Library Dissertation Showcase

Analysing the presentation of 1980s American masculinity in Frank Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear! (#168-191)

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2021

This dissertation analyses the presentation of 1980s American masculinity in issues #168-191 of the Marvel superhero comic Daredevil: The Man Without Fear! (1981-1983), written and illustrated by Frank Miller with inks and extra illustrations provided by Klaus Janson. Each of the three chapters discusses one of the three central antagonists of the series – the Kingpin, Elektra, and Bullseye – and argues that they are used by Miller to pose criticisms and present anxieties about the changes in gender dynamics occurring at the time. The study adopts a historicist perspective and incorporates feminist theory and masculinity studies into its arguments, whilst also applying these theoretical frameworks to the comic book medium and the superhero comic genre. Inspired primarily by Susan Jeffords’ Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era (1994), Chapter 1 analyses the Kingpin as an expression of concern about the newly emerging hypermasculine hegemonic ideal of 1980s America known as the ‘hard body’. Chapter 2 focuses on Elektra, and, drawing on Samantha Lindop’s analysis of the femme fatale character archetype of 1980s neo-noir, identifies Elektra as Miller’s symbol of patriarchal anxieties surrounding the 1980s woman after the gains of the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. The final chapter develops in many ways on the issues raised in the chapters preceding it, discussing how Miller provides a dark reflection of 1980s American society by highlighting the destructive nature of its hegemonic hypermasculine ideal through Bullseye – a man so obsessed with attaining the hard body and so terrified of emasculation that he causes immense levels of harm not only to others, but also to himself. It is suggested at the end of the study that further research could be undertaken to investigate why Miller’s later work from the 1980s and 1990s appears to contradict his Daredevil series’ criticisms of America’s hypermasculine hegemonic ideal.

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