Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an idea.
Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better idea.
—Grant Morrison, Supergods
It seems the superhero is an idea whose time has come. Popular culture is saturated with men and women with extraordinary powers and glib one-liners, thanks primarily to Marvel’s cinematic domination of the box office. The 22nd film made by Marvel Studios—Avengers: Endgame (Anthony and Joe Russo, 2019)—bested James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) as the biggest movie of all time, reaping almost US$2.8 billion. Collecting comic books might remain a niche activity, but the superheroes born in their pages are everywhere. As critic Glen Weldon says, ‘The wall between nerd and normal is now a thin, permeable membrane through which ideas like Batman flow freely back and forth.’
This isn’t the first superhero boom. The first occurred barely after the superhero was born. The general consensus is that it took place in 1938 with Action Comics #1 and the first appearance of Superman. While there had been pulp heroes before him—Zorro, Doc Savage, The Shadow—Superman’s teenage creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, seemed to create something entirely new. Superman appears on the cover, effortlessly lifting a car overhead; in the bottom-left corner, there’s a man losing his mind at the sight of it. He wasn’t the only one. Superman scholar Ian Gordon describes the character as one that ‘by 1941 appeared in the monthly Action Comics and the bimonthly Superman comic book, a radio serial that aired three times a week, and a comic strip carried by 230 newspapers to a combined circulation of twenty-five million readers’. DC licensed the character to a toy company the year after he first appeared, already proving that Superman is as much a corporate brand as a superheroic character. Gordon adds, ‘Not only has Superman sold us an array of products from peanut butter to American Express cards, but these products have sold us Superman.’
Tim Burton’s blockbuster Batman (1989) made the bat symbol so ubiquitous that superhero writer and editor Paul Levitz said ‘it was virtually impossible to buy black T-shirts in America not emblazoned with the Bat-symbol’. The superhero logo is about more than easy branding opportunities. It’s a way of holding together all the various incarnations of a character. The gun-toting Batman of his earliest comic book appearances? The utterly and comedically sincere Batman of the 1960s TV show? The grim-and-gritty Batman of 1980s graphic novels? They’re all contained in that simple logo. One of the differences between superheroes and the various ‘mystery men’ who preceded them is that, according to comic book academic Peter Coogan’s definition, the superhero costume proclaims their identity; furthermore, ‘The chevron especially emphasizes the character’s code name and is itself a simplified statement of that identity.’ More succinctly, as cult comic book writer Grant Morrison puts it, ‘Superman was his own T-shirt.’
But why this contemporary resurgence? Academic Liam Burke boils down the main reasons to three, and we’ve already discussed the third: ‘Contemporary filmmaking paradigms that favor content with a preexisting fan base and an amenability to franchise.’ Superman’s radio show in the 1930s immediately proved this franchise potential, as did the onslaught of Batman branding in the 1980s. When Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4.24 billion in 2009, it added a constellation of superheroes to its overwhelming catalogue of beloved intellectual property. Variety went so far as to say that Disney doesn’t just own our childhood stories, it owns ‘all the mythologies’. It’s why I don’t need to explain who Batman is, or what Superman’s origin might be, or how Spider-Man’s powers work—you already know. You may not read their comics or watch their movies, but these narratives have seeped into general consciousness. According to Bradford W. Wright, Superman’s story is as ‘as familiar as any in the English language’.
Another reason for the current popularity of superheroes is that new technology allows spectacle from the comic page to be more easily re-created on screen. Superman: The Movie (Richard Donner, 1978) promised us that, thanks to cutting-edge effects, we’d ‘believe a man can fly’. It took a little longer for us to believe a man could swing from a web. As Spider-Man (2002) director Sam Raimi said of its hero, ‘I don’t think there’s ever been a time in history, up until now, that you really could have made this Spider-Man picture. CGI spectacle has its own Kryptonite, however. As superhero scholar Scott Bukatman writes in the provocatively titled ‘Why I Hate Superhero Movies’, digital imagery often produces ‘some vaguely rubberoid action figures harmlessly bouncing each other around the space’. It’s one thing for a superhero to defy gravity.
