Book Cover

Unstable Masks

Whiteness and American Superhero Comics

Edited by Sean Guynes and Martin Lund

274 pp. 6 x 9
19 b/w illustrations
Pub Date: January, 2020

Subjects: Comics Studies
Race & Ethnic Studies
Cultural Studies
American Studies

Series: New Suns: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Speculative

order Hardcover $99.95   ISBN 978-0-8142-1418-3
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A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title for 2020

“In this powerful and timely collection of scholarship, contributors from a variety of backgrounds explore the production, audience, and reception of superhero comic books as a means to engage with questions of what it means to be American and to be heroic … [An] ending note of hope is precisely why Unstable Masks is an important and powerful book: wide-ranging in terms of texts and time periods, but eloquently connected to the present cultural moment in America (and beyond), and profoundly significant for thinking through how we might reconceptualize the heroes we construct for our future.” —Kristin Noone, SFRA Review

“Triumphant, provocative, defiant, discipline defining, and paradigm-shifting.… A timely and necessary intervention. Summing up: Essential.” —S. B. Skelton, CHOICE Reviews

“This is a fascinating collection; taken together, this edited volume is an impressive consideration of the superhero genre, those who created these characters, and the audiences who consume and interact with these ideas.” —Lily Goren, New Books Network

“The scholars in this book powerfully state that equality is not about changing ‘comic book’ colors but dismantling a racial ideology that has penetrated the core of American nationalism, industry, and culture.” —Enrique García

Unstable Masks should be read cover to cover. In addition to bringing together some extremely strong essays on comic book superheroes, the collection works well to depict the dangers inherent within our predominantly white cultural constructions of heroism.” —Terrence Wandtke

In Unstable Masks: Whiteness and American Superhero Comics, Sean Guynes and Martin Lund bring together a series of essays that contextualize the histories and stakes of whiteness studies, superhero comics, and superhero studies for academics, fans, and media-makers alike. The volume illustrates how the American comic book superhero is fundamentally a figure of white power and white supremacy and ultimately calls for diversity in superhero comics as well as a democratized media culture.

Contributors not only examine superhero narratives but also delve into the production, distribution, audience, and reception of those narratives, highlighting the imbrication of forces that have helped to create, normalize, question, and sometimes even subvert American beliefs about whiteness and race. Unstable Masks considers the co-constitutive nature of identity, representation, narrative, production and consumption, and historical and cultural contexts in forging the stereotypes that decide who gets to be a superhero and who gets to be American on the four-color pages of comic books.

Sean Guynes is a PhD candidate in twentieth-century American Literature and Culture at Michigan State University. Martin Lund is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Society, Culture, and Identity at Malmö University.


List of Illustrations
Foreword        Unmasking Whiteness: Re-Spacing the Speculative in Superhero Comics
            Frederick Luis Aldama


Introduction    Not to Interpret, but to Abolish: Whiteness Studies and American Superhero Comics
            Sean Guynes and Martin Lund

Part I: Outlining Superheroic Whiteness

Chapter 1        Marked for Failure: Whiteness, Innocence, and Power in Defining Captain America
            Osvaldo Oyola

Chapter 2        The Whiteness of the Whale and the Darkness of the Dinosaur: The Africanist Presence in Superhero Comics from Black Lightning to Moon Girl
            Eric Berlatsky and Sika Dagbovie-Mullins

Chapter 3        “The Original Enchantment”: Whiteness, Indigeneity, and Representational Logics in The New Mutants
            Jeremy M. Carnes

Chapter 4        Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: The Racial Politics of Cloak and Dagger
            Olivia Hicks

Chapter 5        Worlds Collide: Whiteness, Integration, and Diversity in the DC/Milestone Crossover
            Shamika Ann Mitchell

Chapter 6        Whiteness and Superheroes in the Comix/Codices of Enrique Chagoya
            José Alaniz

Part II: Reaching toward Whiteness

Chapter 7        Seeing White: Normalization and Domesticity in Vision’s Cyborg Identity
            Esther De Dauw

Chapter 8        “Beware the Fanatic!”: Jewishness, Whiteness, and Civil Rights in X-Men (1963–1970)
            Martin Lund

Chapter 9        Mutation, Racialization, Decimation: The X-Men as White Men
            Neil Shyminsky

Chapter 10      White Plasticity and Black Possibility in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier
            Sean Guynes

Part III: Whiteness by a Different Color

Chapter 11      White or Indian? Whiteness and Becoming the White Indian Comics Superhero
            Yvonne Chireau

Chapter 12      “A True Son of K’un-Lun”: The Awkward Racial Politics of White Martial Arts Superheroes in the 1970s
            Matthew Pustz

Chapter 13      The Whitest There Is at What I Do: Japanese Identity and the Unmarked Hero in Wolverine (1982)
            Eric Sobel
Chapter 14      The Dark Knight: Whiteness, Appropriation, Colonization, and Batman in the New 52 Era
            Jeffrey A. Brown

Afterword       Empowerment for Some, or Tentacle Sex for All
            Noah Berlatsky

List of Contributors