Item Details

What is a Superhero? How Myth Can be a Metacode

Issue: Vol 44 No. 1 (2015)

Journal: Bulletin for the Study of Religion

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies Biblical Studies

DOI: 10.1558/bsor.v44i1.26860


The essay argues that Marvel's Civil War is an interesting narrative concerning the superhero metacode at work. After a brief overview of the crossover event, its allegorical qualities will be discussed followed by a supplemental reading focusing on how superheroes, as agents of pretend play, come to be socialized, coded, and distributed across shared social networks.

Author: Kenneth G. MacKendrick

View Original Web Page

References :

Arnal, William E., and Russell T. McCutcheon. 2013. The Sacred is the Profane: The Political Nature of “Religion.” Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barthes, Roland. 1972. Mythologies. Translated by Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang.

Benhabib, Seyla. 2002. The Claims of Culture: Equality and Diversity in the Global Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bloch, Maurice. 1974. “Symbols, Song, Dance and Features of Articulation: Or Is Religion an Extreme Form of Traditional Authority?” Archives européennes de sociologie 15: 55­–81.

Carruthers, Peter. 2002. “Human Creativity: Its Cognitive Basis, its Evolution, and its Connections with Childhood Pretence.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 53: 225–49.

Caughey, John L. 1984. Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Costello, Matthew J. 2009. “Civil War and the Death of Captain America.” In Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America, 229–42. New York: Continuum.

DiPaolo, Marc. 2011. War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda in Comics and Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Dittmer, Jason. 2012. “Captain America in the News: Changing Mediascapes and the Appropriation of a Superhero.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics 3 (2): 143–57.

Douglas, Mary. 2004. Purity and Danger. New York: Routledge.

Evans, Alex. 2010. “Superman Is the Faultline: Fissures in the Monomythic Man of Steel.” In Reframing 9/11: Film, Popular Culture and the “War on Terror.” Edited by Jeff Birkenstein, Anna Froula and Karen Randell, 117-126. New York: Continuum.

Fine, Gary Alan. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1984–1987. The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, Paul L. 2000. The Work of the Imagination. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Kidd, Dustin. 2007. “Harry Potter and the Functions of Popular Culture.” Journal of Popular Culture 40 (1): 69–89.

Lang, Jeffrey S., and Patrick Trimble. 1988. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? An Examination of the American Monomyth and the Comic Book Superhero.” Journal of Popular Culture 22 (3): 157–73.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Robert Jewett. 2002. The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Lease, Gary. 2000. “Ideology.” In Guide to the Study of Religion, edited by Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon, 438–47. New York: Continuum.

Lillard, Angeline S. 1993. “Pretend Play Skill’s and the Child’s Theory of Mind.” Child Development 64: 348–71.

MacKendrick, Kenneth G. 2012. “We Have an Imaginary Friend in Jesus: What Can Imaginary Companions Teach Us about Religion?” Implicit Religion 15 (1): 61–79.

Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of “World Religions”; Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mack, Burton. 2008. Myth and the Christian Nation: A Social Theory of Religion. London: Equinox Publishing.

McCutcheon, Russell T. 2001. “Redescribing ‘Religion’ as Social Formation: Toward a Social Theory of Religion.” In Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion, 21–39. Albany: SUNY Press.

Morrison, Grant. 2012. Supergods. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

Nongbri, Brent. 2013. Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Saler, Benson, Charles A. Ziegler, and Charles B. Moore. 2010. UFO Crash at Roswell: Genesis of a Modern Myth. Washington, DC: Smithonian Books.

Skolnick, Deena and Paul Bloom. 2006. “What does Batman think about Spongebob? Children’s Understanding of the Fantasy/Fantasy Distinction. Cognition 101 (1): B9–B18.

Veloso, Francisco, and John Bateman. 2013. “The Multimodal Construction of Acceptability: Marvel’s Civil War Comic Books and the PATRIOT Act.” Critical Discourse Studies 10: 427–43.

Collected Marvel Civil War Editions

Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto, writer. 2007. Civil War: Peter Parker, Spider-Man. Angel Medina and Sean Chen, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Bendis, Brian Michael, writer. 2007. Civil War: The New Avengers. Howard Chaykin, Leinil Yu, Olivier Coipel, Pasqual Ferry, and Jim Cheung, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Bendis, Brian Michae,l and J. Michael Straczynski, writers. 2013. The Road to Civil War. Alex Maleev, Mike McKone, Ron Garney, and Tyler Kirkham, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Brubaker, Ed, writer. 2013. The Death of Captain America: Complete Collection. Mike Perkins, Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano, Steve Epting, Butch Guice, and Roberto De La Torre, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

David, Peter and Fabian Nicieza, writers. 2010. Civil War: X-Men Universe. Dennis Calero and Staz Johnson, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Fraction, Matt, writer. 2007. Civil War: Punisher War Journal. Ariel Olivetti and Mike Deodato, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Gage, Christos, Daniel & Charles Knauf, and Brian Michael Bendis, writers. 2013. Civil War: Iron Man. Jeremy Haun, Patrich Zircher, and Alex Maleev, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Gray, Justin and Jimmy Palmiotti, writers. 2009. Civil War: Heroes for Hire. Billy Tucci and Francis Portela, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Guggenheim, Marc, writer. 2013. Civil War: Wolverine. Humberto Ramos, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Hine, David, writer. 2007. Civil War: X-Men. Yanick Paquette, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Huldin, Reginald, writer. 2007. Civil War: Black Panther. Scot Eaton, Manuel Garcia , Koi Turnbull, and Marcus To, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Jenkins, Paul, writer. 2007a. Civil War: Front Line Book 1. Ramon Bachs, Steve Lieber, and Leandro Fernandez, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Jenkins, Paul, writer. 2007b. Civil War: Front Line Book 2. Ramon Bachs, Steve Lieber, and Lee Weeks, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Millar, Mark, writer. 2012. Civil War. Steve McNiven, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Nicieza, Fabian, writer. 2010. Civil War: Thunderbolts. Tom Grummett, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Reed, Brian, writer. 2007. Civil War: Ms. Marvel. Roberto de la Torre, Mike Wieringo, and Giuseppe Camuncoli, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Slott, Dan, Paul Jenkins, Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis, Marc Guggenheim, Robert Kirkman, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Michael Avon Oeming, and Ty Templeton, writers. 2007. Civil War: Marvel Universe. Paul Smith, Tom Raney, Marc Silvestri, Leinil Yu, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, David Aja, Scott Kolins, Roger Langridge, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Straczynski, J. Michael, writer. 2007. Civil War: The Amazing Spider-Man. Ron Garney, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Straczynski, J. Michael and Dwayne McDuffie, writers. 2011. Civil War: Fantastic Four. Mike McKone, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Thomas, John Rhett, writer/coordinator. 2007. Civil War: Companion. New York: Marvel.

Tieri, Frank, writer. 2007. Civil War: War Crimes. Staz Johnson, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Wells, Zeb, writer. 2011. Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways. Stefano Caselli, illustrator. New York: Marvel.