The Phantom Zone
September 11, 2013 9:51 PM   Subscribe

"In comic books, as in the moving image, the frame is the constituent element of narrative. Each page of a comic book is a frame which itself frames a series of frames, so that by altering each panel's size, bleed or aesthetic variety, time and space can be made elastic. Weisinger and Boring's Phantom Zone took this mechanism further, behaving like a weaponized frame free to roam within the comic book world. Rather than manipulating three-dimensional space or the fourth dimension of time, as the comic book frame does, The Phantom Zone opened out onto the existence of other dimensions. It was a comic book device that bled beyond the edge of the page, out into a world in which comic book narratives were experienced not in isolation, but in parallel with the onscreen narratives of the cinema and the television. As such, the device heralded televisual modes of attention." - Daniel Rourke on Superman's Phantom Zone (well, kinda...)
posted by artof.mulata (10 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting behind-the-scenes on the 1978 SFX. The rest - overanalyse much?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:22 AM on September 12, 2013

overanalyse much?

Quite the opposite, in my reading: the sprinklings of Haraway and Baudrillard. and especially the use of Benjamin, together suggest that something is at stake in the analysis here, but the author leaves it at the level of a vague inference. When he writes that the latest, "datamoshed" presentation of the Phantom Zone "holds us complicit," that seems to mean "complicit in this new, networked model of attention"....but, er, so what? What, exactly, is at stake in the emergence of new models of attention and the contruction of "post-industrial" and networked subjectivities?

A reader can perhaps infer some possible stakes through those references to Baudrillard, Haraway, and Benjamin (though all three would say somewhat different things about what might be at stake here), and the word "complicit" usually has an ethical-political charge, but the essay really doesn't offer much context or help. Benjamin might describe these intermediated technologies subjectivation as ideological mechanisms of capitalism, Baudrillard as a mode by which the simulacrum defines the border between the postmodern imaginary and the real, and Haraway as a cyborg system by which we develop and extend new bodily and psychic capacities. But these are very different valuations and takes on the whole thing. The author does not bring hem together all that well. (There's also a Deleuzean aura, to mix theoretical metaphors, given that this is Rhizome and that Benjamin's ideas get the descriptor "machinic" thrown in. Again, it's perhaps not there, and in any case never developed as a line of thought or a line of flight.) They're all loosely Marxist or post-Marxist, so I get a vague sense of what the author might mean by "complicit," but only a rather vague and unactionable one.

Something seems to be missing; either this is for a very narrow audience, even among specialists, familiar with the contours of a very specialized debate, or the analysis is simply incomplete. Why focus on the Phantom Zone from the Superman films and comics specifically? What are the consequences of normalizing the "digital miasma?" Is a response to this "complicity" or a different or post-subjectivation possible? The answers seem, well, phantasmal, just on the other side of some membrane between this essay and some realm of more robust meaning. It's a dispatch from within the Phantom Zone....perhaps that's the actual point.
posted by kewb at 3:31 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

OK, on a fourth reading, the idea seems to be that at each stage, the real is farther and farther away, superseded by modes of attention and image-production that progressively displace it in favor of the virtual or the image. By the end, we are all prisoners of the Phantom Zone, complicit in our own imprisonment. The article doesn't leave the reader much room to imagine another way, so the point is maybe that there isn't one anymore?

But in that case, the solution may be to look at something besides one plot device in the adaptations of a particular superhero narrative; the indexical figure of the Phantom Zone is a bit too pat, a bit too neat, with the consequence that the article's narrow range of reference to that figure reduces what it can say about the larger stakes. "The Phantom Zone" isn't the only way this can be tracked, and other figures from other fictions might offer much more.
posted by kewb at 3:40 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:49 AM on September 12, 2013

The New York Times says, "Wait, what?"
posted by Naberius at 5:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but the New York Times also says, "Invade Iraq!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:30 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rourke says "For Walter Benjamin, writing during cinema's first 'Golden Era'..." Benjamin's essay was published in 1936; unless Rourke has reason to believe it was written decades earlier (in which case he should have said so), he doesn't know much about cinema history (or he considers the "first 'Golden Era'" to have lasted from 1895 to, what, 1950?).
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on September 12, 2013

"A related genre of critical overreaching: The critic encounters standard elements of comics work ā€“ word balloons, square panels, standard layouts ā€“ and immediately interprets them as meaningful to the content of the work." - Dylan Meconis, How Not To Write Comics Criticism
posted by egypturnash at 6:07 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope Part II will quash your Phantom woes. Thanks for reading
posted by 0bvious at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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