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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, November 29, 2020



In terms of visual tropes, the character of Cybersix—created in 1993 by two Argentinians, artist Carlos Meglia and writer Carlos Trillo—appears to be composed of pop-culture quotations. The heroine wears a slouch hat (The Shadow), leaps about a city’s rooftops while wearing a really long cape (Batman) and high heels (Batgirl) and maintains a civilian identity in part by obscuring her face with glasses (Superman). To be sure, none of these characters concealed their identities through cross-dressing, and the grotesque cityscape drawn by Meglia makes Gotham City look like a playpen. Yet, more importantly, Meglia and Trillo are also oriented on making their genetically-engineered character into a meditation on the nature of identity.

The Cybersix origin story—not officially translated into English, but available on the Net in fan-renditions—sets up the character less as a standard hero than as an often pathetic (albeit smoking hot) monster. When Cybersix initially begins patrolling the vaguely European city of Meridiana, she’s not seeking criminals to bring to justice; she’s seeking victims to prey upon, just to stay alive. Though her monstrous nature is not in any way her fault, she’s haunted by a sense of anomie from the sphere of normal life.

The character is first seen in her “Clark Kent” persona, that of Adrian Seidelman, a male teacher of literature at a Meridiana high school. Though her femininity is concealed behind glasses and beneath bulky men’s clothes, even her hidden charms attract the attention of a randy teenage girl, and this predicament in turn leads to Adrian being hassled by some of the teen girl’s classmates. Adrian is then “saved” by fellow teacher Lucas Amato, whose build is as big and beefy as Adrian’s is slight and unthreatening. Because of her singular nature, Adrian/Cybersix has no friends. But Lucas happens to need a confidante, and he bends Adrian’s ear about his new discovery—which just happens to be the rumored existence of a weird woman in black leaping around the rooftops of Meridiana. Though Lucas is employed at the school as a biology teacher, Lucas also has a “double identity,” since he became a teacher in lieu of his true passion, journalism. After much dancing-around about who and what Cybersix is, she finally divulges at least part of her story to Lucas, much as Superman disclosed part of his history to Lois Lane.

The proto-heroine owes her genesis to ex-Nazi mad scientist Von Reichter, who perhaps ended up in Meridiana after deciding that a hideout in Argentina was just too cliché. Whereas the Nazis of the Third Reich sought to convince ordinary men that they were supermen, Von Reichter decided to make his own super-beings via genetic manipulation. In addition, the scientist designed his artificial “children” to blend in with established society in order to slowly build power for himself. But some of his projects proved less successful than others. He destroyed an entire group of experimental servants, the “Cyber” line, because they weren’t obedient enough to suit him, and later bred a more servile group, sometimes called “Technos.” Of the original Cyber line, only the female designated Cybersix survived, thanks to the intervention of one of Von Reichter’s human servants—not coincidentally, an African Black, who becomes Cybersix’s surrogate father. To further complicate her survival, all of Von Reichter’s creations can only endure if they get regular doses of a serum called “sustenance.” Cybersix’s father steals a supply of sustenance that lasts through her childhood, though eventually she has to find a new source.

Like Superman before her, Cybersix conceals the part of the backstory in which she gets a double identity. Even in her youth she realizes she must journey to Meridiana and harvest sustenance from her Techno “brethren,” but that she cannot enter the city without identification. She chances across a wrecked car in which a father, mother and male youth have all perished, so young Cybersix poses as the slain boy Adrian Seidelman.

The imposture proves successful enough that Adrian establishes her credentials in the city. However, on the first night that she seeks to plunder a Techno for sustenance—which she takes, orally but non-fatally, in approved vampire fashion—Cybersix realizes that sooner or later she’ll compromise her cherished civilian identity. Because this particular Techno works in the capacity of a prostitute, Cybersix raids the hooker’s closet, stealing all the accoutrements she will use in her night-stalking persona: the hat, the long cape and dark bodysuit, and the high heels. Indeed, at one point in the story Cybersix flashes back on posing as an actual prostitute in order to lure other Technos into her web, so that she can harvest them. Whereas a real prostitute trades sex for money, Cybersix vamps her victims for a one-way transaction—though one could argue that she’s stealing back the life her “Bad Father” would have denied her.

