Highlighted Selections from:

The Imperial Superhero


DOI: 10.1017/S1049096513001649

Gavaler, Chris. “The Imperial Superhero.” PS: Political Science & Politics 47.01 (2013): 108–111. Web.

p.108: For his mind-reading narrator, Rushdie evokes the Shadow’s 1930s radio slogan: “the ability to look into the hearts and minds of men” (229). The American Shadow, like so many of his descendants and predecessors, gained his powers from the mythical Orient, but the fantastical abilities that Rushdie awards the first citizens born in independent India mark the end of colonial exploitation and the transfer of real-world political power from colonizers to the formerly colonized. -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.108: Rushdie’s use of superhero tropes, however, also reveals the character type’s enduring relationship to colonialism. Since its earliest manifestations, the superhero genre has been a production of imperial culture in which the colonized are reduced to what Albert Memmi terms “an alter ego of the colonizer” (1957, 86). -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.108: “Empire,” observes Elleke Boehmer, signifies “far realms of possibility, fantasy, and wish-fulllment where identities and fortunes might be transformed” (2005, 26). Fullling the colonial implications of the formula, a mild-mannered citizen of Metropolis reveals himself to be an exotic alien with unparalleled powers fighting to safeguard his adoptive culture, a transformation that mirrors empire’s claim as a rightfully dominating global power. -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.108: The genre, as first embodied in the Victorian penny dreadful Spring-Heel’d Jack, originates as a reflection of English nineteenth-century colonialism. Through adaptations by Edgar Rice Burroughs and later American authors, the superhero evolved into a reflection of US imperialism in the first half of the twentieth century, and that imperial past continues to haunt the genre. -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.109: Martin Green argues that “Britain after 1918 stopped enjoying adventure stories” because such narratives “become less relevant and attractive to a society which has ceased to expand and has begun to repent its former imperialism” (1984, 4). In contrast, the United States continued as “a world ruler,” making the adventure story “a peculiarly American form” (4–5). The British superhero and the British Empire halted together, but the narrative type and its colonialist underpinnings were adopted by American authors as the United States pursued its own imperial ambitions. -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.109: Jeff Berglund emphasizes that Tarzan of the Apes was set “during the height of British imperialism and during the escalation of the United States’ own empire-building” and so works to “re-establish the authority of imperial power” (1999, 79). The British-American imperial link is further evidenced in Burroughs’ acknowledgement of Kipling’s 1894 The Jungle Book as one of his primary influences (Lupoff 2005, 157). Burroughs also evokes the “British Colonial Office” as the grounding for his tale’s authenticity and as the motivation that initiates its plot (1). -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.110: When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster entered the comic book industry in the mid-1930s, the tropes of imperial superheroism were already ubiquitous. Superman, rather than constituting the first superhero, epitomized the genre. He takes his origin from the lost planet motif, a science fiction variation on the lost world genre introduced by H. Rider Haggard in 1885, one of several narratives of “triumphalism” which, “far from casting doubt on the imperial undertaking,” argues Said, “serve to confirm and celebrate its success” because heroes “find what they’re looking for, adventurers return home safe and wealthier” (1993, 187). -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014

p.111: If the critiques of Orientalism filtered into comics, they lessened but did not eradicate superheroes’ original orientation. Expanding on Frank Miller’s 1985 Batman: Year One, the twenty-first century Batman of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) travels to the Himalayas to learn his skills from a martial arts mentor and future adversary; Nolan’s Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) is likened to a Burmese anarchist, figuring Batman as the embodiment of imperial order. “How does Orientalism transmit or reproduce itself from one epoch to another?” asks Said (1978, 15). In the case of superheroes, it is through the unexamined repetition of fossilized conventions that encode the colonialist attitudes that helped to create the original character type and continue to dene it in relation to imperial practices. -- Highlighted apr 30, 2014