Snowflakes in the wind

A Brain in a Vat, An Earth in a Bottle: Paranoiac Horror and the Latent Panopticism of Superman in Red Son

Kwasu David Tembo

University of Edinburgh

Abstract | This paper will explore the paranoiac horror elicited by anthropic science fiction superbeings, using DC Comics character Superman as a case study. In it, I argue that the character’s power and Otherness have unavoidably dystopian consequences within the remit of the Many Earths of the DC Comics Multiverse. Referring primarily to Foucault’s analysis of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, this paper explores the dystopian consequences of the combination of the invisibility afforded Superman by the character’s triplicate identities (namely Kal-El, Clark Kent, and Superman respectively), and the omnipresence and omniscience the character’s power and Otherness allow it. Using Mark Millar’s Superman: Red Son (2003) as a primary text, I will demonstrate how the most radical consequence of the combination of Superman’s power and Otherness, and the ideological mediation of their deployment, produces a global panopticon overseen by a single superbeing. The goal here is to explore one possible reason for the unease and paranoia evinced by the idea of a superbeing on a diegetic representation of an earth that uses the disruptivity of its power and Otherness to discipline and punish human beings and, furthermore, how Superman, as a type of super-subject, exacerbates a sense of confinement and constant surveillance in a system governed by idealized dialectical arrangements.

Keywords | Superman; Red Son; paranoia; panopticism; Foucault.