ENGL 204 A: Popular Fiction and Media

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
MGH 251
Tom Foster
Tom Foster

Syllabus Description:

Schedule of readings:  You should complete the required reading prior to the class meeting for that day (for instance, read the works assigned for October 2 before the October 2 class meeting).  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 written work, when applicable).


Week 1.

September 27: Introduction and overview



Week 2.

October 2: The science-fictional context

Excerpts from Philip Wylie, Gladiator (pdf)              

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

Brian Attebery, “Super Men” (pdf)


October 4: C.L. (Catherine) Moore and Henry Kuttner, “The Children’s Hour” (pdf)

C.L. Moore, “No Woman Born” (pdf)

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

Brian Attebery, “Wonder Women” (pdf)



Week 3.

October 9: The comics medium: Superman, World War II, and the Golden Age of superheroes

Excerpts from Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (pdf)

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


The Origin of Superman & His Powers” (June 1939; pdf)    

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

“Visit to Hitler” (1945; pdf)

Gerard Jones, “Men of Tomorrow” (pdf)

Suggested only: “The Conquest of a City” (1942; pdf)

Suggested only: “The King of the Comic Books” (1943; pdf)

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

Suggested only: Friedrich Nietzsche, excerpt from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (pdf)


October 11:

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

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

“Return to Krypton” (1988; pdf)

“When Worlds Collide” (pdf)

Kim Newman, “Ubermensch” (pdf)

Suggested only: Umberto Eco, “The Myth of Superman” (pdf)



Week 4.

Monday, October 15: Take-home midterm exam questions posted on the Canvas site, at the Assignments link


October 16: Batman

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

“Batman Versus the Vampire, Parts One and Two” (1939; pdf)

“The Origin of Batman” (1948; pdf)

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

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


October 18: Wonder Woman

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

“The Unbound Amazon” (1943; pdf)

“Battle for Womanhood” (1943; pdf)

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

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

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

Week 5.

Monday, October 22: Take-home midterm essays due, by email to tfoster@uw.edu


October 23: Contemporary superhero narratives and the turn to realism

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen

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


October 25: Watchmen      

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


Week 6.

October 30: Watchmen


November 1: Watchmen


Week 7.

November 6: Narrating a universe: Return to the Silver Age

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels

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

November 8: Marvels


Week 8. From universe to multiverse

November 13: Grant Morrison, et al., Multiversity

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


November 15: Multiversity


Week 9.

November 20: No class meeting

Final papers due, by 5 p.m.; email to tfoster@uw.edu



November 22: No class; Thanksgiving holiday


Week 10.

November 27: Superheroes, race, and gender

Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero

Selections from Dwayne McDuffie and M.D. Bright, Icon, to be viewed in class and

            posted on the Canvas site

Suggested only: Jeffrey Brown, “Comic Book Masculinity” (pdf)

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-golden-age-of-comics


November 29: The Shadow Hero



Week 11.

December 4: G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel, vol. 1

Suggested only: Jack Cole, “Plague of Plastic People” (1950; pdf)  

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


December 6: Ms. Marvel



Final exam, Monday, December 10, 10:30-12:20, in our regular classroom, Mary Gates Hall, room 251

Catalog Description: 
Introduces students to the study of popular culture, possibly including print or visual media, understood as sites of critical reflection. Particular attention to dynamics of production and reception, aesthetics and technique, and cultural politics. Topics may foreground genres (science fiction; romance) or forms (comics; graffiti). Offered: S.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 10:50pm