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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...

Monday, October 26, 2020




In the pop-culture world as we know it today, there are a lot of characters who have superhero-like powers, weapons or adventures, and who wear commonplace attire. James Bond may be the foremost example of this type, and there's no doubt that the prose novels qualify as adult-oriented pulp. However, Bond's enormous popularity across many cultures stems principally from the movie adaptations, which may have caught fire from being culturally "in the right place at the right time." Before Bond, popular fiction-- prose fiction, movies, comic strips-- played host to innumerable characters who wore ordinary clothes but enjoyed extraordinary adventures, whether they chased down weird masterminds (Doc Savage), mystic menaces (Jules De Grandin, Mandrake the Magician), or just freaky-looking criminals (Dick Tracy).

 By my lights, the character in serial pop-fiction who represents the earliest flowering of the superhero idiom is Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain. I've not investigated every 19th-century claimant to the status of "first superheroic type," but my general feeling is that most of them tend to be "one-off" concepts, like THE BLACK MONK from 1844. Not only was KING SOLOMON'S MINES wildly successful as a stand-alone book, its repute lasted long enough that Haggard continued to add adventures to his protagonist's history, though most were prequels, since the author killed off the character in the second book, ALLAN QUATERMAIN. Quatermain himself possesses no special powers or weapons, but he does encounter a smattering of weird opponents. The antagonists of the second Quatermain novel, for instance, come from the city of the Zu-Vendis, a white-skinned people whose ancestors colonized a part of Africa in archaic times and continued their customs uninterrupted into modern times. Thus Haggard invented "the lost race novel," which Edgar Rice Burroughs and others further promulgated.

KING SOLOMON'S MINES does not precisely concern a "lost race," though it does conform to the uncanny version of the trope I call "exotic lands and customs." Purportedly Haggard wrote MINES as a response to the popularity of Stevenson's TREASURE ISLAND. But whereas everyone in the Stevenson book is anxious to claim the titular treasure for pure gain, only one Haggard character goes to Africa to make his fortune by finding the fabled mines of King Solomon-- and when he goes missing, white hunter Quatermain is hired to search for the missing man by Sir Henry Curtis, brother of the treasure-seeker. During their trek across a hostile desert, Quatermain and Curtis are accompanied by two other major characters: Captain Good, who serves more or less as comedy relief, and a mysterious Black African named Ignosi. When the four men succeed in crossing the desert, they find themselves in the isolated domain of the Kukuanas, a Zulu-like people. Because these Africans have been cut off from modern developments, they have a superstitious feeling toward the three white men, though the Kukuana's tyrannical leader Twala is quite willing to chance killing these interlopers. The white men find themselves drawn into a dynastic struggle when they learn that Ignosi's true name is Umbopa, and that despite an exile from this land since childhood, he, not Twala, is the rightful ruler of the land.

What makes the Kukuanas uncannily exotic is not their isolation, though, but their custom of witch-finding. Chief Twala has no problem with sacrificing dozens of tribespeople to the gods when his henchwoman Gagool fingers her victims as witches. Gagool, an incredibly ancient woman, claims to have lived for centuries (making her a figurative predecessor to Haggard's creation She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed) and claims that she can only be killed by accident, though both of these claims are left ambivalent. Even after the white adventurers help Umbopa's loyalists overthrow the reign of Twala, they almost meet their doom when they force Gagool to lead them to the mines of Solomon, marked by statuary from Biblical times. Though Gagool meets her end here, she's weird enough that I deem her as much an ancestor of the "supervillain" as Quartermain is to the "superhero."

Naturally, there are aspects of MINES that could never pass the political correctness test today. Yet it is not a racist novel, or even what some pundits would call a "white savior novel." (The white guys score some points against Twala's forces, but in the end the victory is that of the loyalists allied to Umbopa.) Umbopa is also a heroic personage, probably the first black hero of English-speaking literature (if one uses "hero" according to the combative mode I've outlined here). In the second Quatermain novel, Haggard introduces Umslopagaas, a Zulu hero who's a support-character in that novel but later gets his own solo story, NADA THE LILY, which I've not yet read. 

Not all novels called "classics" deserve that title. But like SHE, KING SOLOMON'S MINES richly deserves the accolade.

