Pulp Fictions: The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero and Patrick Farley’s “Don’t Look Back”


Comics come out on Wednesday, and so does Richard Gehr’s Pulp Fictions.

The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero
Edited by Angela Ndalianis

The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero, edited by Angela Ndalianis, is the second genre-warping collection of essays either delivered at or inspired by the University of Melbourne’s 2005 conference, “Holy Men in Tights! A Superheroes Conference.” Published late last year, the book covers the greater pop cultural impact of superheroes, whose mythic and godlike qualities were explored in the earlier Super/Heroes: From Hercules to Superman (New Academia Publishing), spun from the same conference. In the wake of popular music and videogames, comics have emerged only recently as a legitimate area of academic concern. But my favorite moments from The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero suggest that plenty of fanlike enthusiasm fuels these writers as they explore fascinating notions of time, space, identity, and colonialism inspired by superhero comics’ colorful and disposable delights:

  • Just as the thirties musicals of Astaire worked as spontaneous eruptions of energy, as Astaire’s body almost seemed to liquefy as walk became dance and speech became the lilting cadence of song, the superhero spontaneously shifts into the private energy of his or her hidden self on demand.” – Saige Walton, “Baroque Mutants in the 21st Century? Rethinking Genre Through the Superhero”
  • The Marvel and DC universes constitute the two largest and arguably longest-running examples of world building in any media…. Superheroes are central to any consideration of popular media’s thinking about concepts of heroism and justice because the superhero has spread beyond comics to be taken up by popular culture more generally as the exemplar of justice.” – Jason Bainbridge, “‘Worlds Within Worlds’: The Role of Superheroes in the Marvel and DC Universes”
  • Just when the heck did ‘the comic book’ get demoted to the lowly ‘pamphlet’ in the language of fans and collectors? The willful repression of the term comic book has been staggering – first we were reminded that it wasn’t comical (OK? OK?); now it isn’t even a book…. Despite the involuted, incomplete status of an individual comic, however, a single issue possessed its own charms and powers compelling enough to sustain repeated readings in every conceivable position.” – Scott Bukatman, “Secret Identity Politics”
  • Instead of considering the superhero and the secret identity as opposites, I find it more useful to examine the continuities in their activities, how the superhero models the appropriate behavior for the corporate worker.” – Greg M. Smith, “The Superhero as Labor: The Corporate Secret Identity”
  • ‘Comics,’ Scott Bukatman declares,…’ become a crucial site of escape to, rather than escape from, a protected terrain of self-definition (assuming one is a certain kind of adolescent boy).’ But what if one isn’t? For those comics fans who are not any kind of boy, adolescent or otherwise, the terrain of comics and comics fan culture can pose significant hazards to self-definition.” – Karen Healey, “When Fangirls Perform: The Gendered Fan Identity in Superhero Comics Fandom”
  • Amazon mythology can be read as a narrative of conquest, her characterization compelling and justifying Western expansion. Wonder Woman continues this narrative, her cultural dominance emerging analogous to that of her new homeland, America.” – Clare Pitkethly, “Recruiting an Amazon: The Collision of Old World ideology and New World Identity in Wonder Woman

“Don’t Look Back”
Patrick Farley

The Hoboken is the last great rock ‘n’ roll space ark to survive Earth’s destruction. Onboard is our planet’s last remaining works of visual art, works “too intense to be contained by the normal human optical spectrum,” according to Captain Phantasmo Starlight: “ULTRAVIOLET!” But “why is it fuzzy?” wonders Molly, a horrified female visitor to this ship of disturbingly facial-haired fools in “Don’t Look Back,” artist Patrick Farley’s visually knowing tribute to all things sleazy and seventies. The terror increases when exposure to the Green Sun lends Molly a prophetic vision of the same repulsive characters as latté-sipping wall climbers in this ongoing webcomic that finds the Freaks once again confronting the Uptights, only this time in a space-opera milieu.

ALL MOD CON: Comics, costumes, chaos, marketing mania, and freaky-deaky fandom await at New York Comic Con, February 6-8 at the Jacob Javits Center. This year’s edition features guest of honor Grant Morrison, a “Welcome to the Dollhouse” panel with Josh Whedon, a new “Futurama” ep, and autographs galore.