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As a linguist, I am professionally devoted to the scientific study of language. But I have a confession: I used to be a literature major. As an undergraduate, I studied in a traditional English department, and I only accidentally found out about linguistics when I took a grammar class. In those literature courses, professors lectured about the different kinds of hero that have been discussed for thousands of years. In Greece, Aristotle wrote about the hero, and in the Middle Ages, the hero was construed differently. In the twentieth century, the notion of the anti-hero became possible, and writers in the postmodernist style exploded the notion not just of hero but of narrative as well.

Of course, this was the 1980s, and my professors weren’t talking about comics, and they weren’t talking about superheroes. They talked about John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, Alice Walker, Eudora Welty, Jane Austen, and Walker Percy, among others. As in the world of literature, the list of heroes in comics is quite long, of course, and stretches across a wide range of character types.


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