Travis Smith, a political science professor at Concordia University, has published a new book which examines the ethics of superheroes and determines which is best to save America from a downward spiral of “incivility.” Called Superhero Ethics, the book is published by Templeton Press, the publishing arm of the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to promoting fundamentalist Christian ideology and creationism.
A press release for the book isn’t shy about spoiling its entire premise. Out of the nine other (all-male) superheroes examined by the professor as potential world saviors, only Thor, Smith claims, “offers an antidote to the extreme incivility that categorizes so much of our public and private lives.” Smith goes on to say that “if we wish to move beyond the inflammatory rhetoric and bitter divisiveness of the present, we should adopt Thor’s noble commitment to old-fashioned courtesy and decency.” Hmm. Where have we heard that one before?
Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Batman, Green Lantern, Iron Man, Captain America, Mister Fantastic, and Superman are the other superheroes examined, and the press release singles out a few to diss, such as Batman, whose “obsessive need for control hints at fascistic sympathies, shown by his refusal to observe any limitations other than his own in his crusade against evil. To place him at the helm of public life, suggests Smith, would represent a clear and present danger to freedom.” The “destructive narcissism and blind faith in technology” of Iron Man, the press release continues, “pose a threat to the very people he vows to protect. Putting him in charge would be like electing a Silicon Valley CEO to high office—a wizard without wisdom.”
As for Superman, he “sets an impossible standard for us to follow and that to attempt to do so would not inspire but belittle us.” Wonder Woman, who was “excluded from the competition because she is practically a divine being—a soul of near angelic perfection whose goodness exceeds even Superman’s,” fails for the same reason. Smith says that he “limited the contestants to those whom we mortals could realistically model in daily life.” The press release further notes that the heroes must be “well known to a wide audience, not just comic book readers,” noting that since Black Panther’s movie hadn’t come out when the book was written, he didn’t qualify either.
Check out the solicit below, but be aware going in the book may have an agenda to promote:
Superheroes are at the forefront of popular culture and have been for several years. The genre is a cultural phenomenon that shows no signs of fading. The premise of Superhero Ethics is that we should take this phenomenon seriously. These comic book stories are more than popcorn amusements. Read as metaphors, they can illuminate various approaches to forging our characters, directing our lives, relating to others, and promoting the common good.
As the audience response to this year’s Avengers: Infinity War shows, millions of people around the world are heavily invested in the motivations, decisions, and destinies of their favorite superheroes. These characters speak to people in profound ways that are often underappreciated. In Superhero Ethics, Travis Smith investigates what they are saying—what messages about life they’re communicating.
Throughout the book, Smith frames his analysis around a single question: Which superhero embodies the kind of ethical character we should strive to emulate in today’s society? He arrives at his choice by structuring the book as a contest. He takes ten top superheroes and pits them one against another, chapter by chapter. The hero who better exemplifies how we ought to live advances to the final round. By the end of the book, a single superhero emerges victorious and is crowned most exemplary for our times.
Among the timeless questions Smith explores are:
- How can we overcome our beastly nature and preserve our humanity? (The Hulk vs. Wolverine)
- How far can we rely on our willpower and imagination to improve the human condition? (Iron Man vs. Green Lantern)
- What limits must we observe when protecting our neighborhood from crime and corruption? (Batman vs. Spider-Man)
- Will the pursuit of an active life or a contemplative life bring us true fulfillment? (Captain America vs. Mr. Fantastic)
- Should we put our faith in proven tradition or in modern progress to achieve a harmonious society? (Thor vs. Superman)
- Superhero Ethics is a fun and edifying read—one that will appeal to anyone concerned with popular and political culture in modern America.
ISBN 13: 978-1-59947-454-0
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ISBN 13: 978-1-59947-552-3
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