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Fearless women: Marvel’s tales of acceptance after Comicsgate
Each issue of the 2019 Marvel Fearless featured three stories by women writers and artists about women characters. Critics assumed it was a heavy-handed message of female empowerment, with a side of male-bashing, undermined by gender stereotypes. The series, however, proved to be a showcase of women’s talent with stories about not only empowerment, but also of tolerance and self-acceptance. 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.
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, introducting 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, in which appeared one of the first costumed female heroes of comics: Lady Luck. The Spirit was not only served as a model for the superhero tradition but as a transitional space for America’s entrance into World War II. This chapter, 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.
Between the shield and the skull: The civil-military gap and the militarized superhero
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. More than just representative of the wars that inspired them, they embody 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.
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.
The United Nations Decade for (Wonder) Women: Wonder Woman, the U.N., and women’s liberation
The year 1975 marked the beginning of the United Nations Decade for Women. During the early years of the Decade, Wonder Woman was unofficially, but notably, affiliated with the United Nations through a series of stories in which Diana Prince served as a troubleshooter and then publicist for the organization. This essay considers Wonder Woman’s early association with the United Nations relative to its Decade for Women and to the U.N.’s pursuit of two concepts of sovereignty - judicial equality and nonintervention between states, and the rights of citizens within states and international responsibilities to those citizens – to suggest that Wonder Woman has an important, if troubled, history as a political figure and as a political leader.
Profaning the sacred: Religious sites as political metaphors in 007
Though it has been argued that the 007 films were, in comparison to the Ian Fleming novels, deliberately depoliticized and distanced from their Cold War origins, this essay argues that the movies’ engagement with religious locations grounds the franchise in Cold War, and “New Cold War,” politics. Using metaphorical criticism, analysis focuses on action sequences in religious spaces, such as those mentioned previously, to explore how the 007 cinematic franchise both participated in and responded to the propagandizing of religion in opposition to communist, and other, international threats. The metaphors surrounding the religious places in the films make statements about public and private religion and about political conflicts involving not only communism but also theocracy and race relations.
Mother goddesses and the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Spider-Man: The transformative nature of Shriek, Shathra, and Ero
Syncretic mother worship is evident in Spider-Man comics, which engage various forms of divine motherhood to support and advance Spider-Man’s story, moral development, and spiritual journey. With Peter Parker’s own mother bearing the name of Mary, and repeated appearances of the crucifix and the church, Spider-Man comics develop their own kind of mariamic mother worship. Three maternal villains, in particular - Shriek, Shathra, and Ero - embody the transformative character of the sacred feminine. Through his interactions with them, Spider-Man embraces his dual-nature of being both supernatural and human (his incarnation). He submits to his destiny of being part of something greater than himself (his passion). And he dies and is reborn, facing the doubts of a skeptical world, as he fights for the lives, if not the souls, of his family (his resurrection).
The divine Comedian: The Kennedys, conflict, and confession
Before Watchmen: Comedian follows a paramilitary vigilante’s history with the Kennedy family. The presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy raised multiple religious questions for the United States public, including questions about the influence of the sacrament confession, with fears that the country’s first Catholic President might try to resolve the nation’s problems through guidance received in a confessional box. The story aptly reaches its climactic end when Robert Kennedy and Eddie Blake are preparing to confess to the American public their sins in the Vietnam War as Bobby begins his bid for the presidency to finish his brother’s work. This chapter considers the secularized sacrament of confession via mortification, scapegoating, or transcendence as it is realized through The Comedian and how his dark story of a good man corrupted by war speaks to the moral ambiguity and theological vagueness of American public religiosity during the Cold War.