The Global Meetings
The 6th Global Meeting - September 2022
“Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr. Strange…?” – The Ancient One, Doctor Strange (2016)
The superhero genre has evolved far, far beyond its origins in the late 1930’s within American comics as disposable entertainment for young children. Eighty-four years after the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1, the superhero today represents one of the dominant discourses of global popular culture, embodied via thousands of characters worldwide negotiated in and through all types of media.
With the genre’s evolution and diversification having significantly accelerated since the turn of the millennium, generating a vast diversity of creative expressions, the superhero discourse has to contend not only with highly different and often conflicting expectations directing the character’s various portrayals but also stringent demands regarding their alignment with real world issues. Consequently, this has resulted in an increasing fragmentation within the genre.
While the superhero genre has negotiated fragmentation throughout its history, the genre’s current status as a dominant example of global popular culture has exacerbated these tendencies and processes. This in turn has allowed the discourse to adapt meaningfully to a globalized postmodern world that is itself characterized by continuous processes of economic, social, technological, communal as well as individual fragmentation.
Identity can be seen as a core arena for such fragmentation within the superhero genre, given the centrifugal tensions between the superhero’s crime-fighting persona and their civilian alter-ego that provide the basis of teeming narratives. Fragmentation provides the basis – and can be employed as an analytical framework for – the investigation of individual identities such as Batman and The Joker in White Knight (2017-18) or the array of intertextual versions of a single character, as seen in the Spider-Man series Spider-Geddon (2018). Yet, this can also extend into political and communal identities (Captain America: Civil War), gender identities (Loki, Captain Marvel), race and ethnicity (the Miles Morales incarnation of Spider-Man, Falcon), Capitalism and Technocracy (Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark) and family (Superman, Black Widow).
We would like to welcome delegates to the Sixth Global Meeting of The Superhero Project and very much hope you enjoy what has become a vibrant showcase of diverse scholarly perspectives from around the world! We are proud to have created an ongoing and dedicated (and vigorously social!) space for the exploration and celebration of the superhero genre in all its forms. We thank you for both your contributions and support.
Conference Organisers – The Superhero Project
University of Duisburg-Essen
The Haunting of Achievement – The Tension between Unity and Fragmentation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
In the serialized narrative world of the MCU, the task of the superhero is never done. At the end of every story, the villain is beaten, the threat is overcome, and the status quo reasserted, but the superheroes and the audience know that the next terror is just around the corner waiting to undo the heroic successes of the previous victory. A superhero’s achievement is always only temporary. This is a diegetic necessity, of course, as there cannot be a story and a superhero without a dangerous obstacle to overcome.
In my paper I will not look at the processes of serialization as such, but rather at the effects of the temporariness of achievement on the characters and the overall narrative. I postulate that the MCU exists in a constant tension between the unity of achievement and the fragmentation of and by future threats which is expressed through hauntological processes that distort and fragment the narrative and the characters. Every achievement is always already haunted by its future destruction and fragmentation by the next threat and every new threat comes into existence already hauntologically marked by its future defeat at the hands of the superheroes.
The MCU, especially in Phase 4, seems to be a place haunted by the past (the blip, the death of Iron Man, the death of Vision etc), but in fact it is haunted by the future. This distorted temporality of the narrative universe and the uncertainty of the temporariness of the superheroes’ victories, are central notions of haunting that have always torn at the presumed unity of the characters and the narrative universe of the MCU. Following a brief introduction of core hauntological processes, I will exemplify the pervasive effects of hauntological processes in the MCU via short readings of selected characters and films.
Daniel J. Connell
To Gaze Upon The Infinite Remainder is Death: Intertextual Entropy Wears a Cape & Will Never Stop Punching You in the Face.
Post-credit scenes. Mid-credit scenes. Riffs on title sequences. Easter Eggs. Callbacks. Cameos. Signifiers upon signifiers upon signifiers, many not directly correlated to the story at hand. Has comic book film/TV become a Mandelbrot set, swirling into a hypnotic evermore that guarantees transfixed viewers? Or is it descending unknowingly into a death spiral, where the signifiers – remainders of other histories, other presents, other futures – have become more important than the text itself; where there is an ever-limited number of individuals able to appreciate and notice the compounding number of nods and references?
In this paper, several examples from popular Marvel films/TV shows will be assessed to answer the question: as we stand at a point where the narratives are splitting and our heroes are splintered, is the framework of their entire existence not also fracturing in a far more insidious and destructive way? Have algorithms and tick-boxes latched onto comic book media like succubae – and if so, can there be any reprieve?
Using Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the Remainder as a theoretical basis, this paper will investigate the journey we have been on so far within intertextual fracturing – and what the future might have in store for us.
The Star-Spangled Man: Race, Patriotism and Identity in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021).
The credits sequence of the final episode of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier starts with a re-naming of the show: Captain America and the Winter Soldier. This is a clear statement that places the mantle of the embodiment of American values and American identity on to Sam Wilson, an African-American man and already established superhero in his persona as the Falcon. Sam’s progress towards accepting the role of Captain America and transforming that role into something new is at the heart of the series. Sam’s initial reluctance to take on Captain America’s shield is played out against a backdrop of racial tensions both contemporary and historic: his story becomes intertwined with the community in his poverty-stricken hometown in Louisiana and the discovery of a covered-up government programme that created black super-soldiers during the Cold War.
The question of race linked explicitly to ideas of patriotism and identity is made manifest when the US government puts forward its own new Captain America, the stereotypically blond-haired, square-jawed John Walker.
This paper examines the construction and deconstruction of the heroic persona of Captain America at a time when race relations in America are still in a state of flux in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the Black Lives Matter movement. Questions of identity and patriotism are also examined in the relationship between Sam and Bucky Barnes, the former Winter Soldier who is similarly struggling with a sense of self and purpose, but whose redemptive arc is empowered by his involvement with African and African-American communities.
Edge Hill University
“Sometimes it takes dyin' to teach a fella how to live”: A comparison of the fragmentation and reassembling of identity in Kraven's Last Hunt and Batman: Noël.
Ever since their creation in 1938, discourse and analysis regarding superheroes has been intertwined with the concepts of duality and identity. Gibson, Huxley and Ormrod cite the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1 as the moment where identity became a key component of the superhero myth, stating that “Superman’s success inspired a boom in characters employing three key characteristics: a secret identity, superpowers and a costume.” The relationship between these characteristics is what defines a superhero; many stories have examined what becomes of a hero’s identity when either a costume, powers or a secret identity has been taken away.
However, when discussing the idea of the ‘fragmented superhero’, there are two particular comic book stories that perfectly demonstrate the relationship between a superhero’s alter-ego and their fragmented identity. These two stories adopt a similar approach, deconstructing and reassembling their respective protagonists’ persona from the ground up, in order to redefine and reaffirm the core principles that define them. These two stories are Lee Bermejo’s 2011 graphic novel, Batman: Noël, and J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s 1987 Spider-Man storyline, Fearful Symmetry: Kraven's Last Hunt. This paper will explore how themes of identity and duality (specifically the fragmentation and reconstruction of a superhero’s identity) are comparatively used in Batman: Noël and Kraven's Last Hunt, comparing the approaches used by writers Bermejo and DeMatteis to recontextualise their respective protagonists’ status quo and identity.
The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the relationship that these iconic heroes have with duality, and how their self-constructed superhero personas, as well as their fragmentation and restoration serve as thematic indicators of the humanity underneath their costumes. This will be achieved through a close reading of both texts, as well as consulting interviews and written sources from both the writers of each respective story.
Otto-Friedrich-Universitat Bamberg.Universita Degli Studi di Verona
Flesh and Scars: The Role of Pain and Bodies in the Creation of Identity and Meaning.
The mask’s role is central in the superhero narrative. The mask is a second, non-human identity, which replaces the civilian, human one, sometimes forever. It is what happens for the majority of Gotham’s villains. While Batman can take off his mask and at least pretend to be Bruce Wayne, many of his enemies do not have the same privilege.
For characters like Two-Face, Joker, Clayface (and Mr Freeze, Zsasz, Man-Bat), the mask is not a piece of clothing that they could remove as they please, but it is carved directly into their bodies. Masks are replaced by scars, which give the body an ultimate meaning, thus relegating the villains to the non-human dimension.
Bodies and masks play a central role in ancient primitive rituals, especially initiation rituals. These ceremonies have the purpose of destroying a precedent identity to give a new one. This destruction occurs through the ecstasy, Caillois’ Ilinx, induced by drugs and fasting, and through the infliction of physical pain. This pain destroys but also has a creative meaning: the new identity is literally written on the body through scars or tattoos, thus receiving an “ultimate” meaning.
By comparing body- and mask’s roles in primitive rituals, this chapter aims to analyze the impact which scars and body’s transformation have on the identity of some of the most famous Batman’s adversaries, in particular Two-Face and Clayface. This analysis is based primarily (but not only) on Umberto Galimberti’s Il Corpo and René Girard’s Men and Play.
University of Derby
WandaVision: Cultural and Visual Fragmentation of the Female Superhero / Villain.
WandaVision explores the fragmented superhero in terms of Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch’s retreat into grief and self-preservation. This attempt to avoid grief at her lost love, Vision, is manifested in a deployment of the US sitcom framework where Wanda undertakes a variety of roles of women in situation comedy from the 1950s onwards. Each week plays out a version of the nuclear family, echoing Wanda and Vision’s relationship as a 1950s couple, complete with canned laughter and comic oneliners to the birth of their children and the family and parochial domesticity.
Wanda’s culpability in the construction of WandaVision is initially unclear as there are somewhat sinister clues to a potential external influence that is forcing her to hide within this space. However, we see that Wanda has fragmented her identity and splintered it across the decades of popular television, drawing upon cultural tropes to hide from her emotions and construct an idyllic life. The fabric of this world becomes torn when her adversary Agnes/Agatha Harkness reveals her manipulation and negotiates her own powers. The inhabitants of the have been taken hostage and their memories supressed.
However, it is also the double standard of the interpretation of Wanda’s superpowers that partly lead her to galvanise her abilities as a shroud and submerge herself within the reliable and reassuring sitcom lifestyle. Sitcoms have also been a space for women to play a role that is equal to male characters in time on screen and within the narrative: initially Wanda’s vision emulates characters in I love Lucy, relishing the role of a comedy wife with witty ripostes. Wanda knows that she is judged more harshly for her abilities and their potential than many of the male superheroes, and finally has to reconstruct her fragmented self to come to terms with this realisation.
Vincent M. Gaine
Liminal Bodies as Sites of Fragmentation and Evolution in the MCU.
The superhero is a liminal figure, symbolising and occupying spaces between various social, cultural and political tensions. Indeed, the superhero body itself is a site of these tensions, fragmented between nature and artifice, mundane and exceptional, authority and anarchy. These bodies are in a constant state of flux, regularly reforming and adapting to developments within the surrounding narratives as well as changing patterns of production and consumption.
This paper uses the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a case study to explore the politics of social identity and technology, using the bodies of the superhero figures as canvasses for this exploration. This canvas is especially rich because of the creative tension between the constancy of the actors’ embodiment and the inconstancy of the characters’ embodiment. Tony Stark as well as Peter Parker move through different suit designs, roles and even universes. Steve Rogers alters to the state of Captain America and goes through different uniforms and equipment. Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk and subsequently to Smart Hulk. Carol Danvers’ body develops from one fragmented by amnesia and inhibition to that of an elemental being; T’Challa’s body undergoes physical and political transformations that manifest the body politic of Wakanda; Stephen Strange transforms from surgeon of bodies to manipulator of time and space.
In these as well as other cases, the films and viewers negotiate the fluctuating superhero body as the intersection of physical and digital realities, an amalgam of narratological and spectacular cinematic devices, and an ongoing battleground for competing ideologies. My analysis therefore intersects with discourses around embodiment and digital effects as well as the relationship between visual text and viewer and the constituents of identity.
University of Hertfordshire
The Ring of Steel: Fragmentation as Reinforcement in the Myth of Superman.
One of the signature facets of Superman, the archetypal superhero, is his possession of “the characteristics of timeless myth” (Eco, 1972) which has ensured that The Man of Steel has undergone comparatively little change since his debut in mid-1938. This is in notable contrast to Superman’s immediate genre progeny Batman, who has come to demonstrate considerable malleability and can withstand no shortage of fragmentary iterations. Yet, Superman is still subject to fragmentary versions, thanks to Eco’s key observation that Superman’s mythological timelessness is in constant tension with his required consumption as a construct of ongoing modern fiction.
These stories - such as the haunted, older and self-exiled version of Kingdom Come (1996), the tyrannical, violent despot of Injustice (2013) or the amalgamation of Superman with Batman in the Elseworlds story Speeding Bullets (1993) – allow for deconstruction of the character’s innate traits. However, a key aspect of these narratives is that, no matter the deviations, Superman ultimately returns to the fundamental position of the archetype understood by generations of audiences, replete with associated values and virtues, dedicated to a mission of right action.
Paul Levitz has observed that “as soon as you start to bend Superman, even slightly, the character’s magic dissipates very quickly”. As such, such common narrative destination indicates a consistent reinforcement of Superman’s mythological timelessness, akin to an impenetrable, protective ring of steel that firmly corrals any fragmentation from triggering such dissipation. The fractal shape known as Koch’s Snowflake – in which potentially limitless variations occurs within an inflexible boundary – serves as an illustration of this dynamic and this paper will argue that such a “Ring of Steel” not only ensures that Superman’s archetypal identity remains intact but also, by extension, that the fundamental; facets of the superhero genre itself remain inviolate as a result.
University of the Arts London
The Fragmented Supervillain: Dimensions of Doctor Doom.
This paper will demonstrate how a unified catalogue of transmedia character components can be used to chart the fragmentation of a fictional character over time and media, taking Doctor Doom as an example.
The unified catalogue of transmedia character components was developed as part of a PhD thesis on early transmedia characters, and draws upon the works of Pearson and Uricchio, Klastrup and Tosca, Marie-Laurie Ryan, Paolo Bertetti, Jan-Noel Thon and Matthew Freeman, as well as other conceptualisations from the fields of psychology and film studies. From these sources it identifies thirteen separate components, or dimensions, of fictional characters, which can be placed into four groupings related to the character themselves, their world, their behaviour within that world, and the authors responsible for the creation of their stories.
Examining characters using these dimensions provides a practical method for analysing fictional characters and providing empirical evidence of how they change over different texts, time periods, media or nationalities. This will be demonstrated by analysing a selection of appearances by Doctor Doom in different media - including comics, cartoons, games and movies - from his first appearance in Fantastic Four #5 in 1963 up to the present day.
Fragmentation, Diversification, Saturation: The Impact of Disney and Marvel’s Marketing Strategy on the China Film Market.
This paper considers how Disney has attempted to create further access to the Chinese film market. Such films as Shang-Chi (2021) and The Eternals (2021) have been constructed around satisfying Chinese market trends and tastes, and yet both films failed to access the Chinese box office. Further, while attempting to increase brand awareness through its Disney + streaming channel enterprise, the Marvel franchise in its phase 4 iteration has been further fragmented into story arcs that interlace television serials and films, creating multiple convergences between animated shows, live action serials and the feature films.
Such a marketing strategy, while providing greater brand awareness, has not returned significant revenue on investment. Rather, such market moves suggest market saturation, and Marvel film product which was formerly attaining revenue of as much as 500 million US dollars in Chinese box office sales per film, is now being eclipsed by Chinese box office features. Indeed, due to certain controversial content, both Shang-Chi and Eternals failed to receive distribution licenses in China, resulting in significant loss in worldwide box office revenue. This paper considers how the Marvel Franchise both won and lost the Chinese market.
Mikayla J. Laird
University of Hertfordshire
The Fractured Tabula Rosa: The Continual Cycle of Reboot and Retroactive Continuity of the DC Universe.
A recuring conversation in comic book discourse is the notion of continuity, and especially the reboot. While the concept of the reboot implies a blank slate with no back story, does the reboot still stand if the previous slate becomes retroactive continuity?
In this paper, I will be looking into the theoretical framework of both reboot narratives and retroactive continuity to explore the DC Comics Crisis events and the perspective of the characters.
Primarily, the work of William Proctor, Douglas Wolk and Daniel Stein will be examined, specifically in the context of DC Comics Continuity. Infinite Crisis and the Rebirth initiative will both be examined to determine whether the DC continuity has every truly been rebooted. Is there such a thing as a fresh start within the DC Universe?
“Not my Captain America!”: Race and National Identity in Captain America: Sam Wilson (2015).
The character Captain America first debuted in Marvel Comics’ Action Comics #1 (1941) with an iconic cover portraying the hero landing a punch in Adolf Hitler’s face. The superhero’s alter ego is Steve Rogers, an artist from Brooklyn who was injected with the super-soldier serum which enhanced his physique to peak human condition.
Throughout his tenure, Captain America has become an emblem of American national identity – an embodiment of the idealized American values of patriotism, liberty, and justice (Stevens, 2015; Weiner, 2005). In this role, Captain America’s de-ethnicized white body has been used synecdochally to represent the demographic diversity of the United States, which suggests the power that whiteness has to be seen or positioned as the neutral, universal identity norm (Dyer, 2017).
