Book Review: “Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital”

Superhero

Although this is my first contribution to the Mediascape blog, I have been involved with the Mediascape journal for several years. I served as co-editor for Reviews and then as co-editor for Meta while I was in the Cinema and Media Studies (CMS) M.A. program at UCLA. Having just finished my first year as a CMS PhD student, I am currently the editor of Columns.

While my own work throughout this time has largely focused on video games, I have also researched the superhero film genre for several seminar and conference papers. The challenge of writing on this subject has stemmed from the surprisingly sparse amount of scholarly publications on the genre. Over the past decade, more has been written on the superhero in comics than in films (for instance, Peter Coogan’s Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre and Angela Ndalianis’s edited collection The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero).

I am glad to now be able to consult Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital, edited by James N. Gilmore and Mediascape’s own co-editor-in-chief Matthias Stork. This anthology collects essays that focus on the impact of digital technology on a number of superhero media. Why this is so important is that the book not only includes chapters that discuss superhero films but also these characters’ appearances in video games, marketing, theater, and, of course, comic books. Because of this, Superhero Synergies is an ideal resource for those interested in contemporary superhero genre trends in different media. Furthermore, as the editors note in the introduction, the superhero film provides a way by which to examine the effects of digital technology on Hollywood more broadly.

Collectively dealing with on-going trends in the superhero genre, the essays individually focus on a variety of characters/brands and topics. Not only do the chapters discuss celebrated works like Batman Begins (2005), but some also look at less popular texts, such as Disney’s John Carter (2012) and Ang Lee’s interesting-but-flawed Hulk (2003). Most chapters (including Stork’s “Assembling the Avengers: Reframing the Superhero Movie through Marvel’s Cinematic Universe”) synthesize textual analysis with paratextual, intemedia, or transmedia considerations; some essays, however, do not focus on specific texts at all. These chapters, such as “The Cult of Comic-Con and the Spectacle of Superhero Marketing” by Kevin McDonald, look at broader issues affecting the superhero genre across media.

Overall, the book is perfectly suited to scholars and general audiences interested in how the superhero genre has changed and continues to change according to technological, industrial, and cultural trends.

If you have other recommendations for publications on the superhero film genre, please comment below!

Text reviewed: Gilmore, James N., and Matthias Stork, editors. Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 

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James Fleury is a Ph.D. student in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. In addition to editing “Columns” for Mediascape, he is currently researching the industrial practices of Hollywood film studios’ video game divisions. A former high school English teacher and forever a fan of video games, comic books, and film, he is also interested in media literacy, superhero franchising, and D.I.Y. YouTube culture. Previous work for Mediascape includes co-editing “Meta” and “Reviews” and writing the essay “Revenge of the (Angry Video Game) Nerd: James Rolfe and Web 2.0 fandom.” 

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