Monday, May 19, 2008

Freudian Funnybooks: Bizarre Love Triangle

Find the hidden checkerboard!

In the 1950s, the gruesome excesses of horror and crime comics provoked a public outcry, resulting in the suffocating strictures of the Comics Code Authority. In point of fact, most publishers were pumping out comics that were completely inoffensive and inert, but the ever-present hand of censorship seemed to have a bizarre effect on comic creators. Certainly not all, but a lot of post-Code comics went completely insane, and no publisher put out more bizarre and disturbing material than DC with its sci-fi comics and, especially the "imaginary stories" fad.

I'm not talking about the whimsical and knowing hallucinations of a Grant Morrison or Alan Moore in their more playful moments, I'm talking about the work of men driven completely insane by the unreality forced upon them by the Code and the pressures of keeping everything completely inoffensive for merchandisers. You can keep your underground comics, if you want to see genuine graphic insanity, check out Jimmy Olsen in the late 50s. Or the pre-Schwartz Batman.

One of the results of this was the parade of inane nonsense in the "Superman Family" of comics, which immersed Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane in a world that was both suffocatingly bland and completely delusional. But there was also something else afoot, something that certainly didn't square with the ultra-conservative social weltanschuang peddled in most comic books...

Everyone knows that Jimmy was Superman's "Pal" and Lois was his "Girlfriend" but another personage intruded upon the psychodrama. That was Supe's childhood sweetheart Lana Lang...

...who was the absolute spitting image of Jimmy Olsen when he dressed up in drag. Which he did on more than one occasion, mind you.

Oh, you'll get a load alright, mister....
In retrospect, one really begins to wonder if the writers and editors at the time didn't subconsciously see Jimmy and Lana as being the same person. "Lana Lang" kind of sounds like the stage name of a drag performer, don't you think? Almost like a tribute to Lorna Luft..

Superman's "Pal," indeed!
In fact, in one of Jimmy's cross-dressing adventures he even borrowed Lana Lang's initials. Interesting to see Clark Kent so smitten with Jimmy in drag, considering his superpowers would surely allow him to detect the subterfuge. But then why should he be any different than the mythological heroes he was based on?

Jimmy's feminine wiles were such that even a bunch of mobsters -- hyper-vigilant macho men who operate almost entirely on instinct-- were driven to jealous violence over him. The real-life subtext here is that Jimmy wouldn't have made it through the night without having to pay in kind for this fancy dinner- or the protective punch-up. The whole tableau is like something out of a British gangster movie.

Finally, we see the seasoned newsmen hitting on the outed Jimmy like privateers presented with a fresh cabin boy. The ostensible subtext here is that Jimmy is being teased, but the newsies are drawn looking completely sincere in their solicitation. No one is yukking it up like its all a big gag.

The Jimmy-in-drag stories make it impossible for me to look at covers like this and not wonder if I should read "Superman hates jealous women" as "Superman hates women." Eerily, the "emotion machine" strongly resembles a compensatory Sybian device (which wasn't even invented when this comic was published). Interesting also to see that Lana usually wears Jimmy's trademark green.

Or look at this cover and notice how masculine Lana is here (she's essentially Jimmy with a mullet). Note that Lana's costume is yellow and lavender.

Or ponder the subtext where Jimmy not only cross-dresses, but appears onstage in a Broadway musical looking like the starting pitcher on the Smith College softball team. The gender-blurring approaches Hedwig territory. The 17 on his/her jersey simply throws it all into semiotic chaos.

Jimmy dragged it up even in the 70s, throwing in a minskirt to sweeten the deal. Of course, this means that Jimmy at some point must have shaved his legs, or is the subtext here that he does so as matter of habit? The mind boggles....

The "slick chick" reminds me that comics editors didn't want writers to use the word "flick" because the cruddy printing could render it as the f-word. So what about slick ?

This story is just plain whacked- Jimmy dresses up a woman and takes over as leader of "The Jimmy Olsen Fan Club." This whole story is either a total goof or something genuinely disturbing. As are Jimmy's shorn calves...

...and the boys with their dyed red hair and Jimmy disrobing in front of them? This wouldn't pass muster with a first-year psych student. The writer here, Otto Binder, created many female counterparts of popular superheroes like Supergirl, Mary Marvel and Miss America. I'd love to see his analyst's notes.

There's no shortage of Freudian subtext in Jimmy Olsen's Silver Age adventures, even aside from the drag queen tales. Or Jungian, since Jimmy seems to play the Hylas role in so many of those old stories.

This cover is priceless- Jimmy as Superman's hairdresser. Note Jimmy's epicene hand poses. It's hard to imagine it's not, but I'm not willing to bet any of this was conscious- all of these stories play out without a hint of irony or self-awareness. And what I know about DCs editorial staff in the 50s and early 60s gives me no reason that any of these people were even remotely hip or subversive. DC was run by a bunch of horn-rimmed squares back then.

But seriously - how can you write stories like these and not be aware of their subtext?

So are we back in the Jungian mythic realm, where all superhero "pals" are in fact reincarnations of figures like Hylas and Ganymede? Well, the more I work on this blog, the more I start to realize that we're recycling dramas written for us thousands of years ago, and that conscious intent is only a very small part of art, drama and indeed- Life itself. This goes double when you're talking about sexuality and sexual themes.

There's certainly no shortage of deliberate allegory or symbolism out there, but I don't think the cranky old squares who pumped this stuff out were trying to do anything but meet deadlines. Which makes the insane crap they put out there all the more fascinating (wait until we look at some of the Silver Age Green Arrow and Speedy stories).

In the screwy world of DC's imaginary story universe, Lois also got her shot at Lana/Jimmy, calling to mind the female-to-male tuxedo drag inspired by Marlene Dietrich, KD Lang and others. And what exactly are we supposed to make of a giant muscleman playing the role of flower girl? This is like something you'd see at the Folsom Street Fair. And who exactly is he supposed to be jealous of ? And what's the stuttering all about?

There may be a bigger message in here somewhere: censors tried to blanderize comics but all of the gore and violence simply channeled itself into a psychedelic --and psychosexual-- gotterdamerung. And that's in addition to all the neopaganism unleashed by the revival of the god-modeled characters in the Silver Age. The mindless blanditude of 1950s pop culture might have been heaven-on-earth for some right wingers, but the reality of it is that it all led directly to the counter-culture explosion of the late 60s.

Take out the dialogue and this cover seems quite prescient

This is textbook stuff- just as Freud and Reich taught that sexual repression led to neurosis, Jung taught that suppression and denial of the Shadow leads to trouble. Or at the very least, some unintentionally hilarious comic books.


  1. I love this post. Remarkable. I agree, there's this unconscious upwelling, and it appears in the most amazing places.

    I was just thinking about Jimmy Olsen this week, because he wears a bow tie. Like Orion.

  2. What fun! Great covers, groovy work.

    Be very well.

  3. So, Superman has a "Chris Crocker"-type of very feminine EROMENOS on the side as well? You've just made my day.

  4. Great analysis Chris. I sure like how you think. You've certainly impressed this girl!

    This is beautiful:
    Well, the more I work on this blog, the more I start to realize that we're recycling dramas written for us thousands of years ago, and that conscious intent is only a very small part of art, drama and indeed- Life itself.

    Also, I'm giving you a big hug right now for reminding me about New Order. True Faith...


  5. Thanks guys- glad you appreciated it! If you had any idea how much time I put into this blog you'd have me committed. It's great to see people tuned in on the same wavelength.

    Hugs back, D- how did I remind you of True Faith?

  6. I can't figure out if the constant androgen and crossdressing etc references are because you are trying to get people to get over that such things are not an issue and never ever were, or if you are one of those folks that is actually surprised to meet or find out that someone is gay or a crossdresser or a hermaphrodite or whatever else?

