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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

QUICK "WHITE GODDESS" COMMENT

An example of a jungle-hero who does conform to [so-and-so's] description [of a jungle hero who excels the natives at their own arts], rather than Tarzan or Phantom, would be Sheena of the Jungle. She's a white woman brought up in the jungle, and in her introductory stories at least, there's no particular reason why she's as good a fighter as any of her Afro-Tartar people. (Yes, for some reason not evident to me, the writer decided that Sheena ruled over a lost people made of a Tartar expedition that made its way down to Africa, staked out a colony, and intermarried with the natives.) Later she stops being a queen as such and just hangs out in the jungle with her "mate," waiting for trouble to strike the local tribes-- all Black Africans by this time-- whom she then saves with her extraordinary skills.

There had been white jungle-queens before Sheena, like the one from 1931's TRADER HORN, but they seem to rule by some implied "white authority" principle. Sheena is at least an exceptional fighter, which could explain why she awes people-- and she does have a vague perceptor, a witch-doctor named Koba who raises Sheena after he (maybe) kills her real father with magic. He sets her up as a goddess and then fades from the picture for the most part, so I guess he had taken his "white goddess" lessons from watching TRADER HORN or reading the Tarzan comic strip.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

COMPLEXITY, MEET DENSITY PT. 1

In order to explain why I'm choosing to devote a lot of space to one essay in Raymond Durgnat's 1967 collection in FILMS AND FEELINGS, as I said that I would in this essay, some personal reflections by an amateur literary theorist may provide some context.

I'm not certain as to when I read the Durgnat book, but since I was exposed to a lot of esoteric materials while working for a college library in the early 1980s, that's as likely a time as ever. I already had quite a bit of grounding in Jung and Campbell, and I probably discovered Frye around the same time as Durgnat. Durgnat didn't offer a lot of heavy theory in his essays, but in one essay, "Tales Versus Novels," he propounded a theory with which I both agreed and disagreed.

I lacked a certain amount of context to Durgnat's argument when I first read it, for the essay was in part a response to a type of literary elitism the writer found in a 1884 Henry James essay, "The Art of Fiction."  To my consternation Durgnat did not cite the source of James' remarks, which I later tracked down thanks to the wonders of the Internet. "Art of Fiction" itself was written in response to a diatribe by a more obscure writer of James' time, whom I chose not to seek out. In brief, James sought to set forth his parameters for excellence in literary fiction, and in the excerpt from "Tales Versus Novels" I'll print below, it should be evident that Durgnat is arguing that James' standards are based purely upon the art of the novel, not of fiction generally. Thus, Durgnat contrasts the virtues of "tales," meaning not only bonafide folktales but also pop-fictional creations like "Li'l Abner and James Bond," with the more celebrated virtues of largely naturalistic novels.

To the aesthetic of the "tale" academic culture has, by and large, turned a blind eye. As recently as my grammar school days, English masters instructed us all in the necessity for realistic and deep characterization, logically consistent behavior, penetrating studies of motive, and that proliferation of vivid detail suggested by Henry James' phrase, "density of specification." We were besought to insist upon the "texture of lived experience," and many of the exegeses we studied had strained to detect such "density" in such improbable places as folk ballads, or Chaucer's tale of Patient Griselda. Yet it was curious that, rich and complex as was the showpiece of the "complexity" school, HAMLET, each critic struggled to isolate its hero's "real" motives, to simplify, to synopsize, him into a figure almost as systematic and simple as another famous procrastinator, Li'l Abner. For, as Erich Auerbach remarked in his study of the development of European literary realism, "To write history is so difficult that most historians are forced to make concessions to the technique of legend."

A minor point first: in the essay to which I linked, James actually speaks of "solidity of specification" when he extols the ability of modern fiction to bring forth that texture of lived experience.  However, Durgnat's inaccurate memory is more inspired than the original, for the ideal of literary realism is based not so much in how "solid" things are-- which is "not at all" since fiction is not real-- but rather, in how "densely" an author provides all the details that produce the illusion of reality.

Now to a more substantial point: Durgnat is suggesting is that academic culture ought to appreciate not just the aesthetic of complex specification, but also the aesthetic of simplicity that one finds in folktales and popular fiction, and even in "high art" (like HAMLET), whose complexities ultimately reduce down into many of the same simple oppositions one finds in "low art." Here's Durgnat celebrating the symbolic oppositions one finds in Mary Shelley's famous creation:

The Frankenstein Monster is brutal but pathetic; he's a creature who masters his creator; he's brute material capable of a lofty idealism that, turning sour, makes him a devil-- but a sympathetic one.

I agree with Durgnat's readings of folk-lit and pop-lit in general, but the "disagreement" I mentioned above comes in when he tries to make these rather Levi-Straussian oppositions emblematic of his "aesthetic of simplicity." I don't think that, say, his Frankensteinian oppositions are simple; I think that they're just as "dense" as all the verisimilitude that Henry James ladles into his novels. I think I understand fairly well why Durgnat sought to create a contrast between his notion of tale-like simplicity versus academia's received opinion that "proliferation of vivid detail" was the defining virtue of all fiction, with the prose novel standing in as the best representation of that aesthetic. But I also think it was a mistake, because the academic community flourishes on the demonstration of hidden complexity beneath the surface of any narrative. As far as I can tell, Durgnat's aesthetic of simplicity had little effect on academia, be it concerned with the critique of prose or of cinema. In contrast, while the influence of Carl Jung's analytical psychology proves less popular than the pseudo-scientific formulations of Freud and Marx, there are still assorted critics who advocate the exploration of symbols through a Jungian lens-- in large part because Jung, like literary critics, was all about finding complexity amid apparent simplicity.

In future essays within this series, "density" will prove useful in further identifying the virtues of what I've termed, with due reference to Jung, the four potentialities.

Friday, March 24, 2017

NEAR MYTHS: BROTHERS OFTHE SPEAR ARCHIVES #1 (1951-55)



I grew up with the BROTHERS OF THE SPEAR characters as a backup feature in the Dell (later Gold Key) TARZAN comic book. The titular siblings were foster brothers: one being Natongo, a native Zulu prince, the other Dan-El, his foster brother, a white youth adopted by Natongo's father upon the death of Dan-El's natural father. At the time I read the feature, black characters were just beginning to show up in comics-genres other than the jungle-adventure story, so I didn't attach any special importance to the fact that BOTS was an "Ebony and Ivory" partnership. Only much later did I learn that the feature had been in the Tarzan comic for a really long time, since 1951; about fourteen years before ABC-TV made history by devoting a serious adventure-series to the exploits of a salt-and-pepper team played by Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. In 1951, the comic-book medium wasn't displaying nearly as many of the negative Black stereotypes that had been evident throughout the 1940s, but one didn't see many positive images of Blacks either. BROTHERS is one of the few exceptions, though indubitably it was only possible because Tarzan was the character selling the book. I'd be surprised if any of the 1950s covers even referenced the feature's existence.

I've only read the first of Dark Horse's three reprints of BROTHERS, but I feel fairly sure in labeling the entire series to be a "near myth," based on my knowledge of the 1960s feature and its short run as a stand-alone comic book in the early 1970s. BROTHERS was intended by all those involved in its creation-- writer Gaylord DuBois and artists Jesse Marsh and (later) Russ Manning-- as juvenile, episodic adventure. As a backup feature, Dan-El and Natongo usually had only six pages for each installment. Thus there weren't a lot of reflections or ruminations, the brothers went from one jungle-peril to another without much down-time.



