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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Like any syllabus, the syllabus for my first-year writing seminar “Superheroes” is incomplete. It includes only what I could fit into one short, writing-focused semester. It also includes only material that I know. I know a lot about the superhero genre, so that’s a pretty good start, but it’s only a start. My students have a wide range of interests and expertise too. Their job was to combine their personal knowledge with the research know-how they learned this semester and expand our syllabus into areas of scholarly and popular writing I would never discover without them. Here’s a sample of what they unmasked:

Eric Dyer:

Abad-Santos, Alex. “Marvel’s comic book superheroes were always political. Black Panther embraces that.” Vox, 22 Feb. 2018, www.vox.com/2018/2/22/17028862/black-panther-movie-political.

In his article “Marvel’s comic book superheroes were always political. Black Panther embraces that”, Alex Abad-Santos claims Black Panther to be the most political movie Marvel has created. African-Americans seem to be particularly underrepresented in the film industry and are rarely seen as leads. In a growing political climate, it was essential for Marvel to display cultural diversity. In his article, Abad-Santos argues that it is important for the reader or viewer to see themselves in the story. Especially as an adolescent, it is meaningful for individuals to see an actor or actress of which they can relate, and African-Americans can find familiarity in Black Panther. Abad-Santos observes that the message in Black Panther is not hard to find. Additionally, Abad-Santos argues that Black Panther reflects the harsh realities of many African Americans. Furthermore, Abad-Santos notes that the superhero, Black Panther, seems to represent African culture in a positive way and sheds light on misconceptions about Africa. Black Panther had a tremendous impact across the United States as it celebrates culture and diversity. However, the film also pays attention to the more brutal and unforgiving side of black history. Abad-Santos comments on the aspects of slavery and colonization presented in the movie and how these two events contribute to the persisting inequality between races. Abad-Santos points out that some Americans automatically assume everywhere in Africa is suffering from poverty. In one scene in Black Panther, a news anchor refers to Wakanda as a Third World country. It seems like the media always portrays Africa as a country plagued with famine, AIDS, and other various negative associations. However, the nation of Wakanda is extremely prosperous and has an abundance of natural resources. Abad-Santos describes our world as one that cannot “fathom an African superpower”. This shows that most of the world lives in ignorance. Abad-Santos argues that superheroes are presented as “sociopolitical fairy tales”. Essentially, superheroes tackle internal and external affairs in the United States. He provides evidence such as Captain America punching Hitler in the face and Spider Man fighting the war on drugs in the 1970s. This shows that superheroes can be used as propaganda, especially for a younger audience. Abad-Santos references Jack Kirby, one of the creators of Black Panther, when Kirby states he realized he never integrated African Americans into his comics but was aware of the importance of their representation. Overall, Alex Abad-Santos explains the relevance and importance of Black Panther to the African American community.

Fenner Pollock:

De-Souza, Desalyn, and Jacqueline Radell. “Superheroes: An Opportunity for Prosocial Play.” YC Young Children, vol. 66, no. 4, 2011, pp. 26–31. JSTOR. www.jstor.org/stable/42731275

In their article “Superheroes: An Opportunity for Prosocial Play,” authors De-Souza and Radell acknowledge that many people suggest that superhero play evokes aggression in children. These people believe that superheroes’ actions imply that using violence will help one achieve his or her goals. De-Souza and Radell, however, refute this popular idea and, instead, argue that imaginative and pretend play instills valuable lessons into kids. They identity emotion as being the agency for growth in children in that a child must learn to regulate his or her own feelings. Teachers and parents help to develop these initial emotions. The authors, writing in 2011, claim that television and technology might take away some of children’s creativity, and instead they argue for children to use their imaginations to create superheroes and hero scenarios. The article shifts to a personal experience told by Jacqueline Radell, who serves as a preschool teacher. She was influenced to implement superhero play in her classroom by a seminar in New York that discussed the relationship between superheroes and child’s play. After returning to her classroom, she decided to experiment with the activity. She was hesitant at first to introduce superhero play in her classroom with the popular belief of aggression and fighting in mind. Since it was late in the school year, however, her students had already developed strong relationships with one another and had “self-regulation” (Radell 27). As highlighted previously, she advocated for creativity and allowed the young students to come up with their own original ideas of what a superhero is and does (a much less scholarly and elementary version of Coogan’s What is a Superhero in a sense). The results were tremendously positive. Each child blurted out ideas that consisted of “save people,” “fight fires”, or “wear capes”. Radell reports that the class discussion focused on three important, positive traits that superheroes possess: kindness, care, and help (Radell 27). Radell discusses how her students wanted to create their own names and badges, therefore emphasizing the subject of creativity. They stayed away from stereotypes such as Batman and Superman thanks to not only the guidance of Radell, the teacher, but of the lack of technology present. Radell then introduces various props of the classroom such as glasses, pencils, fabric, etc., while advocating for the importance of non-violence. The kids had no problem sharing various props. They innovatively constructed “superhero castles” and modes of transportations such as cars, helicopters, and motorcycles made of blocks and crates in the classroom. The children acted as moral superheroes who wanted to help others, as evident from “saving” the teacher when she imitated a fall or constructing a fellow superhero’s house once the blocks tumbled. Each child inadvertently learned the importance of having different perspectives and viewpoints in situations due to the fact that they played various roles in the superhero games that they made up. Each day, the children would continue this “prosocial superhero play” (Radell 28) in a nonviolent, healthy, active, and creative classroom. Radell then discusses the lessons she learned from her own students and gives tips to teachers who also want to instill this superhero pay in their own classrooms. Radell advocates for a positive introduction of the subject while at the same time allowing the kids to have freedom and a sense of control (Radell 30). Her experiment reflects the theory presented in the introduction by De-Souza that superhero play does in fact positively affect children’s creativity and confidence.

