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Retopia: The dialectics of the superhero comic book

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This article examines the interrelated and mutually reinforcing condensation of subject/object in the fields of mass culture and nationalism. In an exploration of the essential use of affect to manage this project, I trace the primary utility of affective superhero bodies in the discourse of the dialectic and how these bodies are principle objects of exchange in the dialogue between producers and consumers in a national context. The dialogue between consumers and producers articulates the space between these dialectical forces. I examine the increasing turn in contemporary superhero comics towards reflexive mythology in such comic books as the Marvel series Bullet Points and The Ultimates and the DC series The New Frontier. As ‘alternative histories’, they ostensibly erase the preceding historical record in a utopian gesture of self-actualization. Yet, for all of its investment in erasure, this utopian gesture relies on remembrance, condensing personal memory and historical time. At the root of this is dialectical materialism, which is most productively understood in relation to the intersection of the competing utopian plans and impulses of American identity, mass culture and the superhero genre.
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Keywords: affect; dialectic; mass culture; nation; utopia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Toledo

Publication date: December 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Studies in Comics aims to describe the nature of comics, to identify the medium as a distinct art form, and to address the medium's formal properties. The emerging field of comics studies is a model for interdisciplinary research and in this spirit this journal welcomes all approaches. This journal is international in scope and provides an inclusive space in which researchers from all backgrounds can present new thinking on comics to a global audience. The journal will promote the close analysis of the comics page/text using a variety of methodologies. Its specific goal, however, is to expand the relationship between comics and theory and to articulate a "theory of comics". The journal also includes reviews of new comics, criticism, and exhibitions, and a dedicated online space for cutting-edge and emergent creative work.

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