Superheroes 1938 – 1986

by Ian Gordon

(Reprinted with Authorization from the Author)

Comic book superheroes burst on to the American cultural scene with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 in June 1938. Or at least that is how the story goes. Action Comics #1 actually appeared in late April 1938 and Superman had a long incubation slowly taking shape from January 1933 when Jerry Siegel’s self published short story “The Reign of the Superman” appeared in the fanzine Science Fiction with illustrations by Joe Shuster. Moreover Superman synthesized numerous earlier heroic types from The Scarlet Pimpernel, Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, The Shadow and Tarzan. Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator is also often suggested as a source. Likewise Siegel and Shuster were part of a growing group of science fiction readers and fans seeking to professionalize their interest. Siegel and Shuster’s Superman equally owed its origins to the production and distribution of popular fiction (dime novels to the pulps) and developments in comics as an art and a medium. Without these factors there would have been no Detective Comics Inc. looking for work for its new Action Comics.

The success of Superman saw others try to emulate the success with a wide array of superhero types quickly appearing in comic books. In three years between 1938 and 1941 publishers introduced a swath of superheroes including many who continued to appear regularly well into the twenty-first century. In 1939 Namor the Submariner, Batman, and the original Human Torch debuted. In 1940 The Flash, the original Captain Marvel (Shazam), Green Lantern and in 1941 Wonder Woman, Captain America, Plastic Man, Aquaman, and Green Arrow all made their first appearances. Numerous other superheroes came and went such as Wonder Man and the Red Tornado from 1939 and The Shield, from 1940.

These early characters demonstrated some of the origins and characteristics of many superheroes. They hailed from distant planets or under the sea; some had secret identities; some gained their powers through science and others were god-like, or of mythological origin. Batman had a costume, motivation, discipline, training, and an attitude, but no actual super powers. While much ink and bytes have been spilled on categorizing the types, origins, and powers of superheroes this seems a rather reductive approach because it does little to explain the extraordinary impact and longevity of the characters, which is what makes them significant. Nor does such an approach help explain a second creative burst of superheroes in 1961-1963 that saw Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and others create many of the characters that also demonstrated long term staying power and ultimately box office success including the Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, and X-Men.

Superhero origin stories offer some insight into the sort of concerns and interests that produced them. In the first issue of Action Comics Superman saves a wrongfully convicted person on death row, punishes a wife beater, smashes the car of chauvinistic thugs, and intervenes to stop sly efforts at getting the USA involved in European affairs. In his debut Green Lantern almost dies in a train wreck engineered by a corrupt business competitor. Aquaman confronted U-boat Nazis. Captain America too famously took on the Nazis. The Flash stopped an international conspiracy to steal atomic secrets. Wonder Woman decided to help America fight the forces of hatred and oppression; the Nazis again. The pages of the late 1930s superhero comics carried much of the anxieties of an America that had been in economic depression for the best part of a decade and indeed in 1938 was in a recession within a depression. Likewise 1938 was the year of The Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany) and the Munich Agreement (that led to the carve-up of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany). Superheroes then were a product of tumultuous times.

Popular comic book superheroes quickly claimed other audiences with Superman appearing in comic strips (1939), animation (1941), on the radio (1940) and eventually in movie serials (1948). Captain Marvel appeared in a movie serial in 1941, as did Batman (1943), and Captain America (1944). Beyond media appearances superheroes, particularly Superman appeared in all manner of licensed products. Nonetheless with the end of WWII superhero comics went into decline. On the cover of comic books Superman went from destroying Japanese fighter planes (Action Comics #63 August 1943) to being a human tee for a golfer (Action Comics #99 August 1946).

The advent of Word War II and America’s forced entry into it in late 1941 deepened the association of many superheroes with the war effort. Characters like Captain America and the Human Torch were particularly active against Nazis and “the Japs.” Others like Superman and Batman avoided direct confrontations within the pages of comic books, but on their cover often participated in War Bond efforts and slapped around an enemy or two. During the War the circulation of comic books doubled to twenty million. The US Army distributed a magazine set that included the Superman comic. And a 1944 survey of soldiers indicated that of 189 magazines they subscribed to over a quarter were comics.  Moreover the absence of young adult males provided employment opportunities for adolescents and the resulting disposal income, at least in part, led to more comic book purchases. To be sure, superhero comic books were not the only comics on sale, but they represented a significant portion of these sales. Not all comic book companies reported sales with the most notable absence being Timely/Marvel the publishers of Captain America. The National Comic Group that included Superman and Batman as well as a host of other superhero and some non-superhero titles sold five million comics in December 1944. Fawcett’s Captain Marvel titles sold almost two million copies in November of that year. At very least then superhero comic books accounted for a third of comic book sales and perhaps as much as half towards the end of WWII.[i]

