They thwart dastardly supervillains and have saved the world countless times over but macho superheroes now face a determined new foe in the guise of a mild-mannered child psychologist.
Professor Sharon Lamb, from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, accuses the new generation of superheroes, exemplified by Robert Downey Junior's playboy millionnaire Iron Man, of being bad role models for young boys.
Unlike conventional superheroes such as Superman, who stood for justice, fairness and decency, the modern macho superheroes portray a negative masculinity, characterised by mindless aggression and rampant sexism. Lamb, who surveyed 674 boys aged four to 18, claimed these hardnosed heroes may be damaging the social skills of teenagers and even affecting their performance at school.
"There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday," she said.
"Today's superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he's aggressive, sarcastic, and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity," she said.
"These men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns."
In contrast, Lamb said the boys could look up to the old-style heroes such as Superman, "because outside of their costumes they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities".Lamb told the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, California that adolescent boys were being sold a "narrow version of masculinity" just when they were most vulnerable and trying to forge an identity for themselves.
Well, duh. But haven't Superheroes been like that forever?