Comic Book Crime

Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way

NICKIE D. PHILLIPS
STACI STROBL
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfrfh
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  • Book Info
    Comic Book Crime
    Book Description:

    Carrying ahead the project of cultural criminology, Phillips and Strobl dare to take seriously that which amuses and entertains us - and to find in it the most significant of themes. Audiences, images, ideologies of justice and injustice - all populate the pages of Comic Book Crime. The result is an analysis as colorful as a good comic, and as sharp as the point on a superhero's sword. - Jeff Ferrell, author of Empire of Scrounge Superman, Batman, Daredevil, and Wonder Woman are iconic cultural figures that embody values of order, fairness, justice, and retribution. Comic Book Crime digs deep into these and other celebrated characters, providing a comprehensive understanding of crime and justice in contemporary American comic books. This is a world where justice is delivered, where heroes save ordinary citizens from certain doom, where evil is easily identified and thwarted by powers far greater than mere mortals could possess. Nickie Phillips and Staci Strobl explore these representations and show that comic books, as a historically important American cultural medium, participate in both reflecting and shaping an American ideological identity that is often focused on ideas of the apocalypse, utopia, retribution, and nationalism. Through an analysis of approximately 200 comic books sold from 2002 to 2010, as well as several years of immersion in comic book fan culture, Phillips and Strobl reveal the kinds of themes and plots popular comics feature in a post-9/11 context. They discuss heroes' calculations of deathworthiness, or who should be killed in meting out justice, and how these judgments have as much to do with the hero's character as they do with the actions of the villains. This fascinating volume also analyzes how class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation are used to construct difference for both the heroes and the villains in ways that are both conservative and progressive. Engaging, sharp, and insightful, Comic Book Crime is a fresh take on the very meaning of truth, justice, and the American way.Nickie D. Phillipsis Associate Professor in the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY.Staci Stroblis Associate Professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.In theAlternative Criminologyseries

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6273-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 HOLY CRIMINOLOGY, BATMAN! COMICS AND CONSTRUCTIONS OF CRIME AND JUSTICE
    (pp. 1-19)

    Comic book readers around the world know that the medium’s unforgettable heroes and villains are capable of leaping out of their pages and into our lives. Upholding “truth, justice, and the American way” with super-powered strength and agility that is “faster than a speeding bullet,” Superman emerged from his Kryptonian rocket ship and onto the American cultural landscape, an origin story told and retold countless times to no less fanfare. Iconic Spider-Man inspired a generation of youths who related to his soft-spoken geekiness, yet reveled in the “great power” he gained from a spider bite—also saddling him with the...

  5. 2 “CRIME DOESN’T PAY” A BRIEF HISTORY OF CRIME AND JUSTICE THEMES IN COMIC BOOKS
    (pp. 20-39)

    Dan Richards graduates last in his class at the police academy, but his talent for fighting crime outshines even the “honor man” among the graduates. During his academy days, Richards had secretly built an extensive file of known criminal personalities. When a Mafia thug frames him and a classmate for the murder of his rival, corrupt politician Al Armaud, Richards uses the file to track down the culprit—a man who uttered the odd catch phrase “tickle the stars” during the commission of the crime. According to Richards’s file, “tickle the stars” is the hallmark utterance of Johnny Consentino, also...

  6. 3 THE WORLD IS SHIFTING TERRORISM, XENOPHOBIA, AND COMIC BOOKS AFTER 9/11
    (pp. 40-61)

    The post-9/11 age of comics is devastatingly crystallized in the graphic novelShooting War, which is deeply informed by real-life events on the ground, as well as by the ways in which digital technology and blog journalism have transformed the coverage of world events. Rogue journalist Jimmy Burns blows open the story on American military war crimes through the release of his video clip of a lieutenant executing an elderly Iraqi. The video shows a woman in traditional Iraqi garb being shot in the head at close range, her blood splattering, and framed by the familiar YouTube tool bar and...

  7. 4 A BETTER TOMORROW APOCALYPSE, UTOPIA, AND THE CRIME PROBLEM
    (pp. 62-81)

    In the opening pages ofCoup d’Etat, published in 2004 by DC imprint Wildstorm, the state of Florida suffers destruction and mass casualties brought on by aliens who attack its residents, and whose motives remain elusive.¹ The series occurs in a separate universe that features the Authority, a team of superheroes that works toward saving the world from various threats, both on and off the planet. In this particular storyline, attacking aliens are juxtaposed with talking heads on television who are outraged that this crisis is unfolding in a normally peaceful place: “[A]s night falls on what was once the...

