We know their stories far better than we think. One was bitten by a radioactive spider. One vowed revenge when his parents were shot dead by a mugger. One is a billionaire who built a metal suit to keep his heart going. And one has an origin myth so familiar that it could be summed up in four captions, eight terse words, on the first page of a recent retelling: “Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.” Superhero comics – secular modern myths, written in collaboration by generations of writers – have tracked our culture for more than 70 years, providing wish fulfilment fantasies, cultural exemplars, vehicles of satire and cautionary tales of the abuse of power. Attempts to work out what they say about us have been around nearly as long. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1938, as fascism took Europe in its grip, they intended him to be, in Siegel’s words, “a character like Samson, Hercules and all the strongmen I ever heard of, rolled into one”. Umberto Eco proposed, in a 1970s essay on Superman, that in a society increasingly dominated by machines, it was down to the “positive hero” of myth to “embody to an unthinkable degree the power demands that the average citizen nurtures but cannot satisfy”. As the comics writer Grant Morrison pithily observes in Supergods, his book-length analysis of the superhero phenomenon, the idea of these characters has long been “at least as real as the idea of God”.
more from Tim Martin at the FT here.