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Lifelong fan Goble teaches superhero class at Monmouth

Barry McNamara
Goble at age 5 with his Superman birthday cake.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – The success of the summer films Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming are a reminder that comic book superheroes are modern “mythical characters,” according to a Monmouth College faculty member.

And this fall, Monmouth College students will study some of the major questions faced by superheroes in the class “Great Power, Great Responsibility,” a Reflections curriculum course taught by Communication Studies Instructor Chris Goble.

“The course was developed by (former faculty member) Michael Harrison,” said Goble, who will teach it for the third time this fall. “We ask, ‘What can we learn from superheroes about ourselves? When you have power, what kind of responsibility do you have?’ We look at national security vs. personal freedom. Where’s that line? We ask the students, ‘Where do you think you fit in?’”

Goble – who stays on top of the latest happenings with the two major players in the comic book world, DC and Marvel – comes by his love of comics honestly. There is a picture of him at age 5 posing with a Superman cake his mother created.

“One of the big things I remember is coming home from school, and watching the old 1950s Superman (TV show) and then the Adam West Batman” TV show from the 1960s, said Goble.

Nearly 40 years later, Goble’s passion for superheroes has not waned.

“I’ve gone beyond where the normal kid stuff stops,” he said. “I think one reason superhero comics have kept my interest is that they are our own more modern myths. These heroes have become these mythical characters.”

Goble is not alone as a superfan.

“It’s mainstream now,” he said. “There’s a cavalcade of superhero, comic book stuff out there now (in the media). I’m curious to see how long it will go. Westerns used to be a big thing, for example, but eventually that bubble burst, and there’s only one or two good Westerns made every year.”

Perhaps the most mainstream superhero movie these days is Wonder Woman, which is not only the first successful superhero movie with a female as the main character, but is also directed by a female – Patty Jenkins.

“Both of those helped to build the interest, which is a cool thing to happen,” said Goble. “But whether there was a female lead or not, it’s a great movie, even if you don’t care about superheroes.”

With a first-month gross of more than $700 million, Wonder Woman is the fourth-highest grossing movie of 2017. Goble said it ranks third all-time among “origin” films, trailing only last year’s Deadpool and Tobey Maguire’s 2002 Spider-Man. Goble said the recently released Spider-Man: Homecoming also might reach that level.

“It’s getting good reviews,” said Goble, who noted the main character is now back with Marvel.

Another movie Goble is keeping his eye on is Black Panther, which will be released next year. Black Panther will also break ground by featuring comics’ first African superhero.

“Hardcore superhero fans will go, like me, and that will create a buzz,” said Goble. “I think the same thing will happen for Black Panther that happened for Wonder Woman.”

In Black Panther, Goble expects audiences to be drawn to the “very interesting character,” who is king of the fictional African country Wakanda.

“Because Wakanda has Vibranium – the same material that Captain America’s shield is made of – the Black Panther is actually the richest man in comics,” said Goble. “He blows away (Batman alias) Bruce Wayne and (Iron Man alias) Tony Stark.”

In addition to learning from superheroes, Goble said there are also lessons from their creators, such as Marvel pioneer Stan Lee.

“He wrote comics, but he was about ready to quit,” said Goble. “His wife told him, ‘Why don’t you sit down and write the comic book that YOU want to write?’”

The result was the Fantastic Four, which debuted in 1961 and helped usher in a new level of realism in the medium.

“From that, there were so many other characters Stan Lee co-created,” said Goble, including Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men and Spider-Man.