Mask or Closet, or, “Under the Hood”: Metaphors and Representations of Homosexuality in American Superhero Comics After 1985

Northstar X-MenAn examination of the changing representation of male homosexuality in American superhero comics between the years 1986 and 2003. The thesis gives some theoretical attention to problems of epistemology, and the uses of connotative as opposed to denotative representation and reading. It traces the history of the discourse to the paranoia and anxiety generated by Fredric Wertham’s 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, which has led to an anxiety about “the gay-Batman reading” that has affected the shape of the genre’s evolution. In Part One, the thesis examines the ways in which superhero comics have historically discussed homosexuality, using metaphors or symbolic “tropes,” which variously imagine the superhero as a costume fetishist, as flamboyant, as sadomasochistic, as suspiciously homosocial, or as a pedophile. In Part Two, close readings of contemporary instances of gay characters in superhero texts offers insights into current trends in representation. The close readings examine Northstar, of the Marvel comics Alpha Flight and Uncanny X-Men; Apollo and the Midnighter, of the comics Stormwatch and The Authority, variously published by Wildstorm and DC Comics; and the character Terry Berg in Green Lantern, published by DC Comics.

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