Looking up for inspiration

Kenneth Burke defined rhetoric as:

 

“Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols.”

 

I am meditating on this as I work on continuing to focus and refocus my prospectus for my dissertation.

 

Grant Morrison, his book Supergods states:

 

“We live in the stories we tell ourselves. In a secular, scientific rational culture lacking in any convincing spiritual leadership, superhero stories speak loudly and boldly to our greatest fears, deepest longings, and highest aspirations. They’re not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark…We should listen to what they have to tell us” (xvii).

 

So, channeling Grant Morrison I say this:

“It seems to me that people often find it it easy to dismiss superhero comics trash, sub-literary nonsense that at best is just for kids and at worse offers up a bad influence on them. These people miss the point of superheroes. Superheroes are more than simply their bright costumes, secret identities, and super powers. Superheroes embody and represent something that children know without question and grow ups tend to forget – that there is power in imagination, limitless and boundless that is not afraid to say “yes you can.” There is something inspiring, good, and distinctly identifiable in superheroes and their word-image comic book panels that we all, deep down identify and relate to, if we allow ourselves the chance to say “yes we can.”

 

Let’s see where this leads…

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Man of Steel meet All-Star Superman…Where does the essence lay?

I have decided to go for a deep and complicated analysis (in my own way) of the Man of Steel movie and of Superman in our modern era. There is a growing battle for the “essence” of Superman.

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INTRODUCTION

After I saw Man of Steel, I realized, it was hard for me to really express how I felt about the movie. In fact, I know I liked it but I also knew that I had qualms and issues with it that I just didn’t feel like dismissing out of hand, as I have done with other superhero movies.

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To put it this way, with most other superhero movies I either really like it with a few critical points that were problematic or bothersome or they stink (see Batman and Robin, X-Men 3, Wolverine Origins, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Superman Returns). Most of the time, I understand just how hard it is to adapt a superhero, to change mediums to a movie, to adapt and make it work…and I’m okay with it. However, with Man of Steel I know that I enjoyed the movie…but I also feel that because this is Superman, because this is the “original” superhero of the modern age, I need to go deeper and look at this more.

I say I need to go deeper because as a student of rhetoric, I am aware of the complicated interactions between reaching an audience, but I am also interested in the philosophical and rhetorical implications that altering and revamping a character can have in reflecting our modern societal zeitgeist. However, then, finally, there is the fact that I am also a fan. Therefore, there are really three ways I end up looking at this movie.

So, my plan is to approach this as follows that I want to address these three points of view that I have: as rhetor (audience awareness), rhetorician/philosopher (cultural and rhetorical impact), and as comic book fan/scholar. In addition, I feel that I have to do this by looking at the Snyder/Goyer/Nolan interpretation against other comic book and classical interpretations as well. Basically, I want to define, analyze, challenge, complicate, and analyze some more as I attempt to work out what, for me, is a very complicated approach and examination of an iconic figure.

SECTION 1

Definition

In our modern era there appear to have developed two warrants, two assumptions about what Superman represents – his essence. It is also a struggle for how people are able to actually relate and identify with Superman and what he represents.

The first assumption/warrant is that Superman remains an iconic role model and something that can “inspire” people of all ages. Perhaps one of the strongest articulators of this vision would be comic book writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman.

The second assumption/warrant is that Superman is too powerful, to god-like, and this makes him boring, a boy scout who is out of touch with our modern world. This assumption/warrant is one that most people either accept and use to belittle Superman as a “pointless” character or challenge, as in the case of Zach Snyder’s new interpretation of Superman in the recent movie Man of Steel.

Both approaches, Morrison/Quitely and Snyder/Goyer (screenwriter) amplify the character of Superman, however, what they choose to amplify differs and lies at the heart of what is at stake with defining and understanding the “essence” of Superman not just a superhero character, but much much more.

What Superman man was, originally, was a kids “wish” fantasy comes true. He was that all-powerful (and we wasn’t it always) who watched out for the underdogs. He was a socialist, people’s hero who originally went after corrupt politicians and businessmen. Eventually, Superman evolved, and has continued to evolve  over the past 75 years. It might be assumed that writing for such a character would have to be a challenge, but I think some people rose to that challenge while others have simply attempted to side-step it.

The modern, post-9/11 revamp of Superman that Zack Snyder/David Goyer represents a new vision of Superman:

–       No kryptonite as a weakness (replaced with the atmosphere of Krypton)

–       Far more emotionally fragile, unsure of himself character

–       Father issues, divide, amplified

–       Character appears uncertain, tormented, and a bit lost

–       Some god-like potential (Jesus references) but not overtly so, a bit more down to Earth

In a lot of ways, as my friend and comic shop owner Tim put it, this is “wish” that anyone who has ever said Superman was “too powerful” or didn’t like the character as he was or the whole “boy scout” element being fulfilled in a movie adaptation.

What amuses me…is I used to feel that way too, all those things about Superman – too powerful, boy scout, and didn’t really care for the “character” and what he stood for, in my mind, either.

