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Review: Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital

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Review: Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital
Review: Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital

Several weeks ago, I received an email from a colleague asking me to explain why it is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier had broken the April box-office record for biggest opening weekend: “What’s the urgent need to give a history of contemporary geopolitics from the standpoint of superheroes?” While I didn’t have an immediate, comprehensive answer, Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital seeks to answer this question (and many more) via an eclectic collection of 13 essays, each one examining various, emergent features of the superhero narrative in the digital age—roughly the last decade and a half.

Editors James Gilmore and Matthias Stork write in their introduction that the superhero genre is “a site of converging media and, as such, offers multiple points of intermedial exchange.” This point is key, since much of the collection is aimed around Henry Jenkins’s notion of “convergence culture” and Jonathan Gray’s definition of “paratexts.” Essentially, the collection of essays seeks to demonstrate how “the form of today’s superhero genre relies on digital technologies,” but Superhero Synergies is more than a rehashing of well-trodden terrain regarding indexicality or a celebration of comic-book culture. Instead, the essays form a rigorous and often provocative collective that, among many of its achievements, argues for these transmedia forms (primarily cinema) to be taken seriously as a reflective expression of contemporary discourses on reformed digital aesthetics and neoliberal politics.

Comics Column #3 A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology (Warren Ellis, Superheroes)

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Comics Column #3: A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology (Warren Ellis, Superheroes)
Comics Column #3: A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology (Warren Ellis, Superheroes)

“This is what you get when you emotionally invest yourself in a company-owned product that has to keep on coming out regardless of who’s writing and drawing it. This is what you get when your lizard compulsion to jerk off over superheroes overrides your forebrain. This is what happens when saying ’I just want X-Men to be good again’ is mistaken for some kind of intelligent comment on the state of the medium. Fuck all of you.”—Warren Ellis

XII. “I want the whole picture!”

It’s almost funny now, to think: it wasn’t that long ago that movie aficionados had to explain to people the difference between full-screen and widescreen. When DVDs first started shipping to stores and people had to make a conscious choice, many did not know which option offered a more complete visual experience and the director’s original vision. To this day, full-screen versions of many films are offered separately because some people are more comfortable with an image that fills their television.

For a period in the late 90’s, comics had what they called a “widescreen” movement. If film uses the term “comic book movie” to refer to overblown superhero blockbusters that rely upon recognition more than they do consistent narrative or emotional depth, there’s some small level of irony to the idea that comics use the term “widescreen” to refer to books that are all bombastic, over-the-top action to the detriment of everything else; cool explosion visuals in place of the moralism of Golden Age DC Comics or the tortured family stories of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. If all comic books are going to be Chris Claremont’s “X-Men” books, then all films will be Michael Bay’s action movies.

This is probably not the basis for a very mature dialog.