COM 4849: Special Topics in Rhetorical Studies
Instructor: Dr. SHAUN TREAT firstname.lastname@example.org Cury 332/ TuTh 9:30-10:50
office hours: TuWTh 1-2pm (and by appointment!) GAB 320C ph# 565-2588
1. Jewett & Lawrence, The Myth of the American Superhero. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002.
2. Barry Brummett, Rhetoric in Popular Culture. Sage, 2006 (2nd Ed) or 2011 (3rd Ed).
3. Reading Packet of superhero scholarship [at copy shop] and Graphic Novels [list below]
COURSE OBJECTIVES: COM4849 examines the Myth of the American Superhero within comics
and contemporary media in an attempt to explore some of the recurring cultural issues, mythic themes,
and rhetorical functions being communicated through and within the genre. Since 1938, when Superman
first appeared in Action comics, the Superhero has become one of America’s most distinctive symbols.
Although often viewed as a children's genre, one with little or no value to adults or educated readers,
comic books have become increasingly complex and culturally relevant even as they have spawned a
whole blockbuster genre of US cinema. The “graphic novels” of the 1980s are now recognized as serious
literature for political and socio-cultural critique regarding issues of political power, race, class, and
gender. These innovative tales couched in enduring mythic themes have been able to transcend genre
conventions in order to meditate upon central questions of social theory: Does power corrupt? Does
great power come with great responsibility to humanity? Is vigilante justice incompatible with legitimate
Democratic process? Do these superheroes tacitly reify Fascistic and authoritarian political values in their
violent moral crusades against evil? Does this misogynist fantasy illuminate
mythic premises animating America’s Global War on Terrorism? Can one
group’s Supervillain terrorist be the charismatic Superhero outlaw of another
group? We will interrogate these powerful cultural myths, assessing their
narrative merits while engaging their underlying rhetoric of socio-political
concerns. Among others, we ask the question: "Why are superheroes so
important to us, and what do they reveal about the American cultural psyche?"
We will together question how these mythic representations of good and evil are
defined, challenged, and changing within our Cultural Imaginary (and collective
unconscious) of "truth, justice and the American way.”
ASSIGNMENTS: Following is a list of course assignments and the point values of each so you
can keep track of your academic progress throughout the semester.
Readings Reflection journal  ……………. ___________
Paper 1 (Superhero Icon)  ……………. ___________
Paper 2 (Movie Analysis)  ……………. ___________
Paper 3 (Graphic Novel Analysis)  ……………. ___________
Midterm Exam [scantron M/C]  ……………. ___________
Final Exam [take-home SAE]  ……………. ___________
Total Points possible  ……………. ___________
scale: A= 1000-900; B= 899-800; C= 799-700; D= 699-600; F= below 599
GRADING CRITERIA: No voodoo or brown-nosing required.
“A”— Artistic Mastery! This is an assignment that is exceptionally researched and extemporaneously
delivered with moxy. ‘A’ work is highly creative in synthesizing concepts, uses language
eloquently, and delivers a polished product with impact.
“B”—Better’n Most! This is an assignment that is well done and above average. ‘B’ work demonstrates
solid research, good preparation, and shows improvement in critical skills by integrating concepts
effectively & exceeding minimum requirements for the assignment.
“C”—Competent Comprehension. This is an assignment that shows satisfactory completion of minimum
requirements and delivered acceptably. ‘C’ work demonstrates a basic comprehension of
concepts and skills.
“D”—Deficient. This is a passing grade with serious deficiencies in research, preparation or delivery.
‘D’ work shows an unsatisfactory completion of minimum requirements, or demonstrates
conceptual understandings and skills which are flawed or incomplete.
“F”—Fails to meet many minimum requirements. This assignment did not follow directions, did not
address recurring problems, and/or lacks evidence of basic concepts and skills.
*Note: All GRADE APPEALS must be submitted in writing within 3-7 days of the returned assignment!
GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR DISCUSSION
Buy at More Fun Comics on the Denton Square!!
