|Cover artist||Roland Friedrich|
|LC Class||PN6714 .K56 2007|
The book examines superheroes as a modern evolution of mythological archetypes and the more modern history, as well as the mystical influences on comics.
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 then goes on to examine the influences of the pulp magazines on the development of what we would come to view as superheroes, looking at specific examples like The Shadow and Doc Savage
The book breaks down superheroes into four main archetypes
- Magic Men - the Wizard figure, from Mandrake the Magician and Doctor Occult through Doctor Strange to John Constantine but also including a lot of early superheroes whose Golden Age origins were magical, like Captain Marvel and Green Lantern.
- Messiahs - the "noble self-sacrificing hero who acts to save others out of a sense of altruism" with main example being one of the first: Superman; but it also includes Spider-Man and Captain America.
- Amazons - the female counterpart, like Wonder Woman.
- Golems - the antiheroes who either "act out of need for vengeance" (Batman) or "are berserkers, whose rage causes them to kill indiscriminately" (Punisher or Wolverine).
Knowles has further expanded on his ideas, in particular looking at Action Comics #1 and its similarities with Hercules and the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiuolo. 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 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, the "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."
Other reviewers, however, 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."
- 2008: Won "Favourite Comics-Related Book" Eagle Award
- New Book Reveals Secret History of Comic Heroes, Comic Book Resources, November 23, 2007
- Knowles page 119
- Knowles page 145
- The "Action Comics" #1 Cover Debate – Part 1, Comic Book Resources, November 28th, 2007
- The "Action Comics" #1 Cover Debate – Part 2, Comic Book Resources, November 29th, 2007
- Astronaut Theology: Jack Kirby, Astro-Gnostic, Sacred Sun, October 28, 2008
- Knowles, Chris. "The Kirby-Files: An Overview of Jack's Occult and Supernatural Themes", Jack Kirby Collector #13, December 1996. WebCitation archive.
- ASP announces NYCC booth signing schedule, Comic Book Resources, April 15, 2008
- NYCC '08 Panel - Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes video on G. Willow Wilson's site
- Wondercon's 2008 program
- The Superhero Mythos Through History: A Discussion of Our Gods Wear Spandex, by Lisa Lopacinski, Sequential Tart, January 21, 2008
- Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--On the Download by Steve Bennett, ICv2, November 29, 2007
- Books about Comics #2: Spiegelman and Spandex, Publishers Weekly, May 13, 2008
- Robert Hudson. Superheroes are older than we think, The Daily Telegraph, January 11, 2008
- Christopher Knowles - Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, Red Ice Creations, November 11, 2007
- Plus Ultra Podcast Episode 10: Interview with Christopher Knowles, Grey Lodge Review, November 16, 2007
- a thousand questions with. . . Christopher Knowles, A Thousand faces: The Quarterly Journal of Superhuamn Fiction #3, Winter 2008