Slugfest: Inside the Epic 50-Year Battle between Marvel and DC, by Reed Tucker (Da Capo, 304 pp., $27)
No matter how cynical any civilization becomes, its people will always need heroes. If the gods and demigods of the ancient world gave way to the saints and martyrs of the medieval world, the saints and martyrs of the medieval world gave way to the comic-book masked vigilantes, aliens, and mutants of the modern world. What will the postmoderns do? (Try to deconstruct the moderns, of course, and leave us with only our hopelessness.)
Like it or not, over the past 40 years comic-book characters have come to dominate the popular culture of America. Once thriving only on drugstore magazine racks and in the newspaper strips, superheroes, especially, have found profitable homes on television, at the movies, in video games, and in the young-adult fiction section of your local Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. What was once the province of gifted but socially awkward kids and older socially awkward nerds has become mainstream. Not only a massive amount of money but the very soul of our society is at stake, depending on how we choose to interpret Wonder Woman, Batman, and Wolverine. Do we laugh at them or with them? Do we see them as heroes or antiheroes? Do they work for or against the government? Do they represent law and order? And so forth.