Posted by: Doc Comics | February 17, 2010

The Myth of the American Superhero

“A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.”

As we begin Lawrence & Jewett’s examination of the “American Monomyth,” a few questions to guide your readings reflection journal and class discussion:


  1. How does the American Superhero Monomyth differ from Joseph Campbell’s Classical Hero Monomyth? With what subversive consequences??
  2. How does L&J expand categorization of superheroes (esp. compared to those of Reynolds and Coogan)? Is their argument and mythic script convincing?
  3. What religious and political aspects the American Superhero Monomyth do Jewett & Lawrence find troublesome? Do you find their case convincing that fascistic affinities lurks beneath superpowered violence that promises to be both transformative and redemptive?
  4. What contrasting mythos do L&J identify in the film Chicken Run? Why is it more consistent with a “democratic ethos“?
  5. As discussed in chap. 2, what two developments during the “Axial Decade” of Superman results in the archetypal completion of the Superhero Monomyth?
  6. According to Lawrence & Jewett (pp. 47-8), what is the mythic payoff and price of this new superheroic paradigm? What paradoxes does it betray as a mythic map for ethical action, as both pseudoreligious and secular morality, or democratic values?

KEY TERMS: Campbell’s “Classical Monomyth” vs. American Monomyth, Redemptive Violence, Technomythic Development, “The Werther Effect,” Heidi Redeemer vs. Superhero Crusader, Spectator Democracy

Book Review in The Humanist



  1. How films like The LEGO Movie are replacing destiny narratives with messages of scepticism and adaptability…

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