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.
indicated by the term
‘crisis’, which in the DCU is reserved only for multiversal, multidimensional
apocalypse. Regular citywide, even nationwide, emergencies are quotidian fare.
This is an issue that also leads to a consideration of vigilantism, a charge regularly
placed at the feet of superheroes whose propensity for extra-legal activity has
often resulted in their being likened to fascists who see violence rather than law
as the answer. This charge is not only misplaced but it fails to understand properly the nature of sovereignty, which, as I have already shown in
conflict between different groups, but what is interesting is that superheroes are
often themselves conflicted, having come to Earth or entered the wider human
community from elsewhere. The most iconic is Superman, whose dual identity
as a Kryptonian adopted by humans has enabled his development as a complex
character.4 Another is Wonder Woman, who is split between her affiliation to the
Amazonians of Paradise Island and those who live in the world of men, and, as
the name of this world suggests, she also has to traverse the difference between
her native matriarchy and
Introduction: sovereignty and superheroes
Stories of the super-powered beings we have come to call superheroes have now
been written for over seventy-five years. In that time, vibrantly colourful tales
of hope, courage and the search for justice have adorned the pages of innumerable comics that have filled countless shelves of news-stands and bookshops.
Regularly derided and marginalised, these stories have nevertheless come to
be one of the most dominant popular art forms. Supported by their ability to
leap from the pages of comics into the cathode ray tube of
Throughout history, states have tried to create the perfect combatant, with superhuman physical and cognitive features akin to those of comic book superheroes. However, the current innovations have nothing to do with the ones from the past, and their development goes beyond a simple technological perspective. On the contrary, they are raising the prospect of a human-enhancement revolution that will change the ways in which future wars will be fought and may even profoundly alter the foundations upon which our modern societies are built. This book discusses the full ethical implications of these new technologies, making it a unique resource for students and scholars interested in the morality of warfare. Refusing to adopt a binary vision, political theorist Jean-François Caron argues that, when analysed from an ethical viewpoint, the development and use of capacity-increasing technologies in the military is far more complex than it first appears, since it presents us with a significant moral dilemma. On the one hand, enhancing soldiers’ capacities can be interpreted as a moral obligation on the part of the military. On the other, such technologies might also end up harming fundamental moral principles of warfare. Without condemning them as evil and inadmissible, Professor Caron proposes a nuanced and balanced appraisal of capacity-increasing technologies in the military as a tool that ought to be used contingently on the respect of certain moral criteria.
addressing these issues. While the received view is that superheroes are ideological defenders of a specific way or life and legitimate a great deal of violence
Sovereignty and superheroes
in the defence of those worlds – an interpretation that is valid when seen in
relation to the work of some writers – I have shown they can also offer explicit meditations on the problem of sovereign violence and its dangers. Because
they operate precisely on this threshold between the legal and the extra-legal in
defence of worlds in permanent states of emergency their milieu is
receive in superhero comics. That superhero universes
are violent places is evident from the obligatory fight scene in every issue.
Not only do superheroes exact a great deal of violence on the villains, they
are subject to incredible levels of violence themselves, with writers and artists often wallowing in the perverse pleasure of showing exactly how much
violence a hero’s body can withstand – a feature taken to extremes by Garth
Ennis and Darick Robertson (2002) when the Punisher runs over Wolverine
with a steamroller. This intimate connection between law and
. This somewhat challenges the claim made by Peter Coogan (2006)
that one of the founding features of the superhero genre is the removal of any
permeability between the virtuous and the criminal, the civilised and the savage
(187). While Coogan is correct to say it remains firmly established that the good
guys are good the boundary is far from impervious. After analysing the ways in
which superhero comics regularly present the distinction as necessary but neither
clear cut nor absolute, I will show how the distinction is deconstructed in stories
where superheroes and
that receives especially concise
treatment in Paul Jenkins’s story The Sentry where the most powerful superhero is at
the same time a totally annihilating entity called The Void. After briefly introducing
this story, the chapter will give a little more consideration to the nothingness that
Sovereignty and superheroes
accompanies sovereignty before showing how superhero comics are aware of both
the dangers and creative possibilities inherent in our engagement with nothingness.
The contradiction of sovereignty
The Sentry (Jenkins and Lee, 2005) opens with Bob
Printing Terror places horror comics of the mid-twentieth century in dialogue with the anxieties of their age. It rejects the narrative of horror comics as inherently and necessarily subversive and explores, instead, the ways in which these texts manifest white male fears over America’s changing sociological landscape. It examines two eras: the pre-CCA period of the 1940s and 1950s, and the post-CCA era to 1975. The authors examine each of these periods through the lenses of war, gender, and race, demonstrating that horror comics are centred upon white male victimhood and the monstrosity of the gendered and/or racialised other. It is of interest to scholars of horror, comics studies, and American history. It is suitably accessible to be used in undergraduate classes.