What is a Superhero?

How Myth Can be a Metacode


  • Kenneth G. MacKendrick University of Manitoba




Superheroes, Marvel comics, imagination, myth-making


The essay argues that Marvel's Civil War is an interesting narrative concerning the superhero metacode at work. After a brief overview of the crossover event, its allegorical qualities will be discussed followed by a supplemental reading focusing on how superheroes, as agents of pretend play, come to be socialized, coded, and distributed across shared social networks.

Author Biography

Kenneth G. MacKendrick, University of Manitoba

Kenneth G. MacKendrick is Associate Professor, Department of Religion, University of Manitoba. His doctoral thesis on the early writings of Jürgen Habermas was completed at the Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto and has been published by Routledge as Discourse, Desire, and Fantasy in Jürgen Habermas’ Critical Theory (2008). He has also published articles on critical theory and religion, method and theory in the study of religion, discourse ethics, imaginary companions, thanatology, and the writings of Chuck Palahniuk.


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Collected Marvel Civil War Editions

Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto, writer. 2007. Civil War: Peter Parker, Spider-Man. Angel Medina and Sean Chen, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Bendis, Brian Michael, writer. 2007. Civil War: The New Avengers. Howard Chaykin, Leinil Yu, Olivier Coipel, Pasqual Ferry, and Jim Cheung, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Bendis, Brian Michae,l and J. Michael Straczynski, writers. 2013. The Road to Civil War. Alex Maleev, Mike McKone, Ron Garney, and Tyler Kirkham, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Brubaker, Ed, writer. 2013. The Death of Captain America: Complete Collection. Mike Perkins, Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano, Steve Epting, Butch Guice, and Roberto De La Torre, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

David, Peter and Fabian Nicieza, writers. 2010. Civil War: X-Men Universe. Dennis Calero and Staz Johnson, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Fraction, Matt, writer. 2007. Civil War: Punisher War Journal. Ariel Olivetti and Mike Deodato, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Gage, Christos, Daniel & Charles Knauf, and Brian Michael Bendis, writers. 2013. Civil War: Iron Man. Jeremy Haun, Patrich Zircher, and Alex Maleev, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Gray, Justin and Jimmy Palmiotti, writers. 2009. Civil War: Heroes for Hire. Billy Tucci and Francis Portela, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Guggenheim, Marc, writer. 2013. Civil War: Wolverine. Humberto Ramos, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Hine, David, writer. 2007. Civil War: X-Men. Yanick Paquette, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Huldin, Reginald, writer. 2007. Civil War: Black Panther. Scot Eaton, Manuel Garcia , Koi Turnbull, and Marcus To, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Jenkins, Paul, writer. 2007a. Civil War: Front Line Book 1. Ramon Bachs, Steve Lieber, and Leandro Fernandez, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Jenkins, Paul, writer. 2007b. Civil War: Front Line Book 2. Ramon Bachs, Steve Lieber, and Lee Weeks, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Millar, Mark, writer. 2012. Civil War. Steve McNiven, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Nicieza, Fabian, writer. 2010. Civil War: Thunderbolts. Tom Grummett, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Reed, Brian, writer. 2007. Civil War: Ms. Marvel. Roberto de la Torre, Mike Wieringo, and Giuseppe Camuncoli, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Slott, Dan, Paul Jenkins, Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis, Marc Guggenheim, Robert Kirkman, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Michael Avon Oeming, and Ty Templeton, writers. 2007. Civil War: Marvel Universe. Paul Smith, Tom Raney, Marc Silvestri, Leinil Yu, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, David Aja, Scott Kolins, Roger Langridge, illustrators. New York: Marvel.

Straczynski, J. Michael, writer. 2007. Civil War: The Amazing Spider-Man. Ron Garney, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Straczynski, J. Michael and Dwayne McDuffie, writers. 2011. Civil War: Fantastic Four. Mike McKone, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Thomas, John Rhett, writer/coordinator. 2007. Civil War: Companion. New York: Marvel.

Tieri, Frank, writer. 2007. Civil War: War Crimes. Staz Johnson, illustrator. New York: Marvel.

Wells, Zeb, writer. 2011. Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways. Stefano Caselli, illustrator. New York: Marvel.



How to Cite

MacKendrick, K. (2015). What is a Superhero? How Myth Can be a Metacode. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 44(1), 19–25. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsor.v44i1.26860