Posted: 04/14/2008


The Psychology of Superheroes

by Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Del Harvey

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

Have you ever wondered what it is that makes us love some superheroes so much? Why their quirks or personal agendas appeal to you or me, specifically? Ever ponder the mental state of someone who needs to adopt an alter ego in order to get something done or to hide something about them?

That’s the main thrust behind the newest addition to the Psychology of… series from Benbella Books. And it’s important to us because we want to understand ourselves better, which means knowing why we are subconsciously attracted to anyone who dresses up in colorful tights and exacts justice in their own, special way.

In The Psychology of Superheroes, author Robin S. Rosenberg, Ph.D., examines the psyche of our superhero icons, including Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and the X-Men. As editor, she has gathered together some very intriguing essays written by expert psychologists, all aimed at exposing and explaining the psychologies of some of pop culture’s favorite mythic heroes.

As we delve deeper into the book, we find the essays examining more closely those unusual personality traits and eccentric ticks common among our superheroes, most of which have dual personalities. For example, the Hulk’s volatile temper is traced back to unresolved issues stemming from rail-thin Dr. Bruce Banner’s unhappy and unloved childhood. And the good boy scout, Superman, is shown to possess a much darker and condescending attitude, called a “superman complex,” which continually threatens to destroy him. And our favorite dark knight, the Batman, possesses what some might call a “hostile aggression” in his insatiable pursuit of evildoers; combined with his coldness towards those whom he rescues, raise suspicions about his need to be a superhero at all.

However, the book does approach these psychological mysteries in a way that is deferential towards our heroes, and tries to help us understand better why we love them in spite of themselves.

Highly recommended for any reader wishing to gain a deeper understanding of their heroes beyond just the costume.

Del Harvey is a founding member of Film Monthly. He teaches film in Chicago.

Got a problem? E-mail us at