Saturday, July 30, 2011

End of Call for Papers Period: Early Observations

As we draw to the close of our Call for Papers Period (on Sunday 31st July), we thought this would be a good opportunity to summarise some of our findings, and to assure you all that we will be continuing to post entries about the project, and about superhero texts. 

While it would be easy to assume that superheroes have travelled the globe beginning from American origin points, this has often not been the case, as shown by early examples of non-American superheroes like the Mysterions in Japan or Darna, from the Phillippines, one of the world's first superheroines (see our earlier posts for more on these superheroes). Even the marketing, merchandising and adaptation processes we see so often in relation to blockbuster American franchises have be mirrored within local global cultures (see our earlier post on Sailor Moon, for example). Moreover, the blockbuster superhero productions from America also have their world cinema counterparts in high profile Bollywood and Chinese films in particular (see posts on Mr and Mrs Incredible, and information about Ra.One and Krrish).But there are also independent, low-budget versions of the superhero being made within world cinema, for instance Griff the Invisible from Australia, or La Mujer Murcielago (see earlier posts for more).

World television, too, has produced some exceptional superheroes ranging from Bananaman to Misfits in the UK alone, covering the gamut from children's animated television to more gritty adult shows. Television provides  perhaps the best examples of imaginative re-workings of the idea of the superhero for different local contexts, with animation providing the potential of grandeur and scope; with the sitcom providing ironic reinterpretations of the superhero; with soap operas and dramas creating a space for super-families on screen and with television series giving a longer life to these varied interpretations than would ever be possible in a film (or even film franchise).

In these ways, then, we believe that superheroes do not just follow "the American Way", but interact with culture in complex, challenging and exciting ways that speak to our changing understanding of contemporary globalisation; a globalisation that includes as many local, national inputs as it does American.

Friday, July 29, 2011

World Animation and Superheroes

While Hollywood has long dominated the live-action market for superhero films because of the high quality special effects its big budgets are able to generate, the animated superhero offers a distinctly different picture. For example, Japanese animation is filled with superheroic characters for girls and boys, not least of which might be Sailor Moon or the Gatchaman phenomenon. These too, could quite rightly be considered some of the most important of superheroes for this project, given the ways that Japanese animation has traversed the globe, attracting wide audiences of fans. Animation, then, provides a venue for the superhero that we believe might be usefully explored in a project like this one.

Moving beyond Japan, too, there are numerous animated heroes we might attend to, both on television and in film. From new computer generated French animated film The Prodigies ( by Studio 37 and Warner Brothers, to British variations in television cel animation like Superted ( Bananaman (, animation from around the world is replete with idiosyncratic versions of the superhero. These animated superheroes are intriguingly non-uniform in nature – offering films and television shows made to appeal to disparate audience demographics, stories with themes from the emphatically local to the global, visual styles from the realist to the surreal and histories that are intrinsically linked to shifts in notions of the popular around the world. These animated heroes are radically under-represented in academic writing, and we expect that this collection will highlight some of their importance in maintaining the global presence of superheroes even in moments where there were very few live action, big budget superhero films being made.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Superhero Adaptations

At the moment there appears to be an almost constant flow of material from comic books to film, television and computer gaming. Adaptations can be very appealing to audiences with “their mixture of repetition and difference, of familiarity and novelty.” (Hutcheon 2006: 114) The film adaptations of novels are often subjected to very negative comments that take a “profoundly moralistic” tone, with a suggestion that the adaptation is unworthy and a betrayal of the viewer’s feelings for the text. (Stam 2000: 54) This also happens with comic book films, especially as there are multiple aspects of fidelity to deal with. With a book adaptation there is some flexibility in elements such as a character’s appearance because textual descriptions can be interpreted in different ways. However for comic books the illustrated panels are a key part of the work, defining in a very concrete manner what things should look like. This visual fidelity is on top of the usual issues of narrative fidelity. In addition many of the most successful comics are long running epic narratives, with characters such as Superman, Batman and Spiderman in continuous monthly publication for decades. These characters often appear in several comics each month, which do not necessarily combine into one meta-narrative. When it comes to creating a film, this means there are multiple narratives, as well as different versions of the same narrative, and characters and the creators have to make choices over which one is used.
Unfortunately the adaptation of graphic novels which are frequently self-contained narratives is equally problematic.

Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was heavily changed when adapted into a film. The role of Allan Quatermain was heavily expanded, to make greater use of Sean Connery. In the graphic novels he is a self-interested and pragmatic character and a sidekick to the leader of the League Mina Murray. To fit more with Connery’s star persona Quatermain has become the heroic leader of the League, sidelining Mina to a secondary role. In addition a father-and-son narrative with Quatermain and Tom Sawyer has been inserted which bulks out Connery’s role further but adds a very different spin to the story. This kind of narrative is common in blockbusters, but not necessarily so common in independent comics, and becomes out of place. In addition it required the insertion of an appropriate character to perform this function, Tom Sawyer, who it appears was picked to appeal to American audiences.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One Week Left

This is a reminder that there is only one week left for you to submit your proposals for our collection! Details are at the Call for Papers. Email us your 250-word proposals at by 31st July.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Special Effects and Superhero Film and Television

It could be argued that, since the claim that “You’ll believe a man can fly!” made for the 1978 Superman film, the history of special effects has been married in no small way to the history of the comic book film. But is this true of superheroes from outside America? And what of superhero films and television with smaller-than-blockbuster budgets? Recent American superhero franchises have helped to push the boundaries of computer generated technology on a global level, but the same could be argued for local production; for instance in Krishh(2006) or Ra.One(2011) in India. Ra.One provides a fascinating example of a film heavily showcasing CGI stunts, which were produced by a company owned by its star actor, Shahrukh Khan. In overlooking such connections, we might risk missing the power relations between the companies responsible for realising the “super” within superhero films.

Moreover, within television the international, or even global, language of visual effects is complicated by local companies vying for recognition within local, regional and global industrial communities. For example, UK series Misfits (2009-) uses The Bluff Hampton Company, based in London, for its remarkable effects that include prosthetics and visual effects work. However, these effects mirror the kinds of work undertaken within Hollywood productions; for example, producing onscreen doubling of characters, erasing wires used to hold actors mid-air, creating explosions and so on ( While these effects may have been localised within the show’s London-based diegesis, they still conform to the uses of effects within US films and television, and thereby enable The Bluff Hampton Company to showcase its global standard production work. Of course, more experimental work exists, and these can help to create different kinds of aesthetics, and can work to challenge the dominance of a Hollywood-centred narrative of special effects production.

Neither route is seen as “better” in this collection, but we are concerned to engage with how the techniques of production can alter or adhere to aesthetic techniques used to produce the “super” of heroes on screen. Consequently, special and visual effects, as well as stunts, performance capture, prosthetics, animatronics and make-up are all areas we would be interested in receiving proposals on.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blockbuster Aesthetics and the Global Languages of X-Men: First Class

The X-franchise has long embraced notions of cross-cultural communication, be it through the incorporation of Ororo “Storm” Munroe, worshipped as a goddess in her native country, within the X-family, or Wolverine/Logan’s time in Japan, or bringing together of internal American others like the X-Men with the literally underground mutant Morlocks. These, intra-, cross- and transnational aspects of the X-texts has been revisited across the film franchise to date, which stars an openly multi-national cast, and features scenes set in a range of disparate countries (even emphasising the disparities between US States, for example in Rogue/Marie’s tracing of her planned journey from the Southern United States through to Canada). I would argue, however, that X-Men: First Class is the first of the films to overtly emphasise multiple language.

