Superhero Thought Experiments

Superhero Thought Experiments

A comic book blogger and a philosopher walk into a bar—actually they shared a college copier—and Superhero Thought Experiments was born. They have got to stop meeting like this…

What is the difference between philosophers’ thought experiments and comic book plots? Surprisingly little. Take this short quiz and select the real comic book plots.

  1. “What if lightning struck a dead tree in a swamp and transformed it into The Swampman?”
  2. “What if trying to travel to the past transported you to a different universe instead?”
  3. “What if a time traveler returned to his childhood and told his past self about the future?”
  4. “What if a mad scientist removed your brain and is keeping it alive in a vat?”
  5. “What if you and all the universe were just the thoughts of a small child?”

Not as easy to distinguish as you thought, right?

The comic book plots are item number three and five (from 1975’s The Defenders and 1997’s Heroes Reborn: The Return, respectively). The rest were thought up by philosophers. The book’s “goal is to use superhero comics to illustrate philosophy, and in turn use philosophy to analyze superhero comics.” It does that by using the What If questions from above plus five more.

My Review

First up, for those of you partial just to DC or only to Marvel, both are used to illustrate the authors’ points.

It is hard to explain why I liked this book but let me try. I’ve only taken an introductory class in philosophy. My favorite philosopher is Kant, who basically believed if your intention is good, you are morally good regardless of any unintended consequences. According to this book, that is also the attitude of my favorite superhero, Batman. Coincidence or my subconscious mind looking for matching belief systems? Who knows but it is definitely thought-provoking.

I can totally see this book being a textbook for an introductory philosophy course. Conversely, if you liked your philosophy course and read comics, this is an engrossing book that will deepen your understanding of both. Finally, I believe any writer or fledgling writer of superhero comics must read Superhero Thought Experiments. It will encourage compelling plots that reflect enduring questions about the human condition. 4 stars!

Thanks to University of Iowa Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.

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