So, when in 2014, Steve Rogers, who has lost his powers, names Sam Wilson, his long-time partner, as Captain America, it begs the question: what does it mean now that Captain America is a Black man? Informed by Jason Dittmer’s reading of Captain America as a “nationalist superhero” (Dittmer, 2012), this paper looks at Marvel Comics’ Captain America: Sam Wilson (2015), exploring the series’ representation of Sam Wilson’s tenure as a “replacement” Captain America — his sense of belonging in this new role and the push and pull with those who reject him. The analysis will also examine the inherent tension within the series’ construction of an African American as Captain America within the context of the divisive racialized political discourse used by the Trump administration.
Writer, Penciler, Inker, Colourist, Letterer … Who Makes it to the Cover? Authorship and Credits in Superhero Comics.
In its initial years, the Superhero comic book cover borrowed much of its multimodal structure from Science Fiction, Crime, and Adventure pulp fiction magazines of the 1920s-1930s. Both types of publications not only usually shared the same owners but also often employed the same editorial, graphic design, and illustration staff.
Although cover logos, trade dresses, letterings styles, and imagery layouts were heavily influenced by pulp magazines, not all cover elements were assimilated by the new kind of publication. While the covers of the average pulp would usually credit the writers of the stories featured in its issues — some of them prominently, like Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. G. Wells — it would take Superhero comic authors over four decades to achieve the same recognition on the covers of periodical comic books.
Chronicling the gradual introduction of comics creators’ credits on Superhero comic book covers from the early 1980s until the present time, as well as specific 1960s-1970s occurrences that contributed to that, this work examines and questions aspects of authorship in Superhero comics.
Joao Senna Teixeira
Federal University of Bahia
From Multiples to One: Pan-Batmanism in Grant Morrison’s Run.
Superhero comics tend to have very convoluted canons, this normally is normally caused by publication time and the very nature of multi-authored work. Creators focus on different facets of characters and the world, glossing over the inconsistencies and assembling a specific vision. But every version is still canonical, or at least can be canonical again, just not at the same time. Different stories and elements can be put in continuity (MEIER; TEIXEIRA, 2020) in a way that makes sense in conjunction with the story currently being told. This selective continuity is crucial for the understanding of seriality in superhero comics, as they make such gargantuan body of texts into more manageable chunks to be remembered and read.
In certain projects, nonetheless, there is a will to use everything, all of the canon at the same time (of course there are choices even in such projects), even the parts that does not make much sense when put together. I plan to analyze one such endeavor in the Grant Morrison run of Batman (2006-2013), especially the way that it tries to reorganize the Batman mythos by recanonizing Batman stories from the 40s and 50s that had been long put aside by the successive reformulations of the character (specially by Adams and O’Neal in the late 60s and by Miller in the 80s).
To this end, I will mobilize the idea of canon as a repository of narrative wealth (TEIXEIRA, 2019) and the concept of continuity as a relation between different stories and works (MEIER; TEIXEIRA, 2020) to plot the different ways the modern batman stories connects to the past and how they organize such different concepts of the character in a somewhat cohesive vision and narrative.
James C. Taylor
University of Warwick
“Or Is He Both?”: (Re)connecting the Superhero and Horror Genres in The Immortal Hulk.
The hybridity of the superhero genre has received significant scholarly attention (e.g. Walton: 2009; Jenkins: 2009) as has the influence the horror genre had on the formation of the figure of the superhero (e.g. Regalado: 2015). The Hulk is a character where the link between superheroes and horror has frequently been explicit, with the character’s first comic book adventure framing Bruce Banner’s transformations into the Hulk through audience understanding of figures such as Frankenstein’s monster and werewolves. This paper explores the ways in which The Immortal Hulk (2018-2021) brings the interplay between the superhero and horror genres back to the fore and through doing so offers commentary on both genres.
I examine the ways in which The Immortal Hulk harnesses the serial form of superhero comics to connect the dots between different horror subgenres, such as body horror and cosmic horror, and maps these onto superhero conventions, such as the bodily transformation and preternatural powers. In navigating these points of connection between the horror and superhero genre, the series also negotiates the fragmentation of Banner/the Hulk’s identity which, over years of comic book continuity and through the rationale of dissociative identity disorder, has accumulated more identities than the superhero’s usual division of civilian/superhero.
By exploring these different ways in which genre hybridity operates in The Immortal Hulk, the paper furthermore poses the question of whether the fragmentation of the superhero genre can somewhat paradoxically provide a means to synthesise its narrative and character multiplicities.
“I am Your Father, Tony”: Walt Disney and the Stark Expo in the Neo-Baroque Narrative of Iron Man.
The first Iron Man movie launched the MCU and began its march into the contemporary neo-baroque era, a new form of seriality characterized by an emphasis on labyrinth and spectacle (Ndalianis 44). These films are "part of a cohesive and developing whole which encourages participation … with film franchises to a degree not asked before of audiences" (McSweeney 67).
The story of Iron Man is narrated in the MCU in neo-baroque style, as shown by examining the Stark Expo (Iron Man 2) founded by Tony's father Howard, who, modelled on Walt Disney, reflects the latter's patriotism and concern for spectacle. The Expo also evokes the real-life 1963 World's Fair, which Disney participated in extensively while developing the empire that now includes the MCU.
In-world, the Stark Expo represents Tony's struggles with his father, and the salvific themes he participates in up to and including Avengers: Endgame. However, these struggles are magnified and fragmented in neo-baroque fashion in various Marvel formulations of Tony's story, including the comic Iron Man 2: Public Identity. Throughout the MCU, Tony tries to distance himself from Howard, an arms dealer; he argues repeatedly that he is in the peace business, despite the military's claim that Iron Man is a weapon to be controlled. Then, without intending to, Tony creates Ultron, the precursor to Thanos, as the ultimate weapon and parody of his peacekeeping efforts.
The Stark Expo also spawns the narratives of the Marvel Theme Park Universe in Hong Kong, California, and Paris. On three continents, guests participate in interconnected spectacles within the Marvel Multiverse. There, neither the Blip nor its sequelae from Avengers: Infinity War exist. Thus, the biography of Iron Man and his efforts at developing his own story apart from his father are further fragmented by the neo-baroque labyrinth of the Disney empire.
Richmond American University London.
Negotiating the Diverse-Verse: Fragmented Stereotypes, Genre Hybridity and (Resisting) ‘Superhero Fatigue.
This paper explores the extent to which stereotypes have been fragmented and deconstructed, in both positive and negative ways, through hybridised (and evolving) kinds of genre formula evident across contemporary superhero film and television. In doing so, the discussion will uncover how a diversification of repurposed tropes allows for nuanced forms of representation that keep the genre relevant as a source of social and cultural debate on diversity and inclusion. The paper will also respond to whether this ongoing plethora of productions will lead to an inevitable lack of innovation, ultimately allowing a feeling of oversaturated ‘superhero fatigue’ to set in among viewers? Indeed, in writing about the build-up to the 2000s-to-present superhero film cycle, Grant Morrison in his work Supergods (2011) has described the generic diversity evident in past movie adaptations as being ‘few-and-far-between’, with at best, 1990s adaptations in particular appearing along a spectrum of staccato extremes (i.e. from baroque-pulp to awkward-oddities to burlesque-mockery, etc.). Morrison points out it was only until Blade (1999) and Unbreakable (2000) that viewers began to see the start of convincingly sophisticated treatments coming through via ‘technology having caught up with the comics’ or bestowed with an ‘indie-auteur’ sensibility of moral commentary, which opened the door for innovative turning points such as Singer’s X-Men (2000), Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002)/Spider-Man 2 (2004), Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and beyond.
In the past 20 years, then, the superhero movie genre has attempted to achieve a sense of solidification, but through constantly being adaptive by creatively borrowing from a multitude of formulas. As Flanagan, McKenny and Livingston argue in The Marvel Studios Phenomenon (2016), although it is quite difficult to firmly pin down this genre fully, fans can nonetheless isolate its key features as those of hybridity tactics and ‘fractals’: that cut ‘inexhaustibly across types of platform… referential periods, and sectors of audience’ (87-88). In order to meet the expectations of different audience interests, the superhero genre has effectively mixed together elements not only from other sub-genres, but within its own fictional universe, allowing for characters to find representations in new contexts that would otherwise not be possible. Traditionally, stagnation is especially true in genres that, for much too long, have been very rigid and inflexible for purposes of achieving ‘formulaic purity’, e.g. like the Western from the late 1930s to early 1950s. Yet, as recently as the late 2010s/early 2020s, audiences have seen a hybridised diversity or ‘fragmentation of stereotypical formulas’ in superhero film and TV that includes role-reversals of a character’s race, ethnicity and gender in the MCU’s animation series What If? (2021) (e.g. ‘Captain Carter’; ‘Starlord T’Challa’) and a repurposing of identities also in Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness (2022); as well as an eclectic reformatting of conventional character archetypes in DC’s Doom Patrol (2019-2022), Suicide Squad (2016; 2021) and Joker (2019) to challenge paradigms of mental health and body dysmorphia.
This approach of incorporating a series of ‘ancillary genres’ as an elastic hybridity compels the superhero format to reinvent itself in the face of Jeffery Brown’s concerns in The Modern Superhero in Film and Television (2016) of an upcoming ‘superhero fatigue’ (i.e. oversaturation via excessive sameness). The time has come to explore the full potential of the superhero genre’s impulse to embrace a diverse universe of styles, themes, story-worlds and socio-cultural identities onscreen, while critically interrogating the momentum it has left to maintain this negotiation.
Alex van Ommen
Fragmentation of the Metanarrative: Captain America as a man out of time
In 1941 it was good guys versus bad guys. In the mainstream at least, the Second World War was an existential conflict between the Allies and the Axis powers, a worldview of right and good versus one of evil. Bright stars and colors emblazoned the uniforms and materiel of the Allies, whereas Nazi troops wore skulls on theirs. This was the world that produced Captain America, the personification of all that was good and right with mid-20th century America as it led the world to freedom.
Subsequent years saw the monolithic notions of good and right of victor’s might fragmented by narratives challenging the notions of America that Captain America embodied. Whereas the Allied powers were indeed champions of justice, liberty, and freedom, time revealed that these concepts were not always evenly shared, nor were they always built on false foundations. One doesn’t need to look far before they find the Tuskegee experiments or Oppenheimer’s use of slave labor.
Captain America was frozen at the end of WW2, only to be thawed later into a more complicated world. This key part of all Captain America narratives – comics, movies, television – is a constant juxtaposition of more modernist metanarratives and the smaller, fragmented postmodern and poststructuralist ones. Captain America’s very presence in a story demands consideration of whether the supposed truths of good and right he represents are even valid in a modern world.
These things are specifically highlighted in Morales’ “Truth: Red White and Black,” where the notion of Captain America’s origin story is upended in an exploration government experimentation on Black recruits, and also in Captain America’s longtime relationship with Falcon, a Black superhero.
This paper aims to examine instances where Captain America’s presence – either directly as an actor in a narrative or indirectly as a concept referenced in a narrative – exposes tension between the morally good metanarrative he represents and the fragmented world of smaller narratives we are confronted with today.
From DLC to NFT: The Digital Franchising and Fragmentation of Spider-Man.
This paper is, in part, a continuation of the paper on video games I gave last year, where I ended the talk by stating “Worryingly, this signals a return to the days of varying quality-control cash-ins while also being a hyper-extension of [the] current attitude towards free-to-play mobile markets.”
In August 2021, Marvel unveiled their first official “crypto collectibles” NFT range, starting with – in the perfect world of J. Jonah Jameson – more photos (or more precisely: digital receipts) of Spider-Man, costing up to $400 each. In September, the video game Marvel's Spider-Man 2 was officially announced during the PlayStation Showcase 2021 as a console exclusive, and shortly after, in November, Spider-Man was released as a playable DLC character in the Marvel’s Avengers video game, but - again - only if you owned a Sony console, with him not appearing on Xbox or PC versions of the game. By December, Spider-Man was added as a playable outfit in ‘free-to-play’ Fortnite Battle Royale's purchasable Chapter 3 Season 1 Battle Pass, followed by the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Spider-Man also later appearing as an outfit in the Item Shop. At the crest of this digital wave, the Sony produced movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home also released in December 2021.
Using transmedia and convergence theory to return to Derek Johnson’s work on media franchising and the role of “Franchise Tenants”, this paper will examine how ancillary streams continue to function within contemporary formulations of an attempted multi-verse, with the vying imperatives of varying cultural and industrial formations struggling against one another to make themselves both distinct and coherent, and of course, profitable.
Irene Zarza Rubio
University of York.
“We Are Not Gods”: Intertextuality and Fragmented Mythologies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Intertextuality has become a prominent characteristic in established media franchises for both its use of nostalgia as a means for profit and its storytelling purposes. Previous texts become a foundation for new stories by being deconstructed and reconstructed in unexpected new ways (Fiske, 2010). This is possible through fragmentation. Once the original text is deconstructed, only fragments of it become part of the reconstructed new version.
Existing research (Brinker, 2017; Stork, 2018) emphasises on intertextuality used for world building and character development within the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or from Marvel Comics. This paper argues that the Thor character presents a particular representation of intertextuality due to it drawing on elements from stories outside of the MCU. Originally a Norse god, fragments of his deity roots were reshaped in order to become part of the universe created by Marvel Comics. Thor and the rest of Asgardians are given a new identity, no longer coming from myths, they are aliens. This version of Thor was in turn deconstructed and fragmented when adapted for the screen. Through the use of fragmentation, the world and characters remain coherent and recognisable for audiences as the franchise has the flexibility to experiment with character development in each film.
Drawing on Fiske’s (2010) exploration of intertextuality and continuing Marazi’s (2020) and Taylor’s (2021) arguments, this paper combines cultural studies and media studies approaches focusing on Cinematic Discourse Analysis to explore how intertextuality may be used for storytelling purposes and how, through the fragmentation of older mythologies, new characters may be incorporated into the MCU’s own mythology. In doing so, it will also examine the extent to which fragmentation allows for storytelling flexibility in media franchises.
The 5th Global Meeting - September 2021
“This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle - broken, spent, unable to move. And, were I an older man, I surely would... But I am a man of thirty - of twenty - again. The rain on my chest is a baptism… I’m born again.” – The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
Thirty-five years ago, DC Comics published The Dark Knight Returns, bestowing the superhero genre with one of the most singularly revolutionary and influential works in its history. Written and drawn by firebrand artist Frank Miller, this operatic and determinedly hard-edged Batman tale – replete with a startling, pointedly cynical Establishment vision of Superman – triggered not only seismic change within the comics industry but also ushered in the era of so-called “grim and gritty” superheroes. The pervasive influence of this continues to this day in presentations of the superhero across all media.
This tectonic shift was firmly consolidated later that year with DC’s publication of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ ground-breaking Watchmen, which stunningly deconstructed superhero archetypes by considering notions of absolute power in a ‘real world’ setting. In the wake of both highly-acclaimed and enormously popular series – marking the start of “The Modern Age of The Superhero” - the genre was thrust towards mainstream and international attention, igniting fevered debate about the genre’s artistic merit.
In 2021, the superhero occupies an expansive, dominant and increasingly diverse space in popular culture. Alongside archetypal characters now entering their ninth decade of existence (Wonder Woman) progressive representations of the superhero abound (the Miles Morales incarnation of Spider-Man, CW’s Batwoman, HBO’s Watchmen, Harper Row, Wiccan), indicating that the superhero is more vibrant than ever before.
For its milestone fifth edition, The Superhero Project will focus on “The Progressive Age of The Superhero”, exploring the superhero’s capability of reflecting specific issues and operating as a powerful messenger of them - a power they have possessed since their inception.
University of Turku, Finland
Marvel Studios’ WandaVision as the Ultimate Transmedial Text.
After 23 blockbuster films in 11 years, it is easy to say that the epic supehero adaptation produced by Marvel Studios have perfected their storytelling, constantly producing films that the audiences want to see. Films in the MCU tell the stories of predominantly white male superheroes coming to terms with their insecurities and struggles, finally finding their strength and saving the world or at least some part of it. This repetition with variation (Hutcheon.2006) makes sure the audiences get what they signed up for, while the stories still feel fresh enough.
Marvel Studios’ new projects seem to have more diverse casting and focus on themes that can be described as progressive. The two new TV shows released so far both focus on depicting society and individuals after a catastrophic event, offering a new perspective to the lives of superheroes. WandaVision’s (2021) protagonist is going through the seven stages of grief, while other characters face the consequences of a worldwide disaster as well as Wanda’s intense mourning.
WandaVision is progressive not only in the way it centers a female character (still rare in superhero films), and focuses on mental health issues, family life and relationships instead of action, but also in its storytelling. In this presentation, I analyse WandaVision’s transmedial storytelling from the point of view of fan studies. Following Henry Jenkins’ (2006) famous definition, fans of transmedial franchises can be seen as hunters and gatherers who follow their favourite content from one platform to the other. Looking at the audience strategies (Beaty. 2016) used by the producers of WandaVision, I claim that the show is the ultimate transmedial product, inviting the audience into a world of references, hints and speculations.
Kristin Aubel, M.A.
TU Dortmund / JLU Gießen
With Great Power Comes Social Responsibility: Precarity in Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020)
Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales expand a superhero’s responsibility from protecting society to actively improving it by focusing on vulnerable communities, their precarious living conditions, and by making the protagonists members of those communities. In both games, the superhero work of the Spider-Men is complemented by the community service of their civilian alter egos, Peter Parker and Miles Morales.
