Tag Archives: Cultural studies

The Conflict of Captain America – Part IV

After Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting laying the groundwork in The Winter Soldier, Marvel's Civil War event would signal The Death of Captain America and follow Bucky's conflicted version of the Sentinel of Liberty.

After Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting laying the groundwork in The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s Civil War event would signal The Death of Captain America and follow Bucky’s conflicted version of the Sentinel of Liberty.


‘They’re right. We’re not fighting for the people anymore, Falcon… Look at us. We’re just fighting.’ Civil War, Mark Millar

Inline with the new millennium, the adjustment from sixty years in suspended animation would now bear more weight and relevance for Captain America. Through the eyes of a born leader, we would begin to witness how one man catches up with the rest of the world and acknowledge the truth that some wars can never be fought – post 9/11having given birth to more complex and socially relevant stories.

Despite their acute mythology and fantastical origins, writers now sought an angle that would expose weakness and conflict in these characters in an effort to make them more human. With the introduction of the Superhuman Registration Act in Mark Millar’s Civil War crossover event signalling a major turning point for Captain America, his refusal to sign sets a major tide in motion. Branded a traitor, Rogers becomes a fugitive and with those few who follow him he comes in to direct conflict with Tony Stark.

In the aftermath of the conflict he hands himself over to the authorities when his battle with Iron Man destroys both his faith in society and himself. It is here, in Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s run on Captain America that the seeds are planted in their first arc, The Winter Soldier; leading towards one of the most finely crafted series of the past decade.

‘What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on and giving speeches on the street corner against the George W. Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans all want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein’ Ed Brubaker

Pitched as an espionage thriller, Brubaker delivers what is primarily James ‘Bucky’ Barnes story in the wake of Steve Rogers’ assassination. What follows is the complex nature of how a man who has been used as a weapon against the United States, by the Soviet Union, is able to carry the Shield and become the patriotic symbol that Rogers’ unrivalled, untainted soul originally represented. Bucky’s Captain America is the antithesis of the United States at conflict with themselves; an individual who fits the ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ tag – a brainwashed individual who serves a faceless enemy. The difference here in Brubaker’s reinvention of Captain America’s sidekick is the exploration of the antihero in true, western fashion. After all, isn’t this also part of American mythology?


Having lost his arm during WWII, Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky Barnes, is presumed dead. Recovering his body the Russians craft a bionic arm and brainwash him in to becoming the Winter Soldier.

Inevitably, Rogers return in issue #600 signalled his own miniseries with Steve Rogers: Super Soldier before wielding his Shield, while Bucky’s alter ego, The Winter Soldier is recruited to hunt down other brainwashed assassins he trained during his days during the Cold War.

In 2014’s entry in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo’s sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers a finely crafted espionage thriller based on Brubaker and Epting’s original reinvention of the characters. Already considered, by many, the strongest Marvel film to date, Chris Evan’s stoic portrayal of Steve Rogers explores, in full detail, the problems he faces when the organisation he works for stop at nothing to protect their nation.

‘He is one of us, and he represents the best in all of us. Because he represents an ideal, his popularity has never faded out entirely, even when comic books have struggled to survive. With the world today — more dangerous even than it was back in World War II – people need that ideal more than ever. That’s why it’s the perfect time for him to be more popular than ever. We need him.’ Joe Simon

For me, as with the real heroes of WWII, Captain America represents the very best of his generation – a man who lives by a strict moral code who fought a common evil in order for us all to live in a better world. People are easy to dismiss such ‘boy scouts’ as dull and predictable, but for all his original propaganda and patriotic nature; for most, Steve Rogers is a fictional Grandfather and perhaps the only reminder of our greatest generation. Captain America is an honest hero – a man who knows right from wrong even if it questions his own identity and has been reborn at the right time to deliver a more universal message. Whether life has improved since WWII is debatable, but one thing is for sure – if any superhero can be the platform to explore the conflict and ramifications of a modern world, it’s Captain America.

The Conflict of Captain America – Part III

The Conflict of Captain America – Part II

The Conflict of Captain America – Part I

The Conflict of Captain America – Introduction

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The Conflict of Captain America – Part III

The Avengers #4 marked the first appearance of Captain America in the Silver Age, written by Stan Lee and brought back to life by his own co-creator, Jack Kirby.

The Avengers #4 marked the first appearance of Captain America in the Silver Age, written by Stan Lee and brought back to life by his own co-creator, Jack Kirby.

Man out of Time

‘Even then, everyone had the sense that this was the character who could knock out Superman’ Jack Kirby

With their imminent involvement in World War II, the United States government enlist the frail art student, Steve Rogers transforming him, through the use of an experimental serum, in to a man at the peak of physical perfection. Armed with an indestructible shield and wearing a costume based on the American flag, Rogers with his sidekick Bucky fought the Nazis and Japanese in their efforts to thwart the dominant forces and act as a moral boost to troops during the conflict.

Despite the character’s popularity during WWII, after the war sales began to decline. With no more need for a fictional character, superheroes’ popularity had begun to diminish. With Captain America’s origins so intrinsically linked to the war, it seemed he had already served his purpose. Heralding the first true ‘Death of Captain America’ his decline in popularity led to his cancellation in 1950. Aside from a brief revival in 1953, (later defined as different alter egos of Cap and Bucky) it wasn’t until he was revived in March, 1964 with the release of the fourth issue of The Avengers, that he returned in full force. By now comics had entered the Silver Age with the success of Timely’s transition in to Marvel Comics.


Steve Englebert and Sal Buscema’s run on Captain America and The Falcon became one of Marvel Comics most successful titles of the period.

With the assassination of President Kennedy and the United States decision to enter the Vietnam War, retrieving Steve Rogers from suspended animation seemed an appropriate plot point to add as a nod to former glory. The defrosted Sentinel of Liberty was now a ‘man out of time’ who struggled to adjust to modern society – an internal conflict that added an interesting angle and dynamic to the already dysfunctional family group of The Avengers. It was the defrosted Steve Rogers who would become the conflicted figurehead of the nation – where now, the patriotism he represented two decades later, represented different notions of what it meant to be an American. As the Vietnam War raged on, by the end of the 60s and in to the early 70s, Nixon’s presidency coupled with the tales of ‘baby killing’ soldiers, rape and pillaging of the Vietcong brought in to question the American flag.

Steve Englehart, a conscientious objector at the time, was honourably discharged from the Army just a few years prior to his legendary stint as a writer for Captain America. In the early 70’s, he had the unenviable task of making the character relevant during the anti war protests and Watergate scandal. ‘The audience was not particularly in favour of a guy wearing a flag on his chest under those circumstances.’ In response, Englebert developed an extended storyline following Steve Rogers’ profound disillusionment in his home country. Abandoning his identity as Captain America, Rogers took on the mantle of a new superhero called Nomad, where he refocused his purpose as ‘the defender of America’s ideas, not necessarily its government.’

Although rooted in sci-fi, Remender and Romita Jr’s homage to Kirby is interspersed with flashbacks to Roger’s own childhood as we witness the abuse of his mother at the hands of his drunken father. A pivotal moment that has formed a crucial part of Rogers character.

‘Because, and you listen close, Steven…you ALWAYS stand up.’ Although rooted in sci-fi, Remender and Romita Jr.’s Kirby homage is interspersed with flashbacks to Roger’s own childhood as we witness a pivotal moment that has formed a crucial part of Rogers character.

As Captain America entered the 21st century Marvel began to reimagine their Universe through the Ultimate imprint; wiping the slate clean from past continuities and bringing the characters more inline with contemporary society. Although the Ultimate line has been relaunched again since, it was during its first incarnation that the writer Mark Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass) took Steve Rogers back to his roots and help redefine what made Captain America such an important and pivotal character.

Following up on Ed Brubaker’s groundbreaking run (Part IV), the first of arc of the current Marvel Now series from writer Rick Remender was a welcome nod to the original pulp material that inspired Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. With John Romita Jr at the helm as penciler, Klaus Janson’s inks and Dean White on colours, Castaway in Dimension Z found Steve Rogers stranded for a decade in Arnim Zola’s twisted world. Rather than deliver another espionage tale, Remender’s story is more Flash Gordon than Jason Bourne, pitting Captain America against the twisted machinations of Zola’s forces while he raises one of his enemy’s own. Having adjusted to the world we know, Steve Rogers is now forced to adapt to a more alien environment in his attempts to escape his captor.

To be continued in The Conflict of Captain America – Part IV

The Conflict of Captain America – Part II

The Conflict of Captain America – Part I

The Conflict of Captain America – Introduction

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The Conflict of Captain America – Part II

Rushed to press during the surrounding outcry of WWII, Captain America #1 was a direct response to the conflict. A brazen cover image that delivered it's message 'loud and clear'.

Rushed to press during the surrounding outcry of WWII, Captain America #1 was a direct response to the conflict. A brazen cover image that delivered it’s message ‘loud and clear’. The first issue was also the debut of Captain America’s sidekick, James ‘Bucky’ Buchanan Barnes, who would go on to be defined further through the modern era in Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Winter Soldier storyline.

Stars and Stripes

‘Captain America was created to be the ultimate representative of what it means to be an American.’ Joe Simon

Pearl Harbour, December 1941. Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial Japanese Navy unleashes a surprise attack on the United States’ Naval base in a strategic attempt to expand their reach over the Pacific. Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, who led the attack, was quoted as saying,‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’

With Europe struggling to hold back Hitler’s Nazi regime, it was clear that the powers that this common threat was to have a cataclysmic impact on the world. With these major conflicts, each political power armed their forces and fought hard – most for survival, while the threatening dictatorship of the Nazis sought world domination. Since Hitler’s insidious rise to power during the early 30s, having gained the respect of his people through rebuilding an entire nation, Germany’s firepower and the might of the military grew. With the control his people his poisonous views and seed of destruction grew ominously throughout the rest of Europe.

The War on Europe had raged for two years before the attack on Pearl Harbour and the news of Nazi Germany was wide spread. Despite no involvement from the United States at this stage, on  home soil Martin Goodman’s imprint of Timely Publications, Timely Comics, presented the superhero, Captain America. Co-created by writer Joe Simon and legendary comic book artist, Jack Kirby, the character was consciously based on their own political views and although the US had not entered the conflict, the creators were more than explicit in the depiction, as the heroic Captain America punched Adolf Hitler in the jaw. Bold and unapologetic in its message, this was satire only the US could illustrate through their patriotic nature from the safety of their own shores.

After the huge success of Action Comics #1 and the introduction of the seminal character, Superman the birth of the superhero had become a major part of American culture. Defining the Golden Age of comics further, both DC and Timely set out to produce more inspiring stories, at first influenced directly by the pulp stories and serials, such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers and then the mounting fear that their own country may be heading to war. ‘Writing super hero comics,’ Simon recalled, ‘we were always looking for that great villain. It was becoming hard to think of a better villain than Adolf Hitler.’ It only seemed a natural reaction at the time for Simon and Kirby to create a hero who could punch the Führer in the face. With children on the streets already playing soldiers with pretend guns at pretend Hitlers, it only made sense to justify the character further by targeting both child and adult alike. There was both a spiritual and economic sense to it all that added to the success of the character, which led to the unprecedented gamble of offering the Captain America his own title.

The Shield  appeared in Pep Comics #1 from the MLJ company and was a precursor to Captain America. One of the first superheroes with a costume based upon United States patriotic iconography. The character was later integrated in to the DC Universe.

The Shield appeared in Pep Comics #1 from the MLJ company and was a precursor to Captain America. One of the first superheroes with a costume based upon United States patriotic iconography, the character was later integrated in to the DC Universe. Joe Simon’s original design of Captain America’s shield was too close to MLJ’s character and from issue #2 onwards, Kirby had redesigned the more iconic circular shield the Captain has carried ever since.

The launch of Captain America #1 was not only a success based on his response to the current zeitgeist but also to the legendary comic book artist, Jack Kirby who, after Timely evolved in to Marvel Comics during the start of the 60s, would also help create most of their superheroes during the birth of the Silver Age. Kirby’s solid inks and sense of scale and drama burst effortlessly from the panel borders and was a refreshing visual experience in the medium – a unique style that helped his co-creation stand head and shoulders above similar, patriotic attempts, such as the Shield that proceeded Captain America a year earlier.

Although the cover date was March 1941, the first issue was on sale a year prior to the United States’ decision to enter WWII. Suddenly, despite their best intentions, comic books and their characters were irrelevant in the context of a major conflict and those who were deemed ‘real heroes’ were the obvious, valid news stories. With a positive response in most readers, there were those who objected through hate mail and organised groups who protested outside Timely Publications’ offices. It would take the Mayor of New York’s support to quell the negative press and encourage further publication.

Despite particular upset and strong views that were expressed about the character, if there was ever a moment for a patriotic superhero then this was the time. Nine days after the first issue hit the newsstands, President Roosevelt told the United States of America that war was imminent and that America must be, ‘…the great arsenal of democracy’.

To be continued in The Conflict of Captain America – Part III

The Conflict of Captain America – Part I

The Conflict of Captain America – Introduction

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The Conflict of Captain America – Part I

J. M. Flagg's 1917 poster was based on the original British Lord Kitchener poster from 1914. Used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II, the concept of Uncle Sam can be traced back as far as the War of Independence in 1812.

J. M. Flagg’s 1917 poster was based on the original British Lord Kitchener poster from 1914. Used to recruit soldiers for both World War I and World War II, the concept of Uncle Sam can be traced back as far as the War of Independence in 1812.

Points of View

‘Patriotism is an instant reaction that fades away when the war starts.’ Mick Jagger

For the European Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th Century, group dedication and the notion of civic virtue conflicted with the loyalty of the Church where they criticised what they believed were the excesses of patriotism. In 1774, the English writer, Samuel Johnson published The Patriot, a critique of what he viewed as false patriotism, stating, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.’ Although the quote is ambiguous in nature, it is believed that Johnson was in fact attacking the false use of the term ‘patriotism’ by his contemporaries of the time and continued to promote in favour of what he considered ‘true’ patriotism.

There have been many political leaders who have promoted their own ideals and, indeed, fought to gain control over the masses through social conditioning in an attempt to impart their own personal views and behaviours in an attempt to support a state’s decisions and actions. It has often been debated that the devotion to one’s cause, specifically the attachment to your country of origin, is intrinsically linked to nationalism. Karl Marx’s famous words, ‘The working men have no country’ cemented that those who benefitted through capitalism would segregate the class systems further. The ideals of nationalism have become a heated cause for debate; since the Marxists had taken their own various stances concerning patriotism in an effort to promote a socialist world commonwealth, hence the conflicts between capitalist and communist states during the 20th Century.

It could be considered that the patriotic perspective is distinct from other forms of attachment such as a religious standpoint or romantic partner, as the desire for interpersonal attachment and the need to belong is a fundamental motivation in human nature. When studying this more closely, from both a political and social view, there are two main perspectives on the basis for nationalism. One is the primordialist – a reflection on the evolution of humans to organise in to distinct groups based on an affinity of birth. The second is the modernist perspective that requires the structural conditions of a modern society in order to survive.

In today’s modern world, multinationality in a single state has often delivered controversial views on defining what would constitute a nation, which has led to many different strands of nationalism. Therefore, the relevance of patriotism is put in to question more than ever – whether it can truly be accepted as a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one identity, ethnic, cultural or religious group. There will always be a minority, whether it is Karl Marx’s worker or racial creed and the adoption of national identity, in terms of historical development, is the result of a response by influential groups unsatisfied with traditional identities. This is due to those inconsistencies between their defined social circumstances often resulting in a particular society reinterpreting their identity by removing elements deemed unacceptable in order to create a more unified community. These developments and responses are more than often the result of internal structural issues or the result of resentment by an existing group towards other communities, especially foreign powers that are deemed to be in control of them.

Despite its complex nature, national personification has never been more prominent in politics through the use of commercial art – a visual approach to distil and represent an entire nation through the use of one, concise image. Predating an Orwellian society, this echo of Big Brother would become a significant part of the cultural landscape, synonymous with what it mean to belong to a particular society. From the famous image of Lord Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’, to Uncle Sam; the influence of these particular campaigns have drawn nations together, divided societies and sent thousands to their deaths. There is no doubt that the potency of these characters and what they stand for convey a strong message and are an obvious precursor to the birth of the superhero as propaganda tool.

To be continued in The Conflict of Captain America – Part II

The Conflict of Captain America – Introduction

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The Conflict of Captain America – Introduction


Captain America, Alex Ross

Role Models

Keep flying, son. And watch that potty mouth!’ Captain America, Civil War #1

The image of Captain America has stood bold and bright in the public consciousness for over seventy years but until the more recent success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers has never quite connected with a modern audience and perhaps less so with anyone outside the United States. It could be argued that the patriotic heritage has been a thorn in the character’s side – stars and stripes emblazoned across his uniform, his Shield a symbol of protection – he is no Dark Knight, instead the living symbol of liberty and the pursuit of the American Dream, which, in terms of visual appearance can boarder on high camp. Until the release of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), the costume had never really been explored and it is during the film that the contrast between star-spangled tights and functional fatigues helped to deliver a believable interpretation of the character.

From the birth of the blockbuster to the onslaught and domination of comic book related movies of the past decade, the impact of the superhero has never been more potent and influential on popular culture. Gone are the days when comic books were uncool. Since Marvel’s Iron Man hit the big screen in 2008, what were considered second-rate characters have now become first rate; giving birth to an intricate and hugely successful series of interwoven storylines that has helped build one of the most ambitious events in the history of film.

America, the powerhouse nation that has strived to build its own mythology from the remnants of the Wild West, has always struggled with its history and sense of identity. During the Industrial Revolution the birth of the revolver and subsequent Gold Rush only intensified conflict between individuals who sort control and possession over their plots of land. Some would say a natural human instinct, such prosperous times and the promise of a ‘New World’ had become the foundations of the American Dream. America had eventually sort independence, divided itself in two and eventually built the Skyscraper watching their cities grow towards the sky as iconic landmarks. A nation of great wealth and power, America’s influence upon western society was unrivalled.

Comic book culture was born in America. The US format had never really been imported during the Silver Age of the 1960s and therefore had no real impact or social significance on British culture at the time. Hardly taken seriously in their country of origin, superheroes had no real place in the UK and would take another twenty years before they arrived on spinner racks and then gravitated to specialist shops. Although the British weeklies were enough to satisfy your appetite, during the 1980s it was hit or miss finding the next issue of a US monthly title.

From my own point of view, Captain America had no impact on me growing up. The only Marvel characters I was familiar with at an early age were Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk and this was mainly due to their own television series that aired in the late 70s.

Brought up in the UK and educated by a family of Aircraft Engineers, both my Father and maternal Grandfather had the irreplaceable skillset and knowledge informed by a more pragmatic approach to their life. Both were Fathers without fathers and had taught themselves and although there were stories of adventure from their childhood, both generations had grown up fast and left their fantasies behind. My Grandfather in particular fleetingly showed an interest in commercial art before serving his apprenticeship, entering the R.A.F. at sixteen and embarking on a twenty-seven year career as an Engineer and then a Technical Author for Rolls Royce. Like my Father, the information they both dealt with was hard and tangible facts that kept everything in motion. In some ways they would have related more to Tony Stark’s affinity for all things mechanical than Steve Rogers’ US patriotism – from both their points of view it has always been rather difficult to witness the American stereotype of winning WWII all by themselves.

Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War was a meticulously researched account of British soldier, Charley Bourne who, underage, enlists to fight in the trenches. Mills and Colquhoun provided an extremely frank portrayal of the horrors of war and an unforgettable account of the conflict for adult and child alike.

Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War was a meticulously researched account of British soldier, Charley Bourne who, underage, enlists to fight in the trenches. Mills and Colquhoun provided an extremely frank portrayal of the horrors of war and an unforgettable account of the conflict for adult and child alike.

Although I have very fond memories of my family’s history lessons, I was an escapist at heart…the fantasist of the family – an only child who was constantly looking for a fix to distract me and spark my own imagination. Comic books were very important to me and in the early years I was attracted to what I recognised from those history lessons and immediate influences – the War Stories, most of which were published in Commando and the British weekly, Battle. Not only did it provide wonderful realism in the shape of Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War but eventually the introduction of the more commercial G.I. Joe, branded in the UK as Action Force.In retrospect, with the impact of merchandising and the insidious nature of advertising, it is very easy to see where the interest in superheroes took hold. In my early years I showed very little interest in patriotic characters having now graduated to Batman and The Punisher, and The Uncanny X-Men – the perfect diet for my adolescence. I didn’t care for symbolism at thirteen. All that was important reading comics was the story and the character’s relevance to me. Captain America was no Batman, not even Superman – there needed to be a voice that spoke to the individual instead of a particular society.

Unlike the more universal appeal of Superman, Captain America has survived more as a national hero and it has taken the modern age of comics to help reinvent the way he is portrayed through life, death and rebirth. In a post 9/11 world many important questions were brought to light based on controversial views and conspiracy theories. Despite specific views, most of us would like to think we are united in the belief that terrorism is a war we can’t fight and that real heroes represent something far too complex to summarise in this essay. The world is both the same but different to the outbreak of WWII and it is this same conflict that Steve Rogers has had to contend with as writers have used the current paranoia to fuel intelligent, meaningful stories based on political and social commentary. For once, Captain America has had more to say than ever yet still struggles with the very same problems that some people find in the character. With this in mind, what kind of man should be allowed to wield the shield?

The Conflict of Captain America – Part I

The Conflict of Captain America – Part II

The Conflict of Captain America – Part III

The Conflict of Captain America – Part IV


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Bats and Ravens: Analogy of a Dark Knight

plate14On October 3rd, 1849, one of the great literary figures of the 19th century was found in a state of delirium on the streets of Baltimore. Four days later, Edgar Allan Poe passed away, not only leaving behind speculation and conspiracy surrounding his death but a legacy that defined both modern horror, science fiction and the birth of the Detective novel.

To say that Poe was an influential writer would be an understatement. References to his fiction, whether subliminal or not – have embedded themselves in most of the art forms that embraced such revolutionary times. Poe died at the height of the Industrial Revolution – heralding dramatic change in political, economical and social status where commentaries were circulated at an alarming rate through the rapid growth of newspapers and periodicals. These writers who followed Poe; such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells with their proto sci-fi tales; Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Detective, Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft’s distinctive horror were all a direct product of their time. It was during the late 19th and early 20th century that these writers’ own contributions to literature became hugely influential in their own right.

Poe’s influence was imbedded in modern literature. His stories had begun to forge part of the modern American myth, yet it would need less personal accounts to take his themes of loss and despair to a whole new level. It would take not just the death of a writer to spark this change and give birth to modern heroes, but the collapse and depression of a nation.

Where Superman was heralded as the beacon of light during the Great Depression – one that would give hope and strength – Bob Kane’s Batman was the antithesis that lurked in the shadows. One was a God raised by humble farmers whereas the other was born in to wealth and luxury only to witness his parents’ murder. The result is a man of deep torment who channels his loss to hone newfound skills to fight organized crime. Although there are traces of Poe through the character’s brooding, gothic nature, Bruce Wayne does not wallow away in self-pity as witnessed in Poe’s stories. Instead he channels his negativity in to a zen-like instrument of self-control that is unleashed and executed with necessary force. His choice of symbol is one to strike fear in to the heart of organized crime and the mask he wears allows him to hide behind that symbol. All the while the boundaries between the symbol and how much of the mask is truly Bruce Wayne, are blurred.

batmanyearone_06To view more parallels to Edgar Allan Poe, let us look at the iconic scenes of a man in mourning, the most famous of which, The Raven presents the writer alone in his study, where the infamous bird reminds him of the loss of his dear Lenore. Bruce Wayne, contemplating his future alone, witnesses a Bat, not so much a tapping or gentle rapping; but more of a dramatic crash through his window. The incident inspires a potent symbol of fear, a scene so similar to the works of Poe it seems somewhat awkward in its intent. But the story of Batman is one that has been reinterpreted through zeitgeist by many talented writers and artists, which is where such a character becomes an interesting analysis. This dissection of the character is a dissection of both a state of mind and the society it inhabits. Understanding this unlocks the layers and delivers the classic tales that are important and influential; whether it is the sadistic nature of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke; Frank Miller’s origin of Year One and bookend, The Dark Knight Returns; Tim Burton’s gothic pantomime, Batman; Warner Brothers’ definitive Batman the Animated Series or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy; each tale has it’s own, distinctive style and message.

What sets Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy apart from previous incarnations is the sheer scope and believability of the world – an earnest rendition that could be criticised for taking itself too seriously. Here we have a series of films that have embraced the mythology. Not only is Nolan conscious of the characters’ roots but also the commentary they have on today’s society. In Nolan’s universe, Bruce Wayne has never been closer to Poe as he mourns the loss of his loved one and hides away in his mansion burying himself in further remorse. In the final entry, The Dark Knight Rises, our hero is broken in mind, body and soul and is unlikely to ever recover until he is thrust back in to the pain and turmoil of his city. It is here that he must, once again, confront his enemies who are only a reminder of what he could become if he crosses the line.

Is it a coincidence that the Dark Knight returns during a time of turbulent, economic crisis throughout the world? There are many who would say otherwise. However, for an icon to become such a potent symbol it must survive particular social commentary, political views, ideals, age groups and universal language. All of these areas carry an interpretation and help build the mythology and the legend of any story worthy of standing the test of time.

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75 Years of Superman – Part VI


DC comics’ 9-11: Artists Respond Volume 1, 2011 published as a tribute to the real superheroes.


