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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Sunday, September 27, 2020

MYTHCOMICS: "FATHER EARTH" (2000 A.D. #122, 1979)


(Note: the Bolland cover seen above did not appear on the cover of the magazine wherein the Judge Dredd story first appeared, It's likely that Bolland was commissioned to create a new cover for this 1983 American reprint, one which played off the narrative of the story "Father Earth." It's an amusing coincidence that Dredd's dialogue anticipates one of the catchphrases of 1986's Robocop character.)

Roughly a year after Judge Dredd attempted to "bring law to the Cursed Earth," the mutated inhabitants of the apocalyptic wasteland returned the favor. Ten thousand "mutielanders," creations of atomic fallout, converge on Mega-City One, given common purpose by the environmental terrorist "Father Earth." The story, written by John Wagner and illustrated by both Brian Bolland and Ron Smith, does not expatiate on the villain's background, though, since the fellow literally has plants growing from his body like a sci-fi version of the Celtic "Green Man," one assumes he's a particular type of mutant. Unlike the Marvel Comics breed of genetic spinoffs, Father Earth displays only a very minor ability-- the creepers on his body can choke people-- but his real power consists of being able to entrance the wasteland rabble with high-flown religious rhetoric: "Today Mother Earth will claim back what is hers! Today her bowels will open and fire and brimstone will spew forth upon the cursed city." The Bad Father, in other words, despises the technological civilization of Mega-City One, holding all technology responsible for the devastation visited upon Earth, and thus postulating a hellish catastrophe spawned not from the skies but from the depths of Mother Earth-- to whom Father Earth may deem himself the consort.

At the same time that the mutie horde advances upon the impregnable walls of the city, most of the Judges within those walls are more concerned with internal politics, for an annual election of Mega-City officials is in progress. All of the electioneering, Wagner tells us, builds up to one massive electronic vote submitted by the citizens, in contrast to contemporary times' extending the voting over a period of days. Our hero Judge Dredd concedes the need to ride herd on criminals amid the crowds, but senses that the mutielanders are the greater threat, even though the wastrels have no weapons capable of breaching the walls. Dredd's suspicions are partly confirmed when it's discovered that some of Father Earth's soldiers, warriors known as "the Doomsday Dogs," have infiltrated the city and have attempted to sabotage a power facility. Dredd and other Judges whip the Dogs, preventing them from triggering a live volcano from the city's use of subterranean lava.

However, even after Father Earth's minions are defeated, the ten thousand followers remain camped outside the city. Dredd attempts to disperse them, but he's not allowed to arrest them without cause under current Mega-City law. The city goes about its business, building up to the massive, all-in-one-minute voting surge-- at which point Dredd intuits Father Earth's backup plan. He discovers that the saboteurs planted a bomb in an unobtrusive auxiliary pipeline, and the bomb goes off in tune with the massive voting surge. This puts such stress upon the energy-system that Father Earth gets his fire and brimstone eruption.

Despite the terrene terrorist's marshaling of chthonic forces against the world of technology, his plans are foiled by three brave Judges, "the Holocaust Squad," who shut off the lava-flow at the cost of their own lives. Once the volcano no longer menaces the populace, the better-armed Judges lay waste to the wastelanders. However, John Wagner-ian irony, not Judge Dredd, gets to pronounce sentence on Father Earth.

Of the many buildings destroyed in the catastrophe, one is Mega-City's Botanical Gardens, whose specimens include a handful of man-eating plants culled from other worlds. One of these, the Bloodplant, lures its human victims into its maw by emitting a siren-call. Father Earth hears the call, decides it's "the Voice of God," and marches with the last of his followers into the plant's gizzard. Muses Dredd, "You can't be more one with nature than that."

While I think Wagner definitely wanted to evoke the myth of "technology over nature" in this story, I'm not as certain as to whether either he or one of the artists conceived the "Doomsday Dogs" with some idea about the role of dogs as mythic death-harbingers. I wondered at one point why Wagner specified that the deadly blooms all came from alien worlds. It's an apocalyptic world; couldn't they be mutant Earth-plants? But it now seems appropriate that the man-eaters aren't born from Planet Earth. Since they've been brought to Earth by the spacefaring technology of the Mega-City, the plants are, like the nuclear missiles, another example of "death from the skies," which once more trumps the forces of "death from beneath the earth."

Saturday, September 26, 2020


 I've been discussing the question of President Trump's rallies on a political forum, and decided I would preserve one of my responses here, in case I choose to expand upon it later.


I'm not especially happy about the possible contagious effect of the rallies. But I'm also not happy about the definite effect of the riots that have been championed by extremists like Omar and Ocasio-Cortez. If we as citizens were not dealing with a Left gone totally bonkers, I might well join you in condemning Trump for the rallies. But at present I consider the spread of Progressive extremism to be the greater danger. I wish people who attend the rallies would observe all of the precautions even if they don't believe in them, but it's their decision to risk their lives, not Trump's. 

To some extent the Dems have crafted Biden's "cautious citizen" image with an eye to portraying him as a model of probity, which admittedly Trump could never be. I'm not sure that his image is the only reason that they're keeping Biden in the basement, though, and if he becomes President and empowers the Progressives, I consider that at least potentially as harmful as Covid.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Before abandoning the subject of Darwyn Cooke’s NEW FRONTIER, I should note that after reading it I found myself giving more thought to the dynamics of the military genre in comic books.

I watched war stories on the big and small screens, and even in my teens began to have a fair sense of what sort of military-themed conflicts were deemed critically respectable. But I didn’t collect war comic books. As a kid my funds were limited, and I’m sure that was a major reason for not investigating that genre. I did devote no small amount of coin to the western genre,, though, so I didn’t save all my money for superheroes and horror-SF anthologies. I remember dimly thinking that most of the war comics of my time seemed repetitious blood-and-thunder, and though I was aware of quality work—particularly that of Joe Kubert-- I just didn’t buy into the genre. Even when war comics included crossovers with super-types, as when Nick Fury met both Captain America and “Doctor Zemo,” I didn’t plunk down any pennies.

Some fifty years later, I have a broader understanding of the high and low points of the military genre in comics, and I can see why Jim Steranko devoted a full chapter to the subject of aerial-war comics. There’s something pristine and liberating about stories of air war, ranging from the crazy pulp-stuff of the Hillman repertoire (Airboy, Sky Wolf, et al) to the mordant, downbeat tone of ENEMY ACE. Steranko implied that the years of the aviation comics ended with the Golden Age, even though DC Comics kept a few pilots in service, notably Johnny Cloud. In any case, the aerial-war comics seem to have been the aristocrats of the battlefield in terms of their emphasis on skill and derring-do.

In contrast, the “ground pounders” have to their credit most of the really long-lived soldier-heroes, represented principally by Sergeant Fury and Sergeant Rock. The infantry, even in the form of skilled commandos, tended to engage the reader on the gut-level, constantly evoking a kill-or-be-killed aesthetic.

As for the “sea swabbies,” they don’t seem to have done well in comic-book serials. I believe DC had a PT boat guy named Captain Storm. But despite the success of fictional series-heroes like Hornblower in prose, seagoing protagonists never seemed to rule the waves of the comic-book market.

Since I’ve barely gleaned the genre even today, I’ve no definite conclusions regarding the overall execution of the genre in funnybooks. But as time permits, I plan to give military comics more than a passing glance in future.


In ENSEMBLES DISASSEMBLED I put forth a tentative analysis of the ensemble of heroes in the Wolfman-Perez CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. In part I argued that just because the creators tried to squeeze in nearly every DC character who ever had a series, that didn’t mean all of the heroes they all functioned as part of the ensemble. I might still get around to CRISIS’s stature-vectors one of these days. But since I just remarked on the unequal vectors of characters in DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, I may as well apply my theory to that work. In my analysis I said:

Numerous other characters prove central to the action—Superman’s cohorts Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, the Barry Allen Flash, all four of the Challengers of the Unknown (whose presence gives Cooke the chance to homage their creator Jack Kirby), and Rick Flagg and the other three members of his Squad. Numerous other DC figures make what are essentially cameos—the Blackhawks (who don’t get too much air action), Aquaman, Adam Strange, and even the Viking Prince. Even less central are a quintet of DC’s mystic heroes, who only appear to explain to readers their shaky reasons for not participating in the conflict, even though the island’s menace threatens the totality of the world.
Building on this loose assertion, I find that the characters who all share superior stature-vectors in NEW FRONTIER are:

SUPERMAN, BATMAN, WONDER WOMAN, LOIS LANE, JIMMY OLSEN, GREEN LANTERN (Hal Jordan), THE FLASH (Barry Allen), J’ONN J’ONZZ, THE CHALLENGERS (Ace Morgan, Prof Haley, Rocky Davis, Red Ryan), THE LOSERS (Johnny Cloud, Sarge Clay, Gunner Mackey, Captain Storm), RICK FLAGG, KING FARADAY

All of the other characters embody lesser stature-vectors, although some of them have fairly large charisma-vectors, best exemplified by Ted “Wildcat” Grant, who gets a final non-superheroic triumph when he beats Muhammad Ali in the ring. 

At the opposite end are DC’s mystic heroes, who appear as little more than cameos. 

Other characters of lesser stature include:

SLAM BRADLEY, BLACK CANARY, HOURMAN, GREEN ARROW, THE BLACKHAWKS, THE CATWOMAN, the rest of THE SUICIDE SQUAD (Karin Grace, Jess Bright, Hugh Evans) JUNE ROBBINS, THE VIKING PRINCE, ROBIN, AQUAMAN, ADAM STRANGE, and three characters who will later become involved in superheroic escapades: Ray “THE ATOM” Palmer, Nate “CAPTAIN ATOM” Adam, and Doc Magnus, later creator of THE METAL MEN.

One point I want to drive home here is that just because a character is part of an ensemble in an ongoing feature does not necessarily translate into high stature elsewhere. For instance, in the CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN feature, I have no hesitation about including June Robbins to be part of that ensemble, given that she was a reasonably constant presence in the feature for a dozen or so issues. Robbins even has a minor feminist significance, since she participates with the all-male team with more distinction than did, say, Lady Blackhawk with the rather chauvinist Blackhawks. But June Robbins really doesn’t do much of anything in NEW FRONTIER, so she’s not part of the ensemble. Similarly, Rick Flagg plays a vital role in FRONTIER. However, his ensemble-mates from the 1960s SUICIDE SQUAD—whom, as I noted in this review, were really poorly conceived characters—are just hangers-on in NEW FRONTIER. They have more functionality in the narrative than does June Robbins, but as characters they’re of little consequence in terms of their stature.

This ruminations may lead me to some further formulations regarding the nature of centricity, but for now I’ll leave the analysis at this juncture.


The visual metaphor of vectors mentioned in the previous essay has led me to invert one of the ideas stated in STATURE REQUIREMENTS PT.5. In that essay, I made a brief comparison between an earlier centricity-term, “stature,” and a newer one, “charisma.” I’ve now decided to reverse my formulations in that essay and to give stature more importance than charisma.

When I consider the base meanings of the words, stature signifies the result of physical growth, while charisma suggests a mysterious inner quality that appears from we-know-not-where. I first spoke of stature with respect to the Fryean mythoi, extrapolating the term from Aristotle’s assertion that the characters of tragedies were weightier than the characters of comedies. Thus my term “stature” connoted the different levels of conviction that readers could find in characters belonging to each of the mythoi. It now occurs to me that the idea of conviction also applies to centricity; the focal presences that occupy center stage are those around whom a given narrative revolves—which in turn means that they inspire maximum conviction in comparison to other presences within said narrative. I used “charisma” to denote this special status. Yet now it occurs to me that it makes more sense to speak of a superior vector of stature. For instance, in KNIGHTS OF COMBAT ANDCENTRICITY PT. 1, I examined Nancy Springer’s opinion that the titular hero of Ivanhoe was not the star simply because he was not as interesting as other characters in the novel. I rejected this idea. Yet I must admit that Ivanhoe does not have much of what one would call “charisma” in the ordinary sense of the word. However, what he does have is “stature.” He is the hero because his moral compass inspires maximum conviction in the reader. One may not believe that Ivanhoe resembles anyone in real life, but as the embodiment of the author's principal idea the knight is the glue that holds this particular novel together. The same principle would apply to those ensembles that I’ve judged to be distributive in nature, such as the Blackhawks and the Avengers.

However, charisma can be used to account for the fact that subsidiary characters in a narrative may hold more sheer appeal than those who enjoy the greatest stature. I would not disagree, for instance, that in IVANHOE the character of the Jewess Rowena proves more interesting than Ivanhoe. But now I would say that this fact merely indicates that Rowena has a charisma-vector superior to that of Ivanhoe, while he still has a stature-vector superior to hers. In terms of centricity, though, stature is always the sole indicator.

Charisma only affects centricity indirectly, and only in the evolution of serial narratives. For instance, in season 2 of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, the creators introduced Spike as a more confrontational enemy for the heroine. One could easily hold the opinion that Spike possessed greater charisma than Buffy, even though, being both a subordinate character and a villain, he could not possess greater stature. Hypothetically, the producers might have chosen, for whatever reason, to make Spike a co-equal partner to the Slayer, and then he might have attained a distributive stature. The showrunners did not go in such a direction, and so, for the length of his tenure on the BUFFY show, Spike always had a stature-vector unequal to that of the non-distributive heroine. Then the character migrated to the show ANGEL—which for some time had been of the distributive model, with Angel sharing stature with other members—and only here, whether they outshone others in charisma or not, Spike finally acquired stature equal to that of the other regular members.

This model also proves useful for describing a work in which a subordinate character seems to steal the center stage from the apparent star. For instance, I’ve written here that even though BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE is dominated by the story of the Joker’s origin, it’s still a “Batman story.” This is because the story does not diverge from the dominant model of the continuing Batman series, wherein Batman always possesses greater stature than any of his villains. However, there’s no question that in KILLING JOKE the Joker possesses a charisma-vector greater than that of Batman, whom, as I remarked in my review of the graphic novel, often seems in the nature of a tired old cop.

The same dynamic also applies to those serials that often or always focus upon “guest stars”who never again appear in the series. Early installments of Will Eisner’s SPIRIT are structured like almost every other adventure-hero feature, in which the Spirit helps good people and vanquishes bad people. However, even in the earliest years Eisner sometimes devoted stories to one-shot characters who seemed to take center stage, in that their triumphs or tragedies received the most attention. However, the Spirit was still the thread holding all of those one-shot characters together, and so he retained the greatest stature, even in stories like THE CURSE, in which the hero barely appears. As discussed in HOSTS, HEAVENLY AND OTHERWISE, the only exception to this centricity formulation appears in certain anthology titles. When a continuing character merely appears as an interlocutor—Jorkens in Arthur C. Clarke’s TALES OF THE WHITE HART, or the many “horror hosts” in comic-book titles—then whatever focal presence inspires the most conviction in each story possesses the greatest stature-vector, though not necessarily the greater charisma-vector.

Monday, September 14, 2020


I responded thusly to this KID post on CRIVENS regarding the scene of sexual conquest in the 1964 GOLDFINGER:

I tend to think that the "sexual conquest" scene in the movie is like many you saw throughout the history of sound cinema, and maybe silent as well (Rudolf Valentino anyone). The woman resists not because she's unwilling to have sex, but as a challenge to the man, defying him, as it were, to make herself seem more enticing. One can go back and forth on whether this trope is based on anything in real life-- but even if everyone agreed that it's pure fantasy, it's been grabbing both male and female audiences for decades. Check out 1942's BLACK SWAN. Power kisses Maureen O'Hara, and belts her when she bites him. Toxic masculinity, right? Well, despite his violence he keeps trying to conquer her with charm-- to which she responds, at least once, by cracking his head with a rock. She only relents when he acts heroically to save her and foil the villains.
Obviously it's a little different with Pussy Galore, even if her lesbianism in the film is less overt than in the book. I could be wrong, but I don't think the book has a scene in which Bond wakes up and beholds Pussy-- who is, incidentally, smiling coquettishly at him, rather than scorning him as a filthy breeder. In the book Pussy's not too interested in Bond until she switches sides to save herself some jail time, and at the very end she claims she turned lesbian because her uncle raped her and so she never knew what a "real man" was like. That tidbit probably didn't influence the movie, which is more in the line of sexual conquest fantasies from books and movies-- which is something the filmmakers knew would sell the movie better.

Sunday, September 13, 2020


I’ve heard good press about the late Darwyn Cooke’s THE NEW FRONTIER ever since the series first appeared (in the abbreviated form of a six-issue periodical back in 2004. But though I knew that Cooke’s work dealt with one of the most important periods of American comic books—the beginnings of “Silver Age” comics in the mid-to-late fifties-- I didn’t rush to explore FRONTIER. Possibly I didn’t quickly warm to promos of Cooke’s art. More likely, though, I was just pessimistic that anyone could find a fresh take on yet another look back into that rather well traveled territory —the debut of Silver Age Flash, of Silver Age Green Lantern, of the Justice League. But I can now say without reticence that Cooke’s magnum opus succeeds—that of celebrating not only the gaudy costumed characters, but also the humbler-looking heroes of the DC Universe: the spies, the G.I. Joes, and, above all, the pilots..
Most multi-character crossover projects, both at DC and at Marvel Comics, tend to focus exclusively upon superheroes. There’s no intrinsic shame in this. For many decades superheroes comprised the only genre that sold decently in the direct market. Thus, when in 1986 Marv Wolfman and George Perez crafted CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, they brought together dozens of characters from DC’s divergent realities with the idea of forging a new, more coordinated cosmos. Amid all of the spandex, Wolfman and Perez worked in a handful of non-superhero characters—largely stemming from war, western, and SF-genres—even though few if any of these characters were still being published in 1986. Characters like Sergeant Rock, Kamandi and the Nighthawk were probably included because the creators thought that the new cosmos would seem more cohesive if it also worked in the cowboys and soldiers. Nevertheless, in CRISIS the non-super-types contributed very little to all of the cosmic contortions.

In an afterword, Darwyn Cooke asserts that as a young fan that he preferred war and western comics to those of superheroes. Thus, his “fresh take” consists of approaching the seminal events of DC continuity largely from the POV of such characters as Rick Flagg, King Faraday and a quartet of mismatched military operatives known as “the Losers.” Further, Cooke culled the narrative’s central antagonist from one of DC’s most peculiar combinations of the war and science fiction genres: “The War That Time Forget.” In this series, based around a concept rather than a continuing hero, each story started with some unwitting soldiers—usually non-repeating characters—getting marooned on a strange island where prehistoric monsters still dwelled. As FRONTIER commences, the four commandos known as the Losers are sent to the island to pick up a stranded officer, Rick Flagg, and the scientific secrets in his custody. Though Flagg escapes the island with his intel, all of the Losers perish on DC’s version of The Lost World—though not before the soldiers uncover the hidden menace behind the mysterious isle.

Back in the real world, WWII ends, but anti-Communist hysteria begets the Cold War. None of this keeps a young Hal Jordan, years away from his power ring, from wanting to be a pilot like his late father—and though he does become Green Lantern in due time, Cooke is far more preoccupied with Jordan’s history as a pilot, as a hero who depends on a plane, not a ring, to fly. Jordan is one of FRONTIER’s more indispensable characters, and Cooke’s version makes him something of a pacifist type, butting heads with a more hawkish type like Rick Flagg, original commander of the Suicide Squad (whose adventures are retroactively connected to the War That Time Forgot).

Though the artist includes a handful of earthbound warriors, FRONTIER shows its creator’s abiding love for scenes of air action. Cooke also works in numerous other pilot-characters. Ace Morgan of the Challengers of the Unknown. Larry Trainor, later of the Doom Patrol. Nathaniel Adam, fated to become Captain Atom. I’m a little surprised the artist didn’t manage to work in sometimes pilot Rex “Metamorpho” Mason. Ironically, only one character in the story was designed to be a full-time aviation hero—namely, Johnny Cloud, “the Navajo Air Ace.” But after the Native American pilot’s feature was cancelled, he was assigned to the Losers, with the result that this hero’s final adventure takes place on earth rather than in the clouds for which he’s named.

Cooke’s focus upon the allure of aviation dovetails with another aspect of 1950s America: the space race, born out of American’s apprehensions about Communist incursions. This fear also gave shape to fantasies that “little green men” might choose to invade Earth, not to mention reinforcing native xenophobia toward what we now call “people of color.” All of this cultural disquiet leads to the banishment of the 1940s mystery men from the public eye, with the exception of major icons like Superman and Wonder Woman.

However, in the metaphorical wings wait a new breed of “mystery men,” and their appearance is foreshadowed by the advent of a not-so-little green man. In 1955, J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, subsisted in a minor back-up feature, dangling from the cape of Batman in DETECTIVE COMICS. But in the world of overall comics-history, Manhunter became the forerunner to DC’s renaissance of costumed heroes. Many modern comics-writers would rush to show J’onzz interacting with other costumed types right away, and in truth the Manhunter does “team up” briefly with Batman. However, Cooke grounds the character in the more mundane part of the DC Universe, teaming him up with detective-hero Slam Bradley and eventually having him captured by American intelligence agent King Faraday.

Numerous other characters prove central to the action—Superman’s cohorts Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, the Barry Allen Flash, all four of the Challengers of the Unknown (whose presence gives Cooke the chance to homage their creator Jack Kirby), and Rick Flagg and the other three members of his Squad. Numerous other DC figures make what are essentially cameos—the Blackhawks (who don’t get too much air action), Aquaman, Adam Strange, and even the Viking Prince. Even less central are a quintet of DC’s mystic heroes, who only appear to explain to readers their shaky reasons for not participating in the conflict, even though the island’s menace threatens the totality of the world.

Cooke gives a new name to the Island That Time Forgot, terming it “the Centre.” I suspect he came up with this name just so that he could work in Yeats’ famous line about how “the Centre cannot hold.” However, despite fomenting massive levels of destruction upon the modern world, the menace itself fails to impress. Cooke has various characters—including a clone of Doctor Seuss—experience psychic presentiments about the Centre’s catastrophic powers, all in the approved H.P. Lovecraft fashion. Yet somehow an intelligent, dinosaur-laden island proves a pale substitution for a narrative that desperately needs something on the level of Great Cthulhu. In the final analysis, the Centre is just a make-work menace, something cosmic enough to make squabbling Earthmen forget their fears and work together—thus making it possible for costumed heroes to regain the public favor they’d lost.

Cooke mentions in his afterword that some fans criticized him for overly liberal sentiments. My take is that when he focuses on real issues—relating the tragic tale of an early black vigilante-hero, John Henry—Cooke remains on solid philosophical ground. However, when the artist crafts a scene in which Hal Jordan’s Eskimo sidekick get mad when Jordan uses the name “Pieface”—so mad that said sidekick refers to Jordan by the anachronistic term “whitebread”—yeah, that’s Cooke practicing petty political correctness. He even attempts to have fun at the expense of reactionary fans in a silly six-page backup story, wherein Wonder Woman and Black Canary beat up a bunch of citizens for going to a Playboy Club. I suspect this sort of humor will only be funny to members of the choir. Within FRONTIER he does make some effort to justify the ways of hawks to doves, especially via an improbable friendship between J’onn J’onzz and his captor Faraday, so at least there are times when Cooke puts the brakes on some of his preachifyin’.

A proximate model for NEW FRONTIER might be the Busiek-Ross MARVELS, whose narrative concentrated upon an assortment of purely mundane characters, witnessing their sane world besieged by a flood of superheroic “marvels.” Yet Busiek doesn’t really transcend the standard Marvel narrative. Cooke, by forging a vital link between mundane and supramundane combatants, gives readers a solid vision of heroism as we know it through all manner of pop-culture fantasies. He concludes this vision by printing a famed John F, Kennedy speech regarding America’s need to find its “new frontier,” thus implicitly transferring the ideals of Kennedy to the second wave of superheroes spawned in the sixties. Possibly, one might extend this benison to all the better superhero comics that descended from those illustrious ancestors. But even though the superheroes forced most of the other adventure-genres out of commercial existence, at least here, in FRONTIER, earthbound grunts and air aces are remembered for their part in that evolution.