Yow, I’m continuing to brainstorm topics and questions that 492 may (should?) deal with. The problem is one of fitting a year’s worth of discussion into fifteen weeks!
Here are ten of (in my view) the major research questions regarding superheroes that might make it into the course. These are all rattling around in my head, about three weeks out from the start of the course:
1. What theory or theories of genre (literary, rhetorical, social) might help to unpack the superhero and its audience?
2. To what extent are antecedent genres, such as hero pulps and adventure strips, important to understanding the emergence of the superhero in the late thirties?
3. How do superheroes transplant/transform the frontier romance? To what extent do they reflect something deeply rooted in American history?
4. How do superheroes reflect ambivalence about modernity and urbanization? Why is the city such an important part of superhero lore?
5. Are superheroes basically a male-addressed genre, as is often claimed? How do superhero tales enact and/or subvert ideas about gender? What roles are played by superhero women, for example Wonder Woman, in relation to the predominantly male subculture of comic book fandom?
6. How do superhero tales enact or undermine ideas about sexuality? What concerns underlie or have inspired the numerous queer readings of the genre?
7. Toward what political ideologies, if any, does the genre lean? What of the common charge that superheroes embody a fascist mentality?
8. How is it important that the genre originated in a visual medium? To what extent is its appeal essentially graphic?
9. Superhero spoofs are a big part of the genre. What might the seminal superhero parodies — for example, Kurtzman and Wood’s “Superduperman” (1953) or Klein’s Mr. Freedom (1969) — reveal about the genre’s ideological and aesthetic foundations?
10. Are the Marvel-style superhero mythoi, post-Jack Kirby, really in the same genre as the early Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? How has the continuity principle changed the genre?
Which of these, if any, would you consider crucial? I welcome feedback from other teachers and scholars regarding what they consider the most important topics for a superheroes course to cover (please see also my page on “492 Objectives,” here). Also, I’d love to do a syllabus exchange! Feel free to drop comments here, so that we can make contact.