMICS JOURNAL (which Spurgeon edited for a time) used to be in the seventies and eighties, IMO. Believe it or not, coming from me, that's high praise.

So, unlike his many well-wishers, I had no personal connection with him. I think I've mentioned him in various essays here from time to time, but only once did I devote a short series of responses to one of our arguments. I feel reasonably sure he never read the series (and in his place, probably I would not have bothered either). The last contact I had with the man, if one can even call it that, was that I sent COMICS REPORTER a "news item" about my starting a FANTASTIC FOUR blog. I will say that Spurgeon, despite our having had acrimonious words in the past, did carry the item and that the blog did get a bump in publicity before I decided it wasn't going anywhere and so deleted the whole thing.

Obviously I'm not going to pass any judgments on his place in the history of American comics criticism. I will say that he never struck me as being as theoretically doctrinaire as either Gary "Revenge of Theodor Adorno" Groth or Noah "Ask Me About My Marginalized Status" Berlatsky. However, if he didn't suffer from theoretical rigidity, some of his essays were a little too free-form for my taste.

The REPORTER post to which I linked earlier followed Spurgeon's undergoing a serious medical procedure and a lengthy stay in the hospital. Parts of this essay are fascinating-- and then, there's this.

Every person passionately interested in an art form thinks that passion fascinating. In other art forms, however, there's an ease and commercial context to that initial relationship that makes coming to terms with it an answer to a throwaway question on a panel, or the first response in a 10-part interview, the part most likely to be cut and something almost always laughed over. Comics is odd, a medium of heartbreak and musty smells and approximations, and it doesn't have an easy commercial element except for a lucky elite. A very small number of people take to them in that wholehearted way that seems more common to other media. Art comics has a tradition where not long ago its champions fell in love with the form when they had so little access to its history and lived in such artistically fallow times they had no choice but to believe in comics that hadn't been made yet. Like the physical items in many collections, we carry all of it with us, the comics we loved as a kid and all the barely-formed reasons why, the comics that opened our eyes, the comics that we attach to a time and place, the comics that devastated us as adult readers for their skill and insight, the comics that we helped other people enjoy. The model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory.

This was certainly not the first time Spurgeon showed diffidence about his love affair with comics. I never doubted that he was as committed to the medium as I am, but I find myself baffled by many of the phrases he uses to put comics in some special category even as he expresses that intense connection. What does it mean to say that the afficanadoes of other art forms have "an ease and commercial context to that initial relationship?" Did the "ease" have something to do with the fact that other art-forms, like painting and novel-writing, are validated by majority culture? Or did the ease have something to do with the "commercial context," the idea that a fan-- assuming the fan does not turn pro-- can vicariously enjoy the success of his chosen art-form in majority culture? But surely the rule of the "lucky elite" among art-practitioners applies to the other art-forms as well. How many novel-writers can subsist only on their novels, and how many have to keep day-jobs? And if the "model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory," then in what way is it different from discourse on abstract art or on commercial film?

Obviously I will never get answers to these sort of niggling questions, any more than I did when I debated Spurgeon on messboards. I can only respond, as into the void, that I never have felt that the comics medium was a thing apart. Since I'm for the most part a Jungian, I think that everything that the medium expresses stems from the same collective psychic reservoir that every other medium draws from-- so that, on an essential level, nothing from the same reservoir can be a thing apart. I might have made some argument along those lines to Spurgeon had I ever debated him on a forum of some sort, and maybe he would have given a more satisfactory answer, given that personal debate can allow for more nuanced discussions. But that's another "might have been" that one can only fling into the void, knowing that there will be no answer.

Monday, November 18, 2019


Today I finished a review of the 1964 Hammer psycho-thriller NIGHTMARE, one of five such films written by long-time Hammer scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster.

In other essays in my FINAGLING THE FOCAL PRESENCE series, I've talked about how various films alternate between focusing either on a disruptive "monster," such as a madman or a criminal schemer, or on the person who investigates the monster's crime. In Part Four, I expatiated upon on the British horror-thriller THE BLACK TORMENT, reversing an earlier position when I decided that the accused "monster" of the story was not the star, but rather the person who uncovers the plot against the innocent man.

