Posthumanism/Transhumanism/Superheroes: A Bibliography

With the deadline for my thesis looming I have been going through the various bits and pieces and ensuring all the references are there. It occurred to me that at least one bibliography, covering the literature review on Posthumaism and Transhumanism, might be of interest to readers of this blog. I will of course put the full bibliography for the thesis up at some point after i’ts completed. In the meantime my Google Library contains several of the works I have used as well as more besides dealing with posthumanism, the body, superheroes and comics studies more generally. I try to keep the Google library updated whenever I come across across a new text so it is becoming quite a useful resource. They can be found by clicking here.

On a related note the next Comics are Magic will be a bibliography of works relating to religion, magic, mythology and superheroes. That should be up in the next couple of weeks. And since I have nothing published as yet, I can at least draw attention to my own two papers dealing with superheroes, posthumanism and Transhumanism; Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives and The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman. Or if you’d prefer just to read the abstracts for those two just click here.

Specifically, this post presents a list of those works that directly invoke the comic book superhero to talk about posthumanism and/or transhumanism (but not the many works which merely mentioned superheroes in passing). Such approaches are relatively rare, at least in academic terms, so I hope this list proves useful to anyone thinking of exploring this intersection.Where possible, I’ve tried to hyperlink them to their source. Hopefully some day my own thesis can be added to this list. It goes without saying that my thesis would not exist at all without these preceding works. Hopefully this short bibliography will prove of inspiration and use to others. So let’s begin.

Andrae, T. (1980) “From Menace to Messiah: The History and Historicity of Superman,” in Donald Lazere (Ed.) (1987) American Media and Mass Culture Berkeley:University ofCalifornia Press pp. 124-138

Andrae considers what socio-psychological changes had to take place before the figure of the Superman (or posthuman in our terminology) could become a comic book hero when previously such characters were represented as dangerous beings.

Bukatman, S. (1994) “X-Bodies: The Torment of the Superhero”, in Sappington, R and Stallings, T. (eds) Uncontrollable Bodies: Testimonies of Identity and CultureSeattle: Bay Press

Bukatman, S. (2003) Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century

For Bukatman (2003)  the spectacle of the superhero body is a means by which “the fear of instability induced by urban modernity” can be converted, “…into the thrill of topsy-turveydom” (Bukatman, 2003:3). Thus the superhero makes his first appearance in the modern, industrial age because: “only the Man of Steel has the constitution, organs and abilities equal to the rigors of the Machine Age” (Bukatman, 1994: 99).

Cook, J. J. (2009) Fantasies of metal and wires: Battling corporate hegemony and the achievement of posthuman masculinity in recent superhero cinema Unpublished MLA thesis submitted to College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida

Abstract:

During the summer of 2008 many movies were released with superhero protagonists. Combining textual readings and theoretical accounts to provide a phenomenological analysis of the representation of the counter-hegemonic struggle against corporate control and the achievement of posthuman masculinity
in these recent superhero films, this thesis compares and contrasts specific visual and thematic elements that consistently appear in four of these films: The
Dark Knight, Wanted, Iron Man, and Speed Racer. Providing intertextual exploration of the cultural status of specific cinematic superheroes, this project
explores possible relationships between culture, society, and cinema, treating popular superhero cinema as an industry, while also considering the relationship between cinema and its audiences and potential implications for social and cultural identity.

Dokou, C. (2009) “Fantastic 4-Body-ings: Ideal Grotesqueness in the Comic-Book Culture” in Zoe Detsi-Diamanti, Katerina Kitsi-Mitakou, and Effie Yiannopoulou (Eds.) The future of flesh : a cultural survey of the body New York : Palgrave Macmillan

Heggs, D. (1999) “Cyberpsychology and Cyborgs” in Angel J. Gordo López and Ian Parker (Eds.) Cyberpsychology  New York: Palgrave Macmillan

In which Heggs  argues that popular depictions of the cyborg, such as those found in superhero comics, remain, despite their transgressive potential, “…open to naturalization, for example, around the thematic of masculinity” (1999:185) and are therefore poor exemplars of Haraway’s emancipatory vision of the cyborg.

Milburn, C. (2005), “Nanowarriors: Military Nanotechnology and Comic Books,” Intertexts 9.1 pp: 77-103

In this fascinating article Milburn illustrates how in 2002 a proposal submitted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to the U.S. Army was awarded $50 million to create the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). While the proposal outlined a variety of currently feasible and speculative military applications of nanotech, its cover image, featuring a futuristic soldier in mechanical armor, presented, in visual shorthand, the scientific possibilities outlined in more technical detail within the proposal. The image was later removed from ISN websites when two comic book creators alleged that it was simply a reworked version of the cover image of their Radix issue one. The creators felt that MIT had taken the futuristic supersoldier fro its comic book origins in order to secure military funding: “they’re selling this as science fact while we’re trying to sell it as science fiction” (quoted in ibid:78). The image of the superheroic supersoldier serves to create a gap between text and image, between a written account of science  yet-to-occur and the image of what a futuristic soldier might look like. What happens within this gap is the laborious business of the science itself. (ibid). The science-fictional status of nanotechnology and militaristic visions of the supersoldier have come to, “…rely on cultural familiarity with comic book myths…to suggest that nanotechnology, in replicating or materializing these myths at the site of the soldier’s body, can create “real” superheroes” (ibid:85).

More, M. (2005) “From X to Ex” in Len Wein and Leah Wislon (eds) The Unauthorized X-Men: SF and Comic Writers on Mutants, prejudice and Adamantium Texas: benbella Books

More elaborates on how many of the X-Men’s abilities may be made available if Transhuman technologies continue to be developed. Not heavy on critical theory but an interesting example of speculative transhumanism.

Murray, R. (2008) Changing bodies : representations of metamorphic comic characters PhD Thesis, University of Western Sydney, College of Arts, School of Communication Arts

From the abstract:

Metamorphic characters, sometimes referred to as shape-shifters or shape-changers, are a staple, continual, and fascinating presence in mythic narratives, early literature, and present day popular culture. With labile, grotesque bodies, ambiguous natures, and the capacity to change at any moment, metamorphic characters remind the human subject of their inherent instability. The overwhelming portrayals of metamorphic processes gloss over the in-betweens, the stages of the process when the metamorphic subject is neither and both. Metamorphic comic characters are some of the most durable characters in the history of superheroes. The ongoing and diverse narratives of characters such as Mystique, Martian Manhunter, Metamorpho, Element Girl, Shift, and The Hulk provide representations and portrayals of instability, gender politics, and sexuality, which revolve around and centre upon the body. Investigating representations of metamorphic comic characters necessarily led to the investigation of the superhero narrative. Volume 1 of this thesis, Changing Bodies: Representations of Metamorphic Comic Characters, positions the superhero narrative as falling in the genre of the Marvellous-Uncanny which also provides space for Franz Kafka’s previously uncategorised short story, ‘Metamorphosis’. Changing Bodies shows that through the continual re-invention of the superhero narrative, superhero characters are necessarily re-inscribed as posthuman subjects. Metamorphic characters and posthumanism are linked through the figure of the cyborg which has come to dominate posthuman theory. In drawing upon both the cyborg man/machine and philosophical posthuman theory, Changing Bodies positions the cyborg shapeshifter, The Engineer, as an ideal posthuman subject. The posthuman metamorphic character is embedded in narratives, in mediums and genres, and thus in a world in which they can affect consciousness. When they affect our consciousness they therefore have “real world” effects.

Murray also keeps a blog called Mapping the Multiverse which hosts a four part essay entitled Posthuman Superheroes  that touches on much of what he lays out in the theisis above.

Oehlert, M. (2000) “From Captain Americato Wolverine: Cyborgs in Comic Books – Alternative Images of Cybernetic Heroes and Villains” in Kennedy, B. M. and David Bell (eds) The Cybercultures ReaderLondon:Routledge

An early attempt to categorize the cyborg types in superhero comics.

Rivera, L. (2007) “Appropriated Cyborgs: Diasporic Identities in Dwayne McDuffie’s Deathlok Comic Book Series” Melus 32:3 pp. 103-124

Rivera reads the Marvel comic Deathlok (the story of an African-American man whose body is enhanced with robotic parts by a corrupt corporation), as a positive intervention, “in a medium with a troubling hegemonic past by appropriating a white cyborg narrative to dramatize the diasporic dimensions of black subjectivity” (2007:105).

Taylor, A. (2007) ‘‘He’s Gotta Be Strong, and He’s Gotta Be Fast, and He’s Gotta Be Larger Than Life’’: Investigating the Engendered Superhero Body” The Journal of Popular Culture, 40: 2 pp: 344-360

In contrast to Heggs (see above) Taylor (2007:358) suggests that their ‘polymorphous perversity’ and ‘androgynous bodies’ make superheroes well suited to utopian ideals of the cyborg, being  a, “…culturally produced body that could potentially defy all traditional and normalizing readings” (ibid:245).

Thurtle, P. and Robert Mitchell (2007) “The Acme Novelty Library: Comic Books, Repetition, and the Return of the New” in Configurations 15: 267-297

In common with Bukatman (see above) Thurtle and Mitchell (2007:286) argue that superheroes, “…embody industrial-sized bodily capacities without sacrificing embodied human perceptions…[providing] readers with a means for exploring the forces and potential of industrial society” (ibid: 286). While not strictly touching on posthumanism Thurtle and Mitchell’s paper never the less calls attention to the notion of the superhero as an intermediary between the body and technological forces.

………………………………

If any reader knows of other studies of the type listed here then please do get in touch and I will update the bibliography accordingly. Hope it proves useful to someone out there!

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About Scott Jeffery

Hello humans. I am Dr. Scott Jeffery. I do the following things (in no particular order): Research into Post/Humanism and Transhumanism and superheroes (seriously, I’ve got a PhD and everything) Stand-up comedy Compulsive rumination I blog about these things (plus occultism and all kinds of other lovely, strange topics) at NthMind. I also write regular short film reviews at Filmdribble. I can be contacted via twitter (@sjzenarchy) or at sjzenarchy@gmail.com. View all posts by Scott Jeffery

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