This article was also a refreshing reminder that kids can teach adults valuable lessons, not simply the opposite. These young children in Jacqueline Radell’s classroom demonstrated the importance of creativity, collaboration, and empathy which was all realized and demonstrated through this superhero play. As a kid who grew up in the early 2000s, my twin brother and I relied on imagination to keep us busy, and more times than not we made up games that related to superheroes—just like those school children. I highly recommend reading De-Souza and Radell’s article if you are interested in studying the positive, psychological impact that superheroes play in our society, especially towards young children and adolescents.

Tyler Zidlicky:

Brantner, Cornelia, and Katharina Lobinger. “Campaign Politics: The Use of Comic Books for Strategic Political Communication.” International Journal of Communication , vol. 8, 2014, pp. 248–274.

Throughout history, political parties have often used comic books as part of their campaigns. This article talks about the use of comic books in political campaigns and analyzes the influence of the mass media of comic books on the 2010 election campaign in Vienna, Austria. In the 2010 Viennese City Council and District Council election, political parties used comic books as a strategy of political advertising to promote their principles and ideals. In context, the voting age in Austria had just been lowered from 18 to 16-years-old, and this new technique was a strategy to reach the party’s new younger audience. The comic books attacked political enemies of each party and vilified their opposition by altering their physical appearances. The humorous tone of the comics is what allowed for their great success. Readers became distracted by the entertaining plot lines and characters, and thus became more oblivious to the underlying political motivations of the comics. There has been an increased number of visuals and images being used in political campaigns. This is a result of moving towards “politainment”, which is the blending of politics and entertainment into a new type of political communication. The now prominent presence of visuals in the media has shifted the political culture “from a formerly ‘logocentric’ to a primarily ‘iconocentric’ mode of communication”, meaning the visualization of politics. Images are consumed by audiences without much thought, and many critics believe that politainment is detrimental to the political system. However, even though images are understood as too simple to accurately portray political issues, they have a mysterious way of influencing the people significantly while being harmless at the same time (Brantner). Recently, comics have emerged that focus on a direct relationship between politics and entertainment. The main protagonists are political actors, or the main plot lines revolve around political issues. In 2008, IDW Publishing came out with two comic book “biographies” about Barack Obama and John McCain called Presidential Material. Additionally, in May 2011, a comic was published about Vladimir “” fighting against zombies and terrorism that demanded for democracy. Neither of these comics were produced by the politicians themselves, but by public relations experts and artists. However, the influence that they would have on popular culture and the public still impact the ways that we understand politics.

Janie Stillwell:

May, Cindi. “The Problem with Female Superheroes.” Scientific American, 2015,            https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-problem-with-female superheroes/.