Of the two Sangster psycho-thrillers I've thus far reviewed, the investigator was the focal presence of 1961's SCREAM OF FEAR, while in PARANOIAC, it's an evildoer who's "paranoid" because of his guilt over a horrible act. In contrast to both films, 1964's NIGHTMARE is focused upon an innocent whom a pair of schemers seek to drive mad. Indeed, the film is roughly cut in two, first showing the travails of young Janet Freeman as she seeks to fend off her fear of maternal madness, and then focusing upon the fate of the schemers, who appear to get away with driving Janet mad but are thereafter destroyed by Janet's friends. As I point out in my examination of the film's quasi-Freudian symbolism, I said:

We don't know if Child-Janet, on the day of her eleventh birthday, nurtured any jealousy of her mother's relationship with her father. Still, the mother's murder of the father has the effect of taking away the most important man in Janet's young life. There are no suggestion that teenaged Janet has ever considered boys her own age, and, had Sangster been forced to address the issue, he could have argued that her fear about inheriting her mother's insanity would have kept her isolated from the opposite sex. The one man for whom she shows regard is Baxter, who like her late father is another older married man, though this doesn't keep her from being interested in him. Baxter and Grace apparently believe that Janet's fear of her negative maternal image is so strong that it can be transferred to another target, simply by having Grace waltz around the family abode in a mask of Mrs. Baxter.

Even though the film is structurally bifurcated, though, I'd argue that Janet is still the focal presence, even though the actress playing the character is never seen once she's consigned to the nuthouse. I pointed out that even though the schemers stage-manage Janet into committing a murder for them, the female schemer Grace becomes agitated when she's told (falsely) that Janet has escaped the asylum. She instantly fears that her male partner Baxter is seeing Janet on the side, even though there's never been any indication that Baxter holds any regard for the teenager; rather, the viewer has only seen Janet becoming slightly moony over Baxter.

Still, even though Janet does nothing explicit to save herself, the friends who "gaslight the gaslighters" are all in her service, and so in a symbolic sense they are an extension of Janet. Janet's fears of inheriting her mother's madness is the element most central to the entire story, and the villains are made to plot their plot in line with Janet's "Electra Complex" (actually a term from Jung rather than Freud). In my analysis, I even argued that in Janet's absence from the second half, Grace is stage-managed into imitating the insane husband-murder committed by Janet's mother, and thus the madness Janet feared is visited upon Grace.

 Indeed, even though Janet is entirely absent from the latter half of the film, one could view the entire denouement of NIGHTMARE as a transference of Janet's psychic fear to her victimizer Grace. Janet's helpers stage-manage things so that Grace believes Janet has escaped the asylum, and that Baxter is meeting some other woman even after having married Grace. But Grace jumps to the conclusion that Janet is the other woman, and though the conclusion makes no logical sense, it makes symbolic sense. Grace, by exploiting Janet's fear of insanity, has in essence engendered her own madness, even to the point where she, unlike Janet, duplicates the husband-killing deed of the institutionalized Mrs. Freeman.

Within my persona-terminology, Janet is entirely a demihero, and she does even less to redeem herself than the character of Angela in the 1944 CLIMAX, whose demihero-persona I analyzed in this essay. Angela at least triumphs over her opponent-- an antagonist whose influence she doesn't even suspect-- through her devotion to her love of singing. Janet's protectors insure that the schemers' plot fails, but as characters the protectors are all nugatory. They are in essence a medium through which Janet's feared madness is transferred to those who deserve it-- which arguably frees Janet from the weight of her imposed Electra Complex, though Sangster is admittedly more fascinated with making all of his plot-complications seem halfway convincing. Thus, of all the Gothic innocents redeemed in thousands of books and films, Janet may be one of the few whose writer didn't even bother showing her final redemption, devoting but a single sentence to the fate of what may be Sangster's most interesting original character.

Friday, November 15, 2019


(NOTE: The first appearance of Captain Comet is a two-part story, concluded by a tale entitled "The Air Bandits of Space" in STRANGE ADVENTURES #10.)

