Thursday, August 22, 2013

Robin Rosenberg, "What is a Superhero" | Talks At Google

In What Is a Superhero?, psychologist Robin S. Rosenberg and comics scholar Peter Coogan (Co-Editors) explore this idea and mainstream of American comic and film history from a variety of perspectives. Here is the publisher's ad copy for the book:
It's easy to name a superhero--Superman, Batman, Thor, Spiderman, the Green Lantern, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rorschach, Wolverine--but it's not so easy to define what a superhero is. Buffy has superpowers, but she doesn't have a costume. Batman has a costume, but doesn't have superpowers. What is the role of power and superpower? And what are supervillains and why do we need them?

In What is a Superhero?, psychologist Robin Rosenberg and comics scholar Peter Coogan explore this question from a variety of viewpoints, bringing together contributions from nineteen comic book experts--including both scholars in such fields as cultural studies, art, and psychology as well as leading comic book writers and editors. What emerges is a kaleidoscopic portrait of this most popular of pop-culture figures. Writer Jeph Loeb, for instance, sees the desire to make the world a better place as the driving force of the superhero. Jennifer K. Stuller argues that the female superhero inspires women to stand up, be strong, support others, and most important, to believe in themselves. More darkly, A. David Lewis sees the indestructible superhero as the ultimate embodiment of the American "denial of death," while writer Danny Fingeroth sees superheroes as embodying the best aspects of humankind, acting with a nobility of purpose that inspires us. Interestingly, Fingeroth also expands the definition of superhero so that it would include characters like John McClane of the Die Hard movies: "Once they dodge ridiculous quantities of machine gun bullets they're superheroes, cape or no cape." 
From summer blockbusters to best-selling graphic novels, the superhero is an integral part of our culture. What is a Superhero? not only illuminates this pop-culture figure, but also sheds much light on the fantasies and beliefs of the American people.
Interesting stuff. I think most boys who grew up in the 1970s were comic book fans and most of read superhero comics, either Stan Lee's Marvel Universe (Spider Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four, and so on) or the DC Comics Universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, The Flash, Aquaman, and the Justice League).

I knew I could never be Superman, being from Earth and all, but Batman was just smart and had really cool toys - I could do that. Boys often saw these characters (almost certainly unconsciously) as role models.

In the end, a Superhero, for me, was someone who sacrificed their own safety and sometimes happiness to keep the world safe from villains. Gender, planet, or species, super powers or not - none of that matters. Superheroes are those who serve good and resist evil.

Rosenberg recently stopped in at Google to talk about her new book and our ideas about superheroes.

Top 25 superheroes on screen

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Robin Rosenberg, "What is a Superhero" | Talks At Google

Published on Aug 22, 2013

Robin Rosenberg, Geoff Klock, Tom DeFalco, and Danny Fingeroth, "What is a Superhero"
What is a superhero? Everyone knows, right? And yet everyone seems to have a different answer. If asked, most people will say that a superhero is a fictional character with "superhuman" abilities or powers — and one who uses those abilities for the common good. Some might add that superheroes wear costumes. But this is only part of the story. 
In this innovative collection of essays, renowned psychologist Robin Rosenberg and comics scholar Peter Coogan explore the question "What is a superhero?" from a variety of viewpoints. What is the role of power and superpower? Heroism? The environment? How is the superhero a metaphor? Perhaps most intriguing, what are super villains and why do we need them? These and many other fascinating topics are taken up in this exciting new book. With essays from scholars and commentary by the writers and creators themselves, including exclusive material from Stan Lee, Danny Fingeroth, and their peers, What is a Superhero? is the first volume to provide a true synthesis and reflection of the state of superheroes in our culture today.

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