Holy Academia, Batman! Is That Really a Scholarly Book About Superheroes?

Posted on 10/23/2013 2:51:29 PM

Enter the Superheroes book coverGian Pagnucci, chair of English and Distinguished University Professor, and Alex Romagnoli, English teaching associate, have just published the book Enter the Superheroes: American Values, Culture, and the Canon of Superhero Literature.

The book is from Scarecrow Press, Inc. (a subsidiary of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.).

The authors argue that for far too long, superhero stories have been looked down upon as childish literature, unworthy of study. Yet, though superhero comics and graphic novels have been largely ignored by the world of academia, within broader society superheroes have grown ever more popular. Today, characters like Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have become some of the most recognizable and longest lasting in the world. The aim of Romagnoli and Pagnucci’s book is to argue that superheroes merit serious study, both within the academy and without.

The book’s central goal is to establish the importance of the superhero, both as a cultural artifact and as a text to be studied. In the volume, Romagnoli and Pagnucci explore why superhero stories have value, what people can learn from studying superhero comics, and how superheroes shape American culture and values. The book culminates with an extensive list of superhero texts that constitute a canon of superhero literature: the superhero texts that have created and built upon the mythology and cultural significance of superheroes and their ideals.

Pagnucci and Romagnoli examine the significance of superheroes and the value they can serve as objects of investigation. Additionally, their book examines the kinds of graphic novels which are embraced by the academy, and argues that superhero stories are equally worth of study.

Building from this basic point about the value of superhero stories, the authors turn to the many unique characteristics of superhero literature. Their book looks at the battles that occur between superhero fans and their creators, and the important role fan bases play in shaping superhero character development.

Romagnoli and Pagnucci also examine comic book relaunches, particularly Marvel’s “Ultimate Universe” and DC’s “New 52.” The book argues for the significance of these relaunches in helping to maintain character relevance across 80 years of history. This leads to a discussion of the iconography of superheroes in which the book unpacks the cultural significance of superheroes.

Pagnucci and Romagnoli look at how superheroes’ unique imagery has helped turn superheroes into a modern American mythology. Having established how culturally important superheroes are, the book then looks at how superhero stories are written, the role superheroes play in children’s learning, and efforts to make superheroes more diverse and less stereotyped. The unique nature of superhero deaths and returns from the dead are also discussed, as is the role technology has increasingly begun to play in superhero storytelling.

Pagnucci and Romagnoli conclude their book by arguing that the time has come to establish a canon of the best and most historically important superhero literature, and then they offer a detailed listing of these stories categorized into five ages of superhero storytelling.

To learn more, visit the authors’ Facebook page.

Pagnucci and Romagnoli at Comic Con in New York