With Superman Returns opening this week in 13 or so countries, we’ve begun to see another wave of mainstream articles on the cultural significance of the character, the lasting popularity of superheroes, and so on.
The Times of London goes with Option B, looking at superhero comics as (male) power fantasies.
“Superheroes gave bullied boys the ultimate fantasy,” gossip-wrangler Rich Johnston tells the newspaper. “Imagine! Nobody knows I’m not really a snivelling whiny crybaby who is no good at sports! In reality, were I not so concerned with preserving my secret identity, I could destroy them!”
Dr. Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine, takes a more scientific approach to the XY appeal of superheroes: “In an evolutionary psychology sense, boys are constantly on the lookout for a hierarchical society, with an alpha male. This is how they are set up, and girls are not. ‘Memes’ [replicators of cultural information] come and exploit this. Successful superhero characters are simply memes that ring a strong bell with this.”
But what about the (admittedly smaller) number of women who enjoy superhero comics? The Times doesn’t say.
Related (sort of): Did John Henry legend inspire Superman?