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Justice in Superhero Stories

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Hi, I am a final year student currently working on a research paper about how themes of justice and morality present in superhero comics reflect society's own pursuit of justice.

The data I am trying to acquire in this case would be information on society's views on justice.

1. Since the emergence of the modern day Superhero in 1938 with the debut of Superman, how has society's perception of justice changed throughout the times?

From the Great Depression, to the World War, the Cold War, to modern day events like the recent financial crisis, how has these events shaped and changed society's perception of what they consider justice?

Or can the changes be attributed to other factors?

Or has there even been a fundamental change in the core idea of justice? For example, throughout history and even now it has always been society's view that justice=retribution.

Even so, has the best means of attaining that justice changed in the minds of society?

2. Has there been significant superhero narratives in comics that have explored these changes of perception?

I know comics like Watchmen, DC's The Dark Knight Returns and Marvel's Kingdom Come have all explored it somewhat, I'm wondering whether there's more literature that can be found in this matter. I know other aspects of justice like social justice have been explored through narratives like X-men. Perhaps there are other aspects of justice explored through superhero narratives?

3. Also, how has the characteristics of superheroes changed throughout the years, in accordance to society's changing views on law enforcement, criminal punishment and vigilantism.

Any input on any of the questions or any other comments that have to do with the subject matter will be greatly appreciated. This is the first time I'm doing a research paper, and I'm working on a pretty limited timeframe. I have slightly less than a month to finish my paper.

Thank you very much!

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I don't know how relevant to your research this is or how factual this information is, so you'll have to take it with a grain of salt. Though if it's true, it may take your research in an interesting direction. But I was told that back in the days of the wild west and cowboys and stuff, there were no superheroes in the culture. Everyone saw themselves as capable of handling their own business. Surviving by their own efforts. Even meting out justice themselves. The rise of superheroes has coincided with a reversal of this attitude. As people came to see themselves more and more as, how to put it... helpless, the presence of superheroes grew in the culture. In most, if not all, cases, superheroes are people of superhuman ability fighting to protect the weak and helpless civilians from evil forces that they can't overcome themselves.

Like I said, this is just something I heard. Maybe some other forum members (or the member who told me this) will have sources, or maybe you'll be able to find more during the course of your research.

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I don't know how relevant to your research this is or how factual this information is, so you'll have to take it with a grain of salt. Though if it's true, it may take your research in an interesting direction. But I was told that back in the days of the wild west and cowboys and stuff, there were no superheroes in the culture. Everyone saw themselves as capable of handling their own business. Surviving by their own efforts. Even meting out justice themselves. The rise of superheroes has coincided with a reversal of this attitude. As people came to see themselves more and more as, how to put it... helpless, the presence of superheroes grew in the culture. In most, if not all, cases, superheroes are people of superhuman ability fighting to protect the weak and helpless civilians from evil forces that they can't overcome themselves.

Like I said, this is just something I heard. Maybe some other forum members (or the member who told me this) will have sources, or maybe you'll be able to find more during the course of your research.

I don't think that is entirely so. Look at all the myths and legends.

Beowulf

Heracles

Perseus

Lancelot

Gawaine

Achilles

Seigfried

Lohengrin

...just off the top of my head

I would say the defining characteristic differences between ancient/medieval heroes and our heroes of today is in modern times heroes suddenly needed to become anonymous. Looking into why that change happened is interesting. (exception being Lohengrin who also had to remain anonymous-I can't think of any others)

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This may relate to your questions

I have heard a theory that a lot of movies in the late 70s were based on a rebellion against hippy culture. Movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish were about cops and vigilantes taking justice into their own hands, and fighting hoards of criminals and degenerates. I think this signifies that a lot of people felt like our government wasn't doing its job in bringing about justice.

With that in mind, we can look at how governments handle guy like Roman Polanski, and the 9/11 hijackers. Where justice is often delayed, or never brought at all. I think people do feel like that justic has dissapeared, which is why Tony Stark can fly around the world and make acts of war on terrorists (which is extremely illiegal) and people will smile or cheer when he does so.

Batman, another vigilante/superhero exists in a New York (Gotham) which I think is supposed to resemble a 1970s New York City. New York City was supposedly a shithole during the 1970s, this is dipicted in movies like The Warriors and Taxi Driver. Batman doesn't kill anyone though, but he is still takes justic into his own hands.

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I don't think that is entirely so. Look at all the myths and legends.

Beowulf

Heracles

Perseus

Lancelot

Gawaine

Achilles

Seigfried

Lohengrin

...just off the top of my head

I would say the defining characteristic differences between ancient/medieval heroes and our heroes of today is in modern times heroes suddenly needed to become anonymous. Looking into why that change happened is interesting. (exception being Lohengrin who also had to remain anonymous-I can't think of any others)

All of the societies associated with those heroes were also peasant societies. The examples given all fit Amaroq's thesis rather than contradict it.

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Observation: Most superheroes spend their time saving other people in need. They believe it is their moral duty to do it. Their own happiness is not that important. This is altruism. Observation: Most people know that moral perfection is not possible if altruism is the ideal because that would entail that you commit suicide or at the very least spend your time suffering while sacrificing yourself for others. If altruism is the ideal, then you would have to be a "superman" to be able to practice it. Why should a superman care to be an altruist? There is no rational answer to this question, just like there is no rational answer to this question when it comes to us mortals. It is just assumed that since they are the strong they should sacrifice for the weak (the normal in need). This is essentially an expression of egalitarianism; the total opposite of justice. This reflect the conventional morality. It also reflects the total perversion of justice made possible by the morality of altruism and egalitarianism.

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It is just assumed that since they are the strong they should sacrifice for the weak (the normal in need). This is essentially an expression of egalitarianism; the total opposite of justice. This reflect the conventional morality. It also reflects the total perversion of justice made possible by the morality of altruism and egalitarianism.

In light of this, I offer up Mark Waid's comic Irredeemable for study. It examines what happens when the world's greatest superhero (a thinly-disguised version of Superman) finally snaps under the burden of conventional 'hero' morality. The lashing-out that results transforms him into the world's greatest villain. Waid is also writing a parallel series called Incorruptible, in which one of the world's greatest villains witnesses the events of Irredeemable and decides that since somebody needs to step up and save the world for the sake of simple self-preservation it might as well be him.

I also have to mention The Savage Dragon, which features one of the more rational responses to a character discovering that he has super-powers and a desire to fight crime: he joins the Chicago police department.

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On another example, some superheroes are reluctant heroes, such as Spiderman. He doesn't want to be a hero, but feels compelled to do so, because he's been blessed with power, power that can protect society.

So it begs the age-old philosophical question, is it immoral for a man who can make a difference in protecting society, to refuse to do so out of his own self interest?

From a utilitarian perspective, does this age-old, one should sacrifice one's own interest for the betterment of the entire society, does this concept hold true to you?

Do you think that the appeal of these concepts in modern day times may be greater than the past due to the environment of fear and terror we live in now?

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You might like to take a look at my blog, superherobabylon.blogspot.com, particularly the essay "The Epic Song of Superman in Five Parts," "The Answer to Chaos is Not the Dark Knight," and "The Dark Knight: The Anarchist is King.".

Good luck with your thesis. :)

Edited by spaceplayer
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  • 2 months later...

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