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Reviewed by:
  • Gender and the Superhero Narrative ed. by Michael Goodrum, Tara Prescott, and Philip Smith
  • Sam Langsdale (bio)
Michael Goodrum, Tara Prescott, and Philip Smith, eds. Gender and the Superhero Narrative. University Press of Mississippi, 2018. ix + 292 pp, $30, $90.

Superheroes have once again become culturally relevant in the US across a number of media including comics, Hollywood blockbusters, and video games. While many characters and story arcs that originated in pre-WWII America persist in popularity, what is [End Page 218] perhaps most remarkable about the current proliferation of superheroes is the increased inclusion of diverse characters, creators, and readers—particularly with respect to gender. As editors Michael Goodrum, Tara Prescott, and Philip Smith argue, women have always been involved in the creation and consumption of superhero comics (even if in problematic ways), and although they are far from equally represented on or in front of the page currently, female characters, creators, and readers are growing in number. More intriguing than their increased visibility, however, are the myriad ways women's presence has been, and continues to be, "quietly disruptive of the superheroic status quo" (3). Thus, the primary aim of Gender and the Superhero Narrative is "to contribute to the growing number of voices, from both fan and academic communities, who argue not only that diversity is the future of the superhero genre, but that diversity has always been present, if sometimes hidden, in the genre's history, readership, and concerns" (3).

The first section of the collection, titled "Politics and Intersectionality," contains four essays that employ (to greater and lesser extents) intersectional feminist analyses to examine various superhero narratives as they manifest in serial comics, TV shows, and satire. Mel Gibson begins the section with a chapter focused on Marvel's Ms. Marvel to argue that a diverse creative team; a narrative that incorporates issues such as faith, ethnicity, and gender; and representations of multiculturalism all combine to make the book evocative of "intersectionality and fourth wave feminism" (24). The chapter that follows, by Maite Urcaregui, similarly aims to make use of an intersectional lens to argue that Image Comics' Bitch Planet offers readers "an absurd yet familiar reminder of the ways that society and state institutions continue to uphold patriarchal and racist values at the expense of women, queer folks, and communities of color, among others" (45). Samira Nakarni then turns her attention to the Marvel TV series Jessica Jones to examine how female detective narratives, crime fiction, and film noir combine to depict complex gender politics that disrupt and even subvert patriarchal, colonialist norms in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Finally, Christina Knopf's essay focuses on the "adult/satire" book series from Image, Bomb Queen, to analyze how political satire, parody, and irony work to both criticize and perpetuate "the gendered politics of the comic book industry and the superhero genre" (101).

While each of these essays is a valuable contribution to the still-growing field of feminist comics studies, their coherence as a section—and in some instances, their adherence to the stated aims of the volume—is debatable. Gibson's chapter suffers from a lack of clarity around her use of the term "intersectionality," which she seems to see as interchangeable with "fourth wave feminism," "call-out culture," "diversity," and "inclusion." Not only does this make the argument of the chapter somewhat hard to follow, it also perpetuates the pressing problem within feminist scholarship of obscuring and diluting the intellectual history of intersectionality. Urcaregui's essay does provide a clear description of the origins of intersectionality in black feminist theory and deftly applies this framework to her analysis of Bitch Planet. However, there is a lack of explicit discussion on how this comic (one that draws from the exploitation film genre) can or should be considered relevant to [End Page 219] superhero narratives. Nakarani gets closer to bridging the aims of the anthology with the themes of the section, but her essay also lacks clarity in places, particularly in relation to models of colonialism. Why, for instance, would Kilgrave's coercing of Malcolm into drug addiction be more indicative of British creations of opium dens than of the introduction of crack...


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pp. 218-221
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