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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...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

THE LINE BETWEEN "FAIR" AND "GOOD"

I recently ran through all of the film-reviews I'd rated for "mythicity" on my film-blog for the past six years, and as I did I noted how many of them had received the rating of either "good" or "superior." Not surprisingly, there weren't a lot of these, and though I didn't amass totals for either "fair" or "poor," my overall impression is that the vast majority of my reviews got a "fair" rating.

When I started the "1001 myths" project in June 2015-- which took in a smattering of earlier blog-reviews-- the only specific statement I made regarding the level of mythicity in the stories selected was this paragraph:

Starting the week of June 28-July 4, I will start posting at least one review of a comic book that meets my criteria for being "mythic." I would like to do two, but that may not be realistic. It's also occurred to me that it might be instructive to post not only an analysis of a consummate "myth-comic," but also one of an *inconsummate* story. Such stories make good counter-examples, in that they will possess myth-elements-- as do all narratives, by virtue of being narratives-- but the story uses them poorly or not to their greatest potential. It might also serve to make clearer that I don't regard "mythic complexity" as some sort of rapture that descends upon the writer as from heaven. Some raptures result only in babbling, while others culminate in a poetry that transcends all the Babel-like confusions of language. 
There's clearly no "rating" associated with my idea of the "consummate 'myth-comic,'" so it's more than a little likely that on some level I associated it even with comics that were either "good" or "superior." I didn't stick with analyzing "null-myths" for very long, but clearly they compare pretty well with the rating of "poor mythicity," partly in line with my remark about "babbling" and partly in line with my formulation of why potentially mythic texts end up as mere null-myths.

...because of my realization that on occasions a given work may have symbolic potential, and yet does not use it because of some flaw in the execution, I've started utilizing "null-myth" as a label for all examples of "frustrated mythicity." Thus far all of the null-myths I've identified thus far have frustrated their potential due to one of two reasons. Either their authors UNDERTHINK the UNDERTHOUGHT-- that is, the authors show some realization of the power of myth-symbols on their own, but said authors use the symbols as if they were static functions, like Joyce's door... Or they OVERTHINK the OVERTHOUGHT, in that they impose some mental straight-jacket around the potentially free-flowing images and symbols. This might include phenomena as intellectually disparate as the over-intellectualizations of figures like Sim and Ditko, as well as instances where some editorial consideration overrides the free flow.-- MORE NULL-MYTH NOODLINGS.
 
So "null-myths" are works in which the mythic potential is "poor"-- but what works are merely "fair" (without yet even getting to the question of what "fair" itself means)? The simplest answer is that these would be the "near-myths" that I started formally identifying in this May 2016 essay, where I wrote:
I've defined a "null-myth" as a narrative that shows potential for mythicity / symbolic discourse but fails to articulate that potential to its best effect. In contrast, "a near-myth" is a part of a narrative that sustains a mythic kernel of meaning, but does not become unified into a fully-developed "underthought" throughout the narrative.
So, to answer my question as to what provides the line between "fair" and "good," it would seem to be the "unity of action" I described in THE UNITY OF OVERTHOUGHTS AND UNDERTHOUGHTS.

I may use this line of thought to a lead-in to another question, regarding whether it's most beneficial to have a "unity" of idea between a work's overthought and underthought, or whether the two exist on essentially separate but intersecting mental planes, not unlike the interdependence of harmony and melody in music.

Friday, January 13, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE SHAMAN" (SHOWCASE #87, 1969)



"The Shaman" was the third and last story in SHOWCASE to feature the "white Indian" teen Firehair. All of the stories were both written and drawn by the character's creator Joe Kubert, but whereas the first two stories fall into a purely naturalistic domain, this one, as the cover clearly shows, seems to depict magical phenomena. I'll give the game away from the start, however: most of the young hero's mystic experiences take place within a fever-dream, so that the story falls into the domain of the uncanny through its use of the "delirious dreams" trope.

