Sometime last week I got to thinking about Superman. It was actually a Facebook post of the image included here that peaked my interest (it’s been tweaked courtesy of a friend). I thought to myself, here you have this comic book character who’s not only superhuman he’s super(hetero)masculine. He possesses otherworldly strength and mental abilities but, just to keep things in perspective, he has that one weakness; he’s a he who happens to be white, straight, good looking and dashing (even in tights); he’s iconic; and he’s all-American. I‘d say that Superman is the superhero of all superheroes and, technically, he’s physically disabled. Think about it, he was this non-normative ‘super other’ forced to conceal his identity behind an unassuming, awkward and, let’s face it, emasculated figure of a man. Yes, his identity had to be hidden so that he could get on with his job of protecting the planet but also because of the haters and naysayers, the people so committed to the status quo that their own discomfort with the unfamiliar and unknown is perceived as a threat to the livelihood of all humankind. A little dramatic, yes, but not so far off. In real life people tend to shy away from difference and change because it’s often beyond control. It doesn’t help that doomsday imagery of dystopic futures floods the news media and gets into our heads. Enter the superhero/villain narrative, it’s good versus evil at it’s best and it helps us cope. An interesting interpretation of this narrative, according to my husband, is M. Night Shyamalan’s film Unbreakable. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen the film so I had no idea it was written as a superhero/villain story. It also came as a surprise to find out it was an ‘origin’ story with more of an interest in the mundane, human aspects of its characters.
Superhero Masculinity: A Conversation with Artist, Writer, and Comic Book Enthusiast Stephen M. Jones*22 Nov
Deconstructing expressions of idealized masculinity, particularly heterosexual masculinity, in pop culture heroes has in many cases become an exercise in illustrating the ways in which hypermasculinity continues to be the preferred model of gendered behavior for boys and young men in the United States. On the surface, the heroes of graphic novels simply reek of hypermasculinity; male superheroes are teeming with muscles, agency, sex appeal, and confidence. An awkward reporter can transform into Superman. A shy scientist becomes a massive Hulk. However, for many fans this popular reading of idealized masculinity fails to capture the appeal of comic books superheroes. Superheroes struggle with their identities, emotions, and choices in the same ways as those without super powers. I recently sat down artist, writer, and comic book enthusiast Stephen M. Jones to discuss ways in which classic and contemporary comic heroes reinforce and challenge cultural notions of masculinity.