Sunday, October 25, 2020



In this story—hitherto abbreviated as “Things”—the roster for the New Mutants included Mirage, Cannonball, Magma, Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Magik, Warlock and Cipher—though to be sure, the narrative strongly emphasizes the actions of the last two. A three-page prologue sets up the action when two of the villains of the LONGSHOT universe, Mojo and Spiral, capture Betsy Braddock, the blind-but-psychically-endowed sister of Captain Britain. (Mojo, by the way, is the first to bestow the name of “Psylocke” upon Betsy, foreshadowing the intent of either Claremont or his editors to bring the character into the Marvel mainstream.) “Things” then shifts to the New Mutants’ training academy. Doug Ramsey, a.k.a. Cipher, complains to his team-leader Mirage about the problem that most assails Marvel heroes: a discontent with their existential status. In Cipher’s case, he feels alienated not only by virtue of being a mutant, but also for being unable to talk to anyone about his experiences but his fellow mutants. Mirage counsels him to avoid self-pity and “make the best of things.”

Ironically, though the other mutants on the team have much more power than Doug, they appear to be more vulnerable than he to a psychic seduction via that most insidious seducer: the idiot box. Most of the New Mutants, as well as the younger siblings of Karma (who’s not in the story proper), are caught up in a TV-show called Wildways, starring Mojo, Spiral, and a brainwashed Betsy, now given the name of Psylocke. Over in England, though, Captain Britain recognizes his missing sister in the program and jets over to the former colonies to investigate, though he’s quickly nullified by an unseen foe.

For the New Mutants, life seems normal, though only the reader sees it when Mojo and Spiral manifest to young Sunspot and seduce him to enter Wildways, like a couple of extra-dimensional Pied Pipers.Then, in the midst of a mundane task, Cipher—who has learned how to wear the metamorphic Warlock as a suit if armor—accidentally kills Sunspot. Almost all of the young heroes mourn their loss, but Warlock points out to Cipher that the body is a fake, a “changeling” of sorts.

A shift to Mojo’s dimension shows that he’s also managed to kidnap Wolfsbane, three kids from the LONGSHOT series, and the two grade-school siblings of Karma. All were lured into the Mojoverse by the seductive Wildways program, and Mojo remakes all of them into hyper-sexualized adults, implicitly unleashing their own latent fantasies to serve the madman’s purpose. The two siblings, despite coming from Vietnam, take on a sort of “Siamese twin” image—albeit without being literally bound to each other—and are given the shared name of Template. When the New Mutants show up at the same site that Britain explored earlier, Mojo causes Psylocke to make the heroes quarrel with one another. The brainwashed pawns appear and rough up the good guys, after which Template, acting the part of a disappointed father and mother, also mindwipe most of the heroes into thinking they’re naughty children. Magma alone proves able to resist Template’s power, so Template regresses Magma into a literal child,

Warlock spirits his best friend Cipher away from the villains before the two of them can be suborned. Moments later they come across Captain Britain, also regressed to childhood, and half-brainwashed into thinking that he really is a rebellious child. Cipher has to give Britain the same “buck up and hang tough” speech that Mirage gave him earlier. Britain then rushes forth to rescue the fugitive Magma, and Cipher/Warliock invade Mojo’s sanctum to nullify Psylocke’s influence. Psylocke retaliates, drawing the two heroes into her psychc matrix. There Cipher must fight not only the mental defenss of Psylocke, but also the influence of Spiral, who has somehow bonded herself with Psylocke’s inner self. Cipher’s heroism gives Psylocke the power to disassociate herself from Spiral, though once again Spiral speaks the language of the seducer:

The Wildway offers wonders beyond comprehension, adventures beyond imagining, eternal youth and beauty, the fulfillment of every heart’s desire.

Not surprisingly, Psylocke, being a hero, rejects Spiral’s offer and brings all the good guys back to the real world. As a nice touch, though, Betsy still retains one of the bounties given her by the devilish Mojo—a pair of bionic eyes-- and she can’t quite give up this particular gift—which for all I know may have presaged a later plot-thread. Cipher gets to wind it all up, reflecting that all the things that happened to the heroes and their allies could have happened to “the souls of innocent kids.” Claremont’s trope of Faustian seduction applies particularly well to teenagers, discontent with their lot by virtue of burgeoning hormones, but even better to real children. Indeed, one of Alan Davis’s outstanding images in the Psylocke-world is that of artificially grinning New Mutants riding a Wildways carousel. I don’t think the majority of journeymen artists could have pulled off the seductive horror of the Wildways world, so “Things” is one story which absolutely required both artist and writer to be giving their utmost to the project.



