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.”?

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Humanity and Marvels

  1. 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”?

    Phil addresses this near the story’s opening when he reflects, “Before they [Marvels] came, we were so big, so grand. We were Americans – young, strong, vital!” Almost as early as they are introduced, the Marvels serve to bring humility to a people who had earlier seen themselves as almost invincible (much like the American psyche). Phil goes on to consider: “We weren’t the players anymore. We were spectators.” In this panel, the citizens attempt to view a Marvel, but they are only able to see his shadow and a portion of his cape; similarly, their awareness of, and ability to control, world events is elusive. They “were waiting for something.. without knowing what it was..”, but via the allegory, as argued by Carney (“the storm represented by the Marvels is the storm of world history”), they will soon lose the luxury of their ignorance/innocence.

  2. “Throughout the narrative the marvels constantly function to interfere with American national consciousness through the intrusion of that which is larger than consciousness. This manifests itself as the loss of innocence, the American fall from grace in the 1970s when Vietnam forced America to confront its own national failure fully”(Carney 8).

    Your question mirrors mine.

    What is the loss of innocence?

    I’m not sure, although I can see the death of Gwen Stacey as ONE of, not THE, major turning points in the loss of innocence of Phil Sheldon (and comic book readers as well). Spider Man made the front page and Phil curses “And Stacy’s daughter gets buried in paragraph ten. PARAGRAPH TEN!”. Cue Sheldon a few pages over when Marcia compliments a picture of the Hulk by Sheldon to which he responds, “Telephoto. I wasn’t that close”. He is distancing himself from the marvels because he has failed to understand their purpose fully. Carney wisely puts it, “As Marvels, their function is not to be understood” (9). I think Sheldon realizes this and therefore points Marcia in a new/different direction taking a picture with the normal paper boy Daniel Ketch (who would later become Ghost Rider MK II). Although I’m curious as to what Sheldon would wonder if he had read Alan Moore’s take on our new interaction with history and how we can emancipate ourselves with a productive team up of past and present.

  3. “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.”

    This question made me think back to the Bukatman article where he describes Superman as a response to the Industrial Revolution, specifically mechanized warfare of WWI. Because mankind has invented machines that are faster, stronger, tougher, et. al. than he is, Superman stands as a fantasy in which that reality is negated. He serves as a triumph of humanity over machines.
    “Marvels” occupies a similar mindset. Whereas the Golden Age of heroes in the 1940s were reacting to industrialization, it seems that the Silver Age heroes are stand-ins for atomic power and its implicit, possibly inevitable catastrophe. Where the Human Torch and Submariner reflect elemental forces bound to human control (the Torch could symbolize fossil fuels, Namor the Hoover Dam) and thus human frailty and foolishness, the heroes of “Marvels” are just that. Giant Man walks among high-rises, the Fantastic Four fight a god atop a skyscraper (the modern day tower of Babel), Spider-Man swings through the alleyways between these buildings. Similarly to “Watchmen,” Busiek and Ross convey the innate dread that super-powered beings should instill in an average human. Their responses, from Jonah JAmeson’s fear-mongering re: Spider-Man to the Galactus hoax through the outright terror of the “mutant phenomenon” remind us that Man is a fragile animal constantly at war with the unknown. And one always fears what one doesn’t understand. Because the average citizen cannot process fully the existence of super powered beings superior to him/herself to any point of acceptance, then the world cannot truly make any real sense. Therefore, one cannot really find order in it and so the average person suffers…

  4. What instances in “Marvels” can you point out in which humanity is struggling with the concept of acceptance and why?
    “Marvels” exist so that the humans difference is fully visible. They are known as superior beings who protect the world from other forces of evil. However, humans cannot accept this idea and even challenge it by weaving stories about them. For instance, “Marvels” is a name that is given to them by the humans. Humans are merely witnesses to the events. They do not know about them, nor can they distinguish who the bad guy or good guy is.
    There is a scene where Phil Sheldon puts his wedding off because he feels that he cannot protect his family because of the chaos that is happening with the superheroes, fighting with each other. Later, he gets back together with Doris after seeing the movie where the Sub-Mariner and the Torch are battling the “Nazi-rap war machine” together. He is relieved that these superheroes have united rather than become enemies. So, he is confident that the world will be protected.

  5. Erika, thank you for your analysis!
    I think Marvels is so brilliantly done. It focuses on the humans and the rest of the Marvel heroes are just swooping in and out of the frames. The reader gets the same view as the humans in the comic themselves.
    The narrator, a cameraman, symbolically loses his eye as an effect of a Marvel battle–his injury is not treated as a disaster. No one really dwells on it. It’s the same as any human occurrence that happens as the Marvels are fighting. At the end he blatantly states, “you’ve got to have the eye for it, and mine is gone…I’ve lost it…I’ve seen too much.”
    Throughout the comic book, the narrator tries to grapple with his humanity and his inability to cope with the heroes. Two scenes that do this occur after some sort of tragedy. The second comes after Goblin and Spiderman fight. During the fight the narrator states, “I knew he would save her. That was what he did.” When the girl dies, the narrator, realizing that these characters are not perfect, reflects, “he failed her. they all failed her.” This also leads to a loss of innocence, as he understands what his fellow humans don’t: that a human life lost matters. He says, “to her, like the rest of the world, Gwen was just a girl. Too bad she died, but it’s not like she was anyone important.” He understands and comprehends that heroes are not perfect and that humans can end up hurt since they are “not worth it.”

  6. I think that when Carney talks about “loss of innocence”, he’s talking about the world changing events of conflicts like World War II. During this time period in Marvels, the world was in total chaos, even if Phil was hoping that there would be a return to normalcy. Then this world throws an even stranger curveball in the form of Captain America and the country begins to fixate on him. They start to deify Captain America and allow him to utterly change the mental landscape of the US. Now a legitimate superstar had emerged from such a bloody conflict. It can also be said that while the world might have made some sense to Americans then, it would have definitely be put through a whirl during the Vietnam war, when they have to confront the fact that war is not so black and white in terms of the moral standing of the characters.

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

    At various points in the text there is graffiti that reads “Mutants must die” etc., in addition to rioting. Humanity is struggling with the concept of acceptance within Marvels, I think because people are always looking for someone else to blame not, necessarily because they struggle with acceptance. If something goes wrong it’s the “mutants” fault; when they show up late people wonder “what’s taking them so long?” Phil even puts off his wedding because he feels inadequate which he credits to the super beings. The super beings remind people that they are less than, inferior, I suppose they have trouble accepting that feeling. Phil mentions while writing his book that people were infatuated by the wedding of the fantastic four couple but people were quick to jump on the mutant hate train. Again, I don’t think the text is suggesting that humanity is struggling with the concept of acceptance of differences but instead humanity struggles with acceptance of responsibility.

  8. 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”?

    I think Carney attributes the “loss of innocence” to “the American fall from grace in the 1970s when Viet Nam forced America to confront its own national failure fully.” Carney said: “The marvels must remain unconscious to Phil Sheldon. They are that which he is desperately angry to account for, explain, understand and redeem, but which remains tantalizingly out of reach. As marvels, their function is to not be understood.”

    I thought that was a powerful depiction, especially that latter two lines. I think as Marvels, their function is not to be understood, but instead disrupt. And that disruption could’ve triggered Americans into thinking a different way in opposition of what was going on at the time — as a refusal to simply go with the flow and accept the events like the Vietnam War.

    In some ways, I think the Marvels held a mirror up to Americans to face the truth about the Vietnam War and how the U.S. wasn’t 100 percent in the right about it at all. The presence of superheroes during the time, forcing Americans to think carefully about the Vietnam War, reminded me of Muhammad Ali infamously stating, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” Either did the Marvels.

