A Soft Re-Open
So, I’ve been away from keyboard for a while now. There are numerous reasons, professional and personal for this. I won’t go into detail (it’s nothing that exciting). Rather, I’ll toss out a very general update as a teaser before recommencing regular posting next week.
Last month, I had three articles come out in various academic journals.
- The first is the article “‘The roaring 30s’: Style, intertextuality, space and history in Marvel Noir,” published in Studies in Comics (at the moment, you can only access this article if you or your library has a subscription): This article analyses Marvel Comics’ Marvel Noir franchise, published between 2009 and 2011. Taking as its starting point the promise in a 2008 press release that in the comics, Marvel superheroes would ‘meet’ film noir in a new continuity set in the ‘roaring 30s’, the article considers the advertised ‘meeting’ from three different angles: (1) Marvel Noir’s relationship to ‘classic’ film noir; (2) intertextuality in Marvel Noir; and (3), the franchise’s engagement with space and history. In the first instance, drawing on recent film noir scholarship, the article argues that for historical reasons, Marvel Noir manages only to evoke a pastiched ‘image’ of noir drawn from a popular conception of what noir is. Second, it highlights how the heterogeneity of the franchise’s intertextual orbit further defers the ‘meeting’ and that, ultimately, because it builds upon and anticipates the seriality of regular superhero fictions, the real content of the stories is neither film noir nor other historical popular culture, but rather earlier Marvel stories. Third, it looks at how space and history are figured. Although a few exceptions that deal with racial formation are discussed, space appears as largely anonymous ‘images’ that deepen the image of noir while history is generally connoted through a vague sense of ‘pastness’. By way of concluding, the article notes that the postmodern depthlessness of the franchise’s ‘meeting’ with film noir is to be expected, given the style’s historical progresses. Rather, while Marvel Noir perhaps represents an attempt to escape the present through a postmodern play with nostalgia, intertextuality and surfaces, the choice of setting and the recurrent confirmation of the superhero genre’s primacy betrays a return of the repressed, in which the past becomes an unuttered hope for the future.
- The second is “The Mutant Problem: X-Men, Confirmation Bias, and the Methodology of Comics and Identity,” published in the European Journal of American Studies (available online): This article suggests that scholarship on comics and identity is vulnerable to strong confirmation bias. Engaging with a few common assumptions presented in writing on X-Men comics(1963–1970, 1975–1991) and identity, it offers alternative interpretations on the series’ engagement with the Cold War, civil rights, individual authenticity, persecution, and the Holocaust. Based on these discussions, the article then offers a few methodological suggestions that might help reduce bias in future studies of comics and identity.
- The third and final article is “‘X marks the spot’: Urban dystopia, slum voyeurism and failures of identity in District X,” published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (currently available only to subscribers, but it should become freely available soon): This article studies the ‘imaginative mapping’ of a real-world neighbourhood in one comic book series: lower Manhattan’s Alphabet City in writer David Hine and artists David Yardin and Lan Medina’s District X (July 2004–January 2006). In contrast to a long-standing claim to ‘realism’ in Marvel’s use of New York City, this article argues that the real Alphabet City – at the time a contested and rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood – is nowhere to be found in District X, replaced by a voyeuristic fabrication, a sensationalistic node of concentration for middle-class fears about urban decline and blight amid prosperity and contemporary discourses about drugs, crime and homelessness that reproduces long-standing cultural representations of the neighbourhood as different and inferior. In doing so, the series polices a boundary of identity, empathy and imagination and tells readers that force in favour of clearing out radical difference in the neighbourhood and making it into a space fit for ‘normal’ people is natural, rational and logical and in the best interest even of those who might be displaced by gentrification, disproportionately incarcerated in the name of ‘law and order’, or put at risk of their lives in dangerous shelters.