Representation and Agency of Aging Superheroes in Popular Culture and Contemporary Society
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The figure of the superhero has always been regarded as an iconic representative of American society. Since the birth of the first superhero, it has been shaped by the most important historical, political, and social events, which were echoed in different comic issues. In principle, in the superhero genre, there has never been a place for aging superheroes, for they stand as a symbol of power and protection for the nation. Indeed, their mythical portrayal of young and strong broad-chested men with superpowers cannot be shattered showing them fragile or disabled. The aim of this article is to delve into the complex paradigm of the passage of time in comics and to analyze one of the most famous superheroes of all times, Superman, in terms of his archetypical representation across time. From the perspective of cultural and literary gerontology, the different issues of Action Comics will be examined, as well as an alternative graphic novel Kingdom Come (2008) by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, where Superman appears as an aged man. Although it breaks the standards of the genre, in the end it does not succeed to challenge the many stereotypes embedded in society in regard to aging, associated with physical, cognitive, and emotional decline. Furthermore, this article will show how a symbolic use of the monomythical representation of a superhero may penetrate into other cultural expressions to instill a more positive and realistic portrayal of aging.