Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … well, you know the rest.
When Superman first appeared in the pages of Action Comics No. 1 in 1938, he became the first in a long list of superheroes that have ingrained themselves in pop culture.
February begins Arizona State University’s Project Humanities kick-off series, “A Closer Look at Heroes, Superheroes and Superhumans.” It’s a week-long event that crosses all four ASU campuses and several off-campus locations.
The series examines what heroism is in life and in pop culture, the evolution of superheroes in comics and film and several other topics that deal with heroism and superheroes.
Beginning Monday and ending on Feb. 16, the series is free and open to the public and includes lectures, panels, screenings, guest speakers and conversations.
Teague Bohlen, an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Colorado, Denver, is one of the guest speakers in the series.
He is giving a lecture, called “Superheroes in Narrative: Comics come of age in print and film,” on Wednesday.
“It is really going to talk about the archetype of a superhero; how it’s changed, why it’s changed in comics and film which borrow from comics,” Bohlen said, adding that superheroes haven’t changed as much as we might think.
The recent Batman movies and the upcoming Superman movie show a shift into darker themes and stories, but Bohlen says this isn’t new for superheroes.
“When superheroes began the superhero itself was not the bright shiny paragon of virtue of the 1950s and ’60s,” he said. “Even Superman was not above killing or at least letting people die. My argument is that we are not moving into a new era, but going back to where they began.”
Bohlen says that even though superhero movies are more popular than ever, the comic books from which they originated are not doing as well.
“Comic book characters are more and more popular,” he said. “Comic books themselves are at historic lows.”
The series is about more than the men and women who wear spandex and catch bad guys. It is “broad and all encompassing,” according to Neal Lester, associate vice president for humanities and arts, and director of Project Humanities at ASU. From superheroes to veterans, power struggles, flaws and disabilities in heroes; this series looks to cover it all.
“Our everyday lives are full of acts of courage, acts of bravery,” Lester said. “Heroism is about doing something for other people. The superhero is an extension of that.”
Lester hopes that a series like this one “makes humanities more visible.”
Project Humanities started about two years ago as a university-wide initiative to combine humanities with all areas of scholarship, from art to engineering and everything in-between.
“We want to bridge the gap between the town and the gown,” Lester said.
It hosts events year-round, covering everything from science fiction to slavery.
As for superheroes and heroes, Lester thinks he knows why they remain ingrained in pop culture.
“We’re looking for something to give us hope,” Lester said.
Maybe that’s why we look for Superman soaring across the sky.
For more information on Project Humanities and the “Heroes, Superheroes and Superhumans” series, visit humanities.asu.edu.
• Brittany Stehmer is a senior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.