Tuesday, 1 October 2013

An analysis of anthropomorphism and reverse anthropomorphism in comics.

What do comic books and animals have in common? They are both dismissed as having nothing intelligent to say. Perhaps that is why comics are one of the most prolific sources of animal representations in popular culture. Or it could be that illustrating an animal is a lot easier than trying to get a real one to perform in front of a camera or audience. It is certainly easier to draw an animal talking than to get a real one to do it. This essay will discuss the use of anthropomorphism (animals with human traits) and reverse anthropomorphism (humans with animal traits) in comics1. Murray Ball's Footrot Flats will provide an example of anthropomorphism which succeeds in giving the animal a voice. While Grant Morrison's Animal Man provides insight into why reverse anthropomorphism innately silences the animal. To successfully gauge whether such portrayals speak about the non-human animal rather than just the human we must look at how animals are given 'agency'. This essay will, as Armstrong writes2, 'locate the "tracks" left by animals in texts' (Armstrong 3) or as Philo and Wilbert write3, 'give credence to the practices that are folded into the making of representations, and to ask how animals themselves may figure into these practices' (Philo and Wilbert 5). The results of this analysis will show that anthropomorphism has the potential to portray the animal as possessing agency due to the use of a discourse of agency and the formulation of beastly places within the text, while reverse anthropomorphism uses a discourse of theory that confines animals to human constructed categories thus silencing the animal.

When analysing animal agency in comics the first step is to ask why animal representations are so prolific in comics. Animal icons represent stereotypes which allow the quick and easy communication of concepts. Generally icons are more effective than realistic drawings because they are more easily received due to what comic creator Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics calls 'amplification through simplification'. 'When we abstract an image through cartooning we're not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential "meaning," an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can't' (McCloud 30). Animals are frequently used in comics because they are universally understood icons4. As Will Eisner explains in Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative 'While words are a vital component, the major dependence for description and narration is on universally understood images, crafted with intention of imitating or exaggerating reality' (Eisner 1-2). Comics rely on stereotypes to convey concepts quickly and easily. Comics 'depend on the reader's stored memory of experience to visualize an idea or process quickly. This makes necessary the simplification of images into repeatable symbols. Ergo, stereotypes5' (17). Stereotypical images of animals are culturally coded to represent ready-made concepts such as the lazy cat, the loyal dog or the crafty fox. They 'evoke a viewer's reflexive response... the use of animal-based stereotypes speeds the reader into the plot and gives the teller reader-acceptance for the action of his characters' (20). But stereotyping is also known as a way to establish and reinforce prejudiced attitudes; in the case of animals it tends to generalise them into categories. Although this may be true in general there is a noticeable degree of difference between anthropomorphic and reverse anthropomorphic portrayals.

Animal characters must be portrayed anthropomorphically to some degree in order to participate significantly in a narrative. The degree of personification varies. This can be shown on an anthropomorphic scale6; at one end is the animal and at the other the human. In the graphic novel Laika, the dog Laika or Kudryavka is only minimally anthropomorphous. For the most part she behaves as a dog only. Other human characters imagine her talking but there are no direct speech or thought bubbles. The next step in the anthropomorphic scale is talking animals, such as Dog from Footrot Flats. Dog does not talk directly to humans instead the reader is privy to his thoughts expressed in thought bubbles. As the scale advances the shape of the animal's body begins to become more human. The third anthropomorphic level is that of the bipedal animal character such as Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck who stand upright, wear human clothing and speak out loud often directly to human characters. The fourth level is the hybrid animal character whose body is much closer to that of a human. Examples are Goofy or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hybrid characters tend to be more human or at least as human as animal. The fifth level is the beastly character who is human in almost all ways except for cosmetic features such as a tail, animal ears or fur covering. The far end of this scale is the human animal. The more human-like the animal the more anthropocentric it is. But anthropomorphic characters are still better equipped to show animal agency than their reverse anthropomorphic cousins.

Beyond the point of human is reverse anthropomorphism where the human takes on animal characteristics. For the most part this is apparent in superhero comic books. The first level of reverse anthropomorphism is that of the fetish whereby the character does not really posses any actual animal traits but chooses to identify with animals through a costume, name or insignia. Catwoman wears a cat suit which is sometimes portrayed with animal claws. She does not take her name because of any actual cat powers but because she identifies with cats and she is a cat burglar. At the next level are those characters with augmented animal powers such as Batman who uses technology or gadgets to simulate traits of the animal. He uses a cape to glide, spends much of his time in a cave and on occasion uses sonar devices. Much of his identification with the animal is on the level of a fetish or a 'bat' theme such as his use of the iconic Batmobile or Batarangs. The final level of reverse anthropomorphism are those characters with intrinsic animal powers such as mutants. Wolverine has real animal claws, enhanced tracking abilities due to his heightened olfactory senses and the ferocity of a wolverine. Other means of acquiring animal powers may come from magical sources such as the Black Panther who has a mystical connection to a Panther God or Spider-Man who is created by a scientific experiment gone awry. This essay will demonstrate that reverse anthropomorphic representations do not show animal agency.

For an animal to transcend beyond an purely anthropocentric icon, which says little about the actual animal and more about the human, it must show some kind of agency. One way in which we can measure animal agency is through the degree to which the animal resists and / or transgresses the human-made animal spaces and creates their own beastly places. Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert in Animal Spaces, Beastly Spaces: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations defines these terms. Animal spaces are constructed by humans and work to categorise animals. One of the most common is the zoo which functions as 'a space (or set of spaces) specifically put aside for wild animals no longer ‘in the wild’, thereby leading many people to ‘naturalise’ the zoo in the sense of accepting it unproblematically as an appropriate location for many animals' (Philo and Wilbert 12). The farm too is an animal space in which animals are positioned in 'special, enclosed and policed enclaves' (12). The animal is expected to conform to human classifications because the 'emphasis is on the setting up of classificatory schemes wherein each identified thing has its own "proper place" relative to all other things, and can be neatly identified, delimited and positioned in the relevant conceptual space so as to be separate from, and not overlapping with, other things there identified, delimited and positioned... The result of such classifications, systems and tables is to fix animals in a series of abstract spaces, ‘animal spaces’ (6). Beastly Places are created when it is the 'animals themselves who inject what might be termed their own agency into the scene, thereby transgressing, perhaps even resisting, the human placements of them. It might be said that in so doing the animals begin to forge their own "other spaces", countering the proper places stipulated for them by humans, thus creating their own "beastly places" reflective of their own "beastly" ways, ends, doings, joys and sufferings' (13). Animals create beastly places by either transgressing or resisting. Transgression may occur when animals end up 'evading the places to which humans seek to allot them, whether the basket in the kitchen, the garden, the paddock, the field, the cage or whatever. Such evasions can occur at an individual level' (13). Transgression is a more mild form of animal agency while 'resistance is generally taken to entail the presence of conscious intentionality, seemingly only a property of human agency in that only humans are widely recognised to possess selfconsciousness and the facility for acting on intentions with a view to converting plans into outcomes' (14).

The animal characters is Footrot Flats actively resist rather then simply transgress the animal spaces allocated to them because they do so with 'conscious intentionality'. Dog's allotted animal spaces are his kennel and at his owner's side, but he also wanders around the farm doing as he pleases. He often wanders out of the farm to visit neighbours or the township. A common scenario in Footrot Flats is for Dog to try to meet with Jess when she is on heat. In order to do this he must resist his own enclosure in the farm and the attempts of Coach to lock Jess away. In Footrot Flats 22 (fig 1.1) we see Dog wants to cross a river to Jess but he is stopped by a 'dog eating pig' (Ball 26). Dog, Jess and the Pig are all resisting their animal spaces. Dog is trying to escape the farm, Jess has evaded her dog box and the pig is living in a river. Dog then decides that he must cross a bridge outside the farm. On his way he spies another pack of dogs who are all evading their animal spaces in an attempt to get to Jess. When Dog finally completes his journey Coach has locked Jess away in her dog box. Although it is 'natural' for male dogs to be attracted to a female on heat the lengths they have gone to shows how animals actively resist their animal spaces and possess their own agency. It may be said that this scene is still allocating dogs to a category of beasts unable to resist their urges to mate. But what makes this scene operate as an example of resistance is that Dog is not frustrated when he cannot reach Jess rather his is happy that the other dogs were unable to reach her. On page 29 Dog has almost reached Jess and cries, 'I'm coming Jess, don't let that bag of rat bags have their way with you!!'.'When Dog finally reaches her and sees that she is safely locked away he jumps with happiness and says, 'Thank Heavens!' 'Victory is in the opposition not winning!!'. There is more to this relationship than an urge to mate. Dog would rather Jess was locked away than be taken by the other dogs. They care about each other in a way that goes beyond mere human theoretical categorisation of animal relations. Jess in turn looks back lovingly at Dog with love heart icons surrounding her to represent her own emotion for him. This scenario allow us to explore the notion that animals do not operate solely on base instinct but have similar emotions to humans. In another scene (fig 1.2) we see a rabbit who decides to shelter from the rain by running into Coach's house and jumping in his bed. Coach says, 'Look I an't soft on noxious animals mate! Only one night, right?' In his bedroom we see a tree growing out of the floor with a magpie sitting on a branch. Both the animals and the tree have transgressed from the spaces allocated to them. Coach's willingness to let these non-human others share his space shows that it is humans who decide what is the 'proper' place for both animals and nature. Animal spaces are not 'natural' they are human constructs which may be subverted by either the animal or the human. Footrot Flats presents a discourse that accepts animals have their own agency by portraying them as consciously resisting their prescribed animal spaces.

