Superheroes - a scientist and a historian debate the biggest movie genre today

Book publication by Etienne F. Augé and Barry W. Fitzgerald

Superheroes - it is the most popular film genre of the moment, and everyone has an opinion about it. Likewise, historian Etienne F. Augé, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and scientist Barry W. Fitzgerald, TU Eindhoven. In the book ‘Superheroes, a scientist and a historian debate the biggest movie genre today’ they combine their superpowers to understand and explain superheroes, why the genre became so big, why it is now at a turning point, and what it could become in the future.

A few years ago, Etienne F. Augé and Barry W. Fitzgerald, met at Erasmus University Rotterdam for a talk on superheroes and discovered that they had plenty to discuss, resulting in the publication of superheroes. Science and History - a strange combination you might think. But that’s not how Etienne and Barry see it. They explain in the introduction of Superheroes:

'Superheroes and their foes have been created by hundreds of illustrators, scriptwriters, filmmakers, producers, fans, and marketing executives, but also by storytellers, scientists, religious figures, and science fiction authors to boot. Understanding superheroes requires a good overall knowledge of the principles of physics, mythology, biology, history, engineering, film studies, and so on.'

Bookcover Superheroes

In Superheroes, they focus on two key terms associated to the genre: superhero and superpower. Combining their expertise, they came up with a definition for both. Because without an understanding of ‘Who can be a superhero?’ or ‘When is a power a superpower?’, it’s impossible to properly evaluate the genre. Added to this, both Etienne and Barry present differing futures for the superhero genre. Lastly, the authors also present interesting perspectives on the possibility of superheroes in the future. 

Barry leans on scientific advancements as he outlines several research studies that could be used to develop superpowers. ‘Time is an important factor when thinking about the scientific advances that could lead to superpowers in the future, because science is not static. Science evolves. Science pushes the boundary of our understanding of the Universe. Science makes the impossible very possible. However, in the quest for science in superhero stories, this science can sometimes be “vultured”.’

On the other hand, Etienne considers more the “why” than the “how” of superheroes, and what they can bring to us. ‘New hordes of fans are reviving a genre that was reserved for the so-called geeks, or even the nerds, only a few decades ago. Now, superheroes are everywhere, from cinema theatres to lunch boxes, and from clothes to pop culture references in films and TV programmes. Are superheroes only for hardcore fans then? Is their return and explosion in popularity the result of a clever Hollywood marketing strategy and nothing else?’

Superheroes is a book for everyone. If you like superheroes, this book gives you deeper insights in this constantly expanding genre. And if you don’t like superheroes, this book explains way the genre is so massive and that there’s at least one story for everyone.

Two men with glasses and superhero props smiling into camera

About the authors

Etienne F. Augé is a Principal lecturer at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is a  published and translated author of several books on his research interests such as the Middle East, cinema, and propaganda. 

Barry W. Fitzgerald is a science communicator at TU Eindhoven, an adjunct associate professor at University College Dublin in Ireland, and a freelance speaker and science communicator trainer. Besides writing books, he also creates stories in video form on YouTube and TikTok as the Superhero Scientist.

More information

For more information and interview requests, please contact Communications Officer Lieke van Eijk via or 06-34536116

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