Updating the Revision of Fundamentals 2.0

QUESTION

 

What is the significance of Superman’s ability to function rhetorically as a model?

 

CLAIM

 

Superman functions as a rhetorical model that affirms cultural cooperation in a dialogic relationship with American culture. The significance of Superman, as a rhetorical model, is the characters ability to both affirm and challenge, even shape, the perception of what America is or can be, as well as represent an identifiable, iconic symbol of what is best in American excellence.

 

EVIDENCE

 

Evidence of Superman’s role as a model – throughout the major comic books periods –can be found in the ways that he has defined and helped redefined what American excellence, American identity, is about. Superman represents a concrete construction; a bringing together a multitude of abstract ideas and values that make up America. He has been a champion of the oppressed, Action Comics #1 (1938), and defend of American home front, as seen in Superman #23 and 29 (1943-44), and even tackled fears of radiation from atomic weapons, Superman #61 (1949), during what comics fans call the Golden Age (1938-50).

 

In the Silver Age (1956-70) Superman took on foes from outer space, battled our fears of aliens and invasion, Action Comics #242 (1958) and #252 (1959). He faced his own evil twin (Bizzaro) in Action Comics #254 (1959), made tough choices when visiting is own doomed home world in Superman #141 (1960), and even fought his nemesis and anti-model Lex Luthor in a “fair” fight, Superman #163 (1963).

 

In the Bronze Age (1970-85) and onward, Superman struggled to stay relevant as his powers and abilities became an inspiration and hindrance, “No More Kryptonite” storyline of Superman #233-8, 240-2 (1970-71). Questions were asked: “If Superman Didn’t Exist?” Action Comics #554 (1984) and speculation was made about a world after Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow.

 

The Modern Age (1985-2000) witnessed a continued struggle for relevance and more attempts to “depower” and reinvent Superman, John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series (1986). Superman became the poster boy for government stooge, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and even had his identity uncovered by Lex Luthor, Superman (vol. 2) #2 (1987). In his struggle to stay relevant, Superman even died, Death of Superman event (1992), and in reflection, mourned, Funeral for a Friend (1992). Eventually, Superman was replaced and then returned, Reign of the Supermen (1993), got married (finally), in Superman: The Wedding Album (1996), and attempted to end world hunger, Superman: Peace on Earth (1998). Attempts were even made to imagine Superman on the wrong side of growing public debate, such as in Kingdom Come (1996), where he went into self-imposed exile for not killing but returned to face his own demons and more.

 

 

 

The dark tone of Kingdom Come forecast questions of relevancy in Superman against the growing zeitgeist of late modern era. In Post-Modern Age (2001-Present), the challenges to Superman, as a model, have grown and a skewed in relationship to a growing divergence with the cultural zeitgeist and leanings with regards to superheroes. Superman: Red Son (2003) reimagined Superman as hero of the U.S.S.R. but even so, he remained a model of what was right and decent. In Superman: Birthright (2003-04) his origin and back story was revised for the 21st century, while All-Star Superman (2005-08) reimagined Superman in his idyllic mythos as savior. Finally, Superman Grounded (2010-11) again attempted to bring Superman closer to the people of Earth, to re-identify.

 

 

WARRANT

 

Since it’s earliest founding, America has struggled to find a true social and literary identity. Superman has provided that identity for the past 75-years by functioning as a rhetorical model of what American ideals and values are and communicating them to the nation and the world abroad.

Key examples of Superman as a Model in Relationship to American History

So, as I begin to map out some things pertaining to Superman, I started looking for strong shifts and developments in his history, as well as pointed moments of development that showed him acting in some fashion as a rhetorical model.

Here is what I came up with so far, feel free to suggest more…

Golden Age (1938-1950)

American Historical Context: Tail end of Great Depression, Crime, Corruption, WWII (Superman stays on the home front), and Beginnings of Cold War, Nuclear Armament

Superman is given birth, becomes an icon and helps navigate the context and struggle of America during times of growth and war.

Action Comics #1 (1938) – Fighting injustice and Corruption

Supermen of America (1939) – Fan Club Established

Superman #1 (1939) – First superhero to have his own title

Look Magazine #7 (1940) – “How Superman Would End the War”

Action Comics #23 (1940) – Introduction of Lex Luthor (the anti-model)

Actions Comics #58 (1943) – Superman says to “Slap a Jap” and buy bonds

Superman #23 (1943) – Superman helps train the armed forces

Superman #29 (1944) – Superman fighting to help sell war bonds

Superman #53 (1948) – Origin story really developed in full for first time

Superman #61 (1949) – kryptonite, fear of radiation in wake of nuclear bombs

Silver Age (1956-1970)

American Historical Context: Ramping up of the Cold War, Assassinations of JFK, MLK, and Bobby Kennedy, Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, and Vietnam War

Superman’s focus, in wake of the Comic Book Code turned to more Sci-Fi adventures that took on fears of invasion, radiation, and the space race. In 1954, U.S.S.R. tested an atomic weapon.

Action Comics #252 (1959) – Arrival of Supergirl, another survivor of Krypton

Action Comics #254 (1959) – Face off against Bizzaro

Action Comics #259 (1959) – Battle with Kryptonite Man

Superman #141 (1960) – Returns to the past and to his home planet of Krypton

Superman #163 (1963) – Takes on Lex Luthor in a “fair fight”

Superman #199 (1967) – Races the Flash

Bronze Age (1970-1985)

American Historical Context: Ramping down of Vietnam War, time of economic and political turmoil, arrival of Regan era and promise of a new morning in America

Superman is searching for relevancy as America is searching also for its identity following the 1960’s. More powers given to Superman, then his powers eventually are reduced. He is put on trial, becomes a celebrity, and the world is asked to wonder what and where would it be if he did not exist or died.

Superman #233-8, 240-2 (1970-71) – Kryptonite no more

Superman #247 (1972) – Superman on trial

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (1978) – Fights then teams up with the fighter

Action Comics #554 (1984) – “If Superman Didn’t Exist?”

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow – A world imagined after Superman is dead

Modern Age (1985-2001)

American Historical Context: Leaving behind the Regan era, America hit recession and then entered a period economic prosperity before facing terror attacks upon entering the new millennium.

 

Superman continues to shift in his evolution. Moving from Regan era and attempts to reboot him with fewer powers, rewriting his Silver Age past, Superman depictions run the gambit of him dying and returning to life, to depiction in alternate futures, and getting married.

Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) – Twelve-issue series that attempted to shrink DC Universe

John Byrne’s Man of Steel (1986) – Six-part series that attempted to change the mythos, reduce powers, and major edits to Superman in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths

Dark Knight Returns (1986) – Alternate Batman timeline where Superman was government stooge

Superman (vol. 2) #2 (1987) – Lex Luthor uncovers Superman’s identity

Death of Superman (1992) – Decision to kill Superman in an epic series of interconnected stories

Funeral for a Friend (1992) – Tribute to the death of Superman, reflection on what he meant

Reign of the Supermen (1993) – Consequences of a world trying to replace Superman and his return

Kingdom Come (1996) – Alternate future where Superman walked away and returns to set things right again

Superman: The Wedding Album (1996) – Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Finally said, “I do”

Superman: Peace on Earth (1998) – Superman attempts to eliminate world hunger

Post-Modern Age (2001-Present)

 

American Historical Context: 9/11, the War on Terror, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and changing paradigm of American culture in dark territory.

 

Superman faces an attempt to continue to stay relevant in a world that has shifted to darker, grittier depictions of superheroes.

 

Superman: Red Son (2003) – Elseworlds story that imagines Superman as champion of U.S.S.R.

Superman: Birthright (2003-04) – Revisit of origin and updating for 21st century

All-Star Superman (2005-08) – an update and refit that imagined Superman at his mythological best

Superman Grounded (2010-11) – Superman returns to Earth and basics after struggle with New Krypton

New 52 (2011-Present) – Relaunch of entire DC Universe

Revision of the Fundamentals 2.0

So, last time, in preparation for really digging in deep and making Prospectus 3.0 be “the one,” I attempted to simplify and streamline the 4 basic elements: Research Question, Research Claim, Research Evidence, and Research Warrant. Interestingly, a lot of this is like a bit of archeology, going over an area, picking at it, digging more, and then finally pulling something out, deciphering it, and then communicating it to others.

If you don’t like that metaphor, then you can always fall back on the one I am using for my prospectus (which kind of ties in…it involves metaphysical “dirt”) of putting together and revising blueprints for constructing my “house” (dissertation).

Either way, what we had from last time (the previous post: Revision of the Fundamentals: Question, Claim, Evidence and Warrant) has undertaken more revision.

The idea of “identification” remains involved in the dissertation, but has become more of an inert or built in premise (unspoken to a degree) and the focus aim now attempts to level out a Research Question that can be more specifically answered.

Research Question

So, previously, we were here:

What is it about Superman that makes that particular character so culturally rich and interwoven with American culture that alterations and reinterpretations of him are met with major and dramatic reactions?

Unfortunately, upon reflection, this turned out to be a bit TOO abstract. It became a tough one to really be able to prove in fact.

Revising then, we come to this:

What aspects of Superman allow the character to function rhetorically as a model?

Now, we are reeling this in, tightening up the rhetorical focus that is what lies at the heart of this dissertation. In addition, we now have a question, which through research, can be made or attempted to be made answer to it.

