Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"a self-consciousness about conventions and assumptions"

Heroes, of course, predate comicbooks: Hercules and Robin Hood also did great deeds and assisted the weak. Superheroes, however, are a 20th century genre, through small modifications growing from simple beginnings and a juvenile audience, albeit with a wide readership. The genre developed a profitable mythology and in recent years the comicbook hero has exhibited a self-consciousness about conventions and assumptions, while reaching a knowing and critical public.

Comic books can be traced back to the cartoon stories, told in panelled sequence, published by newspapers at the end of the 19th century. Then in 1933 someone had the bright idea of bringing together a number of these strips between magazine-like covers and selling them separately. Their comic or adventurous characters caught on with an audience of all ages wishing to escape from the depression.

One source for the introduction of superheroes into this medium was radio: in the early 30s masked heroes like the Lone Ranger, Zorro and the Shadow prowled the airwaves, searching out evil forces to defeat. These masked men were often rich and used scientific gadgets benevolently to avenge the victims of crime. Then in 1938 two Cleveland teenagers, Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, invented the first superhero, a combination of lone avenger and sci-fi alien, Superman, who, being from a planet with two suns, acquired an intensification of human powers when on Earth. He too was not an official of the law, but another lone hero tackling criminals and assisting the weak.

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