Book Review: Comic Book Crime

September 28, 2017 | Autor: Dustin Kidd | Categoria: Sociology, Social Sciences, Comic Book Studies, Comics, Comics and Graphic Novels
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Book Review

Book Review

Men and Masculinities 1-2 ª The Author(s) 2014 Reprints and permission:

Phillips, Nickie D., and Staci Strobl. 2013. Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way. New York: NYU Press. 295 pp. $24.00 (paper). ISBN 978-0814767887 Reviewed by: Dustin Kidd, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA DOI: 10.1177/1097184X14545992

Is the comic book a transgressive element of a niche subculture or a conservative component of the dominant ideology? Nickie D. Phillips and Staci Strobl make a persuasive case that comic books are both transgressive and hegemonic. The authors focus their attention on the messages that comics carry about crime and justice, and the ways those messages intersect with issues like gender, race, and sexuality. They draw on content analyses of both popular comics and purposively chosen less popular comics that offer a contrast to mainstream images. They also use readerresponse methods that examine both online postings by comic book readers and focus group discussions with comic fans. Phillips and Strobl are criminologists, and they take a distinctly criminological approach to their examination of stories about law and order in comic books, but their book should appeal to all social science and humanities scholars with an interest in comics. The authors are also comic book insiders who volunteer to serve as patient mentors to those of us who are new to the genre, explaining key words like ‘‘retcon,’’ and core processes like ‘‘crossover event.’’ This is a very accessible guide for the comic book newcomer that is also mindful of ‘‘fanboy’’ readers. The first two chapters of the book offer a general introduction to comic book history and an explanation of the use of a criminological lens for studying comic book messages. The third chapter focuses on how 9/11 set the stage for the current era of comic book history, offering readers a contrast between fictional and real heroes and villains. The 200 comic books they examine are all post-9/11 and many connect in one way or another with themes of war, terrorism, and patriotism. Three chapters in the middle of the book hone in on messages about law, justice, the good society, crime, villains, and heroes. What makes a good hero? How does a good hero respond to true evil? Are villains born or made? How thin is the line between hero and villain? Phillips and Strobl argue that comic books tell a

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Men and Masculinities

surprisingly conservative story about the rule of law, even when the legal system itself violates this rule. Heroes embody an ideal masculinity while villains are driven by inescapable pathologies that reproduce troubling assumptions about mental illness. Two chapters near the end of the book turn our attention to the intersection of law and order with identity—especially identities related to gender, sexuality, and race. The world of comic books is often described as a straight white male subculture—a description that belies both the fact that straight While males are associated with the dominant culture and the fact that there are many queer, female, and nonwhite comic book fans. There are, of course, many heroes who are not white males, from Wonder Woman to Black Panther, and there are a growing number of gay and lesbian heroes, including Batwoman and Midnighter. But heroes who diverge from the straight white male ideal typically have shorter story lines and their characters are riddled with stereotypes. A central tenet of most comic book universes, such as the Marvel and DC superhero universes, is continuity. The consequence of continuity is the durability of straight white male privilege and their centrality in the comic bookstore. After the examination of identity, the authors turn back to their criminological approach in a chapter that maps a framework for justice onto the content of comic books. They look at the following five rationales for criminal justice—retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and restorative justice. They find that comic books are overwhelmingly driven by an incapacitation approach to law in which the criminal simply must be stopped. Heroes who seek retribution are typically deemed as flawed heroes or they learn that their focus on vengeance was a mistake. Story lines of deterrence, rehabilitation, or restoration do not lend themselves to long-term success because villains benefit from the same continuity and durability as heroes. My only major critique is that the methods of content analysis, focus group interviews, and reviews of online message boards are not discussed in any explicit way. We do not learn very much about the comic book readers from the focus groups and it feels as if their comments are chosen to support the arguments of the authors without reference to alternative perspectives. But the authors are nevertheless faithful to both social science and comic book culture in a way that I found compelling. Comic book universes are complex and enormous and worthy of more social scientific attention.

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