Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheros
From the time of its inception in the early ‘30s, the modern comic book quickly grew into a thriving industry that became the most popular producer of reading material for children and young adults. This dramatic growth was fuelled by the proliferation of the new superhero comic book characters that appeared in the era of the Great Depression and World War II. Like the mythological heroes of ancient Greece, the comic book superheroes became manifestations of American history, culture, and folklore. As Michael Uslan has observed, “the ancient gods of the Greeks, Romans, the Egyptians, and the Norse still exist today, only they’re clad in spandex, capes, and masks.”
This exhibition traces the way in which comic books have reflected national events, aspirations, and attitudes--from the battles waged against Axis powers and corporate corruption by the invincible Superman, Batman, and Captain America, to the era of the 1960s when Spider-Man emerged as the quintessential superhero of his time--an adolescent who had to contend with his own insecurities while fighting evil. This reworking of the formulas for superheroes was also evidenced by greater diversity in comic books with the introduction of African American, Native American, and other minority characters. The exhibition concludes with an open-ended section exploring the impact of the 9-11 crisis as superheroes of the new century worked alongside real, ordinary heroes to address the greatest catastrophe on American soil.
Reflecting Culture: The Evolution of American Comic Book Superheroes was presented by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation. Additional support was provided by the David and Susan Bershad Foundation, the Vance Wall Foundation, the Karma Foundation, Annie sez and Mandee Stores, Exhibition Angels Bobbi Brown & Steven Plofker, Rose & John Cali, Carol & Harlan Waksal, Margo & Frank Walter and Joan & Donald Zief, and by funds from the Judith Targan Endowment Fund for Museum Publications. All Museum programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and Museum members.