Given that I have all of four days to wrap up the Winter quarter and vault into the Spring, lesson-planning's taken the bulk of my time of late. I'm thinking, as per the tentative title of this post, of delving into meta-fictional accounts of the origin of comic "heroism" this quarter, and have come up with the following (largely other-side-of-the-pond) syllabus:
"The Origin of Batman" (excerpt from Batman 47) - Bob Kane
You begin with the almost-begin: this is the first time Joe Chill's mentioned, by which I mean implicated, in the death of Wayne's parents. There's an earlier reference to their murder in Detective Comics 39 (November 1939), but it's abridged in a way that makes the story itself unrecognizable. (Which is, yes, the very opposite of the point I make below about Morrison's All-Star Superman, but that's because you can't already assume an audience is familiar with a story before it's ever been told.)
Batman: Year One (comic) - Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
See what I did there? In terms of comparative styles, now I can introduce Asterios Polyp. To wit, Mazzucchelli in Year One:
Those aren't as different as I thought they'd be. ("I have a hole in my cape," you can almost imagine Mazzucchelli's distraught Wayne saying.) But outside the cleanliness of the lines, there's little to make you believe that the person responsible for the first image would later be responsible for the second ... and that's a belief I'm going to try to disabuse my students of.
Batman Begins (film) - Christopher Nolan
Because you think I'm capable of teaching this course without bringing up Nolan's film? I didn't think so.
Planetary/Batman (comic) - Warren Ellis
This'll be the fourth re-telling of the Batman origin myth, only this time endlessly looped. The point, rhetorically speaking, in having them encounter four versions of the same story is 1) to emphasize that there's some inherent appeal there, but 2) to demonstrate that even if a story has inherent appeal, the manner in which a given rhetor presents it actually matters. The raw stuff is all well and good, but the power's in the telling.
Planetary #1 -10 (comic) - Warren Ellis
They're billed as "the archeologists of the impossible," after all, and Ellis's engagement with both the history of the genre and its conventions could hardly find a more suitable course to be taught in.
All-Star Superman (comic) - Grant Morrison
I'm thinking of teaching only the first page of the first issue, as it's the most brilliantly compact origin story ever, and after that Morrison's metafictional games might be a bit too much for students to handle. There's a genius to its concision, i.e. the manner in which it boils down a story everyone already knows to its barest bones, and then presents them to a knowing audience in a way that is, quite frankly, moving. (Sorry, sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One (comic) - Alan Moore
Introducing students to old-school, public-domain heroism ... plus plenty of opportunities to talk with my largely Asian-American classes about how "The Yellow Peril" is depicted.
Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (comic) - Mike Mignola
Being an origin story that involved someone other than Batman, so the students can reevaluate their premises about mythos in American culture at the end of the quarter, etc. etc.
Hellboy (film) - Guillermo Del Toro
Etc. etc. That's quite a bit of material for a composition class, and textually speaking—i.e. despite it being all film and comics—it's historically and allusively dense to boot. But it seems doable. That said, if there's anything very obvious I'm missing, feel free to point it out ... until Tuesday, because believe it or not, that's when the Spring quarter starts.