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The X-Men Turn 50!

On September 1, 1963, fifty years ago this week, youngsters were greeted by a new comic book series on the shelves. Marvel Comics, after finding success in creating individual characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, decided to take a chance on telling the story of a group of heroes. These heroes were teenagers who, through no action of their own, developed powers through genetic mutations. After being ostracized from society for merely being different, they banded together under the leadership of Professor Charles Xavier and became…
…The Uncanny X-Men! To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the mutant menagerie, Special Collections has put together a list of fun facts and trivia about the superhero squad, both in print and on film.
Did you know that…
…the original five X-Men were Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl? Only Beast was in X-Men: First Class, the film adaptation about the formation of the X-Men.1
…Professor Xavier named his students “X-Men” because of the “extra power” their mutation gave them?
…because of the way the X-Men are shunned for being different, mutants have been used as an ongoing allegory of minorities in society, such as African Americans and homosexuals?
…the character Wolverine first appeared in a 1974 issue of The Incredible Hulk?
…the entertainment website IGN lists X-Men arch nemesis Magneto as the greatest comic book villain of all time? He ranks above (or below, depending on your perspective) the Joker, Lex Luthor and Loki.

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…Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has appeared in six movies (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine), and he will make his seventh appearance in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past? He holds the record for most film appearances as the same comic book character, followed by Robert Downey, Jr.’s five appearances as Tony Stark (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3).

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…X-Men Origins: Wolverine star Ryan Reynolds has appeared on film as three different comic book characters? He’s portrayed Wade Wilson (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Hannibal King (Blade: Trinity).
…the X-Men film franchise has grossed $2.2 billion worldwide, beating out the Indiana Jones, Superman and Star Trek franchises?
…Hugh Jackman has expressed interest in Wolverine joining The Avengers in an upcoming movie? Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen, as Fox owns the film rights to Wolverine and the X-Men, while Disney owns the film rights to The Avengers.  However, Fox also owns the rights to the Fantastic Four, and comic book author and screenwriter Mark Millar has hinted at a Fantastic Four/X-Men crossover film.

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…the cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past contains three Academy Award-winning actresses? Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Paquin and Halley Berry have all taken home an Oscar.
…when Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) was married in 2013, he asked his friend Ian McKellen (Magneto) to officiate the ceremony? McKellen obliged.
…all of the pictures on this page were taken from comics and graphic novels contained in Special Collections? We encourage everyone, mutant and human alike, to come in and take a peek at what we have to offer!

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Celebrating 75 Years of the Man of Steel

It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s Superman’s 75th birthday!  On June 30, 1938, Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, marking the unofficial birth of superheroes in comic books.  Through decades of films, TV shows and comics, the Last Son of Krypton has permeated our culture and become as American as baseball and apple pie.

The creation and history of Superman is as fascinating and heartbreaking as Kal-El’s own fictional backstory.  In 1932, a young Jerry Siegel’s father died of a heart attack brought on by the robbery of the family’s small clothing store.  Within a few years, he and his artistically-minded friend Joe Shuster created Superman – an orphan who is virtually invincible, and who fights tirelessly to rid Metropolis of evildoers.  Siegel and Shuster are eventually commissioned to tell the character’s story in Action Comics. They agree to sell the rights of Superman for $130.

Superman radio serials, television shows and motion pictures soon followed.  While the radio was Superman’s preferred medium in the 40’s, come 1951, Iowa-born actor George Reeves donned the red and blue suit to portray the first live-action Man of Steel in the TV series, “The Adventures of Superman.”  Reeves stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way for the better part of a decade until he was killed in 1959 by a single gunshot wound to the head.  The circumstances surrounding his death are still a mystery.

After a twenty year absence, the Man of Tomorrow returned, this time played by Christopher Reeve in Richard Donner’s classic 1978 film, “Superman.”  Not only was the film a commercial and critical success, it holds a significant historical importance – “Superman” was the first major superhero movie ever released, paving the way for future blockbusters like “Batman”, “Spider-Man”, “Iron Man”, and “The Avengers.”  Reeve held the role for three more films, consistently surrounded by an all-star cast including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp and Richard Pryor.  Tragically, the Man of Steel proved to be all too human off screen, as a horseback riding accident in 1995 left Reeve paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair until his death in 2004.

The 1990’s and 2000’s were a transitional period for Superman.  He appeared in two very successful television series, first in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent, and then in “Smallville”, with Tom Welling taking the reins.  Both series took root in the hearts and minds of a new generation of Americans, and once again, Superman was soaring. In 2006, Brandon Routh took the lead in Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.”  Cast partly for his likeness to the late Christopher Reeve, Routh’s Superman faced off against his arch nemesis Lex Luthor, portrayed by Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey.  While the film was critically successful, it didn’t resonate well enough with audiences’ wallets to warrant a sequel.  For the last seven years, Americans haven’t seen much of Smallville’s favorite son.  Even the most recent actors to portray him – Dean Cain, Tom Welling and Brandon Routh – have all but faded from memory, as they struggled to find quality roles in Hollywood.

But that all changed last week with the record-breaking release of Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”, starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Michael Shannon as the villainous General Zod.  The blockbuster proved that Americans’ fascination with Superman is only growing.  That love for the character will only continue to grow in the next few years, as star Cavill and director Snyder have both signed on for a sequel.  Additionally, Superman is slated to appear in the upcoming “Justice League” film, surrounded by fellow superheroes Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman.

If your own interest in the character was piqued by the movie, feel free to fly in to Special Collections and check out our awesome assortment of Superman comics, graphic novels and books.  Everything you see here, and so much more, is available to you.  And unless you have X-Ray vision, you’ll need to get here faster than a speeding bullet and take a look yourself!

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New exhibit! Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic Novel

Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic Novel

Yesterday I posed a question on Facebook: What do Albrecht Durer, Thomas Rowlandson, Frans Masereel, and Art Spiegelman have in common?  The answer: they all published works of sequential art, which are now on view in our latest exhibition, Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic Novel.

Beyond Words: Visual Narratives from the Block Book to the Graphic NovelIf, as the popular saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, then pictures and words together form an even more powerful tool for communication, expression, and storytelling than either would alone.

The materials in this exhibition are from the Rare Book Collection and the Comic Art Collection. In each, artists and writers have used sequential art to construct narratives that are complex, subtle, sophisticated, and powerful. Rather than presenting an evolutionary history of visual storytelling, these selections allow us to situate woodcuts, engravings, comic strips, and graphic novels in a long tradition of word- and image-making, in order to consider the roles of image and narrative in our culture.

Beyond Words will be on view in the Ellis Library Colonnade May 3-31, 2013.

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Posted in Comic Collection, Exhibits, Rare Book Collection
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