Making the (Super) Man: The Moral Code in Superhero Comics




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation examines the role of superheroes in promoting social virtues in the readership. As part of the larger tradition of heroic adventure fiction, comic book superheroes serve as ideals of both a contemporary social ethos and a more timeless vision of masculine virtue. Jumping off from the more chronologically-oriented studies of Bradford Wright, Peter Coogan, and Grant Morrison, this work engages in case studies of several costumed vigilantes, analyzing them both as exemplars of the grander heroic ideal and as representatives of specific social concerns. In so doing, the thesis investigates the virtues being taught to readers and the manner in which such ideals are transmitted. In particular, these virtues center on the role of the reader in relation to the fantastic hero, offering a vision of subordinate, if not necessarily ersatz, manliness and power that is more performable in the real world, suggesting that character, an imitable feature for readers, is the central feature of a hero. Heroes from the Antediluvian Age to the Silver Age promise readers the potential for power if they only emulate the heroes of these narratives, while starting in the Bronze Age the rosters of heroism are noticeably broadened beyond the straight white males that previously dominated the field. This study focuses on how these modern myths and icons of heroic ideology are portrayed to invite all to perform a heroism and Manliness as a form of virtue.



Comic books, strips, etc., Superheroes, Masculinity, Ethics