Heroes of the past, readers of the present, stories of the future : continuity, cultural memory, and historical revisionism in superhero comics

Friedenthal, Andrew J.
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This dissertation is a study of cultural memory, exploring how superhero comic books, and their readers and creators, look back on and make sense of the past, as well as how they use that past in the creation of community and stories today. It is my contention that the superhero comics that exist as part of a long-standing "universe," particularly those published by DC and Marvel, are inextricably linked to a sense of cultural memory which defines both the organization of their fans and the history of their stories, and that cultural memory in comics takes the twinned forms of fandom and continuity. Comic book fandom, from its very inception, has been based around memories of past stories and recollections about favorite moments, creators, characters, etc. Because of this, as many of those fans have gone on to become creators themselves, the stories they have crafted reflect that continual obsession with the histories -- loosely termed "continuity" by creators, fans, and comic book scholars -- of these fictional universes. Often, this obsession translates into an engagement with actual events from the past. In many of these cases, as with much art and ephemera that is immersed in cultural memory, these fans-turned-creators combine their interest in looking at the history of the fictional universe with a working out of actual traumatic events. My case studies focus on superhero comic books that respond to such events, particularly World War II, the Vietnam War, and 9/11.