a short review of patrick mcdonnell’s “super hero’s journey”

Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 minutes.

MARVEL SU­PER­HERO COMIC BOOKS! Back in the ’60s, those were magic words for thou­sands of kids, in­cluding me and Patrick Mc­Don­nell. While both of us had dreams of being artists when we grew up, Patrick re­al­ized that dream: he is the cre­ator of the comic strip Mutts, one of the best strips out there!

Patrick is also the au­thor of sev­eral books, in­cluding last year’s The Super Hero’s Journey. Ac­cording to the book’s inner dust-cover flap:

The Super Hero’s Journey is an ad­ven­ture un­like any you have ever read. This all-new graphic novel love letter fea­tures classic Marvel super he­roes, in­cluding the Fan­tastic Four, the In­cred­ible Hulk, Cap­tain America, Black Pan­ther, and Spider-Man. It is the syn­thesis of Mc­Don­nell’s pos­i­tive, in­spi­ra­tional sen­si­bility and Mar­vel’s block­buster brand.”

The Super Hero’s Journey is a syn­thesis of Mc­Don­nell’s in­spi­ra­tional sen­si­bility and Mar­vel’s block­buster brand.

The graphic novel is 103 pages of Marvel story and script by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko and art­work from the ’60s—mostly by Kirby but with a healthy dose of Ditko and a few pages by the oft-overlooked (and, by me, under-appreciated) Don Heck and their inkers—alongside new art by McDonnell.

No spoiler alert necessary

Also, this ar­ticle does not con­tain any spoilers (un­less you count a peek at some of the art­work as a spoiler).


Super Hero's Journey: Front cover of the dust jacket for Patrick McDonnell's "The Super Hero's Journey" from Abrams Books (2023).
Patrick Mc­Don­nell’s The Super Hero’s Journey is beau­ti­fully printed and col­ored on glossy pages, a typ­i­cally fine pub­li­ca­tion from Abrams.

The Super Hero’s Journey

As the story is told from the point of view of Patrick as a child im­mersed in the world of Marvel su­per­heroes, his art­work throughout looks like it was done by a tal­ented child. Mc­Don­nell’s title ap­pears to be a nod to­wards the book The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Camp­bell on His Life and Work. Pre­vi­ously, Camp­bell had said this about the hero’s journey:

“A hero ven­tures forth from the world of common day into a re­gion of su­per­nat­ural wonder: fab­u­lous forces are there en­coun­tered and a de­ci­sive vic­tory is won: the hero comes back from this mys­te­rious ad­ven­ture with the power to be­stow boons on his fellow man.”

As many people have re­ferred to Lee, Kirby, and Ditko’s char­ac­ters as myth­ical he­roes for the 20th cen­tury, an al­lu­sion to these char­ac­ters and their on­going battle against all forms of evil makes sense.


Super Hero's Journey: a sample from "The Super Hero's Journey" with the Watrcher.
The Watcher plays a piv­otal role in The Super Hero’s Journey, often drawn in a child­like manner. Here he is em­bracing the amaz­ing­ness of Earth’s sky.

The review

Since I stopped col­lecting su­per­hero comic books more than fifty years ago, I have not en­joyed watching what has be­come of them. While I am not given to ex­pe­ri­encing nos­talgia, there have been two events in all those years that have made me re-experience some of the joy, wonder, and just plain fun of comic books that I ex­pe­ri­enced in the ’60s: 

•  Spider-Man (the 2002 movie)
•  The Super Hero’s Journey

I will close with an ap­pro­priate Marvel motto: “It’s clob­berin’ time!”

No, wait—wrong one. How about, “Nuff said?”


PatrickMcDonnell SuperHerosJourney pages IronMan Hulk 1000 trim

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was cropped from an image in The Super Hero’s Journey. Above is a two-page spread with a page from The Fan­tastic Four An­nual #2 on the left (art by Jack Kirby and Chic Stone, mostly). Op­po­site a drawing of Iron Man duking it out with the Hulk from Mc­Don­nell’s youthful sketch­book. (Note: I tweaked the color bal­ance and sat­u­ra­tion of the orig­inal to make it a stronger, more eye-catching image.)


Fi­nally, Mc­Don­nell in­cluded a Ded­i­ca­tion in the front of the book: “Jack Kirby was once asked, ‘If you could have one su­per­power, what would it be?’ His an­swer: ‘Love.’ ”



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