Ideology and Superheroes

As anyone who either owns a television or has driven past a movie theater will tell you, the Marvel Comics Universe is everywhere right now. In recent years we’ve seen major studio productions of two Iron Mans, two Incredible Hulks, Capitan American, Thor, and of course the combine-them-all-together tour de force that is the Avengers. (I may have missed one or two in there. I’ve not seen them all.) In any event, this seems like an ideal to time to share one of my favorite pedagogical moves: teaching ideology critique through nationalist superheroes. (Caveats: 1) I’m sure I’m not the first person to come up with this idea, but I don’t recall specifically stealing it. 2) I actually came up with it slightly before the latest superhero craze, but it’s OK if you don’t believe me.)

So there’s not much to say here, actually. It’s fairly obvious if you stop to think about it that the nationalist superhero of a given nation-state would be the perfect exemplar of its cultural ideology. This assignment has worked best with the wonderfully conflicted pairing that is the US’s Captain America and China’s Collective Man. (I used Captain Canuck and Major Mapleleaf when I was teaching at UBC. Although I think this assignment works better with American students who seem to have a closer relationship with superheros than their counterparts north of the border.) You hardly even need to get past the names to start seeing the wonderful cultural-ideological overtones. For a great list of nationalist superheros see: Makes for a fun day in class.


Collective Man: 5 identical twin brothers who combine into a single hero with the collective strength of the entire Chinese people