Purdue University Graduate School
Fogel Dissertation Final (Postdefense).pdf (2.68 MB)

Superman as a Historical Figure, 1938–2022

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posted on 2022-12-02, 17:27 authored by Andrew FogelAndrew Fogel

This study charts the real-world impact of Superman and how embedded the superhero is within American culture. Since debuting in 1938 as the first superhero, kids embraced Superman as a heroic symbol to emulate while adults mainly used him as comedic fodder to discuss race and ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Although Superman is a fictional character, he maintains traceable documentary footprints and should be treated as a historical figure. Through sincere and satirical play, the public brought the Man of Steel and his make-believe world to life as an immersive realm and metatopography. This project studies the reception and adaptation of Superman by the populace and the geography of Comicland, a surreal realm mirroring our own modern reality that exists both within the imagination and the material world through pageant, masquerade, and multimedia. The beauty of this fictive universe is its mutability, being a permanent yet intangible place that imprinted itself in the real world. Comics fans do not have to travel to a theme park, even though it is now part of that type of entertainment, to participate in the fantasy. Comicland is, thus, a mental and physical landscape that audiences can inhabit as their own regardless of location and serves as a portal between fantasy and reality. From Superman’s inception, critics dismissed the superhero as a fad and its culture as marginal. However, multigenerational and multidecade engagement with Superman shows that the genre is mainstream and an unfading facet of Americana.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • History

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Sharra Vostral

Additional Committee Member 2

John Larson

Additional Committee Member 3

David Atkinson

Additional Committee Member 4

Nick Yablon

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