It's established in the two previous entries that Firehair doesn't fit into either the white or the Indian world, and thus he begins "The Shaman" alone, riding his pinto into a "strange land" that seems to be "scarred with a terrible wound" (the Grand Canyon). Firehair ponders that any tribe that might live here "must be as strange as the land on which they live." He's then immediately attacked by a hungry mountain-lion, which knocks him off his horse. As Firehair's mount flees, the young man tries to fight off the big cat. He and the creature fall off a cliff, but Firehair saves himself by grabbing a root and hauling himself back to solid ground. He's been badly clawed though, and he's forced to wander on foot, looking for someone who can help him. At some point in the real world he collapses into a dream, and the dream begins with him encountering the "strange" tribe he imagined before.




As the above section shows, the tribe immediately accuses Firehair of being guarded by an evil spirit, and the tribal shaman claims that he sent the mountain cat to kill him. The witch-doctor also demonstrates his supernatural power upon the youth, but refrains from killing him because "the death of evil should be a lesson for all." Firehair is then placed on upon a pedestal-like rock in the center of a pit filled with rattlesnakes: "the Circle of Venom." This pointless punishment takes the form of an initiatory ordeal, given that the hero must then strive to keep from falling asleep, lest he tumble into the snake-pit. Firehair blacks out briefly, but though he doesn't fall off the pedestal, he does behold that the tribal grounds have become enswathed by a "colorless sky mist." Then the tribesmen remove him from the pedestal with a bridge, and the shaman leads Firehair and a small party of braves to their next rendezvous. The Shaman goes in front, and the hero thinks of him as "the poisonous head of a writhing serpent."

The group ends up in one of the canyons-- referred to as "the earth's bowels"-- and Firehair sees the cave "drenched in a red light." The Shaman positions himself in front of a "bottomless abyss," calls out to a "spirit of the nether-world." Out of the abyss, filled with red smoke, rises a colossal man with the head of a coyote, and this spirit-figure declares that he cannot take Firehair into his domain until he faces the "supreme trial," facing "He-That-Holds-the-World."




This means that the group must now seek out the site of "the Black Pool," another cave where all of the lighting is blue and everything is cold and overgrown with ice-shapes. The Indians arrive at the shore of the forbidding Black Pool and tie their human sacrifice to a nearby "stone shaft." Then out of the pool comes He-That-Holds-the-World, a gigantic prehistoric-looking turtle, intent on gobbling down its victim. Faced with a creature too huge to fight, the hero takes his first decisive action in the dream: screaming the Blackfoot "cry of battle." This somehow results not only in the splintering of the shaft holding the hero, but also the collapse of the ceiling above. Firehair's last thought, as the dream ends, is that "all was darkness-- the end of life."




However, the next moment he awakens from his fever-fantasy in the care of a friendly tribe of Navajos. He meets in real life the same shaman he met in his dream, who informs Firehair that he's been unconscious for three days, because his wounds had become "poisonous" (by which Kubert certainly means "infected"). He even uttered his war-cry while in his delirium, and now that he's awake, he sees a kachina doll that some tribal child made to help him through his illness.




There's nothing startlingly original about Kubert's main concept: of a character who sees aspects of reality reflected in a fever-dream, but there are a lot of good touches here: that the "evil" that the dream-shaman wishes to cast out is actually the real-life infection that the good shaman seeks to defeat. The Circle of Venom is also a further elaboration of the poison-effect. The chilling effect of the second cave is probably meant to connote the hero's bodily chills, and something similar is probably true of the red cave, even though it's not specifically said to be hot. It's possible to interpret Firehair's prescient visualizations of both the shaman and his doll as dream-interpretations of things he sees in his delirium, though the possibility of some psychic intuition is also left open.

In addition, Kubert has loosely evoked familiar Native American myth-figures here for his dream-journey. Since these figures have different names in different languages, many texts simply use generalizing English names like "Coyote" and "Turtle."  However, I think Kubert might have been less inspired by actual Native American myths than by the "weighing of the heart" ritual in Egyptian myth, wherein jackal-headed Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased-- and if the dead soul is found wanting, he's devoured by the monster Ammit. Additionally, the "sky is falling" myth-theme is a vital one in general world mythology. There's a fascinating parallel between the tuirtle-creature that "holds the world," which is defeated when Firehair more or less breaks a pillar, also a common symbol for whatever-supports-the-sky-- though here the destruction of both turtle and pillar result in the end of the dream, rather than of the real world. It's a shame that Joe Kubert didn't turn his superb artistic tales to this sort of mythopoeic story more often during his nonetheless impressive career.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