I’m halfway through a reread of Marvel’s first NEW MUTANTS series, and I want to sum up the series at the point where my forthcoming mythcomics review becomes relevant. I’ll probably try to reread the whole series, though I may or may not blog about everything.

Since NEW MUTANTS was not a favorite of mine, aside from the one mythcomic I reviewed years ago, I hadn’t read most of them for thirty years. Further, I probably collected all of them from the quarter-bin and read them out of order. Originally my only motive for the re-read was to ground myself in the “Demon Bear” sequence, since this narrative plays a role in the 2020 NEW MUTANTS movie. Yet because writer Chris Claremont scripts most of his features with multiple soap-operatic plotlines, I thought I had better chart the feature’s course from the beginning. I did find that Claremont foregrounded the heroes’ encounter with the Bear as early as NEW MUTANTS #1, so my approach proved justified. As it happened, while the Bear-story was visually memorable thanks to the art of Bill Sienkiewicz, it didn’t meet my standards as a mythcomic.

In the course of the re-read, though, I found I was more forgiving of the series’ formulaic stories, if only I’ve seen so many later Marvel comics unable to master even the rudiments of good formula. The New Mutants debuted in 1984, as a spin-off from the enormously successful X-Men, most of whom were full adults and did not precisely need Professor Xavier’s “school for mutants.” Four of the fledgling heroes—Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Sunspot, and Psyche (later renamed Mirage)—were created by Claremont and Bob McLeod, while the fifth, Karma, had already appeared in an issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP. Karma was for whatever reason quickly shuttled out of the series, making only minor appearances up to the point of my current re-read. Claremont devoted much more space to such new members as Magma (a lady able to command volcanic phenomena), Magik (a mutant sorceress), Warlock (a techno-organic teenaged alien), and Cipher (a young mutant with no abilities beyond being able to decipher any language of man or machine).

Having been a strong X-Fan since the relaunch of that title in the 1970s, I found the New Mutants to be weak sauce, with stilted characterization by Claremont and poor decision-making with respect to the heroes’ powers, which did not complement one another in battles as did the powers of the X-Men. The New Mutants did not have colorful individual costumes as did the X-Men, but rather wore rough imitations of the dull yellow-and-black school uniforms worn by the first X-Men in the 1960s. However, with one exception (that of Iceman) all the 1960s uniforms came equipped with masks, the better to guard their identities when they went out crusading for justice. The New Mutants, who almost never wore masks (much like the majority of the New X-Men)weren't supposed to be running around playing superheroes like their elders. But of course they did. Thus it would seem the "school uniform" notion was counter-intuitive in terms of the logistics of identity protection, and probably didn't elicit all that much nostalgia from Marvel Comics readers.

The most interesting aspect of the early issues is Claremont’s use of the “Faustian seduction” trope.Not a few fans noticed that Claremont’s X-Men, despite having been born as mutants, frequently underwent further changes, sometimes aimed at making them into physical travesties of themselves, and sometimes oriented on their giving in to the forces of evil in their own souls. I haven’t counted how many times the X-Men experienced such melodrama-filled alterations, but the New Mutants’ quantity of such shifts must at least come a close second.

As with any trope that gets overused, many, of Claremont's Faustian seductions were contrived, even chintzy. However, he did do better in the NEW MUTANTS/X-MEN crossover, reviewed here, wherein the evil Loki becomes a stand-in for the Christian “lord of lies.” And around the same time, Claremont and Alan Davis wove a memorable nightmare from another crossover: NEW MUTANTS ANNUAL #2, which not only brought some of the continuity of Ann Nocenti’s LONGSHOT concept into “mainstream Marvel,” but also imported two characters from Marvel’s British comics-line, Captain Britain and his sister Betsy Braddock, later to go though her own tumultuous changes under the name of Psylocke.

