MAPACA

Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Anyone can be a Super Hero: Moving Beyond the Straight White Alter Ego

Abstract: 

Watching superhero movies, reading comic books, and scouring Netflix for vigilantes, viewers note the dominance of a single model for the superhero: straight white men in spandex. Even though the fate of the world, and the defeat of the evil villain can depend on heroes like Superman keeping their identities secret, all the heroes still share the same profile. A superhero’s secret identity is integral to the plot, and when a hero like Superman—a bona fide alien— is able to vanish amongst the rest of humanity by the simple (and ridiculous) act of donning a pair of thick-framed glasses, the flaws in the concept are revealed. The recent Black Panther film has demonstrated that the mainstream audience is ready to embrace a character who defies the all-white precedent, but for true diversity, audiences should turn to another medium. In the webcomic Sharp Zero, written and illustrated by Barbie Ward, superheroes perform in true anonymity. Here the heroes are realistic, diverse, and no longer bound by the traditional superhero stereotype. The text promotes the idea that anyone walking down the street could be the person behind the mask, regardless of their body type, age, ethnicity, or gender. Each character is different from the last, and the reader is unable to tell which mild-mannered ordinary Joe/Josephine/Jose will be the hero, until they don the mask. The many heroes in this comic take advantage of their intersectional identities to enhance the mystery of their identity. In this way Sharp Zero creates a superhero story that makes every character relatable to the reader, while simultaneously allowing them to remain unrecognizable to the citizens of their own world.

Presentation type: 
Paper
Scheduled on: 
Friday, November 9, 3:15 pm to 4:30 pm

Session information

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