Month: March 2016

Primer to “Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature”: Trauma, infertility, and “monstrosity”

I will be posting discursive entries regarding some topics we have considered for the roundtable “The Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature,” hosted at the Northeast Modern Language Association convention on Saturday, March 19, at 4:45 PM in Room 16 of the Hartford Convention Center.

I think what cemented the organization of this roundtable was largely the discussion that emerged right after Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s release, regarding how the film represents Natasha Romanoff’s sterility and her own use of the term “monster,” whether this terminology is making monstrous the idea of a woman who is not a mother, or whether this was Joss Whedon referring to Romanoff’s loss of choice regarding the treatment of not only her body but her overall self. We were looking at relevant sets of writing at The Mary Sue, iO9, and Salon. Obviously, this representation could sustain enough discussion for at least one session, and it emboldened us to organize a session that would give scholars an opportunity to share their thoughts on researching and teaching the MCU. I was reading these arguments while I was on my way from NeMLA one weekend to Dartmouth the next for yet another convention on comics, and during that trip, Mary Ellen Iatropoulos, Heather Urbanski, and I pretty much knew we were going to propose this session.

While Mary Ellen will be looking with much more depth at Romanoff in this roundtable and in another panel (“The Monster in the House,” Saturday, March 19, 11:45 AM, Marriott Hartford Downtown Conference Room 5),  I will share my current thoughts on Romanoff’s representation. I have not yet read or heard Mary Ellen’s presentation, so these remarks are my own and not reflective of her argument, and they are still being developed as we head into our roundtable–hence subject to change:

I think my interpretation is much more closely aligned with Ashley Reed at The Mary Sue, who sees “monster” not necessarily only disparagement of infertility but as an overall inhumanity felt by Romanoff, a survivor of child abuse and espionage.

As well, I think my argument has much less in common with Meredith Woerner and Katharine Trendacosta at io9, who locate “monster” alongside other moments read by Woerner and Trendacosta as maternal. In contrast, I think, Woerner and Trendacosta are stretching the context of the scenes. While it is definitely persuasive to see how the film makes Romanoff into a maternal figure–such as her bedtime story to calm the Hulk–I think those instances taken together to support their argument overlook the immediate context of those moments. It is difficult for me to refer to Romanoff as largely or only a maternal role towards the other characters, especially when Woerner and Trendacosta ignore obvious sarcasm coming from Romanoff, such as her line about “picking up after you boys” when retrieving Steve Rogers’s shield. That joke seems far less about taking on a parental role to the men on the team. At best, I could say it is so sarcastic and actually an attempt to mock the men by infantilizing them as “boys”; at worst, and which I think Woerner and Trendacosta are accurate about how Whedon is toying with placing Romanoff into a maternalistic role, and even if he is being sarcastic, his embrace of that imagery for the only female member of the team at that point is frustrating.

I also agree with Libby Hill at Salon, who identifies how the discussion refusing to let Romanoff refer to herself as “monstrous” may inadvertently silence discussions about infertility in films overall.

I will add, however, that it is surprising to me that these arguments tend to ignore that what provoked Romanoff to discuss her infertility is Bruce Banner’s own frustration that he cannot have children, a topic introduced far earlier in the MCU, whether in The Incredible Hulk (2008) and the danger of sex provoking Banner to transform, or the first Avengers (2012), where Banner rocks an empty baby’s bassinet while mourning about what he cannot have. In other words, infertility is identified more easily in the film and in criticism with a woman like Romanoff, even as we all overlook infertility in the film and in criticism as identified with a man like Banner. That point I think emphasizes why it is important to look critically at Romanoff’s portrayal: the film’s emphasis on her infertility and giving her the line about seeming “monstrous” is in context of how she hears Banner making the same points, identifying that these issues of infertility and monstrosity are hardly limited to one gender and therefore should be a concern for all persons.



Primer to NeMLA 2016: “The Monster In the House: Domestic Ideology in Superhero Narratives”

The Northeast Modern Language Association will host the session “The Monster In the House: Domestic Ideology in Superhero Narratives” on Saturday, March 19, at 11:45 AM in Conference Room 5 of the Marriott Downtown Hartford. This session is organized by Mary Ellen Iatropoulos, with the support of the Area directors of the NeMLA Board for Cultural and Media Studies and Interdisciplinary Humanities.

In addition to the “Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature” roundtable Mary Ellen and I are co-organizing, our viewing of Age of Ultron led to a discussion as well about domestic ideology. Mary Ellen and I both research and publish on nineteenth-century United States domesticity–and on everything Joss Whedon. In fact, we first met years ago at NeMLA when she was presenting on nineteenth-century women’s literature and I was presenting on Dr. Horrible. It’s taken a long time, but that intersection of the domestic and the comic book happened, and I am grateful that NeMLA accepted this session.

I was involved in helping to draft the call for papers for this session, as well as join in discussing about panelists for inclusion on this session, and I am grateful to Mary Ellen for letting me join in. Our presentations may have a bit of overlap, as they emerge in at least a very small way from seeing Age of Ultron and discussing it together with our colleagues, especially regarding the revelations of Clint “Hawkeye” Barton’s farmhouse and Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff’s “monstrous motherhood.” This will be an important discussion in continuing to read the cultural motifs of the home and family as they exist in superhero narratives, and we look forward to the discussion that emerges.

(I could definitely spend hours discussing the location of home as sites for just super-powered battle scenes, whether in all the Iron Man films, The Incredibles, King Shark ripping the roof off Joe West’s house in The Flash…)

The presentations for “The Monster In the House” include:

“Choosing Monstrosity: Black Widow, Reproductive Rights, and Domestic Agency in the MCU”
Mary Ellen Iatropoulos, Independent Scholar

“The Hawk at His Nest: Domestic Masculinity and Marvel Comics’s Hawkeye”
Derek McGrath, SUNY Stony Brook

“Dad is a Monster: Disruption of the Nuclear Family Ideal in Marvel’s Agents of Shield”
Adriane Ivey, Emory University

“A Home at the End of the World: The Future of Domesticity in the MCU”
Lisa Perdigao, Florida Institute of Technology


Primer to NeMLA 2016: The Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature

The Northeast Modern Language Association will host the roundtable “The Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature” on Saturday, March 19, at 4:45 PM in Room 16 of the Hartford Convention Center. This session is co-organized by Mary Ellen Iatropoulos and me, and we are thankful for the support of the Area directors of the NeMLA Board for Cultural and Media Studies and Interdisciplinary Humanities.

This roundtable emerged organically from a pretty typical scenario: you get enough academics into a movie theater to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, they are going to obsess about it from the perspective of scholarship and fan nerdiness.

At the 2015 meeting of NeMLA in Toronto, I was working on a few sessions about comics, and as the convention coincided with the opening weekend of Age of Ultron, I invited colleagues and participants from the session “Comedy and Comics” to an evening screening of the film. (Due to scheduling challenges with how much NeMLA has to offer each year, I ended up going twice, once with “Comedy and Comics” peers, then with MCU roundtable co-organizer Mary Ellen Iatropoulos, Dan Madsen, and roundtable participant Heather Urbanski.)

Following the release of the film, Mary Ellen, Heather, and I had a lengthy discussion in the midst of the convention and which continued long after. And in those discussions, a point we kept returning to was that it would be thrilling to host a session looking at just the Marvel Cinematic Universe as literature deserving the kind of critical attention we already give to films, comics, and other texts.

Mary Ellen, Heather, and I are all interested in the nexus of academia and fandom, and while many literature conventions and fan conventions critically assess the MCU, NeMLA has embraced critical assessments of fan communities and fan appreciation: we are scholars, we are fans, and we tend to thrive well in environments that allow us to be careful analysts of texts while also thrilling in seeing the various genres, representations, settings, and characters that the MCU has translated from comic book pages to film and television screens.

Obviously, Marvel Studios has been working against us, giving us too much recent content to fit in time for our roundtable, whether the new Civil War trailer with Spider-man, the premiere of Jessica Jones that came out after we accepted submissions, or the upcoming premiere of Daredevil Season 2. This also does not include content from related Marvel properties, such as Deadpool, or tangential discussions we can have about DC Comics’s own slate of film and TV adaptations. While our roundtable and our audience likely will approach these texts in some way during our discussion, Mary Ellen and I focused the roundtable description around just those canonical texts within the MCU to limit discussion–and still we know that it is not possible to address each film. For example, in our line-up, there is a lack of discussion around some of the Phase 1 films, such as Thor and The Incredible Hulk, with more attention directed to the overall timeline of series, the narrative and textual forms of the overall set of films and television series, or consistent themes around home, identity, and trauma.

Given the extent of topics we are approaching in this roundtable, there is much to discuss, and we are excited for this opportunity to have a discussion that depends on the conversation between not only the panelists but also the audience. If you are interested in this discussion, we hope you will join us in person–or write to us before, during, and after the roundtable with the hashtags #NeMLA2016 #S1606.