The motive force for the plot was that once Dan-El became old enough, he wanted to seek out the culture from which his late father came. Natongo, roughly the same age, didn't need to know who he was, but such was their sibling devotion that the Zulu prince joined the search, attempting to follow the very minimal clues they had. For about the first ten issues-- all drawn by Marsh-- the series seems entirely naturalistic: just two young men, one of whom happens to be white, having adventures in the wilds of Africa. Then, after Manning takes over the strip, the heroes begin encountering uncanny phenomena. In fact, Dan-El's lost people are one such phenomenon, being a race of Caucasians living apart from the blacks in Africa. This tribe, going by the name of "Aba-Zulu," is also controlled by a breed of sinister witch-doctors who use various "fake magic" tricks to enslave the populace, at least until the advent of Natongo and Dan-El-- the latter just happening to be a prince of the tribe, destined to inherit the authority of his dead father.

The time is never faithfully nailed down: Dan-El and Natongo encounter some white men who use handguns and are dressed in line with 20th-century fashion, but most of the adventures seem to take place in an Africa wherein Europeans have made few incursions. One assumes that writer DuBois meant for Dan-El's people to be the result of a very early incursion. However, whereas Edgar Rice Burroughs usually based his "lost white people" on some well-defined group, like ancient Romans, DuBois tells the reader nothing about the denizens of Aba-Zulu except that they worship the "One True God"-- albeit without any specifications. I'd guess that even in the adventures I've not read, DuBois chose to keep the culture of Aba-Zulu fairly vague. These "African Caucasians," though, dress like Black Africans for the most part, even though the only cross-cultural influence one sees are the witch-doctors, who are implicit doppelgangers for their Black kindred-in-spirit. This implied conflict between a very primitive form of religion and a more advanced one is the most mythic aspect of BROTHERS, but since the essence of the conflict remains off-stage as it were, it can only be a "near myth."

The same thing applies to the seamless brotherhood between Dan-El and Natongo. I'm sure that some modern readers would object to the early storyline's emphasis on Dan-El's journey, though with the benefit of "foresight" I know that eventually stories will show the development of Natongo as a king in his own right. Similarly, just as Dan-El meets Tavane, the woman destined to be his queen, Natongo will also meet his future queen Zulena-- and that both women are destined to be martial presences in their own right, veritable "Sisters of the Spear." That said, BROTHERS is very much a boys' adventure, with no time for romance, though there is an unusual moment in one of the first adventures, when a formidable Black African warrior-queen, Liloma, takes an interest in Dan-El. It was certainly unusual to even allude to the notion that a Black female might fancy a Caucasian, particularly in a juvenile-targeted comic book. Still, nothing comes of Liloma's affection thanks to a timely invasion from a hostile tribe.

The relationship of Dan-El and Natongo has some mythic potential; just the image of the two of them working together as equals cannot fail to communicate the resonance of an important sociological myth. Yet, because the brothers are so unfailingly loyal to one another, they don't have any individuality. Late in this archive's continuity, Natongo swears by the One True God of Dan-El's people. There is of course no space devoted to the Zulu prince's religious conversion: he's simply taken on the same faith as his cherished sibling, without explanation. I imagine that the kids at whom the feature was directed-- most likely white kids-- this unexplained character-touch would have meant nothing more than that Natongo was on the side of the "good guys." But it does make me realize that, even with the best intentions, some period chauvinism still managed to sneak in.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

DWELLING ON DURGNAT

I've mentioned Raymond Durgnat (1932-2002) in passing a few times on this blog, but in the coming days I plan to analyze one of his pieces in depth, the better to amplify some of the aspects of my own theory.

The details of Durgnat's significance as a film-critic can be found on this Wikipedia page. As the bibliography shows, the majority of his works focused on particular film-makers or particular films, but there are some general-theory works. I assume that most of these tomes were, as is traditional in the world of academic publishing, cobbled together from separate essays written for magazines like FILM COMMENT or SIGHT AND SOUND. The Wikipedia page mentions at least one essay that he worked into the book that most resembles a "general theory of film aesthetics," the 1967 FILMS AND FEELINGS. I can well believe it that this book originated as an assortment of essays on related themes, for most if not all chapters are just a few pages long.

