ENGL 207 A: Introduction To Cultural Studies


Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 11:20am
MLR 301
Tom Foster
Tom Foster

Syllabus Description:

Schedule of readings:  You should complete the required reading prior to the lecture for that day (for instance, read the works assigned for January 8 before the January 8 lecture).  Shorter pieces available as pdfs are marked as such below and can be found on the “Files” page of the Canvas site.   Some readings are suggested only; you are not required to read these works prior to lecture.  I will reference suggested readings in lecture, and they may be required for your discussion section (if so, these readings and the dates for their completion will be announced in section).  But you will not be tested on the suggested readings, though you may use them in your take-home essays.


Week 1.

January 6: Introduction and overview


January 8: Excerpt from Philip Wylie, Gladiator (pdf)        

                   Jack Williamson, “The Girl From Mars” (pdf)

                   C.L. (Catherine) Moore and Henry Kuttner, “The Children’s Hour” (pdf)

                   Brian Attebery, “Super Men” (pdf)

Suggested only: Excerpt from Stanley Weinbaum, The New Adam (pdf)

                              C.L. Moore, “No Woman Born” (pdf)

                              Judith Merril, “That Only a Mother” (pdf)

                              Brian Attebery, “Wonder Women” (pdf)



Week 2.

January 13: Golden Age Superman, Batman, and Captain America

A. Superman:

Gerard Jones, “Men of Tomorrow” (pdf)

Herbert S. Fine (Jerry Siegel), “Reign of the Superman” – available online at:


“What If Superman Ended the War?” (February 1940; pdf)

“Visit to Hitler” (1945; pdf)

“The Conquest of a City” (1942; pdf)

“The Adventure of the Merchant of Murder” (May 1942; pdf)      

“When Worlds Collide” (pdf)

Suggested only: “The Origin of Superman” (1948; pdf)


B. Batman:

“The Return of Doctor Death” (1939; pdf)

“Batman Versus the Vampire, Part One” (1939; pdf)

“The Origin of Batman” (1948; pdf)

Suggested only: “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley!” (1976; pdf)


C. Captain America:

“Case No. 1: Meet Captain America” (1941; pdf)


January 15:Golden Age Wonder Woman and Plastic Man

Wonder Woman:

Trina Robbins, “The Great Women Superheroes” (pdf)

“The Origin of Wonder Woman” (1942; pdf)

“The Unbound Amazon” (1943; pdf)

“Battle for Womanhood” (1943; pdf)

Suggested only: “The Adventure of the Life Vitamin” (1943; pdf)

                              “America’s Wonder Women of Tomorrow” (1943;pdf)


Plastic Man:

H.G. Wells, “The Limits of Individual Plasticity” (pdf)

“The Origin of Plastic Man” (1941; pdf)

“Plague of Plastic People” (1950; pdf)  



Week 3.

January 20: Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human


January 22: Sturgeon, More Than Human


Week 4.

January 27: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen

                     “Must There Be a Superman?” (1972; pdf)


January 29: Watchmen

Week 5.

February 3: Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Alan Moore, “The Mark of Batman: An Introduction” (pdf)

Geoff Klock, “The Revisionary Superhero Narrative” (pdf)

February 5: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns



Take-home midterm exam essay questions posted, Thursday, February 5


Week 6:

February 10: In-class midterm exam


February 12: Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels

           Charles Hatfield, “Jack Kirby and the Marvel Aesthetic” (pdf)


Week 7.

February 17: Warren Ellis and John Casaday, Planetary

February 19: Dwayne McDuffie and M.D. Bright, Icon


Week 8.

February 24: Icon

                      Jeffrey Brown, “Comic Book Masculinity” (pdf)


February 26: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero

Suggested only: Saladin Ahmed, “How Censors Killed the Weird, Experimental, Progressive Golden Age of Comics”; available online at http://www.buzzfeed.com/saladinahmed/how-the-comics-code-killed-the-gold...

Week 9.

March 3: G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel


March 5: Kelly Link, “Origin Story” (pdf)

                 Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, “Trickster” (pdf)

                 Carol Emshwiller, “Grandma” (pdf)

Suggested only: Henry Jenkins, “Scribbling in the Margins: Fan Readers/Fan Writers” (pdf)


Week 10.

March 10: Kim Newman, “Ubermensch” (pdf)

                   Paul Di Filippo, “The Jackdaw’s Last Case” (pdf)

                   George R.R. Martin, “Wild Cards: Prologue & Interludes” (pdf)

Suggested only: Ted Chiang, “Understand” (pdf)



March 12: Film/TV adaptations; clips to be viewed in class


Take-home final exam questions posted, Thursday, March 12


In-class final exam, Monday, March 16, 10:30-12:20 a.m., in Miller 301



Additional Details:

This course will turn to American popular culture as a source of reflection on the idea of the superhuman. We will consider how this concept has been gendered, so we will examine examples of both the superman and the superwoman. The course will begin with some readings in science-fictional representation of this concept in order to define some of the problems associated with representations and narratives of the superhuman. While I have not yet made final decisions about the reading list, in this section of the course we will probably read Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator (1930), an acknowledged influence on the first successful comic-book superhero, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s Superman (1938), along with Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human (1953), and short stories by C.L. Moore, Philip K. Dick, and Ted Chiang. We will then turn to the earliest comic-book superheroes, from the WWII period, with a focus on Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and possibly Captain America. In this period, the concept of the superman was potentially politically problematic, given its association with fascist rhetorics of the master race. We may use the book The Superhero Reader to clarify the historical debates about the superhero figure.
The course will then turn to more contemporary graphic novels that reevaluate and reimagine the figure of the superhero. Examples may include Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen; Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns; Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels; Warren Ellis and John Casaday’s Planetary; Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman; Alan Moore and Gene Ha’s Top 10; either Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Sleeper or Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon’s Powers; Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero; and G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel. I expect to end the course by reading some recent attempts to narrate superheroes in print fiction, probably using the story collection Super Stories of Heroes & Villains, ed. Claude Lalumiere. As time permits, we might read another superhero novel by Austin Grossman, Samit Basu, Ayize Jama-Everett, or Carrie Vaughn. Again as time permits, we will probably consider some examples of cinematic and televisual narratives, including The Avengers or Arrow.
In addition to consideration of the historical development of the superhero and the superhuman, some of the topics we will discuss will include the ways in which superhero narratives encode cultural and historical fantasies; the generic nature of the superhero narrative, especially its incorporation and hybridization of multiple genres, most notable in the emergence of the superhero “universe”; formal innovation in the comics medium associated with superhero narratives; social and cultural diversity, including feminist, African American, and Asian American appropriations of the superhero genre; and transmedia adaptations and crossovers.
Assignments for the course will include a midterm and a final exam, both including a take-home essay as well as an in-class component, as well as a participation grade to be determined through the discussion sections.

Catalog Description: 
Introduces cultural studies as an interdisciplinary field and practice. Explores multiple histories of the field with an emphasis on current issues and developments. Focuses on culture as a site of political and social debate and struggle. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
March 16, 2016 - 11:00am