What keeps Cybersix from being an unregenerate monster is that she does have a conscience. At one point in her conversation with Lucas on a rooftop, one of Von Reichter’s assassins tracks the heroine down. The two super-powered warriors fight, and the assassin almost goes over the side of the building. Lucas persuades Cybersix to spare the pawn’s life, and she pulls the killer to safety. The killer attacks again and plunges off the building to his death. Cybersix treats the incident with dark humor-- “Now I’ll go to heaven”—but her sardonicism does not distract from her need to be more human, particularly in the eyes of Lucas. A romantic connection will inevitably be made between the two of them, though arguably Meglia and Trillo are primarily concerned in using romance to give Cybersix the human dimension she lacks.

Trillo draws a loose parallel between Cybersix and real-life Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who sustained four separate authorial identities. In the origin story, Cybersix defines herself by only two personas: the daytime life of Adrian and the nocturnal existence of the sustenance-sucking vampire/prostitute. Her creator defined her as a third identity, that of a failed experiment, even if she turned out to be a Frankenstein’s monster set to destroy her creator’s livelihood. But by the end of “A Piece of Night,” Cybersix has taken a step toward a fourth identity: that of becoming a city-patrolling hero after the examples of Batman and the Shadow. I’ve not read more than the origin tale, but I would still hazard that her struggle to embody heroism took many more unexpected turns than the careers of most American crimefighters.

Sunday, November 22, 2020




Men have long been a necessary evil for the continuation of the species, but the moment that evil become obsolete, nature righted its course.—Doctor Matsumori, Y THE LAST MAN.

The above quote is not precisely the theme statement of Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s highly touted series Y THE LAST MAN, though any such theme would have to admit to a fair amount of anti-masculine rhetoric. In addition, the quote reveals a third level to the series’ title.

Two levels will be readily apparent to anyone who even skims the early issues. Vaughan and Guerra’s world suffers a mysterious disease that wipes out almost every on Planet Earth who possesses the “Y” chromosome, leaving a nearly all-female world. The one remaining male, at least according to early issues, sports a name that begins with the same letter of the expunged chromosome. Protagonist Yorick Brown—named, like his sister Hero, for a Shakespearean character by an academically-inclined father—isn’t precisely the empty skull over which Hamlet soliloquizes. That said, it’s highly significant that Yorick’s sister gets both the name and the assertive qualities of a “hero.” It’s quite as if Vaughan and Guerra have designed their entire tapestry to answer the implied question “Why the last man?” Or, to word the question more precisely, “why should anyone want men in a world where it’s constantly proven how self-sufficient women can be without the male of the species?”

Clearly the creators conceived this project as a reaction against more familiar versions of the “Amazon society” trope. This trope usually appears in one of two principal forms: either women have taken over a society once ruled by men, continuing to co-exist with men as their societal inferiors, or women have established some separate domain without the participation of men. Given that all of these stories were written for an audience where men and women co-exist in varying states of equity, the dominant denouement is that the female-centric society is overthrown or modified in some way. A tiny number of tales may allow the female society to persist, as we see in the WONDER WOMAN mythos and in occasional stand-alone works like the 1945 film TARZAN AND THEAMAZONS. But LAST MAN was formulated to advance the ideology that women can and should be able to run the whole world, even though those who desire the extinction of all men—including the unfortunate Yorick—are condemned as extremists who don’t get a seat at the table.

Unlike more masculinist forms of the male hero, Yorick has no desire to overthrow the new order. He’s naturally invested in the project to learn what unknown forces brought forth what is termed “the gendercide,” but even this knowledge isn’t a priority in his quest. His foremost desire is to find Julie, the love of his life, so that the two of them can share a happy ending. Not surprisingly, Yorick does not get a happy heterosexual union at the story’s end, and Brian Vaughan more or less telegraphs this development with his repeated rejections of what some academics call “heteronormative desire.” This is particularly underscored by the fact that throughout most of Yorick’s quest, the youth—portrayed as a slacker whose only modest talent is that of picking locks—needs the help of three strong women, all of whom have sex with one another at some point, though only two are committed lesbians and the third is actually in love with Yorick.

In terms of structure Y THE LAST MAN follows the form I've termed "the episodic novel,” in that its events are unified by a pre-determined plot with a specific conclusion. Despite its obvious strengths—Guerra’s skill in depicting facial emotions, and Vaughan’s skill with Yorick’s many humorous asides—the symbolic discourse is not organized enough to stand as a mythcomic in standing with other long works like HELLSING and DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND. It’s certainly not impossible to come up with a serialized novel in which the exaltation of the double-X gender attains mythic concrescence; I’ve cited numerous examples of mythcomics wherein the author’s didactic overthought complements his symbolic underthought. But LAST MAN is just a little too facile to reach those depths.

