English 149 -2 - Winter, 2024

Topics in Literature

Topic: Superhero Comics and Narratives of Justice

Class Information

Instructor: Jerng, Mark
CRN: 44590
Time: TR 4:40-6:00pm
Location: Olson 141
GE Areas: Writing Experience


"if the feeling of injustice is socially constructed, it also has the capacity to give rise to the critique of socially valid representations of justice"
-Emmanuel Renault

"I don't know what's going on--But I do know who has the advantage--And no one can quite even the odds for the underdog--Like Bruce Banner, The Incredible Hulk"
-Bruce Banner as he turns into the Incredible Hulk

Superhero comics are over-determined by their narrative drive toward justice. But is it a form of blind justice as when Bruce Banner admits "I don't know what's going on?" What counts as injustice and what is the appropriate response? From the mid-twentieth century on, superhero comics have shaped our visions of "socially valid representations of justice" and meditated on its limitations, its associated affects, and its social and political conditions. During that same time period, superhero comics reflect on shifting political and economic formations, including the Cold War, global anti-colonial politics, Civil Rights and anti-apartheid struggle, and the intensification of the prison-industrial complex and racial stratification. This course reads superhero comics alongside debates and thinkers in political philosophy and political economy in order to think about how we represent justice to ourselves, especially in relation to dynamics of difference, gender politics, economic circuits of property and circulation, and the shifting formations of criminality. Readings will be drawn primarily from the Marvel universe of superhero comics, but will draw on a few figures from DC comics as well.


Essay on comics and historical reference
Essay on comics and a particular question within the politics of justice
Final Paper
Brief in-class writing assignments

Course Objectives
-Read across a range of superhero comics from the 1940s to the present with attention to both their evolution over time, their revisiting of certain core questions, and their immediate historical contexts
-Develop reading and visual analysis skills with close attention to language, narrative strategies, uses of frames and perspectives, image, and the arrangement of time and space on the page
-Develop writing skills in evidence-based argumentation
-Examine how superhero comics have explored historical formations such as U.S. militarism, xenophobia, South African apartheid, evolving uses of property, and imperialism, among others

Student Learning Outcomes
-Students will be able to identify and interpret the significance of aesthetic, stylistic, and narrative conventions specific to comics (Satisfies the Arts and Humanities GE)
-Students will show an understanding of comic writers' and artistic engagements with addressing contemporaneous historical and political events, especially as they shape ideas of freedom, injustice, coercion, and power (Satisfies the Arts and Humanities GE)
-Students will demonstrate and improve skills in textual and visual analysis and evidence-based argumentation through feedback on and revision of writing assignments (Satisfies the Writing Experience GE Requirement)
-Students will apply political philosophical readings on justice to superhero comics' expressions of dilemmas concerning justice.

Primary Texts will require a subscription to Marvel Unlimited for the duration of the class. Cost will be $9.99/month for 3 months. Go to https://marvel.com/comics/unlimited

All other readings provided as .pdfs on canvas.

Because of the nature of the readings, this class is not working with UC Davis Bookstore's Equitable Access program.


Captain America, various authors
Truth: Red, White and Black, Kyle Baker
Black Panther, Reginald Hudlin, Christopher Priest, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Power Man & Iron Fist, Mary Jo Duffy
Vision, Tom King
Wonder Woman (selected issues)
X-Men, Dark Phoenix Rising
America Chavez, Gabby Rivera