United States, World

The Pro-War History Behind Comic Books

Without war, your favorite superhero movies might not exist today. Many superhero movies today are based off of the comics that came out during the World War II, like Superman and Captain America. Children and adults fell in love with these comics, but entertainment wasn’t the only goal of the creators. Comics through the years of the World War II were extremely important to the war because they influenced people to support the war, and also gave people an “escape” from the outside world.

World War II was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It resulted in almost 60 million deaths, both civilian and military. It was by far the bloodiest war in history, with nearly 3x as many casualties than World War I. 2 years after the war started, the US joined due to the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese. This led to American Forces joining the Allied powers, including France, the UK, Canada, and the USSR. Together, they fought to destroy the axis powers, Japan, Italy, and the most infamous, Germany. Germany was led by Adolf Hitler, an evil dictator who believed the Jews were the reason behind Germany’s economic troubles in the early 20th century. He was the mind behind the Holocaust, the genocide that took place in the 1940s, which led to the death of over 6 million Jewish people in Europe. He was hated by Americans, mainly because he wanted to destroy the US. The United States military needed everyday citizens to help in the war effort against Germany. Women operated factories to build ships, tanks, and planes while their husbands were away at war. Children were encouraged to recycle metal and rubber to build tanks. Although there was a lot of assistance, the government needed even more people to help out. This led to the advertisement and education of the war to everyday comic readers.

The US military needed the support of each and every citizen, whether they supported or opposed the war. A great way to spread their message was through comic books. Comic books “allowed readers to fantasize about punishing real life wrongdoers.” (Scott A. Cord). Children were unable to fight in the war, but if these comic books spread the message that it was their duty to destroy the opposition, and always beat the “bad guy”, they would for sure contribute to it. An example of a hero that punished these “wrongdoers” would be Superman. Before the war started, comic strips were released showing Clark Kent’s superhero persona “fighting oppression, bullies and petty dictators beginning with his first appearance in Action Comics #1.” Children and other readers alike were encouraged to stand up to enemies, and not back down to petty dictators. According to COMIC BOOKS AND WORLD WAR II: BUYING INTO THE WAR, an article published by historyrat.wordpress.com, “[Superheroes] did things like deliver supplies, stop spies at home, and do whatever they could do to help the soldier while in the US”. This showed that the children reading did not need to be on the battlefield to help their brothers. However, there were comic strips that included more violent stories, the first of its kind being Captain America. A full 9 months before the event at Pearl Harbor, a Captain America comic book was released, with the cover being him punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Perhaps the US anticipated that they would join the war even before the attack at Pearl Harbor, and needed support early on. Within a year of that comic being released, Captain America comic books were flying off the shelves. The message of these stories was that “[Captain America] always fought by the “rules” of war and won. His antagonists always “cheated” and lost.” (R.T. Johnson, creator of history at.wordpress.com), thus justifying the violence used against his enemies.

The era of World War II was a terrifying time for Americans. At any moment, an Axis-power ship, plane, or submarine could bomb your city, and you could do nothing about it. People needed an escape from reality, to forget their problems and stress, which overall led to the creation of new entertainment, and of course, new comic books. Children and adults alike could go to their room, cover themselves with a blanket, get a flashlight and their favorite comic, and read away, leaving all their thoughts behind. It created a whole new fantasy war, that insured them that the “good guy” would always win. Comic books were very reassuring to the reader, almost promising that the protagonist would win the fight every time. An article by Samantha Langsdale of The Guardian, states that “comic fans [were] ignoring serious issues by immersing themselves in the imaginary. But escapism in a world as mad as ours has a political – and practical – intent”. Samantha is saying that readers were forgetting about the troubles in real life (World War II), but at the same time, the books were influencing to support the war. The main intent of comic books during the war was to get the reader to support the war, but at the same time, offer them an escape from reality.

Comic books not only changed our lives today, but they also impacted countries all over the world. Throughout World War II, new editions of Captain America, Superman, and Daredevil were released every week, influencing people to support the war more and more. Our version of comic books today comes in the movies that Marvel and DC produce. Without a doubt those movies still influence people to support war. They encourage people to always root for the “good guys”, and that they always win. If you check out a popular superhero flick today, like Black Panther, pay attention to the pro-war messages it tries to get across. You’ll be surprised that it is still in movies to this day.

Article by Bronson Maringer & Video by Lief Sather

Work Cited

O’Neil, Tegan. “How the Cold War Saved Marvel and Birthed a Generation of Superheroes.”The A.V. Club, Www.avclub.com, 31 Mar. 2016, www.avclub.com/how-the-cold-war-saved-marvel-and-birthed-a-generation-1798246215.

Langsdale, Samantha. “Simon Pegg Is Wrong – Comics Aren’t an Escape from Reality, They Help Us Deal with It | Samantha Langsdale.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 May 2015, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/21/simon-pegg-comics.

Johnson, R T. “Comic Books and World War II: Buying into the War.” The History Rat, 23 Jan. 2017, historyrat.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/comic-books-and-world-war-ii-buying-into-the-war/.

Harrington, Wallace. “Superman and the War Years.” Superman Homepage, www.supermanhomepage.com/comics/comics.php?topic=articles%2Fsupes-war.

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