Batman: Year One Green Lantern & Green Arrow
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga The Dark Knight Returns
V for Vendetta Marvels
Kingdom Come Superman: Red Son
Icon: The Hero’s Welcome Promethea
Marvel Civil War Watchmen
All-Star Superman Batwoman: Elegy
Wonder Woman: Hiketeia* The Authority*/ Astro City*
Superman: Birthright* Swamp Thing*
Daredevil: Reborn* Birds of Prey*
* = recommended, not required
ATTENDANCE & PARTICIPATION: Attendance is both expected and mandatory for this class since
it is based on a collaborative learning style in which informed participation and dialogue are essential to
the learning process. Attendance will be taken daily, and it is the student’s responsibility to insure that
they are present when roll is called. Students cannot have ‘retroactive nonabsences’ if marked absent due
to tardiness, and students who are nonattending will be dropped to make space available for standby
students. Students are allowed 2 absences to cover any and all contingencies, with a half letter grade
deduction (50pts) from your final course grade for each absence exceeding two, but perfect attendance is
rewarded with 20 bonus points. Students are responsible for finding out from a “study buddy” what was
missed on days they are absent; DO NOT ask me what was missed unless you enjoy sarcasm. I do not,
under any circumstances, accept excuses or notes from doctors, mothers, roommates, lawyers, herbalists,
soothsayers, automechanics, or psychic friends. Participation grades are based upon my subjective
assessment of each student’s active contribution to the classroom learning environment through informed
discussion. Your in-class participation consists of not only your willingness to take part in class
discussions but also your generosity in carefully listening to what others have to say. There will be in-
class exercises, unannounced quizzes over readings, and “take-homework” assignments. These activities
will be graded on a strict pass-fail basis only. If absent, NO MAKE-UPS are accepted. Some extra-credit
assignments may be made available throughout the semester, and points may be recovered through
satisfactory completion of extra work. Students are also expected to check the SuperheroRhetoric blog
< http://rhetoricsuperhero.wordpress.com/ > daily.
PAPERS & CLASS REPORT: There will be a “thinkpiece” response essay and a final Analysis Paper
assigned during the semester. The “thinkpiece essay” will consist of a typed 5 page critical response that
articulates your position on theories & concepts from the textbooks. The final Analysis Paper must be 7-
10 typed pages (stapled, double-spaced, 12pt font, 1” margins, APA format, spellchecked & grammar-
checked) and will examine and illustrate one of the major critical perspectives from the course by
applying it to some rhetorical phenomenon. You will receive guidelines for class reports both in-class and
on the LJ blog before midterm. Please note that papers are due during the class period for the scheduled
due date, and I do not accept late papers submitted after class or via e-mail. Early written assignments
might be accepted in very rare circumstances or with a valid university-sanctioned excuse, but even those
will be subject to my pre-approval. Also note that anything handed in for college credit should be typed
and adhere to “Writing Guides for Student Papers” posted on the department’s web site.
EXAMS: There will be two exams –a Midterm and Final- given over lectures, readings, and the
textbook. Exams will consist of vocabulary identification, multiple choice, mix-n-match questions, and
short-answer essay questions. No study review sheets are provided, so students are strongly encouraged
to outline chapters, key terms, major theorists and theories, and article summaries.
Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty
The unacknowledged use of someone else’s ideas, words, or work by passing it off as one’s own (or due
to lazy citation errors) is highly unethical and royally ticks me off! Evidence of plagiarism will
automatically result in disciplinary action!! Penalties for plagiarism may include but are not limited to:
failing the assignment for accidental plagiarism, automatic ‘F’ for the course for patchwork plagiarism,
and/or a petition for student expulsion from the University on grounds of academic dishonesty for flagrant
plagiarism. Please carefully review the UNT “Student Code of Conduct” for information regarding
university policies and your own personal obligations. Play it safe, grasshoppers: cite all sources of
information (references and works consulted in APA format) and always give credit where credit is due.
Never ever copy-cut-n-paste from internet websites or buy term papers!! If you have doubts or
questions, ask before you hand it in. Permission is far easier than forgiveness.
CELL PHONES & LAPTOPS
Disruptive ringtone bells, beeps, chirps, or cheesy 80s songs are a recurring annoyance to students and
especially me. Please show due courtesy and turn off your cell phones prior to class. If a phone does ring
during class, I will answer it and then call family or friends long distance (Mom loves to hear from me).
If problems persist, I will satisfy my techno-geek curiosity by disassembling your phone using my Swiss
Army knife to fix your defective ‘off’ switch. Bringing your phone to class will be taken as tacit
acceptance of this policy. Turn ‘em off or take your chances, grasshoppers! Also, laptops are not to be
used in class without my permission.
The American with Disabilities Act & the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: If you have a disability that may
have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require special accommodations,
please see a coordinator in the Office for Disability Accommodation so arrangements may be
documented. After you receive your accommodation letters, please meet with me to discuss the provisions
of those accommodations as soon as possible.
TREAT’S Seven Deadly Sins & Seven Heavenly Virtues
1. Thou shalt not slack: A lack of preparation by you DOES NOT constitute an emergency for me.
2. Thou shalt read diligently, attend regularly, take notes, and have assignments done on time and
within direction guidelines… Do or do not, young Jedi, there is no “try.”
