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Origins Of Superhero Comics

(Last Updated On: April 30, 2020)

Comic books, with the central genre of narratives involving superheroes leading the way, have evolved through at least four distinct historical periods, usually referred to as “ages.” Especially in the case of the evolution of the American superhero, historians of comic books refer to these four periods as the Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern (or Iron) ages. Adapted from the ages of Greek and Roman myth, these ages reflect emerging stages in the material production of the comics industry, though genres other than superhero comics sometimes evolved differently. (For example, the Golden Age of horror comics occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s and was thus both shorter and slightly later than the Golden Age of superhero comics.) In addition, the era of the evolution of the comic book medium, prior to the rise of superheroes in the 1930s, is often referred to as the
Platinum Age.

The Golden Age of superhero comics, dated from the early to mid-1930s through the late 1940s, encompasses the publication of the first book-length comics and World War II. The earliest comic books, collections of previously printed strips, were published in 1933; the first collections of original stories were published in 1935. Many of the superhero figures that subsequently defined the genre debuted during this period, including Superman , who first appeared in DC Comics’ Action Comics #1 in 1938.
DC Comics also introduced Batman in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, the Flash in Flash Comics #1 in 1940, the Green Lantern in All-American Comics #16 in 1940, and Wonder Woman in All Star Comics #8 in 1941. Timely Comics , the forerunner of Marvel Comics , premiered Captain America in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941, while Captain Marvel first appeared in Fawcett Comics’ Whiz Comics #2 in 1940 before becoming a DC character.

The meteoric popularity of these and other superhero figures of the period can be attributed in part to their association with wartime patriotism and anti-Nazi propaganda. Superman was featured in several stories highlighting his success in eradicating enemies of the Allies, including hand-delivery of Hitler and Mussolini to the United Nations. Some commentators label the period between the mid-1940s and the mid-1950s
as the Atomic Age because of comics writers’ preoccupation with nuclear proliferation and the burgeoning arms race. However, this period is best understood as a transition to the Silver Age of comics, which was characterized by increased public scrutiny of comics and further refinement of generic conventions.

In 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) created the Comics Code as a means of regulating violent and sexual content in comics. Another starting point for the Silver Age was the introduction of a new incarnation of the Flash in DC’s Showcase #4 in 1956. A wider range of superheroes appeared as the genre regained popularity, including Marvel’s
Th e Fantastic Four , which premiered in Th e Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, and Spider- Man , which premiered in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. DC also introduced The Justice League of America in Th e Brave and the Bold #28 in 1960.

These and other characters helped to create many now familiar genre conventions: scientific explanations for superpowers, residence on alternate earths such as DC’s Earth-One, and moral conflicts and disagreements among the members of superhero teams.

Many publishers of comics understood their audience to be primarily adult and began to focus on more complex storylines and subtle ethical questions. However, a few publishers, such as Harvey Comics, targeted young children with titles like Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost . The Silver Age, whose many popular titles and iconic heroes spawned a host of collectors’ items, ended in the early 1970s with milestone events that challenged the genre’s previous optimism, including the death of Spider- Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy and the redefinition of Green Lantern as a more jaded hero.

Source: Encyclopedia Of comics

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