Book Review: ‘Superhero Ethics’ Pits One Superhero Against Another

Review By Lauryn Angel

If you’ve ever engaged in a conversation about which superhero is the best, or pitted heroes against each other in a theoretical competition, Travis Smith’s Superhero Ethics is the book for you. Smith constructs his competition around the question of ethics: Which superhero should we try to emulate in order to best contribute to society?

Smith organizes his book as the ultimate showdown of heroes. He chooses ten popular superheroes and pairs them up based on their similarities. Each chapter features a pair of heroes, concluding with his judgement of which hero is the best model for how we should live. The book culminates with his decision of which of the ten is the best role model for how we should behave.

The Hulk and Wolverine are paired off in a discussion of how to best overcome our inner beast and preserve our humanity. Iron Man and Green Lantern face off in a contest of imagination as a tool to improve society. Batman and Spiderman are the “neighborhood” heroes who provide models for dealing with crime. Thor and Superman compete in a contest of tradition versus progress.

More than just a contest of heroes, Smith’s book discusses the issues that plague most normal humans, particularly issues of morality in an immoral world. As fun as the contest is, the book is thought-provoking and may cause the reader to re-evaluate some of these heroes.

My only issue with the book is that Smith only discusses male heroes. Leaving them out seems to suggest that ethics are not the concern of women. What about Wonder Woman versus Captain Marvel? Batgirl versus Black Widow? Perhaps Smith will discuss the ladies in another volume?

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