Posted by: Doc Comics | February 22, 2010

Superhero Fascism?

The antidemocratic threat of Übermensch politics

“When fascism comes to America,” Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1935, “it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”  It’s also a claim that can be traced to Dr. Fredric Wertham‘s scathing 1940s critique of the superhero: these superpowered vigilantes are a thinly-veiled celebration of antidemocratic sentiments and fascist values.  Lawrence & Jewett put an updated twist on this harsh condemnation when they posit the Superhero Monomyth as a dominant trope in American entertainment and technomythic politics, one which perpetuates a messianic faith in political saviors and the Redemptive Violence of outlaw vigilante crusaders or feminized Heidi Redeemers.  As they develop their argument, a few questions for reflection:

  1. In “Lethal Patriots Break the Rhythm,” what modifications to the American Superhero Monomyth are identified as particularly corrosive? How does a corrupted community and sexual segmentation rationalize aggressive masculinity on behalf of a feminized public? What examples, fictional and factual, are offered as illustrations of Technomythic Development and “The Werther Effect”?
  2. In “STAR TREK‘s Humanistic Militarism,” what specific procedural problems of the narrative undermine the utopian egalitarianism of Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic vision? How does a militarized hierarchy encourage deferred democracy?
  3. What connections do you see between these critiques and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight? How does a dystopian scene create narrative demands for other Fantasy Themes of characters and action?
  4. What mythic paradoxes or narrative practices might complicate such a unilateral critique of Superhero stories? That is, what narrative elements prevent the charismatic superhero from becoming a fascistic leader? Are there instances wherein superheroes are decidedly anti-fascistic and democratic?

One way to think through this last question is to consider examples from one of the enduring comic book narrative tropes, the alternate reality doppelgänger.  One treatment was an episode in the Superman animated series, “Brave New Metropolis.”  Below is a clip from a Justice League episode “A Better World” and then there is the new DVD movie “Crisis on Two Earths.” What is the nature of ‘Evil’ and can evil result from a fanatical zeal to impose a singular vision of moral ‘good’?  We’ll pick up on some of these themes next week when we discuss Alan Moore’s revolutionary Watchmen.

The Justice Lords impose martial law for “A Better World.”



  1. And while we’re at it, don’t blame Nazi fascism on Nietzsche. Often maligned because it is misunderstood, Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Übermensch will be considered in the coming weeks.

  2. […] taking human life to achieve their ends.  (We all know the connection between superheroes and fascism.)  These guys get the job done, cos obviously the law itself and our own wussiness aren’t […]

  3. “Therefore, the superhero is in its meaning a profoundly anti-fascist symbol… The superhero is a ridiculous, heartfelt, colourful, two-dimensional shout that says that it’s tougher out here in real life than we were promised, that it’s dangerous and often inequitable too, and that there are times when it would be good to have a friend who’d help to even the balance between the individual and the powers-that-be. In that sense, the superhero is a worthwhile and understandable symbol to the reader of how the powers-that-be aren’t always quite what they promised they would be. But in the language of symbols, that doesn’t mean that the superhero by its existence suggests that democracy should be replaced by fascism, because its a love of democracy that motivates our disappointment and the superheroes existence in the first place.”


  5. “A Better World” maybe here:

  6. A recent debate, and a great retort: Stop calling Superheroes fascists!

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