Updated: Jun 24
Editor: Anna F. Peppard
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication Year: 2020
Topic: Gender studies, Human sexuality
WHAT IS IT?
Supersex: Sexuality, Fantasy, and the Superhero is an anthology containing thirteen essays exploring ideas about sex and sexuality in American superhero stories across multiple media. Peppard and her authors examine classic heroine Miss Fury, weigh in on Superman, Batman and the X-Men in comics and on-screen, and even take a look at underground comix, superhero porn and fan fiction. It’s all very proper and academic, albeit in a manner that Peppard has aptly referred to as “salaciously scholarly.”
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Supersex covers a lot of ground. But it has rules. All the essays in the book are about costumed heroes, and all involve an exploration of some aspect of sexuality tied to the character or their world. This ends up being a relatively vast canvas, and the essays take advantage of this, giving us perspectives from across several disciplines. It is therefore difficult to give a succinct summation of what the book has to offer, but Peppard wants us to “look at individual texts and the superhero genre as a whole with different – and perhaps more lascivious – eyes.”
There is a lot of interesting stuff to talk about here. I can’t possibly go in-depth on all thirteen chapters, so here are thirteen bullets, enough for one hopelessly reductive sentence per essay. They are all worthy of more space and more superlatives, so if you want more detail, the link to buy the book is at the bottom of the review!
We learn from Richard Reynolds that 1930s Miss Fury comics can be read as an expression of how gender and sexuality are constructed, and how that construction is tied to time and place.
While 1950s and '60s Superman is presented as a paragon of conservative heteronormative behavior, Matt Yockey shows how that framing is undercut by the fact that only in “imaginary stories” did Superman ever settle down, get married and have kids.
J. Andrew Deman details how Storm’s sexual awakenings with Yukio and Forge informed her “transition from African Princess to Punk Warrior” and examines how this change became a potent symbol of how a character can be reinvented for a new generation.
Dazzler is, according to Brian Johnson, a complex but important mix of feminism, cheesecake art and queer representation, as well as a “site of self-recognition for gay male fans.”
Sarah M. Panuska presents us with comics that reflect LGBTQ history and community and encourages us to consider the quality of queer heroes in mainstream comics, rather than just the quantity.
Keith Friedlander takes on the Young Avengers, tracking how the team becomes progressively more diverse and sexually open over time, even as he considers the subtextual implications of their fight with an interdimensional parasite named Mother that functions as a “metaphor for repressive monoculture.”
The second section of the book concerns other film, TV and unsanctioned interpretations, and Christopher B. Zeichmann leads off with an examination of homonormativity, metaphorical queerness, and Black respectability politics in X-Men and X2, leading him to some interesting and troubling conclusions.
Samantha Langsdale looks at female and queer sexuality in the Thor movies, and finds that Hela is complicated and problematic, but that she ultimately is a step forward in the representation of female sexuality in the Marvel universe.
Anna Peppard looks back at classic TV and tracks how Lois & Clark presented Superman’s dual identity and transformations in a manner that appealed to women, even as the show presented a contradictory message on female empowerment.
Have you ever wondered why a secret identity is like a penis? If so, Jeffrey A. Brown has your answers in an essay that ruminates on masculinity, phallic imagery, and the potential pitfalls of superhero porn.
Who knew that porn studies went so well with charts and graphs?! Joseph Brennan shows how it's done as he uses statistics to show the value of gay superhero porn parodies, even as he notes that they also often confirm “problematic gendered roles and hierarchies.”
Supersex continues to explore unsanctioned interpretations of superhero sexuality with Olivia Hicks’ essay on Supergirl, which looks at how fans can give voice to their own interpretations of superhero sexuality through slash fiction such as the “Supercorp” stories pairing Supergirl with Lena Luthor.
Anne Kustritz considers the “Hawkeye Initiative,” Stephanie “Captain America” Rogers, and “Rule 63” while exploring the relationship between body, gender performance, power and perception in fan fiction and cosplay.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
I suspect this goes without saying, considering the name of the book is Supersex, but mature themes are discussed here. There is nothing here you wouldn’t encounter in an issue of Saga, but if you are easily scandalized, you may want to wait for next week, when we take a look at a new book about Peanuts…
WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?
Peppard’s introduction is a brilliant overview of the history of superhero bodies that perfectly sets the stage for the essays that follow, and the epilogue by Richard Harrison is an inspired piece that provides a satisfying summation for this eclectic collection. Supersex is intelligent and entertaining and, for comics fans, it opens new avenues for thinking about how superheroes affect readers and culture.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
This excellent recent book touches on similar themes: Hot Pants and Spandex Suits by Esther De Dauw
As does this Eisner winner from back in 2016: Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation by Carolyn Cocca
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Anna Peppard is a lecturer at Brock University in Ontario. Her academic focus is on race, gender and sexuality, and she has written recent articles for Shelfdust, ComicsXF and the Middle Spaces (among others). Peppard was also a contributor to last year’s Routledge Companion to Gender and Sexuality in Comic Book Studies, and you can follow her on Twitter at @peppard_anna.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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This book is ©2020 The University of Texas Press. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED