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Superhero Ethics
10 Comic Book Heroes; 10 Ways to Save the World; Which One Do We Need Most Now?
Travis Smith

Templeton Press
June 2018/ ISBN 9781599474540
Nonfiction / Superheroes / Social Philosophy / Pop Culture

Reviewed by Leslie C. Halpern


In comic books, movies, and television series, superheroes sometimes compete against each other when they are super angry or coerced supernaturally. The competition is based on their strength, endurance, and super powers. Superhero Ethics, however, pits comic book heroes against similarly equipped opponents in an intriguing challenge to determine who lives by the highest ethical standards and strives for the highest moral code in their efforts to save the world.

Five chapters contain two superheroes who compete in the semi-finals. Chapter one features The Hulk vs. Wolverine in a battle to overcome their beastly nature. Chapter two concerns the powers of imagination for Iron Man vs. Green Lantern. Chapter three focuses on crime and corruption in the big city and the retention of peace in the small neighborhood in a showdown between Batman and Spider-Man. Chapter four looks at ideals in action with Captain America vs. Mr. Fantastic. Chapter five examines the god-like super powers of Thor and Superman. The last chapter compares the five winners of round one, and declares the finalist in the superhero ethics competition.

This well-organized and clearly written book provides an in-depth analysis from an author who appreciates the beauty of the English language and clearly loves comic book characters. The writing is often elegant, with careful attention paid to the nuances of words, and a touch of humor thrown in for fun. This isn’t light beach-reading, however. The book studies more than the costumes and super powers of these heroes. Their moral and emotional struggles and the society in which they live are dissected through various lenses, including religious, philosophical, scientific, and cultural perspectives.

Determining the “winner” couldn’t have been easy. Narrowing the multitude of superheroes into five groups of two similarly powered protectors (for a total of 10 competitors) must have been a daunting task. In addition, the author needed to decide which version of the superhero was to be studied – comic book, television, or film. In the case of Batman, for instance, the character has appeared in comic books, the campy television series, the animated television series, and various movie franchises from different directors.

The obvious work that went into this ambitious project was well-worth the effort because Travis Smith has created a masterful study of superhero ethics that’s artfully presented, fun to read, and a profound study of humanity.

Reviewer Leslie C. Halpern is the author of four nonfiction books, including 200 Love Lessons from the Movies and four children's books, including Silly Sleepytime Poems.
Reviewed 2018