Comics: Early Superman, women and gender politics

Published On October 26, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

Over on The Comics Grid Darren R Reid muses on gender politics and representation in the world of Superman, although this has less to do with the modern incarnation of our demi-god superhero and instead uses his earliest incarnations in Action Comics way back in the 30s when, as Darren notes correctly, Superman was quite a different character from what he has evolved into today. Not just in terms of having less powers, but also in his actions.

(Superman deals bluntly with a domestic abuser in Action Comics #1 by Siegel and Shuster, (c) DC Comics, pic borrowed from the Superman Through the Ages site)

He uses those early Action Comics as a window into the era’s attitude to women and the expression of an idealised, hyper masculinity embodied in the 30s Superman, noting the ‘strong man’ protecting the ‘weaker’ woman and how this mirrors the attitudes many in society had in that period, although as he goes on to observe, the comic also accounts for the changing attitude to women in society, most especially in the persona of the strong, determined, successful Lois Lane (who despite those qualities also still has some contradictory gender perceptions of the period built in too).

In the final section of Action Comics #1 readers are introduced to one of the staples of the Superman mythology –Lois Lane– the strong female lead. At the start of her introduction Lois is depicted, in contrast to the briefly glimpsed women Superman had previously saved, as totally in-control. In addition, she is shown to be completely unwilling to bend to the desires of the men around her unless those desires happened to coincide with her own.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon

Joe Gordon is’s chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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