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Death, Disability, and the Superhero - The Silver Age and Beyond

Death, Disability, and the Superhero

The Silver Age and Beyond

By José Alaniz
Paperback : 9781496804532, 376 pages, 87 b&w illustrations, September 2015
Hardcover : 9781628461176, 363 pages, 87 b&w illustrations, October 2014

The first full-length examination of the evolving superhero through the lens of disability studies


The Thing. Daredevil. Captain Marvel. The Human Fly. Drawing on DC and Marvel comics from the 1950s to the 1990s and marshaling insights from three burgeoning fields of inquiry in the humanities—disability studies, death and dying studies, and comics studies—José Alaniz seeks to redefine the contemporary understanding of the superhero. Beginning in the Silver Age, the genre increasingly challenged and complicated its hypermasculine, quasi-eugenicist biases through such disabled figures as Ben Grimm/The Thing, Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and the Doom Patrol.

Alaniz traces how the superhero became increasingly vulnerable, ill, and mortal in this era. He then proceeds to a reinterpretation of characters and series—some familiar (Superman), some obscure (She-Thing). These genre changes reflected a wider awareness of related body issues in the postwar U.S. as represented by hospice, death with dignity, and disability rights movements. The persistent highlighting of the body's “imperfection” comes to forge a predominant aspect of the superheroic self. Such moves, originally part of the Silver Age strategy to stimulate sympathy, enhance psychological depth, and raise the dramatic stakes, developed further in such later series as The Human Fly, Strikeforce: Morituri, and the landmark graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel, all examined in this volume. Death and disability, presumed routinely absent or denied in the superhero genre, emerge to form a core theme and defining function of the Silver Age and beyond.


"Alaniz does things with the superhero that no other critic has done—and yet does them so well, so piercingly, that superhero studies will have to reckon with him before it can go forward. Death, Disability, and the Superhero proves that a work can be breathtakingly original and yet persuade us that it is absolutely necessary—that it fills a gap that until now we had not recognized and redefines the subject for us in ways that reverberate backwards through history. Not just superhero studies but also the very ways we think about ability, difference, and mortality—that's what's up for grabs here. In fact, Alaniz has gifted us with field-redefining work."

- Charles Hatfield, author of Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature and Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby

"From the sensitive, close reading of the opening pages to the urgent arguments of the conclusion, Death, Disability and the Superhero compels attention. Intellectually alert, politically engaged, and often emotionally moving, this is a major work of cultural criticism."

- Ben Saunders, author of Do The Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes