Murray, Ross. "Changing Bodies: Representations of metamorphic comic characters." Thesis PhD. University of Western Sydney, 2008.
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|Resource type: Thesis/Dissertation
Language: en: English
BibTeX citation key: Murray2008a
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Keywords: Body, Cyborg, Superhero
Publisher: University of Western Sydney (Penrith)
|Attachments||URLs http://handle.uws. ... :8081/1959.7/43092|
Metamorphic characters, sometimes referred to as shape-shifters or shape-changers, are a staple, continual, and fascinating presence in mythic narratives, early literature, and present day popular culture. With labile, grotesque bodies, ambiguous natures, and the capacity to change at any moment, metamorphic characters remind the human subject of their inherent instability. The overwhelming portrayals of metamorphic processes gloss over the in-betweens, the stages of the process when the metamorphic subject is neither and both.
Metamorphic comic characters are some of the most durable characters in the history of superheroes. The ongoing and diverse narratives of characters such as Mystique, Martian Manhunter, Metamorpho, Element Girl, Shift, and The Hulk provide representations and portrayals of instability, gender politics, and sexuality, which revolve around and centre upon the body. Investigating representations of metamorphic comic characters necessarily led to the investigation of the superhero narrative. Volume 1 of this thesis, Changing Bodies: Representations of Metamorphic Comic Characters, positions the superhero narrative as falling in the genre of the Marvellous-Uncanny which also provides space for Franz Kafka’s previously uncategorised short story, ‘Metamorphosis’. Changing Bodies shows that through the continual re-invention of the superhero narrative, superhero characters are necessarily re-inscribed as posthuman subjects. Metamorphic characters and posthumanism are linked through the figure of the cyborg which has come to dominate posthuman theory. In drawing upon both the cyborg man/machine and philosophical posthuman theory, Changing Bodies positions the cyborg shapeshifter, The Engineer, as an ideal posthuman subject. The posthuman metamorphic character is embedded in narratives, in mediums and genres, and thus in a world in which they can affect consciousness. When they affect our consciousness they therefore have “real world” effects.
My research of the superhero narrative and metamorphic characters informed my writing of Volume Two of this thesis, Serpent Dawn. Like the superhero narrative, Serpent Dawn combines elements of science-fiction, fantasy, and myth. The relationship between Changing Bodies and Serpent Dawn is embodied in the main character, Acka – a metamorphic character in a hybrid narrative.
Set in the year 2060 with South-Eastern Australia experiencing its eighteenth year of drought, Serpent Dawn is the story of Acka, a nineteen year-old girl living in the run-down Sydney suburb of Kings Hill. Acka has been experiencing some particularly vivid dreams of a snake eating the sun though thinks nothing of them. When her mother dies Acka steals some of her violent half-brother’s money and sets off on an Australian odyssey to meet up with her friend, Priscilla ‘Pussy’ Oakley, in the booming Western Australia town of Fitzroy Crossing.
Travelling by train through the bleak tracts of Western New South Wales to Broken Hill, and then to Adelaide, Acka eventually finds herself virtually broke in the remote South Australian coastal town of Fowlers Bay which is populated by a strange group of Brothers. After slaughtering a beached whale, the Brothers, turn their attention to Acka, who is helped by a transgender woman, Andromeda. The two newly acquainted women barricade themselves in the Fowlers Bay church where Acka is presented with a conundrum which she must solve to be spared. She must interpret the Brothers’ collective dream, which unfortunately, they can’t remember. Acka does this, though she’s not sure how but suspects it is linked to her recent snake dreams, through a kind of lucid dreaming episode. Angered at Acka’s correct interpretation, the Brothers quickly change their mind to spare her. However Andromeda has snuck away and stolen the head Brother’s immaculate vintage XC Ford Falcon just in time to facilitate their escape.
Acka and Andromeda drive to Perth where they meet Koko, an aboriginal woman who is able to sense people with Dreaming ability. Her senses go into overdrive when she meets Acka. Koko’s suspicions about Acka’s Dreaming ability are confirmed when Acka unknowingly heals a mutated crab.
At Fitzroy Crossing, Acka finds Pussy is unable to follow through on her offer of a place to stay. Instead Acka accepts Koko’s invitation to go to her home town of Kokoberra in Arnhem Land and all three fly there in her Pussy’s Gyrodine.
In Arnhem Land, Acka meets Koko’s father, Padaru, an aboriginal elder of high-degree, who straight-forwardly announces that Koko is correct – Acka definitely has Dreaming in her. Koko then explains she can ‘activate’ the Dreaming in Acka. Activation is dangerous though and only a few ‘activated’ people have survived. Acka decides that even if true, activation is too dangerous. Acka’s changes her mind when confronted with the spectacle of a swarm of flies that takes shape as a smiling replica of Acka’s own face. Koko then activates Acka but is unable to control the powerful forces involved. Over the next day and night, in a protracted and amazing transformation which threatens Acka’s life, she spectacularly changes into the Dreaming being, the Rainbow Serpent.
After first taking respite in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the Serpent rampages through the drought-ridden land of Southern Queensland and Western New South Wales followed by a huge storm front. The Serpent then splits into several other serpents which help reinvigorate the landscape by creating a new inland sea. Pussy and Koko follow the Serpents in the Gyrodine, but are brought down and stranded when debris thrown into the air damages the aircraft.
The Serpents travel to Sydney, causing massive destruction, transforming the city and its surrounding precincts into a primordial swamp, while at the same time miraculously saving all the inhabitants.
Koko and Pussy are rescued by Padaru and his friend Wulgaru, a dreamtime giant he has ‘sung up’ made of wood, stones, and wax. After they return to Kokoberra, Wulgaru sets off, returning later with an unconscious Acka. When she returns to consciousness, Acka has a heightened awareness of all objects and people around her. She relates that Dreaming beings are coming back to live in our time, to protect the land, and relieve its suffering.
Table of Contents
List of Figures (v)
Introduction. A Brief History of Metamorphosis, A Brief History of Superhero Comics (1)
1 The Genre of the Superhero Narrative: The Marvellous-Uncanny (26)
2 Bodies in Motion: The Portrayal of Metamorphic Characters (45)
3 The Feminine Mystique: Feminism, Sexuality, Motherhood (92)
4 The Shape of Things to Come: Metamorphic Characters and Posthumanism (134)
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