Panopticism in Comic Books

For those of you not familiar with panopticism; the panopticon was designed by Jeremy Bentham to be the ideal prison.


The panopticon consists of a circular building with an observation tower in the centre of an open space. The outer wall contain cells for the prisoners and the tower means that the occupants can be viewed at any time. (For a further explanation of how this design works you could read Foucault’s Discipline and Punish but I wouldn’t recommend it).

This design has never been fully put into practice. The closest we have to an actual panopticon is the Presidio Modelo, which now acts as a museum.

Whilst undertaking research for my dissertation, I noticed that a number of comic book prisons (especially DC comics) have utilised this design.

The most obvious reference to Benthams design is in the Justice League of America which includes a lunar base named the Panopticon, which is named as such because it has the ability to see anything.

There are also adaptions of the design, such as in the Marvel prison the Raft which includes a two-way surveillance system which allow inmates to see who is watching them, as opposed to the original design in which inmates have no way of knowing when they are being watched.

Recent adaptions of Arkham Asylum have also incorporated Bentham’s design. In the New 52, Batman tests out the security measures of the new Tartarus Wing and the design is very clearly a representation of the panopticon.

In addition to this, in Arkham Reborn, Arkham Asylum is rebuilt and Jeremiah states that “the main block is device of the principles of Jeremy Benthams Panopticon” and a lot of emphasis is put on how the new design means that the directors can observe the inmates through the one way glass of the rotating tower.

A lot of the designs of prisons in comic books often take a lot of liberties with their creations, mostly in order to accommodate for the super powers of their villains. This means that Benthams design can be utilised despite the setbacks which make it impossible to be achieved in reality.

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