Behind the cowl – UBC’s academic look at superhero movies

Cinephile journal cover

Vol. 9, issue 2 of UBC’s film journal is now available.

Like a malevolent villain – the Skrull, say, or Galactus (hey, do I know my stuff or what) – superhero movies have taken over the planet.

It seems you can’t turn on the TV, go to a movie or visit a website without coming across ads, trailers or reviews for the things (of course, some people even go see them in theatres!). Since The Avengers did a billion dollars in box office receipts and the continued success of the Thor and Iron Man series, not to mention the Dark Knight trio of flicks – and isn’t that Spider-Man swinging around the moviehouse this week? – Hollywood has gone comic-book crazy.

But what does it all mean? Sure, some movie critics in the serious mainstream press occasionally talk about the bigger picture, and how the latest X-Men move is actually about racial profiling or whatever. But there’s more going on here, and that’s the idea behind the latest issue of Cinephile.

Vol. 9 No. 2 of the film journal, a quarterly publication from the film studies department at the University of British Columbia, looks at The Superhero Film.

The journal features five articles in all (not to mention an eye-popping cover by Vancouver artist Bret Taylor). One of the most interesting, at least to comic-book geeks like this writer, is Cailtin Foster’s Marvel vs. DC: Mergers, Acquisitions and Corporate Rebranding in the New Millennium. The article looks at why and how Marvel has outpaced its chief competitor, DC, in the superhero movie sweepstakes.

In “My Suits… They’re a Part of Me”: Considering Disability in the Iron Man Trilogy, Travis Wagner looks at the (mostly wasted) potential the Iron Man series has in looking at the subject of disability.

Most critics (and fans) lambasted 2013’s Man of Steel, the latest Superman iteration. But in A Superman for Our Times: How Man of Steel Makes Superman Relevant Again, Barna William Donovan looks for the rationale behind controversies like the hero’s failure to save innocent civilians and his “uncharacteristic killing” of alien supervillain General Zod. “When a godlike being like Superman kills, it implies that moving beyond violence is something mere humans will certainly never be capable of,” Donovan notes. Ultimately, what fans saw as the film’s shortcomings are what make this Superman a Superman for our (cynical) times. Get with the program, people!

General Zod in 2013's Man of Steel. The movie is under serious consideration in the latest issue of Cinephile.

General Zod in 2013’s Man of Steel. The movie is under serious consideration in the latest issue of Cinephile.

There are two more articles, one on the superhero costume (From the Top of the Cowl to the Tip of the Cape: The Cinematic Superhero Costume as Impossible Garment) and another about villains (Saying No to Masculinity: The Villain in the Superhero Film). Whether or not you’ve ever wasted – er, spent – two-and-a-half hours watching angry compilations of pixels smash each other, it’s thought-provoking stuff.

You can find copies of Cinephile at Brigid’s Books (2932 W. Broadway), Mayfair News (1535 W. Broadway), Pulp Fiction Books (2422 Main St.), Tanglewood Books (2306 W. Broadway), UBC Bookstore (6200 University Blvd.) and Zulu Records (1972 W. 4th Ave.). You can also visit Cinephile here.

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