For homework this weekend, we're reading a few chapters from the climax of Tom De Haven's novel It's Superman! and the "Under the Hood" chapters from Alan Moore's Watchmen. Since these selections do not entirely stand on their own, this will be a quick synopsis to place them within the context of their greater works.
It's Superman! is a novel I read for my Master's Thesis, but it isn't you're typical superhero novel (most of which are just really cheesy prose versions of popular story arcs from the comics). De Haven's novel takes place in the late 1930s, coinciding with the actual release of Action Comics #1 and, of course, the first published appearance of Superman. It tells the story of young Clark Kent's life leading up to his decision to don a costume and use his newly developing superpowers in the form of a road trip with his best friend (ironically, a photographer who can actually keep Clark's secret) from his hometown of Smallville, Kansas, to New York City. Along the way, Clark deals with the problems all American's were facing in the late '30s--rampant racism, recovery from the Great Depression, and the looming threat of war in Europe. Also along the way, Clark is tested with opportunities to save people, all of whom he fails. Soon after arriving in New York, he meets the headstrong Lois Lane and is persuaded by his friend to intervene when a crazed robot, invented by none other than Lex Luthor begins terrorizing the city.
We discussed in class how 1986 was a big year in comics history, with the near simultaneous release of Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale, Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Moore's Watchmen. One of the things that really makes Watchmen stand apart--from not only other comics but the the other two works that were published that year--is its use of large portions of prose. Every issue of Watchmen ends with a large segment of text that is not (according McCloud's definition) comics. In some cases, this text supplements the ongoing story. "Under the Hood" is an autobiography written by one of the superheroes whose story is told in Watchmen, and these five chapters from his book are the text that appeared at the end of the first three issues of the comic. They serve as background information to explain how the America that exists in Alan Moore's 1980s came to be.
That should catch you up so you don't feel lost when reading this weekend's readings.
Something else of interest it this webcomic that Scott McCloud posted a link to on his blog: Jason Little's "Motel Art Improvement Service." This is an interesting comic. It's pretty short; I started reading it and suddenly realized I'd read the whole thing. It's pretty good. It follows the story of 18 year old Bee heading out on a cross-country bike ride at the start of her summer. As with most coming of age stories, things do go quite as well as she'd planned, and she finds herself falling in with an artist who cleans hotel rooms by day and "improves" lame hotel room paintings by night. It's a good read in that "summer time adventure" kind of way. A warning to those made uncomfortable by overt sex and drug use: there's a fair bit of it :-) But really, that's what most "coming of age stories" are about, right? I mean, look at American Pie ;-) Of course, this reading isn't required, but you might find it useful depending on your Research Paper topic, so keep it in mind.