Capes and the Canon – Comic Book Superheroes and American Exceptionalism

deadline for submissions: 
August 1, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Forrest C. Helvie, Ph.D.
contact email: 

Title: Capes and the Canon - Comic Book Superheroes and American Exceptionalism

Deadline for Submissions: 8/1/2023

Editor: Forrest C. Helvie, Ph.D.

Publisher: McFarland Publishing

Contact Email:

Publication Overview:

Thanks to Cleveland natives Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Americans and comic readers throughout the world were introduced to the foremost (though not the first) superhero of the twentieth century: Superman—the character whose first appearance kickstarted a genre and who would later be joined by the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman, and (later still) Spider-Man, to name a few early, influential superheroes.

Even more interesting than the weekly serialized adventures of these characters is how the genre actively participated in the greater American cultural discourse over individuality and independence—concepts that, from the country’s beginnings, were embraced by writers and readers in a multi-generational dialectic over American Exceptionalism.

American Exceptionalism generally refers to the belief that the United States is inherently unique or superior in its values, political system, history, and destiny compared with other nations. Proponents argue that this belief has driven American progress and contributed to its global influence and leadership. They see it as a source of national pride, motivation, and a justification for certain policies and actions.

Critics of American Exceptionalism, however, argue that it leads to a sense of entitlement, arrogance, and a belief that the United States should act unilaterally and impose its values on others. This hinders critical self-reflection and promotes uncritical view of American history. Moreover, American Exceptionalism has been used to justify discriminatory practices and cultural norms, perpetuating inequality and injustices experienced by marginalized groups. It is essential to question and challenge this ideology to foster a more inclusive and equitable society.

Interestingly, despite the seemingly individualistic nature of superheroes, they often embody characteristics associated with the dominant culture, namely white, cisgendered, heterosexual males and have been viewed by many at home and abroad as emblems of American Exceptionalism. The genre, however, has shown signs of breaking away from its patriarchal origins in recent decades, with increased representation of women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ individuals among both its characters and its creators. Despite setbacks and challenges, as exemplified by movements such as Comics Gate, this gradual shift aligns the genre with the broader cultural conversation it originally engaged in.

This essay collection invites writers to explore superheroes, especially within comics, and examine their role in the complex landscape of American Exceptionalism. The collection seeks to shed light on the superhero genre's growth and conflicts, highlighting its potential as a platform for addressing and challenging prevailing cultural norms. By analyzing superheroes in various forms of media, contributors can lend a voice to the conversation about American identity and exceptionalism.

Proposal Submission Criteria:

  1. Proposal submissions must be accompanied by a covering letter/page bearing the following information:
    1. Full Name of the Author(s)
    2. Professional Role: Faculty/Post Doc/Independent Scholar/Student
    3. Institutional Affiliations (if any)
    4. Contact Details of the Author(s) (Email and Mobile Number)
  2. A completed self-declaration that it is an original work and has not been published/ sent for publication anywhere else. Contributors must avoid plagiarism and maintain a strict ethical stand regarding acknowledgement of works cited and ideas borrowed from others or artificially generated material and content. Click here for form.
  3. Proposals for chapters should be no more than 500 words and focus on exploring some aspect of the connection between the superhero genre and American Exceptionalism. The proposal should effectively communicate the key aspects of the chapter while maintaining a concise and coherent structure.
  4. Writers invited to contribute to this collection will need to submit chapter manuscripts to the editor for review that run between 3,500 – 7,000 words with an expected deadline for submission of a final draft of the proposed chapter by December 1, 2023. An invitation to contribute does not constitute a guarantee of having the chapter published.

We strongly encourage proposals that critically examine the representation, agency, and cultural significance of underrepresented characters, as well as the creative voices behind their creation.

Furthermore, we are committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive dialogue within the academic community and welcome proposals from scholars representing different disciplines, cultures, and lived experiences. We encourage early-career researchers, scholars from underrepresented backgrounds, and voices traditionally marginalized within and from outside of superhero studies to contribute.

Possible proposals could include – but are not limited to:

  • The Rise of Comics Gate and Resistance to Progressive Superhero Narratives
  • The Importance of Being Miles – An Exploration of the Cultural Significance of Miles Morales as Spider-Man
  • The Performative Nature of Superheroes and the LGBTQIA+ Experience
  • Who Gets to be Super? How Has the Superhero Genre Been Used to Explore and Reinforce Who is Represented as a Hero?
  • The Role of War in Superhero Comics: How Have Superheroes Been Used to Represent and Challenge the American Military-Industrial Complex?
  • The Evolving Face of American Exceptionalism: From American Romantics to Comic Book Superheroes