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


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