Animal agency can be measured by the type of discourse employed within a text. In 'The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)' Derrida identifies two types of discourse regarding the animal. The first and most common discourse, which I shall call the theoretical discourse, is by those who see the animal but deny that they are seen by the animal. The animal is reduced to a theorem or passive object of theoretical knowledge and his or her own perspective is ignored:
In the first place there are those texts signed by people who have no doubt seen, observed, analysed, reflected on the animal, but who have never been seen seen by the animal. Their gaze has never intersected with that of an animal directed at them... They have taken no account of the fact that what they call animal could look at them and address them from down there, from a wholly other origin... everything goes on as though this troubling experience [being seen by the animal] had not been theoretically registered, supposing that they had experienced it at all, at the precise moment when they made of the animal a theorem, something seen and not seeing' (Derrida 382-383).
Derrida believes at some level humans do recognise that they too are seen by animals but ' they have denied it as much as misunderstood it' and the logic of this immense disavowal 'traverses the whole history of humanity' (383). Because humans cannot ever fully understand the animal's perspective; because it exceeds the systems of knowledge many simply ignore or deny it. Derrida claims the entire concept of what it means to be human is founded on this disavowal. 'This figure could not be the figure of just one disavowal among others. It institutes what is proper to man, the relation to itself of a humanity that is above all careful to guard, and jealous of, what is proper to it' (383). The human is able to maintain its perceived superiority by denying the animal looks back . A theoretical discourse justifies the use of the animal as a tool or resource and means the human does not have to engage the animal as an equal being or fellow 'earthling'.

The second type of discourse, which I shall call a discourse of agency, accepts that the animal looks back, that the human is seen by the animal. 'As for the other category of discourse, found among ...those men and women who admit taking upon themselves the address of an animal that addresses them, before even having the time or the power to take themselves off' (383). The animal is not merely a tool or a resource but a being with its own perception and agency. This discourse of agency shows an alteration in humanity's perspective of the animal 'in the being-with shared by man and by what man calls the animal' (393). A discourse of agency does not create a dichotomy by focusing on our differences from the animal. Instead it reveals our shared modes of consciousness. As Rowe summarises in 'No Human Hand?': 'epitomes are formed by vision and the experience of being in a world with these non-human others... recognizing that modes of consciousness, desire and suffering transcend species boundaries' (Rowe 125). This discourse shows an understanding of the active role animals play in the shaping of our shared space and presents the animal as possessing agency.

Footrot Flats actively employs a discourse of agency; ideas are formed by being in the world with non-human animals. The stereotype of a farm dog is as a working animal. In Footrot Flats Wal works with Dog to complete jobs around the farm; all activities are shared. In figure 2.1 Wal is trying to move a goat he tells Dog, 'Look, I want to move the goat - you go and attract his attention while I undo the chain...' There is an acceptance in this portrayal that human and animal must co-operate to achieve tasks; the task cannot be completed without shared agency. Dog has his own agency; he obeys the commands of Wal not because he is a passive object but because he too is a caretaker of the farm. In the final panel we see that the goat too has his own agency. After Wal unchains the him, he chases Wal and Dog who cries 'He seems to be ignoring me, Wal'...'. The goat is not an 'it', the goat is a 'he'. He is not a passive object but shows the emotion of annoyance as would many earthlings upon being barked at and shifted against their will. A discourse of agency accepts modes of consciousness, desire, and suffering transcend species boundaries. In Footrot Flats #22 there is a sequence of cartoons which deal with animal courtship between ewes and rams. In the first cartoon (fig 2.2) Wal explains animal courtship to his niece (Janice 'Pongo' Footrot) using a theoretical discourse. 'It's pretty basic really... The ram is put to the ewe and makes her pregnant... she cares for the baby until it's big enough to look after itself... then the ram makes her pregnant again' (39). This discourse labels the animal as an 'it'. A passive object that mates in order to reproduce with little room for emotion. After hearing this explanation Janice replies 'It all sounds very 1950-ish!'. There is an awareness in the text that this discourse both objectifies the animal and promotes a wider ideology of sexism (or at least essentialism) in which the female (both human and non-human) is a passive object whose main role is domestic - to care for children and be impregnated. In the next two sequences we see that the ram Cecil is having trouble finding a mate because he desires love. Dog tries to console him, 'No Cec', I don't think it is too much to expect some show of mutual respect and affection from ewes... I'm sure you'll find some nice sensitive female who'll understand and respect your delicate sensibilities...' (40). To further stress the point that such desires and longings transcend species boundaries Dog takes Cecil to talk to Coach for advice. But Coach suffers from the same longings as the ram, he too is sensitive in matters of love. As Coach explains 'Look I don't know that I'm the best person to ask about this... I'm not married you know... My knowledge of sexual matters is pretty limited... Well... I understand mutual trust and respect come into it - I believe there is an element of foreplay...' (40). After this Coach becomes embarrassed and cries 'Why bring the ram to me?!!' The awkwardness about love and finding a partner is shared by both the ram and the man; it transcends species boundaries. Finally Dog becomes frustrated with Cecil and resorts to a theoretical discourse, 'Cmon Cec' Rams don't fall in love with ewes! Rams flit from ewe to ewe sipping here, sipping there. Ewes aren't that fussy either...' (41). But as we see at the end of this sequence Cecil has found a partner who loves him. A theoretical discourse would say that love is not important to animals. But in this sequence we see Cecil and a ewe rubbing each other tenderly and walking together. Love heart symbols also add to the notion that there is more to their relationship than an urge to mate. These animal characters have their own agency which is no different than a humans. Undeniably there is an element of anthropocentrism in this portrayal. But the degree to which this portrayal is true or false depends on the ideology of the reader. If the reader follows a theoretical discourse and believes animals merely mate without emotion then this portrayal would seem totally anthropocentric. But if the reader approaches it as someone who has shared space with the animal, accepts that the animal looks back, has their own agency and individual characteristics, then this behaviour would not seem improbable.

Reverse anthropomorphism, in contrast, cannot help but adopt a theoretical discourse. It shows little in the way of animal agency because the animal is not present. Even when the story is sympathetic towards the plight of animals a theoretical discourse permeates the text which causes the animal to become no more than a symbol which signifies a set of conventions. In order to understand how reverse anthropomorphism operates we must first investigate its use of the animal totem. Almost every superhero sports a logo of some description; a symbol which defines them and establishes their 'brand'. Reverse anthropomorphic characters have animal symbols such as Batman's bat insignia or Spider-Man's webbed costume or they may simply dress like an animal such as Catwoman. The animal becomes a totem which defines the character in some way. In Totemism Claude Lévi-Strauss writes that animal symbols are used to organize clans; to define one group as separate from another. The totem represents a 'mode of thought. The connection between the relation of man to nature and the characterization of social groups' (Lévi-Strauss 13). The tribe who adopts an animal symbol is adopting the perceived characteristics of that animal. Lévi-Strauss notes that 'the idea of totemism made possible differentiation of societies... if not by regulating certain of them into nature, at least by classing them according to their attitude toward nature, as expressed by the place assigned to man in the animal kingdom' (2). Totemism can be used to classify a people as lower in the 'chain of being' or less than a civilized human and closer to an animal. The use of totemism in superhero portrayals tends to do the opposite. The superhero adopts the totem to show that they are different from the ordinary human; they are 'super', they possess abilities and characteristics that go beyond the norm. Through the adoption of the totem the superhero become a post-human possessing abilities or characteristics of the animal which allows him or her to transcend the average human and become closer to a god. The focus of such portrayals is rarely on the actual animal but on the (often imagined) 'animal powers'.

Animal Man by Grant Morrison provides a specific example of totemism. Animal Man is a superhero who has the ability to call upon the 'powers' of any animal. Morrison portrays Animal Man or Buddy Baker as a vegetarian and champion of animal rights. But even with these intentions the innate nature of reverse anthropomorphism means the actual animal lacks concreteness and individuality. In Animal Man #18 (fig 3.1) Buddy meets his totem, a fox, during an out of body experience in the desert induced by a hallucinogenic drug (peyote) and learns that his animal powers come from the morphogenetic field. '"This is where your animal powers come from! From the field itself!" "The Field is a mesh of countless smaller fields..." "Every species is represented by its own field. Its own ideal form! It's like Plato's archetypal reality, only more subtle. " "This is where the idea of totem spirits derives from! And you're connected to the essence of every creature that has ever existed. You don't need to be near an animal to absorb its power! The power comes from here! From the life field itself!"' (Morrison 17). The problem with totemism is that the animal becomes regulated to a classification, and indexical symbol which points to generalised abilities rather than individuality. 'At the same time as the nature of the animal seems to be concentrated into a unique quality, we might say that its individuality is dissolved in a genus. To recognise an animal is normally to decide what species it belongs to... An animal lacks concreteness and individuality, it appears essentially as a quality, and thus essentially as a class' (Lévi-Strauss 93). Under reverse anthropomorphism the animal is not present only its powers remain. A discourse of theory is adopted which portrays the animal as a passive object or a resource. A metaphysical vivisection occurs: the human imagination becomes a laboratory where the animal is mined for symbolic meaning. The animal is broken into parts which are assigned a use value. The useful traits of the animal are kept while the rest is discarded. An animal space remains but it is hidden deep in the non-conscious. I say non-conscious because even in the unconscious the animal is reduced to a symbol or metaphor. The animal’s individuality is forgotten or deemed irrelevant. Non-presence means no beastly place is created. The animal is restricted to an non-conscious animal space with no chance of transgressing or resisting.