The one story-arc that manages to be mythic is what might be termed the “origin-story,” not of unheroic Yorick but of the gendercide. “Motherland” reveals the somewhat ambiguous answer to this mystery late in the series, prior to the sorting-out of Yorick’s romantic destiny. During this arc, Yorick and his three female allies travel to China, in part because the physician of their group, the coyly named Allison Mann, suffers from an illness brought on by her research into cloning. Allison comes from a family of scientists and has reacted to the gendercide by attempting to create male clones from Yorick’s cells, not because she holds high esteem for men—she’s one of the lesbians—but because she feels the need for “equilibrium” in human affairs. Her illness stems from her having carried one of her clones to term in her own womb, so she tells her compatriots that she needs help from Doctor Ming in China. Allison had an ambivalent relationship to Ming in that the latter was sleeping with Allison’s father Doctor Matsumori while he was married to Allison’s actual mother. But Yorick and the other women contrive to get Allison to China nonetheless.

In that land the protagonists discover not only that Allison’s father is the only other living man on Earth save Yorick, but also that he is responsible for the gendercide. The explanation proves more inventive than the usual world-doom brought about by a bomb or a pestilence, for Vaughan invokes Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of “morphic resonance.” Matsumori believes that this quasi-mystical phenomenon caused the immediate extinction of almost all men on Earth, and that through this medium “Nature” was responding to Matsumori’s creation of a female clone in his laboratory, some time before Allison birthed an unviable male offspring. Given that Matsumori has been thought dead for most of the series, Vaughan didn’t spotlight his role in Allison’s own psychological development, but the writer makes up for it here. The reader is told that Matsumori and his daughter had a fractious relationship, and that he was jealous enough of her own clone-project to sabotage it, making it possible that his project succeeded first, albeit with catastrophic results. Vaughan explains that not only was the first clone taken from Allison’s cell-material, Matsumori has also created several other Allison-clones, many of whom have grown to pre-teen status—all, it would seem, with the object of creating a more perfect daughter to replace the one with whom he just could not get along.

That said, Matsumori has also decided that his own gender has outlived its usefulness, and so he announces his plan to exterminate “the Last Man” prior to taking his own life. The fact that Yorick must be saved by a woman—as usual—is not surprising, nor is it surprising that the woman is the original Allison, bringing her father’s reign to an end. But Yorick’s response to Matsumori’s threat is rather peculiar:

Every guy goes through a period where he’s scared shitless and completely baffled by girls, right? But then we’re supposed to grow up, figure out that the best place for all the great women probably isn’t behind every great man.

This is a singularly tortured play on the old saw “Behind every great man is a woman,” not to mention a weird lecture to come from a man in danger of being killed. But it’s the sort of phrase that reveals how often Vaughan bends over backwards to adhere to ideology, even when it makes no sense to the fictional situation. It’s implied that at some time Matsumori may have been a typical exploitative male, one who wanted to keep his daughter from exceeding him in scientific repute—though this isn’t quite the same as keeping his daughter “behind” him. But following the gendercide, Matsumori is anything but a “males first” guy. He tells his captive audience that he considers his sex to be “flawed animals,” and if his later actions are in any way motivated by egotism, one might suppose him to be exalted by seeing his daughter continue his research. He tells Yorick that Allison “can continue my work. She and her mother will see that women live on beyond this generation. But you and I—we didn’t belong in this world before the plague, and we certainly don’t belong here now.”

While Matsumori doesn’t succeed in ending the life of the “penultimate man,” Vaughan never really refutes his villain; never articulates any strong reason why men should continue to exist in a world of strong women. Yorick lives to create others of his sex, but there’s no suggestion that men can ever recapture their hold over the post-gendercide world, and even Allison’s notion of “equilibrium” is barely referenced after “Motherland.” I believe this arc was strong symbolically because, despite his overall glibness, Vaughan had to grapple with some of the issues about the natures of men and women in order to make the origin-story work. And even though the revelation of the villain’s gender suggests that “Fatherland” might have made a better title—since Matsumori literally fathers a mostly-female world—the combative relationship between Allison and her father is a worthy addition to the many myths of “the war between men and women.”

Sunday, November 15, 2020



Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. --Mark Twain (or someone imitating him).

The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction cannot so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial. --Herman Melville, BILLY BUDD.

I’m reasonably sure that neither Twain nor Melville were first to observe that the pure artifice of fiction—whether one calls it “sense” or “symmetry”-- was radically different from the chaos of experience known as “the real world.” Of the two, though, Melville’s term proves more piquant in terms of its associations.

