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Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  397 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, the Avengers, the X-Men, Watchmen, and more: the companion volume to the PBS documentary series of the same name that tells the story of the superhero in American popular culture.
Together again for the first time, here come the greatest comic book superheroes ever assembled between two covers: down from the heavens--S
ebook, 395 pages
Published December 17th 2013 by Crown Archetype (first published October 1st 2013)
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 ·  397 ratings  ·  56 reviews

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Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Starting with the caveat that I only really read the first half, the book is an excellent history of superheroes in comic books. I picked this up to give myself some background before reading Michael Chabon's book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and once the history reached the 60's I figured I'd gotten what I needed. Down the road, though, I may read the second half, as the book is well done, detailing how comics adapted to changes into society, appealed to various markets, etc., an ...more
Selkie ✦ Queen
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a rather lucky purchase last month. I was rummaging through shelves in the bookstore when I found this displayed in the entrance. With its glimmering silver cover and embossed superhero pictures that spell SUPERHEROES! with a bold intent, I knew I have to buy it. Once I unwrapped it, I scanned the pages and was just stunned. I researched more about this online and found out that it was a companion book for a PBS Documentary called Superheroes!: A Never-Ending Battle. It was divided into ...more
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
I got this book both in hardcover and on audiobook after watching the 3-part documentary series of the same name on Netflix. As someone who didn't really know where to start when she waded into comic books a few years ago and who has slowly picked up pieces of context over time, this book was a wonderful and invaluable overview of the history of the medium. It covered everything: from the initial development and influences of the medium to the effects of societal and technological movements on t ...more
Oct 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An in depth look and analysis of the Marvel and DC canon of superheroes, continuities and creators.
I personally like this read even more for it's appreciation and look at one of my favourite comic works, Brian Michael Bendis' Alias… it also looks deeply at Watchmen, Dark Knight, The Avengers etc. as well as DC and Marvels. 'events'. There's also a chapter on the many film adaptations, although the book is written before the latest and highly popular Cinemate Marvel Universe came to the fore. 7
Daniel Kukwa
A solid, coffee-table history book that tries to pack in as much as possible...and nearly succeeds. It can't do justice to everything, and there are other books about there (especially cover Marvel & DC) that go into much further depth, but this is as good of a one-stop-shop as you're likely to find on the subject of comic books. ...more
Logan Trusner
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
In Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture, the author Laurence Maslon talks how the culture was formed and throughout the book, it goes through the well-known superheroes by their release dates. Then describes the story behind how the superheroes were made into the pages of their books. But what drew the kids in bookstores and later comic book stores to the characters like Superman or Spider Man? Many kids grabbed these books to escape to a place that they knew the her ...more
Eamonn Murphy
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the history of super-heroes in the media. The super-hero is now a mainstay of popular culture on television and the silver screen but some of us older folk recall a time when they were only available on paper. Low paid men with typewriters did the scripts and other chaps with actual pencils drew the characters on paper. Often they did not tell their friends what they did in case they might be spat on. Now top directors vie for the latest super-film. My, how things have chang ...more
Feral J. apone
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was one of those great books that you didn’t realise you needed to read until you had already begun.

As a kid who never collected any one specific comic series or character, I had a multitude of titles plastered across my bedroom floor. So many “to be continued –“, and so many obscure titles that I never saw again-many of the questions of my childhood about “what did happen” were left unanswered until I picked up this book. This book gave me an insight into a world that I now have a great de
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I could not have enjoyed this big, beautiful book anymore than I did. Spanning the last almost 100 years, the author covers the history of comic books and superheroes while providing incredible examples of comic book art from the 1920s until the present day. I learned everything I need to know about Marvel, DC, the Comic Codes (I just read The Ten Cent Plague as well) and a whole bunch more. Being somewhat new to superhero comic books, there was a lot I didn't understand about how they work, and ...more
Michael Chen
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fun, with fascinating forays into unknown books of superhero lore. I was especially interested in comics’ treatment of LGBT issues, females, and 9/11.

Perhaps my favorite line comes from Frank Miller's comment on comics as metaphors:

"Everything [in fantasies] is a metaphor for something that's real. This is how pop culture works. We process things and then turn them into a product that is at once more palatable but deeply resonant."

That's pretty much how my brain works. I understand and explain e
This is a really great book about the history of comic books, and it acts as a companion piece to the three-part PBS documentary, "Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle." I have read a lot about this subject in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised to find material here that I hadn't heard before. As an added bonus, often, when there are creator quotes in the written book, the audiobook features the real voices of those creators saying their quotes, extracted from their taped interviews.
Kelsey Hendrixson
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Whether you're a mega comic book fan or a casual marvel/DC movie watcher you will LOVE this book! It takes beloved superheroes from conception to 2015. Exploring the creators, inspiration behind the crime fighters, and how they influenced/were influenced by American Culture. I was obsessed from start to finish and now feel better educated on a world I love
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a history of comics, and their effects on america as they have grown, changed and influenced millions over the decades. Along the way we meet all the superheros who have formed the psyche of America.
Jacob Smithson
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Really good information on the super heroes we know and love! Loved it!
Denise Spicer
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book covers comic book history, sociology, and in pop culture. The book includes almost 300 pages of colorful illustrations.
Ed Gosney
Nov 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice read as a companion piece to the mini-series, but it had a few errors in it.
Apr 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very well told overview of the history of superheroes. This is. It just a history of comic books, but on pop culture as well.
Bill Sleeman

Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture by Laurence Maslon is well researched, well presented and nearly comprehensive, at least as much as it can with a community of followers (myself included) who grew up with and who can still appreciate the masked men and women of the multiverse. Based on the documentary of the same name by Michael Kantor (lots of fun that as well, check your PBS listings for when it will be re-aired) “Superheroes!” is a solid history of the mainst

May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comic-books, history
Super Heroes is the complete guide to the history of comic book super heroes. From their origins as mythical figures, through WWII and the civil rights movement, and into the modern gritty era. The book is a companion piece to a PBS documentary series which aired a few years ago. The audiobook edition of the book includes interview quotes with some of the people interviewed. Both wide in scope and history, Maslon & Kantor give readers an expansive view of how super heroes have become entangled i ...more
Steven Wilson
An ambitious work, valuable for its illustrations alone. It covers the history of comics from the pulps of the early 20th Century through the Avengers film of 2012. Its coverage of the youth and coming of age of the industry, up through Dr. Wertham and the creation of the Comics Code Authority, is strong. Then the text starts to taper off in both energy and in quality. I was fascinated by the frank discussion of the backgrounds of the Golden Age creators, and the factors that cause the children ...more
David Thompson
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
By no means am I a comic book junkie, however, I am hopefully like most Americans in that I appreciate the idea of a super hero. Whether in a comic book, on a television screen, movie screen, or action figure, there is no question that some form of super hero has touched most people in their childhood. Laurence Maslon's "Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of COmic Book Culture" is a great once-over-the-world for anyone to do a deep dive into the comic environment.

Broken into three part
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was extremely excited when I learned that the PBS documentary "Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle" had this companion book and even more pleased when my local library had a copy. Little did I know what was in store for me.

This beautifully illustrated book takes the reader on a journey of superheroes from their earliest days in pulp format, right through 2012/2103. Along the way we are introduced to the giants of the industry, who laid the ground work for generations to come and experience the
Feb 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is exactly what you would want out of a book that covers the history of comic books. Many of the stories come straight from the mouths of the original creators themselves and they are rich with details and cultural relevance. The book casually works its way forward hitting on the creation and importance of most of the big name characters, treating them with the respect and awe that their true fans would appreciate. Fanboys know the outlines of many of these stories already, but they are rea ...more
This was a very interesting book. I got a hold of the audiobook version which doesn't let me see any of the panels it describes but does let me hear quotes straight from the person who said them. The narrator is engaging and easy to listen to. I didn't run into any problems with my mind wandering due to droning speech patterns. It also includes actual audio from the authors and industry leaders it quotes.

It is a little choppy at times going from one topic to another with little to no transition
Orren Merton
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a companion to the 3-part PBS documentary of the same name, but it stands alone very well. If you've seen the documentary, this really fills in the gaps, giving far more detail, context, and longer interviews than the documentary has time for. If you haven't seen the documentary, this is an excellent survey of how comics grew out of the funny pages of newspapers into the multi-billion dollar industries they are today. The writing is accessible and the layout/art is excellent, making ...more
Lance Eaton
Apr 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Big surprise--I enjoyed a book about comics. Who saw that coming? Maslon's discussion and history of comics is pretty decent and filled with quotes from many of the different key players in comics. If you get the audiobook, some of those quotes are actually taken from the people who said them and it's not just a narrator. This book was released in tandem with the PBS documentary that came out last year or so. It's a solid history of superhero comics that covers the major points and even some tha ...more
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I'm not a huge comic book fan, but was drawn to this after watching sf debris' history of the comic book empire. Whilst there's less of the behind the scenes maneuvering than the sf debris documentaries, I quite enjoyed this. It is part encyclopedia of the various comic titles and characters from the 1930's to the present day, and part history of the comic book industry. The book is also part social commentary on American society, as many of the characters and issues within the comicbooks are a ...more
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and researched, Superheroes chronicles the story of the comic book genre's humble beginnings, explosive growth in popularity, denunciation as a threat to humanity, near extinction, remarkeable comeback, and eventual takeover of the world as we (currently) know it. It also provides insightful context that positions these fictional marvels in the history of real world events to show how superheroes, and comic books in general, reflect the 20th and 21st centuries.
Michael Ritchie
Mar 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid survey of superhero comic book history with lots of full-color illustrations. They give short shrift to what has been called the Silver Age of the 60s--of course, I may be prejudiced because that's when I was reading comic books--and there are a few more typos than I would expect from a major publishing house (Crown), the strangest of which confused the words "proceeding" and "preceding." It's a pop book not an academic one, and worth at least a skim for superhero fans.
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Laurence Maslon is an arts professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, as well as associate chair of the Graduate Acting Program. He is the writer and coproducer of the American Masters documentary, Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, broadcast on PBS in 2019, as well as the artistic director and writer of “Yes I Can: The Sammy Davis, Jr. Songbook” at the 92Y’s “Lyrics and Lyricis ...more

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