In X-Men: First Class, for example, we travel with Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender, who has yet to become villain Magneto) as he tracks down Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) in a quest for revenge over the death of his mother. Along the way we hear not just English, but also get subtitled German, French, Russian and Spanish among others. A particularly intriguing scene shows Lensherr in conversation with former Nazis in South America, and they all shift languages throughout the scene from Spanish to both German and English. In addition, the film even builds to a multi-national moment of crisis as the mutants become embroiled in the Cuban missile crisis. In doing so, the aural and visual landscapes of X-Men: First Class offer a new array potential pleasures to global audiences, embedding its “American” narrative within a diegetic landscape that is perhaps more extremely global than ever before. We hope that this example from the X-franchise will sparks ideas among contributors relating to the languages of superhero films, and we would welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gender, Sexuality and Ideology and the Superhero

Female superheroes in American film and television are often subordinate to male superheroes. This is in stark contrast to super-heroines outside America who are more likely to get their own films and television series, with examples such as Darna, the Mexican luchador Batwoman and Mega Mindy from Holland.

Heroic Trio (1993) is a Hong Kong superhero film which features the top three female stars of Hong Kong cinema of the 90s; Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh. These beautiful actresses make particularly stunning super-heroines, but a superhero film relies on more than having attractive cast  members. In comparison many American superheroes are effectively sexless, with their out of costume liaisons acting as nothing more than a front for their more important heroic activities. The most famous character that does this is Bruce Wayne, who is portrayed as a rich playboy, and uses women as an accessory to conceal his Batman persona. Peter Parker, and Clark Kent, although both paired with regular girlfriends (Mary-Jane Watson, Lois Lane) have difficulty moving their romantic relationships forward, especially within the context of the films, for a variety of reasons. 

The plot of Heroic Trio is unusual for a superhero film as it revolves around an ancient eunuch stealing male babies, a threat that – the film suggests – women are particularly adept at dealing with, as in contrast male superheroes usually don’t have to deal with this kind of threat to society. It could be suggested that the plot (and some of the action sequences) owes a considerable debt to a similar sequence in Hard Boiled (1992) where Chow Yun-Fat’s character Tequila must save newly born children in incubators in a maternity ward from a gun battle between gangsters and the police. Heroic Trio, by making this minor theme the entire story, suggests that super-heroines, and by extension women, would only be interested in cute babies in danger. The interesting part of this is that these are male babies in danger, arguably suggesting that female babies aren’t worth considering, although it takes heroic women to save the boys.

The villain as an eunuch, occupies a liminal position as being both a man, but not a male. However it is important to note that eunuchs are common villainous characters in Hong Kong martial arts films. Therefore we should be careful to see this as suggesting that heroines are unable to fight men. For example in 1992 (the year before Heroic Trio) we saw Asia the Invincible, a eunuch played by Brigitte Lin in Swordsman 2. The issues of gender and sexuality are probably more interesting in this film than in Heroic Trio. The character of Asia is a man who has castrated himself to gain supernatural powers, yet portrayed by an actress. In addition Jet Li’s character, Ling Wu-Chung, falls in love with Asia, putting homosexuality upfront in a mainstream Hong Kong action film.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

La Mujer Murcielago (1968)

Mexico's luchadors, the masked wrestlers, are a well-known pop-culture export, to the extent that the most famous of them all, Santo, appears not only in his own series of 54 films but also as a character in Turkey's 3 Dev Adem (1973). Luchador films often position their heroes as fighting crime and encountering supernatural and superscience villainy which, combined with their physical ability, hidden identities and masks, places them at least on the borders of the superherhero genre, with some examples lying firmly within it. One such example is the 1968 La Mujer Murcielago, also known as Batwoman. Not only is that a direct translation of the title, and the character's name, but she also wears variations on the Adam West Batman costume as wrestling and adventuring gear, including a bikini version complete with mask, cape and mini-utility belt in which she makes her first entrance, by parachute, and continues wearing as she is briefed by a pathologist and, indeed, through most of her subsequent adventures, while wearing a full body suit for her professional wrestling engagements.

Maura Monti as La Mujer Murcielago is clearly intended to be the subject of the male gaze, while also being the star and representing a successful, skilled woman who is called upon by men to resolve a problem they cannot. She represents one of the many female superheroes found around the world; indeed, it seems that female superheroes are subjects of their own films or television productions much more outside the US and UK than they are within those countries, with Darna alone clocking up at least nineteen films and TV series, alongside characters such as Mega Mindy, Heroic Trio, Lady Black Cat, Shakira, Cutie Honey, and many others, although they are still outnumbered by the representations of male heroes.

