The age of superheroes

By Jesse Hicks

Comic book superheroes have never before been a more dominant cultural force. They power multibillion dollar franchises that fill theaters around the world, blithely smashing through language barriers. Superheroes spill from our televisions and overflow our toy shelves. And still, when most people in the United States think of comic books—oh yeah, comic books!—they think of superheroes.

In this issue of the Kernel, we’re looking at superheroes: What they mean, how they’re changing, and whose stories they tell. One long-running black superhero will soon make his leap to the big screen: Black Panther, Marvel’s African king and sometime Avenger, will hit theaters in 2018. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw looks at the Panther’s comics history, and how he and his fictional country, Wakanda, exhibit aspects of an aesthetic known as Afrofuturism. It’s often high-tech, with shades of mysticism and sci-fi, and draws on African culture and traditions. It’s also radically different than anything Marvel has put on screen to date—or at least it could be.

As a dominant cultural force, superheroes are worth taking seriously.

Likewise, Tim Carmody asks what it means that your schlubby neighborhood Spider-Man is now, in comics continuity, a wealthy tech CEO. As head of Parker Industries, Peter Parker has been subtly recast as a techpreneur hero in the mold of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk (himself one model for Robert Downey, Jr.’s take on Tony Stark). Carmody examines how superheroes and tech entrepreneurs have become our most prominent sources for inspiration: There’s something more than coincidence, he suggests, in the myth-making film Steve Jobs opening the same week that Spider-Man is rebooted as a Jobsian ideal capitalist. He reminds us that every age gets the heroes it deserves.

Enjoy the issue.

Photo via pierre bédat/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)