‘Superman comics are a fable, not of strength, but of disintegration. They appeal to the preadolescent mind not because they reiterate grandiose delusions, but because they reiterate a very deep cry for help.’ David Mamet

The notions of ‘truth and justice’ were questioned more than ever on September 11th, 2001 when the concept of heroes and heroism was stunningly redefined. No longer would home runs and goal scores be thrown around so loosely when defining what it actually means to be a hero – this was about true sacrifice where a real sense of purpose had to be outlined. A Fireman is a Hero…a Policeman, the everyday man working in the wreckage of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. With the reality of the ‘ordinary hero’ – the most staple and often the most reluctant – the drama and subsequent conflict that had erupted from post 9/11 had demonstrated what would follow if a nation was threatened on home soil and what people were willing to do in their response. All of a sudden, the reality of who Superman was bore little relevance. Coincidently, in the Adventures of Superman #596, published on September 12th, 2011, the Lex Corps own Twin Towers are seen partially destroyed by an alien invasion – the issue’s cover showcasing a black background to the iconic emblem and stating, ‘This is Not a Job for Superman’. As the story was written several months previously, the images only fed into the surrounding conspiracy of 9/11. In their respects to the fallen, the big two publishers released their own anthologies to honour the real heroes of the disaster.

In certain positions, men and women put their lives on the line and bare witness to horrific events they must deal with each and every day without super-strength, X-ray vision, the ability to fly and above all else no invulnerability to bullets. These people form an imperative part of society and in truth reveal a far greater virtue than any fictitious hero. Superman is merely a superhero, yet, in the importance of reality and keeping our thoughts placed firmly on the ground, he is can only, to most, be a character who has captured the public’s imagination and become a strong and potent icon. But, despite his fictitious nature he has been there be to imprint on younger minds often as much as religious archetypes and in some instances become a replacement or metaphor for those same stories. It has often been the child in all of us whose imagination has been captured by such characters and helped us strive to do good, whether considered myth, legend, religion…or one in the same – a good story with a strong, central figure serves an even greater purpose.

There is no doubt that in a world without Superman, humanity would survive. In his own universe, The Death of Superman and subsequent World without Superman tales have reflected how those he has left behind have dealt with taking on the responsibilities and legacy he has left behind, until his eventual return or reboot. However, in our efforts to view beyond our own world as a source of inspiration, there is a prior need to motivate and inspire. Where some see him as a voice of reason and respect, others appose what he stands for due to his all-powerful nature. His patriotic background can also be perceived as something that does not always ring true to other nations and presents an argument in how truly universal he is as a character. Not only is he alienated by the mere definition of the word but also in what he represents to his country of origin – an archetype born out of a reaction and escape from harsh times, ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’,…yet, to be reinvented when another depression chokes the world. In despondent times, where humanity is beginning to lose faith in what primarily keeps the world turning, the idea of a Superman – Man of Steel…a Man of Tomorrow, seems to be the most optimistic representation of what we should all aspire to be.

We are often defined by the choices we make in life and the dilemmas we may face. Superman seems impervious and invulnerable to most forces but he is still unable to be in two places at once, which often presents the challenge of who he should save when his enemies present such a difficult decision. Choices are simply another form of kryptonite that often result in dire consequences when he is either forced to choose saving the life of one closest to him over the lives of many. These choices are what defines the ‘man’ and results in a redundant use of the word ‘super’.

His vulnerability is what makes him more human than most – his heart often torn between his fears and responsibilities. From a psychological point of view, it is fear that can define most people as it teaches us the value of our own mortality and helps us to question our own belief system.

‘Far from being invulnerable, Superman is the most vulnerable of beings, because his childhood was destroyed. He can never reintegrate himself by returning to that home- it is gone. It is gone and he is living among aliens to whom he cannot even reveal his rightful name.’ David Mamet

Superman is about being the most virtuous man on Earth and more than ever, in today’s world, people need to know that good still exists out there. Any fear of rejection and a belonging in the world – the same fears that most of us may have – makes Kal-El all the more human and therefore not quite so perfect as one would first think. This is his trues weakness…and, in understanding this, is the key to telling an effective Superman story. Whether he exists or not, in fact or fiction, an archetypal figure as prominent in popular culture as Superman will go on to inspire for centuries to come. He is our legacy of the modern era in the same way all the great stories have left their mark throughout history and will go on to be embedded in a far grander mythology for centuries to come.


Part I: First of His Kind

Part II: Power and Invention

Part III: Truth, Justice and the American Way

Part IV: On Screen

Part V: Origin(al) Tales

Part VI: Choices

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75 Years of Superman – Part V


John Byrne’s Man of Steel, 1986.

Origin(al) Tales

‘Krypton bred me, but it was Earth that gave me all I am.’ The Man of Steel, John Byrne, 1986

Delving in to the influences and the DNA of such characters helps to understand what has shaped and refined them. In much the same way as an individual is shaped by their own surroundings and those who imprint on them – we are all as much a result of our circumstances and the environment we are brought up in as the collective knowledge that is passed down to us. It is no different for fictitious characters – this is how they have managed to survive and continue to capture the imagination – a result of both their own inheritance and archetypal nature that has allowed them to relate to their audience. Superman has moved with the times, perhaps not as crucially as his contemporaries, yet, when the time has felt right, his origin has been retold.

In fact, when revisiting the great Superman stories those that often stand out the most are the origin tales. After the publication of Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? that ended an era for Superman before his modern reboot in the 1980s during Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne, as both writer and artist, set out to retell a modern origin. In Man of Steel (1986), Superman had acquired such a firm stance in the public’s own consciousness that the iconography was enough to allow for the marketing of another pseudonym and is arguably the most successful incarnation to date, arriving at a defining time in the history of comics alongside Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Where Miller and Byrne redefined the two major linchpins of the superhero genre, Moore redefined the idea of the superhero and in doing so gave birth to the modern age of comics. It took British cynicism to see what made superheroes tick – a real world sensibility that not only delved in to the minds of archetypes but also performed the entire lobotomy. Miller’s Batman was a dark, brooding and brutal force of nature who, in The Dark Knight Returns, had not been seen for a decade – an ‘out of touch’ version of Batman… yet, a Batman who was perhaps more in tune with his roots than ever before. And amongst the darkness and intense storytelling, Superman’s light still burned bright in an effort to make himself heard. This was the antithesis of Miller’s incarnation, where Superman is shown as no more than a government stooge carrying out orders from the White House to bring down his old friend.


Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdon Come, 1996.

Mark Waid’s collaboration with the artist Alex Ross resulted in their Elseworlds imprint title, Kingdom Come (1996) – a lavishly illustrated four part prestige format that harkened back to the work of Norman Rockwell. Told from the point of view of a Minister, the Spectre reveals the repercussions of warring superheroes as they contribute to the encroaching apocalypse. Asked to pass judgment on the superheroes, the Minister is witness to the return of a Superman who had abandoned his cause – one of many reflections of a world without a Superman during these times. On his return, Kal-El reforms the Justice League in his efforts to counterstrike and imprison those superheroes who have grown out of control.


Jeph Loeb and Time Sale’s For all Seasons, 1998.

After their success with Batman on The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale went on to tell a story that was a parallel to Byrne’s Man of Steel. For All Seasons (1998) concentrated primarily on the character of Superman – no galactic punch-ups and no full-scale invasion – this was simply a tale told from the perspectives of those who were closest to Clark Kent. Not only did this ground the character but reinforce the humble nature of Superman – a contradiction to how he may be perceived by the world. When we finally reach Lex Luthor’s perspective, a twisted love story of insecurity; where a man of intelligence is often a man who thinks too much…it ultimately leads to a breakdown of the soul and thirst for power. Where The Long Halloween was built around the use of holidays as a structure, Loeb and Sale’s tale dealt with seasons that gave further stability to a more personal rendition of the character.


Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s Birthright, 2003.

Although Kingdom Come was a critical success, Mark Waid’s own origin tale was to follow almost a decade later, post 9/11 and in light of a world who no longer needed fantasy heroes. Now there was a need for realism and as an extension on Man of Steel and For all Seasons, Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s, Birthright (2003-2004) explored the journey of Clark Kent as an activist and journalist, much like Bruce Wayne’s own pilgrimage to hone his skills as a crime fighter. Clark Kent would connect with humanity face to face and understand the issues at stake on a global level, while more importantly setting an example to billions. If the world could not be Superman, then he could only aspire to help the people of the world to do their best. Symbolism was key in setting up the character where the reasons he chooses to wear the costume are built layer by layer. The questions we have always asked, such as how no one recognises Superman under Kent’s glasses is beautifully handled and justified before delivering some of the best action sequences illustrated in comics. All the while the ‘S’ symbol is embedded fully within the world building arc helping to present both a clarity to how it is perceived through his own ‘birthright’ and society’s interpretation and their assumption of what it stands for – nothing more than their own label.


Mark Millar’s Red Son, 2003.

As a counterpoint to Waid’s origin, Mark Millar set out to deliver the ultimate Elseworld’s tale – a unique, origin with an imposing twist that sees the infant, Kal-El land in the Ukraine, rather than America. In Superman: Red Son (2003), the mythology of Superman is reimagined under the iron will of the Soviet Union where a Russian Man of Steel rises to power within a communist state where few are able to oppose him. Despite his social circumstances, the spirit of Superman’s is left, surprisingly intact and in spite of the system he’s working in, he attempts at all times to do the right thing. Whilst the outcome of much of what Superman does is questionable, his intentions are sincere. Despite his use as a weapon, he is still the hero of the nation he was brought up in and thoroughly believes in socialism in his attempt to make it work against the last surviving state of capitalism, America. This is not an evil interpretation of Superman…for that would have been too easy a path to take and therefore allows for the character to retain some sympathy.


Geoff Johns and Garry Frank’s Superman imbued with the spirit of Christopher Reeve.

Where Birthright set to build an origin for the 21st Century, Red Son smashed all preconceptions of how such an iconic character could be personified. Where one begged to question, ‘What if?’ the other would only remain canon for a limited time before Geoff Johns’ and Garry Frank’s Secret Origin was released in 2010. Post Infinite Crisis, and to tie in with continuity, the mini series was delivered alongside their run on Action Comics which delivered a number of tales, highly regarded as ‘definitive Superman’. It is no coincidence that Frank’s rendition is more than a homage to the late Christopher Reeve, influenced further through Johns’ own background and knowledge where his initial stories evolved from his collaboration with the original Director of Superman: The Movie, Richard Donner in their attempts to redefine the character. In fact, Johns worked for Donner as his intern gaining experience in the film industry while still maintaining his obsession for comic books, which has more than helped in his position as Chief Creative Officer at DC where he has gone on to redefine Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Justice League.


Steven T, Seagle’s and Teddy Kristiansen’s It’s a Bird, 2004.

It could be said, much like in Steven T. Seagle’s (no relation) and Teddy Kristiansen’s, It’s a Bird (2004), that Superman is the most difficult character to write. Through Seagle’s semi-autobiographical accounts, he not only explores what the icon means to the world and his effects on society but, from his own perspective, delves in to the more than overwhelming and all consuming task of writing a seemingly indestructible character. With a God-like figure there is little conflict that can be found and once an enemy is presented they must challenge and form the required conflict, otherwise there is often nothing left but to duke it out on a galactic scale before it becomes predictable and derivative. In the magnitude of these set pieces, this is where the soul of Superman can be lost. This is where It’s a Bird manages to successfully explore our own mortality through the writer’s eyes; while at the same time dissects the Man of Steel’s mythic importance and in doing so presents both an honest account of the writer’s efforts to do the character justice while at the same time questioning how much a ‘Superman’ means during the modern era.

With the launch of the New 52 in 2011, Grant Morrison and Rags Morales were handed the reins to, yet again, reinvent Superman to fit with a rebooted continuity in the New 52 Action Comics #1. As superheroes are seen with some hostility, Superman’s ‘Year Zero’ begins with a younger incarnation wearing nothing more than jeans, cape and t-shirt in an effort to gain the public’s trust, while at the same time reflecting a more rebellious attitude. Making a name for himself as a champion of the oppressed in Metropolis, he captures the attention of both the military and scientist, Lex Luthor, who are both interested in testing his capabilities as well as discovering what kind of threat he represents. With nods to the original, Reign of the Superman, it is no surprise that Morrison’s depth of storytelling eludes to the importance of his original inception and the iconography that has helped build such an important comic book character. Morrison is a man who submerses himself in the medium on many levels through personal experience and a full understanding of who the ‘man’ is – that portion of the character that is hidden amongst the actions of his ‘super’ powers.

SUPERMAN: ‘I can only tell you what I believe, Diana – humankind has to be allowed to climb to its own destiny. We can’t carry them there.’

FLASH: ‘But that’s what she’s saying. What’s the point? Why should they need us at all?

SUPERMAN: ‘To catch them if they fall.’ Grant Morrison, JLA #4

In Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero, he writes and performs observations about the character that could be seen as extreme yet breaks boundaries in how Superman’s own symbol of hope could be perceived. During the first chapter, ‘The Sun God and the Dark Knight’, Morrison states that:

‘When a god elects to come to Earth, he has to make a few sacrifices. In order to be born, Superman was called upon to surrender a few of his principles. As the price of incarnation, the son of Jor-El of Krypton was compelled to make a terrible bargain with the complex, twisty forces of this material world. That S is a serpent, too, and carries its own curse.’ (Morrison, 2011, p. 16)


Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, 2005-2008.

The ‘Sun God’, as Morrison refers to Superman, commits the ultimate sacrifice in, perhaps, the most definitive of his stories, All-Star Superman (2005-2008)a tale told with enough depth and poetic virtue that only elevated the actions of a dying hero beyond a the stature of a God…while still remaining the most human at heart, As she spoke, I watched 35,000 dead skin cells scatter like confetti…like promises…like the dust of dead stars.’ Although the Death of Superman during the 90s was a huge success, it was a product of its time – seen by many as more of a crass marketing move to increase sales that reflected the decline in the market that would follow. Morrison’s interpretation was story first and foremost – a version of Superman’s final sacrifice that could be taken as cannon as much as those reading Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Surreal, cerebral and playing against the conventions of comic book narrative, All-Star set out to reconnect with Kal-El through his final days. In contracting radiation poisoning while saving a mission to the sun, Superman, through a series of episodes, comes in to contact with a number of characters who are both his strengths and weaknesses. However, during his contact with them he leaves his mark before making his final sacrifice by reigniting the sun. In his final moments, Kal-El, Man of Steel, Man of Tomorrow…Superman, leaves Clark Kent behind and begins his transition to become the saviour he is destined to be and in doing so becomes the power at the centre of our universe.

To be continued in Part VI: Choices

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75 Years of Superman – Part IV


Christopher’s Reeve’s definitive incarnation of the Man of Steel in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978).

On Screen

‘What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely. From an acting point of view, that’s how I approached the part.’ Christopher Reeve

After the birth of the blockbuster in 1975, heralded by Steven Spielberg’s monumental Jaws, further big screen success soon followed in the shape of a science fiction, fantasy epic that harkened back to the serial matinees and pulps of the 1930s – an influence of popular culture at that time that was already a core part of Superman’s own DNA. With the release of Star Wars in 1977 it was clear that audiences were ready to embark on more epic adventures that embraced both character and the world they inhabited in a serious light. It was the right time to bring Superman to the big screen and explore the first superhero with genuine respect and belief that, ‘a man could fly’. Originally conceived in 1973, Superman: The Movie began to be developed and in seeking a scriptwriter, the producers turned to Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather to write the first draft. In order to remove the more campy elements, Richard Donner, who had been hired as Director after the commercial success of The Omen, hired Tom Mankiewicz as a creative consultant where the final script was given a more distinctive three act structure to help characterise the Superman universe.

‘This is no fantasy – no careless product of wild imagination. No, my friends. These indictments that I have brought to you today, specific charges herein against the individuals. Their acts of treason, their ultimate aim of sedition. These… are matters of undeniable fact. I ask you now to pronounce judgement on those accused.’ Jor-El, Superman: The Movie, 1978

During the opening act on the planet Krypton, Marlon Brando delivers his (fed) lines in an almost Shakespearean gravitas – the council halls and chambers of justice lit like the Heavens before it descends in to the all too familiar hue of Hell. The second act delves more in to Kal-El’s humble upbringing in Smallville resembling the spirit of Twain and Steinbeck before the final act arrives in the sprawling cityscape of modern America. By the time Kal-El has discovered the Fortress of Solitude and accepted his birthright we are finally introduced to the greatest representation of Superman to date.

‘Your name is Kal-El. You are the only survivor of the planet Krypton. Even though you’ve been raised as a human, you are not one of them. You have great powers, only some of which you have discovered.’ Jor-El, Superman: The Movie, 1978

As an unknown, Christopher Reeve embraced the nobility and spirit of Superman while at the same time showcasing his versatility as an actor in his portrayal of the mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent. Through subtle use of posture and bumbling awkwardness, Reeve was able to capture the hearts of millions with his definitive representation of the character. Reeve not only managed to capture the heart of millions and expose Superman to a new generation but also, along with Donner’s vision, gave birth to the first, true superhero on film that has become the blueprint for comic book movies ever since.


‘Kneel before Zod.’ In one of the most iconic onscreen villains to date, Terrance Stamp’s General Zod would present a genuine threat to Superman – intensified further by his choice of mortality in Superman II (1980).

With up to 75% of Superman II already in the can, Richard Donner’s disputes with the Producers left a large portion of the film unfinished. Steeped in controversy, Richard Lester continued to film an additional 51% of the film in order to acquire the credit as Director. The film’s story begins with the arrival of the Kryptonian villains – Terrance Stamp’s menacing portrayal as General Zod, femme fatale,  Ursa and the brainless brute, Non – and ends with Kal-El regaining his renounced powers after making the ultimate sacrifice to become human. Criticised by Donner for defaulting to audience expectations and Hollywood contrivances, it wasn’t until 2006 that the original vision for the sequel was released as Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut restoring up to 83% of Donner’s footage with snippets of Lester’s scenes to assist the narrative gaps needed to be filled.

Two more sequels were made to lesser success before Christopher Reeve retired from the part where, in 1995, he suffered a critical accident that harkened yet another tragic event with an actor linked to the part. With his strength and determination ultimately put to the test after thrown from a horse; in his final decade Christopher Reeve had become a representative of those who had suffered similar injuries and although his accident was seen as a cruel act of circumstance, the mark of his character would go on to touch millions of more lives through the harsh reality of his situation as much as through the fantasy of his onscreen presence. Christopher Reeve was more than just the people’s Superman…he was Superman.


Nicolas Cage’s costume fitting for Tim Burton’s ill-fated 90s reboot, Superman Lives.

However, the cinematic version would not be laid to rest. After several drafts, Clerks Director, Kevin Smith had been approached after his geek references were firmly worn on his sleeve and showcased to outlandish effect in his second film, Mallrats. Steeped in comic book fandom and supreme knowledge of the medium, it is of no surprise that Smith’s version of the treatment was considered to be the most faithful to the mythos – having built on The Death of Superman storyline that previous drafts had been based on. Tim Burton’s ill conceived reimagining followed with a miscast Nicolas Cage in the central role, envisioned a darker, more surreal take that seemed far more shaped to the success of Batman’s broodier nature, rather than the optimism of the Man of Tomorrow. Now, all that seemed to be left during the 90s was television where Superman’s popularity had returned to the small screen with a more romantic take on the character in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997). Later, as popular television programs such as Dawson’s Creek and Buffy: the Vampire Slayer personified the more hip, (unrealistic) philosophical teenager; a fresh take on the concept of a teen Superman took on the shape of the television series, Smallville (2001-2011), which envisioned the early years of Clark Kent before he would inevitably wear the cape. During the show’s success his return to the big screen in Superman Returns (2006) managed to capture a sense of nostalgia and eerie familiarity in the presence of Brandon Routh’s personification of Christopher Reeve.  In his attempt to reignite the franchise, Director Bryan Singer had tried to capture the same ‘genie in a bottle’ that had brought the X-Men franchise to the big screen – but with mixed reviews (Superman reverting to a peeping Tom and home wrecker) it seemed certain sensibilities were handled in an awkward manner that, at times, seemed oddly out of touch.


