This course examines the social and cultural significance of superhero comic books and films. Particular attention will be paid to the origins of superheroes in comic books and the manner in which the major two companies, DC and Marvel, positioned those heroes in blockbuster movies commencing with Superman in 1978. The course will trace the antecedents and rise of comic book superheroes, discuss their various incarnations in other media forms like radio and television, and culminate in a discussion of the wave of recent superhero films up to and including films released in 2015. In addition to discussing the characters and their history the course will cover some of the strategies companies have adopted in licensing and marketing their superheroes.
Module 1. The Origins of Superheroes
Why Superhero Entertainments
Origins: The Development of Comic Strips
Origins: The Development of Pulps and Science Fiction
The Origins of Comic Books
Module 2. The Original Superheroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and the rest.
Comic Book Superheroes: The Rise, 1938-1941
Comic Book Superheroes: The Ascendancy, 1941-1945
Comic Book Superheroes: Fall from Grace, 1946-1956
Module 3. Superheroes Across Mediums (1938-1958)
Superheroes in Comic Strips and Radio
Superheroes in Movie Serials and Animation
Superheroes in Television
Module 4. Superhero Resurgence (1956-1986)
The Flash, Julius Schwartz, Green Lantern, Justice League of America
Marvel and the Rebirth of Comic Book Superheroes: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko
Comic Book Superheroes Plus (Dracula, Kung Fu and more)
Superhero Apogee (Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, and Crisis)
Module 5. Superheroes On Screen: DC Characters in TV and Movies (1960s to present)
Batman TV Series
Superfriends and other animation
Superman: The Movie
Wonder Woman TV Series
Tim Burton’s Batman
The Flash TV Series
Lois and Clark
Smallville TV Series (and Aquaman, Arrow, and Gotham)
Module 6. Making Movies the Marvel Way
Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Avengers
Module 7. Authors and Fans
Who owns Superman and why?
Who owns Spiderman?
Module 8. Satires and Send Ups
Howard the Duck
Robert Mayer’s Superfolks
Landis’s Death of Superman
Potential students should be familiar with, and hopefully watched, some of the recent superhero movies.
Available for free online
• an Gordon, Comic Strips and Consumer Culture. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.
• Help is on the Way! Comic Books and Superheroes in Special Collections Exhibition Catalogue
• Matthew P. McAllister, Ian Gordon, & Mark Jancovich, “Art house meets graphic novel, or blockbuster meets superhero comic?: The contradictory relationship between film and comic art,” Journal of Popular Film and Television, 34 (2006), 108-114.
• Audrey Watters, “The Golden Lasso of Education Technology” This piece uses Wonder Woman to criticize, by analogy, education technology. Something to ponder as you take a course in this form.
Your Library might have a copy:
• Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith. Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood, 2013.
• Check on WorldCat.
A more extensive reading list will be provided closer to the commencement of the course.
Quiz 1 – 15%
Quiz 2 – 15%
Quiz 3 – 15%
Quiz 4 – 15%
Short Paper – 40%
What will I learn if I take this class?
The class will give you some background and concepts that help explain the popularity of superheroes.
Is this a course for fanboys and fangirls?
Not particularly. No special knowledge is needed to take this course. But some people who take it will undoubtedly know a lot of intricate detail about various superheroes. They will be a resource for us all.
Will this course help me break in to comics?
No. But it won’t hurt your chances.