The history of superhero comics is at least as strange and subversive as the stories themselves. Golden Age superheroes arrived on the scene in the 1930s-40s rife with all the problematic social underpinnings of their time. White, male, and beyond-able-bodied, heroes like Superman and Captain America (a verifiable human eugenics project) represented everything America aspired to be. Counterculture, social change, and the more nuanced Silver Age of comics brought with them a dramatic shift in many of these perspectives—suddenly, superpowers were tied to other, less traditionally “super” qualities. Characters like Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four even saw his power as a curse, a bodily deformity that marked him as abnormal and monstrous—a stark change from the paragons of virtue mentioned above.
José Alaniz’s recent book, Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond, tackles these themes head-on, drawing on examples from across The Big Two’s publishing history to highlight how changing perceptions of bodies, disability, and death have shaped the characters and franchises that continue to intrigue us today. Exploring issues from the infamous revolving door of death to secret identity plots as passing narratives, DD&S is a fascinating read for old comic fans and newbies (like myself) alike.