Sunday, October 10, 2010

Backyard of the Mind

From the margins of Gerberesque Hypertime

• The boundaries of your back yard.

That’s how far you need to go to discover the remains of Omegaville---an alternative energy future, chillingly unfinished---or the dwelling of the Man-Thing---or the children at play, just a bit outside the margins of safety. They wander afield, to make the play truly death-defying; what child does not at some point naively crave danger? They are overjoyed to defy the parental prohibition...and now they’ve found a wand, just like the one belonging to the Molecule Man, who disappeared here fighting the Thing in the very first [u]Marvel Two-in-One.[/u]

In super hero comics, the bravest child, let alone anyone being a little stupid, didn’t die; that’s the province of a super-hero, to save the innocent.

Yet one foolish mistake, and we’re reminded that to disobey bears consequences; even our play violence that will hurt no one could have consequences that we would do well to recall!

Is that heavy, for a 1976 super hero comic book? For a celebratory annual? Oh, don’t worry, we’re still in a Code-Approved cocoon of experiences, however fantastic. We haven’t seen the last of Cynthia. In fact, we find we lost her in the very spot that once birthed the Glob, very nearly the first friend to the Incredible Hulk, among creatures assembled---and foremost, the Hulk was among Gerber’s Defenders characters. But as one friend to another, Gerber passes another cause-and-effect observation to his young readers: when you leave the margins of the known, you take a very real risk with your life, and like with the one panel devoted to Cynthia’s funeral---and her sad friends that fled her side in fear---you may find yourself part of a scene you imagine you may always regret. That touch of reality is genuine Steve.

Even then, the Man-Thing nearly saves its own way,

Swampy won’t be the only hero to deal with a lost opportunity to reach out and save a person from the manipulations of the unknown. An accident with the emerging Molecular Person’s consciousness will cause a ruckus explored by Iron Man, who is snatched while one of the scared locals berates him angrily.

Behind the scenes, the buried recreation of Molecule Man and Cynthia brings on the maximum weirdness that adds an unwelcome surreal element to quiet Citrusville, which has long since learned to live nervously within the bounds of common sense, as though the abyss will not gaze back into them if they do not study it.

Is it part of the child or the Molecule Man’s dark consciousness that they decide to “help” Iron Man by destroying his critic---and from where does the will to power the characters in our reading spring? Has our ill will, at seeing our hero verbally abused and unappreciated, empowered the Molecule Person’s fatal mistake? However selfish his agenda in existing, Molecule Man has resurrected the child, a symbolic rise in the spirit, to experience boundless power and freedom for all our impulses.

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.

How, as a confused person playing vicariously the hero, empowering the Iron Man with our fifty cents and as much undivided attention as we can muster, can we bring this strange threat to justice? How will Cynthia respond to her bizarre temporary life? And what is the Man-Thing doing in town, with Stark’s limousine smashed grill-first into his muckiness? He apparently can’t be harmed; must he be frozen in being as well as appearance? Where brute force meets soft, irremovable object, Shellhead uses know-how and an on-board gadget, a pellet to drop its temperature, brings their pointless battle to an end.

Is that the best Iron Man can think to do with this creature standing outside his open car door--- a neutralization? Like the centrifugal force he is, Iron Man separates out the random factors, spinning away unpredictable forces until a way to attack is clear. More to the point, he will know at last what he faces---and still not understand it all, merely act on what principles he carries with him into the haphazard marshlands.

Richard Rory’s individualistic ways might as well be witchcraft, and whenever witchcrafts seem intent on bending the reality they know, people of his ilk and their lack of complete fear in the face of the strangeness become the ostracized other. Where better to find him here than in jail? It is all they have for a young man of his peace and open-mindedness. Only back near the center of the super hero universe in New York City will he get one twilight shot at freedom---released in his last story by the world of the super heroes without any room for notice, abandoned to the real world somewhere in the last background of the last story of Gerber’s last of his most personal work, Omega the Unknown.

What the Molecule Person, with its weird blended gender and age, like the place where writer becomes character, does with the bicycle and house and Mom bespeaks the childish rebellion---I will NOT die, I will NOT obey, I will NOT stop until I’ve had my way! These antics bring the hero from the center, the title star, rushing into the confusing tableau. It escapes, and “more weeks pass.”

Despite all these whispered curses, Omegaville gets its grand opening: the energy future alternative in the Marvel Universe, generously left by Steve Gerber in the last summer of social relevance. Yet the demon skeleton of Yagzan, the sorcerer, seems to come alive, an ancient superstition-confirming threat on the cusp of the innovation of the rational world, inside and outside the comic in your hands. Before Tony Stark can even say Omegaville was born from the ashes of necessity, Iron Man is born of necessity, too, reborn to end this menace. The haunting death of the child is not complete, for the child is not completely dead; the inspiring rebirth of Omegaville is not complete, for it is not yet safe from the power of the Molecule Man, who wins dominance over poor Cynthia long enough battle Iron Man and the Man-Thing.

Finally, the animalistic forces of the swamp embody danger once more: danger to Cynthia in the alligator becomes danger to Iron Man in the snake humanoid version of the Molecule Creature. At last, the consciousness and its hatred attempts to retake power by controlling the heroes, who face it one by one. The control of the mind, let’s say, proves the most perilous swamp of all.

Out of necessity, the hero endures. The little girl admires the final battle in wonder, and finally her hero kneels before her, recovering, collecting, analyzing his brush with the actions of enigmas on every side, reducing him, in scale, to the mystified human among human residents of this humid, hazy, uninviting, quicksand-filled part of the world.

The advent and survival of what is most rational, what prepares us for the future, can never be taken for granted; what is reasonable even for our own survival is not what we, by nature, will choose every time. WE have agency for good or ill in every action; sometimes one must study the foundations of life itself to see the consequences, and even then will find much that is senseless, violent, hostile, and fearful in the associations of humanity.

Will we survive the hazards of our own science run amock, our own selfish humankind mysteriously imperiling our towns, so quickly given up without regulation to become a viable source of local wealth?

Can we make peace with the wildlife of the habitats, as well as the financial wildlife that makes prey of its most orderly sheep? Yet we must go to that uncomfortable, welcomeless frontier and begin to explore reasonable responses to our needs as beings who, after all, very much need one another and are bound to sink alone.

Thanks for reading along!
I was so busy launching our t-shirt line to go along with our new comic before finishing our new demo, I almost never got to this essay---much less with vacation visiting all friends and family thrown in!

There's essay madness over on what was until lately my pastiche blog full of short stories w/ art, as well as some discourse over Nova, the Human Rocket and Rom, Spaceknight, of late.


plok said...

Aha, and here we are...and not quite the approach I would've taken to this story, but that makes it all the niftier! because would you believe I missed Iron Man's Apollonian nature, and that business of the swamp beyond the backyards, and the "energy future"? Tony Stark, as you note, represents the "centre" of the MU about as well as anyone ever did...Hank Pym had his "lost weekend" (or "road trip" maybe?) with the Defenders, but he was struggling with alienation and identity and his own past, there, and here Iron Man is just...well, your basic Iron Man, unfailingly representative of all the very most main representations -- "universe" in a single very expensive tin suit, "made-up superpowers" from drawing-board to assembly-line, the real deal. So here's the final test, eh? Dante vs. Virgil at last, but maybe something a bit more than that, too...more than just the collision of forms and positions, but a little of that "witchcraft" stuff for real. Adult identity is still a swamp, but the spookiest thing in it is the awful potentiality in the innocent child, degendered and demoralized, getting subsumed by "evil"...but what's that evil, exactly? Real people are far more complicated than Iron Man is, and you've got to think he senses it...just as you say, he can barely think of anything to do with the Man-Thing, he can barely see what the dynamic he's landed in really is. And ultimately the enemy as so-named is just a distraction from Dark Phoen...I mean, Cynthia, and it's her identity Shell-Head has to come to grips with before he can have a shot at restoring (as best he can, anyway!) whatever kind of principle of order was there in the swamp before he came to it...

plok said...

...And you know, this was a spooky story to read as a child, especially as a boy-type child! The identifications are all tingled with the troubling, the girl where clearly I should be, in my imaginative milieu...and so is the thing that happens to her, not like to the thing that would happen to "me", if she were more properly gendered for this punch-'em-up? And what about smooth old Tony Stark and the way he deals with the Man-Thing? On the surface it looks hilariously effective, the very essence of effectiveness...but you're quite right, and as a young reader I did know, that he was missing the point, meddling with forces he couldn't understand...therefore his undeniably-powerful, expressly-cogent adult agency seemed amazingly inadequate, for what a superhero's should be. Of course I loved Man-Thing comics, and knew part of their fun was in the destabilization of certainties...I mentioned Dante already? Good; but that doesn't mean Gerber's trick didn't work real well here, even if I'd seen the show before. The MT issue this one was most like, possibly, was the one with "Dawg" -- calculated to really cross some dangerous boundary in a kid's way of appreciating even safely convention-cocooned comic-book stories. Well, what a difference the Man-Thing makes, eh? From an adult perpective it's pretty clear from your lucid analysis that there's really something meaningful going on here, even past the trappings of wands and snakes and golden super-suits and impending puberty...maybe it's the most subtle Gerber's ever been about the "environmental" dimension of the swamp, and the lesser "environments" people bring into it with them, packed along with them like lunches...

Splendid stuff, Lue!

Cease said...

As I edit here, I'm struck by an idea: the reader's boy-child dread. As soon as I became aware that life and death consequences could become of decisions I would make with girls---as I became aware of us all changing into pubescence---the reading of Cynthia suddenly turns on a metaphor for a girl child's initiation into womanhood. The dread at not saving her, for one, levels the boys, leaves them feeling quite unheroic. The hero of the story will be Cynthia---from the start, but also, as she is changed by forces outside the self she knew, she has rage against her parents, as well as an undying optimism mirrored in her hero. I hope this became some young woman's birthday present or gift otherwise; I am reconsidering this story interpreted from the point of view of a female getting in touch with her changing body, the onset of powers of creation, even the level at which she is as much a match for Molecule Man as Iron Man! As Gerber titled chapter two: "The Daughter Also Rises!"