Is this true, and if so, why? How do these representations reflect local as well as international conceptions of gender and genre? How do these conceptions shift over time?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reception of Superheroes

The comic book movie has had a patchy reception history: when it has led the way in producing new film technologies and spectacle it has often been well-received (for example, the 1970s-80s Superman franchise), but the genre has also seen nadirs in reputation ranging from Howard the Duck (Willard Hyuck, 1986) to Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997), and this before a global element of superhero filmmaking is included. The current cycle of American superhero films, which many cite as beginning with Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000), has now become well-developed enough to be producing films seen as “bad” by critics. The last few months alone have seen the critical mauling of Green Lantern (Martin Campbell, 2011) and wildly divergent opinions on Thor (Kenneth Brannah, 2011) and X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011). While it is perhaps understandable that a maturing genre or cycle of film production will result in films of varying quality, what we might add as academics is a sense of the contexts through which the reputation of the superhero film keeps rising and falling.

This is important because, with the rise and fall of reputation, we get new kinds of superheroes in new contexts. Moreover, the reception of the superhero film in a global framework can take on a multitude of local forms. As well as the significant differences that can emerge between, for instance, a Thai or a South African reading of an American superhero film, we also have widespread review and opinion online that are bringing ever more obscure examples of the superhero film to light. We hope that reading this post will inspire some of you to tackle the fast-changing discussions of the superhero in print, online, on television or in the myriad other formats that currently make or break the reputation of screen superheroes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Supersonic Man (1980)

Spain / Italy, Dir. Juan Piquer Simón

The theme of this week's main article is the reception of superhero films, so as an accompanying clip we present the 1980 Spanish film Supersonic Man.

The responses to this film on the internet, and also from the American distributors of a DVD version, illustrate the ways that differing contexts of reception can change the understanding of a product. A review on the blog Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill! mentions 'laughable dialog augmented by overwrought English dubbing', raising the issue of reception being influenced by linguistic understanding. The IMDB entry on the film uses an American DVD release cover as an illustration, which positions the film as 'A Superspoof of Superheroes'. But how much of this is true of the original production? And how much is this simply another example of genre cinema from one nation being measured against the production and narrative values of a different national industry?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Iconography and Aesthetics

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of superheroes worldwide. However some of the most successful have instantly recognisable iconography. This iconography is hugely important and Henry Jenkins has argued that the costumes, insignia and weaponry of modern heroic characters “mirrored the detailed descriptions of the shields and weapons of the different Greek heroes found in Homer, suggesting that heraldry in some forms remains an active element in stories across history.” It is this ‘heraldry’ that makes different superheroes easily identifiable, something that was crucial in the early comics which were frequently poorly printed. Today, in a film like X Men: First Classor Watchmen where a large number of superheroes and villains are introduced in a short space of time, audiences need to be able to quickly identify the different characters. A secondary part of a superhero’s iconography is the way that it can tell a viewer something about the character, their personality and attitudes. If we look at Green Arrow and Green Lantern, two green-suited DC superheroes that often work together and have similar goals, their iconography is key to telling them apart. In addition Green Arrow’s Robin Hood inspired costume reflects the way he takes radical action against social and political issues, just like his forebear.

As a wartime creation Captain America was deliberately patriotic and symbolic of the nation he represented. This connection to America is depicted clearly through his iconography. He wears a red, white and blue costume decorated with the stars and stripes. It is interesting to note that Captain America usually carries only a shield which (although used as a discus), suggests that he and by extension America, is a defender not an aggressor.

I am wondering how well this kind of patriotic character will translate internationally. Politically, America is not universally respected, and a character that defines himself by his American values may be poorly received. However in this Captain America film the character has been safely contained within a historical past with an unproblematic war that has universally accepted villains. By contrast his appearance in the upcoming Avengers film may be more problematic because it is set in the present. What other examples of patriotic superheroes are there, and how well have they travelled outside their geographical boundaries?