Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Superheroes & Stereotypes: A Critical Analysis of Race, Gender, and Social Issues Within Comic Book Material

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Alberto González (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Eric Worch (Other)

Third Advisor

Joshua Atkinson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Frederick Busselle (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Christina Knopf (Committee Member)


The popularity of modern comic books has fluctuated since their creation and mass production in the early 20th century, experiencing periods of growth as well as decline. While commercial success is not always consistent from one decade to the next it is clear that the medium has been and will continue to be a cultural staple in the society of the United States. I have selected this type of popular culture for analysis precisely because of the longevity of the medium and the recent commercial success of film and television adaptations of comic book material. In this project I apply a Critical lens to selected comic book materials and apply Critical theories related to race, class, and gender in order to understand how the materials function as vehicles for ideological messages. For the project I selected five Marvel comic book characters and examined materials featuring those characters in the form of comic books, film, and television adaptations. The selected characters are Steve Rogers/Captain America, Luke Cage, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, Jean Grey, and Raven Darkholme/Mystique. Methodologically I interrogated the selected texts through the application of visual and narrative rhetorical criticism. By using this approach, I was able to answer my guiding research questions centered around how these texts operate to reinforce, subvert, and modify socio-cultural understandings related to the race, gender, and economic class in the United States.