Pretty Much Pop #63: Superhero Ethics (and The Boys) w/ Travis Smith

Is there no end to the seemingly endless fascination with superhero media? Mark, Erica, and Brian are joined by Travis, who teaches political philosophy at Concordia) to discuss. Travis sees their resonance as a matter of metaphor: How can we do more with the abilities we have? His book Superhero Ethics matches up heroes like Batman vs. Spider-Man for ethical comparison: Both “act locally,” but Batman would like to actually rule over Gotham, while Spider-Man engages in a more “friendly neighborhood” patrol. What philosophy should govern the way we try to do good in the world?

Lurking in the background is the current release of season two of the Amazon series The Boys, based on Garth Ennis’ graphic novels, which assumes that power corrupts and asks what regular folks might do in the face of corporate-backed invulnerability. This cynical take is part of a long tradition of asking “what if super-heroes were literally real?” that goes through Watchmen all the way back to Spider-Man himself, who faces financial and other mundane problems that Superman was immune to.

Given Travis’ book, we didn’t really need supplementary articles for this episode, but you can take a look at this interview with him to learn more about his comic book loves and the Canadian heritage that led him to start fighting crime (you know, indirectly, through ethical teaching).

If you enjoy this, try our previous episodes on Watchmen and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can hear now by supporting the podcast at This time we get a special appearance by Drew (Erica’s husband) to tell us his true-life superhero story! This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by


  1. Enjoyable discussion. Great guest. Never been a reader or watcher of super hero material, but still found this interesting and insightful. I may just look into a few things.

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