Superhero Mini-Conference

The panels for tonight’s mini-conference are:

A DARK AND STORMY KNIGHT

  • Maria on Batman’s gothic elements
  • Monica on vigilantism in The Dark Knight
  • Todd on the Dark Knight’s women
  • Tab on vigilantism in The Dark Knight

SUPERMAN & WONDER WOMAN

  • Jacky on Wonder Woman an immigration
  • Jose on non-violence in All-Star Superman
  • Mark on when Superman met Ali

REVISING HEROES

  • Mackenzie on reassessing Rorschach
  • Aylar on stereotypes in Ms. Marvel
  • Alison on the women of Watchmen
  • Ken on Wolverine and post-Vietnam masculinity

Final Blog Post

Hello all,

For the final blog post, write a short response to the Hernandez’s God and Science. The response may do any of the following, but should draw our attention to a specific page from the text:

  • relate Hernandez’s work to the comics that we’ve looked at this term
  • consider his work’s engagement with the Silver Age
  • reflect upon God and Science’s attempts to develop a counterhistory of women superheroes
  • respond to or further develop ideas by someone who responded earlier than to you to the blog post.

I’m curious to hear your reactions to the text, and look forward to seeing you all after a break of, in some cases, two weeks.

 

Oyola Article for Thursday

Hello all,

I ran into problems with Interlibrary Loan locating the Oyola article on God and Science. I resubmitted my request before Thanksgiving, but it still hasn’t arrived.  So, this reading isn’t required of Thursday, just the Hernandez graphic novel.  If the Oyola article arrives before Thursday, I’ll provide a rundown of it in class.  We’ll still have a blog post, likely just a response to God and Science, which I’ll post on Tuesday evening.

Hope you all had a good holiday!

Best,

Bill

 

One Step Forward, One Step Back?

Last week, with Ms. Marvel and America, we began to shift our attention to comics with more commentary on race. Whereas every comic we’ve read before last weeks has dealt with fantastical or cosmic powers, this recent change in our course represents something more grounded and relatable for readers. It’s all really about how the vast majority of notable or popular superheroes have been white—and the process of someone non-white entering that world.  On top of all these tonal changes, the Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew is a comic that is about the immigrant experience.

The article, “Who Needs a Chinese American Superhero?” by Monica Chiu claims that the Shadow Hero paints an illustrated depiction of the Chinese American immigrant experience in the 20th century–and also asks if The Shadow Hero can also have a foothold in our popular culture as a mainstream superhero. However, she argues that the Shadow Hero character himself is not very interesting and is actually a limited character. Instead, the novels greatest achievement was demonstrating the racist imagery ascribed to Chinese Americans in the 20th century.

Chiu argues that the Shadow Hero is not a very forward thinking comic book and that’s in large part because of how it’s an origin story. Supposedly, the original character was supposed to be Chinese by desire of the creator, but it wasn’t allowed by the publisher because they doubted it would sell. The creator got around this by never showing the protagonists face and almost always having his back turned toward the reader. So this origin story inserted as much Chinese imagery and mythology as possible to cast light on the assumed background of the original character.  Chiu states, “Liew visualizes, playfully and charmingly, Asian American visual inscriptions to reanimate and retell the already hyper visible.”(96) However, it seems like nothing is really done with this imagery except for plastering it everywhere. It’s great that this culture is given such respect with the visuals, but it probably doesn’t do enough with them to be a landmark work. Do the authors have much to say about the Chinese American experience besides saying that it exists? The authors are responding to the static representation of this group over the years that has hidden those experiences from the American mental landscape—but as Chiu says, this seems to be a historical retrospective rather than an attempt to place this character forward into the mainstream.

Finally, one point that I want to zero in on from Chui is, “Similar to Superman’s circulation in Metropolis and Batman’s in Gotham City, Yang limits the novelty and cultural power of a Chinese American superhero to a Chinese American location. Progress and regress go hand in hand in The Shadow Hero: one step forward through a Chinese American superhero, one step back in twenty-first-century self-confinement to a limited arena.” (95) I do think that such a low key, low stakes story was harmful to the character. It seems to reject the superhero world at large and choose to stay within the confines of a section of a city. It would have been better to see him try to maneuver in a world that was unlike his own—to act like he did belong, not to be treated as a novelty act.

  1. Do you feel that the goals of this comic are different than that of Ms. Marvel’s and America’s? All three comics deal with race and feeling out of place in a world of white superheroes. However, what makes these stories different for you?
  2. Does the Shadow Hero go far enough in challenging the racial stereotypes against Chinese Americans? What did you think of that moment when Detective Lawful openly regrets his own racist attitude towards Chinese Americans? Was this a bit of a cop out considering the reality of attitudes against Chinese immigrants in that time period?
  3. Chiu states, “The persistence of Asian American types is commensurate with the rigid trajectory of the publishing industry in which mainstream superheroes are never Asian American, and those artists who create them do so as flimsy counters to their absence in popular culture (98). Can you imagine the Shadow Hero as a major superhero character in modern times? Does he at least pave the way for future Asian American superheroes to reach the mainstream?
  4. Does Hank go through too much emasculation in this story? Considering that movie portrayals of Asian men often depict them as weak or effeminate (if they’re not a martial artist), is his characterization helpful or hurtful towards Asian male characters? Essentially, what do you think of the humor at his expense in the story?
  5. This is the first comic book that we’ve read this semester that wasn’t under the Marvel or DC umbrella. Most of us in the class are not comic book experts and often it’s daunting to read a comic that is a part of an ongoing story that’s stretched decades. Did its independence from the two big publishers have any impact on your enjoyment of the comic book?

Two Misses

EDIT: In the end, whatever we say about representation in comics tonight, none of it matters.  This is the only thing that matters… little girls having their own hero to cosplay as.

——————————————————————————————————————-

 

This week, there’s an obvious shift of gears in terms of the comics we’re reading.  We’ve gone through the origins, the big turning points, and now we’re into them contemporary mainstream canon with Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) and Miss America (America Chavez).  And *representation* is the key term here.

I’d like to get my cynicism out of the way and just ask the stupid question already: how much of this is pandering?  Representation is absolutely important, but we have to remember that the comic book industry is a business.  Miriam Kent’s article, “Unveiling Marvels and the Reception of the New Muslim Heroine,” clearly indicates that Kamala Khan was created “to be adaptable for consumption by audiences who do not belong to that marginalized group.”  Sure, there is a demand for strong female POC’s but let’s not kid ourselves and think that this is some wonderful ethical milestone built on rainbows and fairy dust in the name of true equality.  If there wasn’t a demand, we wouldn’t have this.

Thankfully, Ms. Marvel is just a fine, well-written comic.  Kamala’s journey from fangirl to local New Jersey hero is fun and full of hope and humor.  Her Pakistani-American Muslim identity is balanced with broad, yet distinguishing strokes.  Kent writes “The racism she experiences, for example, is specific to her race and nationality,” yet there is an undeniable relatability there.

Yet, ‘relatability’ may be a bad word.  Kent writes in response to reviews of Ms. Marvel that “critics concentrated on how the themes of the book fit into their experiences.”  Then, towards the end she gives us this shaming:

 

It should be possible for readers to have a positive experience of a text even though it may not resonate with their individual lives. However, reviewers’ insistence on relatability as a key source of value for the book indicates otherwise. Such reviews also erase individual experiences of marginalized peoples, suggesting that any reader who has ever felt marginalized should be able to relate to the book when, in reality, every individual experiences difference differently.

 

I have all sorts of feelings about her writing this.  OF COURSE NOT EVERYONE (INCLUDING ALL MARGINALIZED PEOPLE) CAN RELATE TO EVERY SINGLE BIT OF MINUTIA THAT HAPPENS IN ANY FICTION.  GODALMIGHTY.  For her to suggest that positive reviews about relatability ‘erase’ the individual experiences of marginalized peoples is an insane statement.  What would be better?  If Kamala Khan’s journey is so specific to the Pakistani-American-New-Jersey-Female-Teenager experience that only Pakistani-American-New-Jersey-Female-Teenager will ‘relate’ to her experience?  It’s because of her relatability that these things matter, that this comic feels right.

America Chavez’s book is less-relatable, and therefore less interesting to me.  First off, she has this convoluted backstory of alternate dimensions that doesn’t really put her in a real position to be a representative of Latin-Americans (just sayin’) and it seems that the impetus all of her adventures in this volume involve meddling by ex-girlfriends, complicating the positive LGBTQ angle that is otherwise important.  Frankly, it just wasn’t a cohesive or fun read.  Plus, all the dialogue felt like it was culled from Twitter posts.  Obnoxious.

But nevertheless, both of these comics are important for what they represent, which is representation outside of an industry historically “dominated by men in terms of content, production, and assumed audience.”  We have female writes, of diverse ethnic backgrounds, of diverse sexual orientation, of diverse religions.  More voices means more types of storytelling means more variety means more engagement.  We all win.

Perfunctory Questions:

1.) Are comics like Ms. Marvel and Miss America simply created to pander and generate $$$?  Or are they as important as we want them to be?  Or both?

2.) What the hell is Kent talking about when she writes how reviews of Ms. Marvel emphasizing relatability ‘erase individual experiences of marginalized peoples”?  Am I reading this wrong?

3.) How do these comics differ from what we’ve read so far?  They’re new and relatively minor works compared to the ‘major’ texts we’ve been reading.  Will these be read years from now in a 781 class on Superheroes?

“Making and Breaking the Superhero Quotidian by Frank Bramlett”

In the article, “Making and Breaking the Superhero Quotidian: How All-Star Superman Embodies and Revises the Everyday,” Frank Bramlett argues “How Morrison and Quitely use the extraordinary, the remarkable, and the unexpected to highlight yet ultimately overturn the story of Superman’s day-to-day practices and expectations” (1). Simply put, Bramlett is arguing that the comic All-Star Superman uses unconventional situations to highlight or differ from Superman’s standard quotidian (everyday day practices). This means that for comic readers there are certain characteristics that define Superman’s persona, which has been passing through comic history. Bramlett tries to differentiate and analyze Superman’s routine and new interactions in Morrison and Quitely’s work, and how these have a direct impact on the audience’s expectations of Superman. Also, I am inserting my two cents by saying that All-Star Superman, suppose a direct contradiction regarding Echo’s statement (Superman is encapsulated in cyclical time frame because of his powers). In this comic edition, Superman is confronted with his sudden mortality, he is dying because he absorbed too much solar radiation. The source of his power is killing him, thus makes him question the same trivial routines that Echo says are Superman’s defining factors of his superhero persona, excuse my digression.

Bramlett defines Superman quotidian as, “His day-to-day actions and behaviors involve helping others, to the point that he expects to be needed” (6). In other words, Superman’s quotidian is the standard expectations that the audience has. It is like his signature that is rooted in his superhero persona. Also, Bramlett reminds us that All-Star Superman maintain traditional elements of Superman’s origins to give a sense of comfort, so the reader can have a semblance of normalcy. In the comic, Superman saves a boy from getting hit by a bus, in doing so, he is running late to his meeting in the Daily Planet. While he transitions from his real identity (Superman) to his alter ego (Clark Kent) we see all the characteristics that define Clark Kent’s persona. He is a clumsy, amicable journalist, who is trying to get to work on time. Bramlett says, “That the use of these traditional elements that helps establish and maintain the Quotidian existence that Superman lives” (7).

Alongside, Richard Reynolds creates a list of seven motifs from the first ever superhero comic. Bramlett only focuses on two of those seven. According to Reynolds, “The extraordinary nature of the superhero will be contrasted with the ordinariness of his surroundings.” This means that superhero identity should have a “normal” background to maintain covert the persona and mission. Further, Bramlett uses Goffman’s definitions of performance and front to explain in depth Reynolds first motif. Goffman says, “the participants carry out their performances in the front.” This means front is the physical space where the performance occurs. The second motif of Reynolds says, “The extraordinary nature of the hero will be contrasted with the mundane nature of his alter-ego.” In other words, Clark Kent’s persona is the mask that protects Superman’s identity. Further, the difference between the two is the social expectations that each identity has, which makes a symbiotic relationship, because both are gaining something, (Superman maintains his identity secret and Clark Kent can have a normal, ordinary life without targeting his loved ones). Hence, the importance of having an alter-ego that blends well into the society (I am talking to you, Iron Man). I will ponder more on my presentation, but for now, I will leave you with this.

  • Coogan says, “that the superhero’s mission is prosocial and selfless.” Regarding Superman’s last tasks helping Kryptonians and humans to help them transition after his death, does that fit into Coogan’s statements? Or does it demonstrate that humans and Kryptonians are dependable, giving the idea that Superman’s actions/ motives are not selfless?
  • Bramlett defines Superman exposure to solar radiation as “life-changing trauma” (5). By following Bramlett’s logic, why do you think Superman maintains his standard quotidian the same except him telling Lois his connection with his alter-ego? If that is considered a trauma, why didn’t Superman tell Lois that he is dying?
  • Marc Singer says, “that Morrison’s Superman resists the ‘realistic’ Superman of earlier time periods” (3). However, at the end of the comic Superman is presented as a golden-godly figure that helps the machinery to keep the sun running. Do you consider that a proper realistic transition? Or do you think Morrison’s view of Superman transcends the superhero realm?
  • Ian Gordon says, “Superman’s immense power could readily defeat all challenges in the real world.” This argument seems to align with Echo’s regarding his inability to evolve as a character. Do you consider Morrison and Quitely’s version of Superman an evidence that it is possible for Superman to have character development? if so, please show textual evidence in the comic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annotated Bibliography–Extended Deadline

It seems like many of you still need time to finish the bibliography and/or locate sources.  Since I am still grading your first papers, and hope to begin returning these to you tomorrow, let’s extend the deadline for the annotated bibliography one week to November 3.

Humanity and Marvels

In the “Function of the Superhero at the Present Time” by Sean Carney he states that “superheroes…are allegories for the human ability to create forms that are larger than humanity itself and that humans then need to struggle with and repossess as their own agency” pg 102. The majority of superheroes are essentially beings that are not human. Thus, the human mind is not able to comprehend how someone that is not human is able to do good deeds which then comes the notion that maybe they started the problem themselves in the first place in order to come out and appear as human. For example, in “Marvels” by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross there is one scene in which the subway was leaking. The people that were in danger were happy to be saved while others questioned “who’s to say that he didn’t start the flood in the first place.” What humans don’t understand gets dismissed or judge easily with their own imaginations and assumptions.

Humans tend to be calm or pessimistic about seeing something that is inhuman. When they finally come to terms with it its only in the image of when that super powered being does something that makes sense to humans such as their history. For example, in “Marvels” while they have the Human Torch and the other superhuman they also have Captain America. Captain America is fighting with fellow Americans against the Nazi’s. In several scenes after you see humans being very positive and unquestioning vs. when they see the Human Torch fighting the superhuman that controls water for their sake. Thus, this notion of a super being fighting for a cause that people are familiar with is something that humans feel they can come to terms with and understand easily leaving humans to not ponder on the thought that there are other beings among them. As a result, humanity fails to understand superhuman beings and move on with their lives with what they are comfortable with. For example, in “Marvels” there was a scene in which a movie stared by the Human Torch and the other Superhuman are using their powers to fight the Nazis and the crowd is happy about it.  In this way humans forget the questions, hate, concerns that they once had in a being that is different than them.

Humanity itself needs to understand and adapt to the notion that someone superior then them is out there saving the world thus saving them. The fact that humanity has a hard time understanding that is what they need to work on. For example, in “Marvels” when the Human Torch got out of his cell some people screamed in fear that the thing that is not human might harm them others said it just the trick of the light or propaganda by Germans because the Germans are people they are going to war with. In order to calm down their fear, in order to calm down their lack of understanding, and their will to understand what they really saw and make sense of it they fail to struggle, understand, and come to terms with the fact that these are super beings larger then humanity itself that these beings can only be accepted if humans are willing to understand and adapt to the notion that something other themselves, that something larger then themselves exist. In order to do this, humans will have to change as well as challenge their own consciousness in what they perceive humanity to be. Once they have this understanding then they will be able to move with the world instead of against it because as they live their lives the superhuman beings that they have yet to comprehend or accept are changing America’s history/consciousness as they know it to be.

Questions

“Marvels” isn’t about superheroes saving the world but about how humanity should come to terms in understanding that something different than them exist. How humans should change their ideologies of what being human means.

What instances in “Marvels” can you point out in which humanity is struggling with the concept of acceptance and why?

“Marvels” is also about the aspect of how humanity goes about its own history.

According to Sean Carney “Busiek focuses instead on the social symbolism of the superhero as a mediating figure who happily resolves the problem of history.” Pg 106 As a result, the world is changing, and America has no choice but to change with it.

Do you think it’s in this way that the people of America feel that the world is moving too fast for them to comprehend? If so why? Or why not.

Sean Carney states “their social function as Marvels is quite simply to challenge that which humans take as given, self-evident, and familiar to consciousness. Throughout the narrative the marvels constantly function to interfere with American national consciousness through the intrusion of that which is larger than consciousness. This manifest itself as the loss of innocence” pg 108.

What does he mean by “loss of innocence”?

What does he mean by “marvels constantly function to interfere with American national consciousness through the intrusion of that which is larger than consciousness.”?