Cindi May comments on the idealization of Superheroes by children, and how many children consider the fantasy of one day becoming a hero themselves. She notes that there is an understandable desire to be a hero and acquire all the benefits that come with being a hero: the costume, protecting the entire world with all the credit for your actions, and the powers. She also refers to recent studies, which argue that superheroes have a negative influence amongst women. While there is diversity amongst roles that woman may play within comics, from victim to hero, the majority if not all female characters are hypersexualized. The comics focus on their “voluptuous figures” to their “sexy, revealing attire” (May). May provides examples from both Spider-man and Superman to argue that male characters tend to be depicted as independent, strong heroes whose main purpose is to protect human-kind, but also tend to always need to rescue a woman in danger. Conversely, she notes that the female character within the films are seen as weak, naïve, and unable to protect themselves, while also maintaining perfect beauty and sex appeal. These characters also tend to act as the love interest of the male hero. May notes the studies which claim that the emphasis on sex appeal amongst female characters and the repeated exposure to female characters as victims can lower women’s self-esteem and body image. However, May also comments on how the genre has transformed female characters over a period of time. She uses the X-Men franchise as an example of comics that contain empowered female heroes. Storm, Jean Gray, and Dazzler all possess unique capabilities while also having intelligence and strength. May believes that exposure to these types of female characters could potentially help increase positive body esteem amongst female viewers. However, she notes that while today’s superheroes may possess greater hero skills, they tend to be depicted unrealistically and the majority are sexualized through the emphasis placed on their breasts, curves, and unrealistic hourglass figures. Many are pictured in skin-tight costumes, which also accentuate their inherent female physical traits. May argues a parallel point to her earlier claim that stronger female characters may heighten body esteem by claiming that the sexualized depiction of females within the comics may again have negative effects on female viewers’ body image and self-objectification. She further discussed the research carried out on the topic, in which female college students were asked to watch a video montage of female victims and heroines within comics and then fill out a survey on gender role beliefs, body image, and self-objectification. The research showed that the women tended to report less egalitarian gender beliefs but did not experience drops in body esteem. However, other women who watched the X-men montage reported lower body esteem. The powerful nature of the X-men heroines caused the participants to want to emulate them. Therefore, the researchers claim that the empowerment of women may have some effect on women’s self-esteem, the sexualization of women in comics simply reinforces stereotypes.

Jens Ames:

Taylor, A. (2007). “He’s Gotta Be Strong, and He’s Gotta Be Fast, and He’s Gotta Be Larger Than Life”: Investigating the Engendered Superhero Body. Journal of Popular Culture40(2), 344–360. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2007.00382.x

Aaron Taylor begins with discussing the increase in the study of how culture represents bodies. Taylor says superhero bodies have been very gendered since the start of the superhero genre. The bodies of characters are super-sexualized and exaggerate gender differences. According to Taylor, the sexuality and physical emphasis of characters caused both public outrage and censorship within the industry. However, the sexualization has continued today. Male characters have ridiculous muscles and veins. Females put themselves in sexual positions and “defy all the laws of physics” with their breasts. While superhero comics are often targeted toward adolescent male audiences, comic books attract many other people as well.  The bodies of characters are often invincible and do what would be impossible in the real world. Taylor states comic books are a series of static panels, with just still pictures and dialogue to tell the story. It is up to the reader to decide how the panels connect. Because of the static natures of drawings, the bodies of characters are often contorted to encourage the reader to believe action is occurring. Panels also rarely show full body shots of characters which creates emphasis on various body parts. Because they are so rare, full body shots emphasize how body parts work together. The scarcity of full body shots allows readers to put together the body for themselves, according to their own beliefs. In a more literal sense, the feedback of readers often allows fans to have some input on how characters appear. Taylor points to the fact that most of the superhero is white, middle class, adolescent males. Because of the reader composition, it is no surprise female characters are so sexualized.  Taylor blames the profitability of sexualized bodies as to why the genre has not changed. In addition, superhero stories are typically timeless, meaning the stories typically do not change much over time. While women are clearly sexualized, Taylor believes men are sexualized just as much. Taylor describes male superheroes as bodybuilders in spandex, making them nearly as objectified as women. Where the two sexes differ in their portrayal is the depiction of their sexual organs. What Taylor describes as the “superpenis” is nonexistent, but the sexual organs of women are often clear. Taylor then dives deeper into the difficulty of portraying females. Women cannot be portrayed as soft, but too much muscle and hardness make women appear too masculine. When portrayed, women are virtually always portrayed from chest up, in order to show off their breasts. Taylor then shifts to the story of Batman. Batman has no love interest which makes him desexualized. Batman also has no pupils in his eyes. Despite the fact he is totally human unlike Superman or Wonder Woman, Batman acts less human than the other two. Taylor concludes by saying superheroes act as idealized bodies for normal people. But, while normal people have to work for their body to look like a superhero’s, superheroes are blessed with their bodies from birth or accident. The super-sexualized bodies of superheroes effect readers in multiple ways.

Mya Lewis:

Baron, Lawrence. “‘X-Men’ as J Men: The Jewish Subtext of a Comic Book Movie”. Purdue University Press, 2003. Shofar, vol. 22, no. 1, 2003, pp. 44–52. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42944606.

