Of Gods and Girls
: The Teen Superheroine in British and American Girls' Comics from 1940-1984

  • Olivia Hicks

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This thesis is a comparative study of the teenaged superheroine (the super-girl) across two comics cultures: the United States of America (US) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK/Britain). It considers comics from 1940 to 1984, and its focus are those super-girls who appeared in girls’ comics, or comics which clearly catered towards a young female demographic. Rather than providing a chronological overview of the various characters, this thesis focuses on key characters who act as case studies. From America, Mary Marvel, Miss America, Tomboy and Supergirl, and from the UK, The Silent Three, Starr of Wonderland, the Cat, Valda and the Supercats.

The aim of this thesis is to provide a theory of the super-girl that positions her within a framework of whiteness, imperialism and gender. The thesis argues that the super-girl occupies and embodies a fluid space that allows her to move between gendered identities and move beyond the restrictive gendered norms that made up much of the world of twentieth century teenage girls. Using the work of Michelle J. Smith on New Imperialism and teenage girls in fiction, this thesis argues that the active role of the super-girl is in service to white patriarchal imperialism, and to further the goals of her nation. Her transitional age here is key; because she is not yet a fully grown woman who must take on a more passive and nurturing role, the super-girl is given temporary leave to escape the world of the home and carry out her patriotic task. The whiteness of the teenage girl adds to her privileged status and adds to how the texts fashion her as an ideal for her audience, often using the language of stardom and celebrity, thus creating a specifically (and less threatening to patriarchal power structures) feminine form of the superhero. Finally, the super-girl’s body, which fluidly moves between passive and active forms, is considered a queer space. The super-girl thus is a construction of whiteness, imperialism, stardom, gender, liminal age and queerness, but she is also an unstable construction, and at times threatens patriarchal structures even as she attempts to uphold them. This thesis explores this unstable construction through a series of close readings of the comics and their accompanying paratexts, grounded in identity theory, historical context and a transnational comparative approach. Throughout this thesis I have responded to the texts and my evolving theories through the comics form, and provide a close reading of these creative responses in conjunction with the academic research.

By comparing the UK and US comics cultures, this thesis challenges the American-centric nature of superhero scholarship and provides a richer reading of the genre. Another original contribution to scholarship in this thesis is the research’s engagement with the age specificity of super-girls. In addition to this, the thesis presents sustained scholarly critique of characters who have often been on the fringes of academia, such as Supergirl, Mary Marvel, Tomboy, Miss America, Supercats, Valda and the Silent Three, and is the first academic work on Starr of Wonderland.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorChris Murray (Supervisor), Susan Berridge (Supervisor) & Katarina Lindner (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • superheroines
  • comics
  • british comics
  • american comics
  • superhero
  • whiteness
  • queerness
  • stardom
  • film
  • twentieth century
  • teen studies
  • teenager
  • supercats
  • dc thomson
  • supergirl
  • mary marvel
  • miss america
  • starr of wonderland
  • the avengers
  • cat girl
  • the cat bunty
  • bunty
  • valda
  • the truth about wilson
  • creative practice
  • zines

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