Our Gods Wear Spandex  

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"One of the great American innovations of the twentieth century—besides comic books and superheroes—is the sanctity of childhood. Countless billions are spent making modern childhood a 24/7 Disneyland of indulgence and delight. One could argue that this myth of childhood is the only thing still held sacred in our dehumanized, commercialized society.

Me, I didn't have much of a childhood. Even by 70s standards, it was pretty awful. America's child worship was going through a particularly Calvinist phase in those days of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, and there were times when my world seemed like a live-action adaptation of Lord of the Flies. And almost from the moment of my birth I was in and out of the hospital with chronic pneumonia and bronchitis."--Our Gods Wear Spandex (2007) is a book by Christopher Knowles

"Peter dons the requisite Spandex and goes out to battle evil."--Our Gods Wear Spandex (2007) is a book by Christopher Knowles

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Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes (2007) is a book by Christopher Knowles, the former editor of Comic Book Artist, with illustrations by Joe Linsner.

The book examines superheroes as a modern evolution of mythological archetypes as well as the mystical influences on comics. The spandex in the title refers to the common elastic dress of many superheroes.



The book looks at the evolution of the superhero through the early Egyptian, Greek and Roman myths to the modern era. In particular Knowles highlights the significance of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel The Coming Race and its concept of the Vril-ya, a super human race occupying the hollow earth. This was adopted and adapted by Theosophy into their concept of Ascended Masters which when mixed with Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch, became the template for the early superheroes.

It also examines the religious, mystical and occult influences on comics writers like Jack Kirby, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison.

Knowles has further expanded on his ideas, in particular looking at Action Comics #1 and its similarities with Hercules Clubs the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo. He also runs The Sacred Sun blog which also returns to the theme, especially in connection with Jack Kirby and the influences of ideas like the Ancient Astronaut Theory on his work, even series seemingly unconnected to it such as Devil Dinosaur, a topic Knowles has written about before for The Jack Kirby Collector.

The themes the book raises have also been the focus of a number of panels at comics conventions. A. David Lewis, who has organised similar panels looking at religion and comics, organised one at New York Comic Con in 2008, with G. Willow Wilson, Douglas Rushkoff and Dennis O'Neil. Another was held on February 24, 2008 at WonderCon.


Sequential Tart was impressed by the amount of information saying that "after reading it I believe I could perform fairly well in a comic book history trivia contest." Despite that it remains accessible "book is written in a way that is understandable to almost anyone who has only a basic knowledge of comic books" and their "only problem with Knowles' writing is that it seemed to jump around a bit, especially the first half." Steve Bennett, at ICv2, said it was "the best book on the subject I've read since Gerard Jones' landmark Men of Tomorrow."

However, other reviewers were less impressed. Publishers Weekly said that "[n]ot only does Knowles fail to make a persuasive case for his theories about the genre’s occult origins, but he repeatedly shoots himself in the foot with wild overstatements." The Daily Telegraph said "[t]his kind of thinking, along with most of Knowles's book, is not news to academics or fans" and concludes that it is a "fun, fluent book, but not the breakthrough popular history that the subject deserves."


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