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Superhero comic books are traditionally thought to have two distinct periods, two major waves of creativity: the Golden Age and the Silver Age. In simple terms, the Golden Age was the birth of the superhero proper out of the pulp novel characters of the early 1930s, and was primarily associated with the DC Comics Group. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman are Superhero comic books are traditionally thought to have two distinct periods, two major waves of creativity: the Golden Age and the Silver Age. In simple terms, the Golden Age was the birth of the superhero proper out of the pulp novel characters of the early 1930s, and was primarily associated with the DC Comics Group. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman are the most famous creations of this period. In the early 1960s, Marvel Comics launched a completely new line of heroes, the primary figures of the Silver Age: the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, the Avengers, Iron Man, and Daredevil. In this book, Geoff Klock presents a study of the Third Movement of superhero comic books. He avoids, at all costs, the temptation to refer to this movement as "Postmodern," "Deconstructionist," or something equally tedious. Analyzing the works of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison among others, and taking his cue from Harold Bloom, Klock unearths the birth of self-consciousness in the superhero narrative and guides us through an intricate world of traditions, influences, nostalgia and innovations - a world where comic books do indeed become literature.


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Superhero comic books are traditionally thought to have two distinct periods, two major waves of creativity: the Golden Age and the Silver Age. In simple terms, the Golden Age was the birth of the superhero proper out of the pulp novel characters of the early 1930s, and was primarily associated with the DC Comics Group. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman are Superhero comic books are traditionally thought to have two distinct periods, two major waves of creativity: the Golden Age and the Silver Age. In simple terms, the Golden Age was the birth of the superhero proper out of the pulp novel characters of the early 1930s, and was primarily associated with the DC Comics Group. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman are the most famous creations of this period. In the early 1960s, Marvel Comics launched a completely new line of heroes, the primary figures of the Silver Age: the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, the Avengers, Iron Man, and Daredevil. In this book, Geoff Klock presents a study of the Third Movement of superhero comic books. He avoids, at all costs, the temptation to refer to this movement as "Postmodern," "Deconstructionist," or something equally tedious. Analyzing the works of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison among others, and taking his cue from Harold Bloom, Klock unearths the birth of self-consciousness in the superhero narrative and guides us through an intricate world of traditions, influences, nostalgia and innovations - a world where comic books do indeed become literature.

30 review for How to Read Superhero Comics and Why

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erinc

    From my blog: Reviewing Comics Superhero comics constitute an overwhelming majority of the comics market, they are, for most people, the most familiar face of the whole medium. Yet, the burgeoning academic interest in comics mostly seems to pass them by. Although superheros and more specifically their readers have been a subject of analysis from sociological and psychological perspectives, superhero comics themselves are probably perceived as still being a bit vulgar and shallow to merit any lite From my blog: Reviewing Comics Superhero comics constitute an overwhelming majority of the comics market, they are, for most people, the most familiar face of the whole medium. Yet, the burgeoning academic interest in comics mostly seems to pass them by. Although superheros and more specifically their readers have been a subject of analysis from sociological and psychological perspectives, superhero comics themselves are probably perceived as still being a bit vulgar and shallow to merit any literary analysis. Geoff Klock's How to Read Superhero Comics and Why (2003) aims to counter this perception and offers an interesting look at some of the most important works in the genre through literary perspective. Klock specifies his object of analysis as the revisionary comics, a trend that started to evolve in the last two decades of the 20th Century. As a mark of maturity that has clearly identifiable beginnings, revisionary comic books have fundamentally recast the way comic book artists and audiences perceive the genre since their appereance. Although Klock extends his analysis onto many works that follow them, his insights are arguably at their most incisive during his analysis of the two monumental works that has given birth to the revisionist trend in superhero comics. These two works are of course, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen. By carefully identifying the way these seminal works relate themselves to the rest of the comic book history, Klock illustrates his argument that these works are indeed the first examples of a revisionist attitude in comic book artist. Klock's rich and detailed reading of these important works are very illustrative, both in understanding the depth of Miller and Moore's significance but also in grasping the importance of the revisionist movement within the comic book history. Although not as comprehensive as some other book I have covered so far, How to Read Superhero Comics is very enlightening and precise where it delivers its analytical perspective on some of the most important comic books ever written and for that measure, it is a work of unique value.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Underwood

    This book has a number of very interesting things to say about superhero comics. However, in this work, Klock had his head stuck significantly up Harold Bloom's arse, and fails to stray far from Bloom's theoretical framework. This book has a number of very interesting things to say about superhero comics. However, in this work, Klock had his head stuck significantly up Harold Bloom's arse, and fails to stray far from Bloom's theoretical framework.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Givens

