Throughout its life, the superhero genre has been an icon of popular culture. Though it has been profitable and widely-read, it has also always labored under the popular impression that it is simplistic, formulaic, childish, unintelligent, and unworthy of the kind of attention given to more respectable forms of literature. Even as comic books and graphic novels have become recognized as a valid artform, superheroes are still seen as the bottom of the barrel, as what comic books have to escape from in order to be taken seriously. Is this a fair assessment of the genre? This thesis asks why and how this judgment has been laid on the genre, and what the writers of superhero comics could do, and have done, in response. I begin by tracing the history of the genre, rooting particular genre characteristics in the cultural and historical setting in which they appeared, and follow their development over half of the 20th century. I then look at several modern superhero texts by two particular authors, and analyze them while paying particular attention to how they relate to and manipulate the genre characteristics previously identified in order to step beyond the bounds of what the superhero genre has been believed to be capable of achieving.