Icons of the American Comic Book
From Captain America to Wonder Woman
by Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith, Editors
January 2013, 920pp, 7x10
2 volumes, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-0-313-39923-7
$198, £153, 173€, A272
eBook Available: 978-0-313-39924-4
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

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.

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
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, July 1, 2013

"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, May 1, 2013

"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, April 15, 2013

"Readers looking to bridge the gap between a reference book and book-length sketches will find this meaty and desirable."—ARBA, March 1, 2013
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