Doing a variety of searches on the web for Durgnat and related topics, I don't get the sense that the legacy of this once influential critic has had much impact on current Internet film-writings. Nor did I get any sense that the worlds of elitist comics-criticism were even slightly acquainted with the man; combined searches of Durgnat's name with those of THE COMICS JOURNAL or THE HOODED UTILITARIAN yielded nothing of substance. (As I opined in an earlier piece, I was surprised when I learned that some HUddite even knew who Northrop Frye was.)

There are probably more differences than similarities between the myth-critic Frye and Durgnat the "radical populist" (as the Wiki essay calls him). Still, they share a concern with the idea that popular art is not radically estranged from "high art." On the first page of FILMS AND FEELINGS, Durgnat asks rhetorically:

To what extent does criticism habitually dismiss as "bad art" films which are "coarse-grained"-- but authentic and rewarding-- and so falsify its view of the medium?

Durgnat does not quite explain what he means by "coarse-grained," but I think it likely that he was contrasting "coarse arts" with "fine arts." Chapters in the book defend such "coarse art" as 1945's THE WICKED LADY (about a female highwayman) and 1955's THIS ISLAND EARTH (Earthmen dealing with alien imperialism). The first film Durgnat mentions in the book is Nicholas Ray's 1954 western JOHNNY GUITAR, and though he freely admits that he doesn't claim that the film "is a masterpiece," but he does say that it "typifies the interesting dramatic and moral points, and 'resonance,' of a competently made film." His aestheticized populism is also displayed in the first chapter, where he emphasizes his ambition to "find not only some 'lowest common denominators,' but also some 'highest common factors' of taste, and to do so, less by theory, than by exploring specific films."

As the previous sentence attests, FILMS AND FEELINGS does not dwell on pure theory. I imagine that like most writers of the period, Dirrgnat took some influence from the Marxists film-theorists of the day, though he seems to me far less agenda-driven than a contemporary like Robin Wood. It may be that his type of criticism has been pushed off the stage by the extreme ideologues, though I imagine that some modern readers may still yearn, as I do, to see what the critic called "the wedding of poetry and pulp."

More on Durgnat anon.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

THE APPROPRIATION HUSTLE PT. 2

In Part 1, I focused my attention on the ways in which the concept of "appropriation" was falsely applied to Marvel Comics' IRON FIST property. I pointed out that the idea of a fictional white Westerner "appropriating" a cultural product like "martial arts skills" from the East was not significantly different from the real-life instance of a martial artist like Bruce Lee borrowing Western fighting-style for his own martial system. "Appropriation," in fact, has become a new buzz-word for people who don't know Roland Barthes from a hole in the ground. (Granted, the two are almost equally empty, but still.)



The word recently appeared in the statements of black artist Hannah Black as she argued that "Open Casket," a painting of 1955 murder-victim Emmett Till, ought to be removed from public display and destroyed, because it represented "the capitalist appropriation of the lives and bodies of Black people" (full remarks here). This artist certainly takes a Barthesian position in that Black conceives of Black culture as being something that only other Blacks can comment upon, while if whites do so-- like Dana Schutz, the artist who painted "Open Casket"-- their only motive can be to "transmute Black suffering into profit and fun." Ms. Black was slightly hypocritical on this matter. In the body of the protest she makes clear that she will not accept white attempts to empathize with Black suffering. Underneath it she's quoted as saying that she chose to delete names of "non-Black" posters who agreed with her, yet she was OK with said non-Blacks helping "in other ways" to have the offending painting expunged from human history.



This is such an extreme view of the idea of appropriation that even the ladies of the ABC-TV talkfest THE VIEW agreed that Black simply didn't understand what real appropriation was. And given that this talk show skews very liberal, I think it significant that Whoopi Goldberg equated Ms. Black's attempt to destroy a piece of art with the repressive tactics of Nazi Germany.

Black's uncompromising view holds much in common with the "We Must Have an Asian Iron Fist" argument, in that all such proponents have formed an exaggerated idea of the extent to which a given culture can "own" anything, be it a cultural practice or a history of suffering and marginalization. There certainly have been examples of white artists putting forth bad art with respect to the race problem: Stanley Kramer's movie "The Defiant Ones" comes to mind. But I don't want to see the movie eradicated from history, and even if Schutz's painting were as bad as the movie, I don't think it's ethical to call for its marginalization and/or destruction.