I introduced the concept of “artifice” as a counter to that of “verisimilitude,” and in this essay I aligned verisimilitude with the world of finite things, perata, and artifice with the world of the theoretically infinite, apeiron. Melville’s alignment of “fable/fiction” with “symmetry” has a related appeal, not least because he seems to be saying that the world of facts and reality is by contrast dominated by “asymmetry,” signified by his claim that “truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges.”

Assuming that this projected parallel is a fair extension of Melville’s thought, what’s “asymmetrical” about “truth” in its connotation of factual occurrences? The sense I get from Melville’s “ragged edges” is that the real world, unlike the world of fiction and fable, doesn’t ever come to a designated end, be that ending comic or tragic. Reality just goes on and on and on—and so do people. Though the sailors who witness Billy Budd’s symbolic crucifixion are impressed enough that they keep in their hearts “the image of the Handsome Sailor,” people who never met Billy will not only not know of him, they may believe the false reports of newspapers (the “fake news” of the day) that claimed the Handsome Sailor was a base mutineer.

In contrast, though there may not be such a thing as an absolutely “pure fiction,” fiction is “symmetrical” in terms of using recognizable tropes to put across emotional effects. In creating BILLY BUDD Melville knows that by using tropes that associated the titular sailor with Jesus Christ, he can produce a symmetrical effect in which Billy’s sacrificial death parallels that of Jesus. That is not to say that any reader will make a strict one-on-one equation of the two: at most Billy Budd is a literary “imitatio Dei.”

Further, the tropes used in art and literature must be judged to be “open signifiers” after the fashion of Jung’s archetypes. Neither tropes nor archetypes have content as such: their content changes according to the way they are used by creators. Melville uses Christian sacrificial tropes to impress his readers with the nobility of the central character and the pathos of his sacrifice to the “god” of mortal expedience. Another author, however, may use the same images to different effects. The tropes belonging to artifice are infinite in terms of their potential content and in terms of their ability to combine with other artifice-tropes. In contrast, the tropes that signal “verisimilitude” to the audience are finite in that they always depend on reproducing some sense of “life as it is,” no matter whether the reality is that of ancient Rome or 19th-century Nantucket. Their effect is asymmetrical insofar as they function to either counteract or at least counterpoint the symmetry of artifice.



BILLY BUDD was Herman Melville’s last prose work, though he passed in 1891 and the work wasn’t published until 1924. He spends most of the story relating to his readers the intensely mythopoeic story of the sailor Billy Budd, a good-hearted sailor who undergoes a Christ-like sacrifice. After Billy’s death, Melville then devotes the final three chapters of the book to various aftermaths. Chapter 29 shows the ambiguous fate of Captain Vere, the man who officiated over the sacrifice, Chapter 30 “reprints” a biased journalistic account of the execution, and Chapter 31 has Dead Billy immortalized in a sea-shanty. All three narratives seem devoted to chronicling the various ways factual events may become distorted by later misprision, and the opening paragraph of Chapter 29 seems to be taking the side of immutable fact over “fable:”

The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction cannot so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial. --Herman Melville, BILLY BUDD.

Now, the most amusing thing about this observation is that the novel is related by an unknown narrator as if said narrator were reporting an actual event, when in fact the book is complete fiction. I don’t know if Melville might have used some real incident as a jumping-off point for the events of BILLY BUDD, much as he used the reports of the whale “Mocha Dick” as a template for MOBY DICK. But there is no sense in which BILLY BUDD has “less to do with fable than with fact,” nor is it in any sense “truth uncompromisingly told.” The three aftermath-chapters are meant to lend the novel the appearance of real-world verisimilitude insofar as readers recognize how real-world events can be distorted by later narrators. But even if in the very unlikely event that some reader might credit Melville’s narrative as a factual chronicle, Melville knew that it was nothing of the kind. Thus even the aftermath-chapters are part of the overall “fable-like” design, not least when the final section discussed how sailors prize fragments of the spar from which Billy was hanged, the narrator comparing the fragments to pieces of the True Cross.

Why does Melville create a “fable” and claim that it is “fact?” It may be that literary priorities changed so much by the end of the 19th century that serious authors usually had to qualify anything that seemed in any way “fabulous,” and that this is why Melville threw in these supposedly verisimilitudinous chapters. There are other appeals to “life the way it really is” throughout the text, but the Christian parable is so overt that one cannot really take seriously any attempts to show reality’s “ragged edges.” Ironically, because Melville passed before he could produce a final draft of BILLY BUDD, the work we read today was compiled from the “ragged edges” of an incomplete draft by Melville’s widow and by literary scholars. Yet, Melville’s “symmetry of form” evidently overshadowed whatever rough elements he might have chosen to smooth over in a final draft. BILLY BUDD, even in its qualifying moments, has nothing whatever to do with “fact,” but to the extent one finds “truth” in the concept of literary symmetry, the novel certainly is “truth uncompromisingly told.”      

Wednesday, November 11, 2020



I had an additional reason for LEVERAGING LEVI-STRAUSS recently. For some time I’ve been meaning to get around to reading THE POETICS OF MYTH by Russian scholar Eleazar Meletinsky. I purchased the book purely because I was intrigued by the title, not knowing anything about the genesis of the project or the author’s background. The title suggests that the author means to produce a poetics for mythology, arguably humankind’s first literature, in a manner analogous to Aristotle formulating his Poetics for Greek art.

I had scanned a few sections of POETICS, though, and I noted that the author expressed an uncritical admiration for Claude Levi-Strauss. This did not in my opinion bode well, but before delving into Meletinsky I wanted to be as grounded as possible—or at least as grounded as I could tolerate—in Levi-Strauss’s work. Now that I have a solid grasp of the French anthropologist’s methodology, I can better understand why this Russian theorist admires him, and how I think that predilection hurts his theory.

Meletinsky’s project is to provide a broad overview of the many ways in which scholars have sought to explain the nature of archaic myth, with some additional material discussing the use of myth in modern literature. (This justifies the inclusion of scholars who are literary rather than religious scholars, such as Northrop Frye.) Meletinsky provides a substantially accurate timeline of the development of myth-analysis, beginning, as do similar timelines, with the 15th-century writer Giambattista Vico. Meletinsky even makes Vico into a sort of “founding figure” for myth-studies:

Vico’s philosophy of myth also contains in embryo … almost all of the main tendencies of later mythological studies… Herder and the Romantic poeticization of myth and folklore; the link between myth and poetic language analyzed by Max Muller, A.A. Potebnja, and Ernst Cassirer; the theory of survivals associated with English anthropology; the work of the folklore historians; and even distant allusions to Durkheim’s collective representations and Levy-Bruhl’s notion of primitive rationality—p. 7.

This is an appealing “cultural myth” on its own, even if Meletinsky expresses the vaguely Marxist idea that Vico had these vital insights because his native land of Italy was “undergoing a general and political decline” in that historical era. The “main tendencies” that the author finds in Vico divide into “two contrasting schools of myth interpretation” in the latter half of the nineteenth century. One of these schools Meletinsky calls “the anthropological school,” whose method inheres in “comparative ethnography.” He doesn’t apply a specific name to the other school but aligns it with Romanticism and linguistic analyses. For my own convenience I will rename them as the Synchronic School and the Diachronic School.

Followers of the Synchronic School are focused upon studying material in a particular time frame. They either collect data about traditional tribal-style societies “in the field” or collate data derived from such anthropological investigations. The “field” types would include such thinkers as Tylor, Malinowski, Levy-Bruhl, Durkheim, and Levi-Strauss, while the armchair analysts would include Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualist School.

The Diachronic School is more concerned with taking the long view of myth in many different and often contrasting cultures, seeking to come to grips with the essence of myth as a human activity. Of the figures Meletinsky names, this school includes Herder, Schegel, Nietzsche, Cassirer, Langer, Frye, Jung and Eliade.

A foreword remarks that the author may have received some hostile scrutiny from Soviet authorities because “any book or theory that privileged thought—the “superstructure” in Marxist jargon—at the experience of empirical contingencies and economic infrastructure was not readily welcomed in Soviet ideology.” I admit that Meletinsky doesn’t come off like a driveling Marxmallow, but some of his remarks suggest that he still had more concern with “empirical contingencies” than with the “poetry” that his book is supposedly concerned with. For instance, he faults Frye for an “anti-historical undercurrent’ (p. 87). Yet he has no problem with Roland Barthes for diminishing myth in favor of “acknowledging the primacy of history” (p. 69). When he began claiming, erroneously, that Cassirer had failed to logically distinguish the form of myth from the forms of literature and philosophy, I quit reading the book.

Meletinsky’s bias toward historicism and the Synchronic School reveal a critical inability to think of myth as a poetic activity, which inability renders his book’s title fatuous. He has almost zero interest in the ways in which myths appeared in the literature of Greeks and Romans, Babylonians and Egyptians, and pole-vaults over centuries of art so that he can address the use of myth in Modenist literature. (He does work in some desultory comments on Defoe and various Romantics.) But even Aristotle’s offhand comparison between the tragedies of his time and old traditions of “goat-songs” is more poetically insightful than anything Meletinsky writes.

Given my voluminous postings on writers like Jung, Frye and Cassirer, plainly I’m as much of the Diachronic Party as Meletinsky is of the Synchronic one. I’m not for a moment claiming that everything those worthies wrote was flawless, and at the very least the approach of the more data-oriented writers might serve as a check on over-Romantic tendencies. But it takes an extreme narrowness of vision to imagine that one can speak meaningfully of the link between myth and poetry without writing SOMETHING about the archaic origins of both.

Of course, one can only approach such origins diachronically, synthesizing general tendencies from such fragmented data as cave paintings and early hieroglyphs. But even if by some miracle we knew more about the general origins of myth and art, such knowledge does not change the fact that myth is not determined by history. Yes, one must presume that every story has come into being within historical time, even when we do not know just when. But the elements making up the stories—elements I’ll call “tropes” for simplicity’s sake—are ahistorical, arising and combining in endless chimerical ways according to the needs of a given audience. Even Levi-Strauss’s tedious anatomical dissections of countless archaic tales don’t testify to the abstruse “mathematics” that Levi-Strauss hypothesizes. Rather, such tales reveal the actions of innumerable nameless storytellers, seeking to please their audiences with patterns and pleasures.

I won’t repeat in detail my conviction that mythology depends upon the evocation of epistemological patterns. But I will add that for tribal humans, these patterns would be the essence of poetry; the fusion of the objective and subjective worlds in which those humans lived. Stories that relate that the sun is really a boat traversing the sky, or that the world was made from the bones of a giant, don’t serve any scientific purpose, nor at base do they serve the purpose of Malinowski’s functionalism (to which Meletinsky seems strongly allied). While myth-stories may eventually be used to support a given culture’s social order, no teller of tales thinks to himself, “Hmm, I think I’ll make up a story about that ball of light in the sky so that this generation and those that follow will have a sense of societal unity.” Nor would any audience listen to such stories for any reason save that imaginative sojourns give them pleasure. One of those pleasures includes the listeners imagining that the mysterious non-human world is at least tinged with human sentiments and priorities—and that may be the base origin of all of the tropes of art and religion, which may precede those stories we moderns would term “myths.” Meletinsky has a long section in POETICS. “The Classic Forms of Myth,” which seems to be nothing but a haphazard list of assorted mythological characters and situations, grounded in the aforementioned functionalism. I suppose this may be his idea of a diachronic overview, but even the most self-indulgent myth-commentaries by Jung and Joseph Campbell are better thematically organized. The author’s inability to discern the pleasurable element in mythic stories keeps his book as distant from being a “poetics of myth” as it’s possible for any single work to be.

Sunday, November 8, 2020



Grant Morrison’s THE SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY may have been, consciously or otherwise, the author’s attempt to emulate Jack Kirby’s FOURTH WORLD tetralogy. The respective structures of both works are complex enough to deserve a new term: ‘mosaic serials.” In theory all of the serials can be read separately, since they are only loosely tied together, in contrast to the more standard multi-issue crossover—and yet, the author’s intent is clearly to lure readers into investing into all of them, since he generally sprinkles references to the other participating serials in a given continuity. The biggest difference is that while FOURTH WORLD had an open-ended design, in that it might have gone on as long as readers supported it, SEVEN SOLDIERS was finite in structure.

While I would not deem the entirety of SEVEN SOLDIERS to sustain the discourse of a mythcomic, Morrison excelled Kirby in the number of mythcomics he generated in this format. Where FOURTH WORLD succeeded best in mythmaking with THE NEW GODS series and one outstanding issue of MISTER MIRACLE, SOLDIERS succeeded with ZATANNA, SHINING KNIGHT, and KLARION, while the others in the mosaic rate alongside Kirby’s other two Fourth-World serials, JIMMY OLSEN and FOREVER PEOPLE.

Of all the narratives Morrison based upon Kirby concepts, KLARION deviates the most from the source. Kirby devoted only two stories of his 1972 DEMON series to “Klarion the Witch Boy,” and in those issues Klarion receives only a cursory backstory. The youth flees to Earth from a world where people dress like American Puritans, but the reader never sees the world itself. The Demon stumbles onto the scene while Klarion is being pursued by a merciless judge with magical powers. The Demon defeats the judge, and Klarion, who also possesses formidable magicks, tries to make the Demon his personal protector against other pursuers from Klarion's world. There’s probably no knowing as to why Kirby named the witch-boy after a medieval trumpet, but he modeled one aspect of the character on Puritan stories of witches, since Klarion is accompanied by an animal-familiar in the form of a cat. Klarion’s magical powers, his derivation from another world, and his cat Teekl are the most substantial elements Morrison borrows from Kirby. Interestingly, Morrison does not exploit one Kirby-trope: Teekl’s ability to transform herself into a sexy cat-humanoid. Possibly Morrison didn’t want anything that might have distracted from his revision of Klarion into a character embodying childlike innocence.

In the SEVEN SOLDIERS series, Klarion belongs to a pale-skinned people who are a hybrid of Puritan-era humans and invaders from the land of the faerie-like Sheeda. These people inhabit Limbo Town, a commonwealth built far beneath DC-Earth, and they survive in part through limited trade with the upper realms. 

A parliament of “witch-men” serve as the community’s secular government, while religious life is administered by a clique known as “Submissionaries” (a fortuitous combination of “submission” with “missionary.”) The community’s life is stultifying enough in having been patterned after Puritan culture, but Klarion has an additional reason to desire escape: his father disappeared into the realms above and was never seen again. Further, Klarion is intensely intelligent, so that his intellect is confined by the dull rote of Limbo Town—where, among other things, the inhabitants resuscitate their own deceased relatives and use the risen corpses as slave labor. (The resurrection-power is related to Sheeda-magic, itself based on the Celtic myth of the Cauldron of Rebirth, and Morrison ties this magic into whatever forces revived perennial DC-monster Solomon Grundy.)

Inevitably, Klarion does escape Limbo Town. In the corridors above Limbo, he meets Ebeneezer Badde, a “bad father” surrogate in that Badde like Klarion’s father is also a refuge from Limbo Town. However, Badde plans to exploit Klarion by selling him to a coterie of surface-world slavers. Klarion retaliates by taking magical control of Leviathan, a hive-mind comprises of numerous feral children who live in the sewers, and then uses the kids to rend Badde limb from limb. (To be sure, Badde serves as Klarion’s protector so briefly that there isn’t a big patricidal vibe in this scene.)

As Klarion proceeds upward, he learns more about the bizarre surface-world, where in his eyes even the most mundane things, from skyscrapers to candy bars, are sources of ceaseless wonder. He doesn’t precisely ever internalize Badde’s one piece of good advice—“it’s just a world; you’ll soon grow bored”—but Klarion does learn that the upper world privileges the exploitation of the young, as much as Limbo Town subsists upon the exploitation of citizens who perish of old age. It's through one of these child-exploiters, Mister Melmoth, that Klarion has his first-seen interactions with kids his own age. However, in time Klarion learns that Melmoth plans to harvest the people of Limbo Town for his own purposes. Thus the careless youth is obliged to come to the rescue of the people he deserted, and at the conclusion of the limited series, to become a “soldier” against the incursions of the evil Sheeda. (To be sure, Klarion’s cat Teekl acts as a conscience to Klarion much as Jiminy Cricket does to Disney’s Pinocchio, with Melmoth standing in for Stromboli the Puppeteer.)

Clearly, Morrison’s Klarion, though sometimes ruthless, is a more noble soul than Kirby’s mischievous brat. Whereas Kirby used the idea of a “witch-boy” as a one-dimensional “bad kid,” Morrison situates his Klarion between two milieus representative of colonial America—one milieu governed by backward superstition and religious fanaticism, one by endless expansion and economic oppression. Thanks to Klarion’s mastery of his people’s magic, Limbo Town enjoys a perhaps temporary victory over the world of Melmoth (who meets his comeuppance elsewhere, in the FRANKENSTEIN series). Like many authors from Great Britain, Morrison shows a more acute understanding of American history than do many American creators—though the limited nature of the KLARION series ensures that the insights go no further than this schematic mythological opposition.


Four years ago, I posted SO-- DONALD TRUMP, so I may as well do the same for the new President-elect.

For the present I don't have a ton of stuff to say about this dull career politician, but here's something I just posted on a political forum regarding his probable reception by the MSM (mainstream media).


I think MSM will continue to promote all this bushwah about how "empathetic" Biden is for the next few months at least. The media giants almost have to do so, because they spent the better part of four years complaining that Trump lowered the political discourse etc. 

However, even though the MSM will let Joe skate by on such matters as his son's dubious activities and Joe's fealty to China, there's one thing that they can't and won't ignore during Joe's tenure, and that's Covid.