Though the fan-recognized "Silver Age" would not commence for another five years-- or three years, if you date it from the first year the Comics Code came into effect-- the first "Captain Comet" tale reads less like other SF-heroes of the time than like those of the 1960s, when the Silver Age was in full sway. I'd speculate that editor Julius Schwartz, a long-time devotee of science fiction, was hoping to come up with a successful "sci-fi superhero" for the recently debuted STRANGE ADVENTURES title. However, despite getting cover-featured for most of his 38-issue run, Comet was not especially successful, and was largely forgotten until his revival in the DC mainstream in the seventies.

Teamed with artist Carmine Infantino, writer John Broome creates what may be the first "mutant superhero." At the time of the story's publication, Broome could well have been aware of speculations that the Star of Bethlehem might've been a comet, since a brand-new comet appears in the sky on the day of the future hero's birth. Naturally, the script doesn't reference something as sacrosanct as the birth of the Judeo-Christian Messiah in a comic book. Thus when Adam Blake is born "in humble surroundings," the hero's parents-- almost humorously given the standard names of "John" and "Martha"-- discuss in general terms the folkloric belief that a comet foretells the birth of a "great man."

John and Martha then recede from the narrative, which focuses thereafter only upon Adam, who gets his name from a never-seen grandfather, though the real association is more like a deflection of "the Last Adam" (e.g. Jesus Christ) into "the First Adam" (1 CORINTHIANS 15:45) Like many "miracle heroes" before him, Adam possesses preterhuman powers from childhood, and though he experiences a brief alienation from the rest of humankind (for just one panel), the story is far more concerned with explicating Adam's status as the opposite of a "throwback," a "future man" born long before his time. He possesses great facility with almost every human skill, and develops the power of "mind over matter," to the extent that he even uses the power to defend himself from a gang of thugs. One of Adam's college professors suggests that Adam ought to adopt some "new secret identity" to deal with "evil men."

However, it's not a mundane threat that propels Adam to adopt a spacesuit-costume and to name himself after the comet that heralded his birth. Instead, Earth is suddenly besieged by an alien race, who attack the planet with a gigantic version of a child's toy (presaging Broome's use of toy-tropes in his later FLASH stories). The origin-story is then continued into the next issue, whose cover features a cute girl in a short space-skirt, though no such female appears in the story proper.

By the story's opening, the Earth is being attacked by several giant tops, which are methodically draining away the atmosphere. Atom bombs cannot harm the mechanisms, but a reporter somehow learns that the newly minted hero "Captain Comet" is on the case. Interestingly, Broome recapitulates the "comet" imagery by having the hero leave Earth in a spacecraft that bystanders compare to a comet-shape, but rising from the Earth.

Comet tracks down the source of the malefic machines, a giant spaceship parked on the dark side of the moon. Inside the ship are countless aliens in cold storage, denizens from the world of Astur (in Greek "aster" connotes "star'). One alien, name of Harun, revives from coldsleep, and explains that the purpose of the tops is to make Earth an airless one, like the one from which the Asturians hail. Thus, while Comet represents a futuristic order of evolution, the Asturians represent the inversion of the natural (a topsy-turvy order, as it were), in that they flourish in an airlessness that would kill humans.

Harun, disdaining the idea of physical combat, challenges Comet to a game of chance, but Comet's superior talents-- including the improbable ability to sense the color of an object through the skin of his fingers-- prevail. Harun tries to revive his fellow Asturians, but conveniently for the story's brief length, the alien finds that all of his fellows have died while in suspended animation. Harun, despite Comet's efforts, commits suicide, after which the "robot-mechanisms" of the Asturian space-ark propel it back into space, and Comet ends his initial adventure with a meditation on life and death.

The entire story can be found at ReadComicOnline.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Action-heroines, however, work their own will.  They align themselves with a reverse-archetype that describes not real experience but a gesture toward desired experience.  That implies a greater level of conflict in this reverse-archetype in that it contravenes (albeit in fiction, where nothing is impossible) both physical law and cultural experience.-- WHAT WOMEN WILL PT. 3

At least three or four times I've had personal encounters with persons of the feminine gender who've complained about the supposed dearth of empowered female heroines in mass media. The fact that I've encountered only a few does not signify that this is a rare opinion, given how often I've responded to similar comments on this blog from such sites as THE BEAT, THE MARY SUE, and HOODED UTILITIES.

