Posted by: Doc Comics | November 12, 2011

Racial SuperMinorities: Week 12

The troubled history of the African-American “Black Superhero” is our focus this week, since it draws attention to the persistent problems in racial representations for comics minoritiesMilestone Comicssuperman in ICON: A HERO”S WELCOME will be discussed as a tragically-brief success for the African-American superhero amidst the ‘norm‘ of Whiteness in comics.

Meanwhile: Holy Hypocrisy! Comics legend Frank Miller goes off and then gets called out by the comics community because of #OccupyWallStreet comments!

Posted by: Doc Comics | November 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street superheroes?

Yep, #OccupyWallStreet has its own superheroes joining the fight for truth, justice, and a more equitable American Way… among other things. And other superheroes get in on the action-oriented political issues and opinions!

Posted by: Doc Comics | November 7, 2011

GenderQueer Mutants & Monstrosities? Week 11

The new Batwoman returns with a difference…

With their secret identities and flair for drag performances, superheroes have always been a bit queer in their subtexts (or overt commentary) for homosexual social issues (perhaps a legacy of the Marvel Age). This week’s selections of readings explores the homoerotics and homophobia that haunts these comic bookdraped crusadersnarratives. The history of GLBTQ superheroes is as problematic as all mediated depictions of minorities, but perhaps doubly so since the lines between gay and straight blur when contemplating the inherent Gender Troubles of representation (even Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t immune to predictable homophobic hysterics).

This week’s comic is BATWOMAN: ELEGY, which sparked both controversy and triumph in it’s groundbreakingmainstream’ success of featuring a gay superheroine. Batwoman’s history is as checkered as one might expect, but Greg Rucka’s bold storytelling has proven wildly successful. Explains Rucka:

“Kate Kane is her own person. She’s got a distinct personal tragedy, as is requisite to wear the mantel of the bat. You have to go through some personal hell to decide that you want to put a bat on your chest and beat people up at night – that you’re beating people up at night other than the reason that you get off on it. I’ve said this before, and you’ll see it early on – for everybody else, when they put on a Bat costume, it’s a costume. For Kate, it’s a uniform. That influences everything she does, and it tells you volumes about her…. You know, nobody wants to read, and we certainly didn’t want to write an after school special. But as you’ll see in the origin, there is a moment when she has to pay a huge price for the fact that she is gay. She has to sacrifice something of incredible value to her just to be true to herself… But she is the first mainstream superhero who starts out of the box gay. And arguably she’s going to be the most prominent gay superhero.”
To tease out the HERstory of Queer themes for wonder womyn and supergrrrls, we’ll have a distinguished guest lecturer discuss her scholarship! Meanwhile, check out MoreFun Tim’s take and remember that SUPERPAPER #2 is due next week!
1) How does the story of BATWOMAN markedly diverge from the Superhero Monomyth, or does it instead offer some important innovations on the formula as a fantasy culturetype?
2) In terms of both narrative and art, how else is this superheroine different? Are there any surprises in her interactions with male characters for this ‘superheroine on trial‘? As a GLBTQ protagonist?
3) In terms of Queer Theory, what are some of the problematics and possibilities of BATWOMAN for representing gay superheroes and superheroines?
Posted by: Doc Comics | October 31, 2011

Feminist Superheroines? Week 10

Superhero comics have long had much difficulty in their representations of superheroines and Wonder Women. This week we’ll be exploring Feminist rhetorical criticism and issues of sexism within the gender representations of comics and in the comics industry as we consider a history HERstory of the superheroine. Our graphic novel of the week is PROMETHEA, Alan Moore’s bold experiment in re-writing a Womyn Wonder that won accolades and mainstream attention for sparking more discussion of persistent Gender Trouble in comics representation (the infamous WIR problem).

Also discussed will be Wonder Woman’s altered origin in DC’s new 52 relaunch.

The latest in a long line of failed attempts to address gender inequity and minority representation.

