Comics, Antiheroes and Taboo: Reflections on the Edge of Pop Culture

Cristina Levine Martins Xavier

The author is currently a PhD student in Psychoanalytic Studies at Essex University. From Brazil, she graduated in advertising (ESPM, SP, 1987), and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology (UNIP, SP, 1997) and a master’s degree in sciences of religion (PUC, SP, 2003).

This article analyzes the comic book series Spawn, by the Canadian Todd McFarlane, in an exploration of and attempt to give voice to neglected cultural aspects of the American society and western collective shadow, and how they are translated by this American antihero. As I see it, the character Spawn symbolizes and reflects the putrefying process of a sociocultural body and represents an effort to give birth to a new system of beliefs and values in the contemporary secular world. I use extracts from the text of the comic book series to present some of my findings and reflections about this controversial antihero, as well as to provide further insights into the challenging times we live in.

Keywords: shadow, death, scapegoat, comic books, antiheroes, popular culture, myth.

I. Introduction

In 1998, while I was in Brazil concluding a specialization course in Jung’s psychology, I decided that I wanted to work with the scapegoat phenomena, but I didn’t know yet how to approach it. Then I was attracted by the advertising of the movie Spawn1, about a comic-book superhero, whom I had never heard of. That same night I had a dream about that strange superhero. My curiosity was then fully engaged, so I decided to watch the movie. What I saw perplexed me: how could a semi-dead, festering, depressive, dense, complicated superhero be so popular among young teenagers in the universe of American comics, competing side by side with the classic superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Wolverine?

In fact, 'antiheroes' similar to Spawn have always populated literature, movies, and many other comic books2, but for many reasons that I will bring forth and discuss in this article, I chose Spawn as a major and 'super' complex example of how a comic books antihero, can embody multiple layers of psychological interpretation. From the beginning of my research, I was impressed by how much a fictional character coming from a pop form of mass communication could be so deeply connected with archaic and shadowy aspects of our human condition.

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