- Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital ed. by James N. Gilmore and Matthias Stork
Since the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 1999 and the kickoff of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise three years later, the revitalized superhero genre has come to dominate the global box office and pervade popular consciousness. Driven by the success of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins, 2005; The Dark Knight, 2008; The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, academic attention is now shifting from the broader industrial study of conglomerate Hollywood and blockbuster franchising to more particular studies of the superhero film and its synergistic, corporate elements.1 Aptly, this turn also necessitates a convergence of scholarly methods, drawing from disciplines within media studies as well as from comics studies, art, theater, and literature.
In Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital, editors James N. Gilmore and Matthias Stork assemble a collection of thirteen essays demonstrating a variety of approaches, each linked by a focus on the superhero genre as a frame through which to explore the diverse uses of digital technology in the age of media convergence. Using a broad range of academic frameworks, including industry studies, aesthetic analysis, narrative analysis, and gender studies, this volume provides [End Page 170] both breadth and depth. Superhero Synergies not only engages with contemporary blockbusters such as Batman Begins and Marvel’s The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012) but also considers the superhero genre in relation to media conglomeration and transmedia storytelling. This expands the discussion beyond superhero films and their comic-book sources to include other media platforms, such as video games, television programs, and live theater. By thinking through the superhero genre in relation to digital technologies and convergence, Superhero Synergies opens up the genre to a world beyond film, renegotiating the way texts constitute the boundaries of genre in an age of synergistic transmedia franchises.
The first three chapters of the book deal most explicitly with the use of digital technology in superhero films, focusing on the creation of digital bodies and spaces. In the first part of chapter 1, “Will You Like Me When I’m Angry? Discourses of the Digital in Hulk and The Incredible Hulk,” Gilmore argues that Hulk’s body is presented as unreal spectacle and that the paratexts surrounding both films self-reflexively invite the viewer to evaluate the level of photorealism achieved and to marvel at the technological prowess deployed to create such a creature.2 By presenting the computer-generated imagery (CGI) creation as a visual that paradoxically must be noticed yet go unnoticed, praised precisely because it can pass as “real,” Gilmore’s analysis underscores the struggle of digital image-making both on a practical level for the industry and on a perceptual level for the film viewer. The second half of the chapter argues that Hulk, as a “synthespian,” brings up questions about what it means to be human and thus embodies fears regarding scientific experimentation on the body. Gilmore then moves away from the body of Hulk and discusses the digital abstraction of space via special effects in both films. Given the narrative presence of the military in both versions of the film, Gilmore argues that this “impossible visualization of space” underscores a fear of panoptic military surveillance brought on by the advent of digital technologies.3 Although these three avenues each offer interesting arguments and are theoretically meant to complement and inform one another, this essay doesn’t do quite enough to crystallize the connections between them and present a concise and unified overarching argument.
Digital technology and the Hulk are also the focus of chapter 2. In “Secret Origins: Melodrama and the Digital in Ang Lee’s Hulk,” Matt Yockey attempts to recuperate Ang Lee’s disparaged auteurist vision of Hulk.4 Yockey argues that art-cinema psychology and superhero melodrama can coexist in the use of digital effects, which results in Hulk seeming to be at once “psychologically...