Icons of the American Comic Book

From Captain America to Wonder Woman

by Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith, Editors


Do Spider-Man's adventures consistently reaffirm a belief in the inherent goodness of humanity? Could the Disney character of Scrooge McDuck cloak biting social critique about the more disturbing aspects of materialism? There is far more meaning and significance within the identities of comic book heroes and characters than it would seem.

Print Flyer

January 2013


Pages 920
Volumes 2
Size 7x10
Topics Popular Culture/General

This book explores how the heroes and villains of popular comic books—and the creators of these icons of our culture—reflect the American experience out of which they sprang, and how they have achieved relevance by adapting to, and perhaps influencing, the evolving American character.

Multiple generations have thrilled to the exploits of the heroes and villains of American comic books. These imaginary characters permeate our culture—even Americans who have never read a comic book grasp what the most well-known examples represent. But these comic book characters, and their creators, do more than simply thrill: they make us consider who we are and who we aspire to be.

Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman contains 100 entries that provide historical background, explore the impact of the comic-book character on American culture, and summarize what is iconic about the subject of the entry. Each entry also lists essential works, suggests further readings, and contains at least one sidebar that provides entertaining and often quirky insight not covered in the main entry. This two-volume work examines fascinating subjects, such as how the superhero concept embodied the essence of American culture in the 1930s; and the ways in which comic book icons have evolved to reflect changing circumstances, values, and attitudes regarding cultural diversity. The book's coverage extends beyond just characters, as it also includes entries devoted to creators, publishers, titles, and even comic book related phenomena that have had enduring significance.


  • Includes contributions from 70 expert contributors and leading scholars in the field, with some of the entries written with the aid of popular comic book creators themselves
  • Provides sidebars within each entry that extend readers' understanding of the subject
  • Offers "Essential Works" and "Further Reading" recommendations
  • Includes a comprehensive bibliography


  • Goes beyond providing straightforward history to explain how each subject impacted both the comics industry and the wider American culture
Author Info

Randy Duncan, PhD, is professor of communication at Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, AR. He is coauthor of The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture and Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods, both with Matthew J. Smith. He is cofounder of the Comics Arts Conference and serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Comic Art as well as the board of directors of the Institute for Comics Studies.

Matthew J. Smith, PhD, is a professor of communication at Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH, where he teaches courses in media studies, including one in graphic storytelling. He holds a doctorate from Ohio University and is a past president of the Ohio Communication Association. Along with Randy Duncan, he is coauthor of The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture and coeditor of Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods.



"These volumes offer the useful approach of the publisher's 'Icons' series as a 'port of entry' for students and general readers. . . . While these volumes cover material that can be found elsewhere, they combine greater detail than can be found in many comics reference works with greater scope and rigor than can be found in most popular sources. Summing Up: Recommended."—Choice

"This material will have broad research appeal in public and academic libraries and will also be popular with those who already have an interest in comics."—Library Journal

"Any library serving comic book enthusiasts will want to obtain this balanced and useful reference. This will also be of general interest to most academic, high school, and public libraries."—Booklist

"Readers looking to bridge the gap between a reference book and book-length sketches will find this meaty and desirable."—ARBA

Series Description

Greenwood Icons

Worshipped and cursed. Loved and loathed. Hated and obsessed about the world over. What does it take to become an icon? Regardless of subject, culture, or era, the requisite qualifications are the same: 1. Challenge the status quo, 2. Influence millions, and 3. Impact history. (A little fanfare never hurt either). Greenwood Press introduces a new reference format and approach to popular culture. Spanning a wide range of subjects, works in the Greenwood Icons product line provide students and general readers a port of entry into the most fascinating and influential topics of the day. Every title in the series offers an in-depth look at 25 iconic figures, each embodying a group of values and reflecting the essence of a particular culture. Whether people, places, or things, such icons serve as a bridge between the past and the present, the canonical and the contemporary. By focusing on icons central to popular culture, these works encourage students to compare and contrast different periods and traditions, appreciate cultural diversity, and critically analyze issues of enduring significance. The series also provides fresh insights for the student and popular reader into the power and influence of icons, a topic of as vital interest today as in any previous era. Series Features:
    Detailed entries provide far more information than conventional reference articles but are less intimidating and more accessible than a book-length biography
    Brings subjects to life through illustrations, sidebars, timelines, fact boxes, quotations, and photograph
    Entries illuminate related iconic figures and influences0151often from other historical periods and cultures0151for comparative consideration
    Helps students and general readers explore culture in a lively and engaging way BLServes as a unique resource for students of American history and culture

Other Titles of Interest

Icons of Women's Sport cover imageIcons of the Middle Ages cover imageIcons of African American Literature cover image
Icons of African American Comedy cover imageIcons of Black America cover imageIcons of American Cooking cover image

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