Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Michael Harker

Second Advisor

Ashley Holmes

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Lopez


This project uncovers representations of literacy in superhero media. Observing how diverse conceptions of literacy inform character development and narrative structure in multimodal narratives, this study examines a range of superhero media (film, TV, video games, novels, and graphic novels), arguing how superheroes narratives, in particular, reveal exaggerations of student’s cultural values and perceptions of literacy. Extending New Literacy Studies scholars’ theories of literacy, this study shows how autonomous conceptions of literacy not only appear in these narratives but play vital roles in shaping current portrayals of superheroes and their corresponding worlds. This dissertation employs superhero media as a context to understand emerging views of literacy as a complex, multidirectional, multimodal, culture-based phenomenon which has been defined, redefined, ignored, implemented, politicized, controlled, and expressed by different ideas. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that representations of literacy in superhero media offer tremendous pedagogical value for students, as the exaggerated worlds of superheroes allow students to develop deeper understandings of how Western values intersect with attitudes about literacy.