A sneak peek at forthcoming publications and presentations.
Fearless women: Marvel’s tales of acceptance after Comicsgate
Each issue of the 2019 Marvel Fearless featured three stories by female writers and artists about female characters. When the series launched, critics initially assumed it was a book geared towards women and girls that would offer a heavy-handed message of female empowerment, with a side of male-bashing, undermined by gender stereotypes. Ultimately, however, the series proved to be a showcase of women’s talent with stories about not only empowerment, but also of tolerance and self-acceptance. Comics fans, of any gender, were given a rare glimpse at the very human stressors of Marvel’s super-human heroines. This chapter examines how Fearless demonstrated that the women of Marvel are strong characters (and creators), not just strong women, and that a good story does not have to be apolitical.
“Fear of faith” and faith over fear: Scarecrow as emblem of a purgatorial Gotham
Having once established himself as the God of Fear, a religion of fear is the realm of the Batman villain known as Scarecrow. Jonathan Crane is a psychologist who, as the Scarecrow, plays on the superstitions of the masses, making him a symbol of the culturally vicious tensions between science and faith. In “Fear of Faith” (1999, No Man’s Land), Scarecrow suggests that Gotham City is Hell, a place without hope. But within this place, people work to right wrongs, to offer charity to others before they die, thus expiating their sins before passing to the next world, indicating that Gotham is, in fact, Purgatory. This chapter considers Scarecrow as emblematic of religion as horror, discussing interplay between demonization and deification in divine judgement. It also examines Gotham as Purgatory – a spiritual and secular other world, caught between good and evil, between science and faith, between church and state, and between sin and salvation.
The politics of inversion in Americatown: Lessons and limits for public pedagogy
Americatown envisions a near future wherein an economic collapse prompts Americans to illegally emigrate to other countries to find work. Described as “part social commentary, part family drama,” the central trope employed in this commentary is inversion: turning the world upside down or expressing the opposite of what is meant. By placing (White) Americans in the socio-economic and politi-cultural position of Latinx Americans, Americatown serves as a form of public pedagogy about immigration and race. Symbolic inversion can be effective at expressing ideas that may otherwise be rejected, such carnivalesque treatment of widely accepted ideas can also serve to reaffirm, rather than subvert, social norms. Inversion may, therefore, be counterproductive in public pedagogy by re-creating racist socio-economic hierarchies.
Cthulhoo-Dooby-Doo!: The re-animation of Lovecraft (and racism) through subcultural capital
The Lovecraftian influences in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated highlight Krämer’s “erotic” principle of media philosophy wherein communication allows for the transformation of difference into identity and illustrates the meta-fictional play that marks the proliferation of Weird in contemporary pop culture. Moreover, it does so by using Lovecraft’s own approach to epistemology, presenting a story in which the protagonist(s) piece together separated things, discovering horrific truths about their world; simultaneously, the audience pieces together separated things of literary and pop-culture allusions in a collective contribution to a fan subculture that constructs its identity from already circulating texts. This chapter uses intertextual analysis to explore the ways in which Lovecraft is adapted in Scooby-Doo! to produce a (White) culture of the Weird.
The pirate, the queen, and the handkerchief: Gráinne Mhaol, an Irishwoman among men
This chapter looks at the Cló Mhaigh Eo comicí Gráinne Mhaol (‘Grace O’Malley’) about the legendary pirate queen of 16th-century Ireland. Like Ireland’s comic industry, women’s place in Irish history was long neglected and O’Malley’s story is found mostly in English annals. Gráinne Mhaol can thus be read as a reclamation of Ireland’s heritage through its Irish language, women’s history through its subject matter, and improved gender representation in comics through its heroine and lead creator. Acknowledging the gendered tensions in interpretations of Ireland’s past, this chapter is particularly interested in how O’Malley is represented, and thus focuses on the comic’s mise en scène in relation to the text, which draws frequent attention to gender issues.
Black and white death: Memories of violence in the Great War
This chapter considers hermeneutic images and visual motifs of violence and death in comics from and about World War I. Focusing on graphic narratives from the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the chapter examines, compares, and contrasts primary graphic accounts created by soldiers during the Great War, secondary graphic accounts created through interpretations of historical research, and tertiary accounts that blend primary narratives with reimagined visuals premised on secondary sources. The study builds on distinctions of memory and post-memory of the war, considering how different proximities to its violence shape portrayals of its violence. Changing motifs over time highlight the process of memory and memorializing, as concerns of the present give way to lingering effects of the past, which is reconstructed in the context of the present. Primary accounts faced violent death with dark humor, secondary accounts were nostalgic for the dead, and tertiary accounts marked violent death as symbolic of war’s futility.
Playing the blues in other colors: Graphic narratives as Bob Dylan cover tunes
By considering how, and if, artistic renderings of Bob Dylan songs by Dylan and others engage movement, musical symbols and icons, and inter or intra-panel rhythms, this chapter argues that graphic narrative depictions of Dylan’s songs are not merely representations and re-presentations of the lyrics, but that they are effectively musical covers of classic Dylan tunes, wherein music imagery engages readers on multiple cognitive levels, reinterpreting and remixing songs’ meanings and sounds for different times, audiences, aesthetic tastes, and rhetorical purpose.
The debutante vigilante: Lady Luck, a model for world war womanhood
Comics creator Will Eisner capitalized on the commercial demand for comic books by creating a comic book supplement for Sunday newspapers, in cooperation with the Tribune Syndicate and Quality Comics. The supplement appeared as a sixteen-page booklet with an eight-page lead feature story of Eisner’s The Spirit and two four-page secondary stories. Through these secondary stories appeared one of the first costumed female heroes of comics: Lady Luck. The Spirit was not only one of the first models for the superhero tradition in American comics but it also served as a transitional space for America’s entrance into World War II, through the comic’s regular allusions to the socio-political context and a subtext of American interventionism even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This essay, accordingly, argues that Lady Luck was a precursor to, and ready model for, the changing roles of women that emerged during World War II and that her vigilantism marked a Depression-era rejection of upper-class values.
Scarecrow’s straw man politics: Living in the “Fear State” of the post-truth era
Just as the Dark Knight cinema trilogy epitomizes the influence of post-9/11 symbolism and conflicts of the era of terror on the Batman franchise, the 35-issue “Fear State” event is emblematic of the post-truth era’s influence in the Batman universe, as the concerns of COVID, conspiracies, coups, and killings, confront and confound the Caped Crusader. In crises and catastrophes, the promulgation of fear is seen as a necessary means of prompting people to act for the protection of the wellbeing of society – though it also serves to increase the power of the political actors who can leverage cultural phobias. This is the idea at the heart of DC Comics’ 2021 Batman crossover event, “Fear State,” in which the villainous Scarecrow tests his “Fear State Theory” on a traumatized Gotham City, in a story arc that reflects real-world crises of the 2020s in the trappings of Gotham.
Militant earth mother: Viewing Poison Ivy as an ecofeminist rather than as an ecoterrorist
Since her original appearance in 1966 as a murderous mantrap with a plant motif, Poison Ivy has been alternatively positioned as a traditional villain in Batman’s Rogues Gallery, a vindictive spurned woman, tragically and criminally insane, an egomaniacal terrorist, a criminal mastermind, an anti-hero, a victim of abuse, a vigilante, and a mad scientist. As a villain, Ivy is a femme fatale in the Poisonous Damsel tradition and her character has become synonymous with ecoterrorism. But when considered in broader socio-political and cultural contexts, she is so much more. his essay explores the history of Poison Ivy within the Batman Universe, with particular attention to her characterization in Cycle of Life to discuss her development from forgettable rogue to hypersexualized femme fatale, reframing the character to be understood not as a terrorist but as an activist constrained by gendered expectations.
The Loner on the “frontier of unfilled hopes and threats”: Serling’s old West in Kennedy’s new frontier
In 1960, John F. Kennedy called upon youthful Americans to blaze trails into “a new frontier,” charting space, solving war, conquering prejudice, and resolving poverty. This is the frontier of television’s 1965-1966 The Loner. Written and created by Twilight Zone visionary Rod Serling as a “mature” Western series, The Loner featured Lloyd Bridges as William Colton, an ex-Cavalry officer who survived the American Civil War and “traveled West” with “a dedication to a new chapter in American history.” His journey was more philosophical than physical, a dialogue, rather than gunfire, heavy morality tale that invited viewers to confront the futility of war, post-traumatic stress, disability, racism, immigration, and alienation: challenges of Kennedy’s New Frontier more than those of the mythical Wild Frontier.
Between the shield and the skull: The civil-military gap and the militarized superhero
In Marvel’s Civil War event, the Punisher and Captain America have an uneasy alliance, of which Spider-Man observes, “Cap’s probably the reason he went to Vietnam, same guy, different war.” Spidey is not wrong. Both characters were, in different ways, inspired by their wars. Captain America, appearing in 1941, is the personification of patriotism with a strong moral code – a hero born from the apparent clarity of purpose of World War II. The Punisher, appearing in 1974, is traumatized killer, broken by the failings of his government – a disturbed figure born from the violence and anxieties surrounding America’s involvement in Vietnam. But each character is more than just a representative of the wars that inspired them; they have also become the embodiment of the U.S. public’s ambivalence for military veterans, who are caught between misplaced hero worship and social stigmatization. This chapter examines key storylines of national identity, war, and civil-military relations for Captain America and the Punisher to discuss what the figure of the militarized superhero reveals about veterans’ place in the U.S.
A great responsibility or a burden? Spidey sensitivities, family friction, and maternal menaces
This essay considers the representation of motherhood in Spider-Man, with a particular focus on Mary Parker LMD, who is an effective spy against her “son” Peter Parker; Shriek, who wreaks chaos throughout the city in an effort to establish a family for herself; Coldheart, who seeks vengeance against the superhumans who caused the death of her son Joey; Shathra, who needs Spider-Man to feed her children; and, Ero who is looking for a host to birth her children. on research that considers how absent and ineffectual mothers in the X-Men series relate to psychoanalytic theories of mother-dis-identification in hegemonic male development, this essay argues that villainous mothers/maternal villains play an integral part in the maturation of Peter Parker and the mental and emotional health of Spider-Man, supporting the importance of the mother’s role in society while reinforcing conflicting messages and expectations of what that role should be.
Familiarity is the path to the Dark Side: Domesticating political problems with Star Wars
With a focus on images created between 2015 and 2020, this article approaches the use of metaphor and allusion in political satire according to the interaction view of metaphor developed by philosopher Max Black (1977) and the concept of domestication offered by Erving Goffman (1979) to argue that the meaning attached to Dark Side allusions in political cartoons is dependent on not only the audience’s familiarity with and knowledge of Star Wars canon, but also on its particular relationship with the franchise and individual characters – recognizing that familiarity may breed complacency.