When it comes right down to it, the protest over both the painting and the Netflix series (for which I've now posted an incomplete review) comes down to certain individuals feeling marginalized by something they don't like to see in art. For Black and her supporters, it's the image of Black people suffering, at least when depicted by non-Blacks; for the Iron Fist ideologues, it's the unfair prevalence of Caucasians in popular entertainment. In both cases I think the proponents have devoted themselves to both bad logic and bad ethics. But at least they're not actually distorting historical fact, like the 2015 film SELMA, whose factual inaccuracies have been widely exposed in essays like this TIME article.   In one interview, director Ava DuVeray defends the accuracy of her portraits of both Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover, but somehow both she and her host fail to mention that she imputed Johnson as having colluded with Hoover in attacking King, which is pure fiction.



In an essay I can no longer find online, one writer asserted that SELMA's appeal for Black audiences was to rewrite history so that it seemed that only Black People got the Civil Rights Act passed, without any help from an ofay like Johnson, much less from Jewish rabbis.  Clearly, when things get to a point where a filmmaker like DuVeray falsifies history for her agenda, or an artist like Hannah Black calls for the destruction of a fine-arts painting, one can no longer excuse such bad behavior based on the egregious offenses of white culture, ranging from BIRTH OF A NATION to MISSISSIPPI BURNING.

And where does a commercial property like IRON FIST rate in this cultural equation? Well, if the comic book had ended with its fifteenth issue and the character had never been seen again (unlikely though that would be at Marvel Comics), then he would have remained a big fat zero in the matrices of culture. But Marvel didn't just cancel IRON FIST: they teamed him with the also struggling character POWER MAN, transforming the latter's book into POWER MAN AND IRON FIST with the title's forty-eighth issue.



For the remainder of the magazine's original run, the series remained fairly lightweight with respect to race issues or anything else. Nevertheless, I think that even if the feature didn't change any hearts and minds in and of itself, I have always believed that its implied "Ebony and Ivory" theme meant something within the world of comic books. It signified a basic faith, like the 1960s teleseries I SPY, that blacks and whites could overcome their differences.

I don't know what long-term plan the producers of the IRON FIST show have in mind, beyond the public announcement that at some point, Luke Cage and Iron Fist will be teamed once again, albeit in a larger team using the rubric "The Defenders." (Apparently the original idea was to revive the "Heroes for Hire" brand, but someone thought "Defenders" more salable). I think it likely that the series-producers wanted to duplicate some of the "Ebony/Ivory" theme from the comics, and that this is one big reason why "Asian Iron Fist" ran counter to the producers' long-term plans. There may well be important social statements one could make in the teamup of an Asian-American hero and an African-American hero. But I think the pairing of white and black still has a greater resonance within American culture, and that even flawed works like Kramer's "Defiant Ones" don't diminish that resonance. Any attempts to erase or efface the truth of that symbolism must be viewed as mere political power-jockeying.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT DIE" (SWAMP THING #10, 1974)

This week artist Bernie Wrightson, best known as the co-creator (with writer Len Wein) of DC's Swamp Thing, passed away. This prompted me to re-read the first ten issues of the comic, to see if any of those issues had a strong enough symbolic discourse to merit the label of "mythcomic."

I wasn't optimistic in my search. Though Wrightson's masterful draftmanship was evident in every issue, and though the Swamp Thing is one of DC's better-known horror-heroes thanks to his media-exposure, most of the Wein-Wrightson stories are enjoyable "near myths," but not quite complex enough.

Except, happily, the last such collaboration.



In contrast to many of the writer-artist collaborations at DC in the 1970s, I imagine Wrightson exerted considerable influence over what went into the issues. In one old interview. for example, he mentioned that the magazine gave him the chance to draw all or most of his favorite movie-monsters. That said, "The Man Who Would Not Die" is the only story in which Wrightson is credited with the plot. So it may be that, as he was perhaps winding down his association with the series, Wrightson may have tried to do something a little more ambitious than "monster of the month."