    This is an openly Bloomian comic-book analysis, focused on the relationships between stories and subgenres, and how one thing develops into another. The title is a bit misleading, but it’s not “why to read superhero comics" or a presentation of a new analytical method, it’s “here’s a way of comprehending superhero comics and why you should do it this way," applying Bloom's critical techniques to a pop culture genre. Looking at comics in this way, focused on the heritage and metatextual statement This is an openly Bloomian comic-book analysis, focused on the relationships between stories and subgenres, and how one thing develops into another. The title is a bit misleading, but it’s not “why to read superhero comics" or a presentation of a new analytical method, it’s “here’s a way of comprehending superhero comics and why you should do it this way," applying Bloom's critical techniques to a pop culture genre. Looking at comics in this way, focused on the heritage and metatextual statements of each work, Klock is able to tease out what these books are saying about themselves, each other, and their own genres. It's a very different tone from the usual types of analysis that focus in on specific works or authors to talk about symbols and politics. Superhero comics emerge as a genre tortured by continuity, constantly reinterpreting itself and struggling for its definitive meaning. The marketing is really a shame, because Klock doesn't bring in at ground level and almost never explains Bloom's specialized terms, but if you're willing to put in some effort and extra googling, it's a worthwhile analysis. I'd be very interested in an updated version, because Klock has Wildstorm as a kind of peak in his narrative, so I'd like to know what he thinks of Wildstorm being folded into DC, and he was also writing in the earliest days of superhero movies when they weren't entirely mainstream yet, so I'd like to hear his thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the defining element of an era. I wrote about this book in comparison to Bloom's How to Read and Why here: https://hannahgivens.wordpress.com/20....

  4. 5 out of 5

    Old Greg

    I purchased a copy of this book for cheap at a local bookstore as I had recently begun reading superhero comic books. I was hoping to understand comic books more deeply and was enticed by the 'literary criticism'-angle this book appeared to take when considering comics and graphic novels. However, while this book does draw upon the work of many theorists (Žižek, Lacan, Freud, etc.), it is very focused on Harold Bloom's theory of the "anxiety of influence," which postulates that superhero comic b I purchased a copy of this book for cheap at a local bookstore as I had recently begun reading superhero comic books. I was hoping to understand comic books more deeply and was enticed by the 'literary criticism'-angle this book appeared to take when considering comics and graphic novels. However, while this book does draw upon the work of many theorists (Žižek, Lacan, Freud, etc.), it is very focused on Harold Bloom's theory of the "anxiety of influence," which postulates that superhero comic books are a kind of poetic medium. Klock goes deep into the history of comic books and the tradition: he outlines the specific ages (gold, silver, bronze, dark, modern) and what sort of tropes are characteristic to these ages. This is all very interesting, but as he explores few titles in a proper "less is more" fashion and opts out of discussing the visual art itself, the reader is left with wanting more. I believe this book fulfils its titular promise of teaching one how to read superhero comics, within their specific time period and considering a title's place within its established history, but comes short of answering why, other than for general amusement and how certain titles play off other's norms. Never mind, I guess it does answer the 'why.'

  5. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    While I can appreciate the amount of analysis Klock includes in this book, I found the title to be a misnomer. He doesn't really address the ideas expressed in the title, and mainly focuses on post-Silver Age works. This text can be helpful, however, if people want to read literary criticism of certain comics such as Batman and Watchmen. While I can appreciate the amount of analysis Klock includes in this book, I found the title to be a misnomer. He doesn't really address the ideas expressed in the title, and mainly focuses on post-Silver Age works. This text can be helpful, however, if people want to read literary criticism of certain comics such as Batman and Watchmen.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lorenz De Witte-Vroman

    A commercial genre such as comics and Harold Bloom simply don't mix very well... Nice try though A commercial genre such as comics and Harold Bloom simply don't mix very well... Nice try though

