06 September, 2016

The new mutants: superheroes and the radical imagination of American comics by Ramzi Fawaz

I bought my first comic just over 20 years ago (I'm old as). Not sure if my parents understood why I spent so much (time and money) on them, but I'm a pretty dark and complex guy... :p. Maybe it was the escapism: Rich dudes using their cash to beat up bad dudes and sexy men and women with awesome powers battling world threats.

What I didn't put a lot of thought into were the underlying influences. The new mutants looks deeper into superhero comics from the 60s and 70s using ‘queer theory’ and the clash of superhero characters with the radical issues of the day (civil rights, sexuality, women’s liberation etc.). Examples range from the X-men, Hulk and Fantastic Four as economic ‘dead-beats’, to possession as a reflection of either liberation or societies fears taking over. Yikes!

Pretty heavy stuff, though there are issues that are glossed over, such as contemporary race issues as an alternative explanation, while some explanations such as Hulks losing control of his emotions ("traits commonly associated with femininity") and Sue Storm ‘playing’ with her gendered expectations (Sue the character didn’t write the Fantastic four… boys did) were... interesting interpretations.

The writing is quite academic, so much so that I half expected to be asked if I had 'done the reading this week' after finishing the book. Don’t let that put you off though, once you get into it The new mutants is a rewarding read and worthy of debate as well as further scholarship.

Like comics? Pick it up! Really like comics? You've probably already read it right? What'd you think?

Title: The new mutants: superheroes and the radical imagination of American comics
Author: Ramzi Fawaz

Recommended by James W, Māngere Bridge Library

James W believes you should always be yourself… Unless you can be a superhero, ALWAYS be a superhero.

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