The Rise of Superheroes

I’ve been enjoying Michael Uslan’s EdX course “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture.” The course is currently in week 3, though I’m still working on week 2. The course material is presented as a mix of short videos and text essays. Most of the videos are shot at the Smithsonian, often using items from their collection. Other videos feature discussions between Uslan and Stan Lee.

Most of the history that’s been covered so far is stuff I already know. I’ve been reading comics, and reading about comics, since I was a kid, so I already know a lot about comics history. But for a younger fan (or for anyone who doesn’t already know this stuff), I think this course would be really interesting. For someone who only has experience with modern comic books and modern TV and movie versions of comic book characters, this course could really open their eyes to the origins of these characters, and to the many great creators who have worked on them over the years. (How many people who’ve watched the Avengers movies know who Jack Kirby is? Not enough, I’d bet.)

There aren’t any tests or quizzes as part of this course. If there were, I’d take them, just for fun, but I don’t think there would be much value in that. Instead, they have something called the “Superhero Sketchpad,” which is just a PowerPoint template that you’re supposed to use to create your own superhero character. It’s a little hokey, but I think it would be fun for a younger person taking the course. The course is pass/fail, and I think anyone submitting a filled-in sketchpad at the end passes. (I’m not going to bother with that.)

There’s also an interesting recommended reading list for the course, containing a bunch of Marvel and DC collections, most of which I’ve already read. But there are a few I haven’t, and might pick up at some point.

Overall, it’s been a fun course. Uslan’s enthusiasm for the material really comes through. And it’s always a joy to hear from Stan Lee, even if he’s mostly telling stories I’ve already heard.

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