Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes

Rowman & Littlefield. Jul. 2022. 250p. ISBN 9781538152737. $35. LIT
Comic historian Hanley (Wonder Woman Unbound; Investigating Lois Lane) looks at how toxic masculinity has long been a part of superhero literature, noting that women were missing from comics unless they were love interests who needed to be saved. The author also notes the impact of World War II on comics: Heroes were strong men, while villains often showed features of common negative stereotypes of Japanese and Black Americans. Starting with comics, then TV shows, and ending with the current movie franchises, Hanley shows how world events impacted characterization, usually resulting in superheroes that were straight white males. He also discusses how toxic masculinity not only inspired sexist comics but racist and homophobic comics as well and it doesn’t end with comics--it’s in TV series and movies as well. Hanley concludes that whether or not this culture changes is up to the fans. If fans want to see change, they must demand it, or superheroes will continue on the path they have been on since the beginning. This book gives fans a great starting point, a place to learn the history of superheroes. Chapter-by-chapter source notes and a bibliography are included.
VERDICT Well-researched and written, this title is a must-have for any library to give some new insights on superheroes as well as their true origin stories.
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