The lineup for “The Marvel Cinematic Universe as Literature” includes:

“The Narratology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe”
Heather Urbanski, Fitchburg State University

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe: A Cinematic Supertext”
Lyndsay Miller, University of Nottingham

Daredevil’s Experiment in Form”
Lisa Perdigao, Florida Institute of Technology

“‘We create our own demons’: Trauma in the Marvel Cinematic Universe”
Masani McGee, University of Rochester

“Fighting for Interdependence: Domestic Flashbacks in the Marvel Cinematic Universe”
Mary Ellen Iatropoulos, Independent Scholar

“Engagement in and Avoidance of Diverse Casting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe”
Derek McGrath, SUNY Stony Brook

PRIMER TO NEMLA 2016: “Race and Comics”

The Northeast Modern Language Association will host two sessions of “Race and Comics: The Politics of Representation in Sequential Art” on Saturday, March 19, at 8:30 AM and 1:15 PM in Conference Room 4 of the Marriott Downtown Hartford. These sessions are organized by Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College, and co-chaired by Erin Stoneking, Cornell University.

I have worked with Rafael on previous NeMLA sessions, and I enjoyed getting to speak with him about the development of the call for papers, the submitted abstracts, and the structure he has in mind for this pair of sessions. I look forward to being in the audience for both sessions.

Rafael and I have worked, together or separately, in our publishing and conferences to bring awareness about lacking representations in comics. I think both of us consider it important that literature represent the reality of the world, not so that good literature becomes a checklist of identities to be represented–but because good literature depends on truth. Many of the comics I read are not true, in that they are not indicative of the experiences we have with our identities and with the neighborhoods and cultures we encounter.

There have been substantial improvements, including in Marvel Comics’s recent focus on “All-New, All-Different,” with stories that include not only in supporting cast but among the leading protagonists, characters who are not simply more straight white men. I all of this trying to be aware of my privilege as a straight white man, and I try to focus my discussion here on problems I can identify in representations that can seem far too limited.

As well, while I will be identifying in my own presentation at another session problems with representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I am encouraged by some representation I have seen on DC’s television side. One presentation in “Race and Comics,” focused on the Martian Manhunter and blackness, may complement the character’s recent presence in the television series Supergirl, portrayed by David Harewood, who, like many actors who have portrayed J’onn J’onnz, including Carl Lumbly, Dorian Harewood, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Phil Morris, is black.

When Rafael was putting together the panel, it was around the time that Ta-Nehisi Coates was announced to write Black Panther for Marvel. These sessions at the same conference where many of us are giving presentations on representations in pop culture. That Rafael and I have been hosting sessions on such representations over the last three years at NeMLA identifies that these discussions are not intended to be complete but always works in progress, and I am pleased to see NeMLA, especially the Areas of Interdisciplinary Humanities and Culture and Media Studies, continues to host these conversations. I hope that they persist after NeMLA in our classrooms and in our publishing.

The line-up for Race and Comics is as follows:

Session 1, Friday, March 18, 8:30 AM

Chair: Erin Stoneking, Cornell University
Location: Conference 4

Incognegro and the Graphic History of Racial Violence”
Hardeep Sidhu, University of Rochester

“Mexican Elite Stereotypes and the Question of Race and Class in R. Cucamonga’s Cindy la Regia
Diomedes Solano-Rabago, Kalamazoo College

“Brown, Crip, Unimpressive: Imagining Brown Disability in Wilfred Santiago’s In My Darkest Hour
Marcos Gonsalez, The Graduate Center-CUNY

“The Memín Controversy, or, The Many Faces of Race and Racial Issues in the Americas”
Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College

Session 2, Friday, March 18, 1:15 PM

Chair: Rafael Ponce-Cordero, Keene State College
Location: Conference 4

“Diversity and Transformation in Mildred Louis’s Agents of the Realm
Allison Hanna, University of New Hampshire

“Hybrid Visions: Shay Youngblood and the Power of Sight in Black Power Barbie
Erin Stoneking, Cornell University

“‘This is how an idea becomes real’: Race and War in Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’s Saga
Alejandra Ortega, Washtenaw Community College

“Martian Manhunter: Shape-shifting Blackness”
Luis Ceniceros, Independent Scholar

Primer to NeMLA 2016: “Ruined!” and Failed Screen Adaptations

The Northeast Modern Language Association will host the session “‘Ruined!’: On Failed Adaptations from Page to Screen” on Sunday, March 20, at 10:15 AM in Conference Room 5 of the Marriott Downtown Hartford. This session is co-organized by Emily Lauer, SUNY Suffolk County Community College, and me. We are thankful for the support of the Area directors of the NeMLA Board for American Studies and Cultural and Media Studies.