The use of animals as symbols or totems means the actual animal does not have a chance to speak instead the human puts words in their mouth. As Jean Baudrillard explains in ‘The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses’: They, the animals, do not speak... Certainly, one makes them speak... They spoke the moral discourse of man in fables. They supported structural discourse in the theory of totemism. Every day they deliver their "objective"... message in laboratories. They served in turns as metaphors for virtue and vice... In all this - metaphor, guinea pig, model, allegory - animals maintain a compulsory discourse’ (Baudrillard 90). Under reverse anthropomorphism the animal is a human construct; a set of conventions or ‘powers’ which are used to augment the human subject. The human turns the animal into a symbol which represents qualities the animal may not even posses. In Animal Man #21 (fig 3.2) Buddy absorbs the powers of a fly which allows him to slow down time. The explanation Morrison gives for how this works is as follows: ‘Time! All animals experience time at different rates. The smaller the animal the shorter its life, the more slowly it experiences the passage of time. Reach into the field. Absorb the time perception of a fly. And the world goes into slow motion. Like a film running down. My reaction time is multiplied by ten’ (Morrison 21). A compulsory discourse is forced upon the animal. The animal does not speak or share its own experience rather one is made up for it by a human; the human speaks for the animal. As Baudrillard explains: ‘Nowhere do they [animals] really speak, because they only furnish the responses one asks for. It is their way of sending the Human back to his circular codes, behind which their silence analyzes us’ (Baudrillard 90). Reverse anthropomorphism has no real interest in understanding the perception of the animal. The animal is a part of a circular code. The human wishes to find a pre-determined meaning and so constructs the animal as a symbol of that meaning; the signified comes before the signifier. Under reverse anthropomorphism the animal lacks both presence and a voice.

Reverse anthropomorphism silences the animal, if a text is to show animal agency then it must employ (anthropomorphic) animals. It would not be fair to describe Animal Man as a harmful form of animal representation. Morrison did attempt to make the reader aware of many animal issues such as the plight of laboratory animals, the senseless slaughter of dolphins for recreation and the general support of vegetarianism. But the reverse anthropomorphic character Animal Man cannot speak as an animal he can only speak about animals. A final analysis of Animal Man supports the thesis that anthropomorphism allows animal agency while reverse anthropomorphism does not. Issue #5 of Animal Man called ‘The Coyote Gospel’ examines the use of anthropomorphism in popular culture. At the beginning of this issue Buddy is throwing out his households supply of meat because he is turning vegetarian. This is a clear example of speaking about the animal. ‘“Buddy what are you doing?” “I’m getting rid of all this meat and stuff. I think its time we went vegetarian... Ellen, these are dead animals! Have you any idea of the kind of terrible conditions these animals live in before they get dragged down to the slaughter house and turned into somebody’s “groceries”’ (Morrison 8). Buddy’s concern for the suffering of animals in contrasted with the suffering of an anthropomorphic coyote, called Crafty, who is analogous to Wiley coyote from the cartoon Road Runner (1949). In this cartoon the Wiley frequently suffers for the amusement of the audience (mainly children) by being run over, blown up with sticks of dynamite, and dropped of cliffs. All these tortures are inflicted upon Crafty in Animal Man but, unlike Wiley in Road Runner, this coyote feels the pain and is miserable. His ability to resurrect after each ‘death’ only brings him more anguish. As Crafty explains in his ‘gospel’ he comes from a world filled with anthropomorphic beasts who continually fight each other. ‘No one in those days could remember a time when the world was free from strife. A time when beast was not set against beast in an endless round of violence and cruelty. With bodies that renewed themselves instantly, following each wound, no one thought to challenge the futile brutality of existence. Until Crafty’ (18). One day Crafty ‘wept at last and said “no more”’ (19) and decided to visit God (who is a cartoonist with a paintbrush). God is angry that he has questioned him but offers to let the other animals live in peace if Crafty will agree to ‘spend eternity in the hell above [the human world]... while you live and bear the suffering of the world, I will make peace among the beasts’ (20). Crafty is then teleported to the human world where he is immediately run over by a truck and has his entrails eaten by vultures until he resurrects again to suffer more punishment. Although the driver feels guilt he drives on without stopping saying to a hitch hiker, ‘”Forget it. Don’t look back.” “Keep your eyes on the road and don’t look back”’ (3). Since this incident the driver suffers a string of bad luck; his best friend is run over, he loses his job, his mother dies of cancer and finally he discovers that the hitch hiker he picked up became a prostitute and was killed. The driver blames the Crafty for this bad luck and returns to the desert a year later determined to kill him. Like the Road Runner cartoons, the driver shoots Crafty, causes him to fall off a cliff, drops a boulder on him and blows him up with dynamite before finally killing him forever with a silver bullet. All Crafty wants to do is return to his home world and ‘overthrow the tyrant God’ (21) but instead he dies in Animal Man’s arms. Crafty desires agency to act, he wishes to escape his animal space; his category of an animal who is tortured for amusement. Through this portrayal Morrison is showing that the animal looks back even from the cartoon; he is not simply a passive object but has his own perception. Baudrillard compares the treatment of animals to the torturers of the Inquisition who demanded that their victims admitted they acted evilly. But more importantly the victims had to admit they were ‘not guilty except by accident, through the incidence of the principle of Evil in the divine order. (Baudrillard 85). In this way evil was exterminated through torture. Baudrillard then asks: ‘when we use and abuse animals in laboratories, in rockets, with experimental ferocity [or in cartoons] … what confessions are we hoping to extort’? (82). His answer is that ‘Animals must be made to say they are not animals’ p. By this he means that ‘Bestiality, and its principle of uncertainty, must be killed in animals’ (82). This uncertainty arises when we admit that animals look back, that they have a perspective we cannot understand. Rather than admitting an animal’s perspective is as valid as our own, we reduce the animal to ‘physiological mechanisms’ that do not work as well as our own. We force animals to confess that they are not a fellow earthling but a lower and less intelligent resource which justifies our treatment of them. The same dynamic happens in many anthropomorphic portrays of animals. Wiley Coyote, from Road Runner, is stupid and his suffering is the result of his lack of intelligence, his lack of foresight and his inability to resist his category of ‘victim’ and this means his suffering is both justified and amusing. In Morrison’s story, Crafty the coyote is not stupid, he is noble, self aware and filled with emotion. This story shows animal agency, the coyote resists his animal space and creates a beastly place that resonates with the reader. A discourse of agency is used in which the animal looks back and questions our justification of his torture. Reverse anthropomorphic characters can only speak about the animal, but, as the example of Crafty shows, anthropomorphic characters can show animal agency by speaking as an animal.

This essay has analysed the use of anthropomorphism and reverse anthropomorphism in comics. Animal icons are used in comics because they allow quick identification through stereotyping. Although this may lock the animal into a predetermined category the closer the representation is to the animal end of the anthropomorphic scale the more potential it has to speak as an animal. Although this analysis is limited to two texts, Footrot Flats and Animal Man, I would argue that all anthropomorphic representations must show animal agency to some degree. Because the animal protagonist must act in order to move the narrative forward an element of agency must accompany his or her representation. To measure agency we need to look at how the animal is categorised and more importantly how he or she consciously resists animal spaces to create their own beastly places. A discourse of agency accepts that the animal looks back and has his or her own perspective in contrast to a discourse of theory which only sees the animal as a passive object. Once we move into reverse anthropomorphism the animal as an individual is lost and becomes a symbol or totem which signifies a set of conventions or powers. Although the intentions of the author may be sympathetic towards real animals the innate nature of reverse anthropomorphism means the animal is not present. This silencing ignores the animal's own perspective and supplants a human one in its place. The reverse anthropomorphic character may champion animal rights but he or she can only ever hope to speak about animals. Only anthropomorphic characters can speak as animals and show agency. Although anthropocentrism is almost impossible to avoid, by adopting a discourse of agency traces of the individual animal do exist. As Lisa Brown explains in Antennae #16 'By providing other animals an outlet for their voices, artists simultaneously allow them a forum to air their grievances, and provide humans an arena to hear what they might say' (Brown 3).

Armstrong, Philip. What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity. Routledge (2008)
Ball, Murray. Footrot Flats 22. Hodder Moa Beckett. 1991.
Baudrillard, Jean. 'The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses', Simulacra and Simulation. The University of Michigan, 1994.
Berger, John. Why Look at Animals? Penguin. 2009.
Brown, Lisa. 'Lisa Brown - An Introduction to the Illustrated Animal'. Antennae. Issue 16. (Spring 2011). 3-6.
Brown, Lisa. 'The Speaking Animal Nonhuman Voices in Comics'. Speaking for Animals: Animal Autobiographical Writing. Routledge. 2012.
Carmack, Betty J. 'Realistic representations of companion animals in comic art in the USA.' Anthrozoos 10(2/3): 108-120.
Chaney, Michael. 'Animal Subjects of the Graphic Novel'. College Literature. Vol. 38. No. 3. (Summer 2011). 129-149. West Chest University.
Derrida, Jacques. Wills, David (trans). 'The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)'. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Winter, 2002). 369-418.
Eisner,Will. Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Poorhouse Press. 2006
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Totemism.Beacon Press. 1973
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics The Invisible Art. HarperCollins, 1993.
Morrison, Grant. Animal Man. DC Comics. 1988.
Philo, Chris and Wilbert, Chris. Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations. Routledge. 2000.
Rowe, Stephanie. 'No Human Hand? The Ourang-Outang in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"', Animals and Agency. Brill. 2009.
Shapiro, Kenneth (ed.) Animals and Agency. Brill. 2009.

1The word 'comics' will be used because as McCloud explains in Understanding Comics 'comics... refers to the medium itself. Not a specific object as "comic book" or "comic strip" [or graphic novel] do.' p4. Comics are 'juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.' p9
2What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity.
3 Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations.
4At this stage is is important to make a distinction between the real embodied animal and the constructed concept or stereotype of the animal to which icons tend to represent.
5 Eisner believes stereotypes evoke a viewer's reflexive response due to retained instincts developed as primordials but I would argue these responses are learned when the subject enters the pre-existing means of signification or langue.
6The anthropomorphic scale I described is a refined version of that presented in 'Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism' from the website tvtropes.org. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SlidingScaleOfAnthropomorphism

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The world has many problems:
chemical warfare in Syria, nuclear bombs being built, natural disasters, class conflict, high unemployment, pollution, climate change, starving children, poverty, species extinction etc
Obviously we can't hope to deal with all these problems at once , that's why I believe we need to prioritise our issues
The most important issue affecting our time is this gay kiss between Wolverine and Hercules,
I am disgusted by the reaction of that homophobic cretin Zeus for condemning these two adorable men to the pits of Tartarus for expressing their natural love.
I tots support gay love, it is like sooo important! And anyone who doesn't get up off their seat and have an opinion about this world affecting issue is simply not tuned in to the 'real' problems facing our world.
Like my man Macklemore said 'its the same love' (always cry when I see that video - it moves me).

Friday, 16 November 2012

The superhero as a post-structural icon.

Discuss the superhero as a post-structural icon and explain how this enables it to deal with the problem of representing justice.

After finishing my undergraduate degree in English literature all I wanted was to read something fun; I had eaten the vegetables of high literature and it was time for desert, time to read some comics. I gutted the library, the comic shop and my friends collections, I sat down in the sun to read and relax but what I found was not the mindless escapism I expected. Comic books had changed they had become literary. Stories like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had deconstructed the two dimensional heroes I had enjoyed in my youth. I found myself engaging with adult themes in The Preacher and Sandman, I found self-reflexivity and irony in the X-Statix and literary tropes and intertextuality in The Invisibles. But the realisation that comic books had changed was really no surprise; the reader's had matured, the medium could not remain static. In this essay I will analyse the post-structural elements of the comic book superhero. In doing so I wish to convey why superheroes have adapted to changing times and tastes and how these developments have created a literary form with real power to comment on the world we inhabit . Comic books are a mode of printed communication or expression which uses an unique structure of language, and this language is post-structural because the icons they portray are 'writerly'; the concepts they represent are not fixed but invite interpretation, they show différance: that is they constantly defer to other signs. In order to explain how this works this essay will examine three areas: first I will analyse the superhero as an icon and show how it is able to contain a multiplicity of concepts; secondly I will examine continuity and how this literary convention allows the superhero to be re-imagined without disrupting the text; finally I will propose the reason for the superhero's lack of centre derives from its fundamental attempt to represent 'justice' which is a concept with no fixed meaning. In the interests of delimiting the focus, I will only attempt to describe the language and history of the superhero and will not delve into other great works of sequential art which have undoubtedly contributed to the modern comic book. In the scope of this essay all references to comics are exclusive to the superhero genre unless otherwise stated. For reasons which will become clear the superhero is the most post-structural of all comic book icons.

Fundamentally comic books are a language of icons that represent concepts; because the relationship between the icon and the concept is not fixed I am going to define superheroes as post-structural icons1. First we must understand comic books as a hybrid language of text and pictures, which may be used to express ideas which are worthy of study or are not. If we start with the basic principles of structuralism2 “the signifier is that which carries meaning, and the signified is that to which it refers. Signification is the process which binds together signifier and signified to produce the sign.” In the comic book both picture and text work together to form a sign. In a prose book pictures may accompany the text and enhance the story but they are rarely essential; unless it is a children's book, losing the pictures would make little difference to the story. In the comic book the picture is a part of the alphabet, the dictionary of symbols which work in unison with the text to form concepts. In order to effectively achieve this aim comic books tend to use a language of visual and textual simplicity. Scott McLeod explains the reason for this in Understanding Comics by drawing a scale from complex to simple. At the simple end of the scale we can use the word “FACE” to convey the concept of a face, as we get more complicated we may describe the face “two eyes and mouth” and at the far end of the scale we may use high literature such as Shakespeare's sonnet 2: “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, / And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field, / Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now/ Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:” When written language is complicated it requires more time to perceive the information, which is more specific. The most effective way for visual and textual information to be unified into a single language is for pictures and words to meet at the point where they are simple. As McCloud explains,
Pictures are received information. We need no formal education to “get the message.” The message is instantaneous. Writing is perceived information; it takes time and specialized knowledge to decode the abstract symbols of language. When pictures are more abstracted from “reality” they require greater levels of perception, more like words. When words are bolder, more direct, they require lower levels of perception and are received faster more like pictures. (49)
What invigorates this language, and makes it post-structural, is its use of icons rather than realistic drawings. Icons lower the natural instinct of the viewer to make judgements based on appearance. “Thus, when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face-- – you see it as the face of another... But when you enter the world of the cartoon --- you see yourself.” (36) When confronted by a realistic drawing of a person we cannot help but make judgements, perhaps regarding the person's politics, race, class, taste or fashion, but when we see an icon we see the concept it represents - i.e. hero, villain. “By de-emphasizing the appearance of the physical world in favor of the idea of form, the cartoon places itself in the world of concepts.” (41) McCloud suggests comic book characters, especially superheroes, represent concepts. The icon is a fixed signifier - by this I mean their costume, their 'look', their origin story remains for the most part concrete (although cosmetic changes may be made). But the concept which they signify does not remain the same; the signified is paradigmatic and can be changed. The relation between the signifier and the thing which is signified shows what Derrida calls différance:
Derrida also considers deferral to be typical of the written, and this is to reinforce that the meaning of a certain text is never present, never entirely captured by the critic's attempt to pin it down... The meaning of a text is constantly subject to the whims of the future, but when that so-called future is "present", the text's meaning is equally not realized, but subject to yet another future that can never be present. The key to a text is never present even to the author him or herself, for the written always defers its meaning. (Reynolds 37)
In an on going series, such as Batman, all new writers start as readers, who form their own concept of whom and what Batman stands for. They read the story in the present but find new meaning for the future when they translate their own interpretation into writing. An iconic character such as Batman represents different concepts depending on how the reader places him; he may be a cloaked figure from detective fiction, a typical hero fighting to protect the innocent and uphold the law or an obsessed vigilante out for vengeance and ambivalent to the restraints of law and civil rights. The story may be formulaic but the icon of the superhero has no centre, there is no fixed meaning.

Superheroes are post-structural icons that can represent a multiplicity of concepts and this ability has allowed them to adapt to changing tastes over a long period of time. An overview of the history of comics shows how this chameleon-like trait has allowed them to remain relevant. Comics are broken into periods starting with the Golden Age (1930s – 1950s), the Silver Age (1956-1970s) and the Modern Age, which Easton3 divides into the Bronze Age (1972-1986) and the Iron Age (1994-2001). Although Scott McLeod believes the genealogy of comics can be traced to primitive man, such as Aztec wall drawings, I would argue comics really emerge as a product of mass media newspapers. Publishers discovered comic strips helped increase circulation. These comic strips were collected and repackaged into books as early as 19024. By the 1930s advances in mass production meant comic books could be produced very cheaply on newsprint. The American comic book was in many ways an off-shoot of the pulp tradition of the nineteenth and early twentieth century which were already popular especially with the newly literate working class, and by 1938 about 4 million comic books were sold a month in America. The pulps also helped to establish popular modes such as the western, detective fiction, romance stories and science fiction which were to shape the content of comics. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were science fiction fans who created Superman in 1932 and tried unsuccessfully to sell their idea to newspapers until eventually it was picked up by National Allied Publications (later DC Comics) and printed in Action Comics #1 (1938). Superman was immediately successful and made his way into the daily newspapers. This success enabled other superheroes to make their appearances most notably Bob Kane's Batman (1939). During this period there was no long-term narrative planning for characters; the emphasis was on mass production. Titles came and went depending on sales. Each story was a stand alone artefact or a 'one-shot' (a complete story in a single issue). As Dennis O'Neil explains in The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics:
The first generation of comics writers and editors [were just] telling stories in what was considered a transient medium. Until the seventies, the conventional wisdom held that the comic book audience changed every three years. “Comics are for kids,” the theory went, “and when kids discover sports, cars, and the opposite sex, they'll abandon their funnybook habit and give their collection to their younger siblings”. (116)
The comic was meant to be ephemeral - a pastime for children and teenagers. This transient nature meant what characters represented could easily change.

