Prior to the mid-1980s Modern Age of Comics, there were several other ages with their own distinct styles. The first true age began in 1938 with the introduction of DC’s Superman, marking the beginning of the Golden Age of Comics.
Captivating a Nation
Superhero comics emphasize seemingly ordinary people with extraordinary abilities, and given the political and cultural issues facing the country at the time it’s no surprise that such a trend captured America’s attention.
In the late 1930s America was recovering from the Great Depression with World War II around the corner. Superman was an escape for America’s impressionable youth, who responded to the character’s moralistic fight for truth and justice.
Superman is probably the most beloved and iconic superhero ever developed, and he evolved to resemble the nation in which he was given life. He stood for the American Way during World War II and the Cold War, and in the aftermath of Vietnam in the 1970s he became more complex and inherently flawed, an appropriate mirror for the way the country felt and was perceived.
Following in the footsteps of Superman, America met Batman in 1939, and a few years later in 1941 Wonder Woman came to life. Each protagonist had characteristics and virtues that appealed to their audience.
Unlike Superman, whose might was quite literally not of this world, Batman was an ordinary guy without any powers except a supernatural sense of vengeance and ultimately justice. Batman was far more tormented and lived in a darker, more perverse world. He also fought psychologically complex individuals, headlined by the infamous Joker, which ran amok in every-man’s Gotham City.
Wonder Woman most notably differs from Superman and Batman by being a woman, and at that time in history she served as a significant feminist icon. She was frequently portrayed as a diplomat by choice and a warrior by need. She possessed both mind and matter.
The strength of these characters move them into America’s cultural identity, which was especially important given their next big battle didn’t take place between the pages, but rather in full public view in America’s government.
In 1950 the comic industry took a hit when The Seduction of the Innocent hit bookshelves, claiming that comic books caused juvenile delinquency. Parents took the book seriously, and a Senate Subcommittee was formed to investigate the matter.
The decline in comic popularity was short-lived as The Seduction of the Innocent was thoroughly rebuked, and in the mid-1950s the Silver Age of Comics began with DC’s revision of already-published characters: The Flash and The Green Lantern.
The Industry Recovers
Marvel Comics then launched a series of new characters in the 1960s, ones that even the layperson knows. Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, X-Men, and Iron Man rose to popularity and have stayed there for over 50 years.
Now the Marvel universe has made its way onto the big screen with the X-Men franchise, Iron Man, and the Avengers raking in billions of dollars both domestically and abroad.