Call For Comments: Narrative Remixes and Intertextuality

From Mav: I saw an interesting movie this weekend, Brightburn. For those who haven’t seen the trailers it’s basically the story of Superman as a horror movie. Actually, not basically. In fact, it’s exactly the story of Superman as a horror movie. A couple finds of spaceship in the woods with a baby in it. They raise the baby as their own child and he eventually develops super powers. Only instead of becoming a superhero, when he hits puberty he becomes a sociopath and kills everyone because 12 year olds are little shits, and giving one unbridled power would be… well… bad. From there on out what we get is a horrific story of body horror and hopelessness as ordinary mortal beings are forced to confront unchecked superior power wrapped up in the mentality of a selfish child with no remorse and no motivation to really develop it.

Basically, what we have is a tweak to the familiar Superman narrative. There’s not really any spoilers here. What you see in the trailer is exactly what the movie is. It’s not really about discovering a plot or solving a mystery. It’s about exploring the idea of a Superman gone bad as it unfolds before you. You’re sort of expected to understand an intertextual link between this story and the actual Superman. It only really works as a comparative text. If you were somehow unaware of the traditional Superman narrative, I don’t think you’d see much of a point in the movie at all.

This is sort of common in the comic book world. You have DC’s Elseworlds and Marvel’s 1602 lines which take familiar characters and stories and tweak something to explore a different possibility. But you also have the same sort of thing happening in other literature. Pride+Prejudice+Zombies comes to mind. I’m thinking of things that are different from a regular reboot or remake. This isn’t the same thing as Mallory, Tennyson and White all doing their take on King Arthur. This is Mike Barr taking Arthur into the future with Camelot 3000. This is the recent (bombed attempt at a) reboot of Robin Hood where he is transported into a “modern” storyline. These are texts where you as the reader are being asked to consider them in relationship to the original rather than as their own standalone narrative.

In a sense, they share something with fanfic, but there’s a particular twist that sets it apart. These aren’t just extending the further adventures of the characters to explore new ideas, it is the exploration of ideas by explicitly changing the established canon. What does it mean to have Superman be a killer? What does it mean to have Lizzie Bennet fight zombies? Why is it interesting to think about these things? What happens if we try to take this narrative on its own WITHOUT the association to the base source text. Can anyone really enjoy P+P+Z without relating it to Austen’s original? That’s what I’m interested in exploring on this next show. What are some of your favorite remixed narratives? Why do we like them? What do they accomplish? What other thoughts do you have that I’ve missed?

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6 Replies to “Call For Comments: Narrative Remixes and Intertextuality”

  1. For what it’s worth I read P+P+Z and had never read an Austen novel and greatly enjoyed it (although I’m not an avid reader and that was probably the only way to get me to read something partially written by Austen, which isn’t a dig at her mind you.)

    I remember watching a dystopian future Macbeth in my English class on VHS, and I ate that shit up too. At the very least, I think these sorts of “remixes” are great ways to get people like me who groan about “old stuff is boring” when they’re teenagers and get engaged with old things in these new contexts.

    I thought Brightburn was an enjoyable horror film, but I agree it may be a little lost on people who aren’t familiar with the Superman narrative that’s being subverted, but then again I don’t know if that kind of person even exists nowadays.

    I’m personally a junkie for Elseworlds and What Ifs. Like we talked in Phantom, that Spider-Man book coming out right now is totally my jam. Flashpoint was my jam. Secret Wars was my jam. I’m sure this weird shit going on in X-Men would also be my jam if I was reading it. Just keep feeding me the same story/characters but in incredibly different settings and I will never be disappointed tbh. Because it’s always fascinating to see how they connect the dots and make something fit in a particular setting.

  2. My husband loves The Orville for this reason. He says it explores the exact same issues of intercultural (or -species) conflict and misunderstanding, but with more realistic, petty, private life human behaviors and dialog, as opposed to the stilted always-altruistic characteristics of the crew in the original show. I find both completely unappealing…I think you have to have enjoyed the original to “get” this new show.

  3. I don’t know if this counts as a remix, but the first thing that comes to my mind is West Side Story (a retelling of Romeo and Juliet with issues of immigration). Interestingly there might be some who know this better than the original Shakespeare play. Which might lead to a question of what happens when a retelling becomes famous on it’s own?

    I also loved the Ian Mckellen Richard III which turns Richard into a Nazi.

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