  9. 1- I think there are several instances in which humanity is clearly struggling with this concept. For me, one of the most prominent moments involves the Mutant X-men, because of how relatively minor a role they play in the overall graphic novel. The fact that the protagonist, Phil Sheldon, also gets sucked into the mob mentality reveals that someone as seemingly “progressive” as he is can be pulled into ways in which humanity struggles with accepting change. I think it’s also interesting in how the mutants find the source of their superhuman abilities from genetic mutation without any catalysts like Spider-man’s radioactive spider-bite or technological advances like Iron Man’s suit or simply being a god from Norse mythology. The fact that the X-Men are essentially human terrifies humanity even more, much like Sheldon. While capturing, as Carney elaborates, the “paranoia of the 1950s,” I think we can also read this as reactions to the civil rights movements of the following decades, as well as general mob-mentality that helped allow for tragedies like the Holocaust (Carney 106).
    2- I have to agree with Ken on his answer to this question. There is certainly a sense of humanity not only existing within a scale of global history that is constantly shifting and being re-written, but I also think that the way in which Sheldon “hands off” his role as reporter towards the end of the graphic novel perhaps also speaks to the way in which humanity may at once feel helpless, but then also recognize that there can be a “passing on” to the next generation. I don’t know if this alleviates the next generation’s own anxieties, but it may speak to a recognition in realizing that the world, history, etc. may be greater than a single individual, but a collectiveness may allow for a way to accept the role humanity has in their own historicizing and reification. Additionally, it may serve as a counter-balance to the mob-mentality we see throughout the graphic novel.
    3 – I think the loss of innocence is referring to America’s role in the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Carney writes of “the American fall from grace in the 1970s when Viet Nam forced America to confront its own national failure fully” (Carney 108). Within Marvels, this is personified (or allegorized) by the public’s criticism on heroes such as Spiderman. What’s interesting about this “loss of innocence” though is the way in which Busiek, which Carney points out, allows for a moment of dramatic irony, in which Phil is oblivious to the fact that Peter Parker IS Spiderman. The irony also allows for another way to rethink the possible loss-of-innocence-because-of-the-Vietnam-War allegory — if Spiderman, for Sheldon, represents a way in which to redeem Marvels (of whom Carney theorizes as a stand in for America’s role in Vietnam), then his ignorance of the duality in Peter Parker providing the very images that Jonah Jameson then uses to besmirch Spiderman, represents, perhaps, a darker side to American involvement in Vietnam. Peter Parker is making a profit despite criticism piled onto Spiderman — this can either be read as literal profits gained from war-mongering, or as the profit of establishing a particular image of American intervention and imperialism. The redemption story, and the loss of innocence, is again allegorized (by Busiek, since he is re-imagining, or reifying, the original Amazing Spiderman issues) by Gwen Stacy’s death, despite Spiderman’s best efforts.
    4- I think what Carney means is that marvels offer another way to perceive and interpret, and perhaps reify, history. He writes that marvels “are that which [Sheldon] is desperately angry to account for, explain, understand and redeem, but [that] which remains tantalizingly out of reach. As marvels, their function is not to be understood. The only real solution to Phil Sheldon’s problem is a shift in consciousness itself…a new way of interpreting history” (108). I think the intrusion he is referring to is the simultaneous intrusion of the realization that marvels are meant “to not be understood” and that they will always be something bigger than we can actively understand, because they represent an odd sort of futurity; our relationship with history is reifying it, re-imagining or re-writing it, but also in not knowing where that reification will then lead to.

  10. Great article post, Erika! In response to your question about where we see humanity struggling to come to terms with acceptance in “Marvels,” I think the concept manifests itself in the conversation had between Phil Sheldon and J. Jonah Jameson in fourth issue. When questioned about the potential libel that the Daily Bugle prints about Spiderman and the other “Marvels,” Jameson retorts, “Phil, if he was a hero–if your ‘Marvels’ were truly the noble, selfless crusaders they claim–how could the rest of us measure up? How could we meet that standard?” This moment in the comic resonates quite well with the point that Carney makes in his essay on page 101, “the superhero has been reinscribed with a hopeful ambivalence which transforms it into a symptom of history. This is to say that the superhero now is a symptom of humanity becoming historical,, in a philosophical sense. Human beings are historical creatures because they have the ability to overreach themselves and be productive creators.”

    As a child, I grew up with the Sam Raimi “Spiderman” films, and I remember being so bewildered as to why Jameson was intent on depicting Spiderman as an egregious villain in his papers. I could see how “The Daily Bugle” served as the epitomized “foil” to DC’s Daily Planet; whereas the Planet extolled Superman for his heroic action, the Bugle intently criminalized Spiderman, and it never made sense to me. It wasn’t until this moment in the comic, that I truly realized the significance behind Jameson’s inferiority complex. In this moment, he acts a symbol for the anxiety that Carney alludes to.

    If the Bugle were to acknowledge the “Marvels” as heroes, the heroic efforts of man would be considered vastly minuscule by comparison.

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