Esther De Dauw, "Hot Pants and Spandex Suits: Gender Representation in American Superhero Comic" (Rutgers UP, 2021)

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Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Iron Man are names that are often connected to the expansive superhero genre, including the multi-billion-dollar film and television franchises. But these characters are older and have been woven into American popular culture since their inception in the early days of comic books. The history of these comic book heroes are histories that include bulging muscles, flashy fight scenes, four-color panels, and heroic rescues of damsels in distress. Esther De Dauw’s new book,

Hot Pants and Spandex Suits: Gender Representation in American Superhero Comic (Rutgers UP, 2021),analyzes these characters with a critical lens to explore what exactly these figures teach the readers and the public about identity, embodiment, and sexuality. De Dauw, a comics scholar, focuses her research on the intersectionality of race and gender in comic books.

Hot Pants and Spandex Suits takes the audience through the 80-year evolution of comic books to discuss the changes in identity and culture, and explore what these heroes say about and to the American people. As an expert in Comic Studies and Cultural Studies, De Dauw uses theories of structural power relations to explain the disenfranchisement of women, LGBTQIA+, and the Black community in comics. As she notes, superheroes are often metaphors for the concerns of the dominant culture, and are informed by the dominant gender ideology and the American cultural landscape. Hot Pants and Spandex Suits unpacks superhero actions to examine who these heroes are serving, how, and what this has to say about American culture and identity. These questions frame the discussion throughout the book as De Dauw traces the changing perceptions of identity, cultural, and historical shifts through comic books and their many different heroes. A significant avenue of analysis focuses on the fragility of white masculinity, and how the superheroes essentially became an antidote to the cultural sense that white men were “losing” in American society. With a fascinating tour of the history of comic books, De Dauw welcomes both the academic community and comic-book lovers to venture through this analysis to better understand the role of superheroes within our culture and our politics.

Shaina Boldt assisted with this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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