The post-war decline of comic book superheroes most likely was due to changes in the reading public. During the war years forty-four percent of men between the ages of eighteen and thirty read comics. After the war large numbers of these men married and began families. For instance in 1946 there were close to 2.3 million marriages up from 1.6 in 1945 and except for a slight dip in 1949 the marriage rate stayed higher that the 1945 rate into the 1950s. Families also increased in size.[2] This is but one measure of the sweeping social changes of the period that included the baby boom, the advent of network television, suburbanization, and the beginning of a significant embourgeoisement. And although by 1949 superhero characters like Captain America, Green Lantern, The Flash and The Human Torch had mostly disappeared other comics took their place and comic book readership expanded. The publishers of Crime Does Not Pay had already seen sales jump from 923,991 in May-Jun 1943 to 1,968,834 in Apr/May 1945 and after that period crime and horror comics were among the most popular comics. William Gaines the publisher of the popular EC line of comics later noted that although “our sales were never all that great, maybe half a million per issue, which isn’t a lot in comics. Superman and Crime Does Not Pay sold 3 and 4 million an issue.”[3] The most popular comic books though were children’s comics distributed by Dell that sold 26 million copies a month in 1953 according to the company.[4] The waning of superheroes in the 1950s then had more to do with that genre of comic books fading in appeal than with a generalized downturn in comic books. Indeed in late 1949 Marvel attempted to cross-pollinate the genres with a retitled book Captain America’s Weird Tales that continued the numbering of the original comic.

Although there was a downturn in superhero comics they never disappeared completely. National continued to publish Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Indeed Superboy, first introduced in 1945, also appeared throughout this period in his own comic and in Adventure Comics where The Green Arrow and Aquaman (both created by then editor Mort Weisinger) were back up features. Even Captain Marvel lasted until November 1953 when Fawcett faced with an adverse intellectual property decision in a case brought by DC/National decided to exit the comic book business.

By 1956 tastes had changed enough that DC’s reintroduction of updated characters like The Flash and Green Lantern took hold. After an absence of ten years The Flash returned to his own comic book in 1959 and it picked up the numbering from where it had left of in 1949. Because much of the history of comics has been told by fans, and fans whose interest is in collecting comic books, the common way of conceiving of these movements has been to call the earlier period of comic books The Golden Age, and then from the relaunch of The Flash in 1956 a Silver Age. This is a rather reductive way of conceptualizing comic book history since it focuses on only superheroes and as the declension of value from Gold to Silver implies ascribes value to comics based on their distance from the present and by extension rarity and monetary worth. By inscribing The Flash and Green Lantern’s reappearance as key moments in comics such histories ignore much of the continuity even in superhero comics. For instance why Green Arrow and Aquaman enjoyed a reasonably uninterrupted existence but The Flash and Green Lantern did not may have had as much to do with editors like Weisinger as with circulation and reader interest.  The point is that notions of Ages of comics are far too limited in their understanding of history as are accounts of superhero comics that do not at least pay some attention to the broader context of the comic book industry.

Nonetheless the reappearance of The Flash had an indirect role in sparking a revival of superhero comics. In 1960 DC, based on the success of The Flash revived the superhero team concept of the 1940 Justice Society of America with a new group the Justice League of America. The story goes that DC publisher Jack Liebowitz boasted of the comic’s success to Marvel publisher Martin Goodman during a round of golf. Goodman in turn told Stan Lee to develop a superhero team leading to the first issue of The Fantastic Four in November 1962.[5] The first issue of that comic book relied on some familiar enough stock themes from a monster on the cover to the fear of communists beating America into space. If the first issue contained some old warhorses the comic book quickly developed some dynamic new features.

