MCI misdemeanors and felonies

All right, let's get it over with.

All right, let’s get it over with.

BONUS POST: Thanks to Markku Tuovinen and his May pledge at the Doctor Xaos Patreon! Jared Sorensen once cogently explained why dungeons have doors: so the player-characters can break them down. Think about it; if you didn’t want them to do it, then you would have just put a wall there. Mind control in superhero comics is precisely the same in its purpose: so a hero can shake it off. Fully or just enough to resist doing the one single dastardly thing on which the villain’s plan hinges, either way.

I reluctantly admit that this purpose for a mind-control incident (MCI), when properly conceived and applied, isn’t so bad. It should include some initial jiggery-pokery to demonstrate the power of the control, showing there’s something to shake off, when it matters. A page or two of the hero lurching about or standing stiffly, sure, and of course, hitting a teammate – once – does the trick, and as Marvel characters are always misunderstanding, resenting, and sometimes hitting each other anyway, without MCIs, no biggie. But of course, followed by shaking it off in the crunch, perhaps with self-help group style encouragement (“You can do it!”), or because someone strategizes a saving throw brief reprieve for you, or with some helpful detail like thick skin or closing your eyes, which doesn’t work for anyone without a hero hat.

Because the plot doth say thee nay!

Because the plot doth say thee nay!

Warning: does not work for thick-skinned non-heroes

Warning: does not work for thick-skinned non-heroes

I don’t enjoy it much, but I get it. It’s like a villain rant, or a few extra punches and “arrghhs” during a fight. It’s filler genre stuff, but who am I to criticize, speaking as a fan of gratuitous multi-panel acid flashbacks in my superhero comics. Different strokes: I want lizards and warping eyeballs especially for no reason at all, you want the villain to say, “Impossible! No one can resist Cybertroid Dominatio– unnhh!” I won’t make fun of yours if you don’t make fun of mine.

But if, while enthralled or whatever we call it this time, the hero really does the big thing the villain wants and, which the hero doesn’t, then one or more of the following is the case.

  • The character is not a solid hero after all, and can safely be relegated to beta status in story roles, publication, and later appearances.
  • If the character is ordinarily a hero, say in his or her own title, then his or her appearance of the moment becomes the hero-equivalent of a doombot without even the justification of an actual robot being involved, and will quickly be forgotten.
  • And another option to be discussed later.

Case study for the first two points: Fantastic Four #167-170, a series of issues I read with deep and abiding intensity, off the rack one by one. Suffice to say that Ben Grimm is human’d (again), and moping about it, as Reed hires Luke Cage to be his replacement.

… including beating up Sue Richards in extended, panel by panel detail, with her young son present. I couldn’t find the middle one of this three-page sequence which I suppose is for the better. It’s the low-water mark for Cage in Marvel history, as strangely, he describes himself as harboring the potential to “lash out” if criticized and then, when mind-controlled by the Puppet Master, well …

I guess I can only be thankful the big four letters spell "kill."

mcicageYou know my appreciation for Luke Cage. I read that issue with my jaw sagging open. It’s the single most appalling racist content I’d ever seen in a Marvel comic; please don’t miss the “spring cleaning” remark, the apparent relish with which he “batters down her resistance,” and her reference to “when he’s like this.” I don’t think it’s out-and-out bigotry so much as a time of clashing concepts in individual heads, for instance Susan does immediately understand that he’s being externally controlled. (I am unhappy to have to write about Thomas’ work in this way. He wrote so many of my favorite comics and brought a lot of solid politics into them, and I’ll have tons to say about those, but this was a misstep, and truth about it matters.)

But don’t let that by itself distract you from the MCI, or rather, I’m posting this to show how the MCI is employed as the superhero version of marginalizing a character. It’s the vehicle for showing what a not-Ben Cage is. Specifically: later, at the climax of the story, he still cannot shake off the control.

Now for the third option in my list:

  • The ability cannot properly be described as a character’s power, but instead is a special item ordinarily housed in the author’s rectum, but which has been temporarily removed and utilized in order to make XYZ happen in the pages of this story. XYZ comes in two flavors: Catholic, in which the hero feels guilty for doing something that isn’t his or her fault; or Protestant, in which the hero feels dirty for doing something he or she was inclined to do but ordinarily suppresses.

