Unstable Masks: Whiteness and American Superhero Comics


Unstable Masks: Whiteness and American Superhero Comics
Sean Guynes and Martin Lund, editors
The Ohio State University Press, forthcoming 2020
New Suns: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Speculative

American superhero comics have a problem with race, and especially with their own overwhelming—albeit often unspoken—whiteness. Recent decades have seen increasing interest in diversity of all kinds from comics publishers, and in the past few years comics scholars have sought to provide histories and critiques of race, racism, and their representation in comics. Through monographs, anthologies, journal special issues, articles, and conference presentations scholars of U.S. superhero comics have addressed a breadth of issues regarding how black, Latinx/Chicanx, Jewish, Muslim, Asian American, Native American, Middle Eastern-North African, and other ethno-racial and ethno-religious identities and histories have intersected with the figure of the American superhero—a figure that, from its own inception, has traditionally been used by comics creators and in public discourse to represent white masculine prowess.

Unstable Masks addresses a key lacuna in the way that race, superheroes, comic books, and the matrices of American culture and history have been previously discussed by finally turning attention to the role that whiteness has played in superhero comics’ narratives and histories. In particular, the collection brings together chapters that address the whiteness of American superheroism and the assumptions (and possibilities) of the racial makeup of the superhero figure from the late 1930s to the present.

This collection brings together a range of scholars to participate in demonstrating, historicizing, and challenging the operations of whiteness across the range of superhero comics produced in the 20th and 21st centuries in the United States. Chapters that look at superhero narratives as well as at the production, distribution, and audience and reception contexts of those narratives, in order to highlight the imbrication of forces that have helped to create, normalize, challenge, and even subvert ideas about whiteness and race in U.S. superheroes. Whiteness and the American Superhero considers the co-constitutive nature of identity, representation, narrative, production and consumption, and historical and cultural contexts in forging ideas about who gets to be American and who gets to be a superhero on the four-color pages of U.S. comic books.

Table of Contents


Frederick Luis Aldama, Unmasking Whiteness: Re-Spacing the Speculative in Superhero Comics


Sean Guynes and Martin Lund, Not to Interpret, but to Abolish: Whiteness Studies and American Superhero Comics

Part I: Outlining Superheroic Whiteness

Osvaldo Oyola, Marked for Failure: Whiteness, Innocence, and Power in Defining Captain America

Eric Berlatsky and Sika Dagbovie-Mullins, The Whiteness of the Whale and the Darkness of the Dinosaur: The Africanist Presence in Superhero Comics from Black Lightning to Moon Girl

Jeremy Carnes, “The Original Enchantment”: Whiteness, Indigeneity, and Representational Logics in The New Mutants

Olivia Hicks, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: The Racial Politics of Cloak and Dagger

Shamika Ann Mitchell, Worlds Collide: Whiteness, Integration, Diversity, and Identity in the DC/Milestone Crossover

José Alaniz, Whiteness and Superheroes in the Comix/Codices of Enrique Chagoya

Part II: Reaching toward Whiteness

Esther De Dauw, Seeing White: Normalization and Domesticity in Vision’s Cyborg Identity

Martin Lund, “Beware the Fanatic!”: Jewishness, Whiteness, and Civil Rights in X-Men (1963-1973)

Neil Shyminsky, Mutation, Racialization, Decimation: The X-Men as White Men

Sean Guynes, White Plasticity and Black Possibility in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier

Part III: Whiteness by a Different Color

Yvonne Chireau, White or Indian? Whiteness and Becoming the White Indian Comics Superhero

Matthew Pustz, “A True Son of K’un-Lun”: The Awkward Racial Politics of White Martial Artist Superheroes in the 1970s

Eric Sobel, The Whitest there Is at What I Do: Japanese Identity and the Unmarked Hero in Wolverine (1982)

Jeffrey A. Brown, The Dark Knight: Whiteness, Appropriation, Colonization, and Batman in the New 52 Era


Noah Berlatsky, Empowerment for Some; Or, Tentacle Sex for All