Sovereignty and superheroes

Author: Neal Curtis

This book explores the concept of sovereignty through an analysis of superhero comics. Sovereignty is traditionally understood to be the legitimate monopoly on the use of force in a given territory. It is therefore a complex mix of authority, strength, law and violence, which are all used to a secure a physical and existential identity for a defined community. Another defining trait of the sovereign is the capacity to suspend the law and declare a state of emergency. Given that superheroes are themselves composites of authority, law and violence, while also being exceptional figures operating in a seemingly extra-legal space, they are perfect for working through the problems associated with the concept of sovereignty. However, rather than use superhero comics to simply illustrate the problems associated with sovereignty, the book argues that superhero comics—using a range of stories and characters from the Marvel and DC universes—explicitly engage with the themes in a critically reflexive and politically progressive way undermining the charge that they are simply conservative defenders of the status quo or dumb vigilantes. The book also argues that at the heart of superhero universes is a fundamental intuition about the contradictory nature of sovereignty, that it is at once both absolutely powerful and absolutely nihilating. The book claims that this intuition should inform our theories of what sovereignty means.

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