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    I read this book 4 or 5 years ago, when it first came out, and recently reread it while preparing for a research project. I was dazzled by it the first time I read it, and I was glad to discover that it had aged well, that it continued to dazzle me rereading it 4 or 5 years later. Klock's book is perhaps misleadlingly titled. The title might lead you to think it elaborates some sweeping theory about the artistic relevance of superhero comics, or perhaps some general cultural history that document I read this book 4 or 5 years ago, when it first came out, and recently reread it while preparing for a research project. I was dazzled by it the first time I read it, and I was glad to discover that it had aged well, that it continued to dazzle me rereading it 4 or 5 years later. Klock's book is perhaps misleadlingly titled. The title might lead you to think it elaborates some sweeping theory about the artistic relevance of superhero comics, or perhaps some general cultural history that documents how they reflect events of larger, world-historic signficance. My sense is that some of the critical reviews the book received were due to this misunderstanding of its goal. (As I recall, it was published around the same time that Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics was getting a lot of hype, which may have contributed to this misperception.) Here is what I take Klock to be doing. Around the mid-eighties comic book writers such as Alan Moore and Frank Miller began introducing stories into mainstream superhero comics that were intended for a more adult audience--stories aimed at mature audiences not only insofar as they dealt with "darker" material (racism, drug addiction, vigilantism, US imperialism, rape, etc.) but that expressly aimed to reconfigure the history of superhero comics. This was a kind of philosophic moment in comic book history--a moment of modernism (or perhaps postmodernism?) when writers and artists began to self-consciously push the envelope, to see what they could do in and with this medium. Writers like Moore and Miller recognized that comics had been around long enough that they had evolved a rich history of tropes, narratives, aesthetics, and so forth, all of which were tangled up with issues of politics, sexuality, and morality, and they sought to tell stories that would uncover the hidden potentials of the superhero comic as a medium. Klock's book doesn't provide a general theory about why comics matter, or a general history of them. Instead, he takes stock of what I'm calling the "philosophic moment" that occured in the mid-80's and its ongoing legacy in comics published in the 90's and early 2000's. Klock has a PHD in English, and he draws on some big names in literary criticism (Bloom and Zizek figure prominently) to analyze this tradition. In addition to chapters on Moore and Miller, he also discusses works by Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, and Kurt Busiek. Let me confine myself to sharing two reasons why I like this book so much. First, Klock's interpretations of the various comics he discusses are fanstastic. They are subtle and sophisticated, and they're just spot on. It never seemed to me that he overstepped himself--that he read too much into a scene or over-analyzed a particular work. Instead, his book felt like a gift. I collected comics when I was teenager but stopped collecting around the time I left for college (the early 90's). I admired Alan Moore's Watchmen (to this day, I'll argue with colleagues in my university's English department that it deservers to be listed among the greatest literary works of the 20th century every bit as much as Joyce's Ulysses) but hadn't read many comics since then. Klock's book introduced me to 10 to 15 year's worth of incredible comic book storytelling. It gave me a way to connect up what I do now, as a professor, with a chldhood love. Second, Klock's use of literary theory is exemplary. He draws on some extremely difficult, obscure thinkers: Zizek, Bloom, Althusser, Foucault, Derrida. As a philosopher, one who works on so-called "continental philosophy," I find myself regularly gnashing my teeth when I see the awkward use of these philosophers' ideas in literary theory. But I found Klock's use of them to be exemplary. His prose is clear, free from jargon, and his use of literary theory is accessible to non-specialist audiences. (To give just one example, I took classes for a time with the postcolonial literary critic, Homi Bhabha, and for the life of me I can't recall ever hearing as good of a description, in any of my classes, of Althusser's idea of interpollation as the one Klock gives in his chapter on the film, Unbreakable.) I give this book five stars because of how much I enjoyed it, but I should warn that it's not for everyone. If you did not grow up on superhero comics, or have no interest in them, then I can imagine that the book will not be as rewarding for you. (As much as I like it, it does read to me as a book on comics by an extremely articulate, well-educated fanboy.) I can also imagine that book being off-putting for someone lacking any interest in recent literary theory. If, however, like me, you share either of these interests, then I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Devin Bruce

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. How To Read Superhero Comics And Why is not a book that spoonfeeds you anything. But when you try and look at the end of the Silver Age of comic books through the lens of the literary theory of Harold Bloom, the philosophy of Jung and Zizek, and other intellectual luminaries, you’re going to need to be running to the dictionary every so often. So despite the rough go I had during the introduction, I stuck it out, and when it got time to get to the heart of the book I was really impressed. Most bo How To Read Superhero Comics And Why is not a book that spoonfeeds you anything. But when you try and look at the end of the Silver Age of comic books through the lens of the literary theory of Harold Bloom, the philosophy of Jung and Zizek, and other intellectual luminaries, you’re going to need to be running to the dictionary every so often. So despite the rough go I had during the introduction, I stuck it out, and when it got time to get to the heart of the book I was really impressed. Most books on superhero comics are just a narrative history of the medium and the creators; the Golden Age, Wertham and the decline of the superhero, Marvel and the birth of the Silver Age, and so on. Some look at recurring themes of particular eras or creators. But this one looks at the textual elements of important works and describes them, not in terms of their place in the history of the medium, but their relationship to earlier works and their attempts to sublimate, destroy, validate, or subsume those works. I’m not overexaggerating when I say I’ve never read a book like this before. Klock spends the absolute minimum amount of time necessary to discuss Crisis on Infinite Earths, then forges ahead into Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which to his thesis are more important and more interesting. One of the coolest ideas presented in this book was that those two works might not be the start of a new age (the Modern/Dark age) like so many think, but the last phase of the Silver Age, setting the stage for a new age to come. And he’s so incisive and thoughtful that he started to convince me, too. I really liked the analysis of Busiek’s works, Astro City and Kingdom Come especially, as well as Alan Moore’s Americas Best Comics experiment. And if you pick Planetary as the start of a new Modern Age you’ve already got a foot in the door as far as I’m concerned. The best thing about this book, aside from creating a completely new lens through which to observe superhero comics, was the analysis of the works that I had *thought* I’d understood but had apparently only scratched the surface of. The subtext becoming text in Dark Knight Returns, the Silver Age stretching its muscles in Astro City, How Warren Ellis took the metatextual idea of new stories destroying old stories and turned it into a story in Planetary. With so many new levels of interpretation introduced to me, Klock’s book cracked open the top of my brain and expanded my mind. It bears repeating that this is not an easy read. Klock’s writing this for an academically-slanted audience, and there were times I felt my mind wandering away because I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the analysis. I’m not a student of literary theory but I did my best to keep up and looked up terms and people I didn’t know as I went along. Oblique references to literary and philosophical theories aside, though, Klock does his best to explain where he’s coming from, and I muddled through some of the more esoteric bits until I got a solid foothold again. I’ve heard some people get hung up on the title. “How to Read Superhero Comics And Why” doesn’t explitly explain how you’re supposed to read them, and it never says why you should read them at all. But like I said before: Klock doesn’t spoonfeed you anything, so the first part of that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It’s not spelled out, it’s implied in the text: read them not only as stories featuring your favourite technicolour marvels, but look at the secret highways between them and other stories, and see if they’re thematically treading water, reacting against old stories, or blazing their own trail. And I interpret the “Why” of the title not as “Why You Should Read Superhero Stories” but “Why You Should Read Superhero Stories In This Manner.” And I feel that Klock’s entire thesis, even though some of it has not borne fruit in the six years since it was first published (e.g., WildStorm, far from being the start of a new age of comics, has been subsumed into the DC universe proper), is that you read deeply into them to see what they have to say about the stories that have come before and examine the creators’ point of view. And to me, that’s plenty interesting. (It also occurs to me that I would really like to read a sequel to this book, or perhaps an addendum like Aldous Huxley did for Brave New World (How To Read Superhero Comics And Why Revisited?) to address the changes in the past few years. But that’s not for me to do.)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Well, if you ever wonder what combining some basic tenets of literary theory and some of the best of of the last 25 years (ish) of comics would get, you have this particular book. Not surprisingly, at least half the book is devoted to the more canonical works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Nothing wrong with that, of course, there's a reason those guys are generally held up as the Twin Towers of modern comics. And there certainly were a lot of cogent points to be made about their works. Persona Well, if you ever wonder what combining some basic tenets of literary theory and some of the best of of the last 25 years (ish) of comics would get, you have this particular book. Not surprisingly, at least half the book is devoted to the more canonical works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Nothing wrong with that, of course, there's a reason those guys are generally held up as the Twin Towers of modern comics. And there certainly were a lot of cogent points to be made about their works. Personally, my favorite parts were about, admittedly, writers I personally prefer such as Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison and Joe Casey. I was glad to see those guys in particular acknowledged for managing to transcend so many of the self-imposed so many writers have been putting on themselves since, oh, 1986 or so. My only real point of discontent with the book would be with the (to me, at least) really heavy reliance on quotes. Granted, it was somewhat necessary, as a primer for the uninitiated. But there were certainly some times this bogged down the overall flow. Overall, this is a really thoughtful read for sure. I would, in fact, LOVE to see a sequel to this book. Having cut off sometime in 2001, there is a LOT of new stuff one could delve into. Comics in a post-9/11 world (though there are certainly some examples of that out there already), a comparison of "compressed" vs. "decompressed" storytelling, so on and so forth. Here's hoping...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    This Bloomian reading of the superhero tradition in terms of the anxiety of influence makes an interesting narrative, though I doubt the only cogent one. I'll have to engage in agonistics to suggest alternatives. Good readings of Moore and Miller, though. I need to read more Ennis now. This Bloomian reading of the superhero tradition in terms of the anxiety of influence makes an interesting narrative, though I doubt the only cogent one. I'll have to engage in agonistics to suggest alternatives. Good readings of Moore and Miller, though. I need to read more Ennis now.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dru

    a trully fantastic book with great insight in to some of the best superhero comics that have been made in the last 20 years.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dave Peterson

  13. 5 out of 5

    Woebegone Mule

  14. 5 out of 5

    Etienne

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jamil Muasher

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rodrigo Castañeda

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Scicluna

  22. 5 out of 5

    John Pistelli

  23. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tupper

  24. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Puente

  25. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Pontes

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  27. 4 out of 5

    Iheanyi Ekechukwu

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beria

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