10 ways WWII changed the comic book industry
For better or for worse, World War II changed the world forever. The reactions to the horrors of the conflict, the ideological clash it represented, and the harsh realities of going through a all-consuming war touched everyone, and this was reflected perfectly in the comics.
Between 1938 and the early 1950s, the comic book industry flourished in what has been called the Golden Age of Comics. Although no one knew it at the time, what the comic book industry went through during this time shaped pop culture for almost a century.
ten Some of DC and Marvel Comics’ most famous icons were born out of war
Without WWII and the very specific climate that spawned it, many of today’s most beloved superheroes wouldn’t even exist. The first versions of Black Widow, The Human Torch (left), Namor, and The Vision appeared between 1939 and 1940, while many of the key DC Comics heroes and teams – especially the Justice Society of America – emerged in the same amount of time.
One of the most famous heroes of the Golden Age was Batman, who debuted in 1939. Interestingly, Batman was not created as a superhero, but as a luscious vigilante like The Shadow. . Not all of these heroes were created explicitly for propaganda purposes, but they were all used to promote everything from enlistment to war bonds, further increasing their historical relevance.
9 The fashion of the patriotic hero began during the war
Superheroes as they are known today are a predominantly American invention, many of them explicitly intended for propaganda. Miss America, Miss Patriot, The Shield, Uncle Sam and more proudly wore American colors in battle. Meanwhile, costumed crime fighters like Batman, Black Terror, Justice Society, and others have joined in their own way.
However, when the nationalist hype died down towards the end of the war, the patriotic heroes faded from the spotlight. The only one to survive was Captain America, who was and still is the most famous patriot of the Golden Age. Captain America was such a hit with readers that it was rebooted in Marvel Comics in the 1960s, while his compatriots were forgotten by time.
8 Sidekicks took comics by Storm
While it might not be as prevalent as it used to be, the idea of a sidekick is one of the oldest superhero tropes. To get kids to buy comics, the creators added teenage sidekicks so the target audience could project themselves. The first major sidekick was Robin the Boy Wonder, who first fought alongside Batman in 1940 and spawned quite a trend.
After Robin’s debut, almost every superhero adopted a teenage sidekick. Hindsight, however, was not kind to the henchmen, thanks to some uncomfortable sub-texts (i.e. an adult male hanging out with a minor) that were hard to ignore. Spider-Man, a solo teenage crime fighter, actually killed the Companion in Need in the 1960s. Meanwhile, Robin and the other remaining sidekicks followed Spidey’s lead to become successful teenage heroes on their own. Bucky Barnes, on the other hand, has become the Ugly Winter Soldier.
7 The superhero genre has exploded in popularity
In 1938, Superman made his first appearance in Action comics # 1 and changed popular culture forever. Without exaggeration, Superman defined the modern superhero, setting the standards and tropes for all to follow. Rival publishers then created their own Superman, defining the Golden Age with characters that were a combination of tough dough heroes and imaginative sci-fi adventures.
One of the most well-known clones was Captain Marvel (aka Shazam) from Fawcett Comics, which even surpassed the sales of its predecessor. Of Superman’s hundreds of clones, only he and Captain Marvel made it out of the post-war years. Superheroes were considered out of date in the 1950s, before seeing a resurgence in the 1960s thanks to public interest in fantasy sci-fi, especially those that take place in space.
6 The moral codes of superheroes were established by war
For many, World War II is the last “good war” since the lines between good and evil were apparently so clearly drawn. Nowhere was this clearer than in the comics of the time, as readers wanted to see good (the Allies) triumph over evil (the Axis), whatever the odds. The comic book creators responded, imbuing their stories with a strong sense of right and wrong that survived the war.
The heroes of the Golden Age were almost always relentless vigilantes of democracy and freedom, fighting with righteousness social injustices like hatred and fascism everywhere. While fervor tempered in favor of nuance, the morals of the golden age never left. A good example is modern Captain America, the last bastion of altruism and outdated values in the Marvel Universe.
5 World War II gave birth to Superman
While it might not be too obvious now, Superman wouldn’t be here without the climate that led to WWII. In short, Jewish creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in part to reject the evils of Nazism and to empower the oppressed. Where Superman was adopted by the Allies, he was predictably banned in Nazi Germany.
In America, Superman was an important propaganda figure who pushed for valid (like war bonds) and woefully outdated (like bigotry against Asians) causes. Even devoid of its original war context, Superman continues to inspire the best of today’s comic book creators, readers, and other characters. Without Superman, today’s superheroes wouldn’t exist.
4 Strong female characters reflect a significant paradigm shift
Because most of the men were at war, women entered a once male-centric workforce. This led to an increase in the empowerment of women, which was also reflected in the comics. Slice-of-life stories and romances featured assertive, career-focused women, while the superhero comics featured powerful heroines like Fantomah, Sheenah, and, of course, Wonder Woman.
These advances in the representation of women regressed in the 1950s, when moral guardians argued that autonomous heroines encouraged moral decadence. With respect, the creators of the Silver Age wrote about women more conservatively or not at all. Arguably this gave birth to the male-dominated landscape of the comic book industry which only recently began to face belated re-examination and reckoning.
3 Comics have become a viable entertainment business
Before 1938, comics were only a disposable novelty. But when sales and demand Action comics # 1 and its ilk exploded, the comics were suddenly seen as a potential gold mine. The pros outweighed the cons: The comics were cheap to produce, portable for buyers, fun for fans both at home and abroad, and an easy way to spread the ideals of war and the nationalism.
For example, Captain Marvel’s solo imprint – Captain Marvel Adventures– sold nearly 14 million copies in 1944, printing 1.3 million issues every two weeks at the height of its popularity. Comics became so lucrative that publishers turned their spin-off comic branches into stand-alone businesses, laying the foundation for the modern comic book industry.
2 Comics have become a mainstream art form
Regardless of the genre, comics weren’t taken seriously when they first started out. This changed during WWII where the sudden demand for them required tons of talent. Creators of all stripes have flocked to comics to try their luck, even though it would be years before creators’ rights were recognized and respected. While some were successful, others went so far as to establish the rules and conventions that legitimized comics as a medium of storytelling.
A sure sign of the shift in perspective is the way influential comic book artists and writers are now treated like celebrities or legends. One of the titans of the Golden Age was Jack Kirby, also known as “The King”. Kirby is best known for creating Captain America with Joe Simon, fighting for artist rights, and taking an artistic break to fight in the war between 1943 and 1945.
1 The end of WWII nearly ended the comic book industry
As a reward for being an important and irreplaceable facet of American popular culture and the war effort, the comics were almost banned for good. In 1954, Dr Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the innocent, who hypothesized that the comics – not postwar economic realities or inevitable societal changes – caused the wave of juvenile delinquency of the decade.
Comics as a business and art form would survive Wertham’s now debunked accusations and Comics Code Authority dominance, but the end of WWII also marked the end of the Golden Age. . While comics are at an all-time high these days, the height of the free spirit and the wartime gold rush is long gone.
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