Chris Claremont’s stories often … aw man, this is gonna take years and years of blogging to begin to grasp this writer’s curious focus on MCI – oh hey! (Jef Willemsen, this is my awed salute) (clickmeisters, something’s funny about the link, so when you get there, click on the lead panel to get to the posts)

I really don't think Jean Grey minds this very much.

Hands up, anyone who thinks Jean Grey might be having the time of her life. Oh look, it’s unanimous!

My small contribution to that topic is the queasy notion that in these stories, total mental/emotional domination, with its range of complicity on the part of the victim, is a grounded state. That all the other kind-of boring stuff, you know, like family and kin hassles, ethical conundrums, (real) ethnic discrimination, war and energy crisis, any of that stuff … really ought to be tossed aside or used as lead-ins to get into the MCI bubble as quickly as possible, to wallow there as much as possible, and once it’s over, not to leave it in there, but instead to see it influence as many ongoing interactions and relationships as possible. Specifically, women who have spectacular experiences, often implicitly or explicitly orgasmic, under others’ control (whether people or abstract entities) and then are guilty, violent, and unbalanced about it. And also specifically, the distinct lack of said orgasmic release when there’s sex and romance without that control involved.

It’s a stretch for me. I think I can see room here for something interesting … all kinds of stuff about “you can do whatever you want if you only submit wholly,” but I don’t get the appeal of jumping into the self-enclosed powers-tautology to fetishize it. Why not go for it as a story component without mind control at all? Vanilla MCI only for me, thanks.

Here’s why I’m so boring about it. MCI is almost unique among plot elements (time-travel being a close runner-up), in that it’s completely tautological, as it can only be about itself. It cannot be used as a story event in the same category as “these two guys run into one another right at the height of their respective plans,” or “this person dislikes the freakishness of his transformed body but gives up a chance at normality to fight evil.” Nothing else goes in there, and nothing comes out. When it’s harmless color, you get mind-controlled to shake it off, and you shake it off because you’re mind-controlled. Or if it’s wholly de-heroizing, then the hero comes out reduced to nothing, having been infused, basically, with nothing, which I think is depressing at best (see above). Or if it’s a strange device to provoke conflicted feelings about agency, at least as far as I’m concerned, then it stalls because … well, you can’t be an agent when you had no agency.

I’m not talking about realism at all. I’m saying that a person whose heart has been replaced by a nuclear furnace has problems which are remarkably grounded, not least the political point that he or she is now a thinking, autonomously-acting WMD, but that a person whose entire mental and emotional volition is subject to someone else’s whim such that the word control applies, does not have any such problems. Readable and relevant conflict requires agency, so MCI’s cause-and-effect is wholly kept within an encapsulated narrative bubble which, until it’s over, excludes any and all other story-relevant content. Keep the bubble brief and irrelevant, and it works fine, good at most for a one-off issue.

Lee and Kirby, considered as an authorial unit, understood this perfectly. Why look, here’s their Puppet Master story, in which a fellow is controlled by the dastardly bald man and forced to attack the Fantastic Four.

Fantastic Four #14

Fantastic Four #14

Does Namor go through the initial jiggery-pokery, so I can see how controlled he is? Why yes. And what does he do when it comes time to kill them at the controller’s behest? Shock! The Sub-Mariner finds it in himself to resist the command!

There, that’s all I need to see about MCI in superhero comics.

Next: Kim Yale

About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on May 5, 2015, in Storytalk, Vulgar speculation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. An interesting viewpoint, and one that seems definitely applicable to silver age superhero comics. I notice that you don’t say much about internal psychological struggle as a story element related to mind control here, except to dismiss Claremont’s attempts at it. I get the impression that you don’t really think that the superheroes in the genre have an internal world to tell stories about, and that’s why mind control is merely a trope with no storytelling weight per se. Would that be right?

