Dissertation Hunt 1: Believing a Man Can Fly

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So, this past week (and the one before), several elements and ideas came across my radar as I sift and examine the role of Superman as a rhetorical model (a role model) worthy of emulation and inspired action.

 

While waiting for a wedding to begin the Saturday before last (the 18th), I was struck by something that I decided to write down. So, here it is: Superman, being the template for all modern “super” heroes, being the first, has a responsibility that is built into the very core of the character. This responsibility is to convey the same ideal that heroes have been “burdened” with since man first conceived of them and spoke of them in mythology – to project a model of responsibility of responsibility of those who bear witness to their deeds, who hear about them and who are inspired by them, to wish to emulate this example.

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That is a weighty bit of both responsibility on the “hero” but also on those who wish, in some way, to emulate that hero or superhero. In Action Comics #775 entitled “What’s So Funny Bout Truth, Justice & The American Way?” write Joe Kelly has Superman declare that “Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” Now…that is a tall order. However, it speaks to three very distinct points worth noting.

 

The first is the idea and value of dreams. Some people treat dreams like they are something that goes on in the unconscious mind, but America, not to mention Superman and almost every other superhero found in the pages of comic books, is a dream. Dreams are hope; they are a belief that the world can be a better place. People spend their whole lives searching or chasing after their own version of the “American Dream.” Even more important, in order to understand the true nature and function of Superman, dreams inspire people to action and change. They inspire real life men that American’s revere such as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy. These real life men carried out change and inspired others to “dream” as well. So, one might venture that dreams, having dreams – particularly in America – is something we take a bit more seriously than even we often realize.

 

The second is the idea of a perpetual and never-ending fight. This is something built into the comic book medium, a trope, but one might argue it is also a stand-in for the notion that life is itself, in one form or another, a struggle. For superheroes, for men and women gifted with extraordinary ability, the “struggles” are more than average – the struggles themselves become “super.” Dreams are things we struggle to make real. While Superman can save the day by preventing asteroids from striking the Earth or warding off super villains, the everyday person usually struggles to ward off bills or prevent their life from spiraling into chaos. So, really, how can the life of a superhero, trapped in the comic book pages locked in constant battle with villains and disasters that go on and on really compare to those struggles of the normal, real, everyday person?

 

The answer lies in the third idea found in statement above. This third points out the disconnect between ideals and reality that need to be reconciled. Superman can inspire in an individual the idea that if he can fight off the very evils of the world, then why cannot you, an individual person in the real world press on. Superman is hope. He is not allegorical, but applicable in the ways that the struggles he faces are fictional and astronomical, but the way he comports himself, how he handles the tough decisions and challenges he faces are manners and actions that even the “real” average human man or woman can look to and admire. Superman’s function as a model of behavior, of who we want to be – our better angels or selves – is something that bridges the world of fiction and reality with applicable concepts anyone can admire and emulate.

 

The role of Superman, as a rhetorical model, a figure who can inspire action and emulation in an applicable (and comparable form) is perhaps his truest and deepest power. He has his secret power that is the most powerful one. It shows in the comic books he appears in but its power reaches out even beyond those two dimensional pages. It crosses the third and fourth dimensions (yes, time – 75-years and counting) as well. The power of Superman as a rhetorical model reaches our real world and gives voice to the potential that lies in each and every one of us to make the world a better place in our own way. Superman offers up a potential ideal, that though at first glance appears to be fictionally out of grasp for reality, is, in fact, when looked at carefully filled with small bridges that allow anyone who looks close enough and hard enough can see hidden power that bridges the dreams of tomorrow with the reality of today.

 

Superman-Alex-Ross-Change

 

Big goals, but Superman is larger than life. So, no more chasing rabbit holes for me, its time to put on a cape and believe that a man can fly.

Leaping tall buildings…

So, I am back at it. Had this little thing where I got married a few weeks ago, you know, no big deal. Just kidding, it was an excellent “deal.”

 

Now, here is what I am thinking about.

 

It seems to me, as I think back on my time in Shaun Treat’s class (http://rhetoricsuperhero.wordpress.com), that the mid-1980’s saw some serious questioning of the superhero genre of comic books. The works of men such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore twisted and distorted the superhero in acts that appear to be last gasps and hurrahs for the genre that, perhaps for them, seem to have run its course. But it didn’t. It’s still around and stronger than ever. It seems as if they have missed the real question: why won’t they go away.

 

Superman has not died, well, not in the real world. In fact, no matter his stature of comic book relevance, the character continues to remain. He has become iconic; he has transcended the medium because he taps into something deeper.

 

My friend Carljoe Javier noted this in a Facebook status I agree with. He pointed out that

 

“Renowned writer Dennis O’ Neil says, ‘Lots and lots of people, myself included, were originally drawn to superheroes because something was not right with their lives.’ I believe the draw of superheroes lies in the superheroes’ struggles to fight obstacles that are seemingly insurmountable. We find things that are so bad about our lives that we cannot imagine how we could overcome them, and we find inspiration to fight and struggle because if Superman can save Metropolis, if Batman can save Gotham, if Spider-Man can save New York, if the Fantastic Four can save the multiverse, then surely I can overcome the obstacle in my life.”

 

In many ways I agree with this and I think it represents an adequate answer to why heroes, all kinds of heroes, and particularly superheroes continue to fascinate and captivate our attention – especially in times when the world around us appears to be fraught with perils.

 

What is it about Superman that makes him so appealing? It is because he performs tasks that inspire us to emulate him, not in terms of superpowers, but rather in abilities to help others, to be honest, and more. He is a rhetorical model. He is a persuasive agent who helps communicate abstract ideas via symbolic action within comic books. However, unlike comic books, the ideas that Superman helps communicate are engrained in the American identity.

 

This is what my dissertation will aim to explore.

 

So, keep an eye out for Prospectus, version 5.0…

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…

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.

 

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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, Section 1

So, originally, this was my first stab at a title for my dissertation:

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

No 100% sold on it sense it was created quite quickly and already the dissertation has been tweaked some more to have it heading in a new direction. So, we’ll come back to this.

What I did just get done reworking is the first section, section 1 of my prospectus. Traditionally, at least for what I am working with a dissertation prospectus will contain the following sections:

1. Statement of Purpose

2. Statement of Significance

3. Statement of Methodology

4. Tentative Working Organization

5. Working Bibliography 

I went back over an older draft, from this past spring, of my prospectus and decided to play around with it. The old version looked like this:

Statement of Purpose 1.0 (OLD)

There is a growing interest and deeper exploration of the ability of superhero stories, particularly those found in comic book and graphic novel form, primarily because they have a profound ability to provoke and stir the imaginations of our entire culture. 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. 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). I aim to hypothesize that there is an inherent enthymeme, along with other rhetorical elements (a motive) and concepts, embedded within comic book superheroes that is slowly beginning to reveal itself through reappropriation and textual archeological exploration of comic books and graphic novels as rhetorical artifacts. This dissertation will aim to draw upon theories and methodologies found in Kenneth Burke, Chaim Perelman, Aristotle, Umberto Eco, and Hans Blumenburg.

This version actually centered around my old title, see above, and focused on comic book superheroes as rhetorical enthymemes. Since then, I’ve done a LOT of tweaking, refining, and most importantly, focusing.

With my new Statement of Purpose I strove to do some revision and, in particular, to add into it my newly refined and decided Research Question, Warrant, and Claim (see “Road to Dissertation: Stage 1, Constructing a Prospectus” post).

So, here it is:

Statement of Purpose 2.0

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 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, and Will Eisner.

This one is a bit longer and has, blended into it, more material and concepts that I am hoping will help draw a sharper focus to what I am aiming to work on. As for some of the material from the old version, 1.0, some of that I will be folding “forward” into my Statement of Significance. So, stay tuned.

Rough Journal Article Outline

 

 

True Inspiration: The Rhetoric of Comic Book Superheroes”

The Ancient Greeks had a term, skandalon. This term, in one of its definitions, is defined as a kind of “stumbling block” or something that may be around you, in the every day, that one day you “stumble” while walking past and that forces you to take a much closer look at it. Comic books are evolving into just that kind of skandalon in our world today with the advent and popularity of movies and films based on comic books and comic book superheroes, why is it impossible to think that such things as comic books superheroes should not be studied, not be taken seriously? Superheroes are a mirror upon the real world. Studying superheroes, like any other discipline, requires humanity to look at itself – like the plays of Shakespeare (that were themselves just “popular” entertainment in his time). To study superheroes is to study the ideas and archetypes that form the core of human hopes, aspirations, and ideas that inspire us to look for and create a better “real” world. Comic book superheroes represent a rhetorical opportunity to self-examine and explore humanity, like any other piece of literature, in order to discover what inspires us to create a better world.

 

I. Context and Background

A. Power of “ideas” and Grant Morrison’s Supergods introduction

B. Is it a “genre”

C. Rhetorical implications of symbols

 

II. Literature Review

A. Morrison’s work

B. Coogan and Jenkins

C. Umberto Eco

D. Ideological Battles

1. Wertham and Engle

 

III. Approach

A. What defines Literature vs. Popular fiction

B. Comic books and Literature

C. Mythology and Joseph Campbell

D. Rhetorical superpowers of Chaim Perelman

E. Crisis of the Great Depression

F. New Literature

 

Analysis

A. Weaving the narrative together, connecting the “medium” of comic books to an

expression/reflection of human story telling and aims at inspirations.

B. Morrison’s rhetorical analysis

 

Discussions

A. Addressing the criticisms of Literature via Morrison’s analysis

B. Arguing Comics and literature’s influence

C. Understanding Scott McCloud

D. Examining the Graphic Cannon

E. Recognizing rhetorical potential in narrative/visual medium

 

Conclusions

Journal Exercise: Prompts and Questions of Relevance

This exercise represents a speculation on the goals and pursuits of my Journal article that I am working on pertaining to superhero narrative and its rhetorical function. These exercises were aimed at addressing prompts and questions that could help formulate possible approaches to an outline for the article itself.

 

Exercise Involving Murray’s 10 Prompts:

1.     This work needed to be done because…

The use and application of comic books/graphic novels in the classroom represent a growing tool that aids students in engaging in reading. Literature, such as the samples found in the Graphic Cannon, point out the innovative ways that literature is being adapted into a hybrid visual form of text and images. Even more so, the stories of superheroes represent something far more: a narrative reflection of the human experience.

2.     Those who will benefit from this include…

Individuals and social groups, from students in the classrooms to academic scholars, need to recognize that the comic book medium and particularly superhero comic books have developed into a legitimate form of expressing the struggles, questions, and issues faced by society.

3.     What I did was…

Look at Grant Morrison’s novel Supergods where he lays out a justification for the power of superhero comics and narratives. I wanted to build upon was just how important these narratives are to persuading and persuasively engaging larger audiences.

4.     How I did that was…

I took Morrison’s rhetorical analysis from the beginning of his work of the birth of the Golden age and sought to blend his commentary with an application that enhanced the status of comic book superheroes to as on par with mythical narratives (and modern) of our culture.

5.     When I did that what happened was…

An opening up those superhero narratives can act as skandalon or stumbling blocks that can draw a reader into a closer contextual reading of what it is that superheroes are and do, besides being pure entertainment. The narratives here have evolved in a way that retains them as entertainment narratives but with a layering that provides for room to use such characters as models and anti-models for our own behavior in the world.

6.     I worked out what that meant by…

Reading the research already done around comic book icons like Superman and Batman, engaging them as rhetorical models/anti-models for what Western society would deem as appropriate behavior but also as challenging mores and norms in a progressive light. Superheroes can embody the very best of human inspiration; they can drive us to contemplation and push us into action as well.

7.     I did what I set out to do to the extent that…

My initial intention was to articulate or begin to articulate an argument I want to continue to expand upon and I have. This experience has forced me to open up and engage my topic from new angles, bringing in academic elements that I previously did not consider – ethical philosophy.

8.     The implications for research are…

I feel that this kind of recognition does serve to trip up what people assume and think about comic books. They are popular, but are they more than that? I believe they are a medium, like the art of rhetoric is, that serves to embrace all kinds of genres and ideas.

9.     The implications for practice are…

As for practice, I would hope that the ideas here might become a source and benefit for helping individuals and groups realize the persuasive power of comic books. Elements like this could one stand beside novels and works of literary fiction as mirrors upon the human condition – not all, but some.

10.  What still needs to be done is…

How to translate and create awareness about what comics and superheroes can show us remains a challenge. Finding out how to broaden this sensibility and importance would be paramount.

Exercise Involving Brown’s 8 Questions: (p. 129)

1.     Who are the intended readers? List three to five of them by name.

 

The audience most likely would be academics and comic book readers who are interested in deeper implications and rhetorical properties found in the symbolic characterizations of comic book superheroes.

 

2.     What did you do?

 

I started with Grant Morrison’s book, Supergods, a reflection paper on why one should want to study comic books, and a paper I wrote on applying Perelman’s New Rhetoric to Morrison’s All-Star Superman.

 

3.     Why did you do it?

 

It is becoming more and more, besides a popular phenomenon, to recognize the benefits that comic books have to communicating messages, ideas, and increasing comprehension. If the Odyssey and Iliad are literature, mythic stories, then why not comic books as well – American mythology

 

4.     What happened (when you did that)?

 

What was discovered was far more complex and interwoven then I had anticipated. The result being that I cast a wide net that now I have to parse down and sort through.

 

5.     What do the results mean in theory?

 

The theory here is opening up on wider ideas of just how the “medium” of superhero comics can be overlaid, interwoven and applied to all kinds of genres and other mediums and theories as well.

 

6.     What do the results mean in practice?

 

In practice, there exists a broadening field of application waiting to have the lens of superhero comic books both appropriate and be applied to. Superheroes are reappropriation of mythic stories construed in a new and quite American medium of comic books.

 

7.     What is the key benefit to readers?

 

Ideally this examination would serve to open up a realm of possibility that allows serious scholars and thinkers to take heed of what a superhero narrative can incorporate and contribute to larger academic discussions.

 

8.     What remains unresolved?

 

Just how much influence the superhero narrative can attain? Is it something that remains and will remain relevant in our society? What might be the utilitarian function such a narrative can provide us with.

Murray, Rowena. Writing for Academic Journals. New York: Open U P, 2009. Print.

Avengers #6 – Quick Overview and Speculation

Marvel Comics “Marvel Now” Avengers # 6

by Jonathan Hickman and Adam Kubert

It is interesting to note that Hickman has a interesting and unique style of how he constructs, like an architect, the characters and stories he involves himself in. I first became particularly aware of this ability of his when I read his run on Marvel’s Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #1. He has this deep pension for taking scenes that appear benign and normal and spinning momentous events out of them.

With his run on both Marvel’s re-launches of Avengers and New Avengers, Hickman appears to be engaging in what feels to be developing into parallel storylines. New Avengers takes on the controversial and pre-existing cabal in the Marvel Universe – the Illuminati who are engaged in a threat that other Earths, in other dimensions, are being squeezed together, forcing them to cancel each other out.

In the recent issues of Avengers the team faced off against creatures determined to “recreate” the Earth and in order to stop them, Captain America and Iron Man implemented a new formulation for the Avengers team – to think bigger. The result is a gear-like, interlocking mechanism that addresses the reality that sometimes the Avengers need reinforcements, and different combinations to face growing threats throughout the Earth and the Universe.

In issue #6, entitled “Zen and The Art of Cosmology,” Hickman continues to explore different members interacting with each other, and one, Captain Universe, self-exploring herself while Iron Man (Tony Stark) tries to decode the language of a new life-form.

What was greatly fascinating to me was the term “cosmology.” In common definition this applies to the origins of the universe and the fate that awaits it via evolution, dynamics, and ultimately the origin of natural laws. Considering the focus on the character of Captain Universe and attempting to explore her host bodies “pre-coma” memories is set within a strange parallel between the trauma of the host body in relation to larger, universal forces on a collision course.

Like the car, with two headlights like two colliding stars, and another car about to crash into it (as witnessed by Tamara Devoux, the host body of Captain Universe) play out like a warning of some collision, something “bigger” that is coming – impending.

The truly enticing element, the one that hints to me of connections and ramifications for what is going on in New Avengers is the words of Captain Universe, its warning, miraculous and ominus almost in the same breath, “There was nothing…Followed by everything…Swirling, burning specks of creation that circled life-giving suns…and then we raced to the light…This place, Earth, is significant…and the axis around which the multiverse spins.” This comes with a final tag that “I am dying” from the words of Captain Universe.

So, is the Universe really dying? What then is to come? With Earth at the center…this promises to be a ride that will mimic Captain America’s own proclamation that “We [the Avengers] need to get bigger…”

Hickman is pulling us into his cathedral and showing us that we can all think bigger, see the “bigger” and be awed and terrorized by it in one single breath.