There is a type of academic writing that is far more invested in establishing the academic’s vast and staggering intellect than in actually having anything to say.
When I started Jose Alaniz’s Death, Disability, and the Superhero I feared this was a prime example of such intellectual puffery. Consider this gem:
Absent a ‘pure’ or so to speak ‘real-iable’ representational strategy for the body, it serves as palimpsest, as medium of political contention, as breathing symbol of disparate ideological colorings. In narrative, the body is text— though (as argued by Peter Brooks and others), all texts bear something of the body.
As I myself fled academia as if it were on fire many years ago, I can only surmise from my extremely outside point of view that he had to write it that way to be taken seriously by an academic press. He knows what he’s doing; this is his second academic book on comic books.
But wading through the frippery of the first few chapters to get at the genuinely interesting meat made me want to punch him repeatedly in the jaw. If I hadn’t agreed to review it for you bitter people I wouldn’t have gotten past those intro chapters.
Clearly, I am not the audience for this book.
However, when he did finally get down to business, he did have something to say, and he said it in a blessedly straightforward manner. This exhaustively-researched (and sometimes downright exhausting) book points out that superhero comics, even when they are trying to be forward-thinking, were — like nearly all works of art — reflections of society’s attitudes toward death and disability at the time (with some anxiety over the role of men twirled in and fueling most of the drama). It’s a genuinely interesting premise, and the link between hyper-masculinity and scorn for disabled bodies is a real one in literature and in life.
As a pusher of the Radical Crip Agenda, I appreciated Alaniz’s succinct and readable definitions of the medical vs. social models of disability, with concrete examples from real-world social and political activism.
In fact, I think if Alaniz had not gone so grindingly and unrelentingly, step by fucking step, through every goddamned scene in Silver Age Comics that ever touched on disability, death, and idealized superhuman manhood — if he had, perhaps, cut it down to a really long article for the New Yorker or something — I would have enjoyed this piece.
His writing further along in the book — in stark contrast to the beginning — is straightforward, thoughtful, and engaged with the topic. He makes great points. He has a keen eye for gender politics and intersectionality. I’d say that for this fact I’d listen to him go on and on all day, but in all honesty I’d listen to him go on and on for, like, maybe three hours tops.
Buy this book as a gift for your friend who has box after box of carefully plastic-wrapped comics in his climate-controlled attic and who left school with an ABD in Linguistics because he was just too good of a coder to turn down the endless job offers that were pouring in during the last tech boom while he struggled with his doomed dissertation Talk Geeky to Me: Metonymy and Syllepsis in ComicCon Seduction Rituals, 1995-2007.
He will love it.