Covid has become the lifeblood of the MSM industry, and it's not going to go away peacefully just because Joe Biden is the new Prez. There's a slight possibility that Trump's vaccine will be ready to go by the time Joe takes office, but even that is unlikely to eliminate Covid right away. The MSM will still have to continue reporting on daily Covid infections, albeit maybe not deaths, because the first concern of these MSM businesses is to get viewers to watch, and Covid reports make them watch. 

I imagine some of them will spin things in Joe's favor for a while, playing up his alleged niceness and probity. But infections will in all likelihood continue to mount, and when they do, it will increasingly difficult for the news people to make Joe look as squeaky-clean as they've been doing thus far.

Saturday, November 7, 2020



HUSH, the 2003 work by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, is a work I would have liked to rate as a mythcomic. It’s definitely one of the best Batman stories to have appeared within the rather limited period of the twenty-first century. Even if the story had been crap, I imagine I still would have got a buzz at seeing how Jim Lee—by no means a favorite of mine—rendered the Bat-characters with his lush, photo-realistic art. Yet Lee’s contribution is matched by that of Jeph Loeb, who spins a cool mystery involving many of Batman’s famous foes, as well as introducing a new one, the titular Hush, who may go on to classic status eventually. HUSH is certainly a much better story than Loeb’s LONG HALLOWEEN, another Bat-villain rally from about five years previous. But try though I did, I didn’t find enough of a symbolic discourse to make this a mythcomic—though there’s at least an interesting bachelor-thread relating to Batman’s alienation from all the other characters who comprise his Bat-family.

Hush makes his first appearance in the collected work’s second chapter, entitled “The Friend.” The first words of the master villain—largely responsible for the assemblage of eight Bat-villains as part of a grand anti-Batman plot—are also on the subject of friendship, quoting Aristotle: “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” Hush’s true identity is a big deal in the narrative, but it’s old news now, so—


Hush is actually Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, one Thomas Elliott, a character whom Loeb created from whole cloth. I’ve seen one review that scorned the new character’s introduction as a transparent setup, but I’m more interested in whether or not Loeb succeeded in painting a good psychological picture of Elliott as more than just “a dark version of Bruce Wayne.” For the most part, Loeb succeeds in giving Elliott some psychological heft. Given that content, the mystery angle didn’t matter as much to me, not even when the character’s appearance—that of a man in a trench coat with bandages over his face-- is meant to suggest that of a more established evildoer.

Loeb and Lee model Hush’s general appearance not upon the iconic visuals of Two-Face, but upon that character’s appearance in Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. In that work, Two-Face’s disfigurement has been cured and he appears for the most part only a man in a coat, wearing surgical bandages over his face. Since HUSH also features an appearance of Two-Face's alter ego, attorney Harvey Dent, it seems clear that Loeb sought to trick the reader into thinking that Hush was simply a new incarnation of an old foe. Of course, had that been the case, then the writer would’ve had no reason to devote so much space to Thomas Elliott—who is apparently killed late in a late chapter, some time prior to the Big Reveal. As for Dent, he ends up being almost the only former Bat-foe who’s on Batman’s side, aside from the always mercurial Catwoman. Hush’s reasons for warring on Batman and Bruce Wayne are reasonably consistent, though they never become more interesting than the high-octane fights between the heroes—Batman, Nightwing, Tim Drake-Robin, and Huntress—and such opponents as Joker, Harley Quinn, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Lady Shiva, and Ra’s Al Ghul. On top of all this, Superman is also unwillingly dragooned to fight on the side of the devils, and Catwoman, despite being on the side of the angels this time, gets an intense battle with another goodguy, Huntress. To be sure, without a penciller as skilled as Lee, most of these punch-ups would have been no better than those of the average comic book.

Hush’s plan to destroy Batman fails of course, and he appears to “die” at the hands of his doppelganger Harvey Dent. Another five years later, Hush, who had made one or two intervening appearances, commanded the spotlight once more in HEART OF HUSH by writer Paul Dini and penciler Dustin Nguyen. There’s far more detail about Elliot’s background and his relationship with childhood friend Bruce Wayne, and while Catwoman once again plays a romantic role in the hero’s life, there aren’t nearly enough other villains here to qualify as a rally. Nguyen’s art is more attenuated and stylized than that of Lee, emphasizing mood rather than action, but this matches Dini’s attempt to flesh out the central villain, even expanding on the character’s repeated citations of Aristotle. Still, though HEART OF HUSH provides a literal “loss of heart” for one character, Dini doesn’t extend Hush’s potential into the realm of the mythic any more than Loeb did. Still, I certainly think the character has more potential than many other latter-day additions to the mythos.