Saturday, October 9, 2010

Swamp of the Indomitable Will

In the Margins of Gerberesque Hypertime (or: the Swamplands of the Indomitable Will) by C Lue Lyron

I read the Defenders meme presenting Steve Gerber's super hero work as one on-going novel, and wondering how to comment on such a strange story as I[u]ron Man Annual #3[/u]. The hero who’s come the furthest into the mainstream this year goes on an adventure, as the Apollonian paragon, to meet with a force that can reorder logic itself---and all the while, a lumbering empathic beast, without thought, tangled in feeling as though a pawn of greater forces, watches from the swamps.

The hardest part is: no Steve Gerber-written superhero story I’ve read crosses less with the Defenders of that fact, this adventure is on the margin of those margins, a note on the back of a page, with remnants of Omegaville and the hard times of Richard Rory, and the lost schemes of some Once-Lord of Entropy, in a swamp whose central drama also shares the birthplace of the Glob...tying it back to the Hulk’s adventure there, in this Nexus of All Realities. The little girl plays the part of one of her world’s most popular heroes---and who is centered moreso in the mainstream world of this Marvelverse than its epitomizing man of the world, Tony Stark?

What place do these creatures have in the margins? What is the fate of those who wander out there, to the seeping, fetid wetlands, where things of the subconscious creep moistly into the daily world? What happens to those most determined to play hero in the outer reaches of civilization...and what is the fate of those dark forces when they stalk the daylight of the mind?

First, a word about Daredevil and the swamp...and for that matter, the Man-Thing.

Daredevil was a popular de facto Defender of the era, and the San Fransisco discussion cited in Plok’s links safely ends short of the Florida turn of the adventure concerning Foggie Nelson’s younger sister and her perilous connection to the revived Super Soldier Serum---a logical creation of science, however fueled by the passions and paranoias of a nation at war, in any decade. In WWII, the serum produces the soldier necessary in those times...and in the Viet Nam era, a very different savior figure, birthed from more deeply buried forces outside human causality, is created in the form of the Man-Thing. It’s America, see, and the defender of the free world must play with the will to win.

Daredevil’s investigation of kidnapped little sis Nelson draws Manny into drama and battle with his old foe the Gladiator, operating under the aegis of new foe, Death Stalker, whose nature and abilities strike menacingly, untouchably from the unknown. The darkened relationship between man, the environmental world, and the soldier he places therein is the subject of the nightmare corridors of human thought: what if the Army would do anything to win? What if Man needed to live and fight in a chemically-exhausted world? At any rate, this part in Death Stalker’s plans is halted by a pair of protagonists, both altered by chemical wastes.

Playing the hero out here at the edges of civilization can change you for life---or end life as you know it. Heroes can’t always save you, either---however brave they might be.

As for Matt Murdock: he drains the swamp of some of its poison. I want to avoid spoilers here, even though no one of whom I know has picked up the old ‘covert new serum’ thread from its disillusioned days of 1974, but Matt makes an ethical choice, preparing to wager a bit of his soul against the unknown lives he might save. The swamp is a place you may well lose part of yourself: your ethics, your utopianism, your body, your life-- your will, focused into a wand that could wreak anything.

So far, the benevolence of technology’s been in short evidence, in these swamps at the margins of Omegaville. But heroes would venture into the swamp...into the margins...where they’ve doubtlessly been warned “not to play.” They bring a reaction from a pair of consciousnesses, or sub-consciousnesses, that have come to lurk in the swamp, waiting for agency.

(A note herein connects Rory’s past---the Man Thing story that ends with his imprisonment---and “future issues of Omega the Unknown,” so there’s no question Gerber at least planned to then tie in the remnants of Omega the Unknown with the Defenders. A career change brings the organic closing threads of Gerber’s Defender-verse novel to an abrupt snip of epilogue, as Nighthawk and Doctor Strange tie off the entire question of adult identity and its eventual departure from the superhero universe in Defenders #41. The limits to what effect powers and costumes might have on the actual problems of the world are delineated nicely in organic ending to the Gerber novel in the King Sized First Annual of the Defenders.)

So, let’s in earnest begin!

