Finding the fangirl in DC’s New 52 Batgirl and Harley Quinn

Jackson, Lucia Kate (2020) Finding the fangirl in DC’s New 52 Batgirl and Harley Quinn. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.


The panels of the superhero comic book have historically been perceived as male-dominated territory which is unwelcoming towards female fans and creators (Robbins, 1996) alike. The hypersexualised portrayals of female characters, and the erasure of female participation in both fan and critical discourse (Scott, 2013) reflects this. Although critics such as Karen Healey (2009) and Carolyn Cocca (2016) have addressed this limited visibility and representation of female fans - fangirls - in superhero comic books published by mainstream publishers DC and Marvel prior to 2011, scholars have yet to address the depiction of fangirls and their experiences in titles published under DC’s New 52 reboot of 2011, or indeed examine the wider New 52 titles. Similarly, critical material examining Batgirl (Cocca, 2014) and Harley Quinn (Roddy, 2011) largely focuses on portrayals of the heroines prior to the New 52 and therefore does not take the transformations they undergo into account.
This thesis fills this gap in criticism, examining the Batgirl and Harley Quinn comic books as case studies of the representation and perception of fangirl behaviours and experiences, comparing the heroines’ origin stories and most significant narratives to those produced following the New 52 reboot. DC’s creation of the New 52 was publicised as a means with which new fans could engage with DC’s superhero universe, as well as provide new opportunities for marginalised groups- including female readers- to see themselves depicted within the panels of their favourite comic books. Batgirl and Harley Quinn underwent some of the most dramatic changes under the New 52 and were two of the series’ most successful comic books, particularly with regard to the representation of female characters and their experiences in an otherwise male-dominated space. Both characters have been aligned with fangirls from their respective creations in 1967 and 1993. Yet, they have historically also been subject to some of DC’s most controversial and sexist narratives published prior to the New 52.
Building on Suzanne Scott (2013) and Carolyn Cocca’s (2016) work, I argue that both characters are presented as a superheroic distorted reflection of the fangirl. Each heroine is depicted as both engaging in fan practices such as cosplay and creating fan fiction, as well as interacting with villains who represent different aspects of fangirls’ experiences in attempting to interact with superhero fandom, such as male hostility in cyberspace, and being branded a ‘Fake Geek Girl’ (Woo, 2018). By reinforcing Batgirl and Harley’s fangirl connections, I argue that the comic books’ respective creative teams transform the panels of these comic books into fangirl havens, subverting the fanboy-dominated status quo, and thereby providing them with their own, new territory within the typically masculine realm of the superhero comic book.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online.
Keywords: Fandom, gender, sexuality, comics.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > Comparative Literature
Supervisor's Name: Grove, Professor Laurence, Jenkins, Professor Alice and Creasy, Dr. Matthew
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Ms Lucia Kate Jackson
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81667
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2020 10:56
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2020 10:56

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