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Smithsonian Institution

The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture

Smithsonian Institution via edX


Join the Smithsonian, and comic book industry legend, the late Stan Lee, in this self-paced course to explore the history of the comic book and the rise of superheroes.

The ancient gods of Egyptian, Greek and Roman myths still exist, but today, they have superpowers, human foibles and secret identities. They come from comic books and graphic novels, and have taken over pop culture on the stage, screen, video games, and animation.

From Superman® and Spider-Man®, to The Avengers® and The Hulk® and beyond, who are these heroes? And, how have they evolved from folklore and myth, across all cultures and religions?

Learn from Smithsonian and industry experts including:

  • The late Stan Lee, who was one of the creators of the modern superhero template. His early comics featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man®, The Hulk, Thor®, and The Avengers led Marvel to success. He continues to reinvent himself to create modern global superheroes and appear in cameos in superhero films and TV, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron.
  • Michael Uslan, executive producer of top grossing, award winning movies, including The Dark Knight series, Lego® Movie, the animated Batman films and Batman® VS Superman.

In this self-paced course, we explore the following questions:

  • Why did superheroes first arise in 1938 and experience what we refer to as their “Golden Age” during World War II?
  • Why did the superhero genre ebb and flow in popularity over the decades?
  • How have comic books, published weekly since the mid-1930’s, mirrored a changing American society, reflecting our mores, slang, fads, biases and prejudices?
  • Why was the comic book industry nearly shut down in the McCarthy Era of the 1950’s?
  • How did our superheroes become super-villains in the eyes of the government, clergy, educators, and parents of the mid-20th Century?
  • When and how did comic books become acceptable again, and eventually become valid teaching tools in universities and schools?
  • When and how did comic book artwork become accepted as a true American art form as indigenous to this country as jazz?
  • Finally, when and how did comic books become “cool” and the basis for blockbuster movies, hit TV series, top-selling video games, and acclaimed animation, while also impacting fashion and style- and even the moral and ethical codes of children- around the globe?

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is excited to offer the opportunity to go into the collection and see why superheroes are a dominant cultural force in today’s world.

As you learn about how cultural myths, world events, and personal experiences shaped the first superheroes, you will apply these frameworks to create your own superhero– or you can choose to do a deeper analysis on existing comic book heroes. This original project is required for certification and anything created by you as part of this self-paced course is the intellectual property of you and you alone.

At last, fans, students and seekers of knowledge have the opportunity to enroll in the ultimate comic book course.

Taught by

David Uslan, Michael Uslan and Stan Lee


4.3 rating, based on 14 Class Central reviews

Start your review of The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture

  • Karla Cabrera completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    The course teaches the student about the history and development of 'Superhero comics.' During the course, the professor answered all our questions in the forums and even Stan Lee gave us his perspective about the subject! In general, the difficulty...
  • Dawn D Shaw

    Dawn D Shaw is taking this course right now, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    what a fantastic course, a must for anyone who has an interest in comic books, great in- depth look at the history of the comic book, it's evolution, it's great writers and artists, and interviews with the master himself Stan Lee! I can't say enough good things about this course, it's laid out in two tracks, one for the artists out there who want to create their own Superhero, and another track for those of us who are artistically challenged but still enjoy the historical aspects of the industry, I highly recommend this course.
  • Joanne Sissler

    Joanne Sissler completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    This course concentrates on the history and cultural history of comics. The lessons on how comics evolved with the events and ideas in America over the last 90 years is amazing. This course is offered in part from the Smithsonian, and includes looks into their archives, showing off artifacts of comic book history.

    I could recommend the content of this course to anyone who likes comics, media, or American history. The assignments are not always fun and can be very long without a lot of payoffs. The discussion boards and Google folders are messy and mostly inactive.
  • Andrew Heung

    Andrew Heung completed this course, spending 34 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Lot of writing, but the coverage of the material is thorough. Covered a lot of things I've read before, and also some older facts which I didnt know or could even find myself.
  • James Finnigan completed this course.

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  • Aana

    Aana completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

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