This introductory chapter discusses how understanding modernity is essential in identifying the cultural significance of the American superhero. At their genesis, superheroes are cultural responses to American modernity. Indeed, Americans had been employing heroic fiction as a means of navigating modernity's challenges as early as the nineteenth century. The work of authors writing in the genre during the early national period is rife with considerations of how democracy, capitalism, slavery, westward expansion, immigration, urbanization, technological innovation, and increased mobility shaped the nation's character. Initially written and distributed by people of privilege, these stories too often served to underpin the power of traditional elites at the expense of those marginalized by ethnicity, race, class, or gender. Such categories, therefore, became significant for defining the contours of modernity.
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