NULL-MYTHS: LONGSHOT 1-6 (1985-86)


I would assume that Longshot, as created by writer Ann Nocenti and penciller Art Adams, has his fans. But from what I can judge, the character never caught on with most readers as much as did the villains Nocenti and Adams created for the hero. In one interview Nocenti mentioned that during her tenure on DAREDEVIL, she tended to construct most of her stories around the villains than around the established hero, so perhaps she’s more comfortable delineating the darker areas of the human mind.

The hero, a loner with only a few passing allies, is not only opposed by impossible odds, he doesn’t even have the asset of self-knowledge. His memory pretty much starts with the events of LONGSHOT #1, when he finds himself on the planet Earth, fleeing from the monstrous minions of his enemies. An Earthman dubs the agile, blonde-haired battler “Longshot” because he seems to possess uncanny luck even when faced with overwhelming opposition. In the course of this six-issue debut, Longshot never regains his memory, though he learns various incidental things about his past: that he’s a humanoid from another dimension, where humanoids are genetically manufactured to serve the whims of their masters, and that he in some way rebelled against that rule. In the course of six issues, Longshot gets a girlfriend, fights Spider-Man and the She-Hulk, and renders aid to Earthpeople even when he doesn’t truly understand their desires.

The trope of “the hero as naif” is hard to pull off, and Nocenti doesn’t do so, even with the help of Adams’ dazzling visuals. Thus, Longshot never got his own ongoing series, but joined the X-Men for a time and then largely faded from prominence. His villains Mojo and Spiral, however, seem to remain popular. Mojo, a huge yellow slug-man, rules the Other Dimension by using his manufacutured humans in various gladiatorial games, in a play upon the “bread and circuses” trope, though in the six-issue series one sees little of the masses Mojo is supposedly placating. His sometimes rebellios lieutenant Spiral takes some inspiration from the iconography of Hindu deities like Shiva and Kali, in that she’s a woman with six arms who can cause assorted magical effects through the medium of dance. Neither character gets any more explicit backstory than does Longshot, though there’s some mysterious connection between Longshot and Spiral that might have been explored by Nocenti had a regular series materialized. However, given in the course of six issues the plot is erratic and the characterization precious, I can’t say that I think much in the way of a “Longshot myth” would have been articulated.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020



Given that I’ve claimed for myself the status of a “myth-critic” (a term that Northrop Frye claimed others foisted upon him), I’ve naturally read heavily into the various approaches to myth by anthropologists, religious historians, psychologists and literary critics. I’ve avoided delving into Claude Levi-Strauss, however, despite his celebrity as a major myth-theorist and as the founder of structuralism, which is also a minor interest of mine. I have a dim memory that some commentator spoke disparagingly of L-S’s tendency to reduce myth to mathematical formulae, and I would imagine that anytime I scanned L-S’s mammoth volumes, mostly on South American myth, his method of presentation would’ve confirmed that bias for me. I may have also been turned off by the fact that he’s a very pedantic writer in comparison with authors like Eliade and Campbell, and thus it’s difficult to find his insights persuasive. Looking back over my few Archive-entries on L-S, I find that I recorded an attempt to read THE ELEMENTARY STRUCTURES OF KINSHIP— which may have srruck me as pretty damn dull, since I don’t even remember cracking the covers.

Recently, though, I girded my cerebral loins (so to speak) and forced myself to plunge into the first two volumes of L-S’s four-volume MYTHOLOGIQUES. I made it through volume one, THE RAW AND THE COOKED, despite the fact that it consists of dozens upon dozens of South American myth-tales with only minimal interpretation, but then gave up halfway through volume two, FROM HONEY TO ASHES, because it all but duplicated the same niggling approach to the subject. However, in the second volume I skipped ahead to see if L-S offered anything in the nature of a summation. I was slightly pleased to see that he (finally) did so—and that said summation confirms my earlier bias.

To be sure, THE RAW AND THE COOKED does offer something akin to a theme statement, buried on page 240:

Myths are constructed on the basis of a certain logicality of tangible qualities which makes no clear-cut distinction between subjective states and the properties of the cosmos.

So far, so good. Most myth-theorists would agree that myth depends on the association between subjective factors in the human psyche and the objective phenomena of the cosmos, though that association is not always deemed “logical,” least of all by theorists of a Romantic bent. L-S goes on:

Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that such a distinction has corresponded, and to an extent still corresponds, to a particular stage in the development of scientific knowledge—a stage that, in theory if not actual fact, is doomed to disappear.

