Posted by: Doc Comics | July 24, 2010

Week 3: Superheroes and Führer-democracy

Well-meaning fascist in Superman TAS “Brave New Metropolis” (1997)

“If the superhero was at least partially conceived as a bulwark against European fascism, it must still be acknowledged that the genre’s idealized foundations are sometimes uncomfortably similar to those of Nazism. …By seeking to subvert and stymie the Axis menace, Jewish kids chose to create strikingly Aryan models of the physical ideal…” (“The Superhero in an Age of Genocide.”)

This week we’ll be reading Lawrence & Jewett’s Myth of the American Superhero, which explores these secular messiahs as a disturbingly anti-democratic mythos that celebrates “redemptive violence” and proto-fascistic values that have promoted a post-9/11 American Exceptionalism.  Their critique of this ‘monomyth’ echoes many themes raised by Dr. Fredrick Wertham about the Übermensch politics of Superman, which are also explored in “Elseworlds” stories like this week’s comics selections, Kingdom Come and Red Son.  These works will continue to challenge how we think about superhero dystopias, the values animating superpowered vigilantism, and the hubris of superheroic crusades.  But if you want a quick glance at how ‘class’ gets depicted in superhero comics, look no further than the union-busting Iron Man!

HEIDI REDEEMERS & SUPERHEROINES: As we shall see, Superheroine Feminism in comic books owes a huge debt to Wonder Woman and her very ambitious origins (and development), but gender inequities continue to persist.




    1) What is the “monomyth” of the American Superhero and how does it differ and depart from the “classical monomyth” (Campbell’s Hero Quest)?

    2) What variants of the Superhero monomyth do L&J identify? Others discussed in class? How does the “Heidi Redeemer” differ from the “Superhero Crusader”?

    3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of L&J’s critique? How is it similar to Dr. Wertham’s? What readings offer contradictory views?

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