My New Book, Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes, Is Coming July 15!

Sometimes you come up with a title that sticks in your brain for so long that you’ve just got to write the dang book. Three years ago, I was trying to fall asleep and was thinking about superheroes, as I am often wont to do, and the title “Not All Supermen” popped into my head. I grabbed my phone and typed it into my Notes app, not knowing what I would do with it yet. Maybe it was an article, maybe a chapter, maybe a book. I wasn’t sure. I just knew that the tongue in cheek take on the “not all men” cliché would delve into toxic masculinity in the superhero genre in some way.

Well, turns out it’s a book! I’m back with Rowman & Littlefield, who published my Betty and Veronica book in 2020, for Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes, a new book coming out on July 15. Unlike my usual deep dives into specific characters, Not All Supermen is a broad overview of trends in the superhero industry that explores how sexism has been wired into the genre from its earliest days and how that sexism has festered and led to the rise of toxic masculinity in comics, adaptations, and fandom. The book covers both DC and Marvel, offering a chronological history of superheroes focused on gender and the white, straight male supremacy that has dominated comics for generations.

It was fun to cover so many different eras and characters, and Not All Supermen features discussions about:

  • How Superman established the conventions of the genre, for good and ill.
  • Batwoman and the gendered limitations of the post-Comics Code superhero renaissance.
  • Sexism in Stan Lee and Marvel’s Silver Age revolution.
  • The rise and fall of Adam West’s Batman.
  • The tragic demises of Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men and Terra in Teen Titans.
  • Graphic violence coming to the fore, from Frank Miller to the Punisher to the Death of Superman.
  • Hyper-sexualized female characters in the 1990s.
  • The Women in Refrigerators trope that pervaded the superhero genre.
  • How sexuality and race tie into the genre’s larger issues with toxic masculinity.
  • Gatekeeping and harassment among creators and fans.
  • And much more!

Not All Supermen is sprawling, but with a clear through line. Picking where to zoom in and spend some time was a fascinating process, and I’m pleased with how it all came together. The book offers a unique lens on the history of the genre, looking at specific characters and moments in time to illustrate the evolution of larger trends. Chances are your favourite character is going to get some page time, and chances are those pages are going to say something damning about the genre as a whole.

But the book isn’t all doom and gloom by any means! I’m not exploring the sexism and toxic masculinity inherent in superhero media and fandom to say it’s a terrible genre and should be done away with. If you know me at all, you know I LOVE superheroes, and that I see them as inspirational figures who have a lot to offer. By examining how sexism and toxic masculinity are woven into the genre, we can see where superheroes have gone astray from their higher purpose, and find a way to move forward in new, more inclusive ways that make superheroes accessible and meaningful for everyone.

You can pre-order Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes now from your preferred local or online retailer! It’s coming out as a spiffy hardcover that will look very classy on your bookshelf, plus all the writing inside it is pretty good, too. I’ll have lots more to share about the book in the coming weeks, and I hope that you’ll check it out!

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Published by Tim Hanley

Tim Hanley is a comic book historian and the author of Wonder Woman Unbound, Investigating Lois Lane, The Many Lives of Catwoman, and Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale.

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