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New MutantsSuperheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics$
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Ramzi Fawaz

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479814336

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479814336.001.0001

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Consumed by Hellfire: Demonic Possession and the Limits of the Superhuman in the 1980s

Consumed by Hellfire: Demonic Possession and the Limits of the Superhuman in the 1980s

(p.200) 6 Consumed by Hellfire: Demonic Possession and the Limits of the Superhuman in the 1980s
New Mutants

Ramzi Fawaz

NYU Press

Chapter 6 explores the trope of demonic possession in mainstream superhero comics of the 1980s, when iconic heroes found themselves possessed by magical or alien forces that caused them to lose control over their superhuman abilities, wreaking havoc on the very worlds they were sworn to protect. These stories framed demonic possession as a metaphor for the rapacious expansion of late capitalism, where the destruction of the superhero’s ethical core embodied the possession of Americans’ psychic life by corporate greed. Simultaneously, they linked the superhero’s loss of self-possession with a loss of control over sexual and gender identity, depicting those blighted as sexually narcissistic and assuming the characteristics of the opposite gender. This double move featured in the decade’s paradigmatic possession stories, The X-Men’s “Dark Phoenix Saga” (1980) and Spider-Man’s “Venom Saga” (1984), in which two of Marvel’s most benevolent heroes transform into monstrous avatars bent on global destruction, while their sexual and gender identities are thrown into confusion by their alter egos. Through a comparative case study, this chapter shows how a refusal of sexual and gender conformity, celebrated in the comic books of the 1970s, was now presented as a dangerous collusion with the values of global capital.

Keywords:   demonic possession, capitalism, Dark Phoenix, Spider-Man, Venom

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