Fall 2019 – The Superhero Paradigm

Edited by Annamária Hódosy


Zoltán Huber: Lords of Chaos. Fabulous therapeutical promises of contemporary superheroes

The key to understand the enormous success of the superhero genre is that these heroic tales are acting as the most relevant wish-fulfilling myths of today. This essay questions the most fundamental causes of this phenomenon and examines some its thought-provoking aspects. The main argument points to the significance of 9/11, as the attacks caused a collective trauma which fundamentally reshaped the narrative of Hollywood blockbusters. In the safe darkness of cinema, superheroes descend from the sky and save the world from ultimate destruction. While Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy deals with the war on terror as a specific political allegory, the new production strategy of Marvel Studios offers a satisfactory metanarrative of the individual stories.


Terence McSweeney: ‘The world has changed and none of us can go back’: The Illusory Moral Ambiguities of the Post-9/11 Superhero in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The study which is a Chapter from Terence McSweeney’s Avengers Assemble! demonstrates that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while it is justifiably one of the most well regarded films in the MCU, is not as ‘subversive’ as is often believed. Much of the film’s dramatic friction is derived from the ‘greatest generation’ rhetoric endorsed by the previous Captain America film, The First Avenger  (and throughout the MCU) and what is shown to be the moral compromises of the new millennial decades. The film thoroughly mines the fears and anxieties of the ‘War on Terror’ in the course of its narrative representing the rise of the fascist Hydra and the implementation of the Project Insight. However, it is still a politically conservative film and its hailed ‘subversive’ nature is due to the fact that it allows many able to see their own political ideology reflected in it.


Dan Hassler-Forest: Surveillance,  Control and Visibility in the Neoliberal City

This article is an excerpt from a Chapter of Dan Hassler-Forest’s book Capitalist Superheroes. Caped Crusaders of the Neoliberal Age. The book offers a groundbreaking study of the relationship that exists between post-9/11 American politics and the contemporary superhero movie phenomenon. No other Hollywood subgenre was as consistently popular during the George W. Bush presidency, as films such as Spider-Man, Superman Returns, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight embodied the key contradictions that inform the cultural and political life of the post-9/11 years. By combining in-depth analyses of numerous major superhero films from this era with astute readings of contemporary critical theory, this book offers accessible and academically potent insight into the complex interplay between politics, ideology, and entertainment in the 21st century. The article translated here analyzes the Foucauldian concept of the Panopticon in relation to the cityscapes and the narrative of The Dark Knight.


Terence McSweeney: The Americanisation of the God of Thunder: From ‘Boy Emperor’ to the Rightful King of Asgard in Thor

This study is from Avengers Assemble! Critical Perspectives on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Wallflower, 2018), which explores the cinematic and televisual branches of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from a diverse range of critical perspectives. Beginning with Iron Man, the book considers superhero films as both embodiments of the changing blockbuster film and affective cultural artifacts that are immersed in the turbulent political climate of their era. The present study is from two different parts of the book, the first of which analyses the narrative of Thor in the context of the politics of the USA in the given era, while the second examines the female characters of the MCU universe taking Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend as an example.


Tóth Zoltán János: Multiblockbusters: a new phase of movie production. Marvel Cinematic Universe’s expansion and its media context

Rather than dealing with the substantial, political (socio)psychological and other approaches in the discourse on superheroes, my attempt was to map out the institutional history that reveals synergies between media companies as the  background for the gradual saturation of superhero movies from the seventies. As parallel phenomena to the growing media enterprises, the supply shrank, while various profitable film types were supported. No wonder, since a central element in such companies’ media policy is to outgrow and incapacitate competitors. Media conglomerates defining the global stage of popular entertainment have a wide media portfolio, and as in the case of MCU, it is possible to develop groups of products on diverse platforms, tied to a common transmedial narrative. As a consequence of the new Hollywood paradigm and shifts in media economy, the blockbuster, formed in the seventies, loses its former “high concept” quality, and relying on new artistic possibilities, is gradually hybridized. Successes of the MCU in the past decade have inspired franchises (formerly organized in trilogies) to develop into multiblockbusters, with the help of series, spin-offs, comic books, theme parks, and computer games, such a Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.


András Borbíró: IT superheroes. Characteristics of IT structures and tools in contemporary superhero movies

Today’s popular superhero movies feature more and more fantasy at the expense of scientific elements. Still, they display many different signs that reveal of how our modern environment, full of IT systems and technologies, affects our way of thinking.


Annamária Hódosy: Superhero movie in the antropocene, or the ecopolitics of MCU

One of the latest chapters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe success story, The Avengers: Infinity War (Joe and Anthony Russo, 2018) surprised its audiences by including incentives for environment protection in the narrative. Is this indeed a novelty in the history of superhero movies? Which are the cinematic tools that can be best used for presenting real problems behind the climate crisis? Which steps are or are not recommended by the movie? Although one may think that such “escapist” and technology-centered fantasy world cannot and does not want to deal with such questions seriously, the paper argues that it is precisely tales and fantasy as a tool that is used by marvel movies to formulate implicit questions that affect the present and future life of the audience. Such questions can count on the wide interest of the viewers if the presentation style in not didactic or boring. Thus, superhero movies are able to criticize unsustainable economic practices, and may even present positive examples for adapting to the environment – precisely because such things are not necessarily expected from the genre.


Katalin Kothencz-Török: The road to Jessica Jones

The paper examines superhero-themed television and web series, with special focus on the representation of female characters and the role of the family within the narratives. Although the superhero phenomenon is continuously expanding in popular culture, female protagonists have remained rare, especially in commercially successful works. In movie theatres audiences had to wait for the reincarnation of Wonderwoman, played by Gal Gadot, and directed by a female director (Patty Jenkins, 2017). An icebreaker series was offered by the story of the female detective working for Alias Investigations, Jessica Jones (Melissa Rosenberg, 2015-2019). The analysis of diverse supernatural or superpowerful female characters reveals the changes in defining femininity and feminisms, and thus the transformation of the genre – which is also influenced, since the 2010s, by the medium presenting the series (television channels vs. streaming service providers).