Man of Steel (2013) official film poster. After the success of Batman’s rebrand as The Dark Knight, it was only inevitable that Superman was rewarded the same treatment.

We are currently still within a depression and in an effort to reach a wider audience and deliver a modern, cinematic rendition of the character, Christopher Nolan’s production of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, released on June 14th, 2013, has the potential to deliver ‘hope’ to the masses in the form of escapist and equally optimistic entertainment. In the relatively unknown, Henry Cavill – another British actor who has become fortunate enough to personify one of the ‘big two’ – we are sure to witness an actor who will encompass a similar gravitas and humble nature, much like his presence as Charles Brandon in the television series, The Tudors (2007-2010). Man of Steel arrives at a turning point where hopefully the public wish to see less of the dark and brooding nature of flawed heroes and seek a supreme example of what a hero is – ‘You will give the people an ideal to strive towards…’ – That means no anti heroes or dark avengers – a hero who is pure and unparalleled – a hero who, despite their God-like abilities, is first and foremost human at heart – pure, incorruptible and an inspiration to millions.

To be continued in Part V: Origin(al) Tales

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75 Years of Superman – Part III


Fredric Wertham’s book, Seduction of the Innocent published in 1954 ended the Golden Age in his cynical, damaging account of the influence of comic books on youth culture.

Truth, Justice and the American Way

‘Superman has the big the big S on his uniform – we should, I suppose, be thankful that it is not an S.S.’ Fredric Wertham

In 1954, German-American psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham’s damaging study on the impact of comics on youth culture was reflected in his book, The Seduction of the Innocent. Not only did Wertham set out to prove that adult content, depicted in popular crime and horror comics, was corrupting youth culture, but also the positive role models of superheroes. It was one point to highlight and attempt to prove the influence of sex, violence and drug use corrupting the children of the time, but Wertham went further in the hidden conjectures of Wonder Woman’s bondage, Batman and Robin’s homosexuality and Superman’s fascism. Although Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton had admitted to misogynistic undertones during her early years, Wertham only further documented the evidence, fueling more claims that her strength and independence presented her as a lesbian.

Despite Siegel and Shuster’s left-wing stance that originally championed Superman as a social activist in his fight against corrupt politicians and businessmen, Wertham’s misguided theories were selective at best. Even in light of the Roosevelt era, which tended to lean more towards a more liberal idealism, there was still no denying the good causes that the character continued to uphold – non more so than his battle against the Ku Klux Klan during a 1946 Radio broadcast. Having tapped in to an important aspect of the American identity, made more relatable due to their own Jewish immigrant background, it seemed implausible for fascism to rear its ugly head. But in their links to Neitzche’s influential work and further evidence that Hitler had found relevancy in shaping his own new world order, Wertham stood by his beliefs.


Classical Greek sculpture depicted the battles, mythology, and rulers of Greece. Changes in style saw improvements in the function of sculpture, along with a dramatic increase in technical skill that represented a more realistic human form. ‘Realistic’ in the true, Greek sense of the word – showcasing the perfect human form of a ‘super man’.

Superheroes, have indeed gone on to glorify the physical form in much the same way as the historical, stylised images and sculptures of the Greeks and Romans. The study of human anatomy was one that related to power and godhood as much as understanding the processes involved in depicting the physical form and in looking at theses examples in more detail it is easy to see how vulnerable Superman is to such accusations of fascism. Even when considered coincidental, it is still enough to spark strong debate. His adversary, Lex Luthor is a man of high intellect concerned with domination and the manipulation of society, utilising both science and reason in his efforts to destroy Metropolis or rather bend the utopian city to his own means. Yet, it is Superman, with his sheer strength who prevails in forcing man to surrender his own beliefs in forcing the physically weaker to yield and prevent their twisted ideals. Either way, Wertham used both perspectives of the superhero and villain, only seeing the patriotic stance of, ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’ as no more than nationalism. Fascists were not the first to use classical archetypes and physically imposing figures to convey a message nor will they be the last. Throughout history there are many beautiful interpretations of human nature that have inspired godlike figures and it is only in the eyes of those who wish to use these examples to empower and dictate that they should be labeled ‘fascist’. Superman reminds us that there is a limit to reason and that this is seen through his enemies in their own blind devotion to an irrational worldview.

Seduction of the Innocent resulted in the establishment of the Comics Authority Code and the banning of major horror and crime titles of the time, which resulted in the death of the Golden Age. Since its publication, Wertham’s theories have been disproven and his own motives questioned in targeting the comics industry. Superman survived the claims and in 1951 his first foray in to a feature length film was released. Superman and the Mole Men rejuvenated the ailing career of George Reeves who went on to star in the hugely popular television series, Adventures of Superman from 1952 to 1958. However, despite Superman surviving fascist accusations, news headlines in 1959 reported George Reeves’ apparent suicide – a mysterious Hollywood case that gave rise to the first, official ‘Death of Superman’. For millions of fans, Superman was dead and the empire surrounding the Man of Steel seemed more at risk than ever before. However, despite his film and television incarnations and the related merchandise linked to the popular series, Reeve’s death had no impact on the comics.


Despite it’s February, 1964 issue date, Action Comics #309, hit the stands in the first week of December, roughly a week after JFK’s assassination and was too late to be recalled.

In their efforts to make the new stories less physical and more emotional, DC comics began to channel the current zeitgeist and build further on their success in channeling the popularity of the space related merchandise aimed at children. The late 1950s were considered to be the beginning of the Silver Age of comics and during the 1960s, Superman became more in tune with the newly elected John F. Kennedy’s values and optimism. However, when another generation grew disillusioned upon his assassination, optimism spiraled in to race riots and militant activism against the Vietnam War. After a more spiritual revival in the aftermath of the Vietnam, the Judeo-Christian allegory was brought more to the forefront – not so much a substitute for a religion but for the underlining mythology that had developed over the years and made Superman such a universal character. The time had arrived to inject the right amount of depth and poignancy and deliver a fresh cinematic vision that would serve the character justice.

To be continued in Part IV: On Screen

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