Superheroes and supervillains are human approximations possessed of abilities or capacities beyond those considered species-typical. These beings may acquire their powers in a variety of ways: divinity (e.g. the Mighty Thor); mysticism (e.g., the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange); fictional forces such as the Power Cosmic (e.g., the Silver Surfer); and more. Of particular interest, however, are those empowered by genetic and/or techno-scientific means. The processes by which they gain their increased capabilities frequently approximate those by which scientists are currently seeking to intervene in our physiology, or the way futurists are anticipating that our physiologies will be modified, and they can be distilled into the following archetypes:
- Those who experienced an evolutionary jump or germ line genetic mutation at birth (e.g., mutants, or homo superior, such as Wolverine, Storm, and Colossus).
- Those subject to an induced genetic transformation as a result of ethical or unethical science (e.g., mutated humans such as Captain America, She-Hulk, and Spider-Man).
- Those who rely on implanted or overlaid technology that is somehow integrated with their organic beings (e.g., Deathlok, Misty Knight, and Cable).
- Those who rely entirely on high technologies, typically worn externally (e.g., Iron Man, Guardian, and Vindicator).
- Those who are designed and rely on machine intelligence to achieve autonomous awareness (e.g., Danger, the Vision, and the Human Torch).
- What do the depicted enhancements say about current ideas of treatment and enhancement?
- How are different embodiments treated, and what does that say about value or values?
- How is science and technology portrayed, and are comics useful for science communication?
On 16 September 2015, at the Manchester Meeting Place, the project team (David Lawrence, Shawn Harmon, Gill Haddow) will join with other interested contributors (including Professor Scott Bukatman, Mr Dan Abnett, Professor Andy Miah, Dr Simon Locke, Mr Alan Cowsill, Mr Mik Scarlet, Dr David Kirby, and Dr Thomas Giddens and Dr Yasemin Erden, both of the Graphic Justice Research Alliance), to undertake an interdisciplinary discussion around these questions. It will serve as a nexus of culture, media and literature studies, and will provide a unique lens through which to focus on persistent academic debates about embodiment and the ethics and regulation of enhancement. Key outcomes of the project will be (1) the formation of the Costumed Visions Network, which will in future work collaboratively with the Graphic Justice Research Alliance, (2) publication of an edited collection based around the content of the meeting, and (3) the preparation of a proposal for further research at this novel intersection of fields.
Attendance at the meeting is free but ticketed, and registration is through Eventbrite (at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/costumed-visions-of-enhanced-bodies-tickets-16885777816).