Even when L-S begin writing about myths in the late forties, the idea of a transition from mythical discourse to the discourse of science and theoretical philosophy can be found in Vico, Cassirer, and any number of analysts, even those of opposed methodologies. But it’s certainly odd that someone who’s writing so obsessively about mythology should claim that the impulse that spawned myth was “doomed to die,” even “in theory.”

Volume two more or less gives the answer: L-S comes to do the reverse of Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, for he’s come not to praise myth, but to bury it, under his own mathematically oriented theory—whle tacitly admitting that many people may find his method enervating.

If any reader, exasperated by the effort demanded by these first two volumes, is inclined to see no more than a manic obsessiveness in the author’s fascination with myths, which in the last resort all say the same thing and, after minute analysis, offer no new opening but merely force him to go round in circles, such a reader has missed the point that a new aspect of mythic thought has been revealed through the widening of the area of investigation.—p. 472.

What is this “new aspect of mythic thought?” L-S tells readers on the next page:

…the demarcative features exploited by the myths do not consist so much of things themselves as of a body of common properties, expressible in geometrical terms and transformanle into one another by means of operations which constitute a sort of algebra.

Thus, L-S would argue, contra Yeats, that you can know the dancer from the dance, because the dance is also a body of common properties expressible in geometrical terms, whereas the dancers merely transmit the algebraic operations. This position proves problematic in that the stories, mythic or otherwise, told by human beings don’t arise out of nothing like the kinetic forces of physics, nor are the stories encoded in our genes like, say, the mating-dances of assorted lower species. L-S observes that the stories surveyed are composef of tropes—he uses the term “mythemes”—and that the tropes are frequently re-arranged by various storytellers, whether for similar or dissimilar effects. Elsewhere L-S used the metaphor of bricklaying—in French, bricolage—which assumes that the tropes are as inert as bricks. But the very fact that the tropes are plurisignative reveals the limitations of that metaphor.

Despite assorted theories, no human knows precisely how the human practice of storytelling originated. I would tend to think that profane stories arose before sacred ones, though even the profane ones may have been touched with elements of mythic imagination, derived from the worldview of primitive humans. But even in prehistoric times not every human would have had the same talents as every other human, and the talent of storytelling would have loomed larger in some persons than in others, resulting in any number of social specializations—the primitive analogues to shamans, priests and traveling bards. Skilled storytellers would know how to pick up on the tropes that their respective cultures favored, and to weave them into an assortment of shapes, whether for personal preference or to earn the storyteller’s daily bread. Some stories are less well-told than others, even allowing for the fact that the earliest stories might have been more like dreams than coherent narratives—but the ones that embed themselves in human cultures come about not because of abstract algebraic operations, but because of human will, playing with the shapes as on a loom, rather than setting them in concrete as one does with bricks.

Even though I reject L-S’s reductionism, I have to give him credit for being aware—again on page 473—that some readers may choose to dismiss his system as the projection of the author, rather than a true “science of mythology,” as he seeks to prove with numerous graphs and anatomical dissections. While I would admit that the more Romantic interpretations of myth may be more obvious in terms of their authors’ projections, they also may be more honest than L-S’s pseudo-scientific flummery.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


This four-issue series appeared some months after the cancellation of DC's ongoing series AMETHYST PRINCESS OF GEMWORLD, which had been lauched with a 12-issue "maxi-series" and seventeen installments of an open-ended feature. The concept had been created by artist Ernie Colon and writers Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn, but by the later issues of the ongoing feature, Keith Giffen and Mindy Newell supplied most of the writing on the last few issues. This four-issue follow-up is plotted by Giffen and written by Newell, with art by Esteban Maroto. There is no unifying title for the four issues of the feature, simply called AMETHYST in the indicia, and each individual issue has an interior title different from the title cited on its cover. One of those cover-titles, "The Last Enchantment," seems to sum up the theme of this somewhat dolorous farewell to the Gemworld fantasy (which DC has never revived in any significant way).

