Romance in the Superhero genre

I was shocked to realize how romance pervades contemporary popular culture, in its maniestation in some of the biggest science fiction, fantasy and action franchises, especially in the film industry. My first reaction was “What doesn’t fall under Romance?”

That’s when I thought about the most recent trend in blockbuster films, the superhero genre. As Professor Clayton traced through the romance circle as seen in both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, I followed along tracing through one of my favorite films, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

It was eerie how well it fit. As a non-English major, the magic tricks of English professors has yet to cease to amaze me. It always seems like they are pulling things out of thin air and I always come at their analysis with skepticism that inevitably turns to awestruck wonder. It seemed too perfect to be true, how pervasive this structure was. I quickly ran through other popular blockbuster genre films and saw the repeated patterns.

I quickly realized that presence of the romance structure in recent superhero films wasn’t unique to just Nolan’s batman, also IronMan, Spiderman, Xmen wolverine, etc. However, what did occur to me was that while this was true for many recent film remediations of these characters, it didn’t seem to quite fit for the narrative structure of the original comic books the films were remediating. Although only having read a handful of comics, from what I have seen, it seemed that the bulk of the time was spent post-romance structure with the established and stable hero character as they fight off a rogue gallery of villains. And yet most films remediating the superhero characters are invariably about how they came to be. There are many reasons why a disproportionate amount of films are origin stories rtather than spending time post-identity construction. The economy of film making means that they rarely have the momentum and money to continue the character into several iterations of villain fighting compared to more cheaply and quickly made comics. In this regard, the original comic structure is more similar to television which does often have the more episodic quality with stories following the ‘villain of the week’ with an established and static hero character.

It was interesting to me to analyze how perhaps romance is more suited to films and books compared to television and comics.

-Diana Zhu

Gender in Faerie Queene

This is the second blog in a series of three in which I discuss topics that we have covered in the seminar portion of our class.

It was interesting for me to read into the male definition of female virtue and the fear of women in Faerie Queen in the context of Queen Elizabeth’s patronage of Spenser. He is obviously trying to give a positive light to women, yet his fears of women’s sexuality still comes out. I was immediately surprised by the presence of such strong female characters that dominated the narrative.

My reading of the poem as guided by the video analysis on Coursera brought me to the conclusion that Britomart represented a feminine ideal, as she embodying chastity. Even Malecosta, while representing the temptation of erotic love was nonetheless a character full of empowerment and I was impressed with the construction of how control she was of her sexuality.

I was interested to see what contemporary feminist writers had to say about how Spenser approached gender in the poem. Did they look upon with approval at the progressive and positive portrayal of women or would they point out something I was missing?

It turned out that there was quite a bit of literature published on the exact topic. I found several dissertations on the subject within a few minutes of browsing online.

Pamela Benson in Invention of the Renaissance argues that Spenser praises the feminine in the poem and deconstructs the status quo of inferiority that other literature of the time may have enforced. “Rather than being a mere abstraction, a prop to male order, or a useful tool for literary exposition, the feminine is an essential principle in the grand scheme of The Faerie Queene; it represents an alternate order.” (253) She further points out that “the feminine is defended against male attempts to dominate and marginalise it.” In reference to the venus and adonis parable she also uses a positive lens, “In describing the lovemaking of the goddess and the mortal, he contradicts the traditional philosophical explanation of the biological process of generation,according to which the passive female contributes matter and the active male contributes form, a scheme that places the female in an inferior position.” (254)She believes that he “liberates women from the tyranny of biological inferiority.”

I was especially struck by how she points out that Britomart assumes power with her “phallic magic lance” in a masculine fashion. It represents “the power of the female to transform male aggression into productive energy.”

However, there were definitely others that saw the portrayal of women in the poem as more negative. Britta Santowsky in “Transgressing terms of gender in The Faerie Queen: Britomart, Radigund and Artegall” writes that in “woman, it seems does not represent her sex at all; rather, she is there as an imaginary reflection of man’s desire. . : The challenfe of female independence in the literature and thought of italy and england

While the woman is singularly subjected to codes of chastity, the man is unequivocally associated with power, including the power to define the feminine in order to suit his own ideal” (2) She saw in the poem female characters that “not read as actual women but, rather, as attributes categorizing the feminine according to patriarchal standards.” (3)

I could see her point, especially when you look at how Britomart is held in the highest esteem and portrayed as the ideal, but only because she has neutralized her dangerous sexuality. With Malecosta and the journey in Castle Joyous we can see the fear of the uncontrollable and threatening lens that Spenser views women’s eroticism as. I see this especially evoked in the fear of castration imagery in the Venus and Adonis tapestry.

So while I am really refreshed by the presence of strong active women and can see the positive power that Benson argues is present, I also see ways that Santowsky argues woman are ultimately still under male control even in the depiction of the feminine ideal.

-Diana Zhu

If We Could Go Back In Time…

Text by A.A. BENJAMIN, Game Demo by JO KIM, Characters by SPARLING

Our fictional Once Upon A Time Machine video game proposal (<–see our powerpoint presentation here) had one obvious blunder. We had a cool game demo but treated our presentation as separate from the demo.

As we talk about hyper-meditation in this English New Media course, finding ways to merge the two would have been an opportune way to express what we’ve learned in the course. However, timing issues and mishaps aside, the highlight of this project was collaboration. Our bouncing ideas transformed into a proposal that mimicked gameplay and a fun intertextual commentary that made gaming attractive to a target audience.

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The Narrator

We built a video game model off of the arcade style and well-known Mario Kart race track design. The premise of the game is that you can choose one from ten playable characters designed from H.G. Well’s novel, The Time Machine. You then race against your friends in your choice of eight vehicles derived from methods of time travel across literature and film to date, all with their pros and cons. Along the courses which follow the novel’s plot, you use items and special weapons to work your way to first place, surviving the clingy Eloi and destructive Morlocks. Our game provided some intertextual game play for intellectuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as sci-fi and steampunk fans. We also took liberties with H.G. Well’s more obscurely described characters to create gender and race-inclusive characters.

The most enjoyable part about this project, to me, was the generation of ideas together and then watching them develop through art and imagery. One thing we would have needed to do if this were a real proposal would have been to fully design our own concepts and/or cite our sources (drawing them would have been super fun). Though we wouldn’t have to consider copyright issues with the aged H.G. Wells novel, we concluded that we could keep the vehicles as direct references under the Fair Use doctrine. Also, as indicated by our classmates, we could have described the functions of more of our characters, vehicles, and levels rather than focusing on one or two, so here some drafts that didn’t make the cut:


Man With A Beard
Man With A Beard–Spontaneous combustion whenever using matches


Time Machine Sled–Can hold endless items. The more you have slower you are. Items attract Eloi, sled itself attracts Morlocks. Enables use of mace
Tardis–Unaffected by villains. Overheats when lighting matches. Your matches don’t work on villains (because you’re in a box. Basically, just avoid matches). Disappears momentarily. Works best with Medical Man
Final Stage Kill Screen: In the old arcade games, the machines had limited space and therefore when players got far enough the graphics began to devolve. The Time Machine ends with the Time Traveller disappearing without a clue of where he went, so the last stage could be a “kill screen,” racing at length until the game graphics begin to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, we are mere undergrad students incapable of rendering the game in such the intricate way that we imagine, so if we were to get a chance to build it, it’d probably be less compelling. But it was fun to dream, anyway. Isn’t that where all great games begin? Progress!

–A.A. Benjamin

Tal’pax Mor

Disclaimer: This project is for a hypothetical game design. This game will not actually be developed and the information contained is for academic purposes only.


The presentation attached below contains our proposal for a potential video game based on H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. The game will be a first-person shooter game for console and computers. The players will play from the perspective of the time traveller in a survival mode game based on Call of Duty’s Zombies mode.


If we were to present this proposal again, we would make several changes to the design. First of all, we used artwork from other games, films, and literature to represent several aspects of the game. Were we to present this again, we would replace this artwork with mockups created by our team. Secondly, we would change the names of several plants to match the HG Wells world–for example, we presented several plant power ups based on other works of fiction such as Tolkien and Rowling, but if we redid the proposal we would focus on only HG Wells novels and other British novels written in the same time period. Also, in our initial presentation, we used a clip from Call of Duty to demonstrate the type of gameplay in our game. We would use our own game demo if we were to present again.

And, if you’re wondering, Tal’pax Mor means “dangerous night” in Eloi.

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Questions about the project? Leave us comments below!

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came: A Darkly Uplifting tale

This is the first of three blogs I am writing to make up for absences during the seminar and discussion portion of this class. I am writing on the readings and topics discussed in class.

In Childe Roland to the Dark Tower, Browning crafts through a physical quest toward a dark tower, a psychological portrait of the narrator. While not professionally trained in psychology or psychiatry, I was interested to view the poem through a psychological lens reading it as Browning’s exploration of mental illness and psychological turmoil.

From the start, the poem is filled with paranoia and bitterness with the narrator’s first thought being, “he lied in every word.” His cynical and pessimistic assumption of the world is immediately revealed. When he describes the man having a “Malicious eye” you can see that he believes the worst in people.

Images of death, suicide pervade the poem, yet paradoxically I find a stoic strength and resolve in his determination and acceptance of the path before him. He moves forward despite knowing that “The band” of those have walked the same path have all failed and died. Ironically, despite the grim imagery throughout the poem, there is a grim acceptance of the inevitability of the misery.

His hope for any more positive of an end crumble when he describes how his “hope dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope.” I am really interested in the way he describes his hope to be good enough to join the “band” before him. His morbid interest and pursuit of ultimate failure is extremely fatalist and the rest of the gloomy language in the poem serve to emphasize this. I find his determination and admiration for the quest admirable and dignified nonethless. Though dark and hopeless, this traveler shows loyalty to the notion of a chivalric code in his respect for the quest.

The nightmarish descriptions of the landscape reveal an inner psychological landscape of doubt and gruesome anguish. He describes the thistles and vegation as looking like its , “head was chopp’d”. His continuous personification of the landscape further shows that his imagined brutal imagery of it is a projection of his cynical perspective not on the inanimate environment but of fellow mankind. He describes the bush “as being jalous. And “bruised” further emphasizing its emotional capacity and physiology of human organic life. In his imagery, he acts conceptual violence upon the personified landscape when describes the the mud as looking” kneaded up with blood.”

His aggressive hatred of a horse that he comes upon is especially pronounced and suggests an inner self hatred. When he says“I never saw a brute I hated so; he must be wicked to deserve such pain.” You wonder at the attitude and opinion on himself deserving the misery he is going through. of his own sense of deserving his own suffering. This gooes back to how he strangely embraces his suffering, and feels that he is not good enough for anything else. It also reminds me of the self-minimization in believing is not even good enough to join a group of failures.

Then the poem turns inward literally, as he shuts his eyes and “turn’d them on my heart.”

He tries to think of happier thoughts in a brief but futile effort to lift out of this depression. But as he recalls the doomed and tragic lives of his friends he quickly returns to an inevitable acceptance of the dark and miserable state of the human condition.

He seems almost masochistic in his insistence on his own suffering. “Better this present than a past like that’” He prefers his own inner turmoil then the guilt and disgrace of his friends. We see here the distinction in his suffering from others. He takes special pride in the dignity of his acceptance of his fate. At least he has dignity and a weird sense of honor and superiority. We saw this sense of pride and dignity earlier in his respect for the quest and in his attitude towards the horse but also in his commitment to the journey.

His descriptions of the landscape hereafter continue to have gruesome and morbid imagery. Here is reference directly to suicide, “drench’d willos flun them headlong in a fit of mute despair, a suicidal throng;” A violent contempt to the point of desiring to do harm to others is revealed in the conceptual violence done through his language to the landscape. “Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils”

By seeing images of death, despair and misery in his landscape, he has projected the psychological wounds and inner violence outward. Yet strangely, I interpret his dark acceptance of this miserable perpsective as ultimately uplifting. He meets life where it is at and asks for no more. He continues to plod onward despite knowing the darkness and futility. In that way, it is to me a message of dark inspiration. While filled with despair and horror, Browning’s poem ironically inspires a sense of motivation and positive acceptance of the suffering and difficulty of life.

-Diana Zhu

Morlock Mash

Presenting Morock Mash, the debut game from CDE Games!


Morlock Mash is a kinetic, beat-the-clock tablet game that draws inspiration from H. G. Wells’ novel “The Time Machine.” Gameplay is similar to other tablet games such as Fruit vs. Zombies, Max Axe and Airport, and all art is produced in the Steampunk aesthetic. The game is marketed for 18+ casual gamers and Steampunk enthusiasts; we anticipate the game will attract a large female audience. (Note: CDE Games is a fictional studio and this is a mock pitch. Morlock Mash is not in production.)

Our video presentation was successful in many ways. Making it forced us to be concise and to divide our information into manageable segments. As a result, our presentation was focused and organized. Video format also allows the presenters to act a little more; in person this would seem cheesy and insincere, but it helps engage the audience on screen. While video presentations added some in-class technical concerns (checking sound beforehand, etc.) I think that overall, it was a success.

However, there are several things that we would do differently in our presentation:

Structurally, it was effective to break the video into three parts: game design (inspiration and gameplay), art, and selling points. However, the game design segment is by far the most complicated and largest amount of information. Several people in the audience seemed confused by:

  1. Physical swiping gameplay. We should have explained the gameplay (one finger path-swipe and one attack button) more clearly. However, people’s confusion also caused us to rethink our gameplay; it might be too complicated for a single set of hands.
  2. Levels. We should have included a level-by-level breakdown in the video, rather than explaining them in person after the video. Not only was the in-person explanation relatively unorganized, but it also lessened the punch of our closing pitch.

Additionally, given more time we would have amped up the original art and gameplay mockups. While the mockup animations in our video were effective, we could have designed all original art in Photoshop and also included an actual simulation of the gameplay.

Overall, I think our presentation was organized, concise, and effective.  Maybe someday you’ll see Morlock Mash for sale on the App Store!

-Emma, Carly, Diana


There and Back Again

By Julia

After reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, I wanted a sequel. Or a spin-off. Or a retelling.

And, after looking at the Wikipedia page for the novel (I LOVE WIKIPEDIA) I saw that many authors must have thought the same thing, because the book has inspired several movies, spin-offs, sequels, and books influenced by characters and plotlines from the original book.

What is it about classic stories that make readers go crazy and say, I want more?

TARDIS, Time Machine, second star to the right and straight on ’til morning, doesn’t matter the answer is YES (image source: Karen Hallion)

Remediation is a HUGE trend in media—and retellings of classic stories have been popular since stories were invented. Over break, I heard one of my brother’s friends saying that he was annoyed that every movie lately seemed to be a retelling of a book or comic, and no one was making anything new.

Financially, this is a smart move, because move makers know that films based on popular stories like Marvel comics are guaranteed to be a box office success. But I think our obsession with remediation goes deeper than that.

First of all, in classic stories, there is often little interiority. For example, take fairy tales: we have no idea what’s going through Rumpelstilskin’s head when he makes a deal with the miller’s daughter. Why the heck does he even WANT her firstborn baby? It’s a pretty random request—one that we don’t ever get to understand in the story. And in Cinderella, why does she have a fairy godmother? Does the fairy godmother like her job, or is she wishing she could have a shot at the prince herself? Retellings of these classic stories give readers answers to the question of interiority.

Secondly, classic stories follow well-known story structures (like the Hero’s Journey). Who can resist a quest? These structures lend themselves to remediation, because they can be told through so many mediums. It’s entertaining to watch a quest in a movie, because there are so many visual opportunities. It’s entertaining to read about one, because often quests involve character development for a hero that is described in beautiful language. And it’s entertaining to experience the quest for yourself by playing the story in a video game.

Lastly, I think stories that become timeless have another thing in common—deep, resounding themes. By stripping a story of character interiority and relying on historically developed story structures, legendary tales explore deep themes about human nature, relationships, and, in the case of this story, what the future holds.

If you can’t tell, I love story retellings. Sometimes as a writer, it’s easy to get frustrated and say WHY BOTHER. EVERYTHING HAS ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN. But then, if it’s already been written, that makes our job easier…we can just write the same thing again. And maybe the second time, we’ll discover something new. After all, the Time Traveller goes back again…

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

-Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

:) My Shakespeare retelling: