Call For Comments: The Golden Age of Comics

From Mav: Now that we’re done with all of the end of the year and beginning of the year stuff it’s time to get back to business as usual on VoxPopcast. One of the things that always surprises me about our show is that we do comparatively little with comics given that it is theoretically both Wayne and my specialty. That’s not a bad thing… in fact it’s by design. We always wanted this show to cover a variety of topics rather than just the ones any of the hosts are strongly associated with. But every once in a while, it’s nice to get back to basics. This is one of those times. Specifically I want to have a discussion about Golden Age comics. All of the stuff between 1938 and 1955. The building blocks of comics.

I’ve been reading a lot of Golden Age books recently for my dissertation. Obviously, I’ve read a bunch before. It certainly isn’t rare for someone today to have read through a reprint of Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27… or at least the Superman and Batman stories in those books. But what about all of their appearances after those first two issues. I’ve heard a lot of people try to defend the darker, grittier takes on Batman and Superman in the Synder films as “returning to the character’s origins” but I wonder how many of them have actually read “The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom”? Because I have! And these are often the same sort of people who claim that “comics didn’t used to be so political and ram the SJW agenda down our throats.” Except I have read “Superman in the Slums” which is all about Superman’s socialist agenda and… well… Look… I’m just going to say, Zach Snyder simply doesn’t understand Superman… any version of him… fight me!

At the same time, it’s not just Superman and Batman… There were the obvious big names that are still around today: Wonder Woman, Captain America, Hawkman, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel (and Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel), Namor and the like. DC and Marvel have done an ok job of pulling put these people and revamping them for the modern age every once in a while (if only to retain the copyprights). But there are a bunch that don’t see the light of day much anymore. Particularly the female ones. I’ve written an academic article about Sally the Sleuth, but there’s also the original Black Cat and Miss Fury‚ one of Marston’s specific inspirations for Wonder Woman. Even those early issues of Action and Detective had a lot of other great characters in them. And sure, while maybe it’s not surprising that no one remembers Tex Thompson or Speed Saunders, you’d think it would be great if every once in awhile someone would say “Action Comics #1? You mean the first appearance of Zatara?!?!?!!!!”

I also have been reading a lot of Golden Age “Good Girl” books. People talk about Phantom Lady, particularly the covers drawn by Matt Baker. But I wonder if anyone’s actually read those books. Honestly, despite how her costume was drawn, Phantom Lady herself was relatively tame and innocent. Remember that point in the 1990s when all female superheroines became half-naked sex crazed killing machines? Remember how everyone said they were basically porn? Well, you should have been reading Jumbo Comics starring Sheena, Queen of the Jungle in the 1940s. Sheena would straighten up just kill a man for pissing her off. And then fuck her boyfriend, Bob, without washing off the blood.

And then of course the Golden Age wasn’t just superheroes. Comics were major pop culture entertainment at that time. Those early anthology books featured a host of adventure, romance, western, sci-fi, crime and and comics stories alongside what became the big named superheroes. And I’m sure Wayne will point out that at this same time, Carl Bark’s Uncle $crooge comics were outselling everyone back in the early 1950s. They were a sensation. Not to mention the rest of the Disney franchise that was already in production and tons of other funny animal books and comic strip anthologies.

We also had the rise of Archie in Pep Comics take place at this time and if you listen to our show, you know how much we love Riverdale… But sexy Archie isn’t actually new. Early Archie comics were actually kind of a mix between humor, romance and good girl books. We’ve talked about the relevance of Archie comics as well before, but the Archie formula that was standard fair for most of the comics run doesn’t really come into being until Dan DeCarlo takes over in the Silver Age; the Golden Age Archie was a little different. While certainly not the most scandalous of the romance genre of books, Archie was much less clean cut back in the day than what he became. It was a lot of sophomoric trying to get laid… possibly succeeding. If your grandfather or great grandfather was reading comics back in 1942, there’s a non-zero chance that he beat off to a tastefully topless picture of Veronica. Yep… that happened. You’re welcome.

And then of course there was a whole thing where all of this led directly into the publication of Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic Wertham — a man who I will treat exactly the same way I refer to Reddit today — don’t read Wertham… I do it so you don’t have to. Wertham’s book led to senate subcommittee hearings on juvenile delinquency that make pushback that’s ever happened with rock & roll, rap, or video games look bush league and led to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority which shaped comics as we know them and therefore all entertainment that grew out of them (so everything) to this day.

So I wanna talk about it. What kinds of stuff do you want to hear us talk about in this episode?

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