Getting a better sense of the origins of Superman has been really interesting. I was particularly surprised to read Gladiator and see just how derivative Superman was - I am used to thinking of a lot of the subsequent comic characters as derivative of Superman, and him as the origin but of course this is not expressly the case. The parallels between Gladiator and Superman are pretty clear and hard to ignore, but there are many differences between them as well – while their powers are similar (and similarly inspired via the proportional insect strength) their use of their powers is not quite the same. Superman’s double life, and his brightly colored costume set him apart from Hugo.
I also found the introduction to The Superhero Reader an interesting overview of the history of comics studies. It lined up neatly with a lot of our discussions from last semester’s Art Spiegelman class, where Maus was a breakout in the graphic narrative genre that lent some legitimacy to comics, provided they were graphic novels dealing with heavy, realistic or autobiographical content (or more specifically, not at all about superheroes). The Superhero field has only really grown in academia more recently.
Finally, I think the final chapters of the Superman Chronicles were interesting. Superman’s exploits become even more bizarre as he declares war on traffic, not only destroys corrupt cab company but forces them to smash their own cars while he watches, and sends a prisoner back to a chain gang where he is tortured (not only allowing his capture once, but re-capturing and returning him again after he escapes!) to get a story. His convoluted schemes continue to spiral and his super-jerkiness becomes even more pronounced. Ultimately his goals are admirable, but his means are pretty mean and I can't help but question his morality. I also can't help but wonder about, and be a bit bothered by, the lack of explanation of how Lois does not notice at all that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person - are we really to believe that his glasses are that mesmerizing? I don't really know if this has been addressed at any point in the contemporary (like for example how the Flash supposedly can vibrate super-fast and blur his features), but she kisses him up close and personal so it's not as though she doesn't get a good look!