On the Origin of Superheroes

On the Origin of Superheroes : From the Big Bang to Action Comics No. 1

3.48 (25 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

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Most readers think that superheroes began with Superman's appearance in Action Comics No. 1, but that Kryptonian rocket didn't just drop out of the sky. By the time Superman's creators were born, the superhero's most defining elements-secret identities, aliases, disguises, signature symbols, traumatic origin stories, extraordinary powers, selfsacrificing altruism-were already wellrehearsed standards. Superheroes have a sprawling, action packed history that predates the Man of Steel by decades and even centuries. On the Origin of Superheroes is a quirky, personal tour of the mythology, literature, philosophy, history, and grand swirl of ideas that have permeated western culture in the centuries leading up to the first appearance of superheroes (as we know them today) in 1938.

From the creation of the universe, through mythological heroes and gods, to folklore, ancient philosophy, revolutionary manifestos, discarded scientific theories, and gothic monsters, the sweep and scale of the superhero's origin story is truly epic. We will travel from Jane Austen's Bath to Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars to Owen Wister's Wyoming, with some surprising stops along the way. We'll meet mad scientists, Napoleonic dictators, costumed murderers, diabolical madmen, blackmailers, pirates, Wild West out laws, eugenicists, the KKK, Victorian dogooders, detectives, aliens, vampires, and pulp vigilantes (to name just a few). Chris Gavaleris your tour guide through this fascinating, sometimes dark, often funny, but always surprising prehistory of the most popular figure in pop culture today. In a way, superheroes have always been with us: they are a fossil record of our greatest aspirations and our worst fears and failings.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 264 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 22.86mm | 471.74g
  • Iowa, United States
  • English
  • 7 illustrations, 1 black & white photograph, 2 images
  • 1609383818
  • 9781609383817
  • 1,016,776

Review quote

"Superheroes are everywhere now, but Gavaler shows that that's nothing new. From Zeus to Zorro, he looks at why we love the superhero, and why maybe sometimes we shouldn't. Eclectic, entertaining, and surprisingly personal, On the Origin of Superheroes will grant new super-knowledge to scholars, fans, and casual readers alike."--Noah Berlatsky, author, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948
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About Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University, where he has taught a seminar on superheroes since 2009. His essays on the topic appear in The Journal of American Culture, PS: Political Science & Politics, Image TexT, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, and Hooded Utilitarian.com. He is the author of the novelinstories School for Tricksters and the romantic suspense novel Pretend I'm Not Here. He lives with his family in Lexington, Virginia.
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Rating details

25 ratings
3.48 out of 5 stars
5 16% (4)
4 40% (10)
3 28% (7)
2 8% (2)
1 8% (2)
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