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Empire of the Superheroes

Empire of the Superheroes
America’s Comic Book Creators and the Making of a Billion-Dollar Industry

A detailed look at the evolution of superhero comics from cheap pulp products to a billion-dollar film and publishing industry, and the artists' battles for their intellectual property and financial freedom.

Series: World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction Series

Sales restrictions: For sale only in the United States, its dependencies, and Canada
January 2021
Not yet published

Available for pre-order.
This book will be available in December 2020.
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416 pages | 6 x 9 | 66 b&w photos, 18 color photos |

Superman may be faster than a speeding bullet, but even he can't outrun copyright law. Since the dawn of the pulp hero in the 1930s, publishers and authors have fought over the privilege of making money off of comics, and the authors and artists usually have lost. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, got all of $130 for the rights to the hero.

In Empire of the Superheroes, Mark Cotta Vaz argues that licensing and litigation do as much as any ink-stained creator to shape the mythology of comic characters. Vaz reveals just how precarious life was for the legends of the industry. Siegel and Shuster—and their heirs—spent seventy years battling lawyers to regain rights to Superman. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were cheated out of their interest in Captain America, and Kirby's children brought a case against Marvel to the doorstep of the Supreme Court. To make matters worse, the infant comics medium was nearly strangled in its crib by censorship and moral condemnation. For the writers and illustrators now celebrated as visionaries, the "golden age" of comics felt more like hard times.

The fantastical characters that now earn Hollywood billions have all-too-human roots. Empire of the Superheroes digs them up, detailing the creative martyrdom at the heart of a pop-culture powerhouse.


Mark Cotta Vaz is a New York Times bestselling author. His dozens of books include Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong; The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting, coauthored with Craig Barron; and, most recently, Pan Am at War: How the Airline Secretly Helped America Fight World War II, coauthored with John H. Hill.