by Ramzi Fawaz
Writers, artists, inkers, editors, and readers of comic books and comic book adaptions leave an indelible imprint on cultures across the globe. Popular film adaptions of classical comics characters and narratives, including Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Avengers, and the X-Men series, yield immense profit because of an ongoing yearning to witness strength, perseverance, and heroism in the face of social struggle, political uncertainty, and the many forms of global cruelty and wickedness. Small-screen televisual and digital adaptions of wildly popular comic book series, from the earliest iterations of Superman and Batman to the twenty-first-century installments of The Flash, Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Batwoman, and Supergirl, underscore that widespread interest in heroic narratives and increasingly diverse representations of heroic power in comics media remains an enduring impulse over decades of cultural production and across multiple visual platforms.
There’s something queer about comics. Whether one looks to the alternative mutant kinships of superhero stories (the epitome of queer world making), the ironic and socially negative narratives of independent comics (the epitome of queer antinormativity), or the social stigma that makes the medium marginal, juvenile, and outcast from proper art (the epitome of queer identity), comics are rife with the social and aesthetic cues commonly attached to queer life. Moreover, the medium has had a long history as a top reading choice among those “queer” subjects variously called sexual deviants, juvenile delinquents, dropouts, the working class, and minorities of all stripes. Despite this, comics studies and queer theory have remained surprisingly alienated from one another. On the one hand, comics studies’ tendency to analyze the formal codes of sequential art separately from social questions of sexual identity and embodied difference has often led to a disregard for a nuanced queer and intersectional critique of the comics medium. On the other, the prevailing assumption that mainstream comics (i.e., the superhero genre) embody nationalistic, sexist, and homophobic ideologies has led many queer theorists to dismiss comics altogether or else to celebrate a limited sample of politically palatable alternative comics as exemplars of queer visual culture. In this logic, “Queer zines yes! Superhero comics no!”