The setup for the original series built upon a common fantasy-trope: the prince (or princess) of high estate raised among common people. In this case, high-schooler Amy Winston lives all thirteen of her young years believing that she's the natural child of two earthbound mortals, the Winstons. But then she's pulled into the dazzling alternate dimension of the magical Gemworld. She discovers that her true name is Amethyst, that her age on the Gemworld is that of a twenty-something woman, and that she's the offspring of two Gemworld nobles slain by the evil lord Dark Opal. This otherworld is normally ruled by twelve houses, whose potentates all wield specialized forms of magic based on the gems inherent to those houses-- and each ruler is named after a gem: Lord Topaz, Lady Turquoise, and so on. Amethyst is quickly pulled into a rebellion in which most of the Gem-lords seek to overthrow the tyranny of Dark Opal, though a part of her wants to return to the mundane world of Earth.

As a raw concept for a fantasy-adventure, AMETHYST is certainly better than most of DC's offerings in the genre. The designs of characters and costumes are generally good, though the Gemworld itself is just another Renfair-cosmos apart from the gem-theme. Amethyst's conflicts with her two lives have a strong basic appeal, and she enjoys some girly-romance with the aforementioned Prince Topaz, though said romance is pretty well doomed by the fact that he's always twenty-something in his world, and in Earth-terms she's hardly age-appropriate. However, the course of the heroine's adventures, like the Gemworld itself, proved pedestrian, and most of the characters were one-note types. 

Perhaps because the cosmos of the Gemworld remained so vague, Giffen and his collaborators decided to link it inextricably with normative DC cosmology. By issue #12 Amethyst learned that the ancestors of the Gemworld's inhabitants came from Earth, using sorcery to escape mundane persecution, and that one of those ancestors, Amethyst's almost immortal mentor Citrina, had made that escape possible. By accident or design, this exodus resembled one chronicled in a 1965 "Supergirl" story, which posited the magical beings of Earth emigrating to an alien planet. The story of Zerox the Sorcerer's World became more germane to DC-continuity in the 1980s, when the planet was retconned into the cosmos of the Legion of Super-Heroes-- a development in part overseen by writer-artist Keith Giffen. 

Zerox and Gemworld were tied together largely in terms of theme, but with issue #13 Amethyst discovered that one of her parents had belonged to an ethereal species of "good gods" called the Lords of Order, eternally opposed to the Lords of Chaos (and freely borrowed from the works of Michael Moorcock). The consequence of the heroine's discovery is that she's not purely human, which comes not long after seeing her beloved Topaz marry a more age-appropriate woman. Her destiny is thus one of grim duty: when the Gemworld is menaced by an agent of Chaos called "the Child," Amethyst sacrifices herself by melding herself with the chaos-creature, so that on some level both of them become part of Gemworld.

THE LAST ENCHANTMENT is alluded to in the final letters-column of the open-ended series, so it seems likely that its writers, Giffen and Newell, proposed a further send-off for the character, this time with the far more luscious line-work of Maroto. I don't know if the regular series would have succeeded had Maroto or someone comparable handled the art, but Maroto's Gemworld is a visual feast for a fantasy-lover's eyes. 

Giffen and Newell rewrite the concluding events of the previous series. The evil Child has not been merged with Gemworld after all, but is free to plot with the other Lords of Chaos to sunder the jewel-cosmos. Amethyst, instead of being one with the elements, has become a statue of pure amethyst, being tended by an old man, White Opal, brother of the man the heroine defeated long ago. Everything seems to have become all peace and harmony thanks to Amethyst's sacrifice, though there are suggestions of a new conflict in the lineage produced by Topaz and his queen Turquoise. They've spawned three children, a little girl who's only minimally important to the story, and two brothers, Donal and Wrynn, who in their moral stances are as opposed as light and day.

Both brothers happen to be hunting in the forest where White Opal tends the statue of Amethyst (perhaps keeping the local birds from abusing it), when for no clear reason, the statue returns to human form. The continuity becomes confused-- possibly Maroto misunderstood the script-- for Wrynn disappears from the forest, while Donal remains behind to get the backstory on Amethyst from White Opal. Later, Wrynn shows up at a hidden cave and casts a spell that unleashes the demon Flaw, formerly paired with the Child. However, Flaw only shows up to enslave Wrynn to the Lords of Chaos, and to re-christen the son of Topaz with a name well-known to Legion fans: Mordru, greatest magician from Sorcerer's World.

Not many of the old support-characters from either world appear in ENCHANTMENT, though of course Topaz and Turquoise get ample time to mourn the sad fate of their son Wrynn-- who also eventually kills Donal as well. For her part Amethyst seems flensed of normal human emotions, and she tells one character that "My form is only a vision." She fights Mordru a couple of times, but somehow can't stop the evil brother from killing Donal. This causes Topaz to expostulate: "Is this the way of Order then, Amethyst? To show no pity-- to leave death in thy wake? Thou are no better than Chaos!"

Though the Child causes a lot of havoc to Gemworld through his pawn Mordru, Amethyst does manage to right all the main wrongs before returning to her statue-status. But since she's not shown to be entirely without human emotions at all times, one can't help but wonder if the denouement-- in which her former beloved and her romantic rival lose all of their children in one way or another-- might not be a sort of indirect revenge on her part. As I said, the fact that this is the "last enchantment" of the franchise doesn't suggest a very cheery end to an originally light-hearted series. But as a psychological myth, the tragedies attendant upon Amethyst's brief return resonate with considerably greater depth-- though, to be sure, all the suffering is quite beautiful to behold thanks to Esteban Maroto.

Monday, October 5, 2020



I've finished reading the second edition of Peter Green's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WEIRD WESTERNS, and I'm resisting the temptation to record assorted niggles about errors or omissions. But the project is relevant to my phenomenological outlook thanks to Green's definition of "weird westerns," which offer not only those that are overtly marvelous but also a smattering of those I would deem "uncanny."

Of Green's four categories, three of them depend entirely on marvelous content, ranging from stories set in the actual Old West, in which supernatural or science fiction concepts appear, or stories set on futuristic Earths or in outer space, but with western motifs included. The fourth category deals almost entirely with the category I call "phantasmal figurations," in which, generally, ordinary human beings pretend to be supernatural boogiemen. Though this trope dates back to the Gothic fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries, Green chooses to name this category "the weird menace western," explicitly taking this term from the so-called weird menace pulp magazines of the 1930s.  To be sure, these periodicals seem much more concerned with torture and mayhem than with people dressing up like ghosts, but I suppose Green wanted to emphasize that the source of the horrors in both cases were purely human in nature.

Not surprisingly, though, Green does not view what he calls "masked cowboys" as relevant to this category. In my system, characters like the Lone Ranger, the Two-Gun Kid and Zorro (more a masked cavalier than a cowboy, I suppose) are intrinsically uncanny by the virtue of their wearing "outre outfits." But Green only includes such characters if an adventure, or series of adventures, make use of either phony horror or of real supernormal phenomena.

I suppose. for Green and others of similar leanings, there's nothing intrinsically "weird" about a hero deciding to dress up in a mask and fight evil. And of course, the masks of the Lone Ranger, the Two-Gun Kid and Zorro don't evoke what I term the "antipathetic affects" associated with the genre of horror. However, I would counter that such masks-- even one like Zorro's, which might be worn by any ordinary bandit-- do conjure up "sympathetic affects" that verge into the phenomenology of the uncanny. 

At the same time, one can only judge the presence or absence of the uncanny on a case-by-case basis, for as I mentioned in PURPLE SAGE OBSERVATIONS, it's possible for an author to have some major character run around for awhile in a mask for purely functional reasons. It's certainly possible that someone could write a Zorro story so down-to-earth that the hero did not attain the larger-than-life persona he has in Johnson McCully's original story. 

On a similar note, I can't be sure how uncanny the original radio dramas of the Lone Ranger were, since I never have (and probably never will) listen to any of them. But the Ranger I encountered was a larger-than-life figure, a knight using a mask rather than a helmet, selflessly devoted to the establishment of justice throughout the unruly frontier.

To be sure, even Green can't entirely avoid touching on some of the "masked cowboys" who aren't pretending to be haunts. Presumably he only includes the 1940 serial DEADWOOD DICK not because the titular hero wears a bandanna-mask, but because the villain, the Skull, goes around wearing a skull-mask. Yet to the best of my recollection, the villain isn't wearing the mask to convince anyone that he's a spook. He's just masked to conceal his identity, which is the same basic motive ascribed to Zorro and the Two-Gun Kid.

To be sure, had Green tried to compile all the masked cowboys who followed in the wake of the Lone Ranger, his ENCYCLOPEDIA might have been twice its current size-- and how many readers would have cared about non-entities like, say, early Marvel Comics' first entry into the costumed cowpoke genre, "the Masked Raider?"