3. Thou shalt use the textbook supplements and extra credit to earn the coveted ‘A’!
4. Whining is NOT a rhetorical canon; Always demonstrate the skills you should be learning.
5. Lao Tzu said: “Nature has few words, and few learn the lessons of silence.” (Listen, grasshopper!)
6. Thou shalt accept personal responsibility for your own education. No one else will.
7. Work as hard as you play; “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” ~Mark Twain
Note: The syllabus is NOT a contract, and may be changed at the professor’s discretion. Additionally, all students
are expected to produce written work that conforms to the “Writing Guides for Student Papers” as posted on the
UNT Communication Studies Department’s web site.
Course rated NC-17: DISCLAIMER: This class is rated NC-17
for cable-TV humor, pedagogical profanity, and the occasional F-bomb. If your
personal dogmas or unexamined hypocrisies lead you to wrongly believe that
cursing somehow interferes with your education but not your mindless
entertainments, then you should choose to immediately drop this class.
COMM 4849: MYTHIC RHETORIC OF THE AMERICAN SUPERHERO
Fall 2011 Aug. 25 – Dec. 8 TuTh 9:30-10:50a Curry 332
Thu Aug. 25 ‐‐ Welcome and intro to course! Why study superheroes?
WEEK 1: Mythreading Superheroes & Ideology
Tu 8/30 Superhero History: Golden Age, Silver Age, Marvel Age, & Mythic Renaissance
Th 9/1 RP: Nimmo & Combs, “Myths & Mythmakers”
Comic of the Week = Batman: Year One
WEEK 2: Mythunderstanding Rhetorical Criticism
Tu 9/6 Brummett, “Varieties of Rhetorical Criticism”
Th 9/8 RP: Reynolds, “Superheroes: A Modern Mythology”
Comic of the Week = Green Lantern / Green Arrow
WEEK 3: Mythconceptions of the Superhero Genre
Tu 9/13 RP: Rushing & Frentz, “A Mythic Perspective”
Th 9/15 RP: Coogan, “Superhero: Secret Origin of a Genre”
Comic of the Week = The Dark Phoenix Saga
WEEK 4: Mything Links for Counter-Hegemony
Tu 9/20 RP: Comics and American Ideology
Th 9/22 Paper #1: Exploring your Superhero icon
Comic of the Week = The Dark Knight Returns
WEEK 5: Mythjudging Secular Saviors
Tu 9/27 J&L, Myth of the American Superhero (Chap. 1, 2 & 4)
Th 9/29 RP: Pseudoreligious Übermensch fantasies
Comic of the Week = V for Vendetta
WEEK 6: Mythtaken Identities & Mythdeeds
Tu 10/4 J&L, Myth of the American Superhero (Chap. 6, 8 & 9)
Th 10/6 RP: Dark Knights of Democracy
Comic of the Week = Marvels
WEEK 7: Deconstructing Superhero Mythrepresentations
Tu 10/11 J&L, Myth of the American Superhero (Chap. 11, 13, & 16)
Th 10/13 RP: Political saviors & the Captain America Complex
Comic of the Week = Kingdom Come
WEEK 8: Hit & Myth SuperUtopias
Tu 10/18 > MIDTERM EXAM/ skinny green scantron & journal due!!!
Th 10/20 RP: Alternate Universe Dystopias!! Justice Lords & Batman Beyond: ROTJ
Comic of the Week = Superman: Red Son
WEEK 9: Mythperceptions of Marxism, Class, & SuperAntiheroes
Tu 10/25 RP: Eco & Andrae on Myth of Superman & Class Antiheroes
Th 10/27 Comic of the Week = The Watchmen
WEEK 10: Feminist Superheroines’ Myth America Pageant
Tu 11/1 RP: Invisible Grrrls & Frustrated Wonder Womyn
Th 11/3 Comic of the Week = Promethea
WEEK 11: Mythshapen Monsters & Queer Cyborgs
Tu 11/8 RP: Closeted Frankensteins & Draped Crusaders
Th 11/10 Comic of the Week = Batwoman: Elegy
Paper #2: SuperMovie Analysis
WEEK 12: Whitewashing Mythperceptions of Race & The Black Superhero
Tu 11/15 RP: Colored Skins, White Masks
Th 11/18 Comic of the Week = Icon: A Hero’s Welcome
WEEK 13: WEEK 13: Mythguided SuperAntiheroes & Mythbehaving Supervillains
Tu 11/22 RP: Gothic Oedipus and Bizarro Reflections
Th 11/24 Comic of the Week = Civil War
WEEK 14: Mythleading a Post-9/11 Superhero Zeitgeist
Tu 11/29 RP: Truth, Justice, & an ethical American Way?
Th 12/1 Comic of the Week = All-Star Superman
WEEK 15: SuperMyths Today?
Tu 12/6 RP: What can we learn from superhero comics?
Paper #3: Rhetorical Analysis of a Graphic Novel
Th 12/8 -- FINAL PRESENTATIONS: Why your Superhero matters!?
Superhero journal due!
Take-Home Final Exam: due Tues 12/13 by 10am