115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seeing the Invisible: Batman’s Gotham and Green Arrow’s Star City Unmasked 

Lisann Anders, University of Zurich

The Batman and Green Arrow are seen as vigilantes that try to save their cities. By doing so they wear masks to make their pubic identity invisible. The dichotomy between the seen and the unseen can also be observed in relation to the city, is not only influenced by the Batman's and Green Arrow's but takes an active role in the identity formation of Gotham's and Star City's saviors.


Already in Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Man of the Crowd” the dichotomy between the individual within the crowd was highlighted. The narrator is writing the city while he is walking in the streets, chasing a phantom-like man. Even though Poe’s story is set in the 19th century, we can discover similar stories in contemporary popular culture in general and comics in particular since the latter often feature superheroes in the realms of a city. Two examples stand out here, namely Green Arrow and Batman. Both anti-heroes are, like the narrator in the Poe story, chasing criminals. Their motivation for their risky adventures is to save the city, Star City and Gotham, respectively. However, by doing so, they are chased as well, and even more, they are haunted by their past. In this regard, they are also phantoms, invisible and yet present, hidden and yet seen. They are hiding behind a mask to project an imagine of a vigilante that simultaneously allows them (or so it seems) to be their true selves in public. However, also their ‘real’ identities, namely Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne – are wearing masks, a public mask, which hides their identity as the city’s vigilante. In fact, the Green Arrow comic books by Mike Grell from the late 1980s as well as the recent TV show Arrow, which is running since 2012, and Brian Azzarello’s Batman comics highlight the struggling of wearing different masks. I would like to show how this struggle affects not only the characters’ identity formation but also the city since the latter is also torn between anarchy and law, between despair and hope. In my talk, I would like to analyze in how far the city is affected by the anonymity of its savior and in how far the city’s Gothic appearance influences the characters’ actions in return.