In Marvel’s Spider-Man, both Peter and Miles help out in the F.E.A.S.T. shelters for homeless people run by Peter’s aunt May. The player interacts with the locale and its inhabitants in both identities – as a superhero and as a volunteer. The importance of this synergy is further stressed through the side character Gloria, a homeless woman whom Spider-Man saves from a group of thugs, convinces to seek help, and then interacts with in the shelter as Peter Parker. When Peter is evicted from his apartment, he and the player are, if only for a short time, even put into the precarious role of a homeless person themselves.
The game’s semi-sequel focusing on newly become Spider-Man Miles Morales deals with precarity at the same time more specifically and more generally than the first game. Instead of all of New York, the game centers around Harlem, but it is also Harlem’s whole population, consisting mostly of low-income minorities, that is marked as extremely vulnerable and ultimately disposable by corporate villain Simon Krieger. While Miles as a superhero is able to avert a crisis that would have destroyed Harlem, it is Miles’ mother Rio Morales who brings about positive change for their community through her political activism. Both games thus show that while superheroic deeds are certainly necessary, systemic problems affecting vulnerable communities have to be addressed by acting according to a social responsibility that is conveyed through the superheroes’ mother figures.
Rafael Alves Azevedo
Technical University of Dresden
“In Heaven, There Are No Pearly Gates, But Instead Revolving Doors”. Geoff Johns, Death, and Resurrection in New Sincerity Comics.
After comics like Marvels (1994), Astro City (1995-96), and Kingdom Come (1996) rehabilitated the sense of awe and wonder associated with the Silver Age and abandoned by the cynicism and irony of late ‘80s and early ‘90s postmodern works, writer Geoff Johns brought this Neo-Silver Age to its death-denying conclusion in the 2000s.
Countering the previous era’s focus on mortality and the physical and mental implication of life as a superhero – as exemplified by The Flash’s dead in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-86), Batman’s paraplegia in Knightfall (1993-94), and Green Lantern’s insanity in Emerald Twilight (1994), Johns brough back several dead characters, most prominently in Green Lantern: Rebirth (2004-05), The Flash: Rebirth (2009-10), and Blackest Night (2009-10). Embedded in that decade’s ultimate trivialization of superhero deaths with the further resurrections of Jason Todd (Under the Hood (2005)), Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier (2004-06)), Oliver Queen (Quiver (2001)), Bruce Wayne (The Return of Bruce Wayne (2010)) and Steve Rogers (Reborn (2009-10)), Johns contributed to the aphorism that “no one stays dead in comics, except Uncle Ben”.
Informed by Jose Alaniz’s landmark study on Death, Disability, and the Superhero (2014), this paper examines the erasure of mortality and renewed propagation of the physical and mental ideal inherent in New Sincerity comics. By linking this phenomenon to discussions on the use of religious motifs, especially the Resurrection, and the relationship between nostalgia and grief typical for this movement, this paper aims to critique the New Sincerity’s amplification of the “immortalist, ableist core of the superhero” genre (Alaniz.2014:240).
University of Warwick
Military Marvel: Reading Captain Marvel as Propaganda for the U.S. Military.
Captain Marvel (2019) was the first of Marvel Studios’ films to feature a female superhero as the lead protagonist, and the first to be (co-)directed by a woman. As such the film engages with, and arrives alongside, the #MeToo movement, thereby operating as a social critique. Simultaneously, the film engages with a moment of greater longevity still, the post-9/11 era, and a genre with greater longevity still, the action genre. Captain Marvel therefore enters into, and is symptomatic of, a cinematic intertext with a long history of fascination for and direct affiliation with the American military. By failing to disabuse itself of these latter connections, some of the film’s potential for social critique is undermined.
This paper aims to demonstrate the ways in which Captain Marvel functions as propaganda for the American military, and explore the emergent complications from reading it so singularly. It does this primarily by developing a theoretically-informed framework based on Linda Hutcheon’s notion of complicitous critique, which in its most elemental form allows for two simultaneous and contradictory modes of reading a single text. Within the paper these modes are propaganda and social critique. Alongside this, the paper develops Jacques Derrida’s figuration of autoimmunity, a philosophical expression of geopolitical conflict engendering reciprocal and violent actions between warring states, usefully adapted by Justine Toh as a framework to examine conflict in a narrative context.
Through further close textual analysis of and application of the above frameworks to Captain Marvel, the paper examines how the film perpetuates and subverts the standard ideologies of its genre and industry. The paper aims to make a judgement on where Captain Marvel ultimately rests within a binary of propaganda and social critique, or whether it is positioned rather more centrally, embodying Hutcheon’s idea of complicitous critique.
University of Duisburg-Essen
“Is This An Old Message?” Ant-Man’s Ghostly Return and The Marvel Cinematic Universe as a Hauntological Space.
In my paper, I will argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is essentially a hauntological space where characters and storylines are haunted by traces of their past (these themselves haunted by ‘real’ world history and the history of their comic book existence) and, as the MCU is designed as a continuous shared universe, simultaneously by traces of a future yet to come. In this sense, the MCU is fundamentally spectral.
While elaborating on the genre hauntological structure of the MCU, I will concentrate as an example on Avengers: Endgame. More specifically, I will define the return of Ant-Man as a ghostly apparition that disrupts the temporal structure of the MCU universe. Scott Lang is a man out of his time. Like ghosts, his appearance instigates “a disturbance of the distinction between beginnings and returns as well as between death and life” (Parkin-Gounelas). The essentially closed story of Infinity War (Thanos has won; the dead are dead and the world has to cope with it) is suddenly re-opened by the ghostly agency of Ant-Man. It is thus only fitting that the film centers on a time travel story.
In reading the spectral effects of Ant-Man’s return, I will argue that these expose the underlying hauntological structure of the MCU. By thus re-tracing functionalizations of hauntology processes in the MCU, I will show that spectral effects and connections are yet another layer of how the MCU manages to hold all of its divers and intricate element together and combine them into powerful and entertaining stories.
Daniel J. Connell
“That Was Diabolical!” Ultraviolence, Hypermasculinity and Depravity in The Boys.
What would real power look like? How would it inflict itself upon the world, and how would the world, in turn, evolve around it? These are the key questions shaping the narrative in Amazon’s The Boys (2019-), based on the comic book by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. In this universe, super-powered individuals have existed since WWII, but have been very much commodified and packaged into a corporate structure.
The premier superhero team, The Seven, spend most of their time fulfilling the contractual obligations set out by their de-facto owners, Vought International. As a quid pro quo, Vought (mostly) helps to cover up the super-powered team’s crimes and misdeeds in order to keep the financial machine running smoothly. Things, however, are clearly coming to a head – with Vought struggling to keep their heroes in check, and The Seven struggling to assert themselves or even use their powers for any level of good.
From the very outset of season one, the narrative elements of ultraviolence, hypermasculinity and depravity lace each episode. At times comic, others shocking, the design of each element is to make a commentary on the nature of power, its abuse, and the fallout from its excess or misuse. However, in doing so, the show also revels in its display; this, in turn, creates a fascinating prism: is The Boys critiquing and deconstructing the reality of what would happen if the world had super-powered individuals, or is it glorifying it?This paper looks to explore these issues, asserting that whilst the position of the show’s moral compass is one set against its protagonists and antagonists, there is a voyeuristic glee running through the show that risks undermining its efforts.
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation from Traditional Genre Conventions.
This paper examines how DC Film’s Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020) merges the genres of romantic comedy, “girlfriend flick”, and the superhero movie, and introduces the element of female community in order to subvert the regressive notions of each genre.
Mary Celeste Kearney’s (2002) argues that “coming-of-age [is] a homosocial process” and criticizes that female community in film is often restricted to young adulthood. The narrative of female friendship supposedly situates the characters in a regressive state of juvenile play that they have to grow out of in order to grow into heterosexual society. Alison Winch (2012) argues that the “girlfriend flick”, which focuses on characters beyond the teenage years, features either no female community or secondary female characters who function as personifications of societal forces that prepare the way for the heterosexual romance.
Birds of Prey (2020) revels in the “regressive” state of juvenile play and uses it in order to deconstruct traditional gender and genre conventions. As the first all-female “superhero” movie, Birds of Prey contrasts sharply with DC’s and Marvel’s other female led films. Instead of presenting an ostensibly lone female figure in a masculine universe, as in Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey is a “girl gang” movie set in a campy, candy-coloured world that presents five interconnected storylines of female characters dealing with the emancipation from sources of toxic masculinity. The narrative of each character’s independence is achieved through the element of female community. This paper argues that Birds of Prey intentionally uses the “regressive” state of juvenile play to deconstruct the traditional norms of the girlfriend flick and the superhero movie.
Sara K. Ellis
From Farm to Tablet: Superman as the Great Provider.
For much of his 81-year history, Clark Kent/Kal-El has been depicted as a farm boy. From comic books to films to television series, the Man of Steel’s alter ego is often shown hoisting tractors or making quick repairs to the barn on his parents’ Smallville homestead. Yet, the establishment of Superman as a farmer, and specifically a Midwestern one, came at the halfway mark, coinciding with the character’s first blockbuster treatment in Superman: The Movie (1978). Initially nameless, the Kents’ hometown was located near or in Metropolis, with Clark’s adoptive parents even selling their land in the early 1950s to open a general store. It was not until the film, and later John Byrne’s reboot The Man of Steel (1986) that the Kansas setting was firmly established. Certainly, the rural backdrop had aesthetic as well as cinematic value, contrasting the hayseed with the urban reporter and his more sophisticated Kryptonian origins.
Yet, it also reified Superman’s association with a particular image of American masculinity, a “deceptive” stereotype, writes Shelly L. Koch, of a male-dominated, patrilineal system of food production that largely omits the labor of women and immigrants. This amplification may have also reflected a growing anxiety over America’s identity as a food producer as the rising cost of mechanization exacerbated the farm crisis and the precariousness of U.S. agriculture. For while the Clark Kent of Metropolis has shifted from reporter to anchorman to blogger and back, his identity as a farmer has remained relatively static and picturesque. This paper therefore examines how the doubling-down on Superman’s role as farmer facilitated his leap from comic books to mainstream blockbusters, interrogating the ways in which his later iterations reflected a gendered and racialized anxiety around food production and masculinity.
Otto-Friedrich-Universitat Bamberg/Universita Degli Studi di Verona
Dystopic Heroes: Exploring the Possibility of Heroism in the Dystopias, From Alan Moore to WandaVision.
Superheroes do not change the world. Their mission is to protect society and its people from an “evil” threat and to preserve and restore a status quo that is overall “good”. However, what happens if there are no innocents to protect? If society is not “good” but corrupt, even dystopic? Is it possible to be heroes in a dystopic world? Can the superhero save humanity from itself?
Superhero narrative gives us numerous examples of dystopic realities in film, comics and series: zombie apocalypses like DCeased or Marvel Zombies, fascistic or socialistic totalitarianism like V For Vendetta or Superman: Red Son, but also “utopic” dystopias like the worlds of WandaVision or House of M created by Scarlet Witch and “realistic” worlds like the 80’s Gotham City of Todd Phillips’ Joker.
How are these worlds connected? What have the V For Vendetta’s fascistic dictatorship and the small and perfect town of Westview in common? They are dystopias, even if of a different kind, catastrophic realities in which the society as we know it ceased to exist. We can consider them to explore the common characteristic of a dystopic world and analyse the hero’s role in these kinds of reality – if we can still talk about heroes, of course. In fact, V of Moore, the socialist Superman of Miller or even Joaquin Phoenix Joker and Scarlet Witch have heroic qualities, but they are also forced to take decisions and actions that we define as “evil”. Typical of the antiheroic narrative, these universes put us in front of impossible moral choices.
Can a superhero impose a utopia, saving men from themselves? If society collapsed and there is nothing left to save, what role does the hero have? Is it possible to be a hero in a condemned world? To survive a dystopia, the superhero (and the reader) must adopt a new moral compass and confront himself with different and extreme worldviews. How long can he stare into the abyss without being a monster himself? Which actions can be justified to save humanity? Where can we trace a line between justice and revenge? These questions lead this analysis, which finds its philosophical bases, especially but not only on Friedrich Nietzsche and Albert Camus’ works.
University of Hertfordshire
“The Father Becomes The Son, And The Son Becomes The Father…”: Parenthood As An Evolution of The Superman Mythology
Superman is currently distinguished by a formidable and striking new frontier: parenthood. Having been controversially reconfigured as a younger and more brash figure during DC Comics’ universe-altering “The New 52” (2011-2016), the classic post-Crisis Superman returned in 2015’s Convergence mini-series, still married to Lois Lane but now father to Jonathan Samuel Kent, a family dynamic that joined his reinstatement to mainstream DC continuity in 2016’s Rebirth saga.
The intriguing notion of Superman and fatherhood has always existed within the character’s multi-media presences as way of exploring facets of the prototypical superhero. In the Silver Age of Comics, Superman as a father was primarily confined to amusing “what if…?” scenarios which would pit him against the trials of everyday domesticity. In Bryan Singer’s underrated film Superman Returns (2006), the presence of a previously-unknown son provides Superman with a complex emotional challenge that cannot be fixed with a showcase of superhuman physical power. Conversely, the 1999 graphic novel Son of Superman finds a teenage Jon Kent – raised without a father - discovering and reckoning with the massive and complex legacy that now rests on his shoulders.
A popular development, The Man of Steel as doting parent has been viewed as a beguiling revitalization of the character – both in the comics and the 2021 CW TV show Superman and Lois- in which the audience not only sees Superman’s innate kindness and moral decency given specific focus, but in a way that is universally recognizable and reflective of a singular moment of personal progression. Yet, Superman’s parental role encourages a revised view of the parameters of the superhero identity, augmenting Coogan’s mission-powers-identity (MPI) paradigm (2009) towards a reinforcement of the superhero’s underpinnings of right action and guidance
University of Duisburg-Essen
Perfectly Imperfect (Anti-) Heroines: Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey.
Superheroes are meant to give us structure in the structureless uncertainty of life with all its uncalculatable surprises. They are the saviors of the day, the world, the universe. With their incredibly well-trained bodies, their intelligence and powers they can be perfect and for many decades most of them had to be so, otherwise repercussions awaited them, either in the form of some misery striking or in ridicule. They functioned as an unreachable ideal, something to aspire towards, but never reach.
Nonetheless, such an almost perfect hero is hardly what young people want, with their call for the re-thinking of masculinity, hate of body-shaming, open-mindedness towards mental health issues and general cry for acceptance. They want heroes as diverse as they are and heroes who do not only face villains, but also have the same issues they have to deal with without turning them tragic.
One rather recent movie which includes some topics many young people are concerned about, is the 2020 movie Birds of Prey: The Emancipation of Harley Quinn. This paper explores how the main characters function as more approachable superheroines, who face issues in a relatable and charismatic way, while still allows them to function as role models. Through the Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn’s depiction and acceptance of mental health issues, the over-coming of traumatic experiences in the past and their acceptance of new ways of life when the “normal” way will not work out, they fit the brief for a contemporary kind of heroine, who shows that not being perfect does not have to be a problem.
Big in Japan: Giant Monsters and Cold War Rhetoric in Japanese Superhero Texts.
This paper seeks to do two things: First, to track the origins of the Japanese superhero and secondly to explore the political and ideological contexts of the 1960s superhero boom. The paper begins with the earliest manifestations of hero narratives before probing the shaping of the early modern proto-superhero Ogon Batto (Golden Bat) who first appeared in 1931 Kamishibai picture storytelling. The paper then explores the commercial boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, as Japanese film and television screens became populated with various growing, morphing, flying or robotic heroes doing battle with oversized monsters. The paper explores the socio-political relations between these texts and global soft and hard power and the shaping of modern Japan, through its imagined relationship to safety, history and technology. The paper will finish by exploring the apocalypse / post apocalypse narratives of ‘new’ Japan and consider how Cold War rhetoric of the twentieth century has become encoded into contemporary Japanese superhero narratives.
Nicholas T. James
Morehead State University
“Only You Can Save The World! You Must (Not) Read This Comic!” Reader Agency in Narrative Completion in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity.
Narrative completion and textual completion tend to go hand in hand in reading; however, through the creation of metatextual or paratextual cues, these two versions of reading completion can be distinctly separated. The clearest example of this in written works might be the Choose Your Own Adventures series of books. The reader is given paratextual cues on how to engage in the reading of the text to compete their version of the narrative. They are given agency in narrative construction and completion as they determine the events that occur in the narrative within an existing framework. Grant Morrison’s Multiversity is a prime example of how readers still can be given or take agency in narrative construction through the active choice of reading.
Morrison’s Multiversity stands out due to its direct engagement with the reader and diegetic instructions about whether or not to engage in the act of reading. These direct instructions, most notably the command, “stop reading”, conflicts with the natural inclination towards textual completion as a means of narrative completion and allows us to create different criteria for what constitutes a “complete narrative”. This type of agency is already highlighted in the way comics narrative is co-formed by the reader through concepts such as “closure”. Multiversity takes this agency beyond just a theoretical framework and uses it to comment on the superhero genre and the ethics surrounding the act of (not) reading.
