Superheroes and the Ethics of Vigilantism

Vigilantism has informed American comic books and graphic novels throughout the twentieth century, raising serious issues about the nature of ethical action and its relationship to legal systems.  The earliest comic books featured crime fighters who operated outside the law and reflected social angst about the ineffectiveness of law enforcement to curb organized crime that was widespread in the 1920`s and 1930`s. This popular literary tradition culminated in the appearance of true superheroes, notably Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, who all operated outside the law. After a hiatus during World War II, when superheroes became agents of the government`s struggle with the Axis powers, the ethical and legal behavior of superheroes has become increasingly problematic, reflecting changes in social attitudes about the relationship of the individual and the legal system. After giving an overview of the theme of vigilantism as it occurs among twentieth-century superheroes, this paper focuses on ethical and philosophical issues raised by this theme in two important graphic novels, Frank Miller`s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore` Watchmen. 

Keywords: New Writings in English; Teaching of Language and Literature; Text analysis, understanding, summarization and generation, Cultural Studies, Theoretical Frameworks, Future Directions 

Posted by: Marc Wolterbeek, Professor of English, Notre Dame de Namur University, United States (12-Mar-2019)
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