What is it like to live in the margins, at the fringes of "normal" activity but still without having left the sphere of that activity completely? It isn't just a question for superheroes, obviously. But maybe it's a particularly apposite one for them: if the raison d'etre of the superhero is to be effective in protecting the greater mass of non-powered humanity, being stranded on the margins of society takes the ordinary superhero symbolism and invests it with some extra poignancy, because what it means to "help" or "protect" when you're out at the fringes is something different from what it means when you're closer to the centre. It's harder to know what to do, in other words: harder to act, and harder to succeed. Because the world of the margins enjoys its own logic, its own safeties and menaces, and for a superhero - that is to say, for any person, regardless of their empowerments - to be an effective force there, they must adapt themselves to its environment. They have to be willing to learn new things, that the people in the centre don't know. (Plok, from Seven Soldiers Meme #0)

If a character’s appearance is paramount in their identity, the faces of things, the surface of things, does indeed tell the most critical things about each character contained here.

Each of our main characters---Iron Man/ Tony Stark, Man-Thing, Molecule Man and our little girlfriend, Cynthia---venture somewhere they are advised they should not go.

Molecule Man looks like angry power. Man-Thing looks like the brackish murk inside the living system. Iron Man looks like a classic statue fused with a god---a man-made god, made by a man whose face epitomizes public respectabilty. Cynthia looks like a young girl---doing all she can, a girl-made god, disguised, rather, costumed, as her hero Iron Man, and later, as a hybrid vessel of “more or less: the Return of the Molecule Man!” Her body---the stand-in reader---is where the title of the story’s drama plays out.

She is the comic; she is the one-shot character; she comes from the farthest margins of the story, from a character whose body seems cold before the story is warm, to be the center of our story, in her struggle with the Molecule Man’s return.

If the girl’s the story, then the appearance of the story on page one---deliberately called out as “most misleading of 1976”---is masked by its frontispiece, drawn to appear to be all it needed to be, just like Gerber’s super hero work in general.

Looks like the nigh-omnipotent might of the Molecule Man, versus the mighty Avenger and the macabre monster, looming in giant size, the marshy setting itself. But that’s all a disguise---for the not-so-dumb little girl who’s wandered into the swamp of super hero comics, the reader who could be you or your closest friends, on the verge of Gerber weirdness.

I want to point out Janice Cohen’s colors, even on this parched newsprint, took this comic a grade above average to begin with, merging a palette that must reach to the Iron Man world’s corner outside Citrusville, Florida. Computer coloring’s a decade away from its true hallmark status, but the story’s elements blend nicely into a psychaedelic stew without ever becoming lost solely in the service of art’s need for chaos. The mental plane is the center stage, but nearly all events happen in the world right beside you, outside, maybe just a bit beyond the licit boundaries of your back yard.

Since this nearly ran 3,000 words, I'm saving part two for tomorrow!
is likewise full of comic book "win" and in addition to some of the best-written fan fiction known to the 'Net, it presently features run downs on lost '70s series, like Nova the Human Rocket and ROM, Spaceknight.


plok said...

Comment coming tomorrow! Just got computer working again, but...YEAH!

I once thought an examination of this story could be done without, in the Longest Graphic Novel story...but you've proved me wrong, Lue.


plok said...

Comment is up on Part Two!

cease ill said...

It's just incredible to participate in this conversation, as I ponder where this sits in the near-past-year of studying Steve, as fresh new fiction calls me word by word to be written.

I recall the Son of Satan addition (or edition!) mentioned Entropy as Gerber's basic force of Evil in human life, and for that reason, it's worth noting: I blew it. While I'm sure he returned to fight Dracula in a Marv Wolfman-penned Giant Size issue, Yazgan appears in Giant-Sized Man-Thing #1 as a would-be Lord of Order, as footnoted on page three of this annual. My misprinted edition of Essentials Man-Thing fails to reprint that story, strangely, so I've yet to learn where Entropy and those reanimated bones might've fit the skeleton of this essay. I recall that issue also features the Glob, whose birthplace is the radioactive cradle of Molecular Person, as well. Glob ties us to the Defenders by his one foe amongst their ranks, the Hulk.

For that matter, the Vision and Avengers Mansion are referenced in the story, to no avail to Stark. The in-the-middle Avengers resources (communications with the FF, the gov'ts of the world) avail Tony nothing; to live on the margins, as you said and I quoted, he must learn things that those in the center don't know, to survive.