I love comics for their action and humour and the fact that they force us to figure out, from limited words and images, what the hell is going on. I love them for the relationships they build in their pages, their fantastical elements and their layered, complex characters and arcs spanning decades. But more than anything I love them for their allegory, their ability to echo real life problems and potentials in their colourful, spandex-filled, often child-friendly pages.
I therefore find scholarly analyses of comic books’ deeper meaning fascinating, and a book that examines the psychology employed in Captain America and Iron Man — -the psychology that led them to take opposite sides during Civil War — could almost have been written especially for me.
This collection of essays — headed with a careless Foreword by Stan Lee, who it seems was also required to make cameo appearances even in unauthorised Marvel-related productions, prior to his recent death — is quite well put together, and is often quite thought-provoking. Much is discussed of Freud and Jung and their cohorts, and relates the actions of Tony and Cap to their underlying theories. The most successful essay, , invokes Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment, and suggests that asking kids a question like “What would Captain America do?” can help them — and, by extension, also help adults — learn empathy. I entirely agree with that. Empathy is a learned behaviour, and exposure to a wide range of fictional worlds and characters opens one up to its benefits. No question. It doesn’t have to be comics, of course, but there is no doubt that a wide array of viewpoints is encompassed in Marvel’s canon, for example.
For the most part, though, the essays seem somewhat simplistic, somewhat lacking in the deep comic knowledge I might have expected and only one really deals with Civil War at all. Which is fine, the others do delineate the differences between our two leaders, and it is these that lead to their positions on Registration. (I am pro-Registration, by the way. Superheroes are basically weapons. Weapons should be registered and regulated. @me, if you want. Happy to discuss!)
The essays look at their childhoods, their adult traumas and their leadership styles to explain why they are the way they are — but many of the essays differ on how they are, because of course, in the long and storied history of both characters, they have morphed and changed and you can find a quote from some obscure issue to prove any point, only to have someone else use another such to prove the opposite. It is the nature of the collaborative hodgepodge of often half-baked ideas that is any modern comic book hero.
So, no definitive conclusions are made — and nor really can they be, psychology being the imprecise pseudo-science it really, really is. But this book is, nevertheless, an interesting rumination on Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and the conflicts that have bloomed between them over the years, and why that might have been — and that is good enough for me.
TBR DAY 56: Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology, edited by Travis Langley
GENRE: Pop Culture, Comics, Non-Fiction, Psychology
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: Of course.