Since its earliest inception the superhero icon has been a symbol whose concept is mutable: as we see with Superman. In Action Comics #1 we are told Superman comes from
a distant planet (unnamed)... destroyed by old age... We next see adult Superman, in civilian clothes, testing his powers - and again astonishing the workers, this time at a construction site - by lifting a girder over his head with one hand... As we come to a close, we are given a small but dramatically posed drawing of 'Superman! Champion of the Oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need'. (Harrison 38-395)
In Superman #1 (1939) his strength is explained as proportionate of arthropods such as the grasshopper and the ant. His birth planet, now named Krypton, was home to people who could leap over tall buildings due to their advanced science: “Superman is our future, literally 'The Man of Tomorrow'” (Harrison 40). The concept he represents is humans at their evolutionary best; at this stage he does not realise he is an alien he only knows himself as a human being with magnified abilities - strength, speed, resistance to injury and x-ray vision. He is still more 'man' than 'super'; he is a working class hero of the people who represents faith in the enlightenment idea that through reason and science we will one day reach perfection. In the 1940s comic books became caught up in the war effort. Patriotic stories became big sellers and opportunities were created for heroes to band together to fight the axis powers. As Easton notes, “such stories not only made money, they conveniently reinforced the necessary patriotic messages of the war effort, and... represented the permissible forms of masculine identities and practices required to wage war.” (66) The tone of these comics paint a black and white world where Superman represents truth, justice and the American way while villains such as Nazis or buck toothed Japanese seek to undermine this ideology and disrupt the status quo. But interestingly Superman hardly ever becomes involved in the battlefield; instead he catches spies at home, delivers supplies to the troops or helps to train them. The concept Superman now represents is a patriotic one: if everybody does their part for the war effort, no matter how small, the nation will persevere. But as times change the post-war generation began to both embrace and fear science due to the advent of the atomic bomb. We learn in Superman #49 (1948) that Krypton exploded due to its warming uranium core. Krypton is a highly sophisticated society yet when Superman's biological father Jor-El announces this discovery its scientists scoff at him and the failure to acknowledge this inconvenient truth leads to the demise of their world. Superman's origins now serve as a warning to the limits of science, he no longer derives his power from Krypton instead it is the source of his weakness represented by Kryptonite - meteors from his home planet that can kill him. He is now empowered by Earth's lower gravity, its yellow sun and most importantly the humanity he learns from his adopted parents - Jonathan and Martha Kent. Already in the first decade of publication we see that while the visual icon of Superman remains fixed, the concepts he represents develop and change with the times. Comic consumption declined slightly after the War especially in the superhero genre. Many titles and publishers disappeared, such as Timely (Marvel) Comics. Comic book producers moved back into the traditional pulp areas of crime and horror with emphasis on sex and violence. Although popularity waned at the end of the Golden Age superheroes such as Superman and Batman survived because of their post-structural nature that allowed them to adapt.
The Silver Age presented many challenges to the superhero icon which could possibly have destroyed the medium if not for its post-structural nature that allowed the icon to adapt to a multiplicity of concepts. This era begins in the cold war period: the Eisenhower era when American culture was focused on regulation. By the 1950s comic books had become a form of youth popular culture, with priority over either television or rock 'n' roll music. Circulation reached a peak of almost sixty million copies a month by 1952. But since the 1940s librarians, teachers and women's magazines had complained that both pulp novels and comics corrupted the youth due to their focus on crime and horror. This movement came to a head in 1954 when psychologist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent which claimed comic books lead to juvenile delinquency, violence and drug use. At the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (1953 - 1954) Wertham presented his arguments. In response the industry created “The Comic Book Code” which followed Hollywood’s Hays Code as a means of self-regulation and censorship. The repercussions of this censorship had a huge impact on the format of comics and arguably still do. Genres were eliminated or significantly remodelled to suit the new regulations; violent images were banned as well as problem words and concepts such as 'terror' and 'zombies'. The superhero genre came under heavy scrutiny as the male superhero and his coterie of young male sidekicks became a symbol of larger homophobic fears. I believe this shows clearly how superheroes are writerly - the way in which these groups could become panicked by stories or even words, which would seem by today's standards as quite tame, is incredible and goes to show that it is not the author but the reader who interprets a text based on their subjective context. In response and under the Code, comic books entered an era of silliness and formulaic plot. For example Batman was given a wife – Batwoman6 – to discourage links to homosexuality. Following the dictates of the code, sex and drugs could not be discussed, the hero had to win and criminals must always be punished. The superhero comics published under the code have led to the image many still hold today of comic books being childish and with little literary merit. The code forced comic books to reinforce the dominant discourse and the ruling institutions of the age. For example General Standards Part A Section 3 of the Code7 states: “Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.” The superheroes were forced into a position where they safe-guarded the status quo and the ruling hegemony. Under this regime the hero became monolithic and unchanging possessing the values of the moment with little room for character development. Many pulps and comics were simply cancelled but the superhero remained because the concepts they represent are not fixed but can be changed to meet political and cultural demands.

The superhero icon invites multiple interpretations and shows différance because they constantly defer to other signs in their continuity. Continuity would seem initially to be problematic because if superhero stories stopped being ephemeral and became one long never ending story then changing the concept a superhero represents would cause contradictions. But the opposite is true - continuity actually empowers change, it creates a self-referential écriture which allows the superhero to be revised retrospectively without destabilizing the text. To illustrate how this works this essay will first analyse the literary convention of continuity in some depth. I would argue that continuity started to be taken seriously with the re-emergence of Timely Comics, renamed Marvel Comics, under the creative genius of Stan Lee in the 1960s. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four (1961) and the immediate success of this title lead to the creation of The Hulk (1962), Thor (1962), Spider-Man (1962), Iron Man (1963) and The X-Men (1963). The impact of Stan Lee and the 'Marvel way' of telling stories cannot be overlooked: it is the pivotal point in the shift towards comic books becoming more than ephemeral pulp for adolescents. As Easton highlights: what Stan Lee created was Continuity, Character and Community. Stan Lee made Marvel comics one continuous story; he introduced continuity into comic books. This innovation meant comics were no longer disposable; in order to follow the story one needed every issue. Continuity allowed the implementation of the serial story arc. Each arc would involve a sub-plot which, once the main plot had been concluded, could become the dominant plot and set off a new story arc. All conclusions were only tentative and the narrative need never end. Stories could live or die based on sales and reader feedback. Some multi-issue multi-title events simmered for years before emerging. The serial story arc allowed Marvel to create character-based story telling where heroes could develop. Like a soap opera, characters became vulnerable and melodramatic, they had flaws and real problems. The innovation that suffering builds character has now become a cliché in comic books. Spider-Man was hated by the public mainly due to bad press while his alter ego Peter Parker suffered as a rejected high school student, The Hulk was persecuted and hounded by the army when all he wanted was to be left alone, while the X-Men were discriminated against by a society who demanded mutant apartheid. These were not the black and white 'super' heroes of the Golden Age who could do no wrong and were adored by the status quo. They were not just millionaire playboys or mystical Kings and Queens from far off lands such as DC Comic's Aquaman or Wonder Woman; they were extraordinary people who had regular problems. Even the Norse god Thor spent his days as a disabled human medical student in order to learn humility. Character-driven stories allowed the reader to identify with superheroes because they shared the same emotions of melodrama and angst, and a large and loyal fan base developed who grew up and matured alongside their heroes. Fans were invited to write to comic book creators, as with a blog, writers and readers would engage in conversation via the letters pages at the end of each issue creating a live dialogue. Readers were encouraged to critique and point out flaws in the continuity. Stan Lee created the 'no prize' for readers who spotted an inconsistency in the continuity and were then able to explain it away. The 'no prize' shows that even from the beginning continuity in comics was considered a modifiable device. Because of this open approach to continuity the comic book became a commonwealth where all readers had a share. Continuity allowed a never ending narration which in turn gave scope for character development and this created a much more loyal fan base who were not transient but instead became solidified into a community. The implementation of continuity was a massively important shift in the superhero tradition, without it comics could very well have sunk into obscurity.

What exactly is continuity? 'Continuity' does not appear in the latest addition of M.H. Abrams A Glossary of Literary Terms, a search of academic websites yields little results and there is hardly any literary criticism written on it - except when discussing comics. This is clearly because in literature and film its function is rather mundane. In superhero comics on the other hand the application of continuity is an essential creative tool. Continuity is rarely pinned down to one definition; O'Neil gives a description for three types of continuity simply called Continuity A, B, and C. The first type, Continuity A, is an attribute of both prose and film that might be better called 'consistency':
When it's done properly, it insures that everything within the story remains the same from page to page. Issue to issue. A character's name does not change. His hair remains the same color, and is parted on the same side, throughout the story. His car, clothes, apartment, job, hometown, relatives, and friends – everything about him remains consistent unless the plot demands alterations.
In movies, this task belongs to someone whose job title is Script Supervisor and a demanding job it is because movies are usually shot out of sequence; scenes that appear within seconds of each other may have been photographed weeks apart. (O'Neil 113)
Continuity A is used in every kind of story and is not really a literary convention; rather, it is an automatic requirement of writing. Any inconsistency usually represents something purposeful and significant, maybe employed by an unreliable narrator such as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Continuity B is similar to Continuity A, but its scope is larger: “It refers to consistency within an entire series, not just a single story. In addition to the consistencies mentioned above, Continuity B is concerned with the back story and the sequence of important events – in other words, the 'history' of important characters and locales which have usually developed over years of publication.” (O'Neil 113) This type of continuity enriches the fictional world and gives greater scope to both character and setting. It develops naturally out of the a series of text and is maintained by the author to ensure overall consistency throughout a series. Continuity B works exactly the same in comics as it does in an epic narrative such as the The Lord of the Rings. In this series The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers all become the 'back story' and 'history' in the context of the final book The Return of the King. Reading The Silmarillion and The Hobbit is not necessary but will enhance the depth and scope of the main three books. In comics all preceding issues in a series become history and back story to the current issue. Though it is not necessary to read all issues, doing so will add more depth to the series. But, while The Lord of the Rings reaches a resolution of conflict causing both the epic narrative and the series itself to end, in superhero comics a denouncement rarely means the end of the series, merely the end of the story-arc. Batman has been published for more than seventy years and although the world around him has remained contemporary we are meant to believe that his age is still that of a man in his late twenties. It would seem that continuity B would make it difficult for the superhero icon to change because of the emphasis on its history. But instead it reinforces Derrida's idea that the meaning of a text is constantly subject to the whims of the future. For example, in order to explain where Batman's wife, Batwoman, has gone, writers merely needed to consign her to an alternative universe called Earth 1, which would eventually be erased by anti-matter in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985). The result of this event was that the past never happened. The erasing of an idea from the past is simple, but a more challenging and interesting trope is to write something into the past. Marvel's Illuminati (2005) rewrites the past in a manner which is seamless and invigorates the old text with new meaning. The Illuminati are a group of superheroes who join forces and secretly work behind the scenes to manipulate events and 'police' their fellow superheroes. They are all rulers or leaders in their field and include; Tony Stark (Iron-Man), Namor (King of Atlantis), Black Bolt (Ruler of the Inhumans), Reed Richards (leader of the Fantastic Four), Dr. Stephen Strange (Occult master), and Prof. Charles Xavier (founder of the X-Men). What is interesting about this group is that although the story is written in 2005 we are told they were a secret force involved in major events which occurred in Marvel's past including the Kree-Skrull War (1971 - 1972), Secret Wars II (1985 - 1986) and Infinity Gauntlet (1991). These old stories are retold from a different perspective; unlike Batman's wife they are not erased: they still remain intact but a new element has been retrospectively added. Now when re-reading these older stories in their original form we can find new significance. The interpretation of these texts is not and was never absolute, instead it is continuously being deferred. In comics, time, back story and history, can be switched on or off, slowed down, paused or even rewound.

