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The Super-Heroine's Journey: Comics, Gender and the Monomyth

Conference contribution
Authors Houman Sadri
Published in 3rd Global Conference of the Graphic Novel, 3-5 September 2014, Mansfield College, Oxford University
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Language en
Keywords Gender, Feminism, Sexuality, Archetypes, Superheroes, Mythology, Evolution, Culture, Ideology, Cross - Media
Subject categories English language, General Literature Studies, Specific Literatures, Cultural Studies


The comic book superhero is currently enjoying a period of cultural ubiquity, thanks in no small measure to the continued popularity of Monomythical narratives – which is to say texts informed by, or harking back to, the Hero’s Journey, as defined by the mythologist Joseph Campbell. This Monomyth is essentially a structural pattern common to a wide range of mythological and scriptural tales from around the world, in which an ordinary yet heroic figure leaves the comfort of home, immerses himself in the unfamiliar and extraordinary events of an outside world of which he has no real experience, fights and wins a decisive victory and, once he has done so, returns home with some essential boon or blessing. Superheroes can, to some extent, be seen as the ultimate modern exemplars of this pattern; this, though, is problematized by the relative lack of viable female heroes of this type. Using Campbell’s theories in tandem with the work of other archetypal theorists and the relatively new discipline of biocultural criticism, it is my intention to investigate whether this relative paucity – characterised by characters who are often depicted as little more than objects of titillation or fetish, not to mention tending to begin as gender reversed knock-offs of established male heroes – comes as a result of the inherently patriarchal nature of the Monomythical structure itself. Further to this, I intend to argue that while the evolution of our culture and the relative decline of patriarchal strictures have theoretically ensured that the heroic archetype has evolved to the point where traditional gender roles are no longer stable, the archetypes engendered within the Monomyth have become so ideologically paradigmatic as to hamper the imperative toward challenging these codes within the idiom of the graphic novel.

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