ARCHETYPE AND ARTIFICE PT. 4

The long-term applicability of the concept of the artifice-mode is that it finally allows me to formulate a solid rationale for all of my declarations that such-and-such a character was "larger than life," like this one from my review of EYES OF A STRANGER:

EYES debuted in theaters at a time when psycho-slasher films were still in ascendance, but this film's killer has little in common with the more colorful fiends of the period: he isn't deformed, wears no distinctive mask or clothing, and uses no special gimmicks or bizarre methods to commit his murders-- all in spite of the fact that one of the writers credited with the EYES screenplay also worked on the seminal 1980 FRIDAY THE 13TH.  Nevertheless, for all the naturalistic touches here, the script does give the villain a larger-than-life quality that confers a sense of dread to the proceedings.

I later contrasted this psycho-film with NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, where I said of the killer-- who does have a minor "gimmick" in his ability to disguise himself--

Gill proves a far more more consummate actor than Kate, for his gimmick is to assume various disguises in order to get the older women to let him into their apartments, whereupon he kills them. Yet, despite this disguise-skill, Gill never inspires the "dread" that I look for in uncanny psychos, even of the mundane sort that appears in EYES OF A STRANGER. Everything about Gill, as well as his functional double Brummer, is easily explained by Freud's emphasis upon "physiological concepts," as Jung termed them.

But "physiological concepts" are just a specific example of the 1968 film's adherence to pure verisimilitude, of its attempt to minimize the role of "artifice" in fictionalizing the real story of the Boston Strangler. I described this tendency in Part 1:

an author's focus upon verisimilitude means that he automatically seeks to limit the potential "affective freedom" of his work, in favor of a "cognitive restraint" based in his own acceptance, and that of his potential audience, of all the rules of consensual reality.

I may have on occasion connected "affective freedom" with the author's ability to generate discourses of symbolic complexity, but if I have done so, this would be a mistake. "Affective freedom," rather, stems from the author's intention to privilege the tropes from the domain of literary artifice over tropes that signify adherence of worldly verisimilitude, and that freedom can be found in any uncanny or marvelous work, regardless of its symbolic complexity, a.k.a. "mythicity." Indeed, I have rated both EYES OF A STRANGER and NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY as "poor" in terms of their mythicity, but the former is uncanny specifically because its author(s) show a greater appreciation for the inherited tropes of slasher-fiction, while the authors of LADY do not.

Sometimes that appreciation does not even take the form of any single trope that can be definitely nailed down. I recently labeled the 1987 film THE STEPFATHER as uncanny, and this psycho in this movie is, like the one in LADY, a chameleon who changes his appearance in order to ingratiate himself with his future victims. I also rated STEPFATHER as poor in relation to mythicity, but although there's a little more of an attempt to psycho-analyze the killer than one sees in EYES OF A STRANGER, there's also a sense that the Stepfather's madness is something outside the boundaries of a reasonable world. Neither Christopher Gill nor Jerry Blake wear any truly bizarre disguises a la Norman Bates, and their methods of murder are fairly mundane. But Blake's madness is "larger than life" because his creators, unlike those of Gill, seem far less preoccupied with proving that the killer's madness is typical for madmen of his type-- which means, in short, privileging "cognitive restraint" over"affective freedom."

In short, when in future I use the term "larger-than-life," it will be applied to narrative entities and situations that *seem like* (see POWER AND POTENCY 2) they are greater than life, even though they are not greater in a cognitive sense. Such things become "anti-intelligible" because at the core they are more aligned with the domain of artifice--the home of both stereotypes and archetypes-- than with the domain of verisimilitude.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ARCHETYPE AND ARTIFICE PT. 3

