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Superhero Inc.

Mumbai:Want to know more about superheroes and their connect with our everyday world? Then the Smithsonian Institute’s six-week online course, The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture, is just for you.

After all, superheroes tend to be centred on real-life incidents. Take, for example, X-Men: First Class, which explains the rise and fall of the friendship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (who eventually becomes Magneto) and highlights historical events like the Cuban Missile Crisis during the height of the Cold War.

The Smithsonian programme, mentored by Stan Lee, the brain behind iconic characters such as Spiderman, the X-Men, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk, traces the history and origins of the first superheroes and comic books, and how they changed over time. In addition, students also learn how globalisation and the diversity of next generation superheroes impacts storytelling.
Students learn that superheroes have been part of culture for almost as long as civilisation itself, says course professor Michael Uslan. “People need entertainment, moral guidance, and inspiration. These stories, whether they are about Moses, Beowulf, Odysseus or Hercules, fulfil that inherent need. By understanding our mythologies of the present and past, we gain insight into ourselves as set within the context of time and place globally,” he says in an email interview.
In fact, the Smithsonian can do a second course on the range of storytelling that emerges from every culture. “It is wonderful to see some of these come to light in new, more diverse superheroes,” Uslan adds.
The greatest example of a superhero arising due to a historical event was Captain America, in response to Hitler and the rise of Nazism. “Jerry Robinson’s Atoman was created as a direct reaction to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,” he says.
The Indian scenario
Smithsonian has partnered with ComicCon International to promote the course, says Jatin Varma, founder of ComicCon India, adding that India has an advantage because of its mythological history. “I think in India, history and mythology influence literature. Abhijeet Kini’s Angry Maushi trilogy released around the same time as Anna Hazare began his India Against Corruption campaign,” he says.
Mumbai resident Donato Pavri, among those who has signed up for the programme, says he wants to know more about character development, plots and settings. “I had done a course from the University of Colorado where they taught us how to build a comic book: how many strips go into making the final story, how many writers and designers sit in a frame. This will be a refresher course along with new elements,” he says.
US resident Emma Jezek, who signed up three months ago, says she sat through the course a second time because she enjoyed it the first time around. “The experience was different both times. It’s helped me develop characters for my own comic book series. If you’re looking for a course to help with character design and development or are just looking to follow the history of comics and their characters, I’d recommend this one,” she says.