Research Claim

 

Here is where we left off last time

Through a rhetorical analysis of Superman’s 75-year evolution, we can see a significant dialogic relationship with American culture that has provided, and continues to provide, a symbolic language for cultural cooperation that continues to both affirm and sometimes challenge the shape of perception of the character and what he represents.

Now, here, this turned out fairly well, but it remained clunky and a bit jumbled, not fully drawn out yet. So, with the new aspects of a new focused Research Question, there was a bit of making over to do here as well.

Although he began as simple wish fulfillment, through a rhetorical analysis of Superman’s 75-year evolution, we can see a significant, dialogic relationship with American culture that allows Superman to function as a model of American excellence. This model sometimes challenges the shape of perception of the character and sometimes affirms it. As a model, Superman operates as a secular, iconic image that symbolically affirms cultural cooperation.

 

Taking note here one can see that good bits and pieces of the previous claim were kept, moved, shifted, and repositioned to fit within this new focus and direction.

Research Evidence

Okay, so now that we have the question and the claim, where do we go to find the evidence, the proof to back up the claim in order to answer the question?

The old approach doesn’t quite fit as well anymore, and is a bit bulky:

By rhetorically examining the changes Superman underwent during the major periods of comic book superheroes – The Golden, Silver, Bronze, Modern, and, I would argue a new, Post-Modern – a pattern of evolution and adaptation emerges that reveals how Superman not only has operated to illustrate the presence desired by his writers and artists as part of the shift in the culture around him, but has been and continues to identifiably represent values that are at the core of what America desires to be and project to the world at large whether or not those “values” are what is known.

Evidence of Superman as a model is where we have to go looking, to find that is the aim. The approach I am leaning towards is one that attempts to examine Superman throughout the preconceived “ages” of comic book history in the 20th – 21st centuries. So, I want to keep parts of the evidence above, but fine-tune it.

There are two major things we need to prove or look for: 1) Superman as a model and 2) as inducing cultural cooperation in audiences.

Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca envisioned it in The New Rhetoric the idea of the “model” as “In the realm of conduct, particular behavior may serve, not only to establish or illustrate a general rule, but also to incite to an action inspired by it” (362). What actions then does Superman inspire in others, via conduct or inspired action? Superman, throughout his history has operated on many different levels and many different functions, mediums, or applications (usually determined by those who wrote for and/or publishers of Superman, as well as the events of American society) of generating selected cooperation among American youth who have read Superman comics.

The New Rhetoric goes on to say that “Persons or groups whose prestige confers added value on their acts may be used as models. The value attaching to the person, which is previously recognized, is the premise from which will be drawn the conclusion encouraging some particular behavior” (363). Superman has served to promote many things. At the tail end of the Great Depression, Superman offered an escape by depicting a hero who stood up for the common man against those who oppressed them, whether corrupt politician or businessman. In WWII, he told Americans to “Slap a Jap” and fought on the home front to fight off saboteurs and raise the morale for the men fighting abroad. Through constant transformations, re-launches, and adaptation, Superman has been shaped by many writers/artists/editors/publishers to assert American values and exceptionalism of what is right and good about humanity.

This “exceptionalism” can and has been a double-edged sword for Superman though – hence Superman’s role as one who affirms and sometimes challenges the notions of these ideas.

There is a passage in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that quite aptly points to one of the challenges that has presented itself as Superman’s most challenging – his identity, what he is. The character of Mr. Wednesday makes the statement that “This is the only country [America] in the world…that worries about what it is…The rest of them [countries of the world] know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.” (116).

It is this notion, this true notion about America, of its amalgamation and cross-working nature that lies at the heart of any question about “who or what is Superman?”

Evidence of Superman’s role as a model – throughout the major comic books periods –can be found in the ways that he has defined and helped redefined what American excellence, identity is about. Superman represents a concrete construction; a bringing together a multitude of abstract ideas and values that make up America. Superman as a model both embodies and challenges the ideas of what America is while constantly providing a model for what it means to do the right thing, to fight for truth and justice, and when they are aligned, the American way as well. It is this essence of Superman that makes him identifiable and allows him to draw together, in cultural cooperation, the diversity and multiplicity that has created America.

 

Okay, let us try on this cape, let us go out in the sun, and see if it flies.

Research Warrant

Now we have to ask the critical questions: So What? Who Cares? Why is it important that we attempt or even bother to answer the Research Question that we have posed?

In order to address these, questions, let us start with the old assertion/assumption:

Superman is not merely an American cultural icon but has become a projection of what America aspires to be and projects that image to the world at large in an identifiable message.

Not quite there, a bit of the “so what?” but not really a “who cares?”

