The secret identity of race: Exploring ethnic and racial portrayals in superhero comic books

Lowery Anderson Woodall III

Abstract

Does race exist in comics? And if so, what do those characters tell us about how one of the largest fiction producing industries in the country has explained minority relationships to its millions of readers? This study took a close look at three of the most successful comic book characters of all time (Batman, Superman, and The Black Panther) and examines how each exemplifies a position that the comic book industry has taken on race over the years. Using a counter-narrative analysis informed by the strategies of Critical Race Theory and post-modernist thought, the racial messages lying beneath the surface in the each of these character's worlds was uncovered. The study took the provocative position that race is discussed in the most vivid and worthwhile terms by characters that are not openly ethnic. The dissertation provides three models of racialized behavior employed by comic book publishers to introduce race and ethnicity into their storylines. Hopefully, this study will act as a first step in shining a critical light on a section of the industry that has thus far been woefully ignored by many critics and scholars.