Posted by: Doc Comics | October 24, 2011

Evolution of the SuperAntihero

This satirical look at “The Evolution of the Superhero” (by Ryan Dunlavey) nicely summarizes our turn to surveying an alternate genealogy of the Comic Book SuperAntihero across the Marvel/DC divide. This week’s comics selection is the British firebrand volume  V FOR VENDETTA, Alan Moore’s controversial 1990 meditation on superheroic terrorism between Anarchy and Fascism as we contemplate the hegemonic resistance and reification in comics ideology… and in the streets. As #OccupyWallStreet embraces Moore’s iconic Anarchist SuperAntihero, are V and The Joker comic book doppelgängers?!? And what to make to the Wachowski Bros. 2006 cinematic translation when read against Nolan’s “agent of chaos” Joker in The Dark Knight? Perhaps they have more in common than a chilling smile? And what happens when Marvel’s CIVIL WAR pits post-9/11 superantihero against superantihero to ask you “Which side are you on?

On a related note, Frank Miller’s Holy Terror shakes things up, SUPER gets analyzed, and the Revolt of Superheroes. In other news, a (tragic) piece of superhero history revealed and a Q&A about women and comics with Marvel talent!

Posted by: Doc Comics | October 17, 2011

Interrogating Ideology with Red Son: Week 8

This week’s comic is RED SON, an Elseworlds alternate reality that imagines the consequences of Kal-El‘s rocket crashing in the Soviet Union rather than Kansas. The 2003 graphic novel caused some controversy and won awards even as it gave Scottish writer Mark Millar more fame and acclaim. Still, the comic raises intriguing issues about superheroes and American exceptionalism outside of simplistic moral binaries. Has Superman always been a class warrior? We will be interested in examining the risks of political comics as we also review some of the superhero scholarship readings!

As a bonus, see what creators think about writing superheroines and Wonder Woman’s altered origin!

The SUPERMIDTERM is Tuesday 10/18! Bring a skinny green scantron and a #2 pencil along with your journal. According to USA Today, it’ll be one of the “easiest” college courses you’ll take 😉

Posted by: Doc Comics | October 10, 2011

Kingdom Come and Superteams: Week 7


This week we’re reading Kingdom Come as we further contemplate the comic’s “monomythic credotainment” and pseudoreligious commentary on the superhero mythos. Is there a more democratic and egalitarian ethos possible in these tales of superheroic redemption? Can these “Elseworlds” tales explore an interpretive ‘multiplicity‘ that challenges the ‘monomythic’ formula, and to what effect? What kind of “Better World” do these alternate realities imagine?

Behold! The new AVENGERS Assemble in a new preview trailer! SUPERPAPER #2 guidelines!

Posted by: Doc Comics | October 3, 2011

Nostalgia for MARVELS: Week 6

Finishing our exploration of “The Myth of the American Superhero,” we will examine Lawrence & Jewett’s critique of crusading fascism, redemptive violence, and the anti-democratic invitations of monomythic credotainment. In class, we’ll balance this critique with our other readings as we ponder more egalitarian and democratic possibilities of a “Better World” that comic book superheroes may reflexively offer thanks to the ‘multiplicity‘ that Jenkins posits.

The Grim-and-Gritty 90s ‘Dark Age’ would spark a nostalgic Renaissance from creators and fans yearning for a return to superheroic nobility. The readings for this week and next, MARVELS and KINGDOM COME, are works that are a very deliberate interrogation of the ends and means, meanings and values championed by superheroes during cynical times. As the comics take a Postmodern Turn of critical reflexivity, so too shall we consider how superheroes reflect, adapt, and respond to changing cultural conditions and challenges… sometimes for better or worse.

Posted by: Doc Comics | September 25, 2011

The American Monomyth: Week 5

This week we begin reading Jewett & Lawrence’s Myth of the American Superhero (discussion items here), which diverges sharply from both Reynolds and Coogan in offering a critical examination of the superhero’s distinctly American mythos. Our comic of the week is Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s critically-acclaimed deconstruction of the superhero genre. Through these texts, we will begin reflecting upon the more troubling issues of redemptive violence and antidemocratic vigilantism that superheroes express and explore. As myth, these stories don’t just invite reflection upon the purpose, function, and consequences of the superhero, they demand it!

