The Female Link

I really enjoyed Erin Keating’s essay The Female Link: Citation and Continuity in Watchmen. She does an analysis into the role that both Silk Spectre’s play in Watchmen, and questions whether the masculine conventions of the superhero genre are actually revised by these two characters.  Her analysis of the text argues that it does the exact opposite of what it is thought to do, namely it reinforces and at times strengthens the “conservative, heterosexual framework” (1266) that pervades the medium.   Keating builds upon critical theory pioneered by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Judith Butler and she utilizes both theory in interesting ways.  By addressing both gender performativity and male homosocial desire, Keating looks at Watchmen in terms of both feminist and gender studies.

She first analyzes the characters performative roles within the text.  Now putting on a superhero costume in itself is performative, but Keating demonstrates that the costume (or lack thereof in the case of Dr. Manhattan) actually help to reinforce the gender stereotypes and their performative functions.  While the male heroes are non-sexualized both Silk Spectres are from the onset hyper-sexualized, and yet these two women are virtually invisible in the text.  Both of these women have very little power, other than the power imbued in them through gender.   She goes on to show other examples, namely Sue Storm/Invisible Woman and Wonder Woman. By stripping them down to their basest parts, Keating shows how Moore and Gibbons have not revised the female superhero at all.  Keating does a good job of explaining Butler’s theory of gender performativity and applying it to Watchmen.

Keating also analyzes the power structure of the novel through Kosofsky-Sedgwick’s idea of male homosocial desire.  Keating effectively shows the triangulation of power between the characters (most notably Jon, Dan and Laurie).  Again, here Keating does a fine job of explaining Kosfsky-Sedgwick’s theory and applying it to the text.  Her incorporation of specific panels helps cement in the idea of the triangulation.

 

Here are some questions that I had after reading the text:

  1. Keating argues that “Watchmen reveals a conservative, heterosexual framework operating as a foundation for the moral ambiguity and the displacement of traditional superhero tropes enacted by the revisionist aspects of the text” (1226).  Do you agree with her assessment.  Why or why not?
  2.  Keating uses Butler’s idea of gender performativity to enhance ideas of superheroic performativity.  How is the role of a costumed hero similar to the gender performative?  How is it different?
  3. Keating talk of Laurie and Sally being “invisible.”  She uses the examples of Wonder Woman and Sue Storm to further her argument that superheroic women are an appendage of their male counterpart.  Can you think of a counter-example or could this theory also be applied to other female characters like Storm or Jean Grey/Phoenix?
  4. Keating focuses on the triangle between Jon, Dan and Laurie.  While this is the largest of the triangulations at play in Watchmen, can you think of some others that are in the text?

“Politics” Andrew Hoberek

Andrew Hoberek observes that Watchmen is a literary critique of the political climate during the Cold War in the UK and the US.  He notes that Alan Moore was heavily influenced by his time spent at the Northampton Arts Lab in his earlier years.  He quotes various dialogue of Moore, discussing his time working as an artist, as well as his feelings on the political climate of his home.  It is evident that Moore was not a fan of Margaret Thatcher (you can find Moore’s writings on this..pg. 146 [Hoberek refers to it as a bureaucratic police state]), yet Hoberek compares some of Moore’s and Gibbons’s creative choices to that of “Thatcherism.”   

Hoberek argues that Watchmen “surreptitiously reproduces a key tenet of Thatcher’s own rhetoric, in the process demonstrating the link between the postwar countercultures, literary and social, in which Moore cut his teeth and the emergent neoliberalism of the mid-1980s… Attending to these complications gives us a fuller picture of the politics of both Watchmen and the Cold War intellectual framework from which it emerges.” (120)  He continues: “Paik’s account does not, however, acknowledge the extent to which this political framework is itself symptomatic of the ideology that emerged in such places as the United States and United Kingdom during the Cold War…This ideology was organized, I have suggested, around the construction of the concept of totalitarianism.” (124)
*Note: Paik is a critic who Hoberek relies heavily on for evidence through the article. 

Hoberek wants to understand “the lack of agency on the part of the seemingly powerful” (127) within the text.  He analyzes the following: 

  1. Ozymandias seems to be a figure of complete agency; he literally ends the Cold War, right? False! Manhattan states “Nothing ever ends,” and he has the answer to everything.
    (“Veidt’s semblance of agency is false…Veidt possesses not as authentic agency but as will the chief characteristic of the totalitarian dictator central to the Cold War imaginary.’ 128)

  2. Manhattan also seems to be a figure of complete agency– when Veidt states ‘But you regained interest in human life…” Manhattan responds “Yes, I have. Perhaps I’ll create some.”  He can CREATE HUMAN LIFE.  Has he the will to do it?

  3. Richard Nixon – 5th term US President, seemingly complete agency– “seeming abundance of power in fact revealed as imprisonment in a larger system.” (129)  He is the face of a system in which he has no power in. 

As Hoberek notes, “What distinguishes the powerful from the powerless in Watchmen is not agency but – in keeping with the critique of totalitarianism – a willing to treat human life as a mass rather than an individual phenomenon.’ (129)  Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre all demonstrate “even less agency” “at the level of world events.” (130)  Yet, however they make “profound commitments to individual human lives.” (131) 

Where do we go from here? 

On 155 he states “As a product of the Cold War 1980s, then, Watchmen is perhaps most accurately understood as expressing a concern about political events beyond ordinary people’s control, due to both the “atomic deadlock” whose seemingly inexorable effects extend beyond the possibility of mutual destruction and, particularly in Britain, the Thatcherite erasure or absorption of local authority into an increasingly centralized state.” 

 

There is a whole lot going on this article which I plan to address in my presentation.  For now, I leave you with:
 

  1. Thatcher has stated: “‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?  There is no such thing!  There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

    Moore has stated: “It is down to the individual.  If the individuals do not like the world that we happen to be living in – and who could blame them? – then I suggest it is up to them to change it.”

    Is Alan Moore’s view on individualism more aligned with Thatcher than you initially thought?  Is he a hypocrite, or a product of the counterculture during the Cold War? Elaborate on your thoughts seeing these two quotes!

  2. In Watchmen, Moore and Gibbon’s made the creative decision to have Nixon serving his fifth term as the US president, aware that readers would think of Watergate.  Was this a wise choice for their narrative?  Could their story have been ore impactful if it was Reagan serving as president? How does this creative choice shape the political readings of Watchmen?

  3. Hoberek provides us with David Harvey’s understanding of the rise of neoliberalism. (127-8) After, Hoberek points out “From the perspective Moore and Gibbon’s decision to make their main villain a liberal may be seen not just as an effort to defy political expectation but also as a canny insight into this phenomenon.” Do you agree with this observation?  Why or why not?

  4. Moore said in a 1988 interview: “The last line of Watchmen, ’I leave it entirely in your hands,” was directed at the reader more than Seymour.  The fate of the world is undecided: everyone has responsibility.  What the reader does in the net ten minutes is as important as everything Ronald Reagan does.’”

    Hoberek poses this question: “Seymour and the reader, in this formulation, have an agency unavailable to Vedit or Reagan.  But what kind of agency is this, exactly?”
    What are your thoughts on the readers responsibilities after reading Watchmen?

  5. This isn’t a part of my presentation, but I think it is an interesting and important question to pose:  Did Ozymandias do the right thing? Is there such thing as the right thing in a gritty narrative like Watchmen?

IS IT LITERATURE? Andrew Hoberek Presentation by Aylar Abbasiazam

Comic over comic? Comic about comics? Or a comic within a comic?

       When I first started reading Watchmen, it reminded me of Ulysses by James Joyce. They are both similar in a way because you had to first understand The Odyssey by Homer. Ulysses is considered high (modernist) literature. Likewise, in order to better interpret Watchmen’s meaning, readers have to also analyze “The Black Freighter” comic because it is there for a reason. There are several points and visual images that are positioned intentionally so that readers can foreshadow the ending. So, is it literature?

       Hoberek is questioning if Watchmen is considered a work of literature. Moore and Gibbon’s work is different than other graphic novels, complicating its superhero genre and rebelling against comic book codes. For instance, it is about a book that interrogates the definition of heroism. Moore and Gibbons challenge the comic book code by inserting police files, a poem, excerpts, papers, quotes at the end of each chapter and even quotes from the book of Genesis. Also, the reader is confused because of the different perspectives and constant flashbacks that represents and symbolizes Watchmen’s complex world. The author is psychologically placing that effect on our minds to confuse its readers. So, the question is that if this novel includes the same literary elements as a work of literature, then is it equated with any work of literature?

       Van Ness is a critic who wrote about Watchmen in her book however, she doesn’t ask “how the nonverbal elements of the graphic novel complicate a definition of literature formulated with reference to print fiction, or how popular or journalistic counts of Watchmen as literature might differ from academic ones” (4). In relation to the “déclassé genre of the superhero story”(8), it makes critics question where this novel should be positioned and compared to other works. All in all, Hoberek believes that Watchmen is not literature. In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, Moore stated that his book is a comic book. “Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book” (25). But,Hoberek argues that it is a graphic novel because it can not be read in one sitting as he suggested in his interview.

Reasons for discussing Watchman as a work of literature:

  • #1: (historical) “a time dominated by the domestic realism of the minimalist school, and at the most nonrealistic end of the spectrum, by the magical realism of a few other authors” (11).

  • #2: “historically significant role in this transition from serialized comics to the graphic novel” (12).

  • #3: It’s “self-conscious relationships to the literary traditions of realist representation and the formal experimentation celebrated by modernism” (14).

  • #4: “uses the literary as a way of modeling his own creative agency and ownership in an industry structured around the work-for-hire employment of creative talent” (25).

Questions:

  1. Hoberek’s introduction is from his novel titled, “Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics. Even though Hoberek wrote this book on Watchmen and believes in its influence on other writers and works such as Junot Diaz, he still questions why it is considered literature. Why do you think it is a hard question for Hoberek to answer?

  2. Hoberek believes that Watchmen is not conventionally literature. Do you agree with his view? Which genre would Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s masterpiece belong to? Why? Are they challenging the concept of literature? How? Provide examples from the book.

  3. Last week, we discussed Klock depicting Watchmen as a “revisionary superhero narrative.” With this concept in mind, do you agree that Watchmen, the only graphic novel on Time magazine’s list, is accurate or a category mistake as Hoberek suggests?

  4. Charles Hatfield states that “the study of comics must be truly multidisciplinary.” How can we as readers analyze Watchmen according to this statement?

P.S: Watchmen was revised for a children’s Saturday cartoon show. If interested definitely watch it!!!    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDDHHrt6l4w

 

If its Complicated, that makes it Literature. Right?

The Watchmen as Literature. Or not.

According to Hoberek, “..non verbal elements of the graphic novel complicate a definition of Literature formulated with reference to print fiction, or how popular or journalistic accounts of Watchmen as literature might differ from academic ones”(4).

When thinking of Literature per se, I think of text and prose, which contains a certain form and content. But I do not think of images or art. Yet Alan Moore’s Watchmen published in 1986 successfully challenges those age-old adages held from youthful conditioning reading. Book equals novel. novel equals literature. Pictures in books denigrates its characteristics to be a novel. if its not a novel it must not be literature. if it has pictures and captions it’s surely not high art.Comics don’t hold the weight to be considered literature. And so on. Hoberek poses the question “what is literature?” to help us, and, himself I presume, understand not only Watchmen, but literature in general.

However, there are moments in the article Hoberek outright says that Watchmen and comics are not literature nor high art. He points out that film is a different medium which we recognize immediately “Yet this insight fails us when we apply the term “literary” to the similarly word-and-image-based medium of graphic narrative” (4 Hoberek). Critic Bart Beaty suggests “..scholarly approaches derived from the study of literature are the most appropriate tools for analyzing comics as an art form”(5). But Hoberek counters that by similarly believing that Beaty is challenging the criteria by which artistic value is determined, further “speaking” for Beaty by saying “..comics are no more fine art than they are literature-”(5) very early on in his essay.

Charles Hatfield, however, is protective of the medium and is of the belief that comics are intersectional, consisting of disciplines comprising art, literature and communications. Hoberek says Watchmen is more complex to categorize since some elements of it fall into the superhero genre taking place in a different reality thus turning a deaf ear to cries of being taken seriously as a literary art form.

Lets look at a summary of Hoberek’s reasons for determining how Watchmen can be accounted for as literature.

1)“..it anticipates a recent shift in the definition of what counts as mainstream literary fiction” (11). Watchmen traverses various genres and perhaps cannot be pigeonholed into any particular genre. For example, it does not simply belong to the Superhero genre thus accounting for its membership to literary fiction. “In the broadest terms Watchmen helped lay the groundwork for this shift by being among the first works of superhero fiction recognized by fans and mainstream commentators as aspiring to a kind of serious literary status” (12).

2) Watchmen is thought of as a graphic novel although it was originally published serially. But it was not sold in newsstands, rather, in comic book shops and bookstores thus enhancing its prestige, making “..demands to be taken more seriously when it appears as a bound volume rather than a series of stapled pamphlets(14 Hoberek) . Comic stores were given story lines and creator information in advance before ordering their non-refundable copies. It also signaled more creative freedom for writers and artists to produce projects closer to their hearts than just for corporate demand. The press took note of sales of Maus and The Dark Knight Returns and began to take comics seriously.

3) Watchmen’s self-conscious relationship to the literary traditions of realist representation…celebrated by modernism”(14 Hoberek) give it a third factor in its literary determination. As in The Dark Knight Returns, we saw superheroes as older, fragile, and fallible, stripping away their God like iconic images of power we were so used to seeing. An adult niche audience came into existence thereby bypassing the Comics Code. Steeped in realism, Moore pioneered the use of free-indirect discourse and first person narration. Moore also conflated literary practices by complex characterizations and plot development.

     Moore likewise begins with a more or less literary goal-the elaboration of a darker,               more naturalistic version of the superhero narrative-and finds himself drawn to the
purely technical aspects of what he can do within the comics medium (Hoberek 24)

4) Moore deployed “the literary as a way of modeling his own creative agency and ownership in an industry structured around the work-for-hire employment of creative talent” (25 Hoberek). It’s a complicated intersection here that deals with creators’ rights and intellectual property, which was indeed the basis for bad blood between Moore and DC with Moore frowning upon sequels, prequels and the 2009 Hollywood production of Watchmen. But Moore paradoxically goes on to say he intended this to be a comic book to be read in a certain manner and then evokes creator ownership issues by comparing Watchmen to the novel Moby Dick.

To make matters if not worse, then complicated…Hoberek says, “Of course Watchmen is not, in fact, literature”(26). He does make some good points about the structure of comic books, its multiple creative departments, its various visual puns and symbols key to the story and Moore and Gibbons’s work challenging us to reanalyze our own preconceived (Mis?)conceptions of the definition of literature.

Hoberek cites Newsweek writer Peter S. Prescott who says Watchmen “has some glancing humor, but it runs to about 400 pages and soon sinks beneath the weight of its pretensions, its flashbacks and parallel plots” (Hoberek 16). I don’t wish to be in agreement over here, but as mentioned before, perhaps the conflation of genres along with the story traipsing the superhero genre in its graphic narrative form while perhaps stepping into the terrain of a new literary genre make Watchmen a tough template by which to judge similar works as belonging to, or not belonging to literary texts.

  1. Of the works we have read so far, which of them do you consider or not consider as literature? Give one reason for either choice you make. This does not necessarily have to align with the criteria Hoberek deployed for Watchmen but it would be interesting if it does.
  2. Other than what Hoberek determines as benchmarks for judging a work such as Watchmen as literary, do you believe it should be considered a literary “novel” despite its assembly line serialized periodical production and various creative (colorist, letterer) departments each responsible for its visual outlook?
  3. If Watchmen had been published in prose format and not a comic book format as it looks like on pages 35 through 40, would that aesthetic elevate it to being a work of literature without debate? Do you think it would be the bestselling ground breaking work we know it as today?
  4. Does Watchmen’s narrative, both script wise and art wise, which is steeped in realism, make you uncomfortable in seeing hero’s who are overweight, impotent and coming face to face with their mortality just as people do everyday? Would you have preferred a more stylized approach as Frank Miller deployed in TDKR?

 

 

 

“Introducing the Revisionary Superhero Narrative” by Geoff Klock

Is he? Isn’t he? What’s a Superhero Narrative, anyway?

In his essay, Klock proposes that comics published in the mid-80’s (primarily Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Watchmen) were the introduction to what he calls, “the revisionary superhero narrative.” Klock defines the “revisionary superhero narrative” as “a superhero text that, in Harold Bloom’s words, is a ‘strong misreading’ of its poetic tradition, a comic book whose ‘meaning’ is found in its relationship with another comic book” (25).

Klock uses Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as a critical lens to examine the function of “the revisionary superhero narrative” and explain the significance of reimagining superhero characters and superheroic function in comic books. Klock argues that in texts such as Miller’s TDKR, we see an inventive transition, in comic book history  from comic books being exclusively fantasy to now involving a “reality principle” (such as a comic book’s historical time period or biographical information that has been previously introduced in the character’s prior publication history).

In his analysis of TDKR as a revisionary superhero narrative, Klock suggests that TKDR is one of the most important pieces of comic book history because it is a strong misreading of a comic book character. While Miller does remain faithful to the Batman mythology, Klock proposes that Miller performs his “misreading” when he integrates realistic elements into his plot. Miller accomplishes this by aging the character (which as we’ve already discussed in Alaniz’s chapter, “Unmasked At Last” is a controversial move for a comic book character) and by setting Gotham as an urban city in the ’80s, fully affected by the nation’s Cold War.

Klock’s argument regarding the “uncomfortable” but “satisfying” experience that readers encounter while reading TDKR resounds in the quote that Klock includes from Alan Moore’s introduction to TDKR. While reading TDKR“everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it’s totally different” (Klock 27).

Some of the other variables, that Klock argues, are involved in Miller’s extraordinary “misreading” of the Batman mythology are as follows:

  • Miller provides explanation for some of the details about the character  and ultimately tries to “make sense” of Batman’s mythology.
  • Miller creates a Batman comic which is more graphic than violent
  • Miller addresses the homoerotic/homosocial anxiety surrounding the relationship between Batman and Robin by changing Robin’s gender; by doing this, Miller not only refutes the notion that Batman and Robin are lovers, but he also highlights, instead, the homoerotic dependency that Joker feels towards Batman.
  • Miller addresses the political aspects of the Superhero realm (Superman as President Reagan’s “Super-soldier,” Oliver Queen’s incarceration and escape to Europe, Bruce’s identity as a fascist vigilante)                                                                                                        

Klock asserts that by doing this, Miller creates a comic that parallels the eponymous character’s reputation; it’s controversial, a little rebellious, and to quote Oliver Queen, it’s “mysterious, but it’s a loud kind of mysterious” (Miller).

Questions/Blog Topics:

  • What are your thoughts about Klock’s definition of “the revisionary superhero narrative” and the concept of the genre involving a “strong misreading?” Can you think of any other examples of superheroic revisionary narratives (other than the texts mentioned in Klock’s chapter), where a “strong misreading” is performed?
  • What are your thoughts about Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as a revisionary superhero narrative? Does it feel like a Batman comic to you, or are there aspects of the comic that feel foreign with regard to the Batman mythos? Provide your own assessment of Miller’s faithfulness to the Batman biography that precedes TDKR‘s publication.
  • How did you feel about the “realistic” elements that are intertwined into the plot of The Dark Knight Returns? For this topic, feel free to blog about the brilliant, albeit controversial, decision to age Batman, the politics involved in superheroism, or the presence of the Cold War and the Reagan administration. (Also, if you’d like to blog about all three options or another “realistic” aspect to the comic, please feel free to do so)
  • What is your opinion of Klock’s hypothesis regarding the “re-gendering” of Robin and the homoerotic tensions between Batman and Joker? Do you think that Miller was intentionally trying to invert the romantic/sexual associations of the two relationships, or is this an interesting close-reading performed by Klock?

I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!

    ….Oh Bats….

Adilfu Nama’s take on Green Lantern and Green Arrow

In “Color Them Black”, Adilfu Nama works his way through the history of race and racial identity as explored in comic book superheroes. After explaining the danger of exclusively white superheroes (as well as the dangers of comic books as touted by Frederic Wertham), Nama goes on to explore the popular repackaging of superheroes in the 1960s and 1970s in both Marvel and DC Comics. He writes, “The paradigmatic “perfect” superhero was recreated as emotionally flawed and conflicted, a sensibility that mirrored the adolescent angst and ideological identity crisis that had taken hold throughout America as the turbulent 1960s gave way to the early 1970s” (Nama 255). While mentioning superheroes such as Spider-Man, he focuses on the heroes of our reading for the week: Green Lantern and Green Arrow.

This repackaging of Green Lantern and Green Arrow includes an effort by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams to have the characters “grapple with some of the most toxic real world social issues that America had to offer” such as racism, drug abuse, pollution, and Native rights to name a few (Nama 255). While Nama points out the numerous issues with O’Neil and Adams’s stories, he does conclude that this repackaging of superhero narratives and their attention to social issues allowed for “a more complex and messy morality for readers to consider without totally abandoning the ethical high ground usually associated with the American superhero” (Nama 263).

Some of the most interesting moments in considering the first topics Nama explores in his article are the moments that O’Neil and Adams explore the identity crises that Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and even Black Canary, all have in the course of Green Lantern/ Green Arrow: Hard Travelin’ Heroes. (Note: I have a different collection of the issues that Trade Paperback contains, so my pagination may be off — when possible I’ll mention the issue numbers).

Most notably, for me, was the issue Green Lantern begins to have with upholding his oath to the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians. Nama claims that Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) is meant to represent “President Richard Nixon’s no-nonsense dictum of “law and order” in the face of race riots and student protests” (Nama 255). We see this from the very first issue, when Green Lantern (GL) decides to stop a mob of people from assaulting the seemingly innocent victim landlord. Once GL realizes his mistake, he works to correct it, but the remaining issues explore similar moments in which GL struggles with his oath to uphold law and order and reconsidering his ideas behind what is right and wrong or what is good and evil. After GL recites his infamous oath, he begins to doubt the very words he exclaims on the page: “I used to speak that oath with pride…with conviction! But now…I’m not convinced of anything! The world isn’t the black-and-white place I thought it to be — once, I might have fought for Soames! But Green Arrow has made me think that maybe authority isn’t always right — and I don’t know what is just!” (O’Neil 42). (Pages attached below)

Yes, there are several notable moments when GL adheres to a Nixon-esque approach to law and order, but the moments in which he doubts his oath — a source of his own power, also reveals that O’Neil wanted GL (and readers) to reconsider any notions they had on law, order, justice, authority, etc. That being said, it’s hard to ignore just how different GL and Green Arrow’s reactions are to the Native Americans attempting to defend their land rights. GL says, rather bluntly, “If you want to break the law — go ahead! But count me out!” when Green Arrow wants to help the Natives defend against Theodore Pudd and Pierre O’Rourke (O’Neil 85).

In the very first issue, we see GL flying above the city, physically above its citizens, but in an interesting decision from O’Neil and Adams, GL remains hovering above the ground up until the crowd begins to attack him for defending Soames, the corrupt landlord. What I found interesting in the composition of these panels is the positioning of GL as above everyone, until he is finally attacked directly by the (rightfully) angry mob.

Nama goes on to conclude, in this part of the article, that “Ultimately the comic suggested that the most viable solution for ending racism in America was for its white citizenry to become introspective and mindful of their racial prejudices, a solution that did not require one to possess superhuman powers” (Nama 258). In this instance he goes on to consider John Stewart, the Black Green Lantern, and his staying power beyond the 1960s/70s well into the early 2000s Justice League animated shows.

The way I see it, Nama both provides contextual information for this week’s reading, and also tackles the issues of Black heroes in the 1960s/1970s, but tracking their staying power into today’s comic book culture. Here are some questions to get us started in this conversation:

1. How successful were O’Neil and Adams in addressing the issues they present within Hard Travelin’ Heroes. Should we, as readers, overlook (as Nama points out) issues of racial histrionics and stereotypes? What about the obvious sensationalism of particular issue covers and interior art? The drama-heavy revelation behind Speedy’s drug use?

2. If O’Neil and Adams indeed wanted to explore “the adolescent angst and ideological identity crisis that had taken hold throughout America” in the 1960s/70s, then why are there adventures that take the titular heroes to planets beyond Earth or pit them against more traditional comic book foes? How are they perhaps still accomplishing their task, or are they simply avoiding tackling an issue directly? (I’m thinking here of issues 80 – 83) Aren’t the issues they tackle issues that could have been set on Earth, like the earlier stories?

3. Is the Green Lantern Corps really a the “utopian diversity” paragon Nama describes it as — a mixture of aliens all from different cultures and planets — or does it also have its drawbacks? While we’re on the subject of aliens, what are we to make of the fact that the Guardian, when he disguises himself, becomes a white man, or that the Maltutans (issue 81) are seemingly human (and almost all white)?

4. How are we, as readers, meant to react to John Stewart’s introduction as Green Lantern in issue 87? Nama claims, “In his [John Stewart’s] debut…his character was buried under a mound of racial rhetoric and anxiety concerning this type of Black Power politics John Stewart symbolized in the beginning of the story” (Nama 259). Are there other ways to interpret John Stewart’s origin? Are there hints of civil rights leaders besides Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

Green Lantern Issue #76, page 1

Green Lantern Issue #76, page 2

Green Lantern Issue #76, page 3

Green Lantern Issue #76, page 4

Demonic Possession in the Dark Phoenix Saga

Coworkers’ wandering eyes in the faculty room were intrigued by the “demonic possession” title of Ramzi Fawaz’s article “Consumption by Hellfire: Demonic Possession and the Limits  of the Superhuman in the 1980s,” as I prepared for class last week. I explained the detailed transition of the Phoenix to the Dark Phoenix through a history of American economy and X-Men history, before I realized that no one was listening shortly after I began.

Superhuman Jean Grey acquired the Phoenix Force, exemplifying moral good.  In short, she fights for egalitarian alliances and the X-Men kinship. That is until she becomes the Dark Phoenix.  Her transition begins in Episode 108 by healing the M’Kraan Crystal. Mastermind continues to manipulate her psyche throughout the Dark Phoenix Saga.  The Dark Phoenix’s demonic possession leads to the questioning of identity and sexual gender. She no longer fights for moral good but manipulates others for her own advantage.  The Dark Phoenix “[questions] both the viability of human agency and the underlying notion of a universal “moral good” that informed human action” (Fawaz, 205). When Jean began using her powers for moral corruption, her team realized the pleasure she gained in that power.  Scott and Ororo worried that there was an evilness that could take over. When this power took over, she acquired “an aggressive sexuality and a violent temper” (Fawaz, 212). She was constantly craving power, fulfilling her lust for it

Fawaz theorizes that the rise of demonic possession reflects the rise of capitalism in America.  Jean threw out all notions of justice and morale when Mastermind infiltrated her. For example, when she saw herself as an 18th century aristocrat and Ororo was seen as a slave, a piece of property that she owned; just as the “rich ruling over the poor…she [owned] the X-Men” (Fawaz, 221).  The breakdown of America’s national morale and the potential evil in humans was ever present in Jean’s transformation. Although she fought for neoliberalism and feminism, she was easily manipulated when consumed by Hellfire.

Questions:

  1. Can you compare the Hellfire Club’s meaningless concerns in regards to the “potential immortality of manipulating Jean Grey…[the] disloyalty of exploiting fellow mutants for financial gain” to current society (Fawaz, 221)?

  2. Can you discuss Jean Grey exemplifying being a superhuman?

  3. How did Claremont relate Jean Grey’s transformation to the reader? **Class discussion

  4. How is narcissism present in the Dark Phoenix? **Class discussion

 

X-Men: Hardbodies, Oddbodies, or Nobodies???

 

The all-new, all-different…X-Men

 

Scott Bukatman’s article “X-Bodies: The Torment of the Mutant Superhero” from 1994 is a perfect distillation of the appeal of the X-Men. His whole premise revolves around how “the body is obsessively centered upon” (49). By this he means that superhero bodies are symbols unto themselves and in the first part of his article discusses the revival of the genre in the early 90s as tied to a revisionist phase of our perception of these bodies. This contrasts with the second part of the article, where he hypothesizes that the superhero’s germination with the publishing of Superman in 1939 owes to the anxiety of mankind in the face of an industrialized society for which his body is insufficiently prepared except, of course, for a super-man who can defy its dehumanizing efforts. The third part of his article affectionately parodies the rise of Image Comics in the early 90s (roughly the same time as the article was published) as a paradoxical amalgamation of aggressively hyper-masculine forms -“…Image heroes have the biggest lats on the planet” (61)-that he compares negatively to bodybuilding and its acculturation into 80s trendsetting: Arnold Schwarzenegger, American Gladiators, et.al. It is the fourth , fifth, and sixth parts that directly concern the X-Men, and that is the emphasis in each section, respectively on bodies perceived as “other,” the limitations and ramifications of the super-powered body, the nature of the superhero team as surrogate family, and the relationship of it all to the reader.

So that’s a quick and cursory summation but what is to be gained from this reading in our studies? Particularly in analyzing the X-Men? Let’s start with individual members of the team.

The first body one should be obsessively centered upon in the X-Men is Prof. Xavier. He’s the most powerful telepath in the world yet his physical form is confined to a wheelchair-the embodiment of brain over brawn. When Jean Grey becomes Phoenix in issue 101, she eclipses her mentor in his own mastery thus creating a weakness in his ego where none had existed before so that he is crippled mentally as well as physically.

The second member is Wolverine, who like his namesake, is the perfect hunter. His unbreakable skeleton and claws, his enhanced senses, and his regenerative power makes him the ultimate soldier-an inversion of Superman in that any damage done to him is immediately repaired while any damage he inflicts is horrific and often fatal. If, as Bukatman suggests, Superman is invulnerable to the emasculation of the industrial society and so becomes the White Knight of our epoch, then Wolverine is a displaced berserker, wielding blades to dispatch gun-toting Hellfire Club mercenaries while rattling off a Dirty Harry-style “Do you feel lucky, punk?” speech that unmans one opponent without a fight in issue 133.

Our third member is Colossus, the obligatory “Strong Guy” whom Bukatman discusses on page 64. Colossus is literally a Man of Steel, the biggest, toughest, strongest member yet also the youngest (until Kitty Pryde appears) and seems to counter Bukatman’s invective about hypermasculinity in that he is loyal and kindhearted with a profound sense of duty to his friends and teammates. In issue 104, a clever plot device pits him against Magneto, a villain who negates Colossus’ power completely and inverts his role on the squad. When he refuses to give up the fight in order to save Storm despite being a liability, the message is not so subtle about what makes a real man.

Nightcrawler is the most obvious character to discuss what makes a body the “other.” His demonic appearance conceals an angelic soul so perhaps no other X-Man serves Bukatman’s assertion that the mutant body is “a categorical mistake” (69) to the point that he is the most “mutant” of any of the team. He is the wrong skin color, his hands and feet are deformed, he is often “invisible,” he has a tail-any marginalized group of people will see themselves in him yet of all the X-Men, he seems to have the most human heart.

The remaining two sections I will address in the presentation but for now, consider these essential questions:

1.How does the X-Men’s status as outsiders mirror the marginalization of minorities from a physical specification?
2.How does Jean Grey’s transformation into the godlike Phoenix seem to refute the standard of hyper-masculinity in contemporary superhero comics?
3.What do the X-Men comics have to say about the notion of family?

Wonder Woman Creator Was Steeped in Hypocrisy

“Wonder Woman for a day: Affect, agency and Amazons” has Matt Yockey examining how William Marston’s creation of Wonder Woman has been used as a vehicle to spark “real-life social change,” while also pointing out how the creator himself was steeped in hypocrisy.

Yockey begins by taking a look at Wonder Woman Day, which is an annual charity event that has raised upwards of $100,000 over its five years of existence for local nonprofits serving domestic violence victims in the Portland area. Yockey writes about how Wonder Woman’s ethos of “loving submission symbolically embodies the conflation of affect and agency determined by participation in a collective utopian fantasy.” I couldn’t agree more.

Here, annually during this event, Wonder Woman is being used a best-case, utopian scenario to combat egregious social norms like domestic violence. Wonder Woman is the conduit and agent to combat that change, which in this case would be to combat domestic violence to its demise through social activism and humanity as shown in this gathering of people raising money to fight the issue. I believe that Yockey could have benefitted from saying something to the effect of Wonder Woman being a representation of a beacon of hope to empower and inspire women who have been victims of domestic violence. Seeing Wonder Woman in all her strength, beauty and glory could be an inspirational image and concept for victims of domestic violence looking to regain that strength that might have taken a hit during their respective unfortunate incidents.

As I continued to read Yockey’s examination and deep dive into the character and ideals of Wonder Woman, I couldn’t help but feel that Marston was awfully hypocritical with what he said and believed and what he delivered via the actual Wonder Woman comic. For example, Yockey cites a November 1937 New York Times article, in which Marston is quoted as saying: “The next 100 years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy — a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense.” The thought of a governing body or society being run by women was thought-provoking, powerful and an advocating agent for positive change — especially during the time right before World War II.

But as strong as that viewpoint was, Marston failed to keep that same energy when tackling the cover of Wonder Woman No. 7 during the winter of 1943 roughly six years after that New York Times article. The cover of that issue is adorned with the words  “Wonder Woman for President,” and accompanied by the text, “Wonder Woman 1000 Years in the Future.”

‘My man, William,’ I thought to myself. In the Times article just six years prior, he painted the picture of a utopian society by projecting the next 100 years to be the beginning of an American matriarchy, where women and their thoughts are leading the way for the country. But then when he had the opportunity to elaborate on that, he squandered it with the “Wonder Woman 1000 years in the future” tagline. Why would Wonder Woman run for president in 1,000 years and not 10, 20, 30 years from that point? Now, any of the latter numbers would have been envelope-pushing and truly empowering for women at the time to see, even if they were far-fetched for the time because once again, they’d represent hope.

-Why do you think Marston’s quote to the Times and his cover of Wonder Woman No. 7 are so different?

-Marston has a man hiding his face behind the sign that says “Wonder Woman 1000 years in the future.” Why do you think that is?

-Was Marston playing it safe or being bold at the time?

-Why did it always feel like as progressive as Wonder Woman was at the time, she was still being controlled by men (i.e. bondage)?