Comic Book Crime

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

320 pages

34 b/w illustrations and 4 tables

July, 2013

ISBN: 9780814767870



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Nickie D. Phillips is Associate Professor in the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at St.Francis College in Brooklyn, NY.

All books by Nickie D. Phillips

Staci Strobl is Associate Professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

All books by Staci Strobl

Superman, Batman, Daredevil, and Wonder Woman are iconic cultural figures that embody values of order, fairness, justice, and retribution. Comic Book Crime digs deep into these and other celebrated characters, providing a comprehensive understanding of crime and justice in contemporary American comic books. This is a world where justice is delivered, where heroes save ordinary citizens from certain doom, where evil is easily identified and thwarted by powers far greater than mere mortals could possess. Nickie Phillips and Staci Strobl explore these representations and show that comic books, as a historically important American cultural medium, participate in both reflecting and shaping an American ideological identity that is often focused on ideas of the apocalypse, utopia, retribution, and nationalism. 
Through an analysis of approximately 200 comic books sold from 2002 to 2010, as well as several years of immersion in comic book fan culture, Phillips and Strobl reveal the kinds of themes and plots popular comics feature in a post-9/11 context. They discuss heroes’ calculations of “deathworthiness,” or who should be killed in meting out justice, and how these judgments have as much to do with the hero’s character as they do with the actions of the villains. This fascinating volume also analyzes how class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation are used to construct difference for both the heroes and the villains in ways that are both conservative and progressive. Engaging, sharp, and insightful, Comic Book Crime is a fresh take on the very meaning of truth, justice, and the American way.


  • "Carrying ahead the project of cultural criminology, Phillips and Strobl dare to take seriously that which amuses and entertains us—and to find in it the most significant of themes. Audiences, images, ideologies of justice and injustice—all populate the pages of Comic Book Crime. The result is an analysis as colorful as a good comic, and as sharp as the point on a superhero’s sword."

    —Jeff Ferrell, author of Empire of Scrounge

  • "Another important and original contribution to cultural criminology and the study of popular culture more generally. Phillips' and Strobl's work lays out the primacy of crime, violence, hegemony, and retribution to American conceptualizations of mythic justice."

    —Michelle Brown, co-author of Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture

  • "Comic Book Crime is an important book devoted to a medium that has long been dismissed."

    —Scott Elingburg, Popmatters

  • “Students and the public as well as academics should be interested in and entertained by this scholarly treatment of a popular culture form.”

    —Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

  • "Innovative, exciting, and truly interdisciplinary, Phillips and Strobl pen a wonderful book on the iconic cultural figures in contemporary American comic books. Phillips and Strobl use criminal justice, criminology, law, history, sociology, and related social sciences to argue that comic books and the characters that inhabit those spaces constitute a rather comprehensive understanding of crime and justice in America. Phillips and Strobl's book is made up of 10 succinct chapters, all edgy and creative. The book's most persuasive component may be the final substantive chapter in which Phillips and Strobl present the impact of this attention to crime fighting, which has led to astronomical numbers of Americans incarcerated. If readers were to only read one chapter of the book, it should be the final chapter....Comic Book Crime is an essential book for anyone interested in truth, justice, and the American way, but more importantly who defines those notions and how. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

    —A.R.S. Lorenz, CHOICE

  • Comic Book Crime is one of those rare books that is both academically respectable and accessible to the general reader…Phillips and Strobl have not only read more comics than you have, they have thought about them deeply, and related them to contemporary social concerns. Comic Book Crime is definitely worth reading, both for those interested in its subject, and as a model of how to approach thematic surveys of popular culture.”

    —, American Studies

  • "Philips and Strobl are criminologists, and they take a distinctly criminological approach to their examination of stories about law and order in comic books, but their book should appeal to all social science and humanities scholars with an interest in comics.  The authors are also comic book insiders who volunteer to serve as patient mentors to those of us who are new to the genre, explaining key words like ‘retcon,’ and core processes like ‘crossover event.’  This is a very accessible guide for the comic book newcomer that is also mindful of ‘fanboy’ readers.”

    Men and Masculinities

  • Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way is an impressive study that investigates not only comic book culture but the conditions of fictional worlds where a different sense of justice is at work.  So obviously the comics present an alternate American society; and the book also takes a look at the development of the American law system and its possible flaws, past and present corruption and other imperfections that called for fictional heroes such as Batman and Superman in the first place.”

    Pop Culture Shelf

  • “Phillips and Strobl provide a fascinating depiction of the type of crime-laden worlds these superheroes reside, the paths to justice for these superheroes, and the characteristics that comic books portray superheroes having.” 

    Journal of American Culture