Superheroes and Superegos

Analyzing the Minds Behind the Masks

by Sharon Packer, MD


Psychiatrist and social advocate Fredric Wertham lobbied against comics because of their sexual and sadistic subtext and their potential to reverse women's roles and encourage same-sex behavior. However, Wertham's McCarthy Era stance forgot that early superhero comics foretold Hitler's threat—and offered solutions.

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Cover image for Superheroes and Superegos

December 2009


Pages 275
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Popular Culture/General

This comprehensive collection of essays written by a practicing psychiatrist shows that superheroes are more about superegos than about bodies and brawn, even though they contain subversive sexual subtexts that paved the path for major social shifts of the late 20th century.

Superheroes have provided entertainment for generations, but there is much more to these fictional characters than what first meets the eye. Superheros and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds Behind the Masks begins its exploration in 1938 with the creation of Superman and continues to the present, with a nod to the forerunners of superhero stories in the Bible and Greek, Roman, Norse, and Hindu myth. The first book about superheroes written by a psychiatrist in over 50 years, it invokes biological psychiatry to discuss such concepts as "body dysmorphic disorder," as well as Jungian concepts of the shadow self that explain the appeal of the masked hero and the secret identity.

Readers will discover that the earliest superheroes represent fantasies about stopping Hitler, while more sophisticated and socially-oriented publishers used superheroes to encourage American participation in World War II. The book also explores themes such as how the feminist movement and the dramatic shift in women's roles and rights were predicted by Wonder Woman and Sheena nearly 30 years before the dawn of the feminist era.


  • Looks at cultural psychology as much as individual psychology to analyze the political backdrop of superhero stories
  • Explores the importance of the secret self, the shadow self, and myths of metamorphosis, and shows how superheroes function as wounded warriors in contemporary society
  • Shows how the teenage creation of Superman of 1938 was prophetic and speculates whether the rise in superhero cinema in the 21st century may be equally prophetic of political catastrophes to come
Author Info

Sharon Packer, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Bronx, NY. Her published works include Dreams in Myth, Medicine, and Movies and Movies and the Modern Psyche.



"...a captivating mix of psychology, mythology, history, and culture to present the dynamic characteristics of the superhero. . . . Recommended. All readers."Choice

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