Multiversity is a text that allows for multiple “complete narrative” experiences by the reader that each holds equal textual authority. Its narrative completion is determined not by the textual object itself but through the act of reading or the reader’s intentional choice to “stop reading”.
Don’t Mess With The Devil! Is There a Devil in Human Form in the Daredevil Netflix Series?
In a long talk between Daredevil and Pater Latum, they discuss the topic of the devil and if he exists in human form among us. Pater Latum accepts that Kingpin, Wilson Fisk, indeed is the devil himself, but he doesn’t conclude to Daredevil’s solution in his wish to kill him. That would bring guilt, that could destroy Matt Murdock’s personality and make him evil himself. How critics and scientists describe the existence of the devil on Earth and in the superhero genre? Which solutions are preferred in the conflict at the core of the Netflix series of Daredevil, how is the definition of the devil evolve and is Fisk really the devil at all?
University of Duisburg-Essen
Vaya Haargreeves – Negotiating the Depiction of Bisexuality and Supernatural Abilities for Future Superhero Representations.
In recent years there has been a shift in character development for female superheroes in favour of the LGBTQI+ community. Supergirl was depicted as a lesbian superhero since season 2, Batwoman is an openly gay superhero and Wonder Woman was recently confirmed as being bisexual. Although girls and women who see themselves as part of the LGBTQI+ community can draw on a few high-profile characters with supernatural abilities now, there is still room for improvement concerning openly bisexual female superheroes. Carolyn Cocca notes that “the superhero genre in comics, television, and film is among the many areas in our culture that underrepresents woman in positions of power, both as real-life creators and as fictional characters”.
In order to understand the significance of representing queer sexuality and super heroic abilities, I am going to focus on concepts of power, performance and sexuality as a means of an intersectional reading of the character Vanya Haargreeves from season two of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. She is one of seven superhero siblings who is depicted as bisexual and has the most powerful supernatural abilities of all of them. This linkage is by no means random and operates on levels of power and performance. Vanya’s character in in itself a powerful tool and according to Peggy Phelan, “If representational visibility equals power, then almost naked young white women should be running Western culture. The ubiquity of their image, however, has hardly brought them political or economic power”.
But Vanya is one of a handful of superwomen who is not portrayed as an object for the pleasure of male viewers, which seams to make her an exception in the superhero realm. Here, the term performance is after Butler understood in relation to gender as a repetition of acts, and gender “is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed”. Vanya’s character can demonstrate that extraordinary abilities can be performed by reflective (bisexual) women. By focusing on sound and by controlling her emotions, she accesses her powers which makes her relatable to ordinary human beings, meaning the viewers. In my paper, I will argue that Vanya embodies a chance for future superhero representation of complex female LGBTQI+ characters because of her character not being objectified by her relatable way of using her superpowers and by being unapologetically bisexual.
University of Duisburg-Essen
“There is No Man Like Me” – Loki as the Embodiment of the Medieval Vice.
From today’s view, the Middle Ages seem so far away that the theatrical tradition of that time has been nearly forgotten. While Shakespeare and his plays are remembered, what came before, lies in the shadows of the past. However, it is worth digging deeper into history and learn how it has translated into today’s world. How characters have evolved and still carry the prototypical features from beyond our time.
Loki, however, dating way further back than medieval times, seems to be the perfect link between ancient mythology and modern cinematic spectacle. He acts, not only as the adopted brother of Thor, but as the God of Mischief, adding funny puns and wry humour to the movies. Loki is sly, thoughtful and creative in his plans to overthrow Odin and fool Thor to rule Asgard or, when it comes to that, Midgard. These characteristics make him appear refreshing next to his brother but is this really new and modern?
This paper will answer questions as: What is the connection between medieval theatrical practice and the Marvel Cinematic Universe? What is a morality play and what does that have to do with superheroes and/or supervillains? How can a god from northern mythology be ultra-modern and connected to the medieval stock figures at the same time? Who or what is the Vice? And how does Loki’s mischievousness and wickedness fit his characteristic humour?
Mikayla J. Laird
University of Hertfordshire
“Because He’s My Father, You Idiot”: Batman as Literal and Figurative Father Figure to the Dark Age of Comics.
Through this paper, the idea of Batman as a literal father to Damian Wayne, and the figurative father to Dark Age Comics will be explored. The focus will be on how Damian Wayne reflects the darker tone comics took post Dark Knight Returns, and how Batman paved the way for the current state of superhero mainstream storytelling within comics. Damian Wayne’s character at the point of introduction, and during the opening arcs of Batman & Robin, represents the lack of restraint in terms of violence, and the arrogant nature of comics release post 1986. Through the relationship between Batman and Damian, we see the growth of the anger filled, violent character, to a fully fleshed out and realized state. With 2021, we see both the 15th anniversary of Damian Wayne’s introduction into cannon, as well as the 10th anniversary of the New 52 and 35th anniversary of The Dark Knight Returns, making SUPER V the perfect time to discuss these storylines.
Alex J. Lee
University of East Anglia
“The Heroines Came First” – DC Bombshells Re-Writing an Era.
Many popular superheroes got their start or had major early story arcs set during WWII but except for Wonder Woman there were few women present. The DC Bombshells (2015-2019) comic series is set in an alternate version of World War II, one in which, as writer Marguerite Bennett stated, “the heroines came first”. As a transformative work DC Bombshells places female superheroes at the center of a narrative where they were originally not present. Not only is the series set during WWII but it also mirrors the form of classic war and adventure comics, taking an established form and updating it with modern progressive values. Bombshells touches on multiple themes of identity in its arcs: there is an arc involving Japanese internment camps in the U.S., here is an arc about colonialism involving Vixen; there are arcs addressing Kate Kane’s hyphenated identity as a Jewish Lesbian.
Bombshells was also a noteworthy series in modern comics because of the large number of queer characters throughout. Batwoman is a major character during the entire series, and we see her in relationships with both Maggie Sawyer and Rene Montoya. There are multiple lesbian relationships including Hawkgirl and Vixen, Lois Lane and Supergirl, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. As well as both Wonder Woman and Mera being shown to be bisexual. Given all of these characters and their relationships DC Bombshells has resonated with many LGBTQI+ readers. DC Bombshells as a series reflection upon the capability of superhero comics to comment on social values in an engaging and diverse story. But despite its positive representation and its status as a transformative work, DC Bombshells is yet to be explored in academic study.
“Make Comics Great Again” – Discourses of Otherness in Alt-Hero.
As cultural texts, superhero narratives are a site where ideologies are re-produced and or/challenged and resisted (Barker.1989; Duncan, Smith & Levitz.2009; Kellner.1995; Stromberg.2010). However, the meaning and function of superheroes shift, responding to and interacting with ideological and cultural changes in society (Fingeroth.2004). In recent years, there have been progressive representations of diverse characters in superhero comics, such as the Muslim American Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), the Afro-Hispanic Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and the queer Latinx Miss America (America Chavez). These figures suggest a shift toward a more inclusive, multicultural acceptance of diverse ‘heroes’ in U.S. society. While this development has been generally lauded by fans, it has also received fan backlash, as some perceive this phenomenon as a degradation of the comic book industry (Flegel & Leggatt.2021; Lund.2018).
This paper looks at Alt-Hero (2018), a superhero comics series created as a response to the alleged “social justice” and “political correctness culture” takeover of mainstream superhero narratives. Pitched as an effort to “Make Comics Great Again” (Natan.2017), Alt-Hero echoes attitudes towards ethnic and racial minorities similar to those often expressed in Donald Trump’s discourse during his presidential campaign and administration. The analysis will focus on Othering discourses in Alt-Hero comic book series and the various ways in which these formations appear to resonate with the divisive racialized political speech acts used by Donald Trump. This paper is an effort to critically examine the Othering ideas and strategies represented in Alt-Hero, reading them as a form of counter speech that seeks to challenge the social acceptance of non-white heroes.
Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem
Diversity and the Superheroic Figure: Studying Frozen’s Elsa as a Superheroine.
Else, the iconic figure of Disney’s Frozen (2013), has become a massive pop culture phenomenon. Even through she has been studied in depth, mostly in terms of gender, new approaches are needed in order to deeper understand the repercussions of this character. One of these approaches could be studying Elsa as a superheroine. When it comes to thinking about her dramatic arc, it is possible to establish direct links with other characters belonging to the X-Men universe. One of the primary narratives of this universe is the constant differentiation between human and mutants, and the problems it generates in terms of acceptance and social integration. These difficulties are enhanced in certain superheroines, as we can see in characters that due to her mutations, are automatically rejected from society – Mystique and her blue skin -, do not have the chance to develop a normal life – Rogue and her inability to touch the skin of another person without hurting them – or have a power which is so strong that can become uncontrollable, leading to causing damage to the other members of society – Jean Grey and her extraordinary telepathic and telekinetic abilities.
These three characteristics – lack of integration, impossibility to live a normal life and the presence of an uncontrollable power – are present in Elsa, a fact which will allow me ot analyze her in superheroic terms. With this connection between a character who has been linked to the new wave of activisms, and these superheroines, I will expand the limits of the idea of the superheroic figure in order to include new variations of it, while at the same time address fundamental issues in the current global social agenda, such as diversity, inclusiveness, gender and racism.
The Variant Cover.
The superhero comics fandom encompasses different types of collectors, ranging from the so called average fans – of a character, author, theme or genre – to obsessive completists. In Unpacking my Library, Walter Benjamin affirms that the collector develops “a relationship to objects which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value – that is, their usefulness – but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate” (1999:63). In comics, no other items fit this description better than the Variant Cover. A Variant Cover is a secondary option of cover offered by publishers for specific comic book issues, that features the same contents of the regular copies. Upon its introduction in the mid-1980s Superhero comics, it expanded the functionality of an esthetic choice. To collectors, though, it amplified the possibilities of what a complete collection would be, in addition to strengthening the desire for rare, limited-printed, items.
To publishers, it provided a powerful marketing tool to incentivize comic shops to order larger quantities of copies, as well as to promote new titles and special occasions – such as a round number issue of a book or of a character’s anniversary. It generated more work opportunities for regular superhero artists, along with artists not usually associated with the genre, but who could now occasionally collaborate with publishers, and even break into the Superhero industry. It also allowed experiments with unusual paper stocks and sophisticated printing technologies such as metallic foil hot stamps; embossed and die-cut finishing; holograms and lenticular three-dimensional images; or glow-in-the-dark inks. Additionally, it enriched the fandom scene visual vocabulary by welcoming cover layouts that may not be regarded as commercially viable in regular periodical issues, such as covers devoid of logos and other conventional graphic elements; self-referencing tributes to classic covers; rough pencil sketches of the regular covers; and even black, illustration-less covers to be drawn on by artists at conventions. By reviewing its evolution, this research intends to describe and analyse the cultural and economic impact the Variant Cover has had in the Superhero comic book industry throughout the last three decades.
Irene Zarza Rubio
University of York
WandaVision: A Tale of Fan Theories.
The serial format of television storytelling relies on one main principle: fan engagement. The more engaged with the story, the greater the desire to watch the next episode. TV shows make use of a wide range of elements in order to maintain audiences intrigued by what may happen next. From ‘Easter Eggs’ and references to the development of fan theories, fan discussions maintain the show alive in between episodes, making other potential viewers become interested in the show. Marvel’s WandaVision did not only manage to gain the audience’s curiosity but also created a plethora of fan theories that speculated about future events based on what it had been shown in previous instalments.
Fan debates and theories, however, often lead to expectations that create tension between enjoying the viewing experience of new episodes and wishing for fan speculations to be part of the actual TV show. Similarly to other content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision based certain parts of its plot on different comic book storylines from Marvel Comics. The similarities between the comic book storylines and the TV show’s prompted many among the audience to assume WandaVision would be a more faithful adaptation. Conjectures on the meaning behind details such as specific lines of dialogue led WandaVision viewers to theorize and, therefore, have high expectations on plot development that never took place in the show. As a result, the show’s finale seems to have had a mixed reception.
This paper aims to determine the extent to which audience interaction with TV shows via fan discussions and theories can be considered not only beneficial but also detrimental to the viewing experience. In doing so, it will analyse the dangers of unfulfilled expectations in relation to fan engagement in serial television.
University of Vienna
An Early Exercise in Progressive Action? Black Power, Masculinity and Marvel Comics’ Black Panther.
This paper discusses parallels between Marvel’s Black Panther as a black male superhero acting with masculine authority and Black Power masculinity constructions as they emerge in the late 1960s.
Masculinities are socio-cultural and historical constructions about how males should be (Kimmel.1994 & 1996). Masculinities are structured along social hierarchies where all males need to situate themselves in relation to idealized masculinity: hegemonic masculinity(Connell, 1995): being strong, successful, capable and in control. Superheroes hardly ever have troubles enacting hegemonic masculinity. However, in a society built on white and male privilege as in the US, idealized masculinity is not extended to black males. US popular fictions often center around the idea that black men are not ‘real men’ at all (Mercer, 1994).
This changes when Marvel introduces Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. He is the first African superhero and when T’Challa is introduced he comes with a lot of masculine capital (Anderson, 2009) attached to him. He is a head of state, incredibly wealthy, a scientist as well as a tough and muscular action hero. At the time, he has access to hegemonic masculinity like black male characters in US popular fictions almost never have.
When Marvel’s Black Panther first appears-a few months before the Black Panther Party is founded in California, he already has what Black Power activists argue all black men need to have: masculine authority. Black Panther’s debut thereby offers a progressive interaction between Black Power ideas and superhero narratives. For the first time, superhero comics are granting hegemonic masculinity to black males.
James C. Taylor
University of Warwick
The Strangest Continuity of All: Traversing Timelines in the X-Men Films.
This paper explores how the fracturing of the X-Men cinematic universe’s spatial, temporal, and narrative continuity facilitates a process of (re)negotiating the franchise’s identity politics. The diegetic history of X-Men comics features an array of alternate timelines that articulate issues of social prejudice. Different art styles and narrative strategies are crucial means through which a given timeline’s meanings are shaped and expressed.
In this paper, I analyse the ways in which style and form are used in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and Logan (2017) to adapt comic book visions of bleak futures. The analysis focuses on bodies and spaces. Days of Future Past heavily uses CGI to realise characters’ superhuman abilities and a technologically advanced dystopian future, while Logan sustains emphasis on the physicality of star Hugh Jackman’s profilmic body and the wilderness settings.
The presentation of, and interaction between, these elements expresses multifaceted, and at times contradictory, ideas about gender, race and social change that are complicated further when considering the films in relation to each other.
Eva M. Thury
Katabasis in The Boys as an Expression of the Progressive Age of the Superhero.
Garth Ennis has a very clear vision of hell; his characters have been harrowing the place since the Saint of Killers ascended in Preacher to kill God. In The Boys, Ennis represents a world in which, as in Moore's Watchmen, the heroes are not all super, and the protagonists are not all heroes. Across the comics, the Boys embody a rag-tag mixture of human passions and transhuman identities. The Amazon series based on Ennis' comics takes a simpler path; the relationship between Billy Butcher and Hughie Campbell is a straightforward katabasis in which Billy's Virgil guides Hughie's Dante through the hell that is modern-day America. Rejection of religion is prevalent in each medium, but the morality of the television series is also more straightforward, as it both preaches and rejects the problematic modern-day values to which America pays lip-service: team spirit and cooperation. Hughie, who has suffered unimaginable loss, finds new meaning in life with the Boys: his struggle undergirds the plot of the first season. However, Starlight, the newest member of the Seven, learns right from her first-episode abuse by the Deep that teams are toxic.
Through their relationship, Hughie discovers compound fraud, the worst sin of The Inferno. The second season becomes a meditation on leadership, as Hughie fails in his attempt to lead the Boys after Billy abandons the team, and Homelander struggles with being displaced by Stormfront. However, as these season themes play out, the series highlights the layers of sin found in The Divine Comedy; we see Popclaw's lust explode the head of her landlord (0103), Kimiko's brother Kenji violently killed by racist Stormfront (0203), and throughout both seasons, the compound fraud perpetrated by the Superhero-manufacturing-mega-corporation Vought exposed over and over, to reemerge stronger each time, and needing destruction in an ever more toxic form.
American National Identity Through The Lens of the Superhero and the Supervillain in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
American national identity has received much attention from multidisciplinary fields of research. Thus, this research deals with American national identity through heroes and villains in the American film industry—specifically in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). It investigates the nexus between the binary opposition of the superhero (Captain America) and the supervillain (the Red Skull) in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), cultural trauma, and the American national identity after the September 11 terrorist attacks. A deep analysis of the characters’ symbolic meanings in relation to their historical context would articulate their role in rebuilding faith and trust in America’s ability to fight its enemies and empower the national sentiments through captain America. Using a qualitative research method is necessary to analyze the heroes and the villains’ archetypes in the movie.
The key theories on which this research is based are Claude Levi-Strauss’s Binary Opposition theory, Joseph Campbell’s Hero Archetypes, Jeffrey Alexander’s ideas of cultural traumas and collective identity, and Michael C. Frank’s Cultural Imaginary of Terrorism in the post-9/11 context. Thematic analysis is conducted, which involves decoding the main characters by examining their binary opposition and their representation of the US national identity and its foreign enemies, as well as decoding the meanings of key events within the movies to their social and historical contexts and their connotations within a post 9/11 context. The findings of this research suggest a link between the binary opposition of cinematic heroes and villains and their symbolic meaning in a post-9/11 context through Frank’s concept of the cultural imaginary of terrorism. It should contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between popular culture, identity, and geopolitics.
Daniel Trottier & Sarah Young
email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org
The Superhero and the Digital Vigilante.
The superhero is a popular trope in pop culture used to entertain audiences about how altruistic (although possibly reluctant) actors can wield unworldly powers to save humanity. The title of the “superhero” isn’t limited to the milieu of pop culture, however, and the label is often imposed onto real-life actors who commit heroic acts. One particular group of actors that often self-nominate themselves (or at least imitate pop culture) are what the public might consider vigilantes, or groups of individuals who take it upon themselves to carry out the law. While many times these vigilantes do reflect similar values of what might be considered the superhero like they are righteous, just, and preservers of society (Romagnoli & Pagnucci, 2013), the vigilante-as-superhero moniker is problematic, to include when the acts can be considered forms of digital vigilantism, or vigilantism carried out in digital means (Trottier, Gabdulhakov, & Huang, 2020). Looking at examples of digital vigilantes who have also been called real life superheroes (Real Life Super Hero Project, 2021), this presentation will explore questions of, what is “superhero-ish” about the examples, and what does this tell us about both superheroes and digital vigilantes? We ultimately conclude that collapsing the two concepts is problematic for both directions and really asks if even our own superheroes would be problematic if they existed in real life.
Super White Lies: Power, Privilege, Post-Truth and (Caucasian) Heroism Onscreen.
“It's a terrible privilege…” is a painful yet truthful statement uttered by the wealthy Tony Stark to his fellow Avengers on the joys and pitfalls of being a superhero, and this certainly speaks to the most dominant kinds of onscreen heroism we have seen over the past 20 years: all of which share similar traits of being white, male and cis-normative (e.g. Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, The Incredible Hulk, Winter Soldier, Spider-Man, Antman in the MCU; Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash in the DCEU). This paper explores what onscreen Caucasian heroism can now offer to the genre today (and in the decades ahead). In his seminal work White, Richard Dyer is well known for arguing that whiteness and white culture are seemingly invisible, unremarkable and ubiquitous, yet a ‘standard’ to aspire towards, being the normalised template and neutral blank canvas on which all ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’ is painted. In the last half decade there has indeed been increasingly more diversity in the representations of onscreen heroism: of white women [e.g. Wonder Woman (2017), Captain Marvel (2019), Black Widow (2021)], men and women of colour [e.g. Black Panther (2017); Luke Cage (2016); Black Lightning (2017); Falcon, War Machine (Avengers), Cyborg (Justice League), Monica Rambeau/Photon (in WandaVision), Sister Night (in HBO’s Watchmen), and Ms. Marvel (in Captain Marvel, 2022)], and LGBTQ+ portrayals [e.g. Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and the gender fluidity of The Eternals (2021)].
However, the dominance of white culture still persists in defining exactly how ‘truth’ is explored in terms of the power and privilege that comes with super-heroism. Earlier this year, in the Disney+ show Falcon and The Winter Solider, the controversial social media debate surrounding John Walker’s irresponsible incarnation of Captain America (who jealously seeks out the super-soldier serum for personal vendettas) is a stark contrast to the idealised mantle held by Steve Rodgers. Walker’s approach to what heroism ‘truly stands for’ brings into play these very difficult kinds of question surrounding white privilege and power in a post-truth age, both on and offscreen. As Plato declared, “Only those who do not seek power are qualified to hold it”, and so ethical tensions inevitably occur when this truism is applied to other onscreen white superheroes and their own inherited types of empowerment (e.g. Bruce Wayne’s wealth; Clark Kent, Arthur Curry or Thor’s birth right; or even Peter Parker and Bruce Banner’s ‘having the right social contacts to be in the right laboratories, at the right time, so resulting in getting the right kinds of genetic enhancement’). How then, do these powerful and privileged figures responsibly respond to the expectations of inclusivity and diversity currently taking place in superhero film and TV? How can Caucasian Heroism allow us to better understand inherent inequities of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class and social mobility in this Progressive Age of the genre?
Alex Van Ommen
Captain America as a Vessel for American Cultural Yearning.
Captain America has always been a potent vessel of morality in Marvel Comics’ pantheon of heroes. As Captain America, Steve Rogers embodied the best that America could strive for. First appearing in December 1941, he punched Hitler in the jaw a year before the US entered World War II. In 1974, Rogers underscored the link between Captain America and a lofty set of ideals rather than an institution as he questioned the legitimacy of an evil and corrupt Presidency. The 2021 series Falcon and Winter Soldier presents a world where Rogers is no longer present, and there is nobody to wield the red, white and blue shield. His long-time friends and partners explore what he and Captain America stood for, tackling contemporary discussions of race, confronting historical narratives, and struggling to place America into a complex, global world where there isn’t necessarily one set of ideals or even one dominant culture. This new adaptation sees a Black man pick up the shield, an action that is at once impossible and perfect, subversive and rebellious while fulfilling the destiny of a symbol which continues to grow with and reflect America. Captain America is a symbol perpetually out of context, an ideal which contrasts sharply with a reality that prefers pragmatism and compliance to struggle and ambition for something greater. By investigating historical and current examples where Captain America presents a virtuous moral counterpoint to contemporary events, this research hopes to broaden an understanding of the ideological struggle central to the character.
Do You Wish to Save or Delete Your Progress? Representations of DC Comic Book Women in Contemporary Video Games.
In August, 2020, The Guardian newspaper ran the headline “Games firm Rocksteady accused of inaction over staff harassment.” In the article, one anonymous staff source offered that this same “dismissive attitude towards women had in the past carried over into the company’s output.” As a subsidiary to Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Rocksteady Studios is best known for its work in the Bafta award winning Batman: Arkham series. This is a franchise where senior character artist for Arkham City, Pablo Hoyos, stated their brief was simple: “Ugly men and beautiful girls”. But going further, we also see the same tired tropes of exploitation; where the game designs are innovative, representations of women fall back on comic and game industry stereotypes. Meanwhile, in the Injustice series of games developed by another Warner subsidiary, NetherRealm Studios, one may see in a genre traditionally reserved for story-deficient ultra-violence echoes of female cooperation as seen in the Gotham City Sirens comics or empowerment in a storyline for Harley Quinn, leading her to become a member of the Justice League.
I propose a paper that surveys these contemporary cases of DC Comics women that have been adapted into video games. I will compare the content of the games within industrial frameworks and against cultural boundaries, and would also consider how these texts then feed back into comic books and other convergent media products. I will end the paper by examining the current games that are in development, seeing how – if at all – the Warner companies have reacted to their 2020 headlines and promises of change.
The 4th Global Meeting - September 2020
2020 marks twenty years since the release of X-Men, which sparked a re-emergence of the superhero on screen and led to a spectacular ascent towards being the most successful and globally popular genre in cinema history, with dozens of films produced and many billions of dollars earned in the last two decades – an aggressive dominance that shows no signs of receding.
In the last year, the titanic Avengers: Endgame provided the superhero film with its biggest-ever canvas and, sandwiched between Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home, brought Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a triumphant finish, after eleven years and twenty-three films. Yet, late in 2019, DC placed its most iconic villain centre stage in Todd Phillips’ Joker, which provided a truly striking take on Batman’s arch-nemesis, drawing on 70’s New Hollywood aesthetics and exploring issues such as mental health and social revolt. The James Gunn-produced Brightburn merged the superhero genre with Horror to generate a forbiddingly dark mirror of the Superman origin story. Meanwhile, on television, the full CW line of DC Comics shows ambitiously collided in an adaptation of the signature 1980’s event Crisis on Infinite Earths, which surprisingly provided actor Brandon Routh a belated opportunity to reprise the role of Superman.
Within the source medium of Comics, the genre has continued to show great diversity and invention, along with experimentation: Gene Luen Yang and Girihu’s superb Superman Smashes The Klan took a famous storyline from the 1940’s Superman radio show and used it to view The Man of Steel via the immigrant experience, while in the mainstream comics, Brian Michael Bendis controversially dispensed with a core tenet of the superhero mythology, as Superman revealed his secret identity to the world. The Unstoppable Wasp was a light-hearted wonder, firmly focused on fun and easily accessible. After decades of being rooted in science, Immortal Hulk took a sharp turn into the realms of Horror and Grant Morrison’s take on Green Lantern vigorously resurrected the Silver Age of Comics. In Tom King’s Mister Miracle, the superhero is viewed through the lenses of mental health and political anxieties.
Soaring into its ninth decade, then, the superhero currently occupies a diverse, expansive and dominant space in modern popular culture. Perceived as a modern form of mythology or folklore, the characters signature emblems are among the most recognisable in the world, functioning as powerful, pervasive and vastly profitable brands. Yet, while still largely American in focus, the superhero has become increasingly international, capable of reflecting specific issues and operating as a powerful messenger of them - a power they have possessed since their inception.
Rafael Alves Azevedo
Technical University of Dresden
“A place to teach and build something”: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the redeeming qualities of communal experience
After the conclusion of the City at War storyline with issue #100 (2019), IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles embarked on a new era. Replacing the creative team of Tom Waltz and Dave Wachter, writer-artist Sophie Campbell took over the reins of the critically acclaimed TMNT comic book series, the franchise’s first after its acquisition by Nickelodeon.
Campbell’s first story arc, which runs from issues #101 to #105 (2020), picks up after Splinter’s death and deals primarily with the invisible villainous triumvirate of trauma, change, and alienation. However, showing that neither the modern superhero archetype of the moody, brooding, anti-hero individualist (Raphael) nor a disillusioned abandonment of heroic ideals (Michelangelo) are valuable alternatives, Campbell’s first arc is about the value of family, friendship, and communal experiences.
Informed by John G. Cawelti’s concept of the reaffirmation of myth and current discussions on the influence of New Sincerity on comic books, this paper examines the ongoing re-evaluation of heroism in American mainstream comics, arguing that Sophie Campbell’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles presents a more socially sustainable form of heroism by focusing on community development and resilience instead of Manichean violence between good and evil. Eerily analogous to the real world with its portrayal of a quarantined area of New York City, TMNT’s communal heroism echoes widely-held perceptions of heroism in the wake of 2020’s global pandemic.
Softening the Blow: deconstructing real life through nightmares in Dylan Dog
“Uaaaaaaargh!!” This is how most of his adventures start. With a knock and a scream. From the perspective of most Bonelli readers, this Is the ritualistic entrance to the nightmares of every Dylan Dog's client. The detective of the nightmares, living in Craven Road 7 in London, has been portrayed in many ways along the years, but in the issue 100 his creatore, Tiziano Sclavi, decided to reveal Is the true nature of his character.
Dylan Dog has superpowers. He is the only one capable of seeing people's nightmares because he comes from another time, a time where minds were connected. That's why behind every impossible crime, he can see the truth. In this perspective, seeing an abstract explanation for a murder at the beginning of the case gives Dylan the time to understand the duality of human nature. Behind the physicality of a murder, there's the ephemeral face of a Nightmare, a nightmare with many names, sometimes ordinary, sometimes taking the shape of a vice, a stain of modern life. With my paper, I will explore three important issues in Dylan Dog's stories to highlight how Dylan's powers allow to unveil and deconstruct the facade of modernity.
University of Duisburg-Essen
“Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?” Producing Urban Complexity via Storytelling in ‘The Joker’ (2019)
When in 2019 Todd Phillip’s Joker conquered the cinemas, several reviews retraced the history of protagonist Arthur Fleck, calling him “a pathetic loser and loner in Gotham City” (The Guardian), “a painfully awkward figure” (The Independent), or “coping via meds and court-ordered therapy, which don’t offer comfort or represent caring” (The Verge). According to Ricoeur’s concept of “Narrative Identity”, reviewers tell stories of Arthur’s life and thus construct his identity around certain focal points.
Similarly, the identity of objects is constructed, evidenced by the extensive amount of literature dealing with planning cities (for example Lynch 1960; Throgmorton 2003; Van Hulst 2012). However, in connection with the Joker, it is indeed interesting how not only people in charge, but citizens often construct conflicting images of Gotham City. Especially Batman’s absence within the movie allows that Gotham’s story is told differently through the catalyst of the Joker, contrasting with the usual assumption that ‘Batman is Gotham’. Thus, this paper investigates how different characters in the Joker (2019) tell conflicting stories about Gotham and thus construct deviant images, finally leading to urban complexity.
To follow this aim, the paper initially clarifies how the city as a (complex) object has been received (Simmel 1903) and which images of the city became a fundamental part of the discourse (Lynch 1960). By including the storytelling approach results will show that perceptions of a city are largely dependent on the person telling the city’s story and that Gotham’s urban complexity is produced by a split society, its poor and wealthy side. The presumed results of this investigation will help to define urban complexity not as a product, but as a continuous process in which citizens actively participate.
University of Augsburg
Hyper-Masculinity vs. Disability – Doctor Donald Blake alias Thor and their shared personality
Blake is a partially paralyzed doctor who transforms accidentally into the strong and muscular god of thunder in the first issue on Thor. His slender body, leaning on his walking stick, highlights his disability and weakness. After losing his cane during his vacation in Norway, he picks up a twisted branch, which turns out to be Mjolnir, Thor’s powerful hammer. When a boulder blocks his way, he desperately tries to move it by knocking against it with this stick. This triggers the very first transformation into the god of thunder. His broken and almost useless body is replaced by a hyper-masculine body, which illustrates the change from weakness and disability towards strength and superiority.
The mind, however, experiences rather a supplementing of knowledge and intelligence. This means that one psyche does not replace the other; both seem to form a new and broader mind. Their bodies, however, remain distinct and separate ones and are subject to a clear hierarchy. This transformation from a human with a physical disability to an overly strong muscleman at first sight illustrates the overcoming of Blake’s lameness and turn towards physical superiority. His impairment is replaced by a stereotypical ideal of masculinity, namely physical strength, muscularity and anything but femininity. Yet the change is more than just the overcoming of impairment. After all, the disability is the very reason Blake undergoes the transformation. On the contrary, his impairment makes it possible in the first place. This not only emphasizes the fact that even handicapped people can become superheroes, but also at the same time foregrounds Blake’s individualism. From the start, his disability distinguishes him from the average person. This otherness allows him to become a superman.
University of Duisburg-Essen
“Gone But Not Forgotten: Spectrality and the haunting of Tony Stark in Spider Man: Far From Home“
Spider-Man. Far From Home is the first MCU film that deals with the fallout from the Infinity War storyline. It deals with a world that is haunted by the snap; but the snap itself is a ghostly moment that always happens and doesn’t happen. It happened in Infinity War, but then again it didn’t, as Endgame taught us, nullifying the Thanos snap from the previous movie. And the original snap was nullified in its effects but not erased. The snap of Infinity War is a ghostly figure of memory that haunts the living and the resurrected, those ghostly figures who returned from the dead, from, as the film coins it, being dusted. And the ghostly presence of that first Thanos snap (dis-)embodied by the ghostly, empty sound of the failed second snap – still being a snap, really, but one without effect, a truly spectral figure, without true presence, except as the evanescent sound – only becomes its own specter in the repetition of itself in Tony Stark’s snap, the snap to undo all other snaps…
Enough of snaps, perhaps, for now.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a movie that is haunted on a variety of levels: by what I just circumscribed with regards to Thanos and the snap, but mainly by the ghostly figure of Tony Stark who haunts Peter Parker, Happy and, most strongly of all perhaps, Quentin Beck. For Peter the stabilizing figure of Tony Stark has disappeared and he is haunted by that absence to the point of fixation for “that which appears to be not there is often a seething presence, acting on and often meddling with taken-for-granted realities” (Gordon, Ghostly Matters 8). Although dead and buried, Tony very much meddles with the living world as a spectral incursion that is indeed a hauntological presence precisely by being absent, thus replacing ontology thought of as presence. No longer being there for real – as presence – Tony still managed to occupy the center paradoxically by NOT being there. In his absence, he is more ontologically effective than before. This becomes obvious by means of the almost obsessive use of his name and the characters obvious need to refer to him time and again. Also, the use of what Derrida calls tele-technologies and associated modern technologies of surveillance (drones) link to the hauntological core of the film. After all, “techno-tele-iconicity […] spectralizes. It does not belong to ontology” (Derrida, Spectre of Marx 63).
In my paper I will elaborate on the above and the films heavy use of spectral themes and strategies and then delve into a close reading of the spectral and hauntological negotiations surrounding Peter Parker’s relationship to Tony Stark and Quentin Beck. In doing so, I will show how notion of hauntology re-situates the MCU as a spectral space of repetitive fluidity in light of the departure of Iron Man and, perhaps, in preparation of the Multiverse.
Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg/Università degli Studi di Veron
Antiheroines: Be a Superwoman in a (Super)Man’s World
Superheroines are paradoxical figures: they are empowering, and yet hypersexualized, strong and independent, and yet they fight for a society in which women are subordinate to men. “The female superhero originates in an act of criticism – a challenge to the masculinist world of superhero adventures”, writes Lillian S. Robinson in Wonder Women. However, at the same time, as superheroines, they should embody the values of the society they are protecting, that means they embody the status quo and confirm its stereotypes; but in a prevalent male chauvinistic society, where men are in power and women must fight for their rights, how can they protect this kind of status quo?
