rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 2: p. 164
Sources: Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes
Edward Whatley

Instruction and Reference Librarian, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, Georgia

Heroes & Superheroes, the first title in the Critical Survey of Graphic Novels series from Salem Press, provides detailed analysis of important works of graphic fiction published from the Silver Age of comics to the present. As most readers might assume from the book’s title, Heroes & Superheroes covers stories featuring the costumed characters that have become synonymous with comic books and graphic novels, such as: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Captain America. The survey also includes lesser known and less traditional characters. Here one can find analysis of graphic novels featuring the anti-heroes of DC Comics’ Vertigo Line such as Hellblazer and Preacher. Attention is also given to the works of many prominent independent author/artists such as Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Mike Allred (Madman), Jeff Smith (Bone), and Sergio Aragonés (Groo the Wanderer).

Entries are organized alphabetically by the title of the work. Author, artist, and publisher credits are listed for each work. Also included are first publication dates for both serial and book formats, since most of the titles covered were published in periodical comic book format before being compiled into graphic novels. Each entry includes the publication history of the title, providing information on the various formats in which the title was published; a detailed synopsis of the work’s plot; a list of the work’s main characters, including descriptions of their physical appearances and their personalities; an analysis of the style employed by the artist and what effect the style had upon the story; the themes with which the work deals; and a discussion of the work’s impact in terms of how it was received by the public, its effect on the comics industry, and its aesthetic influence on the comics medium. Readers may locate specific graphic novels by the table of contents or by lists of works arranged by author, by artist, and by publisher. Another useful inclusion is a list of major comics industry awards and the winners for each year in which the awards were given.

This reviewer found the format of Heroes & Superheroes to be well-organized and very intuitive. The entries, written by over forty contributors, are of a consistently high quality, offering analysis and criticism that is both insightful and accessible. The diversity of titles covered is also quite impressive. The only weakness is the omission of particular works that readers and historians widely consider to be among the most important and influential. For example, entries on the 1960s collaborations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (such as The Fantastic Four) are not included. Collected editions of the first Spider-Man stories by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko are also not included, although these important Silver Age works would have been within the survey’s stated scope of coverage.

Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes and Superheroes is recommended for academic and public libraries. Although recent years have seen the publication of several admirable reference works devoted to comic books and graphic novels, such as M. Keith Booker’s Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels (Greenwood, 2010), Heroes & Superheroes is a unique offering. It contains more detailed analysis and interpretation of important stories, thereby providing support for in-depth research.

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