Image result for "superhero monomyth

MoreFun Tim’s Soapbox: What the heck do Hello Kitty, Venom, and Rorschach have in common? And is The Incredibles a better translation of Alan Moore’s vision than the film? ‘Understanding ComicsScott McCloud helps explain! In other news, the DC Comics new 52 revamp is a home-run for retailers.

Posted by: Doc Comics | September 19, 2011

Ideology Superstructure and Hegemony: Week 4


Superheroes are corporate-owned commodities, lest we forget…


This week introduces superhero comics as ideology, so let’s clarify a few big-word college concepts that will help guide discussion. “Ideology” has long been used to conceptualize a dominant system of ideas or beliefs that coalesce into a more-or-less unified and unifying “worldview” (i.e. political, religious, ethnic, national, etc.), but the term takes on connotations as “false consciousness” within the influential class critique of Karl Marx. As most know, Marx is formulating a critique of Capitalism (the Gilded Age variety). Crudely put, Marxism posits how the dominant economic overclass and their middle-management Bourgeois keeps their worker-serf Proletariat underclasses subservient and docile by controlling the “superstructures” of economic production, meanings, and ‘common sense’ beliefs that prevent solidarity and revolution against economic exploitation. (One of my favorite definitions of Ideology is an “asymmetrical interdependence” of “common sense meanings in the service of power”). An example might be how big business Hollywood blockbusters tend to shape audience expectations and imitators with formulaic narrative commodities that ‘naturalize‘ a misogynist hero journeyracial stereotypes, and patriarchal power. This is the “Rich White DudeBros own everything and reproduce what they like” argument that often misses Marx’s more crushing insight that these practices become institutionalized into a structure of commodity reproduction that continues despite the intentions of producers and workers (i.e. less by mustache-twisting supervillains than cinematic conventions of the Male Gaze). For a smackdown, see the comments for a breakdown of Eco’s infamous “Myth of Superman” critique.


Even briefer still is Philosophy Bro’s profanity-laced breakdown of Marx‘s central beefs during the Gilded Age, the ideological implications of such commodity production (“It’s the structure, stupid!”) illustrated with our New Gilded Age‘s terrifying “5 ugly lessons in every Superhero Movie,” which pretty much explains Lincoln’s insistence that “Myth is ideology in narrative form.” Holy Hollywood Hegemony!

In an attempt to overcome weaknesses and shortcomings of hackneyed extrapolations of ‘vulgar’ Marxist critique, Antonio Gramsci develops the notion of Hegemony to explain why the exploited underclass willfully participates in and reproduces the dominant ideology of the overclass even when it goes against their own material and economic interests (and thus “participate in the conditions of their unhappiness“). That is, a ruling ideology doesn’t reproduce illusory “false consciousness” only through coercion and domination, but this ‘historical materialism’ also operates through socialized values and consensual participation that operates as “common sense” that’s-how-things-really-are (think about the voluntary Comics Code here and reasons we often ‘go along’ with dominant ideas). Heck, as I write this off-the-clock for class while enjoying a cold beverage outside, I want to shake my fist at the sky and cry “Darn you Hegemony!!! Is there no escape?”  But more on these topics later as we synthesize some of the contradictions and debates over myth, genre, and the payoff & price of Counterhegemony or Utopianism in superhero stories. And where better to start than the OG of comic books’ crusading masked vigilantes, the Bat-Man!?

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS is Frank Miller’s deconstruction of the Batman mythos that offered an Elseworld’s story that almost single-handedly changed comics storytelling and markets (discussion items are here). Also especially interesting for class purposes is how TDKR gives ammunition to Jenkin’s “Men in Tights” argument contra-Coogan for superhero comics as fostering multiplicity over continuity, and thus illustrates the dynamics of Gramscian hegemony and the politics of cultural representation. Or, as Grant Morrison puts it, it’s a telling difference that “Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss” (but if you’re into class warfare, check out Iron Man’s union-busting past and Spider-Man as working-class Proletarian superhero).

UPDATE: Ideology-Hegemony dust-up of the week includes “The Big Sexy Problem of Superheroines” in DC’s new 52 and reactions from creators and past criticisms of sexist ideology in superhero comics.

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