For Truth, Justice and Animal Rights?: Untangling the Difficulties in Constructing an Animal Abolitionist Superhero Animal Man
By, Sean Parson, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University
Most superheroes are protectors of the weak, fighting against super villains and every day criminals on behalf of a fearful public. While many superheroes take their names from the nonhuman—from batman to wolverine—few if any are actual defenders of the nonhuman and many are active supporters of animal exploitation. For example, Batman works to stop the criminal activities of Catwoman, who is a cat burglar, jewelry thief, and is also an animal liberationist. In the history of superhero comics Animal Man is one of the only exceptions to this rule.
Animal Man, who has the power to “borrow” the abilities of nonhumans—from an ape’s strength to a dog’s sense of smell—, was a 1960s fringe figure who Grant Morrison in the 1980s turned into a well developed figure for Vertigo/DC comics. In Grant Morrison’s hands, Animal Man’s connection to the animal world forced him to understand and experience the pain, suffering, and plight of animals in our society. This newfound empathy changed Animal Man, as the character turned his attention away from stopping petty criminals to fighting for the safety and well-being of animals. Animal Man becomes a vegan and animal liberationist, who, unlike other comic book heroes, brought to light the horrors that animals face—from zoos to medical experimentation.
In this piece, I use Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man as an opening to explore a variety of theoretical topics central to the fight for animal abolitionism. I will primarily focus on the barriers to expanding our ethical and empathetic world to that of the nonhuman.
Dr. Sean Parson is an assistant professor in the departments of politics and international affairs and Sustainable Communities at Northern Arizona University. He is finishing up a book manuscript titled Cooking up Revolution: Food not Bombs, Anarchist Homeless Activism and The Politics ofSpace and is currently working on a project that explores what superhero comics and movies tell us about our relationship with the more than human world. When not working or grading he spends his days hiking the mountains of Northern Arizona with his best four-legged friend, Diego. He blogs at https://readingsuperheroespolitically.wordpress.com/