Category Archives: superheroes

Human Enhancement in Theory, Practice and Superhero Comics 1: Human Head Transplants

Hello humans.

Welcome to the first of new series of posts where I highlight how some specific human enhancement technologies have been developed, their real world applications, their philosophical implications and how these have played out in the pages of the superhero comic book. So if what you really want to see are pictures comic book characters who have had their heads transplanted then scroll on down, because there is going to be plenty of it.

For those of you hanging around still, here’s a bit of context. If you follow this blog then you’ll already know that my name is Dr Scott Jeffery and that my PhD thesis was on the posthuman body in superhero comics (for a condensed version of the main ideas click here). Anyway, a book that draws on the thesis but is less painfully academic (I want to say it’s ‘accessible’, but that I suppose, is a question of taste) is on its way in early 2016 (more details as and when). In the meantime, as I was editing and rewriting it occurred to me that the book doesn’t really focus on specific technologies as such. So for this new series I want to go into more detail about specific technologies and how they have been presented in posthuman theory, practice and superhero comics. Saying that, this is still the blog, so the depth and breadth of each of these articles will probably vary somewhat.

We start with one that is not mentioned at all in the book but has recently been making its rounds on the hive-mind of social media: human head transplants.
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What’s the point of big ideas?

Scott Jeffery (noun):  Carbon-based biped of Earth. Has a PhD and teaches sociology. Often wonders how this happened.

First things first, I never expected to become an academic. When I was young I was told I was smart, perhaps very smart, but that never really translated into academic achievement. What I did know, even as a very young kid, was that I loved big ideas. Give me a big philosophical concept-Why are we here? What is reality? What is the purpose of art? – And I was happy as a pig in shit. If the shit was made out of abstract philosophical concepts. (Feces – Antifeces – Synfeces. The Hegelian Diarrhoealectic)

To me, knowledge was a kind of food. An idle thought, that’s like a starter, and then a theory, that’s your main course. For pudding I might have a hypothesis. Notions and conceits, they’re like a light-snack, something you might have for supper. The point is I dug philosophy and art and poetry and foreign films and just thinking and talking about big ideas. I didn’t JUST like those things, I liked a lot of stupid, ephemeral shit as well, but my favourite thing was when those two worlds collided. Really smart, stupid shit. Like Monty Python or Woody Allen or that Daffy Duck cartoon where he’s talking to the animator and keeps getting rubbed out and redrawn (by the way, it’s called Duck Amuck and you can watch it here).

My point being, I loved all that shit already. In my own time. For fun. School wasn’t a place where you learned, it was a place that distracted you from learning.

(I’m being overly emphatic by the way. I did have good teachers, great teachers even, but this is a blog post not a peer-reviewed journal article so get off my back, lady!)

So I didn’t get school. School, as any sane child knows, is boring. My entire early education was marked by could-try-harder syndrome. I don’t know if that’s a real thing, I just made it up. If I liked a project and wanted to do it then I would produce outlandishly detailed presentations like a ten-page critique of the history of censorship when I was thirteen. Of course, it helped that I had a love of horror movies, so I had an emotional stake in whether the British Board of Film classification wanted to stop me seeing splinter go into someone’s eye (which I totally did) but still, this was in the days before the internet, so a guy had to go out of his way to research that shit properly, dig? Continue reading

Comics are Magic 6: Jodorowsky, Gurdjieff, Morrison and The Flash#54

Hello you.

Welcome to the sixth edition of Comics are Magic (click link for the archives). This is just a short one because its been a while. It concerns the magical influence of classic Silver Age story The Flash Stakes His Life On You! from The Flash#54 by way of two modern magicians and comics creators.

The first, Alejandro Jodorowsky is probably best known for his films, the alchemical allegories El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. For those unfamiliar with his work here’s the trailer for  his masterpiece The Holy Mountain. That’s subjective of course, and they are all stunning, mind-warping films, but The Holy Mountain is I think clearest in its alchemical intent.

Jodorowsky started out as in theatre, co-founding the Panic Movement in 1962 which drew on Antoin Artaud’s Theatre of  Cruelty and staged violent and surreal performance pieces. From wikipedia:

The movement’s violent theatrical events were designed to be shocking,[2] and to release destructive energies in search of peace and beauty. One four-hour performance known as Sacramental Melodrama was staged in May 1965 at the Paris Festival of Free Expression. The “happening” starred Jodorowsky dressed in motorcyclist leather and featured him slitting the throats of two geese, taping two snakes to his chest and having himself stripped and whipped. Other scenes included “naked women covered in honey, a crucified chicken, the staged murder of a rabbi, a giant vagina, the throwing of live turtles into the audience, and canned apricots.”

In his excellent memoir The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky he describes how he moved to Mexico to undergo initiation with a number of female shamans. Like Alan Moore, Jodorowsky views art and magic as inseparable. He later combined theatre, magic and psychotherapy in his practice of psychomagic where the patient’s personality and family tree are studied to come up with symbolic performances to be acted out, based on the principle that the unconscious mind accepts symbolic acts as fact. Here is one example of many from his book on the subject (page 132):

A young Chantal, at four years old, found herself placed in a school directed by the sister of the mother of her mother…The great-aunt sadistically tyrannized the child. In working with me, Chantal discovered all the hate she held towards to this woman. She could not forgive her, and she had no way to avenge her because the torturer was no longer in this world. So I advised her to go to the grave of this woman and, once there, give free rein to this hate: that she kick, scream, piss, and defecate on the tomb, but provided that she dedicate herself to paying close attention to her subsequent reactions to her demonstrations of vengeance. She followed my advice, and after letting off some steam atop the sepulcher, she felt a deep desire to clean it up and cover it with flowers. And, little by little, she couldn’t help but surrender to the evidence that she, in fact, felt love for her great-aunt.

A true polymath, Jodorowsky has also developed his own reconstruction of the Tarot of Marseilles, which he summarises in the video below:

Jodorowsky has worked regularly in the comics medium. His earliest comics work included the strip Fabulas Panicas, which debuted in 1967 (and ran to 1973) in the Mexican newspaper El Heraldo de México. Below is one of these strips. There are many, many more over at, dedicated entirely to reproducing the strip and well worth your time. Even if  like me you don’t speak Spanish.

Fabulas panicas

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Thesis Review Part Three: Reader-text assemblages

Part One of this ‘thesis review’ introduced the philosophical and theoretical concepts that guided the research undertaken in my thesis. Part Two elaborated upon these ideas- paying particular attention to the concept of the rhizome-and suggested that the field of Comics Studies could be considered as rhizomatic. It then went on to demonstrate how approaches to studying superheroes that utilised structuralist theories and/or analysed the superhero comic in terms of representation and ideology could be understood as broadly humanist and based on an arboreal model of knowledge whereby the ‘meaning’ of the superhero could be reduced to a single explanatory trunk. It then went on to argue for a Post/Humanist approach to superhero comics that, rather than an arboreal model, adopted a rhizomatic approach. To aid this understanding a cultural history of the posthuman body in superhero comic was adopted. It was then demonstrated how this moves the analysis of the superhero away from ideology by understanding the development of the superhero through the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comic books in terms of historically situated assemblages.

 If the rhizomatic cultural history was suggested as a theoretical corrective to the limitations of ideological analyses then it was also important to address the implied reader at the mercy of ideology in these approaches. As such my thesis involved another strand in which I interviewed comic book readers about their views on the superhero and posthumanism more generally. This was seen as a methodological corrective to the problems outlined in Part Two.

In this section then I intend to familiarise the reader with historical approaches to the question of texts and reader/audiences. Having done this I next offer a model of text-reader relations that draws on the concept of assemblages outlined in Part One. Because of the ethical issues involved and the fact it’s not officially complete yet I will not be presenting the data from my interviews here on the blog at this time. Instead this review presents a brief history of audience studies, highlighting some of the dualities that have informed scholarly understanding of reader/text relations, and how these dualities follow on from the same historically established philosophical dualities that critical Post/Humanism is generally engaged in critiquing. As such I offer a model of reader-text relations as an assemblage, illustrated by a brief overview of historically situated comic-reader assemblages in the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comics. Continue reading

The Avant-Garde meets Peter Parker Part 1: Comic Book Cut-Ups

5. named peter parker-and harry osborn

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of cut-ups, I had some familiarity with the concept from reading William S. Burroughs and Genesis P-Orridge but I’d never performed the experiment myself. So this post details my experiment in performing the cut-up technique on one particular comic, The Spectacular Spider-Man issue 183, chosen at random because I’d ended up with an extra copy. The full results can be seen here at my Flickr account or scroll down to the bottom of this post . First of all the history and theory of the cut-up will be outlined, followed by a discussion of its more occult implications. After this outline, I want to relate the technique to Robert B. Ray’s suggestions about using surrealist techniques as a way of theorising film and suggest that the same methods could be applied in the study of comic books. This is not a finely honed theory or methodological prescription however. For now it remains an interesting experiment. That said, the final section will discuss what this particular experiment reveals about Spider-Man. The plan is for this to be the first of several such experiments applying avant-garde artistic methods to superhero comics.

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to have a good time!

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Posthuman Social Policy

One of the things that comes up when people ask about my thesis (an action they soon regret-I do go on) is a sense of surprise. Not just because I managed to secure funding. More because the idea of the posthuman still has a whiff of science-fiction-with emphasis on the latter- to the general public. Almost everyone is familiar with say, Arnie’s cyborg The Terminator or the super-humans of The Avengers, but the notion that such beings might become a reality are generally dismissed as either ridiculous or thousands of years away. In fact, one of the problems any proponent of Transhumanism must face is the inability of most current humans to think beyond their own lifetime; or to think in deep time, if you like.

Of course, writers like Ray Kurzweill  and others argue for an exponential development of science and technology (see here for more on ‘accelerated change’. In which case our post human future is not a question of deep time but one that requires a public debate in the present. Current developments in techno-science push us ever closer to a point beyond the existential dilemma of knowing who we are to the ethical question of knowing what we want to become. Choosing which of the qualities we have come to define as human we wish to retain. If any.

At any rate, that is a discussion for another post. What I want to do here is present a list of various governmental and parliamentary reports that relate to the development of the posthuman. This is not a complete list, I’m sure there are many more of these from various countries and research groups, so if anyone knows of any please do get in touch and pass them on. I’m sure there’s an interesting comparative study to be done of the local differences of approach. A flavour of such differences may be gleaned here. I’m going to put them in reverse chronological order because I want to end by highlighting the importance of a public debate about post/transhumanism. More importantly, I hope that this list at least provides sceptics with evidence that these issues are no longer the sole province of science-fiction. These are real governmental reports addressing real questions. And of course they are all hyper-linked for your reading and research pleasure. The search for a posthuman social policy starts here!

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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. Continue reading

Comics are Magic 5: Some final thoughts on the Conscious Multiverse

Hello bright and shining stars (albeit encased within sticky, sweaty meat-sacks). Today’s Comics are Magic is a not particularly coherent and potentially unsatisfying round-up of some final thoughts about comic book continuity. For those just tuning in the following post builds on some of the concepts outlined in part 3 and part 4 (if you’re feeling particularly studious the archives are here).

We begin at the end with a consideration of the concept of the Global Brain. Here’s the simple version, bought to us by our dark overlords at Wikipedia:

The Global Brain is a metaphor for the worldwide intelligent network formed by people together with the information and communication technologies that connect them into an “organic” whole. As the Internet becomes faster, more intelligent, more ubiquitous and more encompassing, it increasingly ties us together in a single information processing system, that functions like a “brain” for the planet Earth. Continue reading

Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading

Comics are Magic 4-The Conscious Multiverse: Idea-space and entities

Asmodeus by Alan Moore

In part 3 we delved into the mechanics of comic book continuity and touched upon some of the philosophical implications of such fictional universes  as well as drawing attention to some analogous theories  from modern physics relating to the idea of the multiverse. Come on, you remember. It was fun wasn’t it? In this part I want to explore further the notion that fictions have some sort of autonomy. We begin first by considering Alan Moore’s concept of “idea-space”. In an interview with Arthur magazine Moore explained that the impetus for his concept of ‘idea-space’ stemmed from trying to understand the nature of consciousness and where our ideas come from:

the best model that I can come up with for consciousness is consciousness as a form of space…Most of us never come out of our living room. We’ve got our individual little private space in our head–just like we’ve got a house as a private physical space. But most of us never go outdoors. We stay within our own identity. However: people who are creative, or people who are questing spirits of some sort or other, have to go deeper. I mean, most people don’t really need new ideas as part of their daily round, depending upon what their job is or what kind of people they are. The same ideas that they had yesterday will probably do just as well today. If you’re a creator, or scientist, or any sort of creator, then you have to look deeper. You have to travel further, to find ideas that no one’s come across before. Rarer ideas.

Moore naturally wonders if such a space would be inhabited; would it contain its own unique ‘flora and fauna’? In Comics are Magic Part 2 it was seen that Moore makes no distinction between art and magic. Both involve accessing, exploring and navigating this ‘idea-space’. As such the demons , angels and other entities encountered by the artist-magician can be understood as living ideas. Or as Moore said in an interview  for Blather in 2000: “entities are a kind of compound idea, at least as far as I see them”.   Continue reading