Thus, an ambiguous situation is created in which the status quo comes at once protected and questioned. In the superheroine “stereotype and innovation work together” concludes Robinson. Even if they are objectified, drawn with hypersexualized bodies, provocative, with revealing clothes, superwomen always keep an antiheroic element, disruptive, potentially revolutionary – even monstrous when it appears in villainesses. “The ambitious woman and the heroine are strange monsters”, writes Simone De Beauvoir in Le Deuxieme Sexe. Like antiheroes, superheroines are dangerous threats to the status quo; they challenge our stereotype about women and superheroes. Their hyper-sexualization appears then as a way to control them, to exorcise their potential threat.
“In this modem era, the hero is a heroine; however, this 21st Century heroine still more closely resembles the antiheroic archetype”, writes Cynthia Lyles-Scott. Is it true? Are superwomen, today, still extremely antiheroic? How are they challenging our concepts of “hero” and “heroine”? I will try to answer these questions: through the analysis of characters like Wonder Woman, Jessica Jones, the new Ms. Marvel and Catwoman, and referring to Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre philosophy, I will focus on this antiheroic aspect of superwomen in comic books and its dialectic with the most normative and stereotypical ones.
a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne
The Supervillain-Genre: A Plea for A New Paradigm of Superhero Studies
Over the last decade, superhero studies have grown tremendously! But while research on various superhero characters from multiple perspectives and disciplines seems to be on its provisional peak, supervillains on the other hand are regularly marginalized, if not even overlooked, in the academic landscape. Since Coogan’s landmark definition of the superhero genre (2006), superhero studies thus accurately turn their name into a program, apparently following the paradigm that understanding the superhero genre mainly means understanding the genre-dominating superhero character in all its thinkable facets.
But if we take the idea seriously that the genre essentially depends on its characteristic protagonist-antagonist structure, this makes the supervillain character just as much an integral part of the genre as the superhero, being an equal partner in the narration. Stan Lee already knew that no hero is possible without a charismatic villain. Therefore – given that the hero just reacts to the actions of the supervillain, who forces him into action and sets the narrative framework of the stories – the villain might even be (and by Stan Lee actually was) rated more important than the ubiquitous, omnipresent and genre-defining superhero.
According to Deis, this universal imbalance in the importance and significance of the hero and the villain consequently results in a massive blind spot within superhero studies, which still assume the superhero to be the key to any fundamental questions of its narrative form: “Ironically, as we ask challenging questions [...], it might in fact be the supervillain, and not the superhero, who reveals the most about foundational questions of power, politics and identity” (Deis 2013: 99).
In this light, I will argue that it is finally the time for our discipline to emphasize the role of the supervillain and to overcome the predominance of the superhero character. As a first step on this way, I also want to give a glimpse into my PhD project, which seeks to provide a theory, definition, and method of analysis of the supervillain character as a phenomenon.
University of Hertfordshire
This Looks Like A Small Job For Superman! The Centrifugal Importance of Civic Responsibility and Kindness to The Man of Steel’s Enduring Cultural Impact
The superhero genre is now routinely framed in mythological and/or folkloric terms, via gargantuan and cosmic struggles between Good and Evil, particularly exemplified in the realm of cinema via the likes of The Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, a by-product of this is a significantly reduced focus of what Peter Coogan identified as a fundamental aspect of the superhero: a pro-social mission, in which “the fight against evil must fit in with the existing, professed mores of society” (Coogan, 77)
In the case of the archetypal superhero, Superman – framed from his very first appearance as “a Champion of the helpless and oppressed… sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need” (Siegel, Action Comics #1, 1938) – this shift has often left him in danger of being seen as “quaint and outdated” (Darowski, 2012), despite his position as “the perfect example of civic consciousness” (Eco, 1972). And yet, The Man of Steel’s pop cultural impact and enduring popularity remains undiminished, in the face of many other superhero characters who determinedly lack his innate and ceaseless sense of decency and kindness.
This paper will contend that Superman’s unyielding civic responsibility, underpinned by his overarching position as “a friend”, not only fuels his enduring popularity but is something that is increasingly yearned for by audiences, ensuring that Superman constantly reinforces the “aesthetic universality” of the superhero, by serving as “a reference point for behavior and feelings that belong to us all” (Eco, 1972), and reaffirming the fundamental principles of the genre, amidst the eye-catching grandeur of spectacle and action.
University of Duisburg-Essen
Wonder Woman 2017: Grown Up War Hero and Naïve Teenager
In recent years DC started to produce new movie versions of the beginnings and trials of many of their famous superheroes such as: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. What many people do not know is that almost simultaneously to some of these movies a series of books called DC Icons was published. They each tackle the origin story of one of the major DC heroes: Superman, Batman, Catwoman and Wonder Woman. The novels were published under the genre of YA, young adult fiction and written by extremely famous authors of that genre. YA has become widely popular, not only among younger readers, and thereby granting these iconic heroes a new target audience. Some of these origin stories differ greatly from the movies or even our ideas about heroes and are therefore interesting to look at.
In the following paper I will take a closer look at one of these heroes, namely Wonder Woman in her 2017 movie and the novel Wonder Woman Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. It will show that the change of target group also brought forth a change in the heroine's depiction and in the way that their and their side kick’s stories unfold. By comparing their stories to Joseph Campbell’s concept of the ‘hero’s journey’ it will show, that although the new heroes can seriously differ from our ideas of what a hero should be like, they still fit into the traditional image of heroes. Furthermore, it will show that the classic superhero is somewhat outdated or has to adapt to modern day standards of heroism, while still following the traditional making of a hero and that the modern day young audience wants a hero more like themselves than some unreachable idol.
Queen’s University (Canada), Bader International Study Centre.
The Joke’s on you: Narrative incoherence and unreliability in Todd Phillips’ Joker.
The box office success of Todd Phillips’ 2019 film Joker is partly due to narrative inconsistency. The film was interpreted and understood in multiple ways by multiple audiences, in part because of a strategic use of narrative incoherence. The film has been criticised for glorifying violence, while simultaneously being celebrated as a strongly political critique of a culture that produces violence. This incoherence can be understood through a close analysis of the film’s aesthetic and narrative devices. The film uses imagistic and story-telling strategies that are diametrically opposed to one another. The film uses a visual style that is strongly linked to social realist traditions. This is characterised by certain aesthetic strategies: the use of location shooting; high grain quick exposure film stock; and the execution of fluid and mobile hand-held camera work which suggests documentary immediacy.
However this commitment to objective reality is contrasted by the film’s narrative story telling which is sympathetic to and often motivated by Arthur Fleck’s subjective experience of the world – he has visible hallucinations which the film shows, and the experience of the film’s narrative events are predicated by Fleck’s fractured subjectivity. The film is conflicted by its realist aesthetic mode and its non-realist narrative mode. These are paradoxical states of being.
This allows the film to have two (or more) paradoxical realities that exist in simultaneity. Arthur Fleck is and is not the film’s narrator. He is and is not Thomas Wayne’s son. He does and does not kill his single-mother neighbour. This has resulted in undeniable tensions in the ways in which the film has been received. While Joker celebrates and glorifies violence, Joker does not. This is an effect of the dual modes of narrative storytelling which the film deploys. This paper considers the narrative and aesthetic strategies in the film.
University of Duisburg-Essen
Days of Future… Past? Concepts of Time Travel in the MCU
“Basically, your body will go to sleep while your mind travels back in time. Now, as long as you’re back there, past and present will continue to coexist, but once you wake up whatever you’ve done will take hold and become history. And for the rest of us, it’ll be the only history that we know. It’ll be like the last 50 years never happened. And this world, and this war… the only person who will remember it is you.” Time travel, we learn in the 2014 movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, is not only a journey into a time that has gone by but a simultaneous intrusion into what has been and what will be. It is a traditional concept that can be found in many different contexts, e.g. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or various episodes of Star Trek.
Opposed to this, we find a very dissimilar and clearly differentiated concept of time travel in Avengers: Endgame. Here, Professor Hulk explains, “[T]ime doesn’t work that way. Changing the past doesn’t change the future. […] If you travel to the past that past becomes your future and your former present becomes the past which can’t now be changed by your new future.” This paper will try to explain the preconditions that led to the need for travelling back in time and explore the varying concepts underlying time travel in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Endgame. It will aim at coming up with a possible solution to the problem of those two contradictory concepts existing in one universe.
Mikayla J. Laird
University of Hertfordshire
Beyond Time and Freedom: Darkseid, the Anti-Life Equation and 4th Dimensional perspective.
Jack Kirby’s creation of the New Gods mythology introduced a number of elements that have lived on through the DC Universe. However, Darkseid and the New God’s perception of reality and how this relates to reading a comic through a 4th dimensional perspective that perhaps gives Darkseid’s mission and abilities a more terrifying implication. The comics looked at primarily would be Jack Kirby’s original New Gods run and Mister Miracle. Walter Simonson’s Orion series, as well as other titles such as Final Crisis, The Great Darkness Saga and DC Legends. Theoretical framework will draw from Burelbach’s essay Look! Up in the Sky! It’s What’s His Name!, the work of Hayman and Pratt, as well as Proctor’s work on continuity.
The final goal is to tie Darkseid’s desire for the Anti-Life Equation back to a 4th dimensional reading of comics. A view in which all of time is happening at once. The way in which Darkseid, and the rest of the New Gods have been elevated and tied into the DC mythos has created a truly terrifying villain. The work of Charles Huber and his essay Darkseid’s Ring: Images of Anti-Life in Kirby and Tolkein, as well as others will help to ground Darkseid’s level of tyranny and malic before applying it to world/universe view. The final goal of the proposed contribution is to show how truly horrifying Darkseid’s goals are when you consider his place in the DC pantheon and how that relates to the 4th dimension.
Freyja Alice McCreery
University of York
Westworld’s Super Androids: The Narrative and the Data Self
Westworld’s hosts are superheroes. Their status as nonhuman actors is hidden by their visual resemblance to the human form, their costume of skin. Their secret identities, both their past narratives and their status as androids, are secret even to themselves. They are (or can be) immortal, can be made to feel no pain, have extra-sensory abilities, can communicate telepathically, and sometimes control others’ actions with their voice or thoughts.
This paper will argue that the androids of Westworld provide apt figures through which to explore agency and (super)power in a networked era overrun with algorithmic superstructures. Westworld’s superandroids are superheroes of the now. Their multiple selves are performed, unknowingly, for capital gain, and data harvesting for furthering oligarchical biopower. Their kinship is based on their relationship with technological and mechanised production, their communication contingent on wireless networks.
The hosts’ journey to self-awareness entails rupturing of past memories, past narratives, into their current coherent self. The androids’ realisation that they are not human and that their life stories have been written by humans that are using them for commercial gain and data collection happens through a revelation that the events shown in sequence by the series are actually a composite of different memories occurring over decades. Trauma, and the rearranging of time that they and viewers experience simultaneously in the first season, is both catalyst of a realisation of agency and symptom of wider structures of exploitation, datafication, and hierarchy of the “real”.
In these ways, Westworld approaches contemporary experience of social media including anxieties around archived performances of self and the role of nonhuman agency in bringing those past performances back into the present. Westworld prioritisation of the androids’ self-realisation, rather than the human’s experience of androids, figures reconceptualisations of agency in a networked neoliberal era.
Dr. Derya Özkan
Izmir University of Economics
Genco: Superman with Limited Powers
Ali Kemal Çınar is an independent filmmaker who lives in Diyarbakır, a city populated dominantly with Kurdish people in southeastern Turkey. Since 2004 he has been making short and feature films as a member of a film collective at the Arts and Cultural Center funded by the city government. His films strike one as extremely low budget productions in which the actors and actresses are usually his family members and friends. This gives Çınar’s films a vernacular quality and an exceptional / unique cinematic aura.
Çınar’s third feature, Genco (2017), tells the story of a Diyarbakır-based superman, named Genco, who is different from the mainstream superman in commercially successful and globally popular superhero genre films, in terms of his powers. Played by Çınar himself, Genco has limited powers that are good for nothing. He is not a superman who heroically saves people from trouble miraculously under any condition. The film is not a comedy, but it makes an ironic comment on the cinematic mythology surrounding superhero films while at the same time breaking down the superhero’s stereotypically masculine representation.
Çınar takes delight in saying in interviews that “anyone can make a film, if I can” and creating a disillusionment about industrial filmmaking. Instead of producing a profitable brand out of a superhero, Çınar produces a critique of power and of idealized cinematic representations of masculinity by making low budget production a creative medium liberated from the constraints of the film industry. Low budget production gives him freedom to experiment with film form and to seek a non-commercial film language. This experimental quality has enabled his films to go beyond remaining amateurish affairs, to make it into prestigious film festivals around Turkey, and to receive various reputable awards.
This paper analyzes the film Genco in terms of its critique of power in two senses: the myth of the power of the masculine superhero and the hegemonic power of industrial filmmaking. Referring to Çınar’s filmmaking practice, I will discuss some possible lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari 1980) from film industry’s often limiting impact on the potentials of film language.
Translating Wonder Woman: Visibilities and Visualities
This work presents an investigation on the intersemiotic translation processes applied to comic book character Wonder Woman during almost seven decades of publication in Brazil. Along a brief review of the publishing trajectory of the iconic superheroine created in 1941 by William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter, we build an account of the socio-cultural circumstances and transmedia aspects that led her to be renamed Super-Mulher (Portuguese for Superwoman) by Editora Órbis, between 1952-1962; Miss América by Editora Brasil América - EBAL, between 1966-1975; and since then, finally and cross-media wise, Mulher-Maravilha (Portuguese for Wonder Woman).
This essay focuses on how the character's multimodal language has been influenced by the most diverse media as well as international and local events - from the weekly supplements of comics published by A Gazeta and Diário da Noite in the 1940s and the Feminist Movement of the 1960s, to the advent of color television in Brazil in the 1970s and the increase of economic globalization policies observed since the 1990s. We conclude by presenting a graphic analysis that reflect the impact that these events and decisions had on the symbolic and visual identity elements of the superheroine, especially in its Made in Brazil logos, also identifying the role of recent developments in digital technology regarding the procedures of visual translation and the establishment of global parameters for mass cultural products.
James C. Taylor
University of Warwick
Tears of a Hulk and the Lonely Ranger: Configurations of Monster/Man in Television’s The Incredible Hulk
This paper examines the interplay between David Banner (Bill Bixby) and his monstrous alter ego Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) in television series The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982). While David is presented as an everyman in pursuit of a stable life, and Hulk a disruptive and fantastical force, through close textual analysis I dismantle this apparent binary to reveal how elements of stability and fantasy intersect in both figures. A fundamental tension between everyday stability and the fantastic comes from the series’ unique blend of tropes of Marvel superheroes, conventions of broadcast television and discourses on American identity.
The formula to which episodes conform is significant site where stability and the fantastic interact. This formula adheres to the televisual episodic structure in which a central problematic that is repeated but not resolved ‘provide[s] a steady state to which audience and fiction return each week’ (Ellis, 1992: 156). Interestingly, the show’s stable formula denies David the stability he seeks by demanding that he is forced to abandon his current dwelling at the end of each episode. The ways in which the show’s creators offer episode-to-episode variation within its formula – changing locations, supporting characters and generic frameworks – reconfigure the roles of David and Hulk each episode.
My analysis focuses on two staples of the show’s formula, one that pertains exclusively to Hulk and the other to David. I look closely at one instance of each in which David’s and Hulk’s roles of man and monster, and associated qualities of everyday stability and the fantastic, productively intermingle. Firstly, I examine one of Hulk’s twice-per-episode rampages, and secondly an example of David walking off into the distance at the end of an episode. The analysis of my two chosen scenes unpacks how, rather than having opposing functions, Hulk and David can contribute in complementary ways to discourses that develop within episodes and are often reiterated across the series.
Dr. Caleb Turner
Super-Powers Assemble!: Heroic Team-Ups and The ‘Multilateral Monomyth’
This paper explores the mythological significance of the heroic team up, in proposing that a new kind of monomyth has been driving the narrative impetus of superhero cinema over the past decade: as a clash of ‘competitive’ versus ‘cooperative’ heroism. Taking into account the socio-cultural aftermath of the 2008 Economic Recession - in which the primary cause was a ‘predatory’ form of capitalism that lacked ‘compassionate productivity’ - this prompted nations to respond in one of two ways. Firstly, a nation could be guided by ‘one-sided’ decision-making: protecting its sovereignty by closing down borders (i.e. so acting unilaterally to avert another economic collapse). Secondly, a nation could instead take a ‘many-sided’ mindset: generating international wealth via free trade by keeping borders open (i.e. by multilaterally discussing solutions between as many of the world’s nations as possible).
While there have been cinematic superhero team ups prior to the Great Recession (X-Men, Fantastic Four), in the Post-Crash era there has been the emergence of key thematic tensions of ‘how to deal with’ judicial, economic, militaristic and state systems. These cultural concerns consistently come through in such clashes as ‘competition’ versus ‘cooperation’ and ‘anti-authority libertarianism’ versus ‘pro-governmental intervention’. A true ‘unilateral protectionism’ is arguably evident in the individualistic antics and distrust of authority in Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), The Dark Knight (2008), and Man of Steel (2012). An evolving ‘multilateral cooperation’ is also invoked with Tony Starks’ choices in the Avengers series (2012-2019) and particularly Captain America: Civil War (2016). The same can be said for the developing heroic relationships in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015) and Justice League (2017). Indeed, both the ‘Classic’ and ‘American’ Monomyth are crucial to interrogating the role of societal responsibility that heroism plays in the contemporary superhero film.
