UW News

December 9, 2014

New book by José Alaniz studies superheroes through the lens of disability studies

UW News

Superheroes are generally assumed to be healthy and virtually immortal, tending their superpowers as they save the planet time and again. But a new book by José Alaniz, UW associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures, seeks to redefine the contemporary image of the superhero.

Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond,” published this fall by University of Mississippi Press, draws on DC and Marvel comics from the 1960s to the 1990s to investigate how death and disability in fact form a “core theme and defining function” in comics produced during this time. The comics industry’s Silver Age is generally accepted to be from the mid-1950s to about 1970.

During this time, press notes for the book state, the superhero “actually appeared increasingly vulnerable, ill, and mortal.” Alaniz reinterprets characters and series, from those as familiar as Superman to the more obscure, such as She-Thing. “These genre changes reflected a wider awareness of related body issues in the postwar U.S. as represented by hospice, death with dignity, and disability rights movements.”

The book’s first part addresses the theory and representation of disability throughout the superhero genre; the second deals with death and superheroes.

“Alaniz’s tone may be formal, but it remains incredibly accessible and undiluted with academese,” wrote reviewer Emily Nordling at the website Tor.com. “I find his analysis to be as fun and engaging as it is insightful — a great balance of criticism, history and story-telling.”

Charles Hatfield, associate professor of English at California State University, Northridge, also praised the book, saying, “Alaniz does things with the superhero that no other critic has done — and yet does them so well, so piercingly, that superhero studies will have to reckon with him before it can go forward.”