 

Superman is an American cultural icon who projects the very best of what America is all about to the world around us. Through studying Superman, we can reach a point of greater understanding about the history of America and the values, ideas, and ideals that have made America great.

 

Okay now, wow, that was longer than I expected. Let us see where this one goes – down the rabbit hole…again.

Attempting to Map the Changes in Superman over 75 years…

Major Changeover Moments in the History of Superman

Golden Age: 1938 – 1950

Silver Age: 1956 – 1970

Bronze Age: 1970 – 1985

Modern Age: 1985 – 2001

Post-Modern Age: 2002 – Present (my assertion, my take on our current “age”)

So, trying to figure out how to approach the history of Superman’s changes, I have started compiling an overview of those changes. This is my first go.

In addition, I am working on looking at how in our “Post-Modern Age” the Superman we know is changing, again, and the changes are creating a rift between attempts to reinvent Superman and a Superman that modern audiences “identify” with.

 

So, here we go, and we start Superman as a villain:

Science Fiction #3 (1933) – The Super-Man as Supervillain

Interestingly, this Superman is a villain who reforms and looks a lot like Lex

Luthor

GOLDEN AGE

Birth of a hero from the imagination of Siegel and Schuster, sons of Jewish immigrants, brings to life a child’s escape fantasy and hero who works outside the law to stop those who would take advantage or persecute the weak.

Birth of Superman – Action Comics #1 (1938)

Taking Flight and other powers – Superman #10 on (1941 and on)

SILVER AGE

Broadening of Superman and his identity, spreading out from his expansion into Radio, TV, and Newspapers from Golden Age Expansion and additions to his essence and powers incorporated

First Major Relaunch – Superman #113 (1957)

-Birth name Kal-El given

-Building on his history

-Introduction (up to 1961) of new elements: Bizarro, Brainiac, Gen. Zod, Bottle —City of Kandor, new krytonites, and Supergirl

-Fortress of Solitude

-Knew Luthor in Smallville as kids

BRONZE AGE

Reinvention of Superman evolves along storylines that attempt to modify and reinvent Superman’s essence, his powers, and redefine him in a new direction away from Silver Age conception. Some interpretations lead to notions of Superman as “boy scout” and government stooge.

No more Kryptonite – Denny O’Neil run (1971)

Return to kryptonite – after O’Neil run (1973)

Christopher Reeve’s depiction of Superman in Superman the Motion Picture

1986 Man of Steel revamp – John Byrne mini-series

-powers emerged until late teens-

-rewrite mythology

-did not know Luthor in Smallville

-Got rid of phantom zone, fortress of solitude, and Supergirl and Krypto

-Power levels lowered – vulnerable

-New realism, darker

Depiction in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns

MODERN AGE

Attempts to generate identification with character lead to experiments with death, marital life, and evolution of the character into more science fiction like re-modification

Death of Superman (1992)

Marriage to Lois Lane

Electric – energy Superman

POST-MODERN AGE

A period re-identification and new attempts to reinvent Superman within both traditional and updated retro-continuity surrounding Superman’s essence, identity, and relevance

Mark Waid’s Superman Birthright (2003)

-Return to Pre-Crisis mythos

-Return of Silver Age elements

Mark Miller’s twist in Superman: Red Son (2003)

Morrison’s exploration of Superman’s end in All-Star Superman (2005-8)

New 52 Relaunch of 2011

Snyder and Goyer’s Man of Steel Movie

ku-xlarge

Revision of the Fundamentals: Question, Claim, Evidence and Warrant

So, reworking some material in preparation for an outline for my prospectus…working on version 3.0. To do this, I am reworking my approach (not completely) but coming at it a bit sideways one might say:

Here we go, new research question, new claim, evidence, and warrant, let’s take this one out for a walk, or perhaps fly

Research Question

What is it about Superman that makes that particular character so culturally rich and interwoven with American culture that alterations and reinterpretations of him are met with major and dramatic reactions?

Claim

Through a rhetorical analysis of Superman’s 75-year evolution, we can see a significant dialogic relationship with American culture that has provided, and continues to provide, a symbolic language for cultural cooperation that continues to both affirm and sometimes challenge the shape of perception of the character and what he represents.

Evidence

By rhetorically examining the changes Superman underwent during the major periods of comic book superheroes – The Golden, Silver, Bronze, Modern, and, I would argue a new, Post-Modern – a pattern of evolution and adaptation emerges that reveals how Superman not only has operated to illustrate the presence desired by his writers and artists as part of the shift in the culture around him, but has been and continues to identifiably represent values that are at the core of what America desires to be and project to the world at large whether or not those “values” are what is known.

Warrant

Superman is not merely an American cultural icon but has become a projection of what America aspires to be and projects that image to the world at large in an identifiable message.

Let’s see how this one feels, I am liking how it is feeling.

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).