For a more theoretical take on comic books, try Our Gods Wear Spandex by Christopher Knowles with illustrations by Joseph Michael Linsner. Subtitled The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes, it advances the theory that modern-day super-heroes fulfill the function that religion has served throughout history. It's not a hard case to make, and Knowles does it convincingly, even if his survey of early human history is a tad rushed (he fits it all into the first third of a 256-page book). Things really get going when he starts discussing pulp novels and the direct links between them and modern-day comic books. Writers like Poe, Doyle and Verne, he says, together provided a fictional backdrop for the superheroes of the Ôpulps.' From there, it was only a short leap to comics. The best parts of the book are Knowles' personality sketches of some of the genre's founders without whom none of the books here would ever have existed.

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