Christopher A. Yates
Superhero memorabilia: coloring books and, above, a shaped cardboard cover for a 45-rpm record
It’s a bird! It’s a plane!
Oh, wait: It’s actually “You Are My Superhero”!
The two-part show at the Dayton Art Institute, curated by Associate Director Jane A. Black,
examines the power of the superhero myth and ethos on popular culture through memorabilia, rare
comic books and original art.From Zorro and the Lone Ranger to Batman and Captain America, the show
will appeal to anyone who has ever been thrilled by the adventures of a triumphant defender of good
versus evil.The show begins with Superman and the golden age of comics. Created by Jerry Siegel and
Joe Shuster, Superman was the first classic superhero. Making his debut in 1938, he has been
redrawn and re-imagined many times through the years. Classic comic covers such as Wayne Boring’s
Superman #53, July/Aug 1948 show him as invincible. Andy Warhol’s 1981 print
Superman (Myth Series) reveals him as a kind of phantom projection — perhaps the ultimate
manifestation of the culture of American exceptionalism.
Memorabilia abounds. Hero-specific display cases include Zorro, the Lone Ranger, Batman and the
Green Hornet. On view are toys, lunchboxes and almost every novelty product imaginable.
Throughout the exhibit, text panels provide context. From the Jungian theory of archetypes to
superhero symbols and powers, the show is richly documented. Special sections explore “standouts”
such as Spider-Man, Captain America and Plastic Man as well as “wannabes” such as Rocket Man,
Captain 3-D and Doll Man.
Although the vintage comics on display might trigger an impulse to renew the search for any
long-lost comic books you once treasured, original panels by artists such as Carmine Infantino
underscore the artistry of the medium as well as the nostalgia factor.
The second part of the exhibit examines perceptions of the superhero through the work of artist
Mark Newport and syndicated cartoonist Mike Peters.
Newport challenges viewers to consider what constitutes a superpower and how perceived gender
roles often confuse understanding. Using traditional knitting and embroidery techniques, he
fashions ornate superhero costumes and curious embroidery samplers.
The small samplers are directly applied over existing comic-book pages. Pieces such as
Sampler Spiderman Mask and
Sampler Batman #700 function as meditations on the confusing problem of superheroes
seeming both benevolent and malevolent.
And a superhero, of course, is nothing without a flashy costume.
Newport’s full-body sweater suits are both ridiculous and extremely cool, providing a chance to
adopt a persona of both power and defense.
Each suit speaks to a different character:
Sweaterman #6 resembles Batman;
Sweaterman #7, Wolverine; and
Sweaterman #8, the Green Lantern.
The cartoons of Peters, who is based in Dayton, satirize a wide swath of popular culture.
Featured in the exhibit are strips examining both superheroes and superpowers.
In one, Superman — in line at a bank-teller window — becomes dismayed when the teller blurts
out: “Sir, someone named Kent keeps using your credit card.”
In another, the X-Men confront the Y-Men. They whisper to themselves: “Those are Y-Men. . . .
They won’t do anything without a good reason.”
An entertaining and thought-provoking show, “You Are My Superhero” offers visitors a chance to
fantasize, laugh and dream.