Friday, April 5, 2019

Forgotten Books: COMIC BOOK NATION by Bradford W. Wright (2001)


With over sixty years of comic book art to choose from, it amazes me that someone picked the undistinguished interior panel above for the cover of this book. I suppose it makes a feeble sort of sense, though, because this book is pretty much indifferent to the quality of comic book art. It's all about the stories. 

As such, it's a fascinating read, focussing on why comic writers told the types of stories they did, how those stories changed over the years between 1938 and 2000, and how they changed the hearts and minds of the American people.   

If you haven't read the early Superman stories, it may surprise you to learn that the Man of Steel was not battling Lex Luthor or super-villains. His nemesis in those years was social injustice, as envisioned by his twenty-something year-old creators. He was as tough and cynical as a hardboiled private eye, a champion of the oppressed fighting the evil of greed wherever he found it. Batman was introduced as a vigilante, pursued by the police as he waged his own war against crime. Green Lantern spent his formative years combating corrupt politicians and union bosses. 

Soon after, comics went to war, and the stories were full of patrotic fervor. The heroes not fighting overseas, like Captain America and dozens of imitators, were defending the home front from spies and sabotuers. 

The war's end brought the end of paper shortages, and a lot of new publishers entered the market, but superheroes were losing their shine. Jungle stories remained popular, as did westerns, but the next big thing was CRIME, ushered in by the brutal Crime Does Not Pay. Then came love and teen comics (both written by men, of course), followed by EC and horror, and eventually the public outcry fueled by Frederick Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent

In the wake of the Comics Code came the resurgence of superheroes, the Marvel Age, the "relevant" age, and finally new freedom with the shift to direct marketing.

This book discusses the themes and lessons of these different types and stories, and the public stances adopted by the different publishing companies, which were sometimes at odds with the causes their writers were promoting. 

It's all a lot more detailed and interesting than I'm making it sound, and highly recommended for anyone who's ever enjoyed a comic book.



2 comments:

Matt Blk said...

Here's what I'd be doing:
I'd be saving souls before
TheEnd if I were you, bubba.

jfire2 said...

It's a great book. I'd recommend it, too.
John @PopCultureSafari.com