It’s another for them to become weightless, and too many of these films still have a third act that’s mostly pixels mashing together. This tendency was satirised in Spider-Man: Far from Home (Jon Watts, 2019), as the villain Mysterio’s illusions needed destructive drones behind them to add any kind of impact.
These industrial reasons for peak superhero, however, seem unsatisfying. Burke’s remaining reason for superhero prevalence feels the most intuitive, the most powerful: ‘Cultural traumas and the celebration of the hero following real-life events, in particular the 9/11 terrorist attacks.’ Many creators agree with this position; for example, Iron Man (2008) director Jon Favreau said 9/11 set the stage for the popularity of the movie. These characters require cultural trauma to justify their existence. Frank Miller, the man behind the iconic Dark Knight Returns comics from 1986, once said that Batman ‘works best in a society that’s gone to hell. That’s the only way he’s ever worked.’ Unless we need saving, superheroes are pointless. Luckily, then, we’re not exactly in danger of living in a risk-free utopia. This leaves superheroes free to embody what Ben Saunders poetically describes in his book Do the Gods Wear Capes? as ‘the wish that things were otherwise’.
You can see this desire in the reaction of superhero stories to the September 11 attacks. Media theorist Henry Jenkins writes that they brought superheroes ‘back to their core and renewed the themes and iconography of the Cultural Front for a new generation’. Further back, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 has been described as America’s traumatic origin story, its radioactive spider-bite, transforming the country into its own kind of ‘superhero’. Remember the famous image of Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw from Captain America #1? It was published before America entered the war. The comic’s creators weren’t just capturing the patriotic zeitgeist. They were attempting to move its needle. Despite Captain America’s blow, however, the real Hitler remained stubbornly difficult to defeat. DC Comics also struggled with this during Vietnam: ‘How was it that a being so powerful could not simply end the war?’ Instead Superman chose to leave the fight to US troops; this highlighted his faith in the capabilities of American men and women. Superheroes can’t end war. No matter how powerful they might be, real history—with real casualties—is more powerful.
In the aftermath of 9/11, then, super-heroes struggled to make sense of the attacks that also occurred in their fictionalised New York. (While DC is more famous for the New York-inspired Gotham and Metropolis, its universe has a New York City, too, just like Marvel.) A sombre, black-covered issue of Amazing Spider-Man had superheroes gathering, shocked, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks; it was mocked for depicting even the villainous Doctor Doom weeping over the dead. Other stories had super-heroes pointing out that the heroes of 9/11 were the all-too-human first responders. ‘Next to policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses, and selfless civilians,’ writes Morrison, ‘the superheroes were silly, impotent daydreams, and for a moment, they seemed to falter, aghast.’ Henry Jenkins wonders whether ‘Superman is more important than the average men and women who are accidental casualties of his power struggles, or whether everyday people have the power to solve their problems without turning to superheroes for help’. Marvel Comics even attempted a handful of titles featuring these heroic first responders under the title The Call of Duty (2002), but they didn’t last. For all the attempts to show superheroes in awe of ‘real heroes’, audiences wanted the former, not the latter.
When audiences received Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006), it showed deliberate visual echoes of 9/11. Now, however, Superman is there to help. He destroys falling debris with his heat vision and catches people plummeting from buildings. These echoes aren’t just there to borrow the power of real-life tragedy, they allow that tragedy to be prevented. In Superman Returns, 9/11’s famous ‘Falling Man’—the man who jumped from the towers to his death, as photographed by Richard Drew—can live. This made the fantasy of the following Superman movie, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), even more puzzling. Here Superman doesn’t symbolically prevent 9/11; his battle with General Zod symbolically causes it. Mark Waid, no stranger to writing Superman, said of the movie: ‘And then we got to The Battle of Metropolis, and I truly, genuinely started to feel nauseous at all the Disaster Porn.’ Henry Jenkins suggests superhero stories are often ‘consumed as comfort food’. What’s possibly comforting about this?
Do superheroes trivialise tragedy? Jenkins also quotes Time Magazine’s Andrew D. Arnold, saying, ‘These characters are arguably more corporate icons than meaningful characters—like seeing Ronald McDonald and the Keebler Elves giving succor to victims’ families.’ Realism and superheroes can be an uncomfortable combination. Yet there’s no doubt that superheroes, for all their escapist tendencies, are rife with real-world connections. While blockbuster movies are big and slow, monthly comic books, by comparison, are small and swift. This allows them to be more effective mirrors of current events. ‘Comic books are therefore a fantastically detailed, multi-faceted interpretation of contemporary life,’ writes Michael Goodrum. And while the good-versus-evil conflicts of superheroes may seem too clear-cut for any resonance in the real world, it’s also a fact that superhero stories ‘make morals their business’, according to Marc DiPaulo’s book War, Politics and Superheroes. Analysing the moral lessons they contain is just meeting them on their own terms. After all, what is Superman if not a ‘product by which we consume virtue’?
Looking through a moral lens can create a painful dissonance between fiction and reality. Marvel’s chairman and former CEO is Ike Perlmutter, a donor and adviser to the Trump administration. This has caused some to call for a Marvel boycott, with the long-running The Comics Journal asking, ‘Is going to the comic book store and picking up a new issue of Absolute Carnage worth this? Tuning into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D? Buying a Gwenpool hoodie? Purchasing a ticket to the next Avengers movie? And the next one? And the next one?’ This logic is supported by corporations in superhero stories themselves.
They are corrupt at best and evil at worst. Stark Industries only avoids this as it’s ‘a vision of corporate capitalism that’s highly individualistic’, according to Matthew J. Costello. It’s as much an extension of Tony Stark as his high-tech armour, and thereby not subject to the same logic of corporate malfeasance. A remarkable example of this logic comes from Ultimate Spider-Man #109 (2007). The Kingpin reveals that he now owns Spider-Man’s likeness, ensuring his criminal empire will make money every time Spidey performs a good deed. Are we doing the same by buying these comics and seeing these movies?
Superhero stories can be political Rorschach tests. For example, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy—Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)—was quickly claimed by the political right. Breitbart columnist John Nolte writes: ‘Christopher Nolan has created another super super-hero saga using the kind of conservative themes that most of artistically bankrupt Hollywood refuses to go near anymore.’ Meanwhile, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates said, ‘I think an attempt to look at the movie as a kind of right-wing manifesto has more to do with the season, than with anything that’s actually in the film.’ He adds, ‘Which is not to say that The Dark Knight Rises is a liberal film. It is to say that it’s just a film—which takes its inspirations wherever it can find them.’
These films borrow the symbols of the zeitgeist, whether it’s the War on Terror or Occupy Wall Street, but use them for power, not meaning. Take the surveillance plot at the end of The Dark Knight. Batman taps the phones of everyone in the city to find the Joker. Many on the right saw this as validating illegal surveillance during the War on Terror. But when this horrifies his ally Lucius Fox, who says no-one can be trusted with that power, Batman agrees. He gives Lucius the power to destroy the system. As DiPaulo argues, ‘the Joker fails to push Batman into becoming a full-fledged, permanent fascist or a technocrat. He just pushes Batman into briefly becoming a tyrant.’
‘To insist on Batman as one thing only,’ writes Will Brooker, ‘is to imprison and impoverish a rich, ridiculous, glorious mess of energies.’ Characters such as Batman have existed for so many decades, through so many comics, films, TV shows and other adventures, you can find a story to support almost any viewpoint you wish. Conversely, Tom De Haven writes: ‘Certain qualities of Superman are immutable. Change any of them, somehow they change back. Give him talents and powers, and inclinations, that aren’t, somehow, him, and one day they’re just … gone.’ This doesn’t just apply to his superpowers, it also defines his moral integrity.
