by Anthony Michael D’Agostino

About Anthony Michael D’Agostino

Anthony Michael D’Agostino is a postdoctoral fellow in English at Fordham University. His work concentrates on the nineteenth-century novel, superhero comics, queer theory, and feminism. His articles, “Flesh-to-Flesh Contact: Marvel Comics’ Rogue and the Queer Feminist Imagination” and “Telepathy and Sadomasochism in Jane Eyre,” appear in American Literature and Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature, respectively.


A superhero “universe” is both a spatial and textual conceit. Not limited by commitments to realism or the constraints of special-effects technology, the comic book superhero’s setting is a theater of engagement intergalactic and cross-dimensional in scope. Indeed, the origin of the first superhero, Superman, begins not in the fictional American city of Metropolis but on the doomed planet Krypton, from which he is desperately rocketed to Earth, an interplanetary refugee. It is something of a cartographic necessity, then, to think of the superhero as existing within not the spatial limitations of a “world,” as in a “planet,” but the maximally inclusive category of a “universe.” Some critics chart a specific historical relationship between the figure of the superhero and the high-tech city of American modernity, whether through the proxy of fictional urban spaces like DC’s Gotham City or Marvel’s sustained, focused, and realistic rendering of Manhattan (Bukatman 2003). However, closely related to the genres of science fiction and fantasy, superhero stories radically reimagine the terrestrial, adding to their Earths lost continents (DC and Marvel’s Earths both contain versions of the mythological undersea kingdom of Atlantis) and geopolitically charged fictional nation-states (like Marvel’s afro-futuristic Wakanda or DC’s Middle Eastern Kahndaq) while maintaining intergalactic (and even extradimensional) breadth by exploring alien civilizations and interplanetary politics (like DC’s passionate warrior civilization of the planet Tamaran or Marvel’s competing imperial space-faring powers, the Shi’ar and Kree). Superhero comics’ expansion of readers’ sense of “world” to include whole universes of widely varying species of sentient beings that cooperate for the greater good, some argue, positions the superhero as a model for ethically encountering racial, cultural, and sexual difference and a figure for universal citizenship (Fawaz 2016).