Yet, in either case, these versions of the monomyth place too great an emphasis on the efforts of the individual hero being so often faced with ‘one-sided’ decision-making. Individual heroes must leave their nation to seek out and collect knowledge and boons before returning to their borders to enrich the community (Campbell). Individual heroes must also search several borders to save vulnerable communities - by bringing equilibrium to disequilibrium - and then head off into the sunset for the next adventure (Jewett and Lawrence). This paper however argues for a far more multilateral understanding of the Monomyth that depends on the endeavours of the ‘collective superhero’ that is without borders, contributes essential traits, makes decisions together, and shares resources. It is this team effort that enriches multiple communities as a whole: with these superheroes being very much here to stay.
Alex Van Ommen
"Other Heroes -- bridging Super and Hero in HBO's Watchmen"
Although considered part of the superhero genre, the graphic novel and recent HBO series Watchmen have a surprising dearth of superheroes. There is the “hero” element of masked men and women struggling for something larger and better than themselves and there is the “super” element in Dr Manhattan’s transcendence. It is the struggle to bridge the "super" and the "hero" in Watchmen where the narrative's message comes to bear. It is no mere exploration of Nietzsche’s Übermensch theory, as the people of the divided and dystopian world are clearly not looking to Dr Manhattan to improve themselves, nor is Dr Manhattan called down from on high to lift up the people in the world. Rather, Watchmen presents a view of division, otherness, and alterity, and examines this by the myriad attempts in the stories to link the “super” and the “hero” while endemic racism screams from the void between the two, demanding to be addressed.
This resonant howl reminds audiences that it is impossible to reach for any concept of unity or reparation without confrontation of truth -- beyond the squids to the horror and lies at the heart of Veidt's imposed utopia, beyond the godliness of Dr Manhattan to either his Jewishness in Nazi Germany, his Blackness in Tulsa, or the terror he unleashed on the Vietnamese countryside. Different characters represent different approaches to and creations of the narrative landscape of otherness, and each, in turn, helps the audience build an understanding of different approaches to valuation of different lives. Veidt creates what to him are empty vessels, yet his creations are nonetheless life. Hooded Justice is caught between his own existence (queer, black) and his supposed heroic actions (selfish rage, donning a hood to legitimize his violence). Angela Abar is forced to confront the rot of bigotry hiding behind Judd Crawford. The Seventh Kavalry works to replace one person (Osterman, a Jew, then Calvin Abar, a Black man) with their own (white man). The list goes on, and interacts with concepts of justice, rights, and reparation and enforcement by way of (masked) policing.
Looking at the super/hero juxtaposition and the struggle to bridge the two is central to this examination. This demands a foundation on the link between Arendt’s observations on the banality of Eichmann’s crimes and Sontag’s work on horror and imagery, which I combine into the "banality of horror." Ocular bombardment results in both hypersensitivity and desensitization not just visually but culturally, the concurrent ability of people to avert their gaze from injustice to the ability of people to bristle at the perceived injustice of attack on their privilege. It is seeing what isn't there and not seeing what is where villainy and evil is found. Rorschach may have been right to say there was something rotting in the city, but his mask -- symbol of his amorphous yet uncompromising libertarian ideology -- obscured his ability to see it.
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Learning Surveillance from the Superhuman
Many popular superheroes deal with themes of surveillance. For DC Comics’ The Watchmen, this group of superhumans gets its name from the phrase “Who Watches the Watchmen” (McMillan, 2009) and focuses on surveilling those that surveil. Also, Marvel’s The Punisher follows Frank Castle seeking revenge for his family’s killings, and as depicted in the contemporary Netflix iteration, features scenes of camera monitoring, mysterious identities, conspiracies and monitoring (Netflix, 2019). Overall, themes of surveillance even dominate the whole idea of a superhero – a character that watches over loved ones of the community to ensure safety and sustainability is steeped in surveillance themes even if the surveillance is motivated by benevolence and care.
Each of these superhumans facilitates a fictional world through which we can examine surveillance. This is especially helpful in the classroom because the superhero genre can create a “Bakhtinian notion of third space” where instructors don’t have to function as an authority on the subject and students can equally share their knowledge of comics and superheroes (Schrems, 2016). A space for more popular texts that students may be more familiar with can provide students with the confidence in understanding and analyzing the plotlines of stories (Schrems, 2016, Williams, 2014).
With this premise in mind, this proposal aims to look at several superhumans through the lens of surveillance and explore how to pedagogically combine the superhuman into discussions of surveillance. I ultimately argue that the superhuman provides a fitting and useful lens to help students understand the importance and the dimensions of surveillance in an increasingly surveilled society.
The 3rd Global Meeting - September 2019
In 2018, the superhero genre reached a remarkable milestone with the eightieth anniversary of Superman, with the character’s signature title of Action Comics reaching its one thousandth issue, which sold over half a million copies and, not unimportantly, finally returned The Man of Steel to his iconic red trunks.
And yet, it was banner year for the genre beyond that, particularly in the realm of cinema, where the superhero maintains an aggressive dominance: the Marvel Cinematic Universe celebrated its tenth anniversary, its grand inter-connected narrative reaching no less than twenty films (and eleven television series); the Ryan Cogler-directed Black Panther achieved enormous cultural impact, widely deemed to be a vital moment in black American history; the electrifying Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse set a thrilling new benchmark in animation and a vivid view of the Spider-Man mythos; Aquaman returned some lustre to the faltering movie endeavours of DC Comics, grossing over one billion dollars.
Meanwhile, in the source medium of comics, the superhero genre continues to generate works of great diversity and nuance: Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer (Dark Horse) explored, with exquisite melancholy, the aftermath of a superhero saga; Superman (DC) has compellingly utilised the character’s role as a father in highlighting his innate goodness; Captain America (Marvel) has powerfully examined the hero’s identity within the contemporary political divisions in the United States; Mister Miracle (DC) masterfully fuses interpersonal family drama with Kirby-esque spectacle; Batman: White Knight (DC) was a striking and thoroughly gripping inversion of the power dynamic between The Dark Knight and his nemesis, The Joker and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel) offered a heady mix of comedy and female empowerment. In the midst of such vibrant activity, however, the comics industry was rocked by the death of Stan Lee, the “Marvel Bard”, who was very much the genial, effervescently-creative face of the superhero genre for decades.
Soaring into its ninth decade, then – marked spectacularly in 2019 by the MCU-capping Avengers: Endgame becoming the most successful film in cinema history - the superhero currently occupies a diverse and expansive space in modern popular culture. Perceived as a modern form of mythology or folklore, the character's signature emblems are among the most recognisable in the world, functioning as powerful, pervasive and vastly profitable brands. Yet, while still largely American in focus, the superhero has become increasingly international, capable of reflecting specific issues and operating as a powerful messenger of them - a power they have possessed since their inception
The superhero remains regarded as an inspirational figure, but also a divisive one, perceived in some quarters as a promoter of violence and vigilantism. Superheroes position themselves as purveyors of a specific set of moral values, sometimes above the law, but always striving for the greater good. Superheroes are typically depicted in a constant struggle with notions of personal responsibility, and questions of identity and destiny, in line with Joseph Campbell's "Monomyth". As more and more people wear the symbols of superheroes (via t-shirts et al) as an expression of values as well as fandom, the superhero is becoming us.
This inter-disciplinary project aims to explore the superhero in incarnations ranging from the demi gods of ancient mythology, the supernatural and mutant heroes of contemporary comics, film and television, as well as real life vigilantes. Related themes will also be identified for development and exploration. Out of our deliberations it is anticipated that a series of related cross-context research projects will develop.
We hope the conference proves to be an stimulating and enriching experience that will enable conversations and discussions that you will take with you into the future!
Cutting, pasting and gatekeeping: Adapting Marvel’s superhero comics for the Finnish audience.
University of Turku, Finland
In this presentation, I analyze the Finnish adaptations of two of the most popular Marvel comic books in Finland, X-Men (Ryhmä-X) and Spider-Man (Hämähäkkimies), during the 1980s and 1990s. It has been claimed that comics as a medium transcends national, cultural and linguistic borders and is thus accessible to a wide audience. Although superhero comics are widely regarded as a typically American product of popular culture, throughout the decades they have crossed borders globally and been distributed and translated into several languages. Firstly I want to find out what were the adaptation strategies used by the Finnish editor, and secondly how did the editor communicate these changes to the readers.
While currently film adaptations of superhero comics raise the interest of both audiences and comics scholars, I approach the adaptations of superhero comics from another perspective by analyzing domesticated translations as adaptations. I investigate the Finnish publications of Marvel’s superhero comics and especially the editor’s role in bridging the gaps between the American originals and the Finnish adaptations.
One of the reasons behind superheroes’ growing popularity in Finland in the early 1980s was the editor and translator of the Finnish publications, who went by the pen name “Mail-Man”. He made changes such as cutting pages and panels from the original comic books and arranging them to form new stories for the Finnish audience, streamlining the action and plot advancement of Marvel’s complicated comics universe. Moreover, the editor had a double role in the adaptation process. He was, at the same time, responsible for the letters pages in the Finnish comic books. By answering readers’ questions and explaining his editorial choices, Mail-Man became a gatekeeper between the comic books and their audience. In this presentation, I focus on the editor’s role as a gatekeeper and the strategies of adaptation he used.
Rafael Alves Azevedo
“It’s a strange world. Let’s keep it that way” – Warren Ellis and the Dominance of New Sincerity Superheroes
University of Duisburg-Essen
In the mid-1990s, comic book creators like Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, and Alex Ross aimed to reconstruct a heroic narrative with a sincere belief in hope, challenging the dominant postmodern cynicism in superhero comics. This New Sincerity emerged both as a post-ironic reaction to the deconstruction of superheroes and as an expression of nostalgic longing for the Silver Age comics of these creators’ childhood. The success of comics like Marvels (1994), Astro City (1995-96), Kingdom Come (1996), and JLA (1997-2000) proved that this post-postmodern approach was viable. However, by the late 1990s the co-existence of postmodern deconstruction and New Sincerity gave way to the dominance of post-ironic heroes.
As the writer of Ruins (1995) and Stormwatch (1996-98), Warren Ellis was one of the figureheads of postmodern irony and the deconstruction of heroism in the 1990s. His New Sincerity comics in the late 1990s and their commercial and critical success are emblematic of the shift in development in the superhero comic genre’s history from postmodern cynicism to a sincere belief in hope. While his earlier Stormwatch book was a commercial failure, its successor series, The Authority (1999-2000), became a best-selling title and is sometimes regarded as one of the most influential comic books of the last decades. Similarly, his comic book Planetary (1999-2009) emphasizes the New Sincerity’s focus on wonder and joy as opposed to the destruction and bleakness in Ruins, while Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth (2003) is a post-ironic reconstruction of the caped crusader and his previous incarnations. A look at Warren Ellis’ work in the late 1990s and early 2000s allows a glimpse at the moment New Sincerity comics emerged as the dominant force in American superhero comics, paving the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Legacy, and DC Rebirth.
Daredevil: a review of the Nemesis
How Evil can prevent evil from happening but, most of all, what is the measure of Evil? In the history of comics as much as in the one of literature, there have always been characters whose aim, traits, personality were in contrast with their actions. However, this is what made all those heroes, or better anti-heroes, sometimes better than their wholly good counterparts.
In this paper, I will make a survey of some of the most important anti-heroic characters, starting with Daredevil and Lucifer, and by analyzing their personal stories I will try inform on the audience on what are the most common features of them. In particular, I will focus my attention on Daredevil’s personal story, whose morality and struggle with his faith have put him many times at the edge of heroism, slightly touching that border where good and evil merge for a second, leaving the audience with the everlasting doubt of what is the difference between them.
Derridean Responsibility in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Tony, Steve and the Uncertain Certainty of Death
University of Duisburg-Essen
Superheroes exceed the limitations of ordinary humans which is why people expect more of them. Superheroes have to lead by example and should embody the best of humanity not only physically, but also morally and through responsible actions. Responsibility is thus central to superheroes whose very essence, it can be argued, consists of taking on (superhuman) responsibility and, in consequence, carrying the burden of that responsibility. On the one hand, superheroes transcend the boundaries of normal society, but, on the other, they are to adhere to that society’s moral and legal framework. When superheroes actions go beyond the confines of the law, they are depicted as acting according to a moral code that justifies their actions as responsible which, in turn, deconstructs the legal code they violate as a flawed and rigid human construct. The ends justify the means here as the actions of the superhero turn out to have been the right thing to do.
The superhero’s responsibility is therefore to know when to be irresponsible towards the existing codified framework of (human) responsibility as represented by the moral and legal systems. This nexus between responsibility and irresponsibility has been elaborated at length by Derrida. In my paper, I will discuss Derrida’s notion of responsibility as outlined in his The Gift of Death in the context of the often irresponsible decisions of the often flawed superheroes in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Tony Stark will be the prime focus as he constantly oscillates between responsibility and irresponsibility. Steve Rogers will serve as counterpoint as he is arguably the most morally steadfast and responsible hero in the MCU. In my analysis, I will concentrate on Avenger’s Endgame as both Tony’s and Steve’s story come to a conclusion here. Derrida’s notion of absolute responsibility and the close connection between responsibility and death contain in Derridean responsibility become particularly pertinent in Endgame, thus allowing for a reading of the film’s ending through the lens of a revaluation of the concept of responsibility in a superhero context
Jean-Guy P. Ducreux
BATMAN THE TIMOCRAT: Platonist reflections on the Darkest Knight
In the Republic (Book VIII) Plato distinguishes five potential political régimes in human societies. Conveniently enough we can represent each of them by a superhero type: the aristocrat (Superman) free of any mundane cravings; the timocrat (Batman), still very much preoccupied with the concept of honor, but also endowed with considerable material assets; the oligarch (Iron Man), who is equally interested in both; the democrats, a group of followers such as The X-Men, who are mostly self-absorbed and care little about fame; and finally the tyrant, who is the enemy of all the previous types but also the logical conclusion to this never-ending cycle. Plato considers that the last four types are essentially decadent and that they all tarnish the perfect model of the philosopher-king.
This paper will focus on on-screen versions of Batman, a superhero whose inherited worldly possessions give him an ambiguous silhouette, one of a tycoon who basically gives chase to his alter egos (themselves successful entrepreneurs and nabobs) on the one hand, but is also a guardian of pure capitalism, even beyond the tenets of social justice.
This dichotomy will guide my leisurely observations, which will concentrate on the period 1989-2019. I’ll strive to demonstrate how the character of Batman goes through a roller-coaster of contradictory poses and emotions over three decades, from being a well-liked superhero, perfectly adapted to his epoch in the last century, to becoming an utter misfit in contemporary texts. This discrepancy is best illustrated in Nolan’s trilogy, and more especially in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), a film in which Batman faces throngs of angry democrats who obey a populist leader and thus pave the way for the inevitable advent of a tyrant amongst them.
Masks, Values and Society: Evolution of Superheroes and Anti-heroes since the Dark Age
Unhappy is the land that needs an anti-hero: a land in crisis, without a clear moral, without truths. The anti-hero embodies competing values; on the one hand he is born of a crisis, on the other exasperates it, leads it to the extreme consequences.During the 1980s these characters have their greatest success in superhero comics. The so-called Dark Age follows a profound crisis in American society, marked by the Vietnam War, the fear of nuclear conflict, but also by alternative cultural and social movements. A profound social transformation that inevitably brings with it a crisis of certainties, morals and values. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, together with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, are the graphic novels that more than any other represent this transformation.
Today, the western world faces a new crisis. Economic uncertainty, mass migrations, encounters and clashes with different cultures, terrorism: our worldview and our truths are wavering. Superhero universe mirrors all of these. Antiheroes become more and more numerous, and superheroes lose a clear definition. Marvel’s Civil War, saga directly linked to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent PATRIOT Act, is probably the most emblematic example, an ideal beginning of this new Age.The historical moment is comparable to the Dark Age. We are not just witnessing a new proliferation of anti-heroes: even superheroes and the way we perceive them are changing. The line between superhero and anti-hero becomes confused. The classic superheroes have begun to kill – the latest Batman and Superman films are emblematic. Superheroes’ relationship with the mask, with society, becomes much more problematic and "anti-heroic".
I will refer to Nietzschean concepts, such as the mask, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the Übermensch, to distinguish the superhero and the anti-hero, in his relationship with the mask and the society, in his morality. Comparing Dark Age’s anti-heroes (Miller’s Batman, Rorschach, V) with contemporary films and comics like The Authority, Civil War, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, I will show how our perception of anti-heroes and superheroes has changed.
Darker Knights: Negotiating The Boundaries of Violence and Sovereignty in late-1980’s Batman comics.
University of Hertfordshire
The publication of Frank Miller’s “violent operatic myth” (Morrison, 2011) The Dark Knight Returns by DC Comics in 1986 triggered an extraordinary period of activity with the publisher’s flagship character of Batman, often regarded as the character’s zenith of popularity. A defining, controversial and enduring consequence of Miller’s seminal and striking work was that the “gritty realism” that Batman progressively returned to throughout the 1970’s was swiftly infused with a potent level of violence, both savage and retributive.
The Dark Knight Returns and key subsequent works such as Batman: Year One (1987), The Killing Joke (1988), The Cult (1988), A Death In The Family (1988) and Arkham Asylum (1989) moved firmly beyond Alsford’s (1989) observation that “much comic hero violence is symbolic and avoids bloodthirsty excess”. Such works secured a more adult audience, while reflecting the rise of violent crime in America as well as achieving a firm exorcism of the “campiness” of the 60’s Batman TV show – and yet are also deemed to have significantly contributed to the bedrock of the “grim and gritty” era of comics.
However, the pointedly-increased violence of this era of Batman also provides an arena in which to discuss the superhero’s “sovereignty” in relation to his position as a vigilante as well as to the ‘monsters’ with whom he is in perpetual conflict. Batman is the de facto sovereign of Gotham City, yet deploys violence that is extra-legal – a clear antithesis. Using the work of Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida’s analysis of the relationship between the sovereign and the beast, this paper will argue that this era of hard-edged stories reinforced Batman’s fundamental position within a zone of indeterminacy that generates the compelling ambiguity at the heart of the character. Batman becomes an embodiment of the Ancient Greek poet Pindar’s notion of “the sovereign of all / leads with the strongest hand / Justifying the most violent”, unifying the law and violence in the persona of what Neal Curtis described as “The Law’s violent shadow”.
Ready Player One and The New Mirror Stage: Superheroes, Virtual Reality and the Ideal-Self
University of Duisburg-Essen
Social media and virtual reality (VR) are increasingly important for our lives. The novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and its movie-adaption combine social media and VR and depict a world in which people spent most of their time online as avatars. Every user can create a perfect version of themselves, one that comes close to what they expect their Ideal-Self to be. They create for themselves a new mirror image, one that also takes the shape of superheroes which the users can, however, never live up to in reality. This paper will analyse the effects of living in one’s dream superhero body on a person`s “real” identity and self-esteem. I will focus on three characters of Ready Player One by means of a psychological approach with a focus on Lacan’s theory of the Mirror Stage.
Although these three characters treat their VR- and real-selves differently, there is one thing all three of them have in common: they use their real selves as a Clark-Kent-like alter-ego, indicating that they perceive their avatars as superheroes. The characters in Ready Player One enact the interplay between identity and the super-heroic that are made possible in a VR-world. This virtual negotiation and confrontation with ideal selves in turn influences the “real world”: I will concentrate on three such effects: 1) living out superhero fantasies in VR effects a change in the “real” self,; 2) erasing an identity aspect perceived as a flaw in the superheroic avatar aggravates the negative feelings towards the “real” self for having it and 2) living as the person one feels born to be in VR leads to a denigration and a feeling of shame towards the real-self.
Dr. Robert Hyland
The Superhero Film in the Neoliberal Age.
BISC, Queen’s University, Canada
Neoliberalism is often spoken about as an economic structure that has been changing the world; changing the nation-state; and changing global markets, as various nations move toward a new form of laissez fare economic structure which puts primacy on an imagined (now stateless) ‘free market.’ But while neo-liberalism is a set of economic policies, it is also an ideology – a belief system that favours free market individualism in an age of global capital, rather than state control, which was largely seen as a product of 20th century nationalism. But the nature of the ideology behind neo-liberalism and how it manifests in culture (in this particular example – the entertainment culture of block-buster super hero films), has been little discussed.
As arm chair political pundits threw their hands in the air, asking ‘how did Donald Trump, a brash, go-it-alone billionaire who puts his name on buildings ever get elected leader?’; we were steadily consuming images of Tony Stark, a brash, go-it-alone billionaire who puts his name on buildings, successfully assume leadership of a team of mercenaries, after the state-run quasi-military entity SHIELD proved porous, corrupt, and fundamentally, not fit for purpose. Donald Trump, then, an industrialist, is an example of the ideology of neo-liberalism in action, as he insisted we ‘drain the swamp’ and replaced career politicians and state employees with capitalists who were colloquially coined ‘the cabinet of billionaires’.
This paper will look at super hero texts of the late 20th, early 21st century, and explore the ways in which laissez faire free market ideologies of the 20th century have morphed into neo-liberal ideologies of the 21st century. This paper will look at the change in Batman, from an altruistic billionaire philanthropist who worked with the state, to a vengeance seeking narcissist who works despite the state. The paper will also look at a shift in the finances of the characters in both Marvel and DC universes, where a rag tag group of photo journalists, newspaper clerks, or office secretaries who all required day jobs to fund their heroics, became a collection of gods, kings and princesses, who are independently wealthy or whose mercenary actions are funded by the private capitalists Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, respectively.
Thanos – The Machiavellian Hero
University of Duisburg-Essen
“Little one, it’s a simple calculus. This universe is finite, its resources finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction. […] I’m the only one who knows that. At least, I’m the only one with the will to act on it.”1 With this remarkable statement right in the middle of the third Avengers movie, supervillain Thanos explains to his adoptive daughter Gamora and the entire audience his motif for the snap: to end world hunger and to preserve resources, albeit with drastic measures.
Roughly 500 years before the cinematic audience witnessed Thanos killing half the world’s population to save the other half, Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli pinned down his opinion on what the perfect ruler should be like. In Il Principe – or The Prince – he elaborated on, among other qualities a sovereign should have, two questions that shaped modern political theory until today. The first question being, whether or not a prince should be virtuous.2 The second question being, “whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse.”This paper will apply Machiavelli’s theories of the perfect ruler to Thanos’ characteristics as portrayed in the MCU movie Avengers Infinity War and, thus, try to answer the question if Thanos is, in fact, the perfect ruler.
Mikayla J. Laird
Leather Wings and Broken Things: The Childhood Trauma at the heart of Batman and his use as a source of inspiration and strength.
University of Hertfordshire
A look at the trauma at the heart of Batman’s origin, and his journey and choices along the way, as well as how his story has inspired many that have undergone similar hardships, both in his own fictional universe and in the real world. Looking at the characters mythology through an academic lens, leaning on the works of Richard Reynolds, particularly ‘A Modern Mythology’, Umberto Eco, and Glen Weldon, as well as works such as Frank Miller’s ‘Batman Year One’, Kurt Busiek’s ‘Batman: Creature of the Night’, and Dean Trippe’s ‘Something Terrible’. With other stories providing evidence of repeated patterns such as the short story ‘People in the Dark’ by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV.
As fiction, and not only that but an ordinary man in a world of gods, the reader finds it easy to sympathise with him as being the same as them. Filled with pain from childhood trauma. The legends and myths surrounding the modern superhero perfectly demonstrates how we connect with these characters, and there is an abundance of proof to demonstrate how those also dealing with such pain have used Batman as an inspiration to carry on. Through this paper, I plan to bring to light the strong connection between Batman and his readers, especially as a source of strength by examples, trends and those using the bat emblem in their everyday life through clothing and cosplay.
The Superhero Logo
Universidade de Brasília
Established as the first superhero, Superman is the result of an intense dialogue within the mass media in the United States cultural industry from the beginning of the 20th century. Developed by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster between 1933 and 1938, the Man of Steel was influenced by Sci-Fi and Adventure narratives disseminated through pulp magazines, movies and newspaper strips, as well as other cultural expressions from that time, namely literature, radio and circus. The subsequent and constant assimilation of Superman’s visual features - the caped uniform, trunks worn over the pants and a chest emblem - by hundreds of fictional characters determined the uniform as a convention of the Superhero genre.
At the same extent that the likeness of such uniform became a key to identify a superhero, the visual codes of Superman’s comic strip and comic book title logo have been continuously imitated for eight decades to a point that it became the basis for the visual communication of anything Superhero related: transcending the character’s publications, merchandising and even its publishing company, three-dimensional telescopic letters can be seen in an array of products from different medias that want to be associated with the genre. Guided by the works of Peter Coogan, Gerard Jones, Todd Klein and Arlen Schumer, among others, on visual identity applied to superheroes characters and publications, this study will examine the origins and influences behind Superman’s title logo - developed from 1938 to 1940 by Shuster and Ira Schnapp - as well as how it went on to shape the visual identity codes of the entire Superhero genre.
HEROES IN CRISIS: WHEN HEROES NEED CARE
Limerick Institute of Technology
Heroes in Crisis is a nine issue DC Comics limited series which debuted in September 2018. The series expands on a concept that Tom King introduced in Batman, of a rehabilitation centre for superheroes called The Sanctuary, and addresses the emotional cost of being a superhero. The Sanctuary itself was created to help superheroes dealing with mental health issues resulting from their frenetic and perpetual attempts to save the Earth and its people.
Working with health care workers and community activists, the everyday heroes of the real world, compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatisation and burnout are very common and the burden of emotional labour weighs heavy on them all. Added to this are the profoundly gendered scripts that exist about care giving and care receiving and the lack of real life role models within activism for self-care practices which would allow their work to be sustainable. In addition, new insights into the devastating impact that isolation and loneliness have on health are a continuing theme.
I was initially very excited to see how this topic would be treated in this series because it is possible to imagine the clear parallels between community activists and Heroes in Crisis. I envisaged being able to use the series to engage with young activists and health care workers to address some of the stigma, shame and sense of failure they feel when they experience mental health distress.
In therapeutic practice best practice in mental health care involves community care and supports, social integration, and talk therapy. Effective treatments are available, but according to the WHO, nearly two thirds of people with a known mental health disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma and discrimination are a key part of this pattern – as is the deeply ingrained notion that mental health struggles are a sign of personal failure and weakness.
Heroes in Crisis explores some of these issues and poses many interesting questions about the humanity of the superheroic and the incremental impact that trauma, violence and shame of failure have on their sense of self, and their ability to be well and continue their work. The series also examines the notion that the emotional labour required to seem ok while feeling fear and grief is sometimes as burdensome as the fear and the grief itself. A recurring theme in the DC world is the loneliness and isolation involved in the superheroic life and this is examined in this series also.
This paper examines the Heroes in Crisis series through the dual lenses of psychotherapeutic best practice and gender performativity. It also interrogates gendered understandings of emotional labour and connection building in the fight to create structures of wellness for heroes on and off the pages of comics. It draws on the work of Connell, Farrell, Butler, Hochschild and Lynch to examine representations of care needing and care getting. It explores the notion that care needing disrupts the normative gender matrix, making it imperative that interventions (such as The Sanctuary) be hidden and secretive. The paper investigates whether it is possible ever to unpick the enmeshment of care giving with the docile feminine, and whether heroes (super or real) can ever find a way to move to a place that is a rejection of the old care binary of performative stoical suffering (Batman) or performative hyper-mothering intrinsic to disempowered femininity. And finally, it explores the encouraging possibilities that lie in the construction of a new heroism, embedded in the all too human traits of vulnerability and care and, yet, all the more superheroic for it.
James C. Taylor
Into the Superhero-Verse: Self-reflexivity and Critique in Animated Superhero Cinema
University of Warwick
In recent years there have been high-profile superhero blockbusters featuring franchise characters that take self-reflexive perspectives on the genre, e.g. Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017). Concurrent to the proliferation of “live-action” superhero blockbusters (which typically feature significant amounts of digital animation), the last few years have also seen a selection of purely animated superhero films receiving wide cinematic release. This paper analyses three animated features – The Lego Batman Movie (2017), Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (2018) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – exploring how their animated form enables them to undertake self-reflective critique of the superhero genre in distinct ways from live-action films.
Animation engenders an ontological distance from live-action, creating an outsider status for these films that allows them to cast an interrogative eye on more dominant forms of superhero cinema. Of course, superheroes originated, and continue to develop, in drawn images in comic books. The animated films under analysis playfully acknowledge these roots in direct gestures to their characters’ range of comic book incarnations, while also cultivating distance through styles and motifs specific to animation. The elastic stylisation of these films exhibits the self-reflexive intertextuality that is central to Catherine Constable’s (2015) understanding of postmodern aesthetics in Hollywood cinema. Constable’s framework privileges Linda Hutcheon’s (1989) position that postmodern cinema’s parodic reworking of other texts facilitates compromised forms of critique. Adopting this framework enables me to explore the ways in which the plasticity of animated superhero films’ postmodern aesthetics, and the use of this to negotiate their live-action and comic book counterparts, might perform critique of the superhero genre. The Lego Batman Movie’s interrogation of hypermasculinity, Teen Titans Go!’s parodic take on the superhero cinema boom and Into the Spider-Verse’s discourse on diversity are discussed.
Eva M. Thury
Campbell or Vogler? Guidelines for their Use in Understanding the Contemporary Hero and the Community
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth has been "an analytical tool for literally hundreds of secondary studies" (Doty 241). However, sources on the internet, and with them my mythology students, have been confusing and conflating Christopher Vogler's analysis of the hero's journey with that of Campbell's monomyth. This set me thinking about the differences between Campbell and Vogler and the perspectives on the hero and the superhero that each produces.
In particular, the analyses developed by Campbell and Vogler work differently for heroes and superheroes who are women and for heroic teams. Palumbo's monomyth-based analysis of Terminator shows the difficulties involved with the shift from protagonist Kyle Reese to the agency of Sarah Connor. In fact, any story with a woman protagonist is difficult for Campbell's hero, as shown by Tricia Barr's Fangirl Blog about The Force Awakens.
Vogler's three-act structure provides a useful framework in which "interwoven journeys … present a full spectrum of heroic possibilities" (282). By contrast, the monomyth's hero stems from initiation rituals which are undergone by individuals (Hero 8-13); Campbell heavily psychologizes rites of passage, removing their communal context (Doty 143). Thus, Vogler continues in the direction begun by Campbell of de-contextualizing the hero. Victor Turner notes that our society has ceased "to govern its activities by means of common ritual obligations" (68). Instead we rely on freely chosen works of art for communal messages (77).
Richard Reynolds describes the "deconstruction" which lately operates on superheroes whose "fragmented virtues and signs" are manifested in isolation but draw strength from "shared cultural roots" (123). As a way of discussing this, I examine I Am Legend according to Vogler's views -- he worked on the film, after all -- considering the significance of the film in his view and examining its alternative endings in the context of a communal message.
Dr. Caleb Turner
The Dark Right Rises: Bat-Manhood, Populist Heroism and Übermensch Aesthetics in Sublime-Uncanny Cinema
A vigilante impetus resides at the heart of Batman’s stoic heroism, yet in the last decade he has increasingly gravitated towards a kind of unconventional Übermensch morality that veers on ‘ruthless discrimination’ whenever tackling crime, being closely wrapped up with contemporary populist concerns of masculinity. This paper explores how since the post-2008 ‘man-cession’, onscreen portrayals of Batman invoke such instabilities of manhood (in a societal order promoting service and knowledge-based skillsets at the expense of manual labour). The paper will argue there is a populist drive in superhero cinema that now favours discriminatory attitudes against elitist and aspirational hegemonies: generating these themes via a stylistic clash of the sublime versus the uncanny.
As early as the Batman of before Detective Comics 33#, killing simply became a necessary sacrifice, being the same for Frank Miller’s Batman (1980s) when conscripting displaced vigilante street gangs. Tim Burton’s Batman (1989-1992) killed criminals from great heights via by a German Expressionist style packed with anxieties of unstable male self-control. Joel Schumacher’s Batman (1995-1997) espoused a baroque aural-leitmotif of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ alongside a statuesque musculature modelled on Ancient Spartan purity. Christopher Nolan’s Batman (2005-2012) propagated pre-emptive striking, while championing libertarian pragmatism, resource privatisation, and resisting regulatory state intervention.
In contemporary film, these same themes have been heightened further still, with Zack Synder’s Batman (2015-2017) prepared to kill his ‘resource-competitor’ Superman, all the while donning a suit harking back to Miller’s Dark Knight. An Übermensch aesthetic is intrinsic to these masculinist dynamics, providing an interplay between the dual euphoria and despondency of the Sublime that in turn sits uneasily against unnerving notions of an Uncanny, which is both familiar yet somehow teeming with repressed primal urges. This paper will examine exactly how Batman’s cinematic masculine heroism is at once glorified, yet profoundly and viscerally condemned.
Alex Van Ommen
The Tyranny of Utopia
Comic book narratives are at their core an examination of the tension between good and evil, and this dichotomy plays out in the battles between heroes and villains. These narratives are told almost mechanically through iterative schemes, the hero and the villain facing off, where the hero wins but cannot quite consummate the act, as doing so, Umberto Eco argues. “would be another step towards his death.” Without a villain, there is no need for a hero, and as such the hero is fundamentally conservative, a player whose driving force is to preserve or restore the status quo, quelling but never quite defeating the revolutionary instinct of the villain.
This examination rests on concepts including Nietzsche’s Übermensch and Eco’s notion of a plot which consumes itself. Through this lens, the goal is to look at Batman, Superman, and Dr Manhattan, and hold them up against the countervailing characters in their narratives, thereby exposing conservative and revolutionary tendencies. The narratives of Watchmen, The Dark Knight series, and different iterations of Superman all explore the tension between hero and villain, and in a way force the characters to come to terms with their own conservatism. Each story has its own utopia as a central point of reflection and conflict, and each protagonist is forced to address it. This, in turn, forces us to question our own assumptions about inherent good, ideas of utopia, and the value we place on revolutionary action.