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The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger: The 4,000-Year History of the Superhero

The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger: The 4,000-Year History of the Superhero

by Jess Nevins


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Using a broad array of historical and literary sources, this book presents an unprecedented detailed history of the superhero and its development across the course of human history.

How has the concept of the superhero developed over time? How has humanityis idealization of heroes with superhuman powers changed across millennia—and what superhero themes remain constant? Why does the idea of a superhero remain so powerful and relevant in the modern context, when our real-life technological capabilities arguably surpass the imagined superpowers of superheroes of the past? The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger: The 4,000-Year History of the Superhero is the first complete history of superheroes that thoroughly traces the development of superheroes, from their beginning in 2100 B.C.E. with the Epic of Gilgamesh to their fully entrenched status in modern pop culture and the comic book and graphic novel worlds.

The book documents how the two modern superhero archetypes—the Costumed Avengers and the superhuman Supermen—can be traced back more than two centuries; turns a critical, evaluative eye upon the post-Superman history of the superhero; and shows how modern superheroes were created and influenced by sources as various as Egyptian poems, biblical heroes, medieval epics, Elizabethan urban legends, Jacobean masques, Gothic novels, dime novels, the Molly Maguires, the Ku Klux Klan, and pulp magazines. This work serves undergraduate or graduate students writing papers, professors or independent scholars, and anyone interested in learning about superheroes.

  • Presents a concise but thorough history of the superhero comic industry, from the 1930s to today
  • Clearly describes the two main forms of the historical superhero, the Costumed Avenger and the Superman
  • Suggests a new way in which to evaluate superheroes and explains why this new methodology is important
  • Identifies and examines the ways in which superheroes have been present in popular literature since the beginning of human history

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440854835
Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/30/2017
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Jess Nevins is reference librarian at Lone Star College in Tomball, TX.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xiii

Chapter 1 Operating Premises 1

The Problem of, and with, Definitions 1

Raglan, Rank, and Campbell 2

21st-Century Attempts at Definition 4

A More Useful Approach 6

Heroenkonzepte 7

Gods and Epic Heroes, and What They Are Not 9

The "Superhero Genre" 10

The Two Categories of Protosuperheroes 12

Who Gets Left Out 13

Chapter 2 From 2100 BCE to 1500 CE 15

Hazy Beginnings 16

The First of Gilgamesh 17

The First Protosuperhero-Not Who You Think 17

Egyptian Mythology and Poems 19

Samson and the Wild Men 21

The "Heroes" of Greek Mythology 23

Nectanebo II 28

Aeneas 30

The Noble and Just Latrones 31

Alexander the Legend 33

Beowulf, the Thor-Wolf 34

Roland the Martyr 36

Medieval Heroes 39

The Cid 41

The Matter of Arthur 42

Medieval Outlaws 48

Robin Hood 49

Conclusion 51

Chapter 3 From 1500 to 1829 53

Orlando Furioso the Best Seller and Its Forerunners 54

Heroic Sorcerers and Heavenly Necromancers 56

Merlin the Secondary 56

Virgil the Necromancer 57

Maugis/Malagigi and His Heirs 58

Michael Scot 60

John Dee 61

Stage Magicians 62

Faustus 63

Gothic Ambiguities 64

Superheroines Avant la Lettre 66

The Early Female Knight 67

16th- and 17th-Century Warrior Women 68

The Faerie Queene 70

Descendants of Talos 72

Long Meg of Westminster 75

Moll Cutpurse 77

Heroic Highwaymen 78

Masked Conspirators 80

The Hero-Villain 82

The Venetian Batman 83

Martinette de Beauvais 84

The Scottish Superman 86

This Man, This Monster 87

John Melmoth 88

Conclusion 89

Chapter 4 Victorian Costumed Avengers 91

Masked Untermenschen: Threat or Menace 91

The Master Detectives 94

A Truly Dangerous Hero 97

The Superhuman Superhero 99

The Dual-Identity Costumed Vigilante 101

The Hidden Master 102

The Man of Extraordinary Capabilities 104

The First Series Heroes 105

Spring-Heeled Jack 107

The Man of Extraordinary Capabilities Redux 108

Penny Vigilantes 110

Dime Vigilantes 112

Cowboy Vigilantes 113

Lady Detectives 115

Lady Jaguar 116

The Man in the Black Cloak 117

Nick Carter 118

John Amend-All 120

Conclusion 121

Chapter 5 Victorian Supermen 123

Monsters 123

Villains 127

The Gray Champion 130

Artificial Beings 131

Rosicrucians and Theosophists 134

Dime Novel Supermen 136

Psychic Heroes 138

Science Fiction Supermen 140

Conclusion 142

Chapter 6 Costumed Avengers, 1901-1938 145

The Carter Effect 145

Immigrants and Foreign Influences 146

The Lupins 148

The Scarlet Pimpernel 150

The Klan 152

Films 154

Zorro 155

The Pulps 157

Westerns 159

Nonstandard Sources 160

Killer Vigilantes 161

Air Aces 163

The Fabulous Four 164

Comic Strips 167

Domino Lady 168

Conclusion 170

Chapter 7 Supermen, 1901-1938 171

Victorian Holdovers 171

Physical Culture and Eugen Sandow 172

Origin Stories 174

Mysteries 175

Yellow Perils 177

Lost Races and Utopias 179

Evolutionary Predecessors 180

Science Fiction's Supermen 182

Occult Detectives 184

Artificial Supermen 186

The Men of 40 Faces 187

John Carter 189

Cinematic Supermen 191

The Night Wind 192

Superwomen 194

Westerns 196

Eugenics and the Backlash 198

Spawn of the Depression 201

Pulp Supermen 203

Outside the Pulps 205

Conclusion 207

Chapter 8 Comics' Early Years 209

The New Medium 209

Prologue to Superman 210

The Last Son of Krypton 213

Eleven Months of Silence and Echoes 215

Four Months of Chill 216

A Fantastic Seven Months 217

The Boom of 1940 222

1941 228

Conclusion 232

Chapter 9 Ages upon Ages 235

The Golden Age: 1935-1949 235

The Atomic Age: 1949-1956 242

The Silver Age: 1956-1970 248

The Bronze Age: 1970-1985 257

The Modern Age: 1986-2001 264

The Metamodern Age: 2001-2015 270

Chapter 10 Television and Film 277

Epilogue 285

Appendix 289

Notes 295

Selected Bibliography 347

Index 385

What People are Saying About This

Warren Ellis

"Another remarkable work from Jess Nevins, exposing and exploring the roots of the forms of weird adventure fiction that continue to dominate 21st-century culture. Essential archaeology."

Ed Brubaker

"As always, Jess Nevins is the ultimate historical source for pulp fiction. This book is like if Encyclopedia Brown had grown up obsessed with superheroes and made the ultimate guide to them."

Kurt Busiek

"A deep and fascinating dive into the origins of the superhero. Everything you could want to know about the roots of the genre, delving back into myth, folklore, epic poetry, pulp fiction, and more, exhaustively researched and organized. A dream book for anyone interested in superhero history—this is a book Iill find myself consulting again and again."

Customer Reviews