The superhero afterlife subgenre and its hermeneutics for selfhood through character multiplicity
Lewis, A. David
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Comic book superheroes venture frequently into the afterlife, to the extent that the recurring conventions of such tales constitute a superhero subgenre. These generic elements help ensure that the stories can be read normatively by their audience (e.g. one's soul continues separately to function after the death of the body, existence after death is its own reality and discernible from illusion). The new subgenre, however, can also be regarded as masking an alternate understanding of narrative character and suggesting an alternative model of selfhood to readers. Beginning with the genre theory work of Paul Ricoeur, Tzvetan Todorov, and Peter Coogan, this project applies their perceived linkage between generic character and audience models for selfhood to the concerns of Helene Tallon Russell, J. Hillis Miller, and Karin Kukkonen. This second set of theorists warns against narrative characters being understood as whole and unified a priori when the presumably counterfactual idea of a multiple self better matches with the goals of religious pluralism and healthful self-understanding. Through these combined sets of theoretical lenses, the project focuses on popular recent depictions of the afterlife in the word-and-image medium of top-selling comics titles such as Thor, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, Planetary, and Promethea. The comics, with their dual sign systems and 'low-art' fringe status, provide a consideration of personal multiplicity more naturally than prose does alone. Jeffery Burton Russell and Andrew Delbanco recount modern Americans' declining investment in the afterlife, one steeped in traditionally Augustinian models of singular selfhood. As H.T. Russell champions in Irigaray and Kierkegaard: On the Construction of the Self, this model may serve more as a hindering relic than as a useful system for consideration of one's full selfhood. This superhero subgenre offers a hermeneutic for integrating multiplicity into religious practices and considerations of the afterlife.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University