Category Archives: superheroes

Comics are Magic 3: The Conscious Multiverse

For the next two posts I will be considering how the ideas of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison can be used in conjunction with the concept of comic book continuity to reach some strange, exciting conclusions about the nature of the printed comic book universe and our own, more fictional, reality.  These are big, unwieldy concepts so it’s split into two posts. First of all it’s worth clarifying our terms. What do we mean by continuity?

Each single issue of Spider-man or Superman is but a small element in one of two gigantic narratives known as the Marvel and DC Universes. Ros Kaveney suggests that these two seventy year old continuities are, “the largest narrative constructions in human culture…and that learning to navigate them was a skill-set all of its own” (2008:25). Jason Todd Craft calls such constructions ‘large scale fiction networks’ and notes that these universe are ‘emergent structures’ (as does Kaveney) : “the initial parameters…-parallel and ongoing serial adventures, produced by a variety of writers and artists for hire-resulted, over time, in unpredicted behaviours, specifically intertextual connectivity and a slowly encroaching sense of narrative history” (2004:105). Each ‘universe’ must be understood as a, “retroactive story structure, which imposes a continuity upon all the episodic comic books published before as well as after the universe’s advent” (ibid: 105-106).As Richard Reynolds describes it, while narrative continuity may seem a familiar idea to anyone who has ever watched a soap opera, continuity as practiced by Marvel and DC, “is of an order of complexity beyond anything to which the television audience has become accustomed” (1992:3).

Continuity is a product of ‘crossover’. The first use of crossover took place two years after Superman debuted; All-Star Comics#3 introduced the Justice Society of America, demonstrating that superheroes with their own serials could exist together. Continue reading

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Comics are Magic part 2: Using Superheroes for Divination and Manifestation

In Comics are Magic Part 1 we discussed some strange coincidences and comic book predictions. In this part I want to discuss the use of comics to deliberately manifest such coincidences and changes in reality. First of all it might help to consider the intuitive capabilities of comics creators, starting with Jack Kirby. Kirby is arguably the most influential comics artist of all time, especially in terms of superhero comics. Chris Knowles, author of the excellent Our Gods Wear Spandex, has written frequently about Kirby over at his blog Secret Sun. Knowles says,  “Kirby was a man who one co-worker described as being “hermetically sealed in his own imagination.” I’d counter that only by saying that I believe that Kirby instead was in deep communion with the Collective Unconscious. Kirby even claimed that his characters existed inside his head and he merely projected their stories onto paper.” Knowles suggests that

Continue reading


Holy Windows, Batman! Stained Glass Superheroes

I’ve written about the links between superhero comics, magic and religion frequently on this blog. So these pictures of stained glass windows featuring superheroes hold a strange resonance. As well as being just plain brilliant. These obsessively detailed and beautiful images from the artist Marissa Garner have evidently been beamed in from some glorious future where superheroes have truly taken on the status of religious icons. Imagine sitting in your pew as the sun shines through these. Worth getting up on a Sunday for I think. Though presumably these particular services would take place on a Wednesday. Continue reading


Sina and the Man-Gods of the Homoverse

Hello humans. One of the benefits of going to comics studies conferences is that you get to see, hear and meet lots of interesting people, both scholars and artists, and sometimes both at once.

One such human is the artist previously known as Sina Evil . I’ll let Sina’s  Flickr bio do the work:

I am over 21 years of age.  I am a queer cartoonist and graphic artist. In the early 1990s I self-published various queer comix zines including the seminal queer teen zine Concerned Muthers and the highly acclaimed, intensely personal autobiographical mini-comic BoyCrazyBoy, and contributed to queer zines such as Boy Trouble, Holy Titclamps and Hormone Frenzy.  My strips have appeared in The Book of Boy Trouble and The Book of Boy Trouble Vol. 2, both edited by Robert Kirby and David Kelly and published by Green Candy Press.  I am also currently working on my PhD, a history of queer alternative cartoonists. 

You can check out Sina’s art over at Flickr and his blog boycrazyboy. Lots of good stuff there but most interesting for me are his superhero pictures in the collection Man-Gods of the Homoverse . These illustrations have a curious primal force to them. They also make explicit what was already implicit in superhero comics. Not as subtext exactly, but as potential. That all those muscles rippling beneath skin-tight spandex were always, on some level, about sex. As Scott Bukatman noted, “superhero bodies have always been naked bodies”. As such they have always been troubling for some commentators. Continue reading


Spawn 20 Years Later

Apparently there is a gigantic 984 page long Spawn Compendium Volume 1 out to celebrate Todd McFarlane’s wildly popular creation. I was there at the time of course and remember buying Spawn issue 1 (and W.I.L.D.Cats,#1 and Savage Dragon#1) but I gave up on it pretty quickly. It looked great (at the time?) but like McFarlane’s work on Spider-man (which I also bought, because I’m, you know, in my 30s) it seemed terribly written to me even then. Impenetrable almost.

Anyway, the point is that there’s an interesting little piece over at Comics Alliance called, Spawn 20 Years Later: Looking Back at the Quintessential ’90s, that talks about what seems a rather unexplored but interesting nexus point in the history of comics, issues 8-11 of Spawn, for which McFarlane handed over the writing to Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Dave Sim and Frank Miller respectively.

The Comics Alliance article goes into a touch more detail about these comics and the wierd blurring of the boundaries between independent or creator driven on the one hand and mainstream, corporate comics on the other. Take the founding of Image for example. A bunch of  ‘auteur’ creators-artists dammit!- feeling stiffed by their corporate paymasters  decide to form their own company, where they own the rights to their work and are free to express their own artistic sensibilities. A noble endeavour, no? But these creators don’t start creating introspective autobiographical work or other such arty-farty nonsense that the freedom of their new company would grant them. No. They create work almost exactly like the superhero work they were doing before. Only bloodier and with bigger tits.

Never the less, Image still stood for something and so Gaiman, Moore, Miller and Sim, four of the most prominent and important comics creators of the last three decades, were all willing to write Spawn.  The results were varied in terms of both narrative and production, e.g. Moore’s temporary return to superhero comics, the long-running legal battle between Gaiman and McFarlane around the ownership of characters. That last one might be one of the clearest examples of how every revolution gives birth to its own fascism as you’re likely to get.

Anyway, seems like a topic worth returning to in more detail at some point. Looking at the bookshelf I can see a copy of  the 1997 Titan books collection Spawn: Evolution, which has the Moore, Gaiman and Miller stories but not the Sim (nor, indeed, the Grant Morrison issues, which I’ve also never read).

So in lieu of any fully formed critical opinion as yet it is only possible to conclude with my thoughts upon first reading the comics produced when mighty comic auteurs Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller (who collectively have given us Watchmen, The Sandman, Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, V for Vendetta and Violent Cases, to name just a few) deigned to write scripts for Todd McFarlane’s Spawn:  “you can’t polish a turd.”

Of course, I retain the right to take that back should further investigation and consideration or threats from rabid McFarlane fans change my mind.

And once again, the Comics Alliance article is here.



Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 2: Ontological Anarchy

So now then, after the last post became a general hurrah for Robert Anton Wilson (no bad thing necessarily) I’ve finally got round to writing about his links with comic books. Only that hasn’t been as simple as it seemed either. Fortunately it seems to have resulted in an interesting little bit of cultural archaeology.

Some context: I’ve written briefly about Wilson and his cohorts as ‘scientist-shamans’ and how that ties into a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, and how we can also discern the Cosmic Body in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes like Dr Strange and Adam Warlock in early seventies Marvel comics constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Underground comix are not my specialty by any means. Other than the usual suspects like Crumb and Spiegelman and British variants like Viz, and a broad-strokes idea of the movement and its relationship with mainstream comics, its not a history that I’m wholly familiar with.

What does this have to do with Wilson? In thinking and reading and googling this post I was surprised to find very little interest in RAW”s work and comics. Moore and Morrison have certainly both name-dropped him (and Moore delivered a poetic eulogy for him at an event in 2007-video included at the end of this post), but I couldn’t turn up anything specific in terms of direct referencing. (For instance, I wonder if Alan Moore enjoyed the idea that ‘V’ was also the Roman numeral for 5, a number to which a great deal of significance is attached in RAW’s work and Discordianism, of which RAW was a pope of course. Continue reading


Superheroes, psychedelics, counterculture, magic and posthumanism: Best post ever?

Hello humans.

My paper “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman” is now available HERE on Nth Mind or HERE if you’d prefer a printable version with illustrations (and who could blame you?).

I’m very happy with this one. But then, of all the types of posthuman body discussed in my thesis the Cosmic Body is the one closest to my heart and the vision of posthumanity that is most capable of ensuring the greatest happiness for all. Posthuman bodies require posthuman minds!

Valuable context is available in the first paper, “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives” (click the tile to read that), which lays out my idea that the discourse of the posthuman is a matter of bodies -discourse being not just representations (talk, language), but also material practices. So for example, ‘genetic engineering’ is not just a matter of science-fiction but also a real-world techno-scientific practice. Not to mix my academic work with parlance of hip-hop but this shit is real, baby.

This posthuman discourse consists of three overlapping discursive domains-speculative Trans/humanism (also including ‘real-world’ tecno-science); critical-philsophical Post/Humanism (in which include people like Foucault, Haraway) and of course Superhumanism (the realm of science fiction, but also comic books). Superhero comics offer a delicuos smorgasboard of posthuman bodies. Considering these bodies lets us also consider how they are found in the other two discursive realms.

Without going into too much detail (you can read the paper for yourselves after all), this paper takes a rhizomatic journey through the Cosmic Body, following the hidden underground root systems that link superheroes with the psychedelic counterculture of the sixties with Transhumanism’s forebear the Human Potential Movement with eastern mysticism with Nietzsche’s critique of Humanism with shamanism with Western occultism and the scientist-shaman with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol with One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest with, well, you get the idea.

(The paper isn’t written in this style I should add. I’m a professional, I just blog as an excitable child with a precocious interest in esoteric ideas and countercultural philosophies)

At any rate, this paper is a point where it feels my academic, philosophical, personal and creative interest came together as one. A point where, as I say in the paper, critical theory and cultural criticism can become productive and transformative practices rather than simply nihilistic and deconstructive (not that that doesn’t have its own appeal).

Make your own minds up, of course ( and anyway, in a couple of months I might think it’s rubbish) but I would love to hear any comments, criticisms and suggestions. Anyway, once again, because I wrote more there than I meant too, here is “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman“.


Comics are Magic Part 1: Superman, archetypes and invocations

Hello you. And welcome to what will be the first in a series of posts discussing the various strange and hidden ways the world of comics and magic are connected. I’ve dealt with some of these issues in my paper The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman (find that here) but these posts will be a bit more relaxed in style and content.

Less theory, more wierdy.

So lets begin with Comics are Magic Part 1: The Myth of Superman.

Its become pretty commonplace to refer to superheroes as a modern mythology, or contemporary manifestations of mythic patterns. And while this is interesting on a purely intellectual level it also has interesting occult implications. Continue reading


Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives

As promised/threatened I have finally written up my presentation “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives”, a paper I gave at the 2011 British Sociological Asscoiation Annual Conference and in a longer form as a departmental presentation earlier that year. It gives an overview of some of the main concepts I’m working with in my thesis and serves as a pretty thorough introduction to it.

I’ve posted it on NthMind here:

https://nthmind.wordpress.com/posthumanism-and-superheroes-notes-from-phd-land/producing-and-consuming-the-posthuman-body-in-superhero-narratives/

but there is also a version with the illustrations used in the presentation that can be downloaded and printed of here.

Look forward to any comments, thoughts, ideas, etc.


Whither academia?

It occurs to me that this blog, charming as it is, is a bit weighted towards creative stuff at the moment, at the expense of any academic work. The question of whether academic work ought to be considred equally ‘creative’ in its way will have to wait for another post. For now, I plan to rectify the situation (I know, ‘finally’, I hear my legion-yes, LEGION-of followers say) by dusting down the three conference papers I have delivered this year and posting them.

As such, right now, I’m working on writing up a departmental presentation I did that outlines the main concerns of the thesis, namely, how we can read superhero comics as a posthuman body genre. Which is to say that the transformations (in every sense of that term) undergone by the superhero over the last seventy odd years reflect how the notion of the ‘posthuman’- the superior being that will potentially come to replace us mere humans-has evolved, through a series of socio-historic mutations, in philosophy, critical theory and, perhaps most pressingly, techno-scientific discourse.

That paper, “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives” provides a pretty neat introduction to some of the main ideas , without posting any actual phd chapters (not entirely sure what the rules are there but seems a bit risky while the thesis is still ongoing). Here is the abstract for the version of it I presented at the 2011 British Sociological Asscoiation Annual Conference. (UPDATE! This paper can now be found HERE!)

For over seventy years the superhero comic book has presented narratives of the posthuman body. In these stories the posthuman body has been put to work as patriotic propaganda, used to explore notions of morality and identity, and, in more recent years, used to interrogate, however crudely, the workings of the military industrial complex.
These developments have been paralleled outside of comic books by a
wider discourse of posthumanism, which has taken both popular and
academic forms, but shares in both cases an emphasis on the impact of
science and technology on the human body. This paper highlights three of these intersections between the comic book posthuman and the wider discourse of the posthuman. The Golden Age of superheroes of the thirties and forties are understood in terms of the eugenics movement, the Silver Age of the sixties in terms of the psychedelic counter-culture of that time, and the contemporary superhero in terms of a globalised military/industrial complex and the emerging technologies it is funding and building. This paper demonstrates how the science-fictional discourse of superherocomics both influences and is influenced by these wider discourses.

That piece should be up in the next few days.  Swiftly followed, all going well, by another paper I presented at this years Transitions conference entitled “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman” (UPDATE! This paper is now available HERE!). Aspects of this will be touched on briefly in the first piece, but ‘Psychedelic Shaman’ goes into more detail about one specific type of posthuman body found in superhero comics, what I’m calling the Cosmic Body. here’s the abstract: Continue reading