Some backstory: in issue #1, we see how scientist Alec Holland becomes transformed into a monstrous swamp-creature, and how he yearns for the chance to reverse the transformation. In issue #2 he gets the chance at a Faustian bargain when he meets another scientist, Anton Arcane. Arcane  offers the muck-monster a chance at liberation: using a special device, Arcane can separate the "Swamp Thing body" from that of the man it transformed, by transferring the former to himself, which transformation Arcane welcomes, in order to escape his status as a decrepit old man, doomed to die soon. Swamp Thing accepts and becomes Alec Holland once more. However, he learns that Arcane hopes to use the near-invulnerable plant-body to wreak havoc on innocent people. Thus Alec does the right thing, reversing the transformation and re-assuming his monstrous nature. Arcane dies and Swamp Thing goes on to other adventures. However, Arcane is "the man who would not die"-- or at any rate, one of them.

In the previous issue, Swamp Thing managed to make his way back to the Louisiana swampland where (in this iteration) he was "born." While wandering in the fens, he comes across an escaped convict about to kill an old black woman:



The convict, who goes by the punny name "Hunk" Dorry, squares off against the monster as Swamp Thing comes toward him-- but all is not hunky-dory for Hunk, for he topples over dead, having taken several bullets during his escape. The old woman, not the least bit frightened by the swamp creature, introduces herself with a no less punning name.



Though "Auntie De Luvian" would make a great name for a horror-story hostess, I assume that whoever coined this name was making a veiled reference to the woman's age-- although one has to wonder about said age, since she soon starts relating a story from Louisiana's slavery years, apparently prior to the Civil War, as if she witnessed it all.

Auntie tells Swamp Thing that a great cotton plantation once abided on or near the swamplands, and that even for a slave life there might have been pleasant-- except that the slave-owner, Samson Parminter, was exceptionally sadistic. Parminter seems to have a liking for the European custom of "drawing and quartering:" when a young slave-woman named Elsbeth resists Parminter's overtures, he commands for her to be torn apart. A burly male slave named "Black Jubal." protests, because Elsbeth is his promised bride. A dry caption tells the reader that since Parimnter had already removed one of Jubal's arms long ago, so instead of having him quartered, Jubal meets a fate explicitly compared to that of a Christian martyr.




However, despite being one-armed, Jubal manages to reach his enemy from beyond the grave, for at some later point-- presumably after Elsbeth too has been murdered-- Parminter is "torn limb-from-limb" and his remains scattered throughout the manor. Auntie De Luvian then concludes the story, saying that the slaves "run away" that the plantation fell into ruin, and that she, Auntie, stayed in the swamp because she had nowhere else to go. At that point, she then warns Swamp Thing about the presence of "unholy things."





The "things" happen to be Arcane and his synthetic monsters, his "un-men." It seems that though Arcane's original body did perish, the un-men managed to resurrect him in a synthetic body-- albeit one not very well constructed. Arcane and his servants have tracked the monster-hero to these lands, and the villain still has his same agenda in mind: to take over the Swamp Thing body while expunging the persona of Alec Holland. So they fight--




Then the fight-- which Swamp Thing is losing-- is interrupted by some unquiet spirits. It seems that during the battle Arcane makes several verbal references to making modern humans his "slaves"-- and this is enough to offend the ghosts of the slaves who died in the swamp.




Swamp Thing does not witness what the ghosts do to Arcane and his minions, for Black Jubal himself bids the swamp-monster to fall asleep. When he awakens, he finds that in the graveyard dedicated to the deceased slaves, some new gravestones have been erected for the evildoers. In addition, when the hero goes looking for Auntie, he finds only another gravestone, proving that the woman to whom he spoke was also a ghost-- specifically, that of "Elsbeth de Luvian."

While this can be seen as a fairly traditional horror-story in which the dead come back to avenge past crimes, I find that there's a little more attention to detail than in the average ghost-story. Samson Parimnter of course has no resemblance to the Biblical Samson, though the first name is similar to that of literature's archetypal evil slaver, Simon Legree. Similarly, the Biblical character of Jubal from Genesis bears no resemblance to the hulking, one-armed slave-- but the name sounds not dissimilar from the Hebrew festival of Jubilee in which, Wikipedia relates, "slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest."

In conclusion I can't resist observing that an ideological critic would probably be offended by the story's association between a "real-world" evil like American slavery and a "made-up" evil like a mad scientist. However, it's clear to me that even if Arcane is a fantasy-figure, he's a more than accurate analogue to the evil of world conquerors generally-- and thus, the ghosts have ample reason to despise anyone who proclaims a desire to bring back slavery of any kind.




Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE COMPLICATIONS OF COMEDY PT. 3

In this essay I summed up the "theme statement" from one of my key essays on "focal presences," ENSEMBLES ASSEMBLE:


ENSEMBLES ASSEMBLE established simply that it is possible for a work to possess two or more "focal presences," who may work as a team (the two alleged vampires in 1935's MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, various superhero groups) or may be utterly opposed (1934's THE BLACK CAT, 1968's WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS).  The latter is an important point in that the concept of "mortal enemies" pervades most if not all literary genres in one way or another. Usually either a "hero" or a "villain" alone is the focal presence, just as one sees with the examples from Haggard: the "heroic" Allen Quatermain and the "villainous" She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. 
On some occasions, the "centric will" may seem to emphasize the protagonist's opponent more than the protagonist-- as with the Batman tale "Laugh, Town, Laugh"-- and yet, in terms of the way the story is presented, it's still a Batman story, not a Joker story. But then, most if not all Batman stories follow the exothelic pattern. while all three of the horror-movies referenced above are endothelic: they seek to represent the nature of willing subjects that seem to be partly or fully negative with respect to the community within each narrative. All of the focal characters in these movies are "monsters," even though the "two alleged vampires" of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE are at the film's end are revealed to be actors in costume, merely acting out the dark fantasies of the story's actual villain.

Such last-minute transitions of the main character's persona are usually not the case. but there are some famous examples. Katniss Everdeen is in essence a demihero who finds herself forced to take the role of a hero, but by the end of the book-trilogy, she essentially reverts to the status of the demihero. However, I recently reviewed here a work of far less consequence than any iteration of THE HUNGER GAMES. It's interesting only in that it offers a more radical transition than one usually sees in works relating to the "superspy" genre, even in the subgenre of the "spy spoof."

The 2004 film D.E.B.S. is, as I said in the review, essentially "the glorification of the film's amour fou," which happens to be a lesbian hookup between Amy, a woman who initially dedicates her life to the persona of a hero, and Lucy, who has for some time prior to meeting Amy accepted the destiny of a villain-persona. By the end of the film, though, both women have decided that "Love is All There Is," and they flee the roles of both heroism and villainy. The lightweight tone and content of D.E.B.S. implies that they will live lesbianically ever after-- which is interesting to me, in my study of personas and focal presences, because it's more typical to see demiheroes transform into heroes, villains, or monsters-- but not the other way round. It's also more frequent to see demiheroes remain demiheroes from start to finish, particularly when they are found in ensembles, as I argued in THE COMPLICATIONS OF COMEDY PART 2, with the focal characters of TOPPER and I MARRIED A WITCH as my main examples.

IRRELEVANT ASIDE: I've argued that one can find "glory" as the essential-- if not overtly expressed-- motivation of most villains. I found this opinion echoed when I re-screened Michael Cimino's 1974 ironic heist-film THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT. Wounded unto death, the character of Lightfoot sums up his criminal career with Thunderbolt with these dying words:

You know... you know somethin'? I don't think of us as criminals, you know? I feel we accomplished something. A good job. I feel proud of myself, man. I feel like a hero.