NYCC 2011: Is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a Superhero?


The best kind of thing that Comic-Con has to offer isn’t necessary new material from upcoming projects, but a great understanding behind the sorts of projects it does celebrate. NYCC hosted a panel on the debate over whether or not Lisbeth Salander, the main character from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is a superhero. Brought to discuss were psychologist/writer Robin Rosenberg, who worked on the book Is ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ a Superhero?, Paul Levitz (DC comics writer), Tom De Falco (Marvel editor, creator of Spider-Girl), Danny O’Neil (writer for DC comics and Iron Man) and Danny Fingeroth (Superman on the Couch writer).

Corey MatthewsIn attacking the question at hand, the speakers needed to address the definition of the term ‘superhero’ itself. There are a handful of classic ‘superhero’ characteristics that Lisbeth (played by Rooney Mara in the upcoming film series) does possess. Her heightened abilities are no brainer—there are few who can match Lisbeth’s photographic memory and hacking skills. Secret identity is a more debatable one; the panel argued that the persona the characters and readers see as Lisbeth is the identity she has created for herself, stemming back from her sexual abuse (origin story).

What separates her from most classic superheroes is that she herself falls into the category of the type of victim Lisbeth has made it her life goal to avenge: abused women. In superhero mythology, more often than not, heroes are avenging a loved one in their quests to prevent and stop crime (Batman and Spider-Man are two big examples).

After deliberating details like these, the panel spent a good deal of time focusing on the core of the issue of whether or not Lisbeth’s motivations and actions were truly ‘superheroic.’ The specific questions asked were, “Is she doing this for the greater good?” and “Can a superhero ever kill his enemies (as Lisbeth does)?”

No real consensus was reached on this issue—as expected, the room was split, especially when posed with the latter question. The panel shared a scene from the Swedish Millennium Trilogy film series, wherein Lisbeth takes down a gang of bikers. They are not particularly evil men, more so just a nuisance to her at the time—although not exactly upright citizens, either. Furthermore, the panel cited Lisbeth’s embezzlement of criminals’ money in the story. The panel decided that she is not doing it as a preventative measure, to keep them from performing their malicious tasks adequately, but rather just for her own benefit. Of course, in a Machiavellian sense, this is a good act (her use of the money will be far less despicable than that of the original party), but her actions aren’t truly noble.

Despite the lack of concrete conclusion, the panel was a fascinating analysis of both The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the idea of a superhero, delivered by a group of people whose expertise are right on target for this sort of things: psychology and (more importantly) comic books. 

And now the question is in your hands: Is the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a superhero?