Editors: Anna Peppard and Dru Jeffries
As superhero films have proliferated, so too has superhero television. But as scholarship on superhero films has similarly proliferated, scholarship on superhero television has not. When superhero television is discussed by scholars, it is often as an offshoot of filmic franchises rather than as a phenomenon in its own right, with its own histories and contexts of production, its own approaches to adaptation, and its own dynamics of reception.
Superhero television matters because it is an historically popular and increasingly influential piece of the American media landscape. In addition, examining this distinct combination of genre and medium can productively deepen our understanding of what superheroes are or might be, as well as what comic book adaptations are or might be. For instance, superhero comics and films are commonly treated as masculine texts, appealing primarily to straight men and boys. Television, by contrast, has historically been viewed as a more “domestic” and thus stereotypically feminized medium, prioritizing emotional affect over spectacular effects. Tellingly, only one big budget superhero film to date has included a wedding (2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer), while many superhero television shows have had plots focusing upon weddings and romantic engagements. Relatedly, superhero television tends to be more diverse than superhero films, spotlighting more female and LGBTQ+ superheroes. Superhero television thus suggests that the superhero genre is not as exclusively straight or masculine as many critics and scholars make it out to be. By the same token, the blending of romance and action within superhero television can help us interrogate understandings of domestic and public spaces, further illuminating links and ruptures between gender and genre. These are just some of the many ways studying superhero television might productively reframe existing discourses.
This edited collection, tentatively titled Small Screen Supers: Essays on Superhero Television, will explore, through as many lenses as possible, what makes superhero television special. Essays can examine specific network, cable, or streaming shows or dynamics within groups of shows, either within a specific era or across eras. While emphasizing the relevance of superhero television within the 21st century American media landscape, we hope to highlight the long history and neglected diversity of superhero television. To this end, we welcome proposals on both live-action and animated productions from the 1950s to the present. We are, however, limiting our scope to American productions. All critical approaches are welcome. Essays can explore fandom, production contexts, or perform close readings, though ideally, all essays will relate content to form and context. We will prioritize submissions that take up the central questions that animate the collection—what is superhero television and why does it matter? We strongly encourage submissions to consider the politics of representation. We will also be prioritizing essays on underexplored texts and/or new approaches to familiar texts. If a chosen subject of analysis does not obviously conform to expectations of the superhero genre, the abstract should make a case as to why the subject matter is worth considering in this context.
Specific dynamics/topics we are hoping to address include:
- Issues of representation (related to gender, race, sexuality, disability, etc.)
- Dynamics of serialization, franchising, and transmedia intertextuality
- Dynamics of adaptation, both technical and narrative
- Political references and/or allegories
- Televisual animation, both all-ages cartoons and adult-oriented (Harley Quinn, Venture Bros., Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, etc.)
- Superhero television fandom communities
- “Forgotten” shows (Night Man, M.A.N.T.I.S., The Greatest American Hero, Mutant X, The Secrets of Isis, Shazam!, Superboy, etc.) and failed pilots (Wonder Woman [1974 and 2011], Generation X , Justice League of America , etc.)
Those interested in participating in this collection are asked to send a max. 500-word abstract and a max. 1-page prospective bibliography for a 6000-word chapter as well as a 50-word bio to the collection’s editors, Anna Peppard (editor of Supersex: Sexuality, Fantasy, and the Superhero) and Dru Jeffries (author of Comic Book Film Style: Cinema at 24 Panels Per Second), at: SuperheroTVBook@gmail.com. Deadline for proposals is February 28th, 2023. All proposals will be adjudicated by March 31st, with first drafts of accepted chapters due fall 2023.