From the third issue of Fantastic Four Stan Lee and Jack Kirby signed their names on the stories. Sigel and Shuster had signed their name on Superman comics until losing their 1947 copyright case and Bob Kane’s name always appeared on Batman comics. But in putting Lee and Kirby’s names on the comic Marvel launched a new way of marketing comics that spilled over into the comics themselves. Stan “the Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby were not so much the author and artist of the Fantastic Four, but personas used to sell comics. These personas, which extended to other writers and artists, and also to a fictitious bullpen, when most of the creators were freelancers, became synonymous with Marvel. In the fourth issue of the Fantastic Four Lee had Johnny Storm read a 1940s Submariner comic shortly before discovering an amnesiamatic Submariner in a flophouse. Although both DC and Marvel had used this sort of self referential technique on occasions in the 1940s Marvel’s 1960s superheroes took it to a new height. In the fifth issue Johnny Storm reads a Hulk comic and by the eleventh issue both Lee and Kirby appear in the comic as part of a central plot device. All of this presaged the introduction of an array of footnotes and the like cross-referencing other stories and comic books in the Marvel line of products and the creation of an integrated story world that became known as the Marvel Universe, which had its own internal logic and continuity.

Lee and collaborators like Kirby and Steve Ditko unleashed an array of characters including Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and X-Men. Furthermore they revived and revitalized old characters like the Submariner and Captain America. Lee became a presence in all the comic books with a monthly column entitled Stan’s Soapbox and this with his two catchphrases, Excelsior and Nuff Said made him such a presence that he has forever become associated with Marvel’s success. The combination of hucksterism, savvy marketing, and the promotion of reader engagement with the fictive world of the Marvel Universe through constant references and letters pages that allowed readers to discuss the stories and begin to see themselves as a community helped sell the new superheroes. Indeed they could join the Merry Marvel Marching Society and from December 1965 read Marvel Bullpen Bulletins in the comics.

These features alone did not distinguish Marvel’s heroes from DC’s particularly since DC offered readers many of the same things like letters pages and a growing sense that stories might link together. Underpinning comics like the Justice League of America and the earlier Justice Society of America was a notion that superheroes existed in some kind of common space. For instance in The Flash #123 in September 1961 DC addressed the seemingly incongruous existence of two different Flashes in its history by developing the concept of an Earth 2 in a tale called “Flash of Two Worlds.” This concept expanded to the notion of a Multiverse with several Earths with different sets of characters.

For readers of a certain age, the baby boomers, what set Marvel superheroes apart was a certain fluidity of character and a greater sense of affinity compared to DCs rather stiff characters who seemed weighed down by their already extensive history and compared to Marvel, going in repetitious circles in which nothing much ever happened. To be sure, Marvel’s heroes lived at a snail’s pace, or as Lee put it “Marvel time” in which characters aged more slowly than their readers. But the single greatest distinguishing feature was that Marvel’s characters did so with much angst and panache. Johnny Storm was literally a hothead. Tony Stark a drunk. Hulk a persecuted figure with cognitive difficulties. Thor could not decide if he was a God or a doctor, which created all sorts of girlfriend issues. Peter Parker suffered from a guilt complex over Uncle Ben’s death, near poverty, and had a bully for a boss. The X-Men were persecuted for their difference.

The rise of Marvel’s superheroes occurred more or less at the same time as Pop Art came to the fore. Indeed Roy Lichtenstein, who most commonly used war and romance comics as inspiration, borrowed directly from Jack Kirby’s work in X-Men #1 in creating Image Duplicator in 1963. The Italian director Federico Fellini holed up in a New York hotel with the flu read Marvel Comics and visited a nonplussed Stan Lee, who promptly announced said visit in his column. Other visitors included almost Beatle in-law singer-producer Peter Asher, Country Joe and the Fish, and French new wave director Alain Resnais.[6] And in the same period Batman achieved pop acclaim in the deliberately camp eponymous television series from 1966-1968. Such was the sway of superheroes that even Archie got in on the act with Pureheart the Powerful launched in Life with Archie #42 in October 1965. One outcome of this hullaballoo about superheroes was the acquisition of DC (then called National Publications) and its associated companies by Steve Ross, who wanted the distribution arm Independent News, which in addition to DC product distributed Playboy and Signet paperbacks. He also wanted another associated company that came with the deal, the Licensing Corporation of America that brought in much revenue through Superman, Batman, and also held the rights to license James Bond, The Beatles fan club and Howdy Doody. Ross leveraged the whole deal to purchase the remnants of Warner Brothers and went on to create the Time-Warner conglomerate.[7]

Sales figures for comics derived from statements required for mailing rights show that in the mid 1960s Batman and Superman were the highest selling superhero comic book titles. Batman in particular benefitted from the television series with average monthly sales jumping from 453,745 in 1965 to 898,470 in 1966. But with the television series cancelation in early 1968 sales slumped by almost 50%. Even so these were much better than the sales for another iconic DC titled, Wonder Woman, that by 1969 sold only 166,365 copies on average per issue. DC most likely kept Wonder Woman in print because if they failed to do so the rights reverted to the family of creator William Moulton Marston.[8] In a desperate move in 1968 DC removed Wonder Woman’s powers and had alter ego Diana Prince acquire a new wardrobe and Kung Fu skills which resulted in her looking very much like Emma Peel from the British television series The Avengers (not to be confused with the Marvel comic). In the early run of this new Wonder Woman writer/artist Mike Sekowsky developed several story arcs. An initial uptick in sales was followed by a return to declining sales that in turn was arrested temporarily by a reversion to the original character in issue #204 with the cover date January 1973. In the meantime Gloria Steinem had launched Ms magazine in 1972 with Wonder Woman gracing to cover in her more familiar superhero persona and costume. Steinem was apparently influential in having Wonder Woman return to her superhero garb in comic books. The title’s sales fluctuated and enjoyed another brief stay in decline with the success of a 1975 to 1978 Wonder Woman television series starring Linda Carter.[9]

With sales in decline both major publishers sought to generate attention for their books. In 1971 both Marvel and DC carried stories about the dangers of drugs. Mention of drugs had been forbidden by the industry managed Comics Code. In The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May–July 1971) Stan Lee had Spider-Man encounter a spaced out drug taker who falls to his death. The comic ran without the Comics Code seal and led to a hasty revision of the code. Lee offered the justification of the story saying he had been asked to do it by the Department of Health Education and Welfare.[10] Shortly after in the August-September and October-November issues of Green Lantern DC also dealt with the drugs issue, but unlike Marvel trumpeted the fact on the cover. By this stage the Code had been changed and so the cover not only labelled the comic as fighting against drugs but showed the workings for a heroin fix. The changes to the code probably had a greater lasting impact by allowing depictions of the supernatural like vampires.

Throughout this period comic book sales were on an overall decline. Sales for Marvel’s superheroes only began to challenge DCs in the early 1970s and mostly because Marvel experienced modest growth while DC’s sales declined sharply. Indeed in 1969 Captain America’s average monthly sales were 243,798, which earned it twenty-second place on the sales list, but during 1974 sales slipped to 183,344 and yet Marvel had surpassed DC. Sales continued to fall the following year with Captain America selling 180,156 on average per monthly issue in 1975. By that year the Superman comic book had tumbled to 296,000 sales on average a month, a considerable drop from 1969 sales of 511,984 and just above the sales of the Amazing Spider-Man for 1975 which were 273,773, down from 1969’s 372,352. With falling circulation publishers tried to fill the gap with new characters and titles. Between 1975 and 1978 the two publishers launched numerous new titles most of which folded swiftly.[11]

These industry uncertainties led to changes in superhero stories at DC and these changes had a lasting impact. As Henry Jenkins has noted, in the early to mid 1970s stories shifted from stand alone single issue stories to stories that extended over several issues and had an ongoing continuity. Both major companies had already given their superheroes something of an internal consistent framework across the line of comic books and Marvel had gone further in interlocking story lines to produce a larger text. DC had used story arcs in several comics including Wonder Woman but these tended to be spread over just a few issues and seemingly had little long-term impact on character development. Beginning in February 1976 the Superman comic book ran a four part series in which Superman struggled with the issue of his identity as both Clark Kent and Superman. Eventually he realised in issue #299 May 1976 that the two halves were integral to his being. A greater certainty of distribution made these longer tales, spread over several issues, possible since readers could more readily find specific issues of comics and so follow the stories. In late 1973 both Marvel and DC had adopted a direct distribution method for selling comics to a growing number of speciality comic book stores. Whereas previously comics were distributed to newsstands and other outlets on a sale or return basis, with dirt distribution comics were sold outright to the stores. This lowered Marvel and DC’s costs and gave them their revenue more quickly. Over the rest of the decade direct distribution became an important source of the companies’ incomes and by the 1980s much of Marvel sales came from this source. Both companies looked to this guaranteed sales as a means of launching new characters and comic books. In the process they created two predictable, but probably for the companies unexpected, outcomes. The companies had turned to the stores because sales were falling, but in concentrating on stores that catered to existing readers the companies neglected potential new readers and their access to comics. A downward spiral in comic book readership resulted and the companies’ response was to both put up prices and to try to sell more comic books to existing readers. Second because the companies became adept at launching new product through stores they created an “event” culture around superhero comic book readership.[12]

The emergence of the speciality shops also saw the establishment of smaller comic book companies focussed on superheroes that hoped to profit from supplying comic books to demand rather than for broad distribution. But companies like Pacific and Eclipse did not survive because Marvel and DC could tie up the undercapitalized comic book shops’ funds simply by producing more titles. In the rush for new characters and titles both DC and Marvel created science fiction, sword and sorcery, horror, and Kung Fu “variations on superheroes” such as Conan the Barbarian (1970), Swamp Thing (1972), Tomb of Dracula (1972), The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu (1974), and Jonah Hex (1977). The companies did adaptations of various sorts like Tarzan (DC 1972; Marvel, 1977), John Carter Warlord of Mars (Marvel 1977), The Shadow (Archie 1964; DC 1973) and Star Wars (Marvel 1977). In 1972 Marvel launched Luke Cage its first African American superhero in his own comic book. Preceded by both the Black Panther (1966) and the Falcon (1969) as black superheroes, Cage’s introduction in 1972 was an attempt to cash in on blaxploitatin films like Shaft (1971). Such was the need for new titles and characters that the satirical parody of comic book superheroes of all stripes, Howard the Duck, received his own comic book in 1976.[13] With hindsight the period appears as one in which the two major superhero companies consolidated their control of the market, but traded less uncertain revenues for smaller circulation. Nonetheless the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which started as a single issue self published parody of superhero type comic books, suggests that alternative outcomes were possible.

Although superhero comic books experienced a steep decline in sales they retained a cultural resonance. In 1978 Warner’s released the blockbuster movie Superman. This movie and its sequel, although not successfully replicated until 1989’s Batman, suggested the future of comic book superheroes lay in large-scale movie production. As with the Batman television series before it, the Superman movie helped comic book sales albeit briefly and not much. Rather than increasing sales the movie briefly arrested the slide. DC reported average monthly sales for the Superman title in 1979 of 246,276 up from 223,222 in 1978, but these quickly sank further to 178,946 in 1980 and 145,603 in 1981 despite the release of a successful film sequel.[14]

Marvel’s reintroduction of the X-Mean in Giant Size X-Men # 1 May 1975 proved to be one of the most significant developments in superhero comic books. The original series had petered out in l970 with low sales and the relaunch featured a most new cast of heroes like Wolverine, Storm, and Nightcrawler. The relaunched title came to embody several key aspects that transformed superhero comic books. Foremost among these was the creation of more integral stories spread over several issues. These sort of narratives, with their arcs, had been something of a hallmark of Marvel comics from 1960s Fantastic Four tales with Galactus and the Inhumans, but writer Chris Claremont brought a new emotional depth to his stories that writers like Stan Lee had lacked. Lee had appealed to youthful readers, but Claremont delivered these same readers comic books that appealed to their older selves. Beyond this Claremont’s story arcs became anticipated events and this presaged the growing shift to “event” driven comic books as a means of increasing sales. Furthermore in Claremont’s hands Wolverine became one of the most popular comic book superheroes and later the key to the X-Men film franchise.

In 1984 Marvel launched a twelve part mini series entitled Secret Wars featuring their most popular superheroes. This comic book series codified the increasing practice of event style publishing to drive sales. But it was also the result of a regular practice of licensing characters and in this instance Mattel’s desire to market Marvel’s character and have a comic book tie-in for the launch of their toys. The twelve part series also had plot developments in other Marvel comics as part of a broad marketing tie-in. The success of the first series led to a sequel in 1985 that again had cross over tie-in with other Marvel titles. DC who had announced a similar project in 1981 finally brought it to fruition. The 1985-1986 DC twelve part series Crisis on Infinite Earths had according to its author Marv Wolfman always been conceived as a series that would fix issues in DC’s continuity and the existence of multiple worlds and versions of the same superheroes. One reason for doing so was that new readers found it difficult to deal with such a scenario. The resulting comics did indeed kill off worlds and heroes and tidy up the DC Universe, or multiverse, but in doing so created a series of other problems not least of all what were long term fans meant to do with their memories of heroes who were not just dead but now deemed to have never existed.[15] Since DC decided to relaunch Superman following Crisis it offered a wrap up of sorts in a two-part story by Alan Moore entitled “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” in Superman and Action Comics. Presented as an Imaginary Story, a stock solution used by DC in the 1960s for things like what would happen if Lois Lane and Superman married, Moore used the occasion to remind readers that all the stories are imaginary.

Here Moore captured the essence of superheroes’ appeal: the possibilities for storytelling are greatly expanded by imagining heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Two DC mini series also published in 1986 Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Moore’s Watchmen took those possibilities to hitherto unexplored levels.

 

Endnotes


[1] Ian Gordon, Comic Strips and Consumer Culture. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998, Chapter 6.

[2] Vital Statistics of the United States: 1950 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1954): 68.

[3] Circulation figures are from the Audit Bureau of Circulation Blue Books, complied by Russ Maheras cited by, Ray Bottorff Jr, email to comixschl list, November 15, 1998; Henry Allen, “Horror comics from the ’50s are alive! (choke!): horror comics are alive!” Washington Post, (Sep 24, 1972): F1.

[4] “Good Friends for Him… and Mother Too.. in Dell Comics!” Saturday Evening Post (January 10, 1953).

[5] “Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas,” http://www.twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/02stanroy.html

[6] Bart Beaty, Comics versus Art. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012, p. 62; Danny Fingeroth and ‎Roy Thomas, The Stan Lee Universe. Raleigh, N.C.: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2011, p. 133-134.

[7] Gerard Jones, Men of Tomorrow. New York: Basic Books, 2004, p. 303.

[8] Comichron, http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html; Jean-Paul Gabilliet, Of Comics and Men. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010, pp. 34-35 and p. 327 note 15.

[9] Wonder Woman, #175 1968, #181 1969, #181 1969, #187 Mar-April 1970, #193 1971, #199 1972, #205 1973, 218 July 1975, #224 July 1976, and #231 May 1977. Reported sales figures are probably not wholly reliable for instance the 1976 and 1977 figures for Wonder Woman are a little to exact and the same at 150,000 of which 2,000 an d 3,000 copies were subscriptions compared to earlier years subscriptions of 200 or so. Ann Matsuuchi, “Wonder Woman Wears Pants: Wonder Woman, Feminism and the 1972 “Women’s Lib” Issue,” Colloquy: text theory critique 24 (2012), pp. 127-129. www.arts.monash.edu.au/ecps/colloquy/journal/issue024/matsuuchi.pdf

[10] Bradford W. Wright, Comic Book Nation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkuns University Press, 2001, p. 239.

[11] Captain America #185 May 1975; Captain America #196 April 1976; Superman #299 May 1976; Amazing Sider-Man #155 April 1977; Gabilliet, p. 74.

[12] Henry Jenkins, “ Just Men in Tights,” in The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero. ed. Angela Ndalianis, New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 20; Gabilliet, pp. 143-147.

[13] The concept of variations is Gabillet’s, p. 76.

[14] Matthew P. McAllister, Ian Gordon, and Mark Jancovich, “Blockbuster Meets Superhero Comic, or Art House Meets Graphic Novel?: The Contradictory Relationship Between Film and Comic Art,” Journal of Popular Film and Television, 34 (Fall 2006): 108-114; Superman, #334 April 1979, #346 April 1980, #359 May 1981, #371 May 1982.

[15] Interview with Jim Shooter http://web.archive.org/web/20071013132546/http://silverbulletcomicbooks.com/conceptual/108986036075481.htm; Marv Wolfman, “Introduction,” Crisis on Infinite Earths. New York: DC Comics 2000.


Dr. Ian Gordon is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore. He has written dozens of articles and books about comics history. His most recent book is Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2017). Dr. Gordon’s website can be found here.