From Wayne: Superheroes are sexy, right? Skin tight costumes, rippling muscles, big boobs, and a near total lack of genitalia… what’s not to like? But for all of the suggestiveness of their idealized physiques, actual sexuality was a taboo topic in comics for a very long time. Some of this was due to a generally more repressed culture, and some of it was due to the strictures of the Comics Code Authority. Certainly, there were aspects of sexuality encoded in the pages of comics ‟for those who know how to look,” to quote Frederic Wertham. But, for all of Lois Lane’s schemes to trick Superman into marrying her, very little of it seemed based on sexual desire.
None of this stopped fans from speculating though. We’re an inherently dirty minded group. Who hasn’t wondered what The Thing looks like naked, or if Mr. Fantastic can stretch… everything. And it wasn’t just pubescent fanboys who wondered. There is a famous essay written by award winning science fiction author Larry Niven entitled ‟Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” that speculates rather graphically what would actually happen if Lois’s dreams of marriage came true. (You can read it HERE).
As the mores of our society changed so did the presentation of super sexuality. Our returning guest, Anna Peppard, has recently edited a collection of essays on the topic of Supersex. She offered her thoughts for this Call For Comments.
From Anna: Superhero sexuality—or “supersex”—is simultaneously gratuitous and invisible. Even though most superheroes wear their underwear on the outside and proudly display their hard and sensuous curves inside revealing, skin-tight costumes, historical censorship and related assumptions about the superhero genre being primarily intended for children have meant that when superheroes get banged up and laid out, it tends to be in a fight rather than in the bedroom, and the underwear tends to stay on. Some things have changed over time. Within the past decade, superhero media has become increasingly diverse and adult-oriented. In comics, we’ve seen She-Hulk shamelessly pursue her own pleasure, Batman have sex with Catwoman on a rooftop, and several decades-old characters, including Iceman, Batwoman, and the original Green Lantern, come out of the closet. In movies, we’ve seen Wonder Woman linger in bed with Steve Trevor, and Deadpool bend over to celebrate International Women’s Day. In television, we’ve seen Luke Cage and Jessica’s Jones’ passion break walls, and Silk Spectre traveling with a Dr. Manhattan-inspired dildo. And in fanfiction, fan art, and the popular subgenre of superhero porn parodies, we’ve have seen a great deal more. Yet even now, a simultaneous presence and absence remains. Circa 2020, most mainstream superhero productions continue to prioritize sexiness while pushing the actual business of sexuality and the more radical sexual possibilities of superhero bodies off-panel/off-screen. Fans also remain divided about whether and how sexuality should be presented in the superhero genre. Even as some fans vocally advocate for more sexual diversity, other fans complain that there’s already too much diversity. As the uproar over the first—and ultimately brief—appearance of Batman’s penis in 2018’s Batman: Damned #1 proves, there’s plenty of other fans who continue to insist sexuality has no place in superhero stories. Despite us living in an increasingly “pornified” culture, in which pictures of virtually any sex act imaginable are only a click away and, as Linda Williams puts it, the formerly “off (ob) scene” has become “on/scene,” supersex remains remarkably taboo. Sometimes, it seems as though little has changed since Frederic Wertham’s infamous condemnation of Batman and Robin in his 1954 bestseller Seduction of the Innocent as “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together” that “helps to fixate homoerotic tendencies.” Plenty of people are still scared of supersex. But of course, what one person finds scary, another person can find exciting…
So why is supersex either/both exciting and scary? And when is it either/both exciting and scary? What might equal opportunity exploitation look like, and should that even be the goal? If you find superheroes sexy—why are they sexy? Are they sexy in the same way as other popular characters, or is there something particularly sexy about that presence and absence—about insistent eroticism paired with persistent deferrals? (Is supersex inherently tantric?) Or maybe you don’t find superheroes sexy—maybe they completely turn you off! If so—why? And what would a sexier superhero genre look like? (Better costumes? Different bodies?) Do you have favorite superhero sex scenes you want to discuss, or listen to the VoxPopcast team discuss, in entirely too much detail? Let us know!
From Wayne: I’m also interested how the individual sexuality of fans informs the way we interact with the objects of our fandom. The act of collecting can be sensual, involving the fetishization of characters and comics books. What does our love of these things say about our own desires?
This is going to be a fun one.