The possibilities continuity enables to create différance are further multiplied when we consider that each superhero exists in a wider universe, such as the Marvel Universe or the DC Universe, where there are hundreds of additional characters and settings all with their own histories and back stories to manipulate. This extended universe is what O'Neil calls Continuity C:
This is Continuity B writ large, and applies only to characters who are part of a well-developed fictional “universe”,... It is concerned with the relationships of hundreds of characters and events and a vast chronology that encompasses past, present, and future... Maintaining consistency in a single title is demanding and maintaining it in forty titles for a decade or more is Herculean. (O'Neil 116)
Continuity C means that a significant world changing event which happens in a one title is also reflected in the other titles of that universe. For example in the House of M (2005), the Scarlet Witch (an ex-Avenger) becomes unstable and uses her reality changing powers to alter the history of the universe. Because of this event every single title in the Marvel Universe was affected, every single character was re-imagined and all previous continuity stopped in order to align with the events of that one story. Where in Superman of the 1940s we saw a subtle change from a working class hero to a patriotic hero, in House of M the concept each superhero represents was altered dramatically. Spider-Man became a famous actor adored by a world that usually hates him, Captain America became a retired war-veteran who was never frozen during World War Two and Magneto succeeded in elevating the position of mutants from second class citizens to the dominant species. These changes stayed in place for almost twelve months of publication until eventually the House of M story arc was resolved and the Marvel Universe went back to the way it was. This play with Continuity C allowed writers to re-imagine characters and some of these re-imaginings were left in place depending on how successful they were considered to be. Probably the most significant change was the return of Wolverine's memory. Wolverine had always been a character with no past; his origin was that of a mutant forced to become a weapon; he was kidnapped, had his bones replaced with adamantium and his memory wiped or altered to make him a controllable killer. The return of his memory in the House of M event lead to the graphic novel Origins and Endings (2006), where we learn about his childhood, and the ongoing monthly series Wolverine: Origins (2006) in which we learn about his time as an assassin for the Government before becoming a hero. As a result everything that had been previously written was energised with new meaning. There would be few literary modes that could alter and then realign characters in such a natural and fluid way without destabilising the text. In comic books différance is not a subconscious act, it is purposeful and manipulated by writers to allow superhero icons to remain relevant and interesting. Through continuity, a self-referential intertextuality is at play where signs constantly refer to others in a collection of superhero écriture. Far from prohibiting change, continuity super-charges change allowing it to be made effectively and seamlessly.

Although superhero stories are by nature self-referential they do not operate in a totalized world but instead they are interwoven with the desires and anxieties of the real world to which they constantly refer. This is reflected in the final definition of continuity as described by Richard Harrison as 'General Continuity', which means each comic book is contiguous with the real world. In the Golden Age each hero lived in their own fictional city (Gotham for Batman or Metropolis for Superman) whereas when Marvel relaunched they based their characters in the reader's world, with most living in New York City. Contemporary events and social issues became a part of comic-book such as the growing protests against the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement or, more recently, the 9/11 attacks. In Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 - 86 (1971) Green Arrow's sidekick Roy “Speedy” Harper is discovered to be a junkie shooting heroin. Rather than a black and white morality story reminiscent of the Golden Age, writers Adams and O'Neil depict junkies as victims, rather than criminals, who have turned to drugs to escape abuse and depression. Harper tells Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) that Jordan's generation has told the younger generation lies about racial segregation and the Vietnam war so he has no reason to believe them when they tell him drug abuse is bad. This depiction of Speedy is a long way from his original incarnation in More Fun Comics #73 (1941) and shows the mutable nature of the superhero icon. Amazing Spider-Man #447 'The Black Issue' (2001) is set in the aftermath of 9/11; Spider-Man and other heroes stand in shock at the site of the fallen World Trade Centre feeling sorrow and anger because they could not prevent the terrorist attacks. The icon of the superhero once again becomes a patriotic symbol but a mournful one, emblematic of the sorrow felt by a country in crisis, rather than the gung-ho army recruiter of the Golden Age. General continuity represents engagement with issues of the real world and illustrates how the comic book superhero icon can express concepts which are mature and relevant.

General continuity allows comic books to engage with the real world, but predominantly they are subject to the whims of the market and this reality, more than artistic temperament, drives their constant state of deferral. I have called superheroes post-structural icons because they show an awareness of différance and use it in a purposeful way. This awareness leads to comic books becoming self analytical and self reflexive as I will illustrate in a close reading of Alan Moore's 'What Happened of the Man of Tomorrow' (1986)8. In the 1980s a growing number of mature comic-book readers were demanding realism and violence from the superhero portrayal. As a result gritty and violent anti-heroes became the mainstream in the 1990s. Moore's response to this desire is an ironic attempt to inject 'realism' into the Superman tradition. 'What Happened' was conceived as a make believe last Superman issue. The story begins in the future 1997; Superman has not appeared in ten years, Lois Lane is now Lois Elliot and is married with her first child. A reporter comes to her house to interview her regarding the last days of Superman which Lois narrates in a series of flashbacks. 'What Happened' asks what would happen if comic book characters lived in a more violent and mature world, if they weren't confined to following a childish plot and the conventions of that plot. For example, when considering Superman's dual identity as Clark Kent it has never seemed realistic that putting on a pair of glasses could ever be a successful disguise. How can a pair of glasses fool the world let alone somebody like Lois Lane or Lana Lang who interact with both Superman and Clark Kent on a daily basis? When comics were primarily a medium for adolescents these types of questions were not asked. But when the audience has matured how can the suspension of disbelief remain? Rather than ignoring or accepting these holes in the mythology the move towards realism in comic books confronts these kinds of questions. Clark Kent is working at the Daily Planet with Lana Lang when he receives a parcel. Inside are little superman action figures which attack him with laser rays. Lana Lang believes Clark has been killed but when the smoke clears Clark's clothes lie in tatters and his Superman costume is revealed as is his secret identity.
Lana is shocked: “Clark... it was you! All these years... it was you all the time!”
Voices come from the action figures who we find out belong to the Golden Age villains Toyman and the Pranksters.
Ha Ha! That's right, Miss Lang...
It was him all the time! He just combed his hair and stuck on a pair of glasses! Ha Ha Ha! What a great Gag!”
Superman can not believe that anyone could see through his disguise.
Okay... how did you know I was Clark Kent?” (Moore 174 - 175)
He is directed to another larger box which has been delivered and inside is the corpse of Pete Ross, a childhood friend of Superman, who knew his identity. Pete Ross has been tortured and murdered by Toyman and the Prankster in order to find out Superman's identity and as they explain: “We'd planned to work through your friends, starting with the furthest away, but we hit pay dirt first time!” (Moore 175) Because the conflicts between superheroes and villains are inescapably violent by nature, when an element of realism is added it is inevitable that comics have to become darker. Would it not be realistic for a villain who really wanted to find out Superman's secret identity and was willing to engage in crime and violence to just kidnap and torture his friends until he found the information he sought? Superman is able to quickly find the Toyman and Prankster but cannot understand why they became so violent, as Lois recounts:
They gave in almost immediately, but didn't seem able to tell him why they'd suddenly decided to start murdering his friends.
When he asked, they just looked dazed and confused.
...And, of course putting them behind bars didn't mend the senseless damage they'd caused.”
I remember, after Pete's funeral, he talked to us all. About his fears, his worries...”
[Superman] “I have bad feelings about this. ...the Prankster, the Toyman... they were just nuisances before. What turned them into killers?” (Moore 176)
What turned them into killers was an audience who demanded more realism and a comic book industry hoping to maximise its sales. Superman is attacked by action figures of himself: these represent the heavy marketing of comics. If violence is what sells then that is what form comics will take. The action figures also represent the multiplicity of concepts Superman has come to represent: versions and re-imaginings of Superman retold to cater to the tastes of a particular audience, and when those tastes become darker so must the stories told. Moore has fused two extreme concepts into the single icon. The childish renditions of the past are juxtaposed comfortably with the needs of a mature audience in a way that is ironic, comical and enables the suspension of disbelief to persist. We see this dynamic in Moore's use of Bizzaro – a backward clone of Superman who says the opposite of what he means. Created in 1958 as basically a silly character, Bizarro says “hello” when he means “goodbye”, instead of heat vision he has freeze vision, and so forth. By adding an element of realism Moore takes this opposite themed villain to a 'logical' conclusion. Bizarro has decided he must become a perfect imperfect duplicate of Superman and his first step is to destroy his home world, Bizzaro World:
See, me suddenly realize that me am not perfect imperfect duplicate! Maybe me not trying hard enough. Example: when your planet Krypton blow up by accident, you am coming to earth as a baby...so me decide to blow up whole Bizarro World on purpose and come to Earth as adult!”
Th-That right! Ha Ha! Pretty Imperfect, Huh?”
Next we see a new kind of brutality never seen in the Silver Age of comics.
Ha! That am only beginning! Next, me realize that Superman never kill, so me kill lots of people! Them very grateful! Scream with happiness!”
If Bizarro was an actual opposite of Superman would not killing the innocent be an obvious and logical result? Because Superman is alive and Bizzaro must be his opposite his final act is to kill himself with lethal blue Kryptonite.
...But then me finally understand what me need to be perfect imperfect duplicate: It am little blue kryptonite meteor that me carry in lead case for good luck! See... you am alive, Superman... And if me am perfect imperfect duplicate then me have to be... h-have to be...”
Bizarro takes the blue Kryptonite, holds it to his chest, lies on the ground and kills himself.
Uh... everything, him go d-dark... Hello, Superman... hello.”
As Louis Elliot explains to the reporter,
After years of harmless stupidity that strange, backwards creature had suddenly launched himself on a rampage of genocide, homicide, and finally suicide.” (Moore 170 - 171)
Moore is foreshadowing the movement of the entire comic book industry to a much darker medium where genocide, homicide and even suicide will become acceptable. But Moore's Superman is still the Golden Age hero of black and white morals: he has not changed only the world around him has. This contrast shows self-awareness; the story is an ironic lament for a time gone by and the loss of innocence in comic books.

