MISC: OCTO-BOY # 1: Octo-Boy's First Day part 1 by J. Vandersteen

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Aug 22 17:05:42 PDT 2014

So, OCTO-BOY is a new series by J. Vandersteen, who gave us GODLING. And I've been on record in the past as a fan of the One-Man Pantheon. The Ultra Boy-like idea of "I have all the powers of the Greek gods, but can only use them one at a time" has room for all kinds of inventiveness and Vandersteen often delivers. There was something about the series that was marvelously primal, resonant, and direct.

Octo-Boy, who previously appeared in two issues of GODLING'S WORLD, hasn't quite hooked me the same way. On the surface, I'd think that it appeal to me in much the same way, as both are characters with unique and potentially clever powers; certainly, I've never encountered "turning into a green tentacle thing" before. And I've seen both characters use their powers in clever ways, like the way Octo-Boy uses his tentacles to move through his environment. Both deal with wish fulfillment. Octo-Boy wishes he had powers, and so he gets them. (We find out later/earlier just how he got them, but that doesn't negate the wishing effect.) Wonderful stuff!

And both are dealing with archetypes. The original Godling was a nerdy and unimposing academic-- the nerd-hero goes back to Clark Kent. (Not to be confused with the fop-hero, those worthless layabouts like Bruce Wayne, Don Diego de la Vega, and Percy Blakeney.) Octo-Boy's somewhat broader archetype is the teen-hero, and I think here is where I hit that snag.

I was really surprised to find out in OCTO-BOY # 1 that the titular/tentacular character was fifteen. When I was reading the "National Security" two-parter in GODLING'S WORLD, I really thought Octo-Boy was a kid. Like, ten years old, tops. And reading through it again just now, I was trying to figure out where I got this impression from, because as near as I can tell, the text doesn't actually say either way. What I came up with:

+ The name, particularly the "boy" part. A teenager, especially a teenager who's one year from driving, seems unlikely to saddle himself with a "boy" moniker in the 21st Century (the 31st, on the other hand, would be replete with them). The archetypical teen hero, Lee-Ditko Spider-Man, chooses both the "spider" and the "man", and in the latter case, he does so aspirationally: he calls himself a man, and spends the rest of that run learning how to become worthy of the name. Really, that's a big part of what being a teenager is about. So when I hear him calling himself "boy", I immediately thought he was a kid hero, like a member of Power Pack or something.

+ Granted, as we find out in this issue, he didn't pick that name-- his mother did. And there's another thing that made me think of him as a kid, his attachment to his mother. And this might just be my personal baggage. So let me digress about that-- Like, I don't talk about it very much, but my relationship with my family is strained and prickly. So much so that my natural assumption is that parents and siblings are people who can never understand you, and that relationships with blood relatives are either toxic or distant. So close, non-toxic family relationships, while I know they exist, they just seem beyond weird to me. Almost incomprehensible. So, to me, a close relationship with a parent seems like something you have when you're a kid, not when you're fifteen. And maybe, again, this is just me, or maybe it's something slightly more universal, but fifteen seems like a time when there's quite a bit of (often needless) friction in one's personal and family life.

+ Indeed, there's very little friction in his life. None of the angst or worries that usually come with a teen hero. He's always cheerful, plucky, helpful, gee-whiz-- again, qualities I associate with a kid.

And to be clear: I'm not slamming the story or character for not being a "typical teenager". I'm just saying that the vibe I've gotten is more kid-hero, having cute little adventures, and less teen-hero. The funny thing is, I think Octo-Boy could be a great teen hero. He transforms into a not-so-hideous octopus-monster thing with weird new secretions-- that is, one that has a built-in and potent metaphor for puberty. I think, however, that boat is missed by the total control he has over his transformations. Still, the metaphor is there, if under the surface, and I'd like to see it brought to the fore. It wouldn't need to be the "what's happening to my body, I'm hideous" puberty; "reveling in my new body and what it can do, except for my occasional and embarrassing premature emulsion of ink" seems more in keeping with his positive attitude.

And I kinda like that attitude. I'm a big fan of optimism, and helpfulness, and cheerfulness. I think I would like to see said optimism tested, however. I would like to see life become more turbulent and out-of-control for him, so we can see his strength. Being a teenager doesn't mean having to complain and grouse about life being unfair, and moping about all the things that aren't the way you want them, and plunging into despair because nothing is under your control-- but it is about life being unfair, things aren't being the way you want them, and nothing in your life being in your control. So I'd like to see that, and how he deals with that. Another thing I'd like to see is some tragedy.

Because I really think a core of tragedy is what makes the great heroes, teen and adult alike, great. Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman-- the real "big three" of comics-- are all defined, but not necessary consumed, by pain and loss. Human beings, as people, are defined (and sadly, sometimes consumed) by pain and loss. It's what makes us interesting and what makes us interested in one another. (It's also why Wonder Woman, ostensibly one of the Big Three, is boring as rocks.)

I have a feeling-- which could be completely and totally off-base-- that Jochem is setting us up for a defining tragedy of some sort somewhere down the road. The cheerful nothing-can-go-wrong attitude, the close (and so far, character-defining) relationship with his mother, who is very heavily idealized... what would happen to Octo-Boy if something happened to her? Something very interesting, I'd imagine; something very, very Fifteen.

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