ENGL 207: Superheroes (VLPA/I&S)

*ENGL 207:  Superheroes * (VLPA/I&S)
*T TH 10:30-11:20*
SLN 13922 <https://sdb.admin.washington.edu/timeschd/uwnetid/sln.asp?QTRYR=WIN+2015&SLN=13922 >

This course will turn to American popular culture as a source of reflection on the idea of the superhuman. We will consider how this concept has been gendered, so we will examine examples of both the superman and the superwoman. The course will begin with some readings in science-fictional representation of this concept in order to define some of the problems associated with representations and narratives of the superhuman. While I have not yet made final decisions about the reading list, in this section of the course we will probably read Philip Wylie’s novel /Gladiator/ (1930), an acknowledged influence on the first successful comic-book superhero, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s/Superman/ (1938), along with Theodore Sturgeon’s /More Than Human/ (1953), and short stories by C.L. Moore, Philip K. Dick, and Ted Chiang. We will then turn to the earliest comic-book superheroes, from the WWII period, with a focus on Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and possibly Captain America. In this period, the concept of the superman was potentially politically problematic, given its association with fascist rhetorics of the master race. We may use the book /The Superhero Reader/ to clarify the historical debates about the superhero figure.

The course will then turn to more contemporary graphic novels that reevaluate and reimagine the figure of the superhero. Examples may include Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s /Watchmen/; Frank Miller’s /Batman//: The Dark Knight Returns/; Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s /Marvels/; Warren Ellis and John Casaday’s /Planetary/; Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s /All-Star Superman/; Alan Moore and Gene Ha’s /Top 10/; either Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s /Sleeper /or Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon’s /Powers/; Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s /The Shadow Hero/; and G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s /Ms. Marvel/. I expect to end the course by reading some recent attempts to narrate superheroes in print fiction, probably using the story collection /Super Stories of Heroes & Villains/, ed. Claude Lalumiere. As time permits, we might read another superhero novel by Austin Grossman, Samit Basu, Ayize Jama-Everett, or Carrie Vaughn. Again as time permits, we will probably consider some examples of cinematic and televisual narratives, including /The Avengers/ or /Arrow/.

In addition to consideration of the historical development of the superhero and the superhuman, some of the topics we will discuss will include the ways in which superhero narratives encode cultural and historical fantasies; the generic nature of the superhero narrative, especially its incorporation and hybridization of multiple genres, most notable in the emergence of the superhero “universe”; formal innovation in the comics medium associated with superhero narratives; social and cultural diversity, including feminist, African American, and Asian American appropriations of the superhero genre; and transmedia adaptations and crossovers.

Assignments for the course will include a midterm and a final exam, both including a take-home essay as well as an in-class component, as well as a participation grade to be determined through the discussion sections.

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