The New Mutants: Superheroes and the Radical Imagination of American Comics

Ramzi Fawaz. New York Univ., $29 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4798-2308-6
Fawaz, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, takes a hard look at the politics behind superhero comics in this uneven but satisfying debut. Drawing on queer theory, Fawaz proposes that superhero comics from the Silver Age (mid-1950s to early ’70s) onward have consistently reflected contemporary political debates, particularly around marginalized groups. In his view, post-WWII superheroes, in contrast to their prewar counterparts, were “queered” by their portrayal as vulnerable and threatening outsiders. For instance, the Fantastic Four, introduced in 1961, gain their powers through “bodily vulnerability” after being accidentally exposed to “cosmic rays” that made their bodies’ molecules “unstable.” These abilities, Fawaz writes, “produced nonnormative or ‘queer’ effects” shown as “expressions of deviant gender and sexuality.” By contrast, the X-Men, from their first appearance in 1963, are outsiders empowered by genetic mutations and confronted by an intolerant public. For Fawaz, their appearance “dramatized the politics of inequality, exclusion, and difference” in line with the concurrent civil rights movements. This is a strong work with minor pacing problems; some studies are more fleshed out than others. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable and perceptive study and any failings would be easy to fix in a (fingers crossed) follow-up. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/12/2015
Release date: 01/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 368 pages - 978-1-4798-1433-6
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