    It's as old as the hills, all the gender-bending. I know there's been a bit of an emphasis by some in the US recently on such things, because of the overall faux-Christian-values take over, but that hardly represents where most people are at.
    Is it still considered something to be embarrassed or ashamed about over your way? Cause I get that feeling from the blog entries.

    Well seeing Queen weren't as successful in the US as they were here. I Want To Break Free is still a really funny & enjoyable video. It's like it never happened! No Bowie or anything.....come on people, wake up and get over it.

  7. You're getting the wrong feeling, Zuppie. This blog is about how pop culture expresses unspeakable truths about the human mystery and human origins. You can't spend more than a few minutes analyzing occultism, or Gnosticism or the Mystery religions- or indeed, Christianity and other major world religions- without running smack dab into these themes. Superman is a blatant swipe from classical heroes like Hercules and Achilles- nearly all of whom were biexual. So is that encoded into Supes' DNA? And how does that fit into the fact that Superman is a bloody alien? We have a hero with a split identity -human/alien, reporter/hero- where else does that dichotomy express itself? It's all a huge tapestry.

    This blog can be summed up thusly- our pop culture is telling us we are not who think we are. And the androgyny metaphor is a massive part of this.

  8. Funky stuff.
    Is that why he's Jimmy with an O, lilke the 'Story of O'

    there seem very few Superheroes with facial hair, ones with a beard were always a bit unusual

    There seems a difference between 'the Xdresser' and 'the Disguised'. Surely we may consider Jimmy's uniform a 'traditional' disguise a la Superhero, perhaps too human for us to accept. We feel more 'mfortable' with the 'unreal' disguise as opposed to the human to human disguise


  9. My goodness- that's quite a responsibility for a humble little blog!

  10. Well, it was just too perfect & I couldn't resist.

    I swear you can read my mind. That has never happened to me before. It makes for a rather enjoyable blog experience.

    I apologize if I'm being too forward but it's hard for me to be any other way.

  11. Well, then I promise I'll use my mind reading powers responsibly!

  12. Fascinating post, Chris.

    That last image is priceless. So is Superman trying to stop the gay marriage out of jealousy or out of his duty to uphold T, J and the American way?

  13. That last image is priceless. So is Superman trying to stop the gay marriage out of jealousy or out of his duty to uphold T, J and the American way?

    Don't ask, don't tell.

  14. OK, if you insist...

  15. Not so sure it was unintentional...

    I am familiar and love Jung's theories, but I think it was a subversive attack to a child's vulnerable/impressionable psyche' co-horted with the symbolisms to softer the subconscious...maybe it's just because I have stumbled across so much of the MMC (mind control) stuff lately hidden in pop culture thats what I am seeing.

    None the less, great write up Chris, Supes has always been my favorite comic book character!

    Peace bro.

  16. Skaggsie, I'm ALWAYS willing to entertain a well-constructed theory.
    Let 'em fly!

  17. Chris,

    Just got back from Indiana Jones movie bud, think you might like it, they alluded to the "ancient astronaut" theory in there. :)

    I'll try and put together a well constructed theory about the comment I made early. Little late right now and I need some shut eye.

    Peace bro!

  18. Now I think the Lois Lane books were targeted towards "other" type of readers not the hardcore Superman readers...maybe to attract female comic book buyers? Not sure.

    It may have been a "testing the waters" type deal since there really weren't direct Superman titles. If there is plenty of symbolisms in there used to soften up the subconscious it could be just that, subversively placed to "ease the bizarre storlyines" into the psyche for storage later...possibly to come out in the dreamworld or later as afterthought. Quite possibly like how Madison Avenue used their subversive symbols for marketing products, know what I mean?

    Warrants further investigation into the subject I know.


  19. I think sometimes this stuff just seeps in through the subconscious. Knowing what I do about the editors in question, it's impossible for me to see them doing anything but trying to make a buck or two and get home in time to have a beer and watch the Dodgers.

  20. This is too much! Until I read through the comments I couldn't tell if you were kidding or serious, but either way (or both!), I'm screaming with laughter!!!