NEW Course! “I adore all the stories Marvel has been telling lately—comics and cartoons and recent movies especially—as they’re creating a more diverse world. However, people often don’t realize that 70s comics and even 40s ones were just as diverse and empowering. I’ve now written a pile of books on superheroes and present on them at lots of conventions.” ~Prof. Valerie

    Enrollment Options


    InstructorProf. Valerie Frankel
    Content LevelsGrades 6-7 • Middle School
    Grades 7-8 • Junior High
    Course Length6 Weeks
    Live Webinars Held OnTuesdays, 4:00 - 4:50 PM Pacific - 5/31/22 - 7/10/22

    American superheroes are nearly a century old, and their history is one of underdogs.

    Depression-era immigrants fought Hitler and their own marginalization by inventing Superman and Captain America, and sending the former nerds to fight Nazis and bullies alike. The inventor of an early lie detector created Wonder Woman to be an icon of truth and feminism, just when war comics featured surprisingly diverse and empowered warrior women. Postwar, Stan Lee (who cameoed in so many Marvel films) basically jumpstarted the Silver Age by inventing all the Avengers and lots more heroes.

    The Bronze Age saw darker stories, but also more diversity, with Claremont’s X-Men as well as Shang Chi, Ms. Marvel, Luke Cage and others. Around 2000, the big era of superhero films started, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe starting a few years later. Now, while films continue, they’re finally starring some more diverse characters as are Marvel, DC, and indie superheroes on TV.

    We’ll spend a week on each of these eras, learning how they tie into history and discussing what kind of role modeling these heroes showed. Some heroes’ portrayal and treatment of American values have changed a lot (not to mention their origins!), while some feel consistent over decades and decades. We’ll do some literary and visual analysis too, considering depictions of race, gender, and culture as well as how they tie into values and propaganda.

    What to expect in the Required section in the classroom each week:

    • Class discussion topics
    • Related articles to read
    • Reader responses or similar activities

    What to expect in the Highly Suggested & Optional sections in the classroom each week:

    • Recommended reading of widely available graphic novels, and possibly films or cartoons.
    • Curated resources, including websites & videos, are provided to excite learners and to add depth to the subject matter.
    • Additional lessons and resources to help students get more out of the lessons and pursue their love of superheroes.

    What to expect during the weekly webinar:

    • Weekly webinars are 50 minutes long. Webinars are recorded and are available for students with schedule conflicts.
    • Lecture with slides on the history, symbolism, and context of films, comics, and other superhero media, accompanied by discussion and student observations.
    • Active Participation (via the microphone and chat) is encouraged in online class discussions and also during lectures.

    Before taking this course, students should be able to: 

    • Read at a solid 5th-grade level or above.
    • Be comfortable reading graphic novels.
    • Type fluently.
    • Write a paragraph independently.

    Students should be willing to:

    • Write paragraphs and answer discussion questions for regular homework.
    • Critically think about superheroes in their historical context.
    • Actively participate (via the microphone) in the class discussion.
    • Encourage class discussion by adding their questions/ideas in the chat window during the webinar.

    Required books & materials:

    • None.
    • A Disney Plus Subscription is helpful but not required