SECTION 2

Analysis

So, here is the rub. As a Rhetor, as someone who can apply the use of persuasion, rhetoric, to fulfilling what an audience would want to hear, I can fully identify with what Zack Snyder/David Goyer are trying to do.

Superman is a HARD character to write about…especially considering what he can do and especially in our modern age, our post-9/11 struggles with identity and mythology.

I understand the attempts to help the audience identify with the character, and I think that they are ultimately very successful in fact. My friend Megan responded to my initial post on what I thought after I saw the movie and she immediately pointed out that the struggle and humanization of Superman in the movie really helped make him identifiable to an audience. She’s right, this is a modern Superman. A bit dark, but one that obviously is very self-aware, unsure, and in a stage of identity crisis where he is reaching for identity between how he was raised and what he may possibly be, potentially. This is a classic struggle of nature and nurture, but one where these forces of conflict are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Superman is still Superman, but this is him in origin stage where he has not quite become what he can be, he is still reaching for his potential but that potential is there, engrained in his essence and it remains on hand, visible, to the audience.

Now, Rhetorician, as someone examining the larger impact of this character I am both delighted and conflicted. This character, Superman, is fast becoming a topic of my own doctoral dissertation. What I saw in this movie was a wonderful attempt to humanize (identify) Superman but in a way that did not shut the door on his potential, just simply deferred it – in a sense to his later maturity as the franchise evolves again. What Snyder and Goyer have done is drawn Superman into a more “grounded” scenario, a more human scenario, where he must, as Mark White notes in his “Moral Judgment: The Power that Makes Superman Human,” apply the best judgment in the worst possible scenarios. They have brought Superman into the human and complicated realm of ethical morality. White notes that “The need for judgment is what brings all superheroes down to Earth, and what ultimately makes them relatable to their fans despite their fantastic abilities” (5). This is a bold move on the part of Snyder and particularly Goyer to attempt, but it is one that has become more common in comic book superhero stories over the past decade as well.

So, Superman, like what Hickman is doing with The Avengers comics in the Marvel Universe, is being pushed into the gray area dangerous to all superheroes – between doing the right thing and doing the right thing with consideration of the consequences. Its not a traditional area Superman is thrust into, but it is an intriguing one though – it has my attention.

Finally, as a Fan I reach the point of highly mixed emotions. Though I am slowly becoming okay with this new interpretation of Superman, I still feel that the greatest potential of Superman remains overlooked, particularly in our current cultural zeitgeist, and that is his ability to inspire and lead by example. This is what Morrison does in All-Star Superman, however, this would never really work in an attempt to build a movie franchise as it appears that Snyder, Goyer, and Nolan are doing. They go for the anti-epic narrative in Man of Steel. Even so, I can still understand why they did so, I just do not think that this is truly a “Superman movie” consequently though.

Looking specifically at other aspects of Man of Steel, all around I really appreciated a smart, confident, and on point Lois Lane – Amy Adams was fantastic. I liked how they dealt with his past and that they spent more time on Krypton giving it an identity, leaving open a lot of potential future stories to build on. I was a bit put out, as a fan of Superman, of the destruction “porn” in the Zod and Superman fight at the end. I was not crazy about the “killing Zod” ending either, but since this is “utilitarian” complicated Superman, I get the approach. I guess my one major complaint was I really started to feel that Snyder aimed to amplify the “Jesus” comparisons just a bit too overtly, learn to utilize subtext will you, its already built into the mythos, no need to amplify is really required.

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SECTION 3

Challenge and Complication

Now, having attempted my round about analysis of the movie, or at least the parts I chose to amplify, I want to come to a point where I both challenge and complicate this apparent dichotomy between what Superman was and might be and what Superman is envisioned now and what he might be.

For me, it becomes a question of essence.

Is the essence of Superman, at his core identity something that remains intact, has it morphed, and does it need to be reimagined?

This is something, this question, this idea of what the essence of Superman and what has he represented, continues to represent, and rhetorically amplified/illustrated over a 75 year existence – this the deeper question here, one that I am hoping to possibly explore in my dissertation.

What has Superman represented throughout his 75-year history – from the 1930-40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and post-9/11. This is a character who has been reinvented time and time again, restructured and remodeled, but what is it, what is it at the core of him, his essence that has remained identifiable throughout. In addition, what kinds of rhetorical tropes/figures has Superman acted as an expression of during those periods – rhetorically functioning and serving a deeper purpose when examined closer. In addition, what remains the common ground, essence, between Morrison and Snyder/Goyer’s visions of Superman. Where does the divide lead, what can be learned by examining the apparent divide in visions, and what are the rhetorical/social/cultural implications of this divide?

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I have more questions then answers, but I also plan to keep looking. A new rabbit hole that I want to explore, one that will move beyond the nit-picky comic fan vs. new fan confusion that always seems to come from any new kind of adaptation.

 

absolute-all-star-superman

 

Works Cited

 

White, Mark D. “Moral Judgment: The Power that Makes Superman Human.” Superman and

Philosophy: What Would The Man of Steel Do?. Ed. Mark D. White. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell,

20013. Print.

Thoughts on Superman before Man of Steel

Now, first off, I have not seen Man of Steel yet, and I’ve heard mixed reviews from both those who review for a living and friends and colleagues.

