CFP: Superhero Narratives and (Dis)Ability (NeMLA 2017, Baltimore, Deadline 9/30/2016)

Mary Ellen Iatropoulos (co-editor of the forthcoming volume Joss Whedon and Race from McFarland) and I are co-organizing a roundtable for the March 2017 Baltimore meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association, focusing on representations of disabilities in superhero narratives.

This roundtable seeks presentations exploring how the superhero’s superpowered engagement of ableist society reveal or illustrate complications of negotiating the construction of (dis)ability. Recent works in comics, television, and film, such as DaredevilBatgirlMy Hero Academia, and Yuki Yuna Is a Hero, may be relevant to this roundtable’s discussion.

Please consider submitting a 300-word abstract and a brief biographical statement to NeMLA’s CFP List web site before the September 30th deadline. And please forward this call for papers to interested scholars.

The full CFP is below. Please email me at derek.s.mcgrath@gmail.com if you have any questions.



Superhero Narratives and (Dis)Ability

https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/16454

Chairs: Derek McGrath (Independent Scholar), Mary Ellen Iatropoulos (Independent Scholar)

Popular culture narratives present ever-increasing images of persons with disability, whether through superheroes themselves or via supporting cast members. Apart from literal impairment, superheroes and superpowers can also be read as allegories for disability and Othered bodies and minds. How can superpowers be read as disabilities, or disabilities as superpowers? How does the superhero’s superpowered engagement of ableist society reveal or illustrate complications of negotiating the construction of (dis)ability?


In what ways can superpowers be read as disabilities, or disabilities as superpowers? For example, The Avengers hinges on Tony Stark’s ability to recruit Bruce Banner, the Hulk, by acknowledging how they both share the “privilege” of what are interpreted as disabilities: Stark’s heart injury that led him to develop the Arc Reactor powering the Iron Man robotic suit, and Banner’s condition as the Hulk, which by height, weight, mentality, and emotions can compromise his involvement in the world but can also make him a superhero. We have also seen considerable discussions, at NeMLA but also in print and online scholarship, about representations of characters potentially on the autism spectrum, not only Stark but also Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet these representations are far from uniform, and apart from literal impairment, superheroes and superpowers can also be read as allegories for disability and Othered bodies and minds.

While scholars such as David Perry note the Othering effect of the “disability as superpower” analogy, recent televisual texts have brought an increasing presence of characters with disabilities in the superhero genre. At times, some of these interpretations are given to offensive clichés, with large numbers of antagonists with disabilities in works such as Green Lantern and Agents of SHIELD represented as their disabilities motivating their villainy, but there are also characters whose heroism, such as Phil Coulson in Agents of SHIELD, Daniel Sousa in Agent Carter, Barbara Gordon as both Oracle and Batgirl, and numerous members of the X-Men and the Inhumans identify far more complex representations of characters with disabilities. This roundtable seeks presentations exploring how the superhero’s superpowered engagement of ableist society reveal or illustrate complications of negotiating the construction of (dis)ability.

Participants may submit paper abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; participants may present in no more than one session of the same type but may present a paper as part of a panel and also participate on a roundtable or creative session. More information is available at NeMLA’s web site: www.buffalo.edu/nemla

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