The final 'silly' villain dealt with is Mister Mxyzptlk who is basically a mischievous little leprechaun in a derby hat. Mxyzptlk was first introduced in 1944 as a classical trickster figure who enjoys tormenting Superman. He can only be stopped by tricking him into saying his name backwards which will return him to the fifth dimension for ninety days. The problem with the Mxyzptlk character is omnipotence: his power is an ability to alter reality and this power is godlike and limitless. In a childish setting this power can be amusing when used to preform trickery but if Mxyzptlk tired of being thwarted by Superman and decided to use his powers in a more darker and 'realistic' way to beat his nemesis, the consequences would be both terrible and frightening. Near the end of 'What Happened' we learn that Mxyzptlk is behind the events of the story:
Superman: “You were guiding all this, from behind the scenes? All this killing and destruction? Mxyzptlk, in Rao's name, why?”
Mxyzptlk: “Don't be naïve Superman. I'm an immortal like everyone in the fifth dimension.
The big problem with being immortal is filling your time. For example I spent the first two thousand years of my existence doing absolutely nothing.
I didn't move... I didn't even breathe.
Eventually, simple inertia became tiresome, so I spent the next two thousand years being saintly and benign, doing only good deeds. When that novelty began to fade, I decided to try being mischievous.
Now, two thousand years later, I'm bored again. I need a change. Starting with your death, I shall spend the next two millennia being evil!
After that, who knows? Perhaps I'll try being guilty for a while.
Did you honestly believe a fifth-dimension sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a Derby hat? Would you like to see how I really look?” (Moore 208 - 209)
Again Moore is making comment on the changing environment of the comic book landscape; like Mxyzptlk, comic book heroes emerged as saintly heroes fighting to uphold 'justice'. Then as tastes changed comic book characters became like clowns: simple adolescent entertainment whereby heroes such as Adam West's Batman were trapped by villains in spinning giant slot machines, giant hour-glasses or faced brain damage from Egghead's Electro Thought Transfer machine. Now we have entered a darker age whereby the villains and even some heroes are evil and violent. The funny little man in the derby hat no longer appeals to the sensibilities of the 1980's and to symbolise this Mxyzptlk grows into a muscle bound giant, foreshadowing the type of art which would become the norm in the 1990s when muscle bound heroes dominated. Superman realises Mxyzptlk is too dangerous and is forced to do something he has vowed to never do; by sending Mxyzptlk to the Phantom Zone at the exact same time the imp tries to teleport to the fifth dimension Superman causes him to be torn in half and die. Killing is the ultimate sacrilege that a superhero cannot break, but when an element of realism is added what choice would a real hero have in a situation whereby the villain can destroy the Earth and all existence on a whim? When Superman kills Mxyzptlk it shows the innocence of the Golden Age is truly over and thus so is Superman or at least the old concept:
I killed him Lois! I intended to kill him! I just couldn't risk letting anything that powerful and malignant survive, so I made up my mind, and I did it. I broke my oath. I killed him.”
B-But you had to! You haven't done anything wrong...”
Yes, I have. Nobody has the right to kill. Not Mxyzptlk, not you, not Superman... especially not Superman!”
With these words Lois of 1997 recounts Superman's last act which is to step into a room of golden Kryptonite and end himself:
He turned and walked away, in complete silence. I ran after him, calling his name. He didn't reply...and by the time I realized where he was heading, it was too late. As he walked into the blinding golden light he turned and looked back over his shoulder. He smiled at me... I never saw Superman again.” (Moore 211)
The Superman of the Golden Age cannot exist in the contemporary world of violence and anti-heroes where the black and white morals of a bygone age are no longer so clear cut, where a mature audience demands violence and realism. Superman returns to the Golden (Age) light from which he came, a world forever consigned to the past. But as the reporter leaves Lois' home it is revealed that her husband Jonathan Elliot is actually Superman. The golden Kryptonite did not kill him, it only took away his powers. Superman is not dead but the Golden Age concept, the 'man of tomorrow', no longer has the power it once had: the old concept is impotent and must be remade or reborn. In the final panel we see Lois and Jonathan's child playing with coal in a coal bucket: unseen by his parents he squeezes the coal and it becomes a diamond. This event is seen in the film Superman III (1983) with Christopher Reeve, when Superman creates a diamond out of coal. The final comment, then, is that although the Golden Age Superman no longer has a place in a modern age the spirit will not die, Superman will return in film and other media; the concept may change but the icon remains, although its meaning is constantly deferred.

We have looked at how individual superhero icons such as Superman are subject to deferral and this leads to a realisation that the entire concept of the superhero has no centre. I propose the ultimate reason the superhero icon is in constant state of redefinition is because essentially it signifies the concept of justice and justice is a 'transcendental signified' with no centre or absolute meaning. A transcendental signified represents an apparently concrete ideal or centre which can supposedly be realised through systems such as philosophy or politics. As Terry Eagleton observes.
Western Philosophy…. has also been in a broader sense, ‘logocentric’, committed to a belief in some ultimate ‘word’, presence, essence, truth or reality which will act as the foundation for all our thought, language and experience. It has yearned for the sign which will give meaning to all others, – ‘the transcendental signifier’ – and for the anchoring, unquestioning meaning to which all our signs can be seen to point. (113)
The ideal of justice is a comforting illusion which implies an ultimate meaning may be acheived if we strive for it. But there is no stable meaning for the concept of justice; philosophers and law makers have tried to define a just society probably since the beginning of civilization, yet the outcome is never completely satisfactory because justice is a sign which defers to other signs and finds its definition within discourse: "There is no concept which is not embroiled in an open-ended play of signification, shot through with the traces and fragments of other ideas. It is just that, out of this play of signifiers, certain meanings are elevated by social ideologies to a privileged position, or made the centres around which other meanings are forced to turn." (Eagleton 114) In this way the superhero is constructed to represent the unrepresentable and it is no wonder its meaning is unstable. Justice is a concept claimed by both the freedom fighter and the fascist, the terrorist and the democrat. Thus the ideal of justice is not absolute; instead it relies on discourse, or, as Wolverine points out to Captain America, 'Terrorists--! That's what the big army calls the little army!'9 A superhero, such as Batman, claims to stand up for the oppressed but behind this discourse there are strong traits of fascism. As Geoff Klock explains in How to Read Superhero Comics and Why: “Batman's obsession with control and order, his disregard for civil rights, and his use of violence to force others, though often criminals, into submission to his will point to comic book's (sometime alluring) flirtation with fascism.” (41) Superheroes often find themselves in the dual position of rebels operating outside the law but at the same time dispensers of hegemonic discourse. The superhero protects the status quo from those who would undermine the dominant ideology, such as mad men and aliens intent on taking over the world or gangsters and criminals who undermine the capitalist system; they guard against apocalypse. As Alan Moore explains10, “an apocalypse is not really an end of the world it is the end of the intangible systems that make-up our society such as economics, politics and capitalism”. The superhero represents our desire to protect those institutions often with force. To do this they operate outside the law, not bound by conventions of civil rights; although they protect the rights of the innocent, they abuse the rights of those they consider guilty. Guilt is not determined through a court, their victims are not provided with legal representation and sometimes the punishment dispensed is disproportionate to the crime. It is a common convention for heroes to hit the shady night spots to look for information. They will enter a bar or alleyway and start violently assaulting random individuals until they find the information they are looking for. Hence superheroes represent the problem in defining justice; they protect the status quo through the disregard of civil rights, they take the law into their own hands much like the guardians of a police state. They symbolise that a definition of justice depends on the discourse of the person who holds the (super) power.

Judge Dredd is the ultimate fascist superhero and his portrayal shows the concept of justice is not absolute but depends on one's own discourse. We get a sense of this from Dredd's own definition of justice from Judge Dredd in America (1991).
Where do I stand?
I'll tell you where I stand.
I stand four-square for justice. I stand for discipline, good order and the rigid application of the law – and grud help any limp-wristed liberals who say different.
The people, they know where I stand. They need rules to live by – I provide them. They break the rules, I break them. That's the way it works.
The people like it that way. They need to know where they stand.
Sure. I'm all for rights. But not at the expense of order.
That's why I like to see that Statue of Judgement standing there, towering over Liberty.
Kind of a symbol.
Justice has a price.
The Price is freedom. (Wagner 1-2)
In this dialogue we see a statue of a Judge towering at least twice the size over the Statue of Liberty. Judge Dredd is not 'the people' he is removed from them, he is superior because he represents the law but more importantly he defines the law, he controls the discourse. The Judges have the combined powers of police, judge, jury and executioner; they are able to instantly convict and sentence criminals without a trial. Judge Dredd's catch phrase is “ I Am the Law!”: a law that is open to interpretation by the Judges only. In this world the sentences are harsh: begging is punishable by 3 years in jail; running in a walking zone or walking in a running zone 3 months – 2 years; littering 3 – 6 months; loitering 3 months. This is not a world anyone would want to live and yet Judge Dredd was voted as the seventh Greatest Comic Character by Empire magazine11 and it is worth noting that this is a live poll in which voting is ongoing. As Empire magazine notes, “even liberal audiences find certain types of fascism inherently appealing.” As far back as ancient Greece and Plato's The Republic philosophers of all political persuasions have upheld the idea that certain freedoms must be sacrificed for the greater good of the community. When Judge Dredd was conceived in 1977 notions of justice in the comic book genre were for the most part clear cut – justice meant protecting the status quo and as long as the end result achieved this - the means did not matter. Even the mantra of “thou shall not kill” had been broken by a new breed of hero such as the Punisher. The creators of Judge Dredd, John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, were looking for something new in a tight and competitive market and it was only natural for them to look towards deconstruction. Deconstruction looks at the binary opposites which are implied by a concept. If justice means protecting the innocent thwn it must imply aggression towards the guilty. A peaceful community such as that portrayed in Thomas More's Utopia implies the violent exclusion of those outside the community or those who threaten its ideology. The underlying implication of a superhero's search for justice is the willingness to punish those who subvert the ruling discourse. If the superhero is a force which dispenses justice then it can also be a symbol of repression.

