Posted by: Doc Comics | June 5, 2017

Superhero Myths in the Age of Trump

There is little doubt that Superhero films are the dominant Hollywood genre, a zeitgeist that shows few signs of slowing. But what can we learn from these films about current political divisions and American ideological struggles? Quite a bit, it turns out.


DC Comics “Trinity” usher in a darker American exceptionalism.

  1. American Superheroes are fighting with each other as much as they are battling any supervillain… and its an Apocalyptic war of values.  Not surprising to those following the 2016 American Presidential election, there is a genuine divide over the guiding principles of our national character. Indeed, this internal struggle has been central to comic book storylines for the better part of two decades since even before 9/11. In many ways, the American return to superhero myths born from wartime struggles of an emerging world superpower is also a quest to negotiate tensions between conflicting American values. Some have gone so far as to claim that “America’s need for superheroes has led to the rise of Donald Trump.” Even HBO comedian Bill Maher seems to agree. American Superheroes, in fact, were explicitly designed to wrestle with ethical dilemmas from conflicting social values… and whether the ends can ever justify the means when unintended consequences are all but inevitable.

To some the superhero we need, for others the supervillain we do not deserve…

2. Capitalist Globalization and religious extremism posit an existential “clash of civilizations” amidst a new “Wild West” lawlessness.  It is hardly a new observation that American superheroes are a continuation of the American Western Myth, but this iteration carries global stakes for outlaw vigilantism. This Myth of the American Superhero can teeter between urges towards fascistic control and democratic team-building, a central element to more introspective storytelling. Yet it is important to note that these “darker” post-9/11 contexts justify more wartime violence & extremist vigilantism… and these commodified Capitalist Superheroes are hardly ideologically disinterested. These Capitalist Superheroes have always been political, but now they’re becoming politicizedBigly.


3. Whatever happened to the “No Kill Code”… or are these cinematic SuperKillers terrorists themselves?? True, the “No Kill Code” is a comic book convention but perhaps it matters if superheroes are to be a Utopian hope in a better future rather than a cynical response to some irredeemably corrupt perceived present. At some point, distinctions between the moral crusades of vigilante terrorists begin to blur meaningful distinctions between superhero and supervillain. Numerous films have picked-up on this theme, even as US citizens turn on one another. To paraphrase Nietzsche‘s infamous warning to would-be Übermensch, when fighting monsters, we must take great care to not become monsters ourselves.


4. Hope for future Peace? If one of the genre conventions for superheroes is a “happily ever after” victory over villainous forces, then its transformation into a perpetual franchise machine during a political context of some “endless war on terror” is profoundly disturbing. Perhaps challenges to the hyperaggressive White Male Savior trope by more diverse narratives offers some hope, but cooptation and problematic representation are inevitable. Wonder Woman has recently sparked hope in new narrative possibilities, but not all feminists or Gender Theorists are satisfied with the results amidst sexist backlash. So too did LOGAN become “upsettingly real in the era of Trump” even as it received critical acclaim.


5. Comic Books are still more Progressive. The comics still prove far more diverse than other media interpretations (so far anyway), so therein we may find some room to celebrate the superhero zeitgeist, as it opens up opportunities for other comics storytelling to perhaps innovate mainstream cinema. If Hollywood learns the right lessons, that is… and we hope they are.


Is the new Wonder Woman movie a subversive Feminist ‘win’ or a pseudoFeminist ‘fail’? And is she Queer enough as the superheroine continues to evolve?


  1. Jill Lepore, Harvard Professor of History and author of “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” writes:
    “The new ‘Wonder Woman’ is set in an extravagantly staged and costumed 1918, driven by an uninteresting plot about the Kaiser and chemical weapons; the film renders invisible—erases—the fights women waged a century ago for representation, contraception, and equality. The real women who fought them called themselves Amazons, figures from myth, because, not knowing much about the history of women, they had to imagine ancestors. Wonder Woman is their daughter. They made her out of clay. She owes them a debt that this movie does not pay.”

  2. BOOK REVIEW: “In “The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen,” however, the archivist and author Hope Nicholson provides a much-needed overview of the nearly nine decades in which women have steadily been a part of comics history as characters, writers, artists and critics, as well as their impact on the medium.”

  3. “For too much of her history, Wonder Woman’s body has been modified to keep her from being powerful, physically and politically. Yet, for many, Wonder Woman endures as a feminist icon. For others, these contradictory characterizations of Wonder Woman are enough reason to dismiss her outright. However, these conflicting and seemingly incompatible versions of Wonder Woman are arguably what make her an exceptional character.”

  4. “Superheroes And The F-Word:
    Grappling With The Ugly Truth Under The Capes” from NPR…

    Superheroes are fascist ideals?

  5. ‘Wonder Woman’ is having a great impact for big-screen diversity, but it’s not the end of the story.

  6. Zoë Heller on Wonder Woman: “The imperative to eradicate any hint of bossiness or anger from her character weighs heavily on the film, threatening to turn it into one long, dispiriting exercise in allaying male fears about powerful women.”

  7. Never saw the movies, but still fascism.

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