The Superhero Symbol edited by Liam Burke, Ian Gordon & Angela Ndalianis (book review).

I did wonder which or what ‘The Superhero Symbol’ actually was going to be covered. From the comicbook reader point of view, it’s the label on their chests to identify who they are or the kind of power they are. Nope! This is all about what the super-heroes represent to people at large. More symbolism really.

The likes of Captain America have always represented the American nation at large than any political party. As Neal Curtis points out, Steve Rogers has dropped the costume from time to time when asked or seen something that he clearly doesn’t want to represent by his government.

The interview by Liam Burke with comicbook Trina Robbins shows the difficulty women had in breaking into illustrating let alone giving them respect in the non-super-hero genres.

Mitchell Adams explores the difference between copyright and trademark in the USA. The first only lasts 70 years after your death and the second indefinitely so it’s hardly surprising which is favoured by the corporations. He uses Superman and its creators, Sigel and Shuster, as examples of this although didn’t draw any comparison to Bob Kane and Batman.

Adams goes over the number of trademarks that Marvel and DC have over a similar period, tallying with the films, and I agree with him, there hasn’t been an analysis of this nature before. Oddly, he leaves the trademark associating with the term ‘superhero’ as a footnote although it’s the only one shared by two different companies.

Tara Lomax’s look at Jennifer Waters, forbidden to use her She-Hulk persona in court taking on legal cases parallels real life as well as the problems of being a super-hero. Watch out for the health and house insurance although you would think damages would be a regular problem.

On the other hand, I’m less inclined to believe Dan Golding when it comes to remembering super-hero movie music. He only applies this to the history of Superman and Batman but I’m less inclined to believe modern themes are catchy enough. It’s a shame he didn’t reference the first 2002 ‘Spider-Man’ film which even included a snippet of the 1960s TV cartoon series during the credits. A telling sign as to what people remembered most, even if it’s a silly lyric.

Liam Burke also interviews the now former president of DC Entertainment Diane Nelson. I would correct something in his introduction. He says presidents, which I’m also assuming he means publishers or editor-in-chief come up through the ranks and totally forgets Jenette Kahn who came across from a different form of publishing.

Claire Langford’s look at cosplayers who just happen to be black but dressed as white super-heroes tends to forget that colour can be transcended once you’re in costume. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be black super-heroes or super-villains and it would be interesting to see some white cosplayers dressed as them as comparison just to prove my point as to what people really take in the first time. There’s also the tale of one American lady who used to drink 3 cans of Pepsi for breakfast and lost weight by replacing it with soup. I did wonder why she didn’t switch to cereal and then remembered the sugar content in American cereals.

Back to Liam Burke and his interview with Paul Dini brings up an interesting observation that he finds Batman a selfish character, developed from his guilt of seeing his parents killed in front of him and being too young to do anything about it. I hadn’t thought of him in those terms before.

His look at Irish super-heroes oddly misses out on Banshee’s daughter, Theresa Maeve Rourke aka Siryn and Maeve Rourke aka Gloriana from Excalibur. The locomotive in X-men # 102 was likely Dave Cockrum’s fault than Chris Claremont, though. Saying that, Claremont didn’t know the train station in Edinburgh was called Waverley until a group I was with at the time had an irate Scots lady annoyed with him over it.

As to the extremes of accents, this is generally something that was done in comic books for a long time in the same manner of dropping in some foreign words as witnessed with Frenchie in ‘Moon Knight’. Without such clues, your inner voice would have everyone in a similar accent.

Later chapters look at Germany, Asian and even Australian stories. When you go over the authors, there is very much an international affair which reflects in the diversity. Even if you think you know about comicbooks, I think you’ll find some surprises here.

There is a lot of ground covered in this book, much of which will make you think beyond your normal perimeters and that’s never a bad thing and makes for an interesting book.

GF Willmetts

March 2020

(pub: Rutgers University Press, 2020. 327 page loosely illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £27.50 (UK), $34.26 (US). ISBN: 978-0-8135-9716-4)

check out websites: and


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.