So far the only thing I've written about any linkage between archetypes and the concept of artifice-- which should properly be considered a "mode" given that it, like verisimilitude, deals with ways that authors create their stuff-- is this section from EFFICACY, MEET MYTH:

if myth [NOTE: as Frye is using the term] is really defined by the transhuman powers of deities, then what is being transmitted from the clearly mythic story of "Euripides' Ion" (where the protagonist is the offspring of a god) to the verisimilitudinous story of Oliver Twist? It seems likely to me that the way myth [NOTE: by which *I* mean "archaic mythology"] interacts with "the constructive principles of story-telling" is that myth supplies archetypes that have an expressive, emotive appeal irrespective of their phenomenal context. Thus, Frye is much nearer to the truth later in the ANATOMY, when he defines archetypes as "complex variables." I believe that though the literary critic distanced himself from the psychological views of Jung, Frye may have been exposed to Jung's argument about the archetypes as a structuring principle.
So what Frye calls "the constructive principles of story-telling" should take in both "verisimilitude" and what I have renamed "artifice," since in the same section where he introduces his two terms, he states that, "Myth, then, is one extreme of literary design; naturalism is the other."   

Now, though Frye elsewhere defined archetypes as "complex variables," I don't think he's always consistent in emphasizing their complexity, be it potential or actual. For instance, I don't deem the use of the "birth-mystery plot" in OLIVER TWIST to be particularly complex, although the archetype by itself *can* be turned to more complex ends. Though I believe Frye had been exposed to some modern semiotic theory, such as I invoke in my differentiation between simple and complex variables, he sometimes uses the word "archetype" to describe any trope in a modern story that resembles a story from archaic myth.

I, however, favor the Segal definition of the archetype cited earlier, since I think it best coheres with Jung's writings on the subject:

An archetypal experience is not any emotional event but only an overwhelming one, the extraordinariness of which stems exactly from the power of the archetype encountered through projection.

What makes archetypes "overwhelming?" I would say that it is the same complexity of associations that I have elsewhere termed "the combinatory sublime." Simpler associations characterize simple variables, and I would say that the "birth-mystery" aspect of OLIVER TWIST is pretty simple, even compared to its use in, say, GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

We can easily imagine that Dickens, in composing both works, draws upon his knowledge of "birth-mystery" plots in earlier myths and literary works. But if OLIVER is a simple version of such plots, and EXPECTATIONS is a complex one, then it stands to reason that artifice as a mode embraces both simple variables ("stereotypes") and complex variables ("archetypes.")

More to come in Part 4.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

ARCHETYPE AND ARTIFICE PT. 2

At the end of PART 1 I stated that I would investigate a particular archetypal trope, that of the "birth-mystery plot," across the three phenomenalities of the NUM theory. The two examples more or less introduced by Frye in the earlier quoted section from his ANATOMY were Oliver Twist (my selection of a Dickens "mystery orphan") and Ion (from the Euripides play of the same name). Within the domain of "the uncanny," the most famous example of this trope is almost inevitably Tarzan. whose origin-tale may be more widely known than that of the other two.

I'll backtrack here just enough to reference my 2013 statement here as how the uncanny differs from the purely naturalistic, both in terms of the principle of "strangeness" and in terms of a potential for combinatory power:

What Todorov fails to comprehend here is that the "quite rational explanations" in USHER do not dispel the sense of something bizarre taking place, as is seen when the "statue" in WINTER'S TALE seems, ever so briefly, to have come to life.  The slight nods to possible rational explanations in USHER do not the banish the strangeness of the House, with its face-like facade, its doomed occupants and its cataclysmic descent into the tarn.  This is the common element of all of my ten uncanny-tropes.  In each case the uncanny-author plays a game that resembles the game of the advocate of naturalism, in that he does not violate causality.  But he does so not to reify "the real," as Todorov suggests.  He does so to create a "supra-real world," one in which there is a far greater potential for combinatory sublimity than in any naturalistic work. 

Now, in PART 1 I made a brief comparison between the narrative strategies of Oliver's creator and the dramatist of ION:

the author [Dickens] will seek to emphasize that, say, Oliver Twist is the product of an unjust social system, rather than the obvious spawn of either a fiction-writer or of any mythological entities that might stand in for the author. (Again following Frye's example, the god Apollo exists to "explain" the provenance of his mortal son Ion, in more or less parallel fashion to the sacrificed giant whose death "explains" the origins of the universe.)
Now, the caveat must be made that Euripides did not "invent" Ion as the other two invented their respective characters. Nevertheless, an author who follows the basic outlines of a traditional myth-tale about a traditional character tacitly accepts the phenomenality implied in that material, and anyone who attempts to produce a mythology out of whole cloth, as Tolkien did, is likely to pursue roughly the same narrative strategies as the archaic authors, as far as how the gods function with relation both to mortals and to godly kindred.

Again I return to the definition I formulated of the three phenomenalities in response to my reading of Roy Bhaskar: 

In the NATURALISTIC category, all phenomena are both "coherent" and "intelligible."
In the UNCANNY category, all phenomena are "coherent" in that they do not exceed the cognitive//physical nature of causality, but some phenomena are not "intelligible" given that they may prove unintelligible by the standards of the NATURALISTIC.
In the MARVELOUS category, some phenomena may be neither "coherent" nor "intelligible."

(Note:my current term "coherent" substitutes for the discontinued one "regular.")

Everything in Oliver Twist's world is both coherent and intelligible, just as certain things in Ion's world are neither coherent nor intelligible. In the world that Burroughs created for Tarzan, however, he pursues some of the same goals as the naturalistic author as described in Part 1:

an author's focus upon verisimilitude means that he automatically seeks to limit the potential "affective freedom" of his work, in favor of a "cognitive restraint" based in his audience's acceptance of the rules of consensual reality. 

But Tarzan is not strictly intelligible as is Oliver Twist. I'm not speaking of incidents in the first book that strain credulity, like the ape-man teaching himself to read, because Burroughs wants his readers to believe that this miracle falls within the bounds of naturalistic possibility. Rather, it's that the author allows his character an "affective freedom" that exceeds the type of affectivity normally possible for characters in naturalistic worlds. Burroughs isn't being literal when he styles Tarzan a "forest god," but the impression of godhood is conveyed by the hero's strength, which on one hand is entirely human in its scope, and yet on the other hand has been developed to an extent most men never experience, including jungle-dwelling tribesmen who haven't been raised by apes.

Marvelous works by their nature must privilege the world of literary artifice, whether they are creating a whole world of marvelous things (Tolkien again) or just one marvelous thing in an otherwise natural-seeming world (Verne, and, in a narrative sense, Euripides). Naturalistic works privilege the perceptions, by the author and his culture, as to the restrictions of verisimilitude. The uncanny author utilizes strategies from both domains. Poe in Todorov's example of "House of Usher" allows his reader to pursue a naturalistic interpretation if he really wants it, but the author doesn't buttress that interpretation with assorted facts about the tendency of houses to sink into tarns at the least provocation.

In Part 3, I'll get back to the matter of how archetypes and artifice go together.

ARCHETYPE AND ARTIFICE PT. 1

An archetypal experience is not any emotional event but only an overwhelming one, the extraordinariness of which stems exactly from the power of the archetype encountered through projection.-- Robert A. Segal, THEORIZING ABOUT MYTH, p. 93. (quoted in greater context here).
A stereotype is defined by bare functionality.
An archetype is defined by some degree of "super-functionality."-- A QUICK ASIDE ON FUNCTIONALITY

The primary similarity between (1) the many facets of "the archetype" as described by Jung and others and (2) the concept of "artifice" that I introduced in EFFICACY, MEET MYTH is that both are abstract constructions. Both are built up not from observed experience but from patterns one projects upon abstract ideas about experience. Such abstractions tend to intermingle willy-nilly, which is why my EFFICACY essay might have been better titled ARTIFICE, MEET MYTH, since I was arguing that my new term provided a more effective substitute for Northrop's Frye use of "myth" in the particular Fryean schema I quoted.

Still, "efficacy" wasn't without significance. Cassirer introduced the term as a way of seeking to understand the "non-causal causality" one finds in myth, as one sees in favorite tropes like that of the giant who is dismembered to create the universe. I drew a comparison between Cassirer's definition of efficacy as a "translation and  transposition of the world of subjective emotions and drives into a sensuous, objective existence" and viewing this as comparable to the will-based process by which a literary author creates a world out of his own "subjective emotions and drives."  No matter how much an author may think that he's attempting to hew close to observed experience, the moment he seeks to create fiction-- as opposed to nonfiction and memoir-related works like those of Harvey Pekar-- he will always impose some sense of order on his fictive world that parallels that of the cosmic order one finds in myth.

Nevertheless, many authors seek to buttress their visions of real life with direct observations that they or others have taken from experience, and all such attempts to bring the fictional world into line with observed experience fit under the heading of Frye's category "verisimilitude." Ironically, "verisimilitude" can even take in inaccurate information. In HENRY IV PART 1, Shakespeare makes Henry and Hotspur the same age, which was not historically accurate. However, misinformation serves the same purpose in the play that accurate information would: to give the audience a set of particulars fact about the antagonists.

The author who wants to be admired for his verisimilitude, then, endeavors to imply that any subjective concerns that inform his work are logical extrapolations from his observations of experience. Thus, even when he employs an archetypal trope, such as Frye's example of the "birth-mystery plot" in various Dickens works, the author will seek to emphasize that, say, Oliver Twist is the product of an unjust social system, rather than the obvious spawn of either a fiction-writer or of any mythological entities that might stand in for the author. (Again following Frye's example, the god Apollo exists to "explain" the provenance of his mortal son Ion, in more or less parallel fashion to the sacrificed giant whose death "explains" the origins of the universe.)

I'll state then a general maxim: no fiction-author can ever completely succeed in divorcing himself from the domain of artifice and totally cleaving to the domain of verisimilitude.

That said, an author's focus upon verisimilitude means that he automatically seeks to limit the potential "affective freedom" of his work, in favor of a "cognitive restraint" based in his own acceptance, and that of his potential audience, of all the rules of consensual reality. And that means that the "will" incarnate in the work of a (usually) naturalistic author like Dickens is not quite the same as what one sees in the work of one best known for marvelous scenarios, like Euripides, or of one who uses the same archetype in an uncanny work-- more upon which in Part 2.




         

Thursday, January 5, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: [MISERY & VALKYRIE], AIR FIGHTERS/ AIRBOY (1943/1946)




This week on my film-blog I looked at three episodes of STAR TREK-- all written by different writers-- because I felt that they were all riffs on an idea important to the show's producer, and because they seemed to complement one another, like images in a triptych-painting. Here I'm going to investigate three separate stories of the 1940s hero Airboy, even though they weren't published concurrently and may have been written by different authors. I've usually only considered stories that were unified continuities, but these three tales seem united by mythic theme rather than plot.

The first story appears in AIR FIGHTERS COMICS #12, less than a year after Airboy's debut in November 1942. GCD credits the first story to one Harry Stein, though the other two lack attribution, but all three were drawn by artist Fred Kida. The story introduces a new villain, Misery, who looks like a walking skeleton and sometimes wields an axe. The weapon may have a stand-in for the scythe of the Grim Reaper, since Misery has been designed to be a "Grim Reaper of the skies." He's given an origin of sorts, though the script doesn't make the matter entirely explicit.



Duray-- whose reasons for being in India are not disclosed-- is a martyr to the science of unpowered flight, and the Airtomb, the stone structure that marks the place of his sacrifice.  Over the next two centuries, the Airtomb becomes a symbolic harbinger of death to fliers, but it only seems to show itself as a direct threat in 1943, moments after Airboy has shot down an Axis plane. As if in retaliation the Airtomb shoots down several RAF planes, but eludes the young hero. He finally seeks out the legendary location of the plane in Calcutta, and meets the craft's eerie pilot.



Eventually Misery overcomes Airboy and hurls him into a ravine styled "The Black Hole of Calcutta." The real "Black Hole" was a dungeon in which several British officers of the 1700s perished, and it somehow became a standard trope to describe a horrible place. Here it's become almost a gateway into some dismal underworld, full of "poisonous gases."



Airboy escapes the ravine, fights Misery again, and then, by weird coincidence, a volcanic eruption takes place. Airboy escapes while Misery is engulfed by lava. He defiantly claims that he'll live again, even though "the Earth has robbed me, Misery, of my victory."

Misery doesn't appear for a few years thereafter, but two issues later (labeled volume 2, #2), Airboy meets another foe whose name carries one similar connotation, in a story drawn by Kida but not credited to an identified author. The Valkyrie is a pilot for the German forces, and commands an all-female squadron, "the Aurmaidens." While she and her aides are purely mortal, her name is derived from the Nordic valkyries, who were also, as Misery professes to be, "collectors of brave men."

