In Our Gods Wear Spandex, author Christopher Knowles thoroughly details the link between the gods of ancient worlds and the beloved modern age spandex-clad superheroes, with a brief history told through the eyes of a true fanboy.
Written like a geek’s guide to history and its relation to the comic book, an index makes it easy to find favorite characters; and clever formatting means there is no necessity to read from cover to cover or reference previous chapters to understand current themes.
For the most die-hard fan, Knowles carefully laid out his research and thought on the relationship between the two groups for literary consumption. His knowledge is on par with his experience in the industry, with more than 20 years spent in the comic book industry as author for The X Presidents graphic novel, based on the populat Saturday Night Live cartoon, and others.
Short sections on gods of the Norse, Egyptian, and Greek mythologies, brief histories of several alternative religious movements and biographies of occult celebrities and sci-fi authors, including Harry Houdini and the "profit" Jules Verne, populate the first half of the book. Providing the basis for later forays into the history of famous superhero characters.
Indeed, Knowles uses about half his text as the set-up for later descriptions of hand-picked comic heroes and draws enough parallels to make some compelling arguments. Plucked from the pages of DC and Marvel, heroes and villains are cast in a new light with religious undertones and occult influences for their creation.
Some examples? Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm is nearly a literal translation of the clay Golems of Jewish legend, down to the rocky exterior. Superman, the quintessential hero, was a Christ-like figure, Knowles argues, an only son sent from the heavens to save the human race.
While Knowles works hard to prove his theory that superheroes and villains are descended from religious Messiahs and impacted by the fears and beliefs running rampant in contemporary society, he never takes the extra step to elevate ComiCon, an annual comic book conference, into a gathering of the faithful to this newfound religion.
He also touches upon the most high profile and high-impact heroes. Spider-man, Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Batman, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, the text may have been able to give a fuller look into the comic-book universe by sacrificing sections on histories and mythologies to give other comic heroes their own space. Not to be left out, Knowles also includes a section on comic book visionaries, including his own favorite Jack Kirby. Kirby introduced unabashedly religious heroes in 1971 under the DC Comics title The New Gods. He introduced occult, mythological and esoteric themes to young readers through the comic book medium.
About halfway through the text comes the real meat of the story. With a smattering of the famous and infamous heroes told through a brief history of their rise and fall, their relative god-like attributes and, in many cases, pop culture influences on their characterization.
It’s here that readers learn how the man of steel fought gangsters and other real-life villains in his earliest tales beginning in 1938; quickly working towards some small sense of comfort for Americans suffering through the Great Depression and later World War II. And that X-Men tapped into angst-ridden feelings of alienation instead of the more traditional format of heroes saving lesser humans and being championed for their abilities.
The text is peppered with comedic illustrations by Joseph Michael Linsner. Including a blonde-haired English version of John Constantine being strangled by Keanu Reeves and a film reel where Knowles delineates how Hollywood hacks created an unfaithful film adaptation and killed a possible franchise.
Even to a reader who doe not harbor memories of a misspent youth spent devouring the latest pulp stories or comic books, it’s clear that Knowles has done his research. But with this book, only the most rabid comic geeks are likely to wade through the history lessons to get to know their favorite superheroes better.
Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes by Christopher Knowles
Illustrations by Joseph Michael Linsner
Publisher: Weiser Books