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Authorizing Superhero Comics examines the comic book superhero as a lasting phenomenon of US popular serial storytelling. Moving beyond linear- or creator-centered models of genre development, Daniel Stein identifies authorization conflicts that have driven the genre’s evolution from the late 1930s to the present. These conflicts include paratextually mediated exchanges between officially authorized comic book producers and, alternatively, authorized fans that trouble the distinction between production and its reception; storyworld-building processes that subsume producers and fans into a collective rooted in a common style; parodies that ensure the genre’s longevity by deflating criticism through self-reflexive humor; and collecting and archiving as forms of memory management that align the genre’s past with the demands of the present. Taking seriously the serial agencies of the superhero comic book as a material artifact with a particular mediality, the study analyzes letter columns, editorial commentary, fanzines, encyclopedias, and other forms of comic book communication as critical frameworks for understanding the evolution of the genre—assessing rarely covered archival sources alongside some of the most treasured figures from the superhero’s multi-decade history, from Batman and Spider-Man to Wonder Woman and Captain America.
About the Author
Daniel Stein is Professor of North American Literary and Cultural Studies in the English Department at the University of Siegen.
“Stein’s book is a compelling read, perhaps most so for those relatively new to superhero comics and their criticism. For those less familiar with the material history, including letters columns, fanzines, parodies, etc., the book will no doubt shed new light on superhero stories. For those familiar with this history, Stein provides useful background, contextualization and theorization in a clear and readable context. It is a book well worth reading.”—Eric Berlatsky, International Journal of Comic Art
“Authorizing Superhero Comics is a truly fascinating piece of innovative scholarship that approaches a salient part of comics history and culture from the perspective of actor-network theory, offering important insights into the (para)textual construction of authorship in superhero comics and beyond.” —Jan-Noël Thon, author of Transmedial Narratology and Contemporary Media Culture
“Daniel Stein has produced a meticulously argued, well-researched, and methodologically sound study, which I believe will resonate with anyone studying superheroes, comics, and popular culture more generally.” —José Alaniz, author of Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond