McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
comics, graphic novels, gender, sexuality, superheroes, cultural studies, monomyth, narratology, hero's journey, masculinity
Since the 1938 introduction of Superman, superheroes have been ever-present in American popular culture. Indeed, with the modern preponderance of comic book movies dominating the American cinematic box-office, superhero fantasy is arguably the most important genre of fiction being produced in the contemporary moment. Peter Coogan, Kurt Busiek and many other scholars have discussed the prominence and relevance of the superhero fantasy as a genre. Still others, including Umberto Eco and Marco Arnaudo, have asserted that the superhero is not so much a genre and as it is the evolution of mythology. In Sex and the Superman, I argue that the superhero fantasy is in truth more than myth; the superhero fantasy is the monomyth. That is to say that over the course of the twentieth century, the superhero fantasy has replaced Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey as the dominant template for epic allegorical storytelling in America.
I trace the evolution of the superhero monomyth from its beginnings as a rough set of genre conventions and tropes into its current matured form as an established thematic paradigm. I theorize that the superhero monomyth creates a malleable template for seeking social justice that is only vaguely defined but can be articulated through performance of masculine violence and feminine sexuality in a kind of exchange economy as the building blocks of heroic narrative. First, I distinguish the superhero fantasy genre from the superhero monomyth and then speak to the ways in which each reflects and informs the other. I then analyze the thematic paradigm that constructs the superhero monomyth and the ways in which it has evolved from but remains distinct from earlier incarnations of the monomyth. I further examine the evolution of the monomyth as it responded to changes in conceptions of gender, race, class and youth culture over the middle of the twentieth century. Finally, I theorize that the superhero monomyth has become the dominant template for heroic storytelling across media and genres. In doing so it creates a framework for how we consider the very construction of gender in social contexts especially in relationship to social justice.
Maverick, C. (2022). Sex and the Superman: Gender and the Superhero Monomyth (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/2068