    What I mean to say is that it seems to me that there is no particular reason why mind control could not work as a conceit for illuminating character psychology in a speculative fiction story in general, it’s just that this is not possible without characters that actually have an internal reality of some sort to depict for the readers; you need to establish a character, have the audience care about their virtue, and then put that virtue under pressure by whatever – might as well be mind control. How they respond to the psychological stress is often a key point for the story. Consider The Shining, for example, which is basically a mind control story revolving around the values and nature of a man twisted by mind-controlling ghosts.

    Maybe the stark hero/villain role dichotomy is why one would dismiss this sort of angle in the superhero context: as you say, a hero who gives in to mind control is not really a hero by the stark, childish logic of superheroing. However, I’m uncertain as to whether this is true of the genre in any but the most reductive way – just like westerns have “white hats”, superhero comics have “superheroes”, but I don’t think that either genre has historically been truly faithful to these black and white classifications. Often the best works are exactly the ones that reach beyond the basic formula and ask for the measure of the hero, not merely the portrayal.

    I think that to really get anything out of the idea of mind control in speculative fiction one has to subscribe to a pretty modern, post-Cartesian model of the mind, at least for the purposes of enjoying a story; the story needs to show how and why an extraordinary mind control device erodes a person’s pre-existing motivations and replaces them, thus casting light upon the inner nature of the person. If mind control is an on/off switch like often depicted in e.g. roleplaying games, then it is totally a somewhat naive religious moral conundrum just like you describe: oh woe, I feel so bad about something somebody else did using my body without my consent. The matter becomes much more serious for a protagonist (and much more forgiving of those who succumb to the mind control) if we portray a more complex psychology in the matter instead of relying on ineffable “heroism” as the explanation for why mind control works or doesn’t work on a case by case basis.

    (I don’t think that I’m telling Ron anything he doesn’t know, by the way – his own rpg Sorcerer treats mind control exactly like this, for one, as a revolutionary shift from the traditional loss-of-agency approach prevalent in rpgs from the beginning. I’m just laying out the opposite viewpoint on how mind control can work, so as to figure out whether it actually gets used that way in superhero comics.)

    As for examples of more nuanced and worthwhile mind control stories in comics, to me it seems like the kind of stories and themes your post focuses on are a feature of the silver age, sticking around in some cases quite long as tropes are wont to, but that later on writers clearly try to be better about it. I am personally pretty fond of the 1984 Kitty Pryde & Wolverine limited series (the one with Ogun the ninja, who brainwashes Kitty into an assassin), written by Claremont, and I don’t feel that mind control is merely window-dressing in that story. Specifically, I like the climax of the story where Wolverine is uncertain about whether Kitty has managed to thoroughly shake the brainwashing, and thus takes a serious moral risk with her by giving her the opportunity to kill Ogun, the devilish bad guy, on the premise that this will force her to either sink or swim – the experience will hopefully reinforce her own moral habits against the artificial programming created by Ogun, ensuring that she can return to her life as opposed to returning to an asylum. Harsh medicine, and the entire sequence does a good job illustrating the natures of all three characters; doing the same story without brainwashing would be possible, but not in as compact a form and with the physical tropes of superheroes (concrete fight scenes, that is). As is often the case with scifi conceits, mind control is a great shorthand for storytelling.

    Another example of solid mind control storytelling in comics aside from X-Men (it is true – there’s a boatload of mind control in Claremont X-Men) is Batman, of course – Batman is basically all about mind control and the nature of volition in general, whether the femifeline wiles of Catwoman, the more overt psychological power-plays of Hugo Strange, psychotropic drugs of Poison Ivy or the plain internal struggles of the likes of the Ventriloquist or Two-Face. As a particular example, I enjoy the character of Hugo Strange in Prey (1990), a story-arc in which the brilliant yet rather flaw-ridden psychologist attempts to capture Batman with the support of the authorities, only to take both Batman and himself on a spiraling journey towards utter dementia. The specific nature of “mind control” is as much a topic of the story as anything else, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To answer the question at the end of your first paragraph, no, you aren’t characterizing my position. I think a lot of my post is consistent with the points you raise in your next three paragraphs, and I don’t think I actually dismiss Claremont’s work on the matter.

      Most of the rest of your post concerns plot elements which aren’t mind control at all, but perfectly fine and interesting psychology.


  2. Hi Ron! About the third option for a mind control story…. did you ever read “Click” by Milo Manara? (attn: cover NSFW: )
    It’s not a superhero comic book, it’s a erotic GN about a woman mind-controlled by a box, all the owner of the box has to do is “click” and she goes in a sexual frenzy
    The story is nothing to talk about, it’s simply an excuse to have the protagonist go from a erotic scene to another (to excesses that had to be censored in later printings because they were too out these) and it doesn’t really make sense. Because the “final surprise”… is that the box was an empty box, there was no mind control at all, and she did these things because she wanted to.
    There are a lot of problems with the story, from a logical point (in many scenes the box was activated from long distances, with her non knowing that it was activated), from a ethic point (the moral of the story, as far as I can tell, is that women would screw everything if they could give the fault to somebody else), and it’s a rather sorry mess, Manara has done much better things before.

    So why I am citing it? Because, with all the problems that story has, it’s an example of a story about mind control that is not about mind control (it’s about sex, mostly). 🙂

    Apart from that… in the context of super-hero comics, I mostly agree with you. The iconic scenes of Superheroes freeing themselves from mind control are practically the only thing MC is useful for. (do I like them? It depends, some are very good, some are cringe-worthy, as always with superhero comics the there is nothing that a good author can’t exalt and nothing that a hack can’t drag into the sewer)

    An example of a peculiar use of MC could be the Bendis series “Alias” (soon a new TV series for Netflix): the series depict the story of the character AFTER the mind control. So in this case is part of an origin story.

    What about Nexus? The way the actions of the title characters are controlled even if his mind isn’t is a possible way to make it work?

    About Claremont…. he really, really overdid the “body change / mind control” clichè really too much. At first it was new, something different, but after a while his “totally new, different X-Men” became “always the same damn story with different characters that acts and talks the same way”


    • I definitely know the Click series, and everything you said matches my perceptions too.

      Nexus is interesting because the coercion is explicit – simple agony, do it or else. The Merk doesn’t actually control the target’s limbs or emotions. It’s when (the current) Nexus agrees or disagrees that the concept becomes interesting to me, so agency is preserved as the core issue, at least as I see it.


  3. oberonthefool

    Amusingly, I just “donated” my copies of Click! volumes 1 and 2 to the Forge Midwest crowd (among a bunch of other stuff, that was what got taken, go figure), because I flipped through them while packing up my books and realized I now find them unconscionable.

    But what I was gonna say is that Mind Control and Time Travel can both just f*ck off forever as plot devices as far as I’m concerned. They are almost never done well, and the few times they have are enough, we really don’t need to keep revisiting them. The whole “hero resists at the last second” shtick is just utter, utter worthless bullshit to me. At the very least, give me the “hero does something awful and has to reckon with it forever”, but even that is pretty tired. Maybe “hero does something awful and then just decides it’s better to stay mind controlled forever so he never has to deal with the consequences” might be an interesting take, but it’d have to be damn well written.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Damn, man. That last sentence is begging to be written. I may just have to do it and give you a caption credit.


      • oberonthefool

        It’s all yours, man. My lazy ass sure isn’t gonna do it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hm, didn’t something similar happen to Billy Batson in Kingdom Come? Not mind control, but he refuses to utter “Shazam” because he’s afraid of the consequences of becoming Captain Marvel again, and ends up henching for Luthor as adult-Billy?


        • That does match a bit, although I think they cheapened it a little by staying with the childlike-mind concept, instituted as he was getting picked up permanently by DC (Marvelous, meet miraculous). I really like your more literal framing that “I was mind-controlled and I’m stayin’ that way,” written as a more thoughtful act.


        • I definitely have days when I feel like that’s a choice I must have made some time in the past.


  4. oberonthefool

    Also Claremont pulled that same shit in the appallingly awful Shadow War trilogy, ostensibly follow ups to the movie Willow, but actually doing everything possible to rend and annihilate the franchise beyond recognition or repair, for which I will never forgive him.

