Super-History: Comic Book Superheroes and American Society, 1938 to the Present

McFarland
Free sample

In the less than eight decades since Superman’s debut in 1938, comic book superheroes have become an indispensable part of American society and the nation’s dominant mythology. They represent America’s hopes, dreams, fears, and needs. As a form of popular literature, superhero narratives have closely mirrored trends and events in the nation. This study views American history from 1938 to 2010 through the lens of superhero comics, revealing the spandex-clad guardians to be not only fictional characters but barometers of the place and time in which they reside. Instructors considering this book for use in a course may request an examination copy here.
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About the author

Jeffrey K. Johnson, a World War II historian for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Honolulu, Hawaii, is the author of several books and articles.
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Additional Information

Publisher
McFarland
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Published on
Jan 10, 2014
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Pages
230
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ISBN
9780786490356
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Comics & Graphic Novels
Literary Criticism / General
Social Science / General
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Ever since the first appearances of Superman and Batman in comic books of the late 1930s, superheroes have been a staple of the popular culture landscape. Though initially created for younger audiences, superhero characters have evolved over the years, becoming complex figures that appeal to more sophisticated readers. While superhero stories have grown ever more popular within broader society, however, comics and graphic novels have been largely ignored by the world of academia.

In Enter the Superheroes:American Values, Culture, and the Canon of Superhero Literature, Alex S. Romagnoli and Gian S. Pagnucci argue that superheroes merit serious study, both within the academy and beyond. By examining the kinds of graphic novels that are embraced by the academy, this book explains how superhero stories are just as significant. Structured around key themes within superhero literature, the book delves into the features that make superhero stories a unique genre. The book also draws upon examples in comics and other media to illustrate the sociohistorical importance of superheroes—from the interplay of fans and creators to unique narrative elements that are brought to their richest fulfillment within the world of superheroes. A list of noteworthy superhero texts that readers can look to for future study is also provided.

In addition to exploring the important roles that superheroes play in children’s learning, the book also offers an excellent starting point for discussions of how literature is evolving and why it is necessary to expand the traditional realms of literary study. Enter the Superheroes will be of particular interest to English and composition teachers but also to scholars of popular culture and fans of superhero and comic book literature.
“Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound . . . It’s Superman!” Bending Steel examines the historical origins and cultural significance of Superman and his fellow American crusaders. Cultural historian Aldo J. Regalado asserts that the superhero seems a direct response to modernity, often fighting the interrelated processes of industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and capitalism that transformed the United States from the early nineteenth century to the present. Reeling from these exciting but rapid and destabilizing forces, Americans turned to heroic fiction as a means of explaining national and personal identities to themselves and to the world. In so doing, they created characters and stories that sometimes affirmed, but other times subverted conventional notions of race, class, gender, and nationalism.

The cultural conversation articulated through the nation’s early heroic fiction eventually led to a new heroic type—the brightly clad, super-powered, pro-social action heroes that first appeared in American comic books starting in the late 1930s. Although indelibly shaped by the Great Depression and World War II sensibilities of the second-generation immigrants most responsible for their creation, comic book superheroes remain a mainstay of American popular culture.

Tracing superhero fiction all the way back to the nineteenth century, Regalado firmly bases his analysis of dime novels, pulp fiction, and comics in historical, biographical, and reader response sources. He explores the roles played by creators, producers, and consumers in crafting superhero fiction, ultimately concluding that these narratives are essential for understanding vital trajectories in American culture.
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