Book Club Channel
Mutants and Mystics: A Book Excerpt
And there is more. In a pattern that is seldom fully appreciated, Siegel and Schuster's Superman is closely linked to the mytheme of Mutation. Hence Superman's early epithet as "The Man of Tomorrow," which, of course, suggests that Superman is functioning as a model for the future evolution of human nature: basically, Superman is us from the future. Hence on the very first page of Action Comics #1, we read that the alien child's "physical structure was millions of years advanced." We are also treated to "A Scientific Explanation of Clark Kent's Amazing Strength." The latter two frames employ the examples of the ant, which "can support weights hundreds of times its own," and the grasshopper, which "leaps what to man would be the space of several city blocks," to make its case (the early Superman could not literally fly; he leapt, like a grasshopper). To extend our reading now, we might say that the genre of the modern superhero begins with the trope of the Alien from the Occult, who is compared to a super-evolved Mutant Insect as a sign of the Future Human.
I am highlighting such themes because they are weirdly resonant with the phenomenon of the alien in twentieth-century America. As the ufologist knows, the alien experience is suffused with an insectoid pattern that is in turn linked to an evolutionary schema. Hence the spaceships or the aliens themselves are often described as "buzzing" like bees or large flies, and they often appear to share a hivelike communal mind, two features emphasized as early as 1950 by British American writer Gerald Heard, who also, by the way, wrote extensively about psychical powers, was inspired by Indian philosophy, and was committed to an evolutionary mysticism.[iv]
Moreover, in countless cases, the aliens are described as either super-evolved humanoids or as instectoid, or, combining these two themes now, as humanlike insects. Hence the last century's most famous and eloquent abductee, Whitley Streiber, who consistently described the
"visitors" whom he encountered as insectlike, hivelike, or, in one scene, a "terrible insect" that "rose up beside the bed like some huge, predatory spider" (T 181). When another abductee, this one interviewed by Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack, drew what she had encountered, she sketched what amounted to a humanoid bug.
Or an alien Spider-Man. This is where things get a bit uncanny. Spider-Man, after all, is the humanoid insect par excellence. Moreover, his iconic wraparound eyes—created in 1962 by Marvel monster artist Steve Ditko in Amazing Fantasy #15—reproduce, almost perfectly, the classic almond eyes of the alien. With the exception of Superman's S, there is no superhero symbol more beloved and more iconic than Spidey's eyes.
Is it possible that Ditko's Spidey eyes informed the later abduction accounts of the mid-1960s, '70s, and '80s? The dates certainly make this possible. The first major published study of an alien abduction, Saturday Review columnist John G. Fuller's classic The Interrupted Journey (1966), recounts the September 1961 abduction of Barney and Betty Hill, complete with multiple descriptions of the aliens as possessing large foreheads, slits for mouths, and bluish gray or metallic skin. Most of all, though, especially for Barney, there were the awed descriptions of those haunting, vaguely Oriental or Asiatic "slanted" eyes.
Barney drew these eyes from within a hypnotic trance state: the sketch looks like a child's drawing of Spider-Man's head (with pupils now). In another passage, he describes how everything disappeared except a single eye, like, he points out, the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland: "this growing, one-beam eye, staring at me, or rather not staring at me, but being a part of me." These eyes did strange things too. They "spoke" to him telepathically and told him not to be afraid. They carried a subtle smile. They "pushed" into his eyes as they came closer and closer. And they "burned" into his senses and left "an indelible imprint."[v] Such descriptions were drawn from hypnosis and therapeutic sessions that took place the first six months of 1964, well after Spider-Man's first appearances, month after month, on the magazine racks of America. So the door of influence is left open here.
Jeffrey J. Kripal is the J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. He is the author of six books, including Esalen: America and The Religion of No Religion and Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred.