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Free online course lets you study superheroes with Stan Lee

Trace the impact comics and superheroes have had on society and interact with legendary comic king Stan Lee himself with a new EdX course.

Modern gods. EdX

When you think about it, the superheroes that loom large in today's popular culture really do constitute our modern-day mythology. Instead of leaving sacrifices for Dionysius, we fork over our cash to moviemakers, comic book producers and Hulu to watch Captain America, Thor, The Flash and lots of other do-gooders make the world a better place.

Now, a new online course will explore the role superheroes have in our society, and it will be taught by -- dun dun dun -- none other than comic book legend Stan Lee. The course is being offered through EdX, an online learning platform created by MIT and Harvard that features free courses from top universities on a huge range of topics (like alien hunting, as I reported in January).

"Comic books are an indigenous American art form," says the below video about the course. "But what can they reveal about the human species and our global society? And how have these superheroes influenced culture and even ethics around the world?"

The course, titled "The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture," promises to examine these and other questions. Joining Lee will be experts from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and Michael Ulsan, executive producer of "Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice," "The Lego Movie" and "The Dark Knight Trilogy." His son David Ulsan, who started as an intern at D.C. Comics before helping his father bring his legendary movies to life, will also help lead the course.

According to the course description, topics will include:

  • "Why did superheroes first arise in 1938 and experience what we refer to as their 'Golden Age' during World War II? How have comic books, published weekly since the mid-1930s, mirrored a changing American society, reflecting our mores, slang, fads, biases and prejudices?"
  • "Why was the comic book industry nearly shut down in the McCarthy Era of the 1950s?"
  • "How did our superheroes become super-villains in the eyes of the government, clergy, educators, and parents of the mid-20th century?"

Best of all, like all EdX courses, this one's free, although if you want a "verified certificate" featuring original artwork and Lee and Michael Ulsan's signatures, there is a minimum fee of $50. The course begins on May 5 and will run for five weeks. The "estimated effort" is one to two hours per week, although I don't really consider learning about superheroes much effort at all. (Why yes, I have already signed up.)

While it's not clear just how much Lee will participate in the course, the description does indicate that class members will be able ask questions and chat online with him and the other instructors. A "super" opportunity, for sure.