In this article, Baron discusses how the film X-Men (2003) and the X-Men comics accurately portray the social struggles that many Jewish Americans undergo while trying to assimilate into American society. He argues that the accurate representation of the Jewish minority group in the movie is due to the first-hand experiences of the film’s director and the comic book’s creators, as first-generation Jewish Americans. Baron touches on the life of Kirby, the self-named illustrator of the X-Men comics, and the hardships he faced as a Jewish man in America. He also examines the life of Stan Lee, another first-generation Jewish American, and focuses on his impact in marvel publications and the X-Men Comics. Baron analyzes the social issues Magneto faced during the Holocaust and underlines how these matters shaped him into a villain in retrospect to Dr. X becoming a hero. As a child, Magneto loses his family to the cruel mistreatment of the Germans, causing him to manifest feelings of resentment towards humans and create a group of evil mutants whose goal is to “overthrow mankind” (Baron 5). Dr. X, in comparison to Magneto, creates a group of mutants whose goal is to protect mankind from the threat of Magneto’s mutants, and any other inhuman threats. Baron claims that Dr. X’s want for coexistence between mutants and the American society reflects the desire to assimilate that many first-generation Jewish Americans hold. He insists that Magneto mirrors the Jewish individuals that are bitter towards Americans for the discrimination they received, and that the Holocaust, in the X-Men universe, is a metaphor for the susceptibility of the Jewish race. Baron’s article on The Jewish Subtext of a comic book is an interesting source because it approaches the idea of minorities in comics from a unique perspective. While most people would argue that there is a scarce inclusion of minorities in comics, Baron believes that Marvel has done a satisfactory job of representing minorities in their works. His article would be useful to reference when arguing that minority characters are becoming more popular in American comics, or to counter argue that American comic writers are not doing enough to represent minorities in their media. Baron’s article is relevant because it addresses the popular theme of racial minorities and it respectfully and diligently conveys Baron’s observations. His article is scholarly with minute mistakes, peer reviewed and published in a credible academic journal, making it a great source to use in a research paper or dissertation. When using this source as evidence, it is best to paraphrase the information, considering most of Baron’s evidence is quoted from other sources.

Kathleen Wilson:

Kistler, Alan. “How the ‘Code Authority’ Kept LGBT Characters Out of Comics.” History, A&E Television Networks, 28 Apr. 2017, www.history.com/news/how-the-code-authority-kept-lgbt-characters-out-of-comics.

Alan Kistler closely examines the comic “Code Authority” with his article “How the ‘Code Authority’ Kept LGBT Characters Out of Comics.” Throughout the 1950-80s, a code existed for comic books. This code consisted of different aspects that kept LGBT characters out of comic books. This code was not regulated by the government, but publishers were encouraged to abide by it because they were more likely to be able to sell to vendors if they had the code’s stamp of approval. Both Marvel and Detective Comics basically controlled the comics industry because they were the most popular. Both companies abided by the Code Authority, and because of this, their representations of society were the stories that dominated comic books, and they neglected to represent the LBGT community. Kistler explains the waves of popularity in the comic and superhero industry, and because of the comics’ prevalence in society, these stories had the ability to influence or sometimes corrupt children. Comics generally contained more conservative values, and Kistler incorporates Dr. Frederic Wertham’s point of view on this. Dr. Wertham, in 1954, warned society that comics held inappropriate messages and that impressionable children should not read them. Kistler also acknowledges Carol Tilley’s research in 2013, where she discredits some of Dr. Wethham’s ideas, but this was long after Dr. Wertham warned all of America of the comic industry’s skewed morals. In the 1940-50s, the Comics Magazine Association of America was founded in response to Dr. Wethham’s ideas, and this association generated the Comics Code Authority. This code set a precursor for what was to come for the next 30 years in the comic industry. Regulations were placed on the representation of government, crime, drugs, and romance. Only with the context of powers or technological skills could acts of crimes be portrayed. The code also prohibited drugs and sexual relations, especially homosexual or LGBT relations. The code went under regulation in 1971, and they were revised, which allowed for Marvel and DC comics to get away with more mature subjects as long as these stories had “mature reader” warnings on them. It was not until 1989 that the Code lifted its ban on the portrayal of LGBT relations. After this, DC and Marvel revealed that some of their comic stories had homosexual intended plots. The comic and superhero industry became modernized following the change of the Code Authority, as it began to include more LBGT centered plots and characters. Since Detective Comics and other publishers republish their original comics but modernize them more, some comics have been recently altered to incorporate more progressive plots. Kistler suggests that the comic industry still has a lot of progress to make. He believes that the industry needs to continue to move forward in order to include more progressive stories as cultures continue to change. Overall, comics are reflective of the culture in which they are written and read, so including more progressive topics, especially about the power of women, would broaden the comic industry’s audience.

