Four-Color Political Visions: Origin, Affect, and Assemblage in American Superhero Comic Books
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This project develops extant theories of political affect and relational identification and affinity formation by tracing how the visual images of an understudied archive--American superhero comic books--work to build multiple, alternative, fitful, inchoate, and sometimes radically creative spaces for visions of the political to take shape and develop over time. By analyzing and interpreting the generic superhero phenomenon of origin stories in comic books and by mapping the formal and narrative techniques used to construct origin stories, I show how received understandings of power, order, justice, violence, whiteness, masculinity, and heteronormativity often linger outside of language in an analytically untapped relational space between bodies--the space of political affect. Visual images of superheroes thus do more than take up space within political sign-systems; I argue them as material engines of affect, as engines of potential and usefully critical political identities and affinities. Superhero comic books, a cultural form often disregarded as childish or even ideologically dangerous, are thus recovered in this project as theoretically complex, offering speculative feminisms, anti-racism, and queer temporalities that link these popular objects of visual culture to ongoing traditions of utopianism and foundational revisionism within American political culture.