Posthumanism and Superheroes: Notes from PhD Land

I am currently writing a thesis entitled, “Human, Subhuman, Superhuman: The Production and Consumption of the Posthuman Body in Superhero Comic Books”.

Pithy title I’m sure you’ll agree.

In my thesis I argue that  the discourse of  ‘posthumanism’ is the product of three distinct but overlapping discursive domains. For ease of use these are defined as a speculative/popular mode of posthumanism headed under the general term Transhumanism; a critical-philosophical stance dubbed Post/Humanism; and the Superhumanism found in science-fiction and superhero comics. Although generically separate, each of these discursive realms deals in its own way with the question of what it is to be human and the impact of  science and technology upon human minds and bodies.

Utilising Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome the thesis traces how the development of the comic book superhero intersects with the evolution of Post/Humanist and Transhumanist thought. For instance, the presentation of the Superhuman in the Golden Age of comics reflects both a watered down Nietzschean vision (Post/Humanism) as well as a concern with the ‘perfect body’ that chimed with the widely popular eugenicist thinking of the time (read as an early form of Transhumanism). Similarly, the comic books of the Silver Age reflect, and are shaped by, an emerging countercultural vision of the ‘cosmic’ posthuman, facilitated by psychedelic drugs and Eastern spiritual disciplines (Transhumanism) that itself  has certain affinities with the earliest influences on Post/Humanism such as Foucault and Deleuze. Finally, contemporary superhero comics display an emphasis on what I call the military-industrial superhuman, echoing the concerns of Post/Humanist theories such as Dona Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and mirroring the libertarian position of much Transhumanist thought.

This rhizomatic cultural history of the comic book posthuman is complimented by an analysis of 25 two-hour interviews with comic book readers which seek to establish what connections, if any, readers of superhero comics make between these images and stories and current developments in science and technology, with particular attention paid to the idea of human enhancement.

For anyone interested in the academic side of things I have a page here: Much of the material there will be similar to that here but that way it doesn’t have to sit awkwardly side-by-side with the comedy and other content it shares space with on this blog (although I quite like the juxtaposition). Indeed much of what features on the blog will be related to the thesis in some way.

This page will be kept updated with presentations and publications related directly to my academic work. Links can be found below.


Posthumanism/Transhumanism/Superheroes: A Bibliography

Posthuman Social Policy

Listing various governmental scientific policy reports dealing with technologies that may play a part in any conceivable ‘posthuman future’


Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives

The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman


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