  8. 5 “THAT’S THE TROUBLE WITH A BAD SEED” VILLAINS AND THE EMBODIMENT OF EVIL
    (pp. 82-106)

    The story arc in “Dangerous,” fromAstonishing X-Men, heats up when its villain, Danger, threatens the mutant students at the Xavier Institute. She is embodied as a bright blue feminized robot, much like the mechanized gynoids in the classic filmMetropolis(1928). Danger traps the students in the “Danger Room,” a holographic simulation room used for training. While attempting to subdue Danger, the X-Men ask her what she wants. She replies, “The thing I have in common with every dimestore villain these X-Men ever faced. I want to be understood.” In seeking to understand villains and their motivations, heroes come...

  9. 6 “AREN’T WE SUPPOSED TO BE THE GOOD GUYS?” HEROES, DEATHWORTHINESS, AND PATHS TO JUSTICE
    (pp. 107-139)

    Upset that he slept through 9/11 after a pathetic self-deprecating bender, ageold superhero Savior 28 goes into a deep, reflective, and depressive spiral, emerging with an alternative to his violent approach to injustice. Haunted by a phrase from the Buddha that his wife often repeated, “What is most needed is a loving heart,” he decides to work toward peace. Addressing a crowd, Savior 28 explains,

    I knew in that moment that I would never lift my hand in violence again. Never try to solve another problem with my fists. No one knows … better than the man who tried to...

  10. 7 “TAKE DOWN THE BAD GUYS, SAVE THE GIRL” GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, AND COMIC BOOK JUSTICE
    (pp. 140-168)

    In 2005, DC Comics’Villains Unitedintroduced Scandal Savage, the daughter of supervillain Vandal Savage. Scandal is among a rogue band of six villains available for hire as a mercenary team. InVillains United, Scandal rebuffs the advances of her teammate, Deadshot, and proclaims that she is a lesbian. In the final issue of the series, Scandal’s girlfriend is revealed to be Knockout, a mole in the rival villain “society.” In the subsequentSecret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation, Scandal feuds with her supervillain father, Vandal, who is insisting she father a child by a man of his choosing.

    The...

  11. 8 “AREN’T THERE ANY BROWN PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD?” RACE, ETHNICITY, AND CRIME FIGHTING
    (pp. 169-196)

    In the medium of comics, in which graphic representations communicate ideas, the identity marker of race has often been stereotypical and problematic. Although racial identities intersect with other identities such as gender and sexual orientation, a separate treatment of race as it plays out in criminal justice themes yields important information about messages of racial identity that contemporary comic books impart. Racial identity is not static in its depiction in comic books; rather, there is a plethora of constructions that sometimes privilege certain racial identities over others. As scholar Marc Singer explains, “Race in contemporary comic books is anything but...

  12. 9 APOCALYPTIC INCAPACITATION THE “MAXIMUM-MAXIMUM” RESPONSE TO CRIME
    (pp. 197-217)

    In his articleFeeding Wolves: Punitiveness and Culture, David Green writes that our understanding of criminal justice policy is influenced by the cultural resources we encounter on a daily basis, that the stories “we tell and retell ourselves, are crucial to the ways we understand the world and how to engage with it.”¹ The solutions that we embrace to address our social problems, crime included, are informed by the cultural narratives circulating in our everyday experiences. Green suggests that those narratives that are “fed,” regurgitated, and circulated in a mass-mediated landscape are the ones that thrive. These narratives may be...

  13. 10 CONCLUSION ULTIMATE JUSTICE
    (pp. 218-228)

    During the September 8, 2011, Republican presidential primary, Texas governor and candidate Rick Perry underscored his commitment to capital punishment by saying,

    In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is you will be executed.¹

    This expression of “ultimate justice” elicited the biggest applause of the night and dominated headlines in the hours following. However, in his study of the...

  14. APPENDIX: SAMPLE AND METHODOLOGY
    (pp. 229-238)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 239-266)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 267-282)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 283-288)
  18. ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    (pp. 289-289)