The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger
The 4,000-Year History of the Superhero
by Jess Nevins
January 2017, 400pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-5483-5
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-5484-2
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

The modern-day superhero-based comic industry enjoys a history that stretches back 80 years, but superheroes themselves originate millenia earlier.

Using a broad array of historical and literary sources, this book presents an unprecedented detailed history of the superhero and its development across the course of human history.

How has the concept of the superhero developed over time? How has humanity’s idealization of heroes with superhuman powers changed across millennia—and what superhero themes remain constant? Why does the idea of a superhero remain so powerful and relevant in the modern context, when our real-life technological capabilities arguably surpass the imagined superpowers of superheroes of the past? The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger: The 4,000-Year History of the Superhero is the first complete history of superheroes that thoroughly traces the development of superheroes, from their beginning in 2100 B.C.E. with the Epic of Gilgamesh to their fully entrenched status in modern pop culture and the comic book and graphic novel worlds.

The book documents how the two modern superhero archetypes—the Costumed Avengers and the superhuman Supermen—can be traced back more than two centuries; turns a critical, evaluative eye upon the post-Superman history of the superhero; and shows how modern superheroes were created and influenced by sources as various as Egyptian poems, biblical heroes, medieval epics, Elizabethan urban legends, Jacobean masques, Gothic novels, dime novels, the Molly Maguires, the Ku Klux Klan, and pulp magazines. This work serves undergraduate or graduate students writing papers, professors or independent scholars, and anyone interested in learning about superheroes.


  • Presents a concise but thorough history of the superhero comic industry, from the 1930s to today
  • Clearly describes the two main forms of the historical superhero, the Costumed Avenger and the Superman
  • Suggests a new way in which to evaluate superheroes and explains why this new methodology is important
  • Identifies and examines the ways in which superheroes have been present in popular literature since the beginning of human history
Jess Nevins is reference librarian at Lone Star College in Tomball, TX. He is author of The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, The Pulps, The Encyclopedia of Golden Age Superheroes, The Victorian Bookshelf, and The Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes. He blogs at


"A well-researched and utterly captivating book offering the complete history of the superhero and how the concept has evolved over time. . . . [T]here are hundreds of other superheroes that Nevins explores in-depth and with remarkable insight. The thrill of reading a book like The Evolution of the Costumed Avenger is that, aside from being educational and interesting in itself, it inspires readers to seek out more superhero stories."—Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2017

"To trace these multitudinous precursors to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman is obviously a job that only super-researcher Jess Nevins could undertake. . . . Jess Nevins has now mapped the DNA that links ancient Enkidu to our own Wolverine. He convincingly shows that the superheroes of today’s page and screen got their start long before baby Kal-El was sent rocketing toward Earth as the planet Krypton exploded."—Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2017

"A solid contribution to the literature on a phenomenon that today commands so much time, attention, and money. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty."—Choice, September 1, 2017

"Another remarkable work from Jess Nevins, exposing and exploring the roots of the forms of weird adventure fiction that continue to dominate 21st-century culture. Essential archaeology."—Warren Ellis, Author of Gun Machine, Transmetropolitan, and Normal

"A deep and fascinating dive into the origins of the superhero. Everything you could want to know about the roots of the genre, delving back into myth, folklore, epic poetry, pulp fiction, and more, exhaustively researched and organized. A dream book for anyone interested in superhero history—this is a book I’ll find myself consulting again and again."—Kurt Busiek, New York Times best-selling author of ASTRO CITY, MARVELS and more

"As always, Jess Nevins is the ultimate historical source for pulp fiction. This book is like if Encyclopedia Brown had grown up obsessed with superheroes and made the ultimate guide to them."—Ed Brubaker, Best-selling author of CRIMINAL, KILL OR BE KILLED, and THE FADE-OUT
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