For example, in ‘The Price’ (Superman #22, 1988) Superman executes three prisoners in a pocket universe, shedding a tear as he does so. These deaths haunt him at first, but are soon forgotten; written out of existence. Why? Because Superman doesn’t kill. Unless, of course, he does. In Snyder’s Man of Steel, Superman snaps General Zod’s neck in the film’s final battle. Mark Waid explained that he was ‘betrayed’ by the moment and had to be stopped from walking out of the cinema. Many fans felt the same way. Snyder’s response to their criticism is worth quoting in full:
Once you’ve lost your virginity to this fucking movie and then you come and say to me something like ‘my superhero wouldn’t do that’. I’m like ‘Are you serious?’ I’m like down the fucking road on that. It’s a cool point of view to be like ‘my heroes are still innocent. My heroes didn’t fucking lie to America. My heroes didn’t embezzle money from their corporations. My heroes didn’t commit any atrocities.’ That’s cool. But you’re living in a fucking dream world.
It’s a world in which beings from space fly unaided, bounce bullets off their chests and shoot lasers from their eyes—but the thing that makes it a ‘fucking dream world’ is that the characters are ‘innocent’. Snyder here conflates killing with realism, as did many of those creating superhero comics after Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It inspired a ‘dark and gritty’ tradition in superhero stories, described by Danny Fingeroth as featuring ‘protagonists [who] clench their teeth and kill people’. This era sees inherently good heroes as old fashioned, out of date. In an attempt to correct this perception, DC eventually published the Superman story ‘What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?’ (Action Comics #775, 2001). Here Superman faces off against a new team of violent superheroes and, of course, wins—but the mere fact that the question was asked suggests a battle somewhat lost. Years earlier, Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly had pointedly suggested, in their mind-bending series Flex Mentallo (1996), that ‘only a bitter adolescent boy could confuse realism and pessimism’.
What do we want from our super-heroes? Crusaders for justice with unwavering morality? Vigilantes out for revenge with razor-sharp claws and deadpan one-liners? Some strange combination of the two? There’s one thing that superhero stories can agree on: the need for action. They turn everything to spectacle, whether it be a regular fistfight, a crisis of faith, or a multiple personality disorder. (The Hulk has been regularly depicted battling Bruce Banner in their shared psychic space, after all.) Action doesn’t always mean violence—saving a falling plane still counts as spectacle—but it usually does. Superhero stories rarely find problems that can’t be solved with a solid left hook.
It’s the superhero paradox: ‘Utopianism can only be defended through the anti-democratic means of vigilantism and authoritarian violence,’ according to Chris Gavaler’s essay on fascism and super-heroes. In his review of The Dark Knight Rises, Andrew O’Hehir says it’s ‘simply a fact’ that ‘the “Dark Knight” universe is fascistic’: it’s ‘a vision of human history understood as a struggle between superior individual wills, a tale of symbolic heroism and sacrifice set against the hopeless corruption of society’. Even when superheroes openly fight for liberalism, such as Captain America after 9/11, the comics use imagery described as a ‘fascistic display of American national symbols’.
Let’s turn this lens on Marvel’s Cinematic Universe—all 23 films and counting—and its foremost hero: Tony Stark, the invincible Iron Man. His story begins with him working as a weapons manufacturer. He stands proudly in the desert as his life’s work detonates behind him. Marvel’s Stan Lee is on record as stating the creation of Tony Stark was a kind of writing challenge. Could they make audiences care about an (at first) unrepentant arms dealer? He develops a conscience after being held hostage by terrorists and creating the first, clunky suit of Iron Man armour. Once significantly improved, Stark chooses to keep its technology to himself—against the objections of the US military. Why? This is a weapons system that automatically divides potential targets into innocents and villains. Surely that would be of use to the men and women of the armed forces? However, the superhero story is one of absolute individualism. This is the case even when a narrative strives to say otherwise. Captain Marvel—a movie whose pilot protagonist was used to advertise the real-world Air Force—was a film about the military inevitably proving itself to be untrustworthy. In it, Carol Danvers learns her commanders have been lying to her all along, and decides to become her own brand of superhero. Admittedly, Carol does change the colours of her costume to red, white, and blue, symbolically pledging herself to American ideals—but it remains symbolic, as she does not then sign up for military service.
Meanwhile, despite a mistrust of military motivations, superheroes have become more like supersoldiers since 9/11. The costumes, originally inspired by circus strongmen and acrobats, are now more akin to uniforms. The Avengers even had two separate ‘captains’ on the team at once. And secret identities, once a lynchpin of the superhero story, have almost entirely vanished. Everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man; his first film played with the expectation of a secret identity by having Stark unexpectedly blurt out the truth at a press conference. Soldiers might have code names, but they’re no longer alter egos. In Avengers: Endgame, even The Hulk’s two sides—one of the most famous split personalities in popular culture—are merged into one. Richard Reynolds lists a secret identity as one of the defining characteristics of the superhero, calling it a ‘structural need’. If it was once a structural need, the Marvel Cinematic Universe proves this is no longer true. Spider-Man seemed to be the last character concerned with keeping a secret identity in these movies, and the final scene of Spider-Man Far From Home has Peter Parker’s secret broadcast to the world.
Are secret identities just too ridiculous to survive in blockbuster cinema? One need only remember Christian Bale’s Cookie Monster-esque Bat-voice in Batman Begins to see its pitfalls. The loss of secret identities, however, strips superhero stories of potent subtext. In his book Disguised as Clark Kent, Danny Fingeroth highlights the secret identity’s reflections of aspects of Jewish assimilation. Superman’s creators wanted him to possess the ‘best of the Good Immigrant qualities’. He riffs: ‘We’ve invented the most powerful man in the history of the world—and he still insists on having a job at the Daily Planet.’ Remember when Superman would playfully wink at the camera? Ian Gordon describes this as a hallmark of the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV show. The wink implied a shared secret, and that you—not Lois Lane or Commissioner Gordon, but you—were trusted to keep it. Fingeroth says the appeal of the secret identity is primal: ‘Don’t underestimate me. I may not be who you think I am.’
That appeal has vanished. Superhero comics often have hypervisibility: they bestow a kind of X-ray vision on the reader, allowing them to see the heroic persona under everyday clothes. Marvel movies invert that logic by showing us the famous faces underneath the masks. Iron Man’s cinematic costume is specifically designed to allow us to see inside to watch Robert Downey Jr. emote. What’s the point of paying an actor a fortune and then hiding them? When Steve Rogers says to Tony Stark in Avengers, ‘Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off and what are you?’ Stark replies, ‘Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.’ He might as well have added ‘movie star’. We’re a long way from everyman heroes—even before we discuss the Thunder God in the room. Movies such as Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019) feature almost no regular humans. Not even as props, existing solely to be saved. It’s just heroes and villains, pounding each other, fighting battles that civilians could never comprehend. Richard Reynolds faulted this tendency in comic books, pointing out that once the contrast between superhero and the average man or woman is lost, ‘the sense of wonder [is] blunted by showing nothing but superpowered characters slugging it out with each other’.
And yet the Marvel Cinematic Universe does have something the Marvel Universe of the comics does not, and that’s human actors. Tony Stark is Iron Man, but he’s also Robert Downey Jr: a man with a limited contract and a face that grows older through time. Pencil-and-ink superheroes, in contrast, can remain in stasis, decade after decade. (It’s sometimes said that Batman is the most believable superhero because he has no powers—but what about his apparent immortality?) As Burke notes, ‘many comic narratives rest on the precipice between the second and third acts, able to look over but never commit to the closure therein, for it would signal the end of the hero’. In his famous essay ‘The Myth of Superman’, Umberto Eco writes about the timeless haze of superhero comics in which events don’t accrue and each adventure exists without a past or future. But real actors force real endings, as seen in Avengers: Endgame and its death of Tony Stark and retirement of Steve Rogers. The actors are free; the characters are gone. There is a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. This makes superheroes more mortal than ever.
The superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, therefore, aren’t as averse to killing as their comic book counterparts. Even Spider-Man—the loveable teenager Peter Parker—has a suit with an ‘instant kill mode’ he can activate during the final fight of Avengers: Endgame. It makes sense when you remember that soldiers kill, superheroes don’t. Taken to an extreme, this leads to some unconvincing real-world parallels. Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern, is a fighter pilot who refuses to take a life in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier (2004). A recent alternative history series, Spider-Man: A Life Story (2019), shows Captain America branded a traitor in Vietnam for refusing to take a side, choosing instead to save lives on both. In the book Batman and Philosophy, Mark D. White and Robert Arp discuss various scenarios in which Batman is given the opportunity to kill the Joker, and try to decide whether it would ever be the morally correct action. It’s the parenthetical at the end of this discussion that’s the most enlightening: ‘Knowing Batman, though, I imagine he would still find another way.’ This ability—to always find ‘another way’ and avoid killing—is precisely what makes these heroes into superheroes.
A cynic might say that this reluctance to kill is only driven by economics: Batman can’t kill the Joker when the Joker must continue to sell comic books for decades to come. But as Weldon states: ‘[Batman’s] refusal to kill his enemies isn’t simply a vestigial remnant of his roots as a children’s character. It’s a deliberate storytelling choice: it would be easy to mow down a roomful of bad guys with an uzi.’ It takes narrative imagination to find ways not to kill. And it’s led to some of the most powerful moments in superhero comics; sometimes even in bootleg comics not approved by DC or Marvel. In the ‘autobiographical fan comic’ Something Terrible by Dean Trippe (2016), an abused young boy worries that, in turn, he will become an abuser. He imagines a gun to his head held by a ghostly third arm; it follows him everywhere. But his childhood hero, Batman, finally appears to save him. Batman wrests the weapon away, simply saying: ‘No guns.’ Batman’s strict moral code—as childlike as it might seem—here saves a real-world life. Grant Morrison sums this up best, writing, ‘There was no problem Superman could not solve or overcome. He could not lose. He would never let us down because we made him that way.’
In Avengers: Endgame, we witness the final moments of Tony Stark. Confronted by an alien army, he decides to wield the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet, knowing that it will cost him his life. With a final ‘I am Iron Man’, he snaps his fingers—and he could’ve done anything with this snap. Anything at all. Sent the invaders home, or turned them all into brightly coloured butterflies, or forced them to see the error of their ways. Instead, Stark simply kills them all, turning them to dust. The Marvel Cinematic Universe killed Tony Stark but they gave him a curiously circular journey: from an unlikeable weapons manufacturer to a superhero who just creates another bomb. It’s a final failure of imagination.
DiPaolo writes that ‘if any popular art has the potential to change public opinion for the better, especially now, it is the superhero story at the height of its popularity’. Whatever lessons these stories teach us—whether might makes right, or never give up, or a lone individual can save the world—they show no sign of faltering. There are more superheroes than ever on screens big and small. Perhaps that’s why secret identities are no longer required. Audiences aren’t embarrassed by superhero fandom anymore. Their passion for these heroes, these stories, no longer needs to be disguised underneath their civilian outfits. Now that what was once subcultural has become utterly mainstream, what is there to hide? •
Martyn Pedler is a PhD candidate at Swinburne University, writing about superhero stories. He’s the screenwriter of the independent movie EXIT and has several screenplays in development in the United States.
 Glen Weldon, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017, p. 284.
 Ian Gordon, Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon, Rutgers University Press, 2017, p. 4.
 Gordon, Superman, p. 13.
 Paul Levitz, ‘Man, Myth and Cultural Icon’, in Many More Lives of the Batman, Roberta Pearson, William Uricchio and Will Brooker (eds), British Film Institute, London, 2015, p. 19.
 Peter Coogan, ‘The Definition of the Superhero’, in A Comic Studies Reader, Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester (eds), University Press of Mississippi, 2009, p. 79.
 Grant Morrison, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human, Spiegel & Grau, 2011, p. 15.
 Bradford W. Wright, Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, JHU Press, 2001, p. 1.
 Daniel Restuccio, ‘Sony Imageworks Creates Swinging Visuals’, Post Magazine, 1 June 2002, <http://www.postmagazine.com/Publications/Post-Magazine/2002/June-1-2002/Sony-Imageworks-creates-swinging-visuals.aspx>.
 Scott Bukatman, ‘Why I Hate Superhero Movies’, Cinema Journal, vol. 50, no. 3 (2011), p. 120.
 Marc DiPaolo, War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film, McFarland, 2014, p. 18.
 Ben Saunders, Do the Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes, A&C Black, 2011, p. 3.
 Henry Jenkins, ‘Captain America Sheds His Mighty Tears: Comics and September 11’, in Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11, Daniel J. Sherman and Terry Nardin (eds), Indiana University Press, 2006, p. 72.
 Michael Goodrum, Superheroes and American Self-Image: From War to Watergate, Routledge, 2017, p. 45.
 Ian Gordon, ‘The Moral World of Superman and the American War in Vietnam’, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, vol. 6, no. 2 (April 2015), pp. 2–3.
 Martyn Pedler, ‘The Tears of Doctor Doom: Superheroes Battling the Mainstream’, Overland, 2008, p. 38.
 Jenkins, ‘Captain America’, p. 45.
 Mark Waid, ‘Man of Steel, Since You Asked’, Thrillbent, accessed 21 October, 2019, <http://thrillbent.com/blog/man-of-steel-since-you-asked/>
 Jenkins, ‘Captain America,’ p. 79.
 Jenkins, ‘Captain America,’ p. 78.
 Goodrum, Superheroes, p. 4.
 Gordon, Superman, p. 17.
 R.J. Casey, ‘It Is Time to Boycott Marvel’, The Comics Journal, 14 August 2019, <http://www.tcj.com/it-is-time-to-boycott-marvel/>.
 Matthew J. Costello, Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America, A&C Black, 2009, p. 13.
 John Nolte, ‘Occupy Wall Street in Damage Control Mode Over “Dark Knight Rises”’, Breitbart, 19 July 2012, <https://www.breitbart.com/entertainment/2012/07/19/occupy-damage-control-dark-knight/>.
 Ta-Nehisi Coates, ‘No, “The Dark Knight Rises” Isn’t A Right-Wing Opus’, Atlantic, 30 July 2012, <https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/07/no-the-dark-knight-rises-isnt-a-right-wing-opus/260511/>.
 Tom De Haven, Our Hero: Superman on Earth, Yale University Press, 2010, pp. 195, 198.
 Waid, ‘Man of Steel, Since You Asked’.
 Chris Evangelista, ‘Zack Snyder to People Who Wonder Why His Batman Murders People: “Wake the F**k Up’, SlashFilm, 25 March, 2019, <https://www.slashfilm.com/zack-snyder-batman/>.
 Danny Fingeroth, Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society, Continuum, New York and London, 2004, p. 131.
 Andrew O’Hehir, ‘“The Dark Knight Rises”: Christopher Nolan’s Evil Masterpiece’, Salon.com, 19 July 2012, <https://www.salon.com/2012/07/18/the_dark_knight_rises_christopher_nolans_evil_
 Burke, The Comic Book Film Adaptation, p. 33.
 Liam Burke, ‘Introduction: “Everlasting” Symbols: Unmasking Superheroes and Their Shifting Symbolic Function’, in The Superhero Symbol: Media, Culture, and Politics, Liam Burke, Ian Gordon and Angela Ndalianis (eds), Rutgers University Press, 2019, p. 7.
 Richard Reynolds, Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1992, p. 13.
 Danny Fingeroth, Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero, p. 47.
 Gordon, Superman, p. 150.
 Fingeroth, Superman on the Couch, p. 60.
 Pedler, ‘The Fastest Man Alive’.
 Reynolds, Super Heroes, p. 13.
 Umberto Eco, ‘The Myth of Superman’, Diacritics, vol. 2, no. 1 (1972), p. 16.