This article explores how the speculative worlds of contemporary US superhero comics have addressed the problem of difference and human diversity through stories about the catastrophic threat of genocide. It focuses on a classic DC Comics storyline—the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Legion Lost from 2000–2001—that depicts a diverse team of teenage superheroes collectively struggling against the genocidal actions of a former friend and colleague. The author shows how superhero comics in the late twentieth century visually present human heterogeneity—in the figure of the superhero team as a kaleidoscopic gathering of ethically motivated but widely divergent actors—not only as a quality of human difference but also as a set of values that actively work against forms of genocidal violence. In so doing, the author develops a critique of the contemporary demand for representational diversity in comics, which equates progressive politics with the mere numerical expansion of minority characters in the fictional worlds of mainstream comics production, and asks how we might reframe this demand not as a plea by minority subjects to be visually represented by predominantly white male comic book creators but as a claim to collaborative world building. In Legion Lost, the desire to obliterate or extinguish life that is different than oneself is linked to the experience of social isolation from friendship, camaraderie, and collectivity—it is loneliness, the narrative argues, that facilitates xenophobia and fear of difference, and friendship and trust that dispels them. Ultimately, the article unpacks how the visual and narrative conventions of American superhero comic books like Legion Lost offer fantasies of collective solidarity that provide fictional models of collaborative world making that exceed classical models of recognition through representation.
Legions of Superheroes: Diversity, Multiplicity, and Collective Action against Genocide in the Superhero Comic Book
Ramzi Fawaz is associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics (2016). His work has been published in numerous journals, including American Literature, GLQ, Feminist Studies, Callaloo, and ASAP/Journal. He is currently coediting Keywords for Comics Studies with Deborah Whaley and Shelley Streeby. His new book project, Queer Forms, explores the influence that movements for women’s and gay liberation had on American popular culture in the 1970s and after.
Ramzi Fawaz; Legions of Superheroes: Diversity, Multiplicity, and Collective Action against Genocide in the Superhero Comic Book. Social Text 1 December 2018; 36 (4 (137)): 21–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-7145646
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