Empire of the Superheroes: America’s Comic Book Creators and the Making of a Billion Dollar Industry

Mark Cotta Vaz. Univ. of Texas, $34.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-47731-647-4
Editor Vaz (Mythic Visions) digs into the history of the comic book industry in this detailed, upbeat survey. The story begins with two high school students, Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, who grew up in Cleveland during the Great Depression and dreamed up Superman, a “muscular man” with superpowers “costumed like an acrobat or circus strongman.” After developing the character, they sold the rights to their creation for $130 to National Comics. Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and was soon followed by Batman (created by Bob Kane) and Wonder Woman (by William Marston and Harry Peter), and by 1939 comics was a big business: “a live-action Superman movie, a radio adventure series was in the works, and a full-color Sunday strip was introduced.” In the early ’60s, upstart Marvel challenged established publisher DC with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the Avengers, and became an entertainment powerhouse, leveraging its creations into the billion-dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe. Vaz’s history is comprehensive and finds ready drama in the exploitation of naive artists by rapacious publishers; indeed, the decades-long struggle by Siegel and Shuster to wrest back ownership of Superman “would define and consume their lives” and is the beating heart of the story. This grand comic book adventure is not to be missed. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/16/2020
Release date: 01/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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