When I was in school, the latest superheroes to swoop across the silver screen or bust through the pages of my favorite comic books were topics that were discussed outside of class.
A new course at the University of Baltimore, however, is set to bring talk of superheroes smack-dab into the middle of the academic setting.
"The course, 'Media Genres: Media Marvels,' will examine how Marvel's series of interconnected films and television shows, plus related media and comic book sources and Joseph Campbell's monomyth of the 'hero's journey,' offer important insights into modern culture," said a press release about the class. "The course is believed to be the first of its kind in the country."
For those of us not in college, Campbell's monomyth is a model for understanding the path a fictional hero often takes. It consists of a series of different stages grouped under the three main headings of "separation," "initiation" and "return," and was first laid forth in Campbell's 1949 book, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces."
The UB course will be offered to students in the spring semester of 2015 and will be taught by Arnold T. Blumberg, an adjunct professor who's written and taught about comics and mythology for years. His UB class, "Media Genres: Zombies" is still being taught, and earned Blumberg a reputation as something of a zombie expert.
"Every generation has a modern media mythology that serves as a framework for entertaining as well as educating about ethics, morality, issues of race, gender, class, and so on," he said in the release. "For the past several years, 'Harry Potter' and 'Lord of the Rings' have served in that role for tens of millions. When I was younger, it was the first 'Star Wars' series, which I saw in the theater."
Blumberg goes on to say that for today's college-aged kids, the Marvel universe serves as that fictional framework.
"We have a generation coming of age with these characters and this completely mapped-out universe," he said. "It could be argued that it's never been done better. But no matter what your age, there is always a fantasy/sci-fi/superhero realm that helps you to explore your place in the world, your identity, and your ideals. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is that realm for this generation."
While the class will examine films from the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America franchises, it will also spend some time looking at the recent success of "Guardians of the Galaxy."
"One thing we'll do is dive into the impact of the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' film, which proved two things: mainstream movie audiences are not remotely tired of superhero movies; and Marvel Studios can now release a sci-fi adventure that actually features talking trees and raccoons," said Blumberg. "It's not that they're getting away with it -- they've created a universe in which fans completely accept these developments, and they're ready for even more."