Posts Tagged ‘Golden Age Comics’

A Book Look: Golden Age Heroics

December 6, 2010

Wonder Woman has always been different, even from the very start.  Yeah, she’s a woman in a pantheon of male superheroes, but there’s more than that.  There is an inherent optimism to Wonder Woman that is unmatched throughout comicdom.  Most of her well known colleagues are orphans with issues (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, etc), but Wonder Woman is a together sort of superhero.

This difference was most stark at the dawn of the superhero genre, way back in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Many early superheroes were vigilante rebels and cold-hearted warriors.  Unlike today, when superheroes rarely kill their foes (and when they do, it’s usually unintentional and they feel AWFUL about it afterward for unnecessarily long story arcs), death was a common fate for villains at the beginning of the Golden Age.  Superheroes who we today consider bastions of strong moral character are almost unrecognizable in their earliest incarnations.

Superman wasn’t much of a killer, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to threaten bad guys with death.  Look at him here in Action Comics #2, having a pleasant conversation with a nefarious character:

That panel is sort of hard to read, so here is the relevant text: “You see how effortlessly I crush this bar of iron in my hand? — That bar could just as easily be your neck!”  In the next panel, Superman has even more kindly words for his friend:

Here Superman informs the man that if he doesn’t leave town on that ship, “I swear I’ll follow you to whatever hole you hide in and tear out your cruel heart with my bare hands!”  So much for the Boy Scout we know and love today.

Captain America is another stalwart hero who is generally considered to be an upstanding guy, but here he is in Captain America Comics #1:

Instead of stopping a man from committing suicide, Cap stands idly by while he rolls over onto a needle full of poison and kills himself.  Again, this is not the sort of behaviour we associate with our heroes.

Today, Batman can be menacing and overly physical, but he is staunchly against taking the life of others.  Case in point: The Joker is still alive!!  If Batman was ever going to kill anyone, he’d off the Joker, yet the Joker remains alive.  But here is Batman in Detective Comics #27, his first appearance:

A strong punch from Batman sends the gun-toting villain into a vat of acid.  An accident?  Perhaps.  But there were A LOT of such “accidents” in early Batman stories.  Plus, look at the next panel:

He doesn’t seem terribly concerned with just killing a dude. 

Golden Age superheroes were a different breed early on.  They’d soon settle down, start to work with authorities, and adhere to stringent moral codes, but when Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, this cruelty and disregard for human life was the norm.  But Wonder Woman was different.  Wonder Woman was created to be a new sort of crimefighter, one who embodied love and peace.  Consider how she deals with a would-be assassin in Wonder Woman #1:

Wonder Woman doesn’t just not kill her attacker, she actually saves her life!!  In the panels that follow, Wonder Woman takes the time to learn about her assailant and why she is involved in a life of crime, ultimately helping the woman out of her unfortunate circumstances.

It’s no accident that the original Wonder Woman was so different from her peers.  Her creator, William Moulton Marston, intentionally crafted her to be a counter to the harsh, violent male superheroes crowding the newsstands.  As to why he did so, well, this is just a peek at my book… I can’t give it all away.  But hopefully you will be able to read all about it soon!!

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