Unstable Masks

Unstable Masks:
Whiteness and American Superhero Comics

Sean Guynes and Martin Lund, editors
The Ohio State University Press, Jan. 2020
New Suns: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Speculative

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2020

“Triumphant, provocative, defiant, discipline defining, and paradigm-shifting […] A timely and necessary intervention.” — S.B. Skelton, CHOICEconnect

Reviewed in ImageTexT, American Literary History, New Books Network, SFRA Review, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Buy the book here. If you cannot afford or do not have easy access to the book, please reach out to me for a digital copy.

In Unstable Masks: Whiteness and American Superhero Comics, Sean Guynes and Martin Lund bring together a series of essays that contextualize the histories and stakes of whiteness studies, superhero comics, and superhero studies for academics, fans, and media-makers alike. The volume illustrates how the American comic book superhero is fundamentally a figure of white power and white supremacy and ultimately calls for diversity in superhero comics as well as a democratized media culture.

Contributors not only examine superhero narratives but also delve into the production, distribution, audience, and reception of those narratives, highlighting the imbrication of forces that have helped to create, normalize, question, and sometimes even subvert American beliefs about whiteness and race. Unstable Masks considers the co-constitutive nature of identity, representation, narrative, production and consumption, and historical and cultural contexts in forging the stereotypes that decide who gets to be a superhero and who gets to be American on the four-color pages of 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