Everyone Needs Heroes: Representations Of Race, Gender And Society In 'Woke' Comic-Book Culture
Legendary Marvel Comics mogul Stan Lee famously said he wanted the world in comics to look like the world outside our window. Now, comics and their digital representations are increasingly aligning with his philosophy of making superhero stories diverse and inclusive.
It's official that Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an African-American male. The latest offering from Marvel also brought into canon the tragic story of an African-American soldier who was experimented on and imprisoned by the U.S. military.
A version of Spiderman, Miles Morales, who is the 13-year-old biracial teenage son of a Black American father and Puerto Rican mother.
The CW network’s "Batwoman" was the first openly LGBTQ superhero to headline a live action comic book adaptation. Last year, DC Comics unveiled a new gender-fluid superhero Kid Quick, who uses "they/them" pronouns.
How has the relationship between race and the American superhero evolved from the Civil Rights era into modern comics?
How has this genre evolved to incorporate characters of varying genders, sexual orientations, races and ethnic backgrounds? How have social and political issues been featured in superhero storylines?
How have these changes been received by fans and the mainstream? What was the impact? Does it really matter if the world in comics looks like the world outside our window?
How do superheroes reflect and impact our personal and national identities, and concepts of heroism and leadership versus evil and fear of the “other”? Does it matter that these stories still glorify violence and often hypersexualize its main characters?
What’s next for “woke” comic-book culture? What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for the superhero genre, moving forward?
- Allan Austin, professor of history at Misericordia University and co-author of "All New, All Different?: A History of Race and the American Superhero"
- Anna Peppard, sessional instructor in the department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film at Brock University, editor of "Supersex: Sexuality, Fantasy, and the Superhero"
- Julian Chambliss, professor of English and the Val Berryman Curator of History at the MSU Museum at Michigan State University; editor of "Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural and Geopolitical Domain" and "Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men: Superheroes and the American Experience"
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*This interview was recorded on Thursday, April 29.