In the 1990s, comics saw a spike in how muscular the characters became. Batman, for example, morphed from the diminutive figure portrayed by Adam West into a hulking warrior donning chiseled body armor. When I ask my students which superhero is the most masculine, Batman’s name comes up more often than Superman. Perhaps this is because he is a mortal man yet manages to survive perilous falls and brutal beatings without suffering lasting effects. Contrast this with Batgirl, who was paralyzed after being shot through the spine by Batman’s arch nemesis, the Joker.
The juxtaposition of Batman’s invincibility and Batgirl’s frailty is consistent with an obsession with overt male strength that dominated the 90s. This preoccupation with physical stature, which was punctuated so perfectly by steroid scandals in pro sports, is thought by many to have been a reaction to third-wave feminism, one of the most influential gender movements in history.
This is seemingly a prelude to Blanch teaching a month-long course entitled Gender Through Comic Books online later this year; that course will feature interviews with Mark Waid and Brian K. Vaughan, amongst others, and may very well be worth enrolling in.