    Hm. My volumes of Click! were pre-censorship, maybe I should have seen what they were worth… =\


  5. Let’s see if the comments work for me today…

    One of the few mind-control stories that works well is “Fantastic Four #280-284.” The Psycho-Man turns the Invisible Girl into, um, a black-leather dominatrix named Malice. She eventually snaps out of it when her husband starts emotionally abusing her. Realizing what’s been done to her, she’s furious at Psycho-Man and demands the team travel to his dimension and wreck his shit. The gang gets trapped, and the Invisible Girl has to confront a lot of other traumas–including her nightmarish marriage–before she completely destroys Psycho-Man and takes the name “Invisible Woman.”

    In other words: hero does bad things under mind control, is understandably distraught and angry, sets out for revenge, and–after some even worse trauma–achieves it and has a psychological breakthrough.

    After that story, it seems more writers were willing to have the Invisible Woman kick ass in her own right, rather than simply June Cleaver in spandex.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s part of the Byrne run. It had a few squicky undertones, and maybe there’s that weird thing about how a girl has to be violated somehow in order to become a woman, but overall, yeah, practically anything would be worth that simple name change. I remember people asking for it in the letters pages in the mid-70s! Why on earth it took so long i will never understand.


      • Oh, it’s definitely squicky, and Byrne’s a terrible chauvinist, viz. sleazy She-Hulk shots and the Big Barda porno movie from his Superman run.

        On the other hand, taken in isolation it’s not a bad story of how a mollycoddled, “fragile” character finds her doggone voice and true power after being confronted with her worst insecurities. (And as a 10 year old it was my first encounter with the concept of rape, though I don’t think that word was used.)

        And I guess it’s a variation on the Wasp-overcomes-DV-to-become-stronger storyline. It’s extremely depressing that this is how comics tend to show women becoming stronger. But with both the Invisible Girl and the Wasp, these particular characters were so ridiculously trivialized for decades that metaphorically killing those personas may have been necessary from a character development standpoint.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There is ONE thing of worth in the dreadful, cliched Malice storyline: perspective. It’s a tired trope that when any superhero becomes evil they briefly become super-competant. What was fascinating about this story was that for the first time, we actually got a sense of what it was like to fight Sue Storm.

          Typically, we see the fights drawn so that the reader can see her using her powers; technically, these stories must be told from HER point of view. She must be visualising the shapes she’s making.

          Think of all the countless times her foes complain about being buffeted by invisible blows, or having their activities interfered with by a mysterious barrier. That must be incredibly weird and disorienting! The Malice tale was the first story which actually communicated that.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I agree. Byrne had a nice touch with thinking about characters’ powers and finding ways for them to do things or be presented. My thoughts on him as a creator, or rather, as time-stamped spectrum of creativity, are presented in It is unwise to annoy cartoonists – you’ll see in it that his work on the Invisible Girl/Woman fits into that spectrum, at least, my assessment anyway.


    • oberonthefool

      In the Ultimate FF, the whole gang gets whammied and joins the peaceful, idyllic society on Psycho Man’s home planet (possibly for years, it’s not really clear), until they shake it off and combine their mental powers to defeat him… and, incidentally, wreck the utopian society in a classic “free will and misery are preferable to enforced happiness” move.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always wanted to read “Marvel Team-Up #100,” in part because it has a Claremont script and Frank Miller art. But also because it introduces the heroine later known as Karma, whose power was puppet-style mind control. In the story, Karma takes over Spider-Man to seek revenge on her uncle, who’s an evil gangster, and there’s a kerfuffle with the Fantastic Four. Anyway, so far as I know it’s (a) the first female Asian super hero, and (b) the first Asian character who doesn’t have an “oriental” power. (And, politically, she’s a South Vietnamese refugee whose family was really messed up by American foreign policy.) I’ve always had a soft spot for this character, but apparently I’m the only one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s an earlier female Asian superhero, to be discussed in some detail in a post already scheduled for later this month.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “There’s an earlier female Asian superhero, to be discussed in some detail in a post already scheduled for later this month.”

        Something tell me that that post will involve Englehart’s Avengers run… 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. So one of the TRULY irritating mind control stories is the Madeline Pryor business, in the late 80’s X-books. For anyone lucky enough to miss it, Marvel resurrected Jean Grey so that they original 5 X-Men could get the band back together.

    Cyclops at this point is married with a baby, but like a good sub abandons his family the moment he finds out his domme is back in town. This is the one moment in history that Cyclops has ever been interesting, and also a moment of astounding douchebaggery. In the meantime, Madeline joins up with a rival X-Men team, and is rather sympathetic.

    To rehabilitate Cyclops, Claremont and Louise Simonson begin this years-long storyline where Cyclops’s wife Madeline gets corrupted by demons and becomes this out-of-control Medea figure. Wearing, uh, black-leather dominatrix gear. (Powerful women psychics only exist in Marvel World so they can go insane.) Eventually Madeline dies, and everyone can forget the time Cyclops Done Somebody Wrong.

    The really weird thing is that the normal way to handle this would be, “Oh, it was CYCLOPS who was under mind control.” And then he’d snap out of it and realize his midlife crisis is unsustainable, and gradually work out some complicated hate-triangle with his love interests. Instead, the mind control is used to retroactively declare, “Cyclops, a your wife was a bitch, and she should die for messing up your little-boy dream.”

    God, I like Cyclops so much. He’s like the Hank Pym of mutants. So, so pathetic.


    • You can’t like Cyclops! That ruins my whole upcoming post where I’m the only one!

      I know that storyline well. My girlfriend at the time and I read it month by month with increasing dropped jaws, wondering what imaginably could be happening here. The whole X-verse was becoming increasingly deranged and disjointed … this was also about the time or just after the Longshot and whatsisname, the weird tubby grinning guy villain stories, or “story” is the wrong word, just “stuff.”

      Uh – do not go back and read any of the X-Factor letters pages. And if you do, that’s, uh, well it couldn’t possibly be me. Because I was far away at the time, in the, um, Negative Zone. That’s right. No mail there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • OK, but exactly what back issue of my old X-Factor collection I should not read, Ron?

        Thinking about it, it’s incredible: I have the entire collection up to around issue 100, I think, and I loathed every issue until around 50-60. Why did I buy it? Probably a combination of wanting to follow all the x-universe (at the time it was still possible with a few comic book every month), a cheap cover price and a good rate of exchange.

        I don’t remember the story behind that book, who had the idea of that book, but it was really awful. I don’t think that your letter could be worse than the comic pages…


        • Not issue, issues. The ones with letters from some guy with my name who lived in the same apartment in Chicago at the same time, who I do not admit was me, you hear me? I won’t! The ones which praised the Simonson team for … I dunno, they just did. The ones which were written in some hazy combination of liking X-books for no reason + magical thinking that positive letters would prompt positive work. Believe me, you’ll know them on sight.


    • oberonthefool

      Ugh. That’s vomitous.

      I just minutes ago reread Ultimates v1, which features Pym spraying Wasp with Raid and then siccing ants on her while she cowers under his desk. What the fuck. Of course it also had a drunk, horny Hulk rampaging through NYC because Betty’s at dinner with Freddie Prinze.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just read that on-line a bit ago on one of the blogs followed here. What, that mid-late 70s backhand smack wasn’t enough? Or rather, people decided, hey, defining character moment? What a great idea!?


        • oberonthefool

          Well, it is a defining character moment, it defined Hank Pym as a giant (no pun intended) asshole. I did like how it suggested that “Pym particles” were bullshit and he really just used a serum based on Janet’s blood and lied about it.

          Oddly, I was simultaneously disappointed that they made Banner such a loser and Hulk so disgusting, as a fan of Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk, in which Banner is actually the scary one.


  8. Gordon Landis

    I would have assumed that at some point (the 90’s?), there were many comics stories that questioned/explored the very idea of agency by assuming the question of “degree of complicity” is unanswerable, unknowable – so our hero can be perpetually tortured about it, yet still maybe continue to be “our hero”.

    I mention this because I’m not clear where such a thing fits in your analysis, Ron.


    • I’d need to see a solid example. I may be a little too jaundiced to credit any such depth in 90s superhero comics, at least in general and in principle, and if anyone knows of a good one with a topic like this, that’d be great.


      • Gordon Landis

        Yeah, I’m not gonna be any help with an example – but your “too jaundiced to credit any such depth” sorta answers me, so thanks.