 

I am seeing the movie on Monday, with my dad (my Superman) and I aim to enjoy it but I know and expect flaws. I plan to return and say more after I see it but I wanted to share two items in this post.

 

First, yesterday a friend of mine, James, sent me a link that had been sent to him. It was entitled “Why Superman Sucks” and was posted to Esquire.com’s blog area. The author, Stephen Marche, honestly grasps at the straws that most people do when they try to benign or belittle something – they limit the scope of their focus to cherry-picking contextual quotations that seem to fit their argument and fail to see the bigger picture.

 

If you are curious to read what he has to say, here is the link to the article:

 

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/why-superman-sucks?src=email

 

It’s obvious that this person has a preoccupation with fascism, perhaps he is a zealous libertarian, who knows, but Superman was originally conceived as a “socialist” hero of the working class. In addition, fascism is an argument one could make for any superhero, but that, again, misses the point. Because, if they are fascist, then so is God. Chew on that a bit, mull it over.

 

Ultimately, in the words of Shaun Treat (a professor, friend, and comic book scholar) he “misses the point”.

 

Now, writers, such as Grant Morrison represent those who “get” what Superman was meant to be to those who read him. He says this as much in the opening of his book Supergods, where he discusses the potential of the superhero and its impact on society, saying that they (superheroes) are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). He even goes on, to specifically reference how Superman helped him overcome his fear of nuclear weapons. He notes, and I paraphrase, I didn’t need Superman to be real, I just needed him to be more real that “the bomb” (Supergods). This, right there, is what the critic in that article missed.

 

So, let me refute that article with one that is nice, and short, and on the mark:

 

http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/VoicesFromKrypton/news/?a=24089

 

Superman does not suck, he can save lives. He inspires. Stephen Marche appears to be too easily ensnared by the current zeitgeist of superheroes as “flawed and dark” to realize that though this version, the Man of Steel version of Superman may fall short, the ideas and values that Superman embodies at the core are ones that are hopeful, and represent the very best that humanity has to offer and to aspire to.

Stage 1: Prospectus…Version 2.0

So, piecing it all together for the first time here in its new version, let’s see what falls out.

*Kept the title I originally had, for now.

Jonathan C. Evans

June 2013

Dissertation Prospectus

Title

Graphic Narratives as Rhetorical Artifacts: Bridging the Divides Between Words and Images, Pop Culture and Literature, and Dramatic Unforeseen

Statement of Purpose

In an ever-growing visual culture, it is becoming more and more important for our culture to come to a deeper and more detailed understanding of how visual imagery and narratives can and do impact cultural expression, growth, and communication. The continuing popularity of superhero comic books and adaptation of properties into motion pictures demonstrates the potential cultural and rhetorical power encapsulated in these graphic narratives and the deeper impact such visual narratives are having in our current cultural zeitgeist. As human beings, we have a strong inclination to respond to visual/symbolic forms (signifiers) that often communicate complicated abstract ideas and values (signified). This propensity is reflects both a visual and dramatic orientation of human communication, and within modern American culture such communication lies at the heart of popular forms of entertainment from movies, to television, to comic book superheroes. This impact of popular culture, visually, upon the human imagination and the way we communicate complex ideas leads to an important question: How can one reach a better understanding of why society, particularly American society, is so susceptible to the application of visual rhetoric and signifiers in the rendering and expression of our beliefs, values, and ideas? To answer this question, I am aim to hypothesize that through an understanding of how Kenneth Burke’s concept of the dramatic pentad and close application of rhetorical tropes and figures to the analysis of cultural signifiers, such as comic book superheroes, a greater understanding of how symbolic and visual communication can impact the shaping and development of human ideas and values will emerge. This dissertation will attempt to do this by drawing upon theories and methodologies found in the works of Kenneth Burke, Chaim Perelman, Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes, Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, and Hans Blumenburg.

Statement of Significance

Will Eisner told a story from his childhood, recounted in David Hajdu’s book The 10 Cent Plague, where his father took him to the Catholic Church “Our Lady of the Assumption,” not far from where he grew up. Hajdu relates that Eisner noted that his father brought him here because “‘He wanted me [Eisner] see what he had done when he was an artist’” but more importantly to “‘to experience the power of visual imagery as a tool for communicating ideas and doctrine and so forth’” (71). This anecdote denotes a long and direct connection between the ability of visual images to convey and connect with a potential audience. There is a profound and powerful ability within visual images to communicate and persuade, to move, an audience that often goes unnoticed until someone comes along and points it out, and then, others often react in agreement.

Eisner, in his own book Comics and Sequential Art, points out that imagery, like written language, serves and acts as a communicator. He notes that  “Comprehension of an image requires a commonality of experience…the success or failure of this method of communicating depends upon the ease with which the reader recognizes the meaning and emotional impact of the image” (7-8). The power of visual images lies heavily within the folds of collective values and recognizable concepts – often unspoken – but very important to exchange and interaction within those groups that accept those shared values and concepts. Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, in their work The New Rhetoric, identify that when looking for objects of agreement, values fall within a second grouping, “concerning the preferable, comprising values, hierarchies, and lines of argument relating to the preferable” (66). These ideas are ones that foster agreement within their conception of a “universal audience,” one that is unknown, but also malleable. Expanding on how values work, they note that “Agreement with regard to a value means an admission that an object, a being, or an ideal must have a specific influence on action and on disposition toward action and that one can make use of this influence in an argument” (74). Superheroes, if one is the identify them as clear symbols of human potential, have the potential rhetorical power to act as visual communication and persuasion of inherent cultural values that they, in turn, represent or embody.

In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison offers a popular culture view and take on the superheroes by noting, in his assertion, that superheroes are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). For Morrison, via his claim, superheroes are part of the human experience, and as Morrison’s final statement invokes, they can affect their audience on a number of levels. From their very beginnings, particularly in what is called the “Golden Age” of comic books and the comic book superhero – Action Comics #1 appearance of Superman in June, 1938 – superheroes have continued (though often repressed, hounded, dismissed, and ignored) to play and have an impact on human understanding and interaction.

Literature Review:

In his Grammar of Motives, Kenneth Burke conceptualized life as a form of drama, Dramatism, consisting of the five elements of a kin to the basic journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. These elements are: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose. These elements serve as a way of examining human relationships, a meta-method. It was, according to Burke, a “method of analysis and a corresponding critique designed to show the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives…” (Overington). Turning this back then, what is Grant Morrison’s motivation, his dramatic move in his book Supergods. The Act (1) is a rhetorical analysis of the first appearances of Superman and Batman at the dawn of what is called roughly the Golden Age of comic books.  The Scene (2) is a reflection upon events coming out of 1930’s America and the Great Depression as an impact in our modern times. The Agent (3), as Morrison is illustrating are the characters of Superman and Batman, their creators, and Morrison himself. Their role form of tiers: creation, creators, and analyzer (who is himself a modern day comic book writer). The Agency (4) here calls upon a rhetorical analysis that dissects the roles that occur with the interaction of all three tiers, covering decades of time and analysis. Finally, there is the Purpose (5), and Morrison this purpose comes the direction that comic books have a way of communicating with an audience on levels that sometimes, and most times, are overlooked by many – legitimacy.

Applying Burke to what Morrison is doing conveys the place of visual rhetoric as it holds a place, worth noting, for how such an artifact, as a comic book cover, can come to embody, reflect, and identify the values that would appeal to young boys during the late 1930’s and 40’s. Morrison is pushing for the recognition of what is often seen, comic books, as a “popular medium” as a more serious, philosophical and even rhetorical, medium and mode of expression, by drawing upon Burke’s notions of the dramatic pentad for analysis, as well as Burke’s notions of identification to lay out the beginning framework of his personal accounting and exploration of the history of superhero comic books.

Furthermore, comic writer/artist and theorist Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art ascribes that “we [humans] see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (33). McCloud’s assertion points to humanity’s prominent role in shaping reality in its own image and suggests a very relativist perception of how instrumental humanity is in creating the boundaries and definitions of everything. Since “we see ourselves in everything” one might conclude that of course we see ourselves in Superman, in Batman, in Iron Man, in Captain America, and so on. So why do we not readily admit it? There is a rhetorical, personal, element to be found there in the superhero narrative.

Statement of Research Methodology

To begin a close examination of the rhetorical impact of symbols upon human interaction and communication first requires an understanding, a definition and approach to symbols and how they function within the realm of human interaction and communication. Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To examine the role of the superhero as meaning communicating symbol, I will attempt to rhetorically analyze, visually, the functions of iconic superheroes. I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform for this visual rhetorical analysis, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within.

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation

Introduction:

This section will open up with attempting to draw out a general history and understanding of how symbols and signs function in engaging human reaction and communicating human ideas and values. The use of the comic book superhero will help draw in how this concept works and functions, dramatically, upon individuals and groups. I will lay out the argument that the superhero functions as a visual rhetoric that embodies real, human characteristics and ideas via close rhetorical analysis. The purpose aim is to show that via its role as a rhetorical artifact, the graphic narrative format of the superhero narratives, modern myths so to say, are valuable means for engaging audiences on many different stylistic levels that grant greater significance to this form of story telling than previously recognized.

Literature Review:

The literature review, partially demonstrated above, will open up and examine closely both the debates and discussions surrounding the role of symbols and semiotic relations in communication and language, but how the use of images, particularly the comic books superhero, have come to represent rhetorical tools for engaging and motivating audience in engagement. Examples of currently under investigation here are Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication by Ann Marie Barry, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Wolk, Douglas. Finally, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. These, along with other journals and works, will help develop both a framework of comic book history and development, but particularly look to reveal the growing mainstream acceptance of the medium and how this opens up greater opportunities to closely examine the deeper rhetorical meaning and potential existing within.

Method:

This section will be a direct application Burke’s theory of the dramatic pentad and Chaim Perelman’s updated conceptions of rhetorical figures and notions of rhetoric and its appeal to values to formulate and bring together the conceptions surrounding the strong formation of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme. A groundwork will be introduced to allow for the responses of the audience and how the impact of the superhero is developing and exploring complex ideas and concept. More importantly, it will be important to set out a method of recognizing and decoding of the superhero as rhetorical constructs as presented in the comic book medium by close analysis. This will rely on turning to Umberto Eco and semiotic theory, as well as Douglas Wolk and the work of Scott McCloud, in addition to Burke and Perelman. The production will aim to layout the groundwork for looking at the superhero via the lens of visual and symbolic rhetoric.

Analysis:

  1. This chapter will to look at close visual rhetorical analysis aimed at understanding the ability of comic book superheroes to teach. Specifically targeted, so far, for this chapter is a close examination of Mark Miller’s Superior. The superhero as teacher here serves as a tool for acceptance, toleration, and doing what is right.
  2. This chapter will engage in a close rhetorical analysis of comic book superheroes and their ability to delight. It will focus on works like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, as well as a variety of other books. This chapter will attempt to look at the superhero as enthymeme through the lens of the enjoyment of both the writing and artistic forms that can be presented. This will specially explore the aesthetic qualities found in the comic book medium.
  3. This chapter will turn back and attempt to look deeper at the rhetorical power found in the superhero to engage in high minded and deep philosophical debate. This chapter will focus on certain archetypal characters: Superman (Morrison’s All-Star Superman), Batman (Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum), and Captain America and Iron Man (Mark Miller’s Civil War and Hickman’s Avengers).

Conclusion:

The primary focus of this exploration is to offer up a direct and relevant understanding of how superheroes can and do function as potential rhetorical artifacts. The comic book/graphic novel medium has in fact become a sort of middle ground, a commonplace for the words of novels and books, and the images of motion pictures. The superhero narrative is one that carries specific rhetorical power due to its connection and formulation within symbolic communication. There should and needs to be a greater acceptance of this aspect of human nature and imagination that occurs subconsciously daily but remains consciously unnoticed.

Working Bibliography

Barry, Ann Marie. Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. Albany: State U of New York P, 1997. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

Eco, Umberto. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1984. Print.

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008. Print.

Eliade, Mircea. Images and Symbols. Trans. Mairet, Philip. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1991. Print.

Hajdu, David. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Picador. 2008. Print

Jung, C G. The Portable Jung. Ed. Joseph Campbell. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012. Print.

Overington, M. “Kenneth Burke and the Method of Dramatism.” Theory and Society 4 (1977). 131-156.

Perelman, Chaim and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Tran. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print.

Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 5


So, here we are at the final part – the Working Bibliography. Now, this one is kind of simple and straight forward.

 

Like the other sections I have TWO versions of the Working Bibliography here, 1.0 and 1.5 but unlike other sections there is no designation of OLD or NEW. That is because version 1.0 actually is an expanded version that most likely contains works and resources that will still make it into my dissertation while 1.5 is simply an “abbreviated” version of it for the official dissertation prospectus document to be submitted to the graduate school.

 

 

Working Bibliography 1.0

Andrae, Thomas. “From Menace to Messiah: The History and Historicity of Superman.” Discourse 2 (1980): 124-138. Print.

 

Aristotle. The Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. New York: The Modern Library, 1984. Print. 

 

Barthes, Roland. Elements of Semiology. Trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967. Print.

 

—. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Print.

 

Barry, Ann Marie. Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. Albany: State U of New York P, 1997. Print.

 

Blumenberg, Hans. The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. Trans. Robert M. Wallace. Cambridge: MIT P, 1983. Print.

 

Burke, Kenneth. Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

 

—. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: U of California P, 1966. Print.

 

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

 

Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. New York: Bantam Books, 1973. Print.

 

Doty, William G. Mythography: The Study of Myth and Rituals. 2nd Edition. Tuscaloosa, U of Alabama P, 2000. Print.

 

Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form & Culture. New York: Continuum, 2009. Print.

 

Eco, Umberto. The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1990. Print.

 

—. “The Myth of Superman.” Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium. Eds. Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester. Jackson: U P of Mississippi, 2004. Print.

 

—. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1984. Print.

 

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008. Print.

 

Eliade, Mircea. Images and Symbols. Trans. Mairet, Philip. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1991. Print.

 

Engle, Gary. “What Makes Superman So Darned American?” Mythic Rhetoric of the American Superhero. Reading Packet. Com 4849: Special Topics in Rhetorical Studies. Dr. Shaun Treat. 2011. Print.

 

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse of Language. New York: Vintage, 1982. Print.

 

Gross, Alan and Ray D. Dearin. Chaim Perelman. Albany: State U of New York P, 2003. Print.

 

Hajdu, David. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Picador. 2008. Print

 

Hill, Charles. “The Psychology of Rhetorical Images.” Defining Visual Rhetorics. Ed. Charles A.Hill and Marguerite Helmers. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2004. 41-62. Print.

 

Jenkins, Henry. “Just Men in Tights.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. 19 March 2007. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.

 

Jung, C G. Ed. Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell Publishing, 1964. Print.

 

—. The Portable Jung. Ed. Joseph Campbell. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Print.

 

Kick, Russ. Ed. The Graphic Cannon Vol. 1: From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012. Print.

 

—. The Graphic Cannon Vol. 2: From “Kubla Khan” to the Bronte Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012. Print.

 

Lawrence, John and Robert Jewett. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002. Print.

 

Martinich, A. P. Ed. The Philosophy of Language. New York: Oxford U P, 1996. Print.

 

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

 

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012. Print. 

 

Overington, M. “Kenneth Burke and the Method of Dramatism.” Theory and Society 4 (1977). 131-156.

 

Perelman, Chaim and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Tran. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print.

 

Perelman, Chaim. The Realm of Rhetoric. Trans. William Kluback. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1982. Print.

 

Reynolds, Richard. Superheroes: A Modern Mythology. Jackson: U P of Mississippi, 1992. Print.

 

Shakespeare, William. The Annotated Shakespeare: Three Volumes in One. Ed. A. L. Rowse. New York: Greenwich House, 1988. Print.

 

Stainton, Robert J. Philosophical Perspectives on Language. Petersborough: Broadview P, 1996. Print.

 

Tucker, Robert E. “Figure, Ground and Presence: A Phenomenology of Meaning in Rhetoric.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 87.4 (2001): 396-414. Print.

 

Varnum, Robin and Christina T. Gibbons. Ed. The Language of Comics: Word and Image. Jackson: U P of Mississippi, 2001. Print.

 

Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007. Print.

So, that version still contains many works and research materials that will play a crucial role in my dissertation. What follows now is the abbreviated version for the official document.

Working Bibliography 1.5

Barry, Ann Marie. Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. Albany: State U of New York P, 1997. Print.

 

Burke, Kenneth. Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

 

—. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. Print.

 

Eco, Umberto. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1984. Print.

 

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2008. Print.

 

Eliade, Mircea. Images and Symbols. Trans. Mairet, Philip. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1991. Print.

 

Hajdu, David. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. New York: Picador. 2008. Print

 

Jung, C G. The Portable Jung. Ed. Joseph Campbell. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Print.

 

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. Print.

 

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012. Print.

 

Overington, M. “Kenneth Burke and the Method of Dramatism.” Theory and Society 4 (1977). 131-156.

 

Perelman, Chaim and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Tran. John Wilkinson and Purcell Weaver. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P. 1969. Print.

 

 

So, now that we have all the pieces…let’s go and put this version together and see what kind of image our puzzle produces (hopefully it will make sense).

 

 

 

Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 4

Now we reach the part of the dissertation prospectus where one attempts to project a possible (tentative) organization.

To the best of my ability and to avoid that death spiral followed by an ejection that I mentioned last time, I am and will do my best to stick to this organization with some deviation but for my sanity, as close as I can.

So, again, here is the original version, this one longer and centered upon the original superhero as enthymeme idea:

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation 1.0 (OLD)

Introduction:

This section will open up with attempting to draw out a general history and understanding of how symbols and signs function in engaging human reaction and communicating human ideas and values. The use of the comic book superhero will help draw in how this concept works and functions, dramatically, upon individuals and groups. This requires an understanding, as I will approach it, of discussing the both the history of the superhero in modern times, but also drawing connections to both the appearance (at the tail end of the Great Depression), denigration during the 1950’s, and then slow rehabilitation since (particularly its even stronger growth post-9/11). I will lay out the argument that the superhero functions as a visual rhetoric that embodies real, human characteristics and ideas via close rhetorical analysis. The purpose aim is to show that via its role as a rhetorical artifact, the graphic narrative format of the superhero narratives, modern myths so to say, are valuable means for engaging audiences on many different stylistic levels that grant greater significance to this form of story telling than previously recognized.

Literature Review:

The literature review, partially demonstrated above, will open up and examine closely both the debates and discussions surrounding the role of symbols and semiotic relations in communication and language, but how the use of images, particularly the comic books superhero, have come to represent rhetorical tools for engaging and motivating audience in engagement. This will be couched within a close examination of visual rhetorical analysis, building off of Grant Morrison’s attempts found in Supergods, while attempting to draw connections to Burkean notions of the dramatic pentad, as well as the role of symbols as essential elements of human interaction and communication.

Examples of currently under investigation here are Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication by Ann Marie Barry, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison, The Language of Comics: Word and Image edited by Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Wolk, Douglas. Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, and of course Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. These, along with other journals and works, will help develop both a framework of comic book history and development, but particularly look to reveal the growing mainstream acceptance of the medium and how this opens up greater opportunities to closely examine the deeper rhetorical meaning and potential existing within.

Method:

This section will be a direct application Burke’s theory of the dramatic pentad and Chaim Perelman’s updated conceptions of rhetorical figures and notions of rhetoric and its appeal to values to formulate and bring together the conceptions surrounding the strong formation of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme. A groundwork will be introduced to allow for the responses of the audience and how the impact of the superhero is developing and exploring complex ideas and concept. More importantly, it will be important to set out a method of recognizing and decoding of the superhero as rhetorical constructs as presented in the comic book medium by close analysis. This will rely on turning to Umberto Eco and semiotic theory, as well as Douglas Wolk and the work of Scott McCloud, in addition to Burke and Perelman. The production will aim to layout the groundwork for looking at the superhero via the lens of visual and symbolic rhetoric.

Analysis:

  1. This chapter will to look at close visual rhetorical analysis aimed at understanding the ability of comic book superheroes to teach. Specifically targeted, so far, for this chapter is a close examination of Mark Miller’s Superior. This chapter will attempt to understand and examine the choices of the main character, a twelve-year old by, Simon Pooni, who is struck down by multiple sclerosis, but escapes into comic books. He is eventually granted the wish of becoming is favorite fictional superhero: Superior (a analogue of Superman). The teaching ability here is that even with this power, similar powers are given to a bully who becomes Superior’s arch-enemy Abraxas. After their showdown, Simon opts to return to being himself, having come to accept who he is. The superhero as enthymeme here serves as a tool for acceptance, toleration, and doing what is right.
  2. This chapter will engage in a close rhetorical analysis of comic book superheroes and their ability to delight. It will focus on works like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, as well as a variety of other books. This chapter will attempt to look at the superhero as enthymeme through the lens of the enjoyment of both the writing and artistic forms that can be presented. This will specially explore the aesthetic qualities found in the comic book medium.
  3. This chapter will turn back and attempt to look deeper at the rhetorical power found in the superhero to engage in high minded and deep philosophical debate. This chapter will focus on certain archetypal characters: Superman (Morrison’s All-Star Superman), Batman (Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum), and Captain America and Iron Man (Mark Miller’s Civil War and Hickman’s Avengers). This chapter will attempt to look specifically, via example, the ways that superheroes truly embody and express a type of rhetorical enthymeme as laid out by Aristotle and revised by Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca.

Conclusion:

The primary focus of this exploration is to offer up a direct and relevant understanding of how superheroes can and do function as potential rhetorical artifacts. The comic book/graphic novel medium has in fact become a sort of middle ground, a commonplace for the words of novels and books, and the images of motion pictures. The superhero narrative is one that carries specific rhetorical power due to its connection and formulation within symbolic communication. There should and needs to be a greater acceptance of this aspect of human nature and imagination that occurs subconsciously daily but remains consciously unnoticed.

If one is paying close attention, you’ll notice abbreviated versions of Statement of Purpose, Signficance, and Methodology make appearances above via the Introduction, Literature Review, and Method.

 

Added to this we now have a tentative analysis section, where I, originally attempted to apply rhetorical style to the situation, and this is followed with a conclusion.

 

The point at stake here, and still in the revised version though its focus is changed (tweaked) and the new version is cut down, is that there are two aspects defined here – scholar and critic  (as Dr. Greer pointed to) – and both are important. I’ll elaborate on this more after the new version below:

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation 1.5 (NEW)

Introduction:

This section will open up with attempting to draw out a general history and understanding of how symbols and signs function in engaging human reaction and communicating human ideas and values. The use of the comic book superhero will help draw in how this concept works and functions, dramatically, upon individuals and groups. I will lay out the argument that the superhero functions as a visual rhetoric that embodies real, human characteristics and ideas via close rhetorical analysis. The purpose aim is to show that via its role as a rhetorical artifact, the graphic narrative format of the superhero narratives, modern myths so to say, are valuable means for engaging audiences on many different stylistic levels that grant greater significance to this form of story telling than previously recognized.

Literature Review:

The literature review, partially demonstrated above, will open up and examine closely both the debates and discussions surrounding the role of symbols and semiotic relations in communication and language, but how the use of images, particularly the comic books superhero, have come to represent rhetorical tools for engaging and motivating audience in engagement. Examples of currently under investigation here are Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication by Ann Marie Barry, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Wolk, Douglas. Finally, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. These, along with other journals and works, will help develop both a framework of comic book history and development, but particularly look to reveal the growing mainstream acceptance of the medium and how this opens up greater opportunities to closely examine the deeper rhetorical meaning and potential existing within.

Method:

This section will be a direct application Burke’s theory of the dramatic pentad and Chaim Perelman’s updated conceptions of rhetorical figures and notions of rhetoric and its appeal to values to formulate and bring together the conceptions surrounding the strong formation of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme. A groundwork will be introduced to allow for the responses of the audience and how the impact of the superhero is developing and exploring complex ideas and concept. More importantly, it will be important to set out a method of recognizing and decoding of the superhero as rhetorical constructs as presented in the comic book medium by close analysis. This will rely on turning to Umberto Eco and semiotic theory, as well as Douglas Wolk and the work of Scott McCloud, in addition to Burke and Perelman. The production will aim to layout the groundwork for looking at the superhero via the lens of visual and symbolic rhetoric.

Analysis:

  1. This chapter will to look at close visual rhetorical analysis aimed at understanding the ability of comic book superheroes to teach. Specifically targeted, so far, for this chapter is a close examination of Mark Miller’s Superior. The superhero as teacher here serves as a tool for acceptance, toleration, and doing what is right.
  2. This chapter will engage in a close rhetorical analysis of comic book superheroes and their ability to delight. It will focus on works like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, as well as a variety of other books. This chapter will attempt to look at the superhero as enthymeme through the lens of the enjoyment of both the writing and artistic forms that can be presented. This will specially explore the aesthetic qualities found in the comic book medium.
  3. This chapter will turn back and attempt to look deeper at the rhetorical power found in the superhero to engage in high minded and deep philosophical debate. This chapter will focus on certain archetypal characters: Superman (Morrison’s All-Star Superman), Batman (Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum), and Captain America and Iron Man (Mark Miller’s Civil War and Hickman’s Avengers).

Conclusion:

The primary focus of this exploration is to offer up a direct and relevant understanding of how superheroes can and do function as potential rhetorical artifacts. The comic book/graphic novel medium has in fact become a sort of middle ground, a commonplace for the words of novels and books, and the images of motion pictures. The superhero narrative is one that carries specific rhetorical power due to its connection and formulation within symbolic communication. There should and needs to be a greater acceptance of this aspect of human nature and imagination that occurs subconsciously daily but remains consciously unnoticed.

 

This version, compressed for requirements, still attempts to retain the aspect of both scholar and critic.

 

The Scholar

The scholarly aspect is the historical digging, the research and background information that come out of the introduction and the literature review. Enjoy this metaphor to help: This are important because this lays out a strong foundation for you – think clearing the trees and leveling the land, surveys and historical investigation to make sure you aren’t building on some historical sight.

 

The Critic

This is comes out of the Method and Analysis. This is where you take the research and apply it, test it, and attempt to construct and challenge your own questions, warrants, and claims (see Road to Dissertation: Stage 1, Constructing a Prospectus for reference). This is where one departs from the original research and what others have said and moves forward into what you have to say about it, to contribute.

 

So, here we are, one last part to put in and then the dissertation is ready…to be torn apart by one’s committee in order to find out if it is really “road ready.”

 

Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 3

Now we start getting into the work…

This is the part in the dissertation prospectus where we begin to attempt to point out how we plan to go about conducting our research.

Real quickly, something to note, for the official Dissertation Prospectus document there are limits. A limit of 10 pages really kind of forces one to try and be concise, and as you will see in section 5 – Working Bibliography, sometimes cut things down to the bare bare bones.

But, moving right along, here is the original stab at a Research Methodology:

Statement of Research Methodology 1.0 (OLD)

Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

This exploration of the understanding of symbols and their impact is the first layer in the approach to examining the superhero as a type of archetypal/rhetorical construct of expression. Studying the aims and positions found both in the use of symbols with the study of Semiotics and Psychoanalysis will formulate the beginning of coming to understand the impact that the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme is able to carry through with the audience or potential audiences it may encounter. In addition to understanding this element, another key identifier to communicate in laying out the superhero impact on a potential audience will incorporate Hans Blumenberg’s conceptions of “reappropriation” and understanding the ways that human culture tends to act in ways that constantly reappropriates and both borrows and builds upon past ideas. This ties in with both Jungian conceptions of archetypes and the collective unconscious, as well relates to ideas that Grant Morrison, in his work Supergods, and elsewhere professes about as part of what superheroes are capable of expressing. Blumenberg notes specifically that “secularization” as he use the term “signifies [the] designation for a long-term process by which a disappearance of religious ties, attitudes of transcendence, expectations of an afterlife, ritual performances, and firmly established turns of speech are driven onward in both private and daily public life” (3). Focusing primarily on the idea, as Blumenberg later asserts, that this is a mode of historical interpretation, it is interesting to note just how far back the idea of heroes, from the Greek meaning “demi-god,” have captivated human culture. How has this “ritual performance” migrated and evolved and repositioned itself within our society today? This will be part of what will be explored, attempting to understand the history and relevance of images, and their symbolic power, in our culture as a ground work for both understanding the superhero as enthymeme but also an understanding of audience response to such images.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To demonstrate the superhero as enthymeme, to see the styles (as Cicero and others have noted) I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels…plus more – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within. The primary aim throughout will be to understand the superhero as first a symbolic construct that has relevance and impact upon human action, to explore the rhetorical potential of such “relevance and impact” via the understanding of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme, and then to reinforce all of it by analyzing specific examples and drawing out the encoded messages and ideas held with.


Interesting note, when looking at the new methodology, with the exception of some new points and streamlining, and some cutting down, not a whole lot has changed…just tightened and focused (hopefully).

 

Statement of Research Methodology 1.5 (NEW)

To begin a close examination of the rhetorical impact of symbols upon human interaction and communication first requires an understanding, a definition and approach to symbols and how they function within the realm of human interaction and communication. Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To examine the role of the superhero as meaning communicating symbol, I will attempt to rhetorically analyze, visually, the functions of iconic superheroes. I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform for this visual rhetorical analysis, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within.

 

The purpose here is to attempt to provide an idea, a road map of your intentions to how you plan to try and go about completing this massive undertaking while trying to focus up a bit to avoid spiraling into an abyss from which you may never escape.

 

No kidding…some people never escape, at least not without ejecting and losing the craft. I do not have any intentions of doing that myself.