In one of these personal encounters, I partly refuted the claim by mentioning a couple of "empowered heroine" films that my opponent hadn't even heard of, one being the 2005 AEON FLUX.

That particular contretemps didn't go any farther, but I can well imagine how it might have continued were I speaking to, say, a proponent of the toxic feminism from THE MARY SUE. For example, such a proponent might've said that even though AEON FLUX was a major Hollywood release, budgeted at $62 million, it flopped at the box office and thus could be seen as an indicator of the audience's refusal to accept strong women in their entertainment. (It's probably a lot more likely that the film, after enjoying a strong opening, got a certain amount of negative response from moviegoers who discouraged others from seeing it.)

This conversation and others like it usually evoke the spirit I termed THE RESSENTIMENT OF THE NERDS in 2009. To persons infused with the spirit, nothing matters but success, the ceaseless striving to obtain a state of perfect equity (in this case, equity of status between male and female protagonists in fictional entertainment). For instance, here's a quote from a positive review of CAPTAIN MARVEL on THE MARY SUE:

In the end, Captain Marvel was on the same level as the first Thor for me: a solid re-watchable-when-it-comes-on-cable movie for me. It didn’t solve the problems of female representation in the MCU, because the problem is larger than just finally giving one female character a leading role in a movie. It’s about them creating dynamic and complex heroines across their films. I am glad she got this movie on her own to shine, and while it didn’t make me wish she had a bigger role in Endgame, it did make me long for a time when we don’t have to keep having these conversations about female-led movies.

If a financially successful flick like CAPTAIN MARVEL gets such a lukewarm reception-- the writer also complains that the film didn't have enough "queer representation" to suit her-- then what would the author of the essay make of unsuccessful female-led movies like AEON FLUX, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, or, perhaps more appropriately, that toxically political femfest known as "2016 GHOSTBUSTERS?" I would speculate that if a successful MCU film doesn't "solve the problems of female representation in the MCU," then a female-led flop would be even less contributory toward the Final Solution of equity for female characters in films everywhere. Thus, even though I've frequently written about the topic of heroines in fiction, I find that I'm on a totally different page from those who want to behold a total equity on the silver screen, presumably with the notion that it will somehow enhance total equity between men and women in the real world. (The possibility that some might want the formerly disenfranchised gender to be "more equal than the other gender" has also occurred to me.)

In comparison to this politically utilitarian viewpoint, I suppose I'm a formalist by comparison. I gave CAPTAIN MARVEL a better review than I did AEON FLUX. Despite my being aware of how much the later film was infused with the philosophy of ressentiment, and how many flaws the film had apart from its political stance, CAPTAIN MARVEL was better made than AEON FLUX.

On the other hand, were I compiling a formalist's list of the hundred best-made female-led action-films of all time, CAPTAIN MARVEL's success at the box office would give it no more chance to make my list than AEON FLUX would have. Yet, though CUTTHROAT ISLAND, that 1995 paean to old-time pirate films, probably flopped harder than AEON FLUX, that one might make it. CUTTHROAT has perhaps just as many narrative problems as CAPTAIN MARVEL, but Geena Davis's pirate adventure possesses a visceral charm to it nowhere evident in the 2019 film. And CUTTHROAT's feminism, while no less real than that of CAPTAIN MARVEL, is far more grounded in the film's simple but persuasive portrait of its larger-than-life heroine.

Currently on my FEMMES FORMIDABLES blog-- where I've been inactive for some months-- I've started putzing around with an idea not unlike the "SUPERHEROES ARE DAMN-NEAR EVERYWHERE" posts I've been putting on OUROBOROS DREAMS-- both of which owe something to the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" celebrity-matching game. Without question it's important to me to see how such archetypes-- that of the "superhero idiom" figure and that of the amazon's "reverse-archetype"-- pervade popular literature, whether a given iteration of an archetype is financially or artistically successful. The first such post about the "amazon archetype" appears here, and initially I didn't think I'd do more than one outing of the game. I don't want to take too much time from other projects for this bagatelle, and though I thought about devoting a little time to describing my standard for citing "starring femmes formidables," I probably ought to keep that concern to myself for now.