No sooner does Valkyrie perpetrate a successful attack on the RAF than Airboy follows her all the way to Germany and attacks her base. She takes to the air and the two of them square off, but Airboy loses because he's too much of a gentleman to shoot a woman.




An interesting psychological "split" than ensues during Airboy's captivity at the base. Valkyrie wants the secrets of Airboy's plane, and is more than willing to whip them out of him. As the scene shows, she shows the hero no mercy whatsover, being entirely committed to the German cause.




This torture-scene may be deemed a loose parallel to the hero's consignment to the Black Hole of Calcutta, in that he's totally within the power of evil. However, this time the softer side of femininity arises to his defense. The other Airmaidens are impressed with Airboy's bravery and good looks, so after he's stuck in a cell, they liberate him and hide him elsewhere. The base commandant sees through the girls' innocent act and orders them whipped. Valkyrie doesn't have any sentimental side where an enemy of her country is concerned, but she can't abide having her "friends" whipped even though they're guilty of traitorous activities. Valkyrie tries to save them while at the same time worming the hero's secrets out of him.




Airboy yields Valkyrie the secret of Birdie, and she fully intends to betray him. However, when Valkyrie tries to leverage her knowledge to save her friends, the arrogant commandant won't cut her a break. It would be tempting these days to wonder if Valkyrie enjoyed some deeper relationship than "friends" with her fellow lady-pilots-- something not unlike a later group of aviatrixes in Ian Fleming's GOLDFINGER. In any case, the commandant's intransigence costs him both his best pilots and the secrets of Birdie, for Valkyrie and her Airmaidens join Airboy and turn against the Nazi cause. In addition, though Valkyrie did not become a regular figure in the Airboy feature, she did become an off-and-on girlfriend-- an interesting breakthrough, since she's clearly an adult and he is, as the previous cover states, fifteen-year-old "jail bait."



Three years later, in another story with no author-ID but drawn by Kida, Airboy-- who has met Valkyrie once or twice in the ensuing years-- encounters both characters at once. The title of the comic has been changed to AIRBOY, but it's issue #12 within the same publishing-volume. Though Stein might have been the author on the first Valkyrie story given the continguity with the first Misery story, this one might have been by anyone seeking to bring together two evocative characters from the past-- the better to shore up the hero's appeal, since he'd been created for a war that had been concluded for roughly half a year (January 1946). The opening splash portrays Misery's domain, "the Black Hole of Calcutta," with some of the traditional iconography of Hell.




As the story opens, Airboy crosses paths with Valkyrie in Burma. He makes a somewhat indelicate reference to "the old Nazi days," and though a new reader wouldn't know what he's talking about, Valkyrie doesn't take offense and even gives him major lip-lock before leaving on her flight-assignment. For his part, Airboy learns why the base commander has summoned him. Not only have several British planes inexplicably disappeared, the commander has received a note from Misery, who claims to be flying the Airtomb once again. While Airboy goes off in quest of the villain, he also finds out that Valkyrie's plane has disappeared. Then, to his horror, he sees her plane attacking British crafts, and her "old Nazi days" seem to have come back once more.




It will surprise no one that Misery has placed Valkyrie in thrall. Once again Airboy is forced to fight and subdue her, after which he flies them both to the site of the Airtomb near the fabled Black Hole. Once he's there, Misery-- whose sole reason for enthralling Valkyrie was to use her as bait--offers the hero her freedom in exchange for his own. While most commonplace stories would have simply had the villain escort the sacrificial hero away, the story's author throws in this lovely bit of grotesquerie:



However, like most villains Misery underestimates the power of friendship; she comes to herself and pushes the villain into the ravine while saving the hero. However, the fall doesn't stop the fiend, who later manages to trap Airboy inside the Airtomb. The craft is, like the Black Hole, filled with deadly fumes, albeit those of helium, which apparently helps the incredible craft fly. Again, Valkyrie saves the hero from death-- more or less performing a function to that of her mythic namesake-- and the villain is left to gnash his teeth in frustration.

From what I can tell the characters came back again in later stories, but they entirely lost their engagement with the myth of the ultimate doomed "hero of the skies," who soars through heaven but is eternally fated to crash to earth with the rest of mortal beings.