Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hello Cosmic Part 24: The Finale Part Two (Psychology)

[In which I continue my conclusion of my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work for Marvel. This series concludes on Friday.]

The second idea/theme/topic that runs through Starlin's cosmic work is his obsession with psychology. Now, this idea isn't as central as religion and I know less about psychology than I do religion, so this may be briefer than I figured it would be.

Adam Warlock is a paranoid schizophrenic in Starlin's initial run on the character and periodically goes a little crazy from time to time after that. Usually, Warlock's mental problems come with knowledge, putting him line with the typical mad genius. In Starlin's first Warlock work, he actually accepts madness as a means to gain the necessary knowledge and perspective in order to defeat the Magus--literally himself, representin another aspect of his mind. Later, when he obtains the Infinity Gauntlet, he expels the good and bad aspects of himself, again making him a figurative multiple personality case.

It would be tempting to put Adam, the Magus and the Goddess into an id, ego, super-ego relationship, but I'm not sure that that relationship exists. You could argue that the Magus is the id, although he also has some of the repressive elements of the super-ego. It would be a nice little joke to have the Goddess represent the super-ego since she is Warlock's feminine side and the super-ego is typically the "father figure." Adam easily fits as the ego since he struggles to balance the two, often displaying aspects of both. Okay, maybe it doesn't seem quite so out there as I thought. I didn't want it to work because it seems so easy, really.

As well, I can see the Magus working into Lacan's concept of the other as Warlock meets him when he is still, essentially, a child. The Magus representing the first time Warlock has seen his own reflection (in this case, his true inner self perhaps) and it frightens him and he attempts to deny it. It's a bit of stretch, I admit.

Thanos is self-destructive and self-loathing throughout Starlin's work, often sabotaging his success. This explanation for failure allows Starlin to maintain Thanos as a serious threat while also allowing for seemingly less powerful characters to defeat him. This is particularly true of Thanos' defeat during The Infinity Gauntlet where he loses the Gauntlet much in the same way Captain Mar-Vell defeated him (destroying the Cosmic Cube while Thanos was one with the universe) and in the exact same method Mephisto attempted to steal the Gauntlet just days (weeks?) prior.

Thanos is driven by guilt and self-loathing. He lusts after Death and cannot understand why she doesn't love him, blaming himself for her lack of love, much like a child thinks that anything wrong is caused by him or her. He increases his efforts again and again, always with the same results, failing to understand that he is not responsible for her feelings. It isn't until Thanos accepts himself in Marvel: The End, letting go of his guilt (possibly blaming himself for his freakish appearance) and sacrificing himself for the good of the universe that Death loves him. It's all symbolic, of course, of a big mental breakthrough. I really do like that Starlin never has Thanos show any direct self-loathing for his different appearance, because it keeps that level of self-loathing and guilt subconscious--if he recognised it, his breakthrough might have come easier and sooner. This also makes the revelation in Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger's Universe X that Thanos' mom was a Skrull kind of lame in my mind. Of course, those stories aren't canon in the regular Marvel universe. It works much better if Thanos was just born differently, then he represents a much boarder form of self-loathing and guilt, while simply being of mixed-species parentage allows too easy an 'out' for him and someone to actually blame for his difference. It may make for a logical plotpoint, but is a much shallower and bland from a psychological perspective.

I'm a litte upset that I can't really find the five stages of grief in The Death of Captain Marvel. That would have been nice.

The Silver Surfer's psychology is a little odd during Starlin's run on the book. The onyl real depth given is when the Surfer discovers that Galactus has tampered with his soul so he doesn't feel guilt over assisting Galactus in destroying dozens of worlds. His soul is returned to normal and he feels normal guilt--not exactly that deep. In issue 50, Starlin shows that the Surfer wasn't a saint in his life as Norrin Radd by showing how his lack of understand partly contributed to his father's suicide--a memory he blocked out himself.

Starlin uses guilt as a basis for a lot of the characters' actions, which is said by some to be a base motivation for much human action. He doesn't always offer great psycholigical depth, but he likes to play with the ideas in his work. Sorry I didn't have much to say, more just throwing some idea out there. On Friday, I'll look at some of the techniques Starlin uses in his cosmic Marvel work.