If the superhero is to successfully represent the concept of justice there must be an awareness of the discourse that defines it. One of the ways this has been achieved is to portray the superhero as a dissembler of discourse. This characteristic is symbolised the successful series Preacher (1995 - 2000) in which the hero challenges the discourse of religion or more specifically Christianity. Christianity demands strict adherence to the doctrine of the Bible and the church. This power can be used as a form of repression. In order to oppose such a powerful force the preacher, Jesse Custer, receives the voice of God, a power which enables him to compel anyone to obey his literal word - the power of discourse. For example, after being almost killed by the tyrannical Sheriff Hugo Root, the preacher tells him, “You're gonna go fuck yourself.” We then find out on the next page the Sheriff has severed his own penis and forced it into his rectum. On discovering a child pornography ring, the preacher tells a thug with a gun to “Eat It.” A few pages later we see the same thug chewing on his gun with blood dripping from his mouth and we know that he will eat the entire gun. Predominantly this power is used on those who compel others such as the tyrannical sheriff and the sexual exploiter. By claiming to speak with God's voice, both the church and Custer can cause great suffering and this highlights the danger of blind obedience to any discourse. Custer receives this power from the Genesis, an entity spawned after an angel and devil have sex. This union is analogous to William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In the 'Proverbs of Hell' Blake writes that “Prisons are built with stones of Law, brothels with bricks of religion” (Blake 181). He is saying that laws can be used to unjustly imprison those who are innocent or undeserving of harsh punishment and when Religion dictates that men and woman may not have sex until marriage it forces some young men to seek out prostitutes to fulfil their sexual longings. As Blake explains, concepts of good and evil are “owing to your metaphysics”12. A black and white discourse does not reflect the true nature of existing in a world with grey areas. In Preacher, God symbolises this absolute notion of right and wrong while Custer represents the power to dissemble this dichotomy. When Custer confronts an Adelphi (a lower caste servant of Heaven) he discovers that God has quit and abandoned Heaven:
Preacher: “Let's start with the big secret you're so keen on keepin'.”
Don't be shy.”
Adelphi: “They'll kill me for this.”
The Lord our God.”
He quit.”
Preacher: “...”
Ain't quite the answer I expected. Fuck d'you mean, He QUIT?”
Adelphi: “He's gone.”
He came to us one day, all of his angels, and he said he had to go on a journey to Earth. He left straight away, and he hasn't been heard from since.”...
Preacher: “How the hell can GOD QUIT...?”
Adelphi: “That's what I thought. But here we are. He's gone and nothing's changed. No Apocalypse, no lion lying down with the lamb, four horsemen still in the stable...”
Preacher: “WHEN? How long since he left?”
Adelphi: “Since [the] Genesis [entity].”
The very instant it was created, that's when he went. In quite a hurry, too.”
Preacher: “Scared of a new idea, huh? Just as strong as his old black-and-white bullshit...”
The absolute notion of right and wrong which God represents no longer has potency; the dichotomy has been undermined by a union of Heaven and Hell represented by the Genesis entity. Jesse Custer decides to find God, not to seek divine wisdom but to hold him accountable for propagating a flawed discourse:
Preacher: “You know what? I'm ganna go lookin' for him. I don't care how long it takes or where I have to go. I'm ganna FIND HIM.”
An' I'm gonna MAKE HIM tell his people what he's done.” (Ennis, Preacher #4 14-16)
Heroism is not just holding to an ideology of what is 'right', heroism is also fighting ideology. In the Golden Age the hero protected the status quo and the dominant discourse; there was a clear line between what was right and wrong. The contemporary hero does not exist in a black and white world; instead, he or she may negotiate the grey areas of justice.

The superhero no longer represents absolute concepts of good and evil; instead, it has become a force which confronts rigid ideologies or metanarratives. Lyotard famously defined post-modernism as 'incredulity toward metanarratives'13. The post-modern superhero is aware of the power of discourse and knows that defending the oppressed means more than protecting them from physical harm - it means upholding their right to have a voice. The most recent portrayal of Superman, at the time of writing this essay, exemplifies this trait and shows once again how the superhero icon is constantly adapting. In 2011 DC Comics rebooted most of their characters in an event called The New 52 and restarted every issue at number 1. Superman is no longer married to Lois Lane; he is a young hero recently come to Metropolis. Initially he does not work for the Daily Planet but instead writes for an independent left wing newspaper called the Daily Star; he also writes a controversial blog where he investigates corporate corruption. As a journalist he questions the dishonest leaders of the city in a way the Daily Planet is not willing to do because it is owned by the corrupt capitalist Glenmorgan. Because of this stance his apartment is searched by Police Inspector Blake:
Blake: Mind if we take a look around Kent?
Kent: What is it this time, Inspector Blake?... I published some essential truth I shouldn't have?...
Landlord: All I know is Clark's a decent quiet young man who pays his bills.
Blake: With an outsider's grudge against the whole wide world. Going nowhere on the Daily Star under a fossil editor. Making the wrong kind of enemies.
Kent: I work hard at my job, inspector. I won't stop trying to expose the corruption in Metropolis. If that makes me an outsider or a freak, I'm fine with that.
Blake: Mr. Glenmorgan – He'll destroy you if you continue to harass him, in the Star or on your blog, am I clear?
What you call corruption, grown ups call Realpolitik... look it up.
You're still young, kid, you don't understand there are some things you can't fight, no matter how hard you try or how full of yourself you are....
Kent: I'm a writer. The pen is mightier than the sword and way easier to lift.
Blake: You're a troublemaker. You're messing with powerful people, Kent, and that's not smart. We're watching you. (Morrison, Action Comics #3 9-11)
As expressed in this scene, Superman is no longer a guardian of hegemony as he was in the Golden and Silver Age; he is no longer bound to the Comics Code which stipulated that governing institutions be respected. In this 2012 portrayal he questions and dissembles the dominant discourse through his writing as a journalist. He is unwilling to work for the Daily Planet because he does not trust the integrity of their discourse. He still protects the oppressed but in a post-modern world this is expressed by a willingness to confront metanarratives not reinforce them. No discourse can claim to represent every event and as a consequence no concept of justice can work for all. To paraphrase Lyotard - reality is constituted by the happenings of singular events: there is no universal judgement that can do them all justice; a justice of multiplicity requires a multiplicity of justices. If the superhero is to successfully represent the concept of justice then it must be able to adapt to its many definitions and be aware of the power discourse has to influence what is considered 'right' and 'wrong'.

This essay has analysed the superhero and argued that it is able to contain a multiplicity of concepts. I have defined the superhero as a post-structural icon because it invites multiple interpretations and constantly defers its meaning. All signs do this at some level but what makes superhero comics significant is that writers are well aware of this mutability and use it with purposefulness. The concepts superheroes represent are not fixed but can be dramatically altered and manipulated at a scale hardly seen in other forms of literature. This lack of centre has enabled the superhero to adapt to changing times and tastes. Their stories have been published continually for over half a century and this has lead to the creation of a long continuity. This continuity does not lock the superhero into one definition instead it creates a self-referential écriture; the stories are traversed by traces of other texts; a plethora of signs and concepts which the superhero is constantly being deferred to. In order to understand why the superhero icon is post-structural we must realise that justice is a concept that lacks a centre and is defined by discourse. If the discourse is corrupt than so is its definition of justice. In order to represent justice the superhero must be prepared to analyse and challenge the discourse that defines it. As long as the concept of justice continues to change and evolve so will the superhero. Comic books are not simply a form of escapism or a power fantasy, they are a reflection of our own contemporary search for justice and the anxieties and desires that drive this quest.

Appignanesi, Richard and Garratt, Chris. Introducing Postmodernism. Icon Books, 2003. Print.
Blake, William. The Works of William Blake. Wordsworth Editions, 1994. Print.
Cobley, Paul and Jansz, Litza. Semiotics for Beginners. Icon Books, 1997. Print
Derrida, Jacques; Bass, Alan (Trans.). 'Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences' from Writing and Difference. Routledge, 1978. Print.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. The University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Print.
Easton, Lee and Harrison, Richard. Secret Identity Reader. Wolsak and Wynn, 2010. Print.
Ennis, Garth and Dillon, Steve. Preacher Vol. 1: Gone to Texas. Vertigo, 1996. Print.
Klock, Geoff. How to Read Superhero Comics and Why. Continuum, 2002. Print.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics The Invisible Art. HarperCollins, 1993. Print.
McAllister, Matthew; Sewell, Edward; Gordon, Ian (Ed). Comic & Ideology. Peter Lang Publishing, 2001. Print
Moore, Alan. DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. DC Comics, 2006. Print.
Morrison, Grant and Morales, Rags. Action Comics #3 (2011). DC Comics 2012. Print.
O'Neil, Dennis. The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics. DC Comics, 2001. Print.
Reynolds, Jack. 'Jacques Derrida (1930 - 2004)'. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.
Reynolds, Jack. Merleau-Ponty And Derrida: Intertwining Embodiment And Alterity. Ohio University Press, 2004. Print .
Thody, Philip and Course, Ann. Barthes for Beginners. Icon Books, 1997. Print.
The Mindscape of Alan Moore. Dir. Dez Vylenz. Shadowsnake Films, 2005. Film.
Wagner, John and MacNeil, Colin. Judge Dredd in America. Fleetway Publications 1991. Print.

1I realise post-structuralism is a theory that applies to all icons and symbols but what I mean by a 'post-structural icon' is a symbol that purposefully invites a multiplicity of interpretations and shows 'différance' in that it is constantly being deferred to other signs. Folktales also show this trait.
2Introducing Post-Modernism p59
3This historical summary will follow Easton's essay 'How Comic-Books Became Postmodern' from Secret Identity
4The Katzenjammer Kids (1902)
5Harrison, Richard. 'The Dark Origin of the Man of Steel' from Secret Identity
6Detective Comics #233 (1956) Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff, Edmond Hamilton
7 The Comics Code Authority http://www.comicartville.com/comicscode.htm
8from DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
9Secret Wars (1984 - 1985) p.245
10The Mindscape of Alan Moore
12from The Marriage of Heaven an Hell 'A Memorable Fancy' Blake 185
13Lyotard The Postmodern Condition A Report on Knowledge. Manchester University Press, 1984. Pxxiv