“Ruined!” took inspiration from another NeMLA session, “Queer/Geek: Theorizing the Convergence of Fandom, Camp, and Other Deviances.” Emily and I were in the audience, fascinated by discussions about considering adaptation for increased representation of sexuality in fan cultures. That Sunday of the convention, during the annual membership brunch, Emily came up with a topic moving in a different direction: if those are cases of what makes adaptations work, what makes adaptations fail? For this session on failed adaptations from text to screen and invited me to collaborate.

Adaptations have been on my mind the last year, based on research and presentations on adaptations and translations from one medium or location to another, as with interpretations I’ve made regarding “scanlations” of comics from Japanese into English, or other NeMLA sessions on the adaptation of Marvel Comics to film. Therefore, I am interested to hear the ideas presented by our panelists. I am grateful to Emily for letting me join this discussion, and I am happy with the set of presentations we chose for this session.

The presentations for “Ruined!” include:

“The Inhuman Eye: Genre Loss in the Film Version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas
Jason Schneiderman, Borough of Manhattan Community College-CUNY

“The (im)possibility of Transposing Magic Realism to the Big Screen”
Laura Hatry, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Fresh Off the Boat: Meeting Whose Expectations?”
Jiahong Wang, Pittsburg State University

“HOWLing Gay Rights at the Millennials”
Susan Crutchfield, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse



Primer to NeMLA 2016: Thanks to the Board!

The 47th annual meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association begins Thursday, March 17, in Hartford, Connecticut. I will be posting summaries for some of the sessions in which I am fortunate enough to be participating. For this initial post, I want to express my gratitude to NeMLA for providing not only opportunities to present my research and to discuss topics of importance to me with other scholars, but also for the work opportunities the organization has provided.

As Director of Marketing and Communications for NeMLA, I am in contact with the Board, with local organizers, and with session participants to best advertise the special events, the local tourism, and the presentations that take place each year. The work I do helps publicize all that NeMLA has to offer in the professionalization and scholarship of its members. Collaborating with the Board and with staff at the University of Buffalo, we proofread all sessions before they are in print and online, we draft the content and layout for the two newsletters mailed each year, and we use social media to direct advertisements directly to interested audiences. Some of my greatest satisfaction comes from being able to help spread the word about funding options, workshops, speaking engagements, and advising that NeMLA offers to scholars and teachers of languages and literature.

My work with NeMLA started by just presenting. In my second year at the English PhD program at Stony Brook University, with encouragement from advisers, I submitted abstracts to sessions that may fit with seminar papers and initial dissertation research. One of the remarks repeated by NeMLA participants is that the conference benefits from being one of the largest conventions, attracting scholars from all over the world, while still having the close-knit structure of a regional conference. If I had not felt welcomed by NeMLA in my first presentations, I’m not sure how my career path would have differed: the organization opened up opportunities in work and in maintaining associations with colleagues at other universities and organizations.

NeMLA was an outlet for presenting on content that was within my methodological approach in gender studies, even if the content was far removed from the usual source material I was analyzing. While working on my dissertation in domesticity in the antebellum United States, it was my paper on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that secured me a spot on a roundtable organized by former NeMLA executive director Elizabeth Abele. Elizabeth was one of many mentors I have had in my studies, and she provided opportunities for me to become more involved with NeMLA that helped me in at least three important ways. First, she developed the roundtable into a volume, which became one of my first printed publications. Second, she recommended me to work on the NeMLA convention newsletter, which eventually turned into my position as Director of Marketing and Communications. Third, Elizabeth kept encouraging me to present at conferences, which helped me to develop topics that demonstrated my breadth as a scholar. Based on how Elizabeth constructed her own roundtable, I co-organized my own with NeMLA and K. Wayne Yang and Keith McCleary at UC San Diego. This roundtable, on comics and pedagogy, eventually developed into another roundtable Keith and I held at the MLA in January 2016.

My participation in NeMLA is work that I take seriously. I try to stay involved each year, beyond my capacity as convention staff, to keep organizing sessions and keep presenting on other organizers’ sessions. In addition to the debt I owe to Elizabeth, I appreciate the opportunities provided by NeMLA Board members and staff including executive director Carine Mardorossian, associate executive director Brandi So, administrative assistant Renata Towne, and webmaster Jesse Miller. I have enjoyed the opportunities getting to collaborate with them, and I think their work on the 2016 meeting in Hartford will help the organization progress and better address the goals and interests of NeMLA’s membership.