Superheroes The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture Review

By | Friday, August 30, 2013 Leave a Comment
If you haven't seen them, there are a number of books out there focusing on superheroes as the basis for philosophical discussions. This particular one is from the Blackwell Wiley series, and with Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture , they've culled together several of the pieces from their various books in the series as a sort-of sampler. So rather than focusing specifically on the X-Men, or the Avengers, or Green Lantern, or whomever, this pulls from all of them. The sampler notion is reinforced by the fact that they're offering the Kindle version up for free.

The book contains a series of essays on various philosophical ideas from the notion of justice to a sense of self-identity, using various superhero myths as their primary examples/touchstones. Not surprisingly, given the different authors and subjects, the pieces are of varying degrees of complexity and quality. They're all quite readable, but there are some tonal differences that are striking. Calling out "NEW WOLVERINE!" while recounting that character's origin to emphasize the point that a new identity has been established seemed a bit too casual for the content, and some of the commentary randomly bashing mimes in another piece was wholly unnecessary and even downright distracting. But the overall points being made were cogent and well-researched from both the philosophical and comics perspectives.

Like any anthology type work, there are going to be hits and misses. Some essays work well, some not so much. I do think it's interesting, though, that that holds for a collection such as this, in which these pieces are themselves collected as theoretically the best of each book. That there's still that much variability suggests to me that there's even more in the individual books. I suppose that comes from each book being individually edited by a different person, but I would've thought the series editor would hold nominally tighter standards on the tone and style of the content across all of them.

I suspect, though, that the books are less directed towards budding philosophers and more towards the fan groups that each book use as a subject. People who buy Spider-Man and Philosophy are going to be Spider-Man fans who might be curious about philosophy at a broad level, not philosophy enthusiasts who maybe saw one of the Tobey Maguire movies. This is evidenced by many of the books references are comics and movies, not philosophy texts. So all of the philosophical discussions are detailed enough to a level that laity can parse pretty easily without having to have written a dissertation on Immanuel Kant. The comics are explained well enough that you can follow along without having a complete run of Uncanny X-Men but I think having a decent understanding of the characters and their iconic stories helps.

You know, for free, I can't fault the book. The individual essays go pretty quickly, and I picked up a few ideas, so it's worthwhile reading. Whether or not that applies back to the individual books, I don't know. There was a time when I would've been willing to drop $18 (cover price for the print editions of the other books) on a Fantastic Four centered book, but I don't know that I like any of these characters enough to part with that today. Okay reading if you're on the train to work, not sure I could recommend it as providing a foundation into more extended or detailed philosophical tenets.
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