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Join the Smithsonian, and comic book industry legend, the late Stan Lee, in this self-paced course to explore the history of the comic book and the rise of superheroes.
The ancient gods of Egyptian, Greek and Roman myths still exist, but today, they have superpowers, human foibles and secret identities. They come from comic books and graphic novels, and have taken over pop culture on the stage, screen, video games, and animation.
From Superman® and Spider-Man®, to The Avengers® and The Hulk® and beyond, who are these heroes? And, how have they evolved from folklore and myth, across all cultures and religions?
Learn from Smithsonian and industry experts including:
- The late Stan Lee, who was one of the creators of the modern superhero template. His early comics featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man®, The Hulk, Thor®, and The Avengers led Marvel to success. He continues to reinvent himself to create modern global superheroes and appear in cameos in superhero films and TV, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron.
- Michael Uslan, executive producer of top grossing, award winning movies, including The Dark Knight series, Lego® Movie, the animated Batman films and Batman® VS Superman.
In this self-paced course, we explore the following questions:
- Why did superheroes first arise in 1938 and experience what we refer to as their “Golden Age” during World War II?
- Why did the superhero genre ebb and flow in popularity over the decades?
- How have comic books, published weekly since the mid-1930’s, mirrored a changing American society, reflecting our mores, slang, fads, biases and prejudices?
- Why was the comic book industry nearly shut down in the McCarthy Era of the 1950’s?
- How did our superheroes become super-villains in the eyes of the government, clergy, educators, and parents of the mid-20th Century?
- When and how did comic books become acceptable again, and eventually become valid teaching tools in universities and schools?
- When and how did comic book artwork become accepted as a true American art form as indigenous to this country as jazz?
- Finally, when and how did comic books become “cool” and the basis for blockbuster movies, hit TV series, top-selling video games, and acclaimed animation, while also impacting fashion and style- and even the moral and ethical codes of children- around the globe?
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is excited to offer the opportunity to go into the collection and see why superheroes are a dominant cultural force in today’s world.
As you learn about how cultural myths, world events, and personal experiences shaped the first superheroes, you will apply these frameworks to create your own superhero– or you can choose to do a deeper analysis on existing comic book heroes. This original project is required for certification and anything created by you as part of this self-paced course is the intellectual property of you and you alone.
At last, fans, students and seekers of knowledge have the opportunity to enroll in the ultimate comic book course.
- The history and origins of the first superheroes and comic books, and how they changed over time
- The evolution of American society from the Depression to today, as viewed through the lens of the comic book genre
- How the current globalization and diversity of the next generation of superheroes impacts our storytelling across all mediums
- How to apply historical examples to create superheroes for the present day
Chairman and Chief Creative Officer
Professor of Practice
Indiana University Media School
Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Policy
Harvard Kennedy School of Government
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