Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Women's Studies and Gender Studies
For as long as stories have been told, written, and performed heroes have been the measures of a culture. A people’s values, their fears, their hopes, their customs have all been preserved in the stories of their heroes, and in recent decades, I would argue, in the stories of their superheroes. Tracing modern depictions of cinematic superheroes back to some of the earliest extant narratives of heroes in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, we see that most of our heroes in the past three millennia have been men. And in the modern explosion of superhero movies’ success and popularity, we see that many of these heroes have been cisgender, heterosexual, white men, at that. So what do these heroes’ masculinities have to do with the way they perform their heroism? And even more consequentially, what do these men’s heroism have to do with the way they perform their masculinities? At this intersection of heroic identity and masculine identity, I argue that we find a static code—a rulebook for how a man is a hero and how a hero is a man—that has remained largely unchanged since the original context in which the Homeric epics were produced and circulated. In this thesis, I will closely examine intersections of masculinity and heroism as depicted in modern U.S. comic cinema and parallels in ancient Greek epic. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate how the stagnant, gendered associations of modern male superheroes with their ancient counterparts perpetuates and validates toxic, antiquated presentations of masculinity and to show how modern male heroes and their narratives can be reconstructed to create new heroes who break the toxic, ancient mold.
Gallagher, Matthew, "We Need New Heroes: Tracing Heroic Masculinities from Homeric Epic to Contemporary Comic Cinema" (2022). Master's Theses. 4409.
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