Gabrielle Jones:

Peters, Brian Mitchell. “Qu(e)Erying Comic Book Culture and Representations of Sexuality in Wonder Woman.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3, Sept. 2003, doi:https://doi.org/10.7771/1481-4374.1195.

Brian Mitchell Peters argues that queer youth have always found a home and seen themselves in comics. Queer youth can relate to the double lives led by many superheroes and have felt “a queer consciousness” within these stories. Peters focuses on Wonder Woman through this lens. Wonder Woman leads the typical superhero double life; while she fights crime as Wonder Woman, she must also assume the identity of Diana Prince, an average woman. Peters understands this “normal” identity as a closet for Wonder Woman, equivalent to the proverbial closet the vast majority of queer people start out in. Diana herself has some serious “lesbian overtones,” at least according to Peters and several contemporaries of the original Wonder Woman comics. She is originally from an island populated only by women, and frequently says “Suffering Sappho!” as an illusion to the poet Sappho of Lesbos, who is mostly known for writing enough poetry about her love of women to have the word lesbian coined for the island she lived on. This catchphrase of sorts was a deliberate choice by Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, who according to Peters seemed to enjoy messing with people in an age where McCarthyism was going strong. Peters also states that Wonder Woman’s queerness is indicated by her powers, which are distinctly unfeminine by the very virtue of being powers in a male-dominated society, in combination with her traditionally feminine costume. By the 1990s, much of Wonder Woman’s queer coding comes from the doubles she finds in her female partners and adversaries. According to Peters, male homosexuality is also alluded to by Diana/Wonder Woman. Her alter-ego Diana Prince, Peters argues, is the camp gay equivalent to the 1990s’ Wonder Woman Artemis’s lesbian heroism. Diana’s continual makeovers and varying costumes can be seen as representing drag, as can her power and anger. Her battles with her main villains, the majority of whom being women, are also incredibly sexual according to Peters. Diana’s bracelets must be tied in order for her to lose her powers and be subdued. Peters argues that this creates an explicit theme of queer sexual domination. Diana’s battle dialogue also contains queer overtones, as in one comic Cheetah specifically alludes to kissing Diana in order to subdue her and Poison Ivy refers to her as “Wonder-Babe”, and the battles themselves resemble boxing or sparring matches, which have their own overtones of homosexuality and desire. Peters also claims that Artemis’s downfall is in her masculinity. She is too masculine, and therefore to queer, to function properly in society, and thus is killed by virtue of her masculine traits, i.e. impulsiveness.

Ethan Childress:

Nelson, Adie. “Halloween Costumes and Gender Markers.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 2, 2000, pp. 137–144.

In her journal article “Halloween Costumes and Gender Markers”, Adie Nelson of the University of Waterloo argues that the costumes worn by young children on Halloween reinforce traditional gender roles between males and females. She argues that our modern Halloween uses costumes to categorize young men and women into roles in our society, including gendered superheroes and villains. Nelson argues that as babies, boys and girls are put in traditional baby clothes, normally frilly and ladylike garments for females and sport or superhero themed baby wear for boys. She speculates that Halloween costumes continue to reflect this gendered nature of dress later in the child’s life. To support this argument, Nelson conducted a study using 469 children costumes that were available in her local costume stores around Halloween. These costumes were analyzed based on the gender of the costume wearer on the cover of the product, which Nelson argues is a gatekeeping device for the products purchase that restricts members of the opposite sex purchasing it. The pictures for boy costumes were found to normally show a boy wearing running shoes and with a traditional boyish haircut, short on the sides and top, regardless of the nature of the costume. Girls were depicted with long hair and wearing traditionally feminine clothes like stockings and bows. Other characteristics that were used to categorize the costumes included the colors associated with the costume and the nature and theme of the costume. From these characteristics, the costumes were separated into boy and girl categories. One more group was included in the categorization, the costumes that fell neither in the feminine or masculine side, such as gender-neutral animals and inanimate objects. After the initial separation took place, the costumes were separated into hero, villain and fool categories within each of the existing 3. The hero’s subcategory consisted of those with superpowers, such as Superman and Xena the Warrior Princess, another was traditional male and females heroes such as Robin Hood and Cinderella and the final subcategory was heroes that fell along gender roles, such as Doctors and a Team USA Cheerleader. Nelson argues that these costumes are meant to show positive role models for young children, but they are extremely gendered. Villains constitute the other side of the hero in costumes, they are meant to show their evil so that they can be hated by others. Subgroups include symbolic representations of death, monsters such as werewolves and vampires, and anti-heroes such as pirates and Catwoman. The last category in the broader sections of male and female costumes are the fool costumes, typically clowns and the other “gag gift” costumes like pizza and shampoo. When all data was gathered, it was found that of the male costumes 41% were heroes 31.8% were villains and 27.2 were fools. Of the female costumes 44.6% were heroes, 18.4 percent were villains and 36.9 percent were fools. In both male and female groups, the hero category made up most of the costumes. However, Nelson found that while the male costumes frequently depicted Superheros and those with supernatural powers, girl costumes of heroes fell into the subcategory of social heroes, such as the beautiful bride and pretty waitress. Nelson speculates that the lack of female superhero costumes exists because of the lack of female representation in comic books, further stating that when females are depicted, they exist as a man’s sidekick or love interest. Furthering this argument, boy villain costumes are seen to depict boys as actual villains from comic books, pirates or scary monsters, while girl costumes played on their sexuality, seen in such costumes as a sexy sorceress or witches, devoid of the gore and fake blood found in boy villain costumes. The effect of the under representation of females in comic books is shown to have a real life effect on the gendered costumes children wear on Halloween, forcing women further into the identity of the life givers and the pretty and calm people society has come to expect them to fulfill.

George Daskalakis:

Bauer, Matthew, et al. “Positive and Negative Themes Found in Superhero Films.” Clinical Pediatrics, vol. 56, no. 14, SAGE Publications, Dec. 2017, pp. 1293–300. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0009922816682744

This journal article written by Matthew Bauer for the scholarly journal Clinical Pediatrics investigates the messages that superhero movies portray, and more specifically lessons that the younger audience is taking away from the films. Bauer analyzes 30 films ranging from family films with G and PG ratings, and blockbuster films with PG 13 ratings. Notable movies from the family films include Superman (1978), The Incredibles (2004), and Big Hero 6 (2014). More well-known movies were included in the blockbuster section, like Spiderman 2 (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Avengers (2012). In these 30 films, he studied the positive message that the superhero is conveying to the audience, and the negative morals that the villain or in some instances the hero delivers. After a close synthesis of the films, Bauer came to the conclusion that the most common positive theme was “helping others and positive relationships” and the most common negative theme was “fighting/violence and the use of weapons.” Bauer then discusses the impact these morals can have on children, the primary audience for most superhero films. He argues that the positive themes like helping others allows children to foster relationships with other children and teaches them how to be a good person. He also emphasizes, however, that children are just as likely to adapt the negative themes of the films just as much as the positive ones. He argues this because in many instances the heroes resort to violence in order to achieve their goals, and reciprocate the violence of the villain they are opposed with. He concludes with a discussion on how even though the most popular theme of helping others is beneficial to children, there should be a wider variety of themes including taking responsibility for your actions and empowering female characters. I think the most important aspect of Bauer’s investigation was how even though all superhero movies promote good morals to children, they still all include violence. I find this extremely interesting because as we discussed in class, the primary audience for comic books and superhero movies is the adolescent boy. The adolescent boy tends to be very violent and can be influence to be even more violent if they see Batman beating up the Joker or Superman hurling General Zod through a skyscraper. Also, this paradox of good morals versus violence in all superhero movies is very interesting from a viewer standpoint because the viewer is never questioning the morals of the hero, even if he or she is being violent.

Brad Stephenson:

Johnson, Jeffrey. “The Countryside Triumphant: Jefferson’s Ideal of Rural Superiority in Modern Superhero Mythology.” Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 43, issue 4, Popular Culture Association, 2010, pp. 720-737. Wiley Online Library, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2010.00767.x

In “The Countryside Triumphant,” Jeffrey Johnson argues that Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs about rural settings being superior to urban lifestyles is seen in superhero comics, such as Batman and Superman. Jefferson believes rural citizens are superior to their urban counterparts. He claims that farmers and rural folk focus on morals while urban citizens are corrupt. Jefferson believes that the United States has a responsibility to be a rural country because it has vast amounts of land while European nations are cramped and forced to be urban societies. Johnson explains that there is a common misconception that comics applaud the urban lifestyle, but, in reality, comic books compliment the rural way of living just as Jefferson does. Cities in comics emphasize the negative factors of real-life cities, and superheroes address these issues with their heroic powers. Johnson chooses Batman and Superman as examples of comics upholding Jefferson’s beliefs because they have the longest lasting impact on American culture. Batman and Superman are some of the first modern superheroes ever created and have been consistently popular among Americans since their conception. Another reason Johnson chooses Batman and Superman is because their comics portray the feelings of Americans during the time period they were created. Batman and Superman comics can give readers a historical and cultural context of the time period when they were created because of their popularity. Because many people connected with Batman and Superman, the values of the audience during that time are seen in the dialogue and artwork. Finally, Batman and Superman are clear examples of how Jefferson’s ideals appear in comics. Johnson argues that these two comics in particular highlight the rural supremacy of morals and lifestyles Jefferson believes in. Johnson goes into detail about each superhero, including how Jefferson’s views exist in the origin stories of both Batman and Superman. Superman is born on Krypton, which is destroyed by so-called environmental factors. The planet creates highly advanced technology, which leads to its downfall. Johnson compares how the technological advancements seen on Krypton can relate to the corrupt cities that Jefferson describes. The downfall of an entire civilization and planet is due to the advancement of technology, which upholds Jefferson’s view of cities being negative to society. Superman is then placed in an evacuation pod and sent to earth. Johnson focuses specifically on the place in which he lands: rural Kansas. Johnson finds significance in where Superman lands because due to the location of the landing, a family with rural morals and lifestyles discovers and raises him. Superman decided to aid people in need because he is raised in a rural setting, which teaches him how to treat others. Batman has a contrasting origin story, but rural supremacy is still seen throughout. Batman grows up in a city, but on the outskirts where he is not corrupted by the urban setting. Bruce Wayne still interacts with the corrupt people of the city, but he does not become evil himself because of his family’s morals. While in the city, Wayne’s parents are murdered by a robber who resides in the city. Bruce discovers the corruption Jefferson describes through the murder of his parents and decides to avenge them because of the city itself. Johnson argues that Batman is a darker superhero because of his proximity to the city and the effect that the corrupt people have on his family life. Bruce Wayne creates his superhero persona in reaction to the corruption of cities, while Superman fights crime because of the positive morals that he inherits from his rural family.

Jack Rawlins:

Fitzgerald, Barry W. “Using Superheroes such as Hawkeye, Wonder Woman, and the Invisible Woman in the Physics Classroom.” Physics Education, vol. 53, no. 3, 2018. IOPscience, http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1361-6552/aab442/meta.

Barry W Fitzgerald is a research scientist at Delft University of Technology. In this paper, which appears in Physics Education, Fitzgerald takes specific examples from superhero films and comics, and applies the world of physics to them in order to discover how realistic they really are. He has written a good deal of other material relating science and physics to the world of superheroes, and his expertise shines through in this particular work.

In the introduction, Fitzgerald takes a slight spin on this topic of science and superheroes and discusses the potential for applying the popularity of superheroes and superhero films in the classroom. He argues that superheroes can help to emphasize how the laws of physics are not only applicable and important in their fictional worlds, but in our world too. In general, he makes it clear that a lot of good could come from integrating the popularity of superheroes into the curriculum of science courses.

Fitzgerald’s paper is broken up into three distinct sections, which each include an example of a physics subject from the world of superheroes. The first example is the application of linear motion to Hawkeye, which is rather fitting as the extent of his abilities relies solely on this area of physics (sorry Hawkeye). The example he uses is from The Avengers (2012), when Hawkeye fires an explosive trick arrow at Loki. Fitzgerald goes on to examine the actual physics of this (mostly CGI) scene from the film and does so with various possible values for the speed of Loki, and the distance between Loki and Hawkeye at the moment that Loki catches the arrow. For someone who isn’t enthusiastic about physics, the figure and equations given may be a touch daunting, but with a slow and careful examination of them, anyone can take something away from this example, even if it’s merely being impressed with Hawkeye’s archery skills.

The second example is of Wonder Woman and the bulletproof nature of her gauntlets and shield. Fitzgerald again examines the film adaptation, Wonder Woman (2017). The physics topic under question in this section of the paper is energy, or more specifically, the conservation of mechanical energy, as well as momentum. Fitzgerald discusses the physics of the entire process of a gun being fired, and even tackles the possible structure of her gauntlets. This section also may seem intimidating, but Fitzgerald again manages to make it easy to understand.

The third and final section delves into the physics of the Invisible Woman, and how optics could potentially lead to the creation of true invisibility cloaking technology. This is by far the most challenging example to understand, as optics on a microscopic level can be rather confusing. Nonetheless, it is still interesting to read about the physics of invisibility, and exciting to hear about the possibility of it in the future.

Fitzgerald takes his expansive knowledge on physics and his clear interest in superheroes to create a paper that is engaging and enjoyable. This paper seems to require at least a touch of interest in physics in order to read it, but even without that, the common superhero fan could surely take something interesting from Fitzgerald’s work.

Alexa Donsbach:

Fishwick, Elaine, and Heusen Mak. “Fighting Crime, Battling Injustice: The World of Real-Life Superheroes.” Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal, vol. 11, no. 3, 2015, pp. 335-356., doi: 10.1177/1741659015596110.

 This article is a scholarly source about the lives of thirteen “Real-Life” superheroes. These people from all around the world have devoted their lives to fighting crime, providing support for their communities, and battling injustice. It explores the ‘carnival of crime’ by arguing that risk, pleasure, excitement, and transgression are traits of both ‘doing good’ and ‘wrongdoing’. The interviewees are not what you would typically expect to be real life superheroes. For example, one is a former prostitute who calls herself Street Hero. She uses martial arts to protect women working on the streets since prostitutes are often times in dangerous situations. Her disguise is a black eye mask, a black busier, and black knee-high boots. Another real life superhero is a man from Brooklyn called Direction Man. He helps lost tourists and locals. His disguise is a bright orange, vest, a pair of thick black goggles, and lots of maps within his pockets. Another example is Red Justice who works as a substitute teacher from Woodside, Queens. Her disguise is red boxers over jeans, a red cape created from an old T-shirt, and a sock with eyeholes worn over her face. She encourages young people on the subway to give their seats to those who need them more. All the individuals interviewed call themselves real life superheroes, but I think this source is important and helpful to the Superhero Syllabus because it would be interesting to debate which of the individuals involved count as Real Life Superheroes. I would wonder if the class would decide to define Real Life Superheroes in a similar way they defined Superheroes in general or whether the female superheroes and the real life superheroes would have similar trends or if people felt that on the screen females were portrayed in a less appropriate way. I think that the fact that these individuals do not have extra-terrestrial traits might be something that deters people from counting them as superheroes but the fact that they dress in disguises and dedicate their lives to helping people might make others feel differently. In discussions, people can refer back to articles from other units about what defines superheroes.

Amanda Pinckney:

Mottram, James. “Where modern politics has failed, superheroes have risen.” The National, The National, 14 July 2016, http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/where-modern-politics-has-failed-superheroes-have-risen-1.167475.

“Where modern politics has failed, superheroes have risen,” written by James Mottram, presents a subjective argument concerning the political climate in superhero films and in the real world today. Mottram begins the article with the declaration of the superhero genre as one of the most widespread genres in the large-scale entertainment industry during the twenty-first century. The article centers around the claim that current superhero movies depict the convoluted political climate in modern-day America that needs to be addressed, however, these issues are not being addressed, according to Mottram. In the movies Captain America: Civil War and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the heroes are controversial in some ways; they blatantly act against their government by committing crimes and engaging in civil disorder. These plot devices brought into question government’s “legitimate use of force” and the “very integrity of government institutions.” Another example of political controversy presented in Captain America: Civil War is when the Avengers engage in Nigerian affairs. Mottram reasons these matters presented could be argued over just as easily in the United Nations. He then proclaims that though all countries are responsible for discussing the issue of involvement in foreign affairs, the United States has even more of a responsibility and because our government neglects such matters, it is up to movies to bring about these political discussions. Some plot devices in Iron Man 2 challenge US policy and authority, which Mottram argues should be happening in real life too. Mottram then goes onto compare Batman: The Dark Knight Rises with the then presidential candidate, Donald Trump. For example, Trump is an outsider in terms of the political system and is seeking to bring justice to the people of his society, just like Batman. Mottram argues that most recent superhero films are directly correlated with the political climate of this time period and that superhero movies intentionally reflect the controversies in society. The absence of political dramas in Hollywood is what caused filmmakers to inject political ideas and philosophies into the superhero genre, beginning with Marvel’s Black Panther during the 1960s’ Civil Rights Movement. Though Christopher Nolan rejects the theory that he framed The Dark Knight Rises as political, Mottram believes it is obvious that the movie is politically driven; he believes that the plot mirrors the Occupy Wall Street Movement and that the movie supports a specific type of government. Mottram concludes his argument with the claim that the American government has failed us in protecting the public’s beliefs and ideals, causing the public to look to superheroes as the ones who defend our views.

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