It is interesting that comics are still often thought of as low culture, even though they are now drawn by very talented artists and written by some extremely philosophical individuals who weave classic themes into their stories, while reflecting on some of the most vexing modern problems. If Plato had been able to draw, maybe we would have had some superhero comics from his time as well!
Our book is a unique effort bringing together a range of contemporary philosophers, both young and distinguished, along with some of the top creators of superhero comics in our time. We have in it, for example, essays by Jeph Loeb, who has written some of the most compelling Batman comics, along with Mark Waid, famous for his Superman stories as well as for many other outstanding superhero comics. Most philosophical books on pop culture involve only academics theorizing on the art form being discussed. We wanted to include some of the top creators themselves. And we're glad we did. It was fascinating to see them ponder the themes that have made these comics so popular throughout world culture.
We found the comics to be powerful vehicles for the expression of many classic human problems and issues. They are a great meeting place for high and low culture.
Some things had been written about the psychology of superhero comics, but very little on the deeper philosophical themes to be found in these narratives. The great thing about the best comic books and superhero movies is that they raise important human issues in extremely vivid ways. They spark our imaginations while touching our intellects. They urge us to think about things we often overlook.
In our research, there wasn't much contemporary literature we could consult. Instead, we went back to Plato, Aristotle and many great thinkers of the past to use as guides for reading these comics that are often dismissed as mere entertainment for kids and teens. We found many deep things to reflect on, and many great guides in the past for doing so.
I think Matt has always been fascinated with Batman, in the most recent incarnations -- the Dark Knight, the man whose all-consuming mission to eliminate threatening evil may be damaging to his own soul. There are many lessons in these Batman adventures for us all, on a personal and international level. But Matt has also always been interested in the X-Men, the outsiders who team together and collaborate for the good of all.
I've really come to enjoy Spider-Man and Daredevil, for very different reasons. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) struggles with the normal challenges of adolescence and young adulthood, while being stretched to take on responsibilities far beyond his apparent preparation. He is an interesting example of self-sacrifice for the greater good, of using our powers and talents for the overall good of those around us and not just for the self.
Some of the best Daredevil comics have raised religious and spiritual issues that I write about in the book. The adventures of blind lawyer Matt Murdock can provide a doorway into some fascinating philosophical reflections on faith and reality in our time.
I think you're right. I, too, was surprised that so many ethical issues arose around the superhero comics, questions about life and death, good and evil, power and weakness, the individual and society, greed and altruism, among other topics. We all grapple with questions every day about how to use our time and energy. What choices should we make? What things should we avoid? We may not talk a lot about the values that dominated our cultures a hundred years ago, but we each face questions of value and commitment every day. The superhero stories can help us to reflect more deeply on these things, in a vivid and entertaining way.
Perhaps it is the lack of solid values guiding people in the recent past, and the consequences of this path, that have raised anew some of the ancient issues about how we should live, and these are issues addressed in many of the superhero stories.
The superheroes obviously raise questions about the proper use of great power, for good or evil. I think it is completely legitimate to see many of their themes as reflecting Cold War worries about our shared human plight and our fragile future. Some of the stories were written precisely to convey lessons relevant to these larger global issues, problems that change over time but never really go away.
Yet, many of the superhero stories resonate on a very personal level. How should I use my talents? What should I do with my power in the world? What's worth seeking? What's worth sacrificing? While I agree completely that the great superhero stories throw light onto issues of global conflict, their relevance to our personal struggles should never be neglected.
(Entrevista originalmente publicada en "El invierno es para raritos", suplemento EP3, El País, 12-10-2010)