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‘I was swallowed by metaphor and digested by self-loathing’: De-toxifying Masculinity in Gail Simone’s Secret Six

Peter Cullen Bryan

This essay explores the intersections and divergences of Catman and Bane within Gail Simone’s Secret Six run. Simone is a pivotal figure in the development of modern comics, instrumental in spreading the term “Women in Refrigerators” and exploring disability and trauma in her Birds of Prey run. Simone’s oeuvre explores modern questions of gender and performance. Both Catman and Bane subvert expected behaviors of male superheroes, instead grappling with their respective masculinities. Each undergoes a transformation in comparison to their preexisting depictions, becoming better versions of themselves. Simone’s characterizations mitigate the toxic aspects of their personalities retaining their core identities. This offers an opportunity to recontextualize and perhaps redeem even highly problematic characters within comics and opens new avenues for discourse on gender and superheroes.

Keywords: masculinities, comics studies, adaptation studies, fan studies, Gail Simone

Dr. Peter Cullen Bryan received his PhD in American Studies at Penn State University. His areas of study include American Studies, International Communications, and 21st Century American culture, emphasizing comic art and digital communities. His master’s thesis considers Windsor McCay’s role in the genesis of comics as a genre, and his dissertation focuses on the cultural impact of Donald Duck comics in Germany, emphasizing Erika Fuchs’s translations. More recently, he has undertaken an exploration of the work of Gail Simone: the murky lines between fan and creator, the significance of decrying women in refrigerators, and whether the Punisher should smile more.