News Archive

News Story


Saint Xavier Professor uses decades of comic books to view Cold War

Matthew J. Costello, Ph.D., releases Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America

Chicago (March 19, 2009) Saint Xavier University Professor Matthew J. Costello, Ph.D., examines the second half of the American 20th century history through four decades of comic books in his new book on Continuum Press: "Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America."

The political scientist explores how superhero comic books reflect a vision of American identity, with a specific emphasis on several Marvel titles that represent the core of the political economy of the Marvel Universe. He argues that how Americans viewed themselves through the 1950s and 1960s began to break down under the onslaught of Cold War debacles such as Vietnam, Watergate and the Great Inflation of the 1970s. Americans increasingly came to question the ability to articulate any clear national identity. Specifically, ideas of American virtue and progress were treated with skepticism, leaving only a radical materialistic individualism to define the American self, creating significant problems for public discourse and political action in the 21st century.

Costello cites the superhero comic is particularly useful for exploring ideas of national identity, as dual and secret identities are a major element of the genre. The stark contrasts between the hero—the identity to which we aspire—and the villain—the other we seek to avoid—clearly reference cultural archetypes.  

Comic books are a unique medium in that they provide a wonderful artifact in the form of a continuous narrative from 1962 to the present, Costello said. While the characters and their enemies remain basically the same, the context in which their actions take place change dramatically and lends great insight into how America has seen itself.

Costello focuses his book primarily on the Marvel Universe, including Captain America, Iron Man, Nick Fury and The Hulk, but also discusses the DC Universe and Watchmen. He was recently interviewed by an Australian documentary crew traveling America for a documentary on comics. To learn more about the documentary, visit http://www.comic-doc.com/

If you would like to reach Costello for an interview, please call Joe Moore at (773) 298-3937 or jmoore@sxu.edu. Cell: (773) 203 6671