  9. oberonthefool

    I was just contemplating rereading my Alias collection in anticipation of the upcoming Netflix show, and remembered that it contains a plot with Killgrave the Purple Man, in which (spoilers) the heroine does *not* beat the mind control, and is scarred forever by her experiences, and escapes the second terrifying encounter with him only due to an acceptably logical deus ex machina; this was an example of a mind control story that did not piss me off. The horror is real and fully realized, there’s no flinching, no cheap escape, the damage is lasting and traumatic, even after the rescue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • oberonthefool

      Also they don’t take the cheap and obvious sexual abuse angle, recognizing that the horror of complete loss of bodily autonomy is sufficiently vile- it’s rape without the titillating sheen of the erotic, which is, even in real life, the smoke and mirror act that distracts from the actual tragedy of being used as an object.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s probably also worth noting the difference of “mind control” as a story arc or story event, vs. “premise of the story itself”.

    For example, Bedlam has the protagonist “Red Madder” – a Joker stand-in, who gets kidnapped, operated on by some kind of other supervillain doctor, “reformed” through a year or two of isolation, brainwashing and conditioning, and now lives barely-functionally as a civilian… until he sees the news of a serial killer and (compelled to help people) decides to contact the police and start helping one of the detectives, since he has a terrible insight into how killers think. Unlike Dexter or Hannibal Lecter, he seems pretty happy with his new limitations against violence and afraid of what would happen if they fall away.

    In a non-superhero story, the webcomic Freefall has a pretty interesting premise that basically takes a) robots with the Isimov’s 3 Laws b) that are sentient and puts that all over the question of how do you navigate life when literally some people can give you orders or commands you cannot disobey? (and, are there edge cases where you can rationalize around a few of them?)

    The premise set up is different because it’s more-or-less establishing rules for the world, whereas the issue with the Mind Control trope in supers is about breaking the established hero’s way of doing things for drama. I think it could be done with some depth, mostly in the fact of consequences and changes for the characters themselves in aftermath, but the part during the mind control tends to be the least interesting.


    • Your post like some of the others seems to slide away from my topic, which isn’t influencing the mind, but literally controlling it. The only variable is whether it is puppet-like control fully against one’s will, or altering the will to the same extent as the first controls the body. As soon as it’s defined as a technique which may or may not work, or “works” but not to the extent imagined or intended, or with rules that lend themselves to edge cases or interpretations, then it’s not MCI as I’m talking about it, it’s a situation in which the character’s agency is still involved. I’m talking about taking away agency, especially in such a way that characters who fall under its sway either have no way to combat it, or some weird exception is invented on the spot for that character to do so, or apparently it just doesn’t work any more the way we saw it working a few pages ago.

      It’s really rare in other media, even in science fiction and fantasy, compared to superhero comics.

      I mean, I see what you’re talking about and I find all kinds of interesting topics to respond to in your post, but I have to stress that I’m talking about the really extreme forms, so extreme that I think they warrant their own category. And the completely weird observation that unlike other story-form entertainment, in superhero comics, these extreme forms are the default, and the more interesting psychological or socio-political forms that you, Eero, and others are posting about, those are the edge cases, which seems totally backwards to me.


      • A possible armchair-psicologist-wanna-be esplanation for that: no other media genre is so tied to adolescent power fantasies.

        Total mind-control could be seen as a way to let the audience feel the vicarious thrill of “being bad” without any of the guilt or responsibilities associated

        Notice how that happened very often with teenage heroes like the X-men (or Peter Parker), when Daredevil (for example) was totally immune from Killgrave’s powers the one time he did meet a mind-controlling villain.


  1. Pingback: Puh-leeze! | Doctor Xaos comics madness

  2. Pingback: Two women | Comics Madness

  3. Pingback: The change of illusion | Comics Madness

  4. Pingback: So not making friends here | Comics Madness

  5. Pingback: On and on and on | Comics Madness

  6. Pingback: Recursion isn’t just a river in Egypt | Comics Madness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Adept Play

Adept Play


Real Comics History

Todd's Blog

Todd Klein on lettering, literature and more

%d bloggers like this: