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A Succession of Heroes
Transcript of A Succession of Heroes
Theorist Joseph Campbell wrote, “It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back” (Campbell, 1968). The American culture thrives on Superheroes, but what is a hero really? Campbell claimed that a hero, "is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself" (Campbell, 1988). Looking back, it seems somehow predestined for comic books to come about in the 1930’s just as the world began to tremble before WWII.
Comics begin with a pencil and paper as the illustrator drafts the plot and creates thumbnails of the comic, and then move on to ink and color to fill in the images and complete the lettering, until finally the master pages are created. The pages are then scanned and recolored on the computer. From the computer, four sheets of plastic film are created that assist in the printing process.
Comic books were originally printed on newsprint paper, but have since moved on to a heaver stock. The printers use the four standard colors of ink: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The colors are added to the image in an interlocking pattern of tiny dots, which our eyes perceive as various colors.
The comic books are then made into prints that are mass produced and distributed in a magazine format, held together with staples or glue, known as the comic book. However, as time has gone by and new technology has been created, the artwork not only for comics, but modern art in general has changed drastically. With the use of new computer programs, many artists are capable of creating much sharper and crisper images and, overtime, printers have improved on quality and skill to create a larger variety of colors.
A Heroic Introduction
A curation by:
The Modern Age
Danielle Dax once said, "I find it strange the way human nature wants heroes and yet wants to destroy their heroes. It's a kind of mass insecurity people want something to look up to and get a buzz off but, at the same time, want to destroy it because it makes them feel insecure." As the Modern Age of heroes approached, a change in the character of the hero became evident. No longer were they driven by the same honest morals, but by darker desires and so the Modern Age is also sometimes referred to as the Dark Age of Comics. Shawn O'Rourke commented, “The characters were not motivated by noble ideals and cartoonish platitudes, but instead were driven by darker and more sinister forces...all of the characters are defined by traits that stand in complete contrast to the more traditional superheroes of the Golden and Silver Age template” (2008). As the development of the Modern Age progresses, heroes are starting to look more like villains.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOL. 1 #121 John Romita (June 1973)
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOL. 1 #122 John Romita (July 1973)
JUSTICE LEAGUE VOL. 2 #1 Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair (November 2011)
ULTIMATE COMICS WOLVERINE VOL. 1 #1 Art Adams, Axel Torvenius (March 13, 2013)
WATCHMEN VOL. 1 #1 Dave Gibbons (September 1986)
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS VOL. 1 #1 Frank Miller (February 1986)
CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS VOL. 1 #1 George Perez (April 1985)
ALL STAR COMICS VOL. 1 #8 Harry G. Peter (January 1942)
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS VOL. 1 #1 Jack Kirby/Joe Simon (March 1941)
MARVEL COMICS VOL. 1 #1 Frank R. Paul/Carl Burgos (October 1939)
DETECTIVE COMICS VOL. 1 #27 Bob Kane (May 1939)
ACTION COMICS VOL. 1 #1 Joe Shuster (June 1938)
SHOWCASE VOL. 1 #4 Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert (October 1956)
AMAZING FANTASY VOL. 1 #15 Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko (August 1962)
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD VOL. 1 #28 Mike Sekowsky, Murphy Anderson (March 1960)
THE FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 1 #1 Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers (November 1961)
X-MEN VOL. 1 #1 Jack Kirby, Sol Brodsky (September 1963)
GREEN LANTERN VOL. 2 #76 Neal Adams (April 1970)
GIANT-SIZE X-MEN VOL. 1 #1 Dave Cockrum (May 1975)
STAR WARS VOL. 1 #1 Howard Chaykin, Tom Palmer (July 1977)
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD VOL. 1 #60 Nick Cardy, Bruno Premiani (July 1965)
THE NEW TEEN TITANS VOL. 1 #1 George Perez, Dick Giordano (November 1980)
The Silver Age
The Golden Age
The Golden Age of comics is generally stated to have occurred between the late 1930’s until the early 1950’s. During this time, comic books were being nationally recognized and superheroes were emerging as the dominant comic book hero. Historically, this period for comics followed the First World War and spanned the Second, covering some of the most painful events in human history.
Several subject matters relating to the wars were reflected in the comics. Two of the most prevalent elements that can be seen is the influence of the atomic bomb and the portrayal of patriotism . Many of the heroes in the comics gain their super-human abilities from interactions with radiation. Historian Ferenc M. Szasz argues that the use of these nuclear elements was therapeutic to the young American readers because it eased their minds concerning the threat of nuclear war (Zeman, 2004). Heroes and other comic characters also began fighting Koreans and Communists early on in comics, appealing directly to the big-world problems the youth were facing at the time.
The most important element of the Golden Age is the creation of a standard by which all heroes are judged.
In this cover, Superman makes his debut in Action Comics as a man with super-human strength. The images are fairly simplistic, but as realistic as can be expected in comics at the time. Muscles and certain features are exaggerated if they are important, but as for the citizens whom Superman is serving—they blend into the background of his heroic deed.
He is clothed in the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. Steven T. Seagle speculated on the choice of these colors, wondering if those colors were chosen merely because of the “arcane printing limitations of 1938” or if something bigger was at work: “Red symbolizes health, strength and youth…the nobler shades of yellow: Chaste virginity. Buddhist humility. Asiatic royalty. The rarest saffron gold. Blue. The color of the sky. The unreachable heavens. You fly right through them, the envy of every earthbound man and woman…The blue metaphysical ideals—truth, infinity, faith—are all in you” (2004). Superman was the biggest icon of the Golden Age and set the standard for heroes everywhere.
"...And nothing less than a burst shell could penetrate his skin!"
"Bruce Wayne is a nice young chap - but he certainly must lead a boring life... seems disinterested in everything"
With the Golden Era of comics a time for people to be uplifted by possibilities, The Batman fits right in. Batman is often referred to as the every-man’s superhero. Neal Adams, an artist of the Silver age, wrote, “You must remember, Batman is the only superhero who is not a superhero. He has no powers....He's a human being bent on a mission” (Zehr, 2012). Batman was inspiring because he was attainable and something attainable was exactly what the public would need during the world’s darkest known hour.
We are still seeing simplistic images, but with the Detective Comics, there are sharp shadows. Shading isn’t quite existent in comics yet, but depth is created by stark black color applied to the places where a shadow would occur.
"No Horton, I'll be free, and no one will ever use me for selfish gain - or crime!" The Human Torch
This cover debuting Marvel's Human Torch is interesting because the hero of the comic has some devilish features rather than the good ol’ American chin we are used to seeing in the Golden Age. All of his features are pointed and sharp such as can be found in old adaptations of fairies, known to be mischievous folk. The Human Torch is also, obviously, affiliated with fire which also is normally associated to villains. Yet, somehow with all of this, the Human Torch managed to become fairly popular in his day.
"From now on we must both share this secret together...That means you're my partner, Bucky! " Captain America
What better hero for the American people than a real, live patriot? As the Golden Age of comic books was reaching its climax, Marvel's Captain America emerges as the Nazi party in Germany began making noise that couldn’t be ignored. He fights against Communism and anything else that doesn’t go along with what Americans deem just. You will notice the backdrop in the cover the Nazi party flag and the villain Captain America is punching has the stereotypical “Hitler mustache.”
It is also interesting to notice in this cover how shading is developing. In just a few years, the shading skill of the comic artists is expanding, creating more realistic and less cartoony images.
Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes, emerging around the same time as the “Rosie the Riveter” posters were distributed. She promoted strong women and patriotism, which is exactly what our country needed as men were getting ready to go to war against the Nazis. In some of her earliest adventures she was depicted as fighting the Axis Forces, so she fell in right beside Marvel’s Captain America and the patriotic trends that were being set.
As strong as she was, Wonder Woman still promoted female ideals and roles such as virtue and compassion. The majority of her powers and abilities stem from her magical weaponry and clothing, suggesting that women’s abilities stem from appearances. She also has some abilities to heal, something associated with female characters.
Yet, Wonder Woman was also known for promoting equality between genders and being just as strong and useful as her male counterparts. Wonder Woman was popular enough to go on to have her own series which began in the summer of 1942.
It is interesting to note that Wonder Woman has mannish features. Her shoulders are broad and her chest isn’t as accentuated as we will see it later. We perhaps might not recognize her as a woman if not for the features on her face and her clothing. Shading, again, has developed further to create a fuller image.
The Silver Age began with the return of the Flash is the aptly named comic, Showcase, revamped and paving the way for the return of many other superheroes that were canceled after the Golden Age. What’s interesting about this is how the writers and publishers of Showcase treated the story. Instead of picking up right where they left off with Jay Garrick as Flash, they created a new Flash, Barry Allen, to fit with the modern times. He was a police detective who got his powers of super-speed after being bathed in chemicals and simultaneously struck by lightning. He titled himself “Flash” after reading some of the Golden Age comics. Once the new Flash had gained momentum and popularity, he was given his own title and the story picked up where it left off in the Golden Age with a few minor adjustments.
Once the Golden Age story had been restarted, the writers had to do some explaining. How did the new Flash (Barry) and the old Flash (Jay) both exist? This dilemma provide the opportunity for one of the most important devices in comic book plot to emerge: the idea of alternate and co-existing universes, often referred to as parallel worlds. This devise was used in the resurrection of many heroes as well as later stories that needed a bit of spicing up.
The Silver Age also saw the creation of some all-new superheroes that are still prevalent today. One of which was Spider-Man. Spider-Man was piloted by head writer for Marvel Comics, Stan Lee. Lee said that Spider-Man was brought about because teens were desperate for comics. They needed a hero whom they could identify with and Peter Parker was just that (DeFalco, 2001). He was an awkward teenager, too smart for his own good, who gained his powers from the bite of a radioactive spider. What teenager doesn’t dream of that kind of life change?
Due to Flash’s success, many other DC comic superheroes from the Golden Age were also revived and combined to create the Justice League. They appeared in The Brave and the Bold only three times before receiving their own title. In its early days, the Justice League included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter. American writer Les Daniels commented, “Justice League was a hit. It solidified once and for all the importance of super hero groups, and in the process provided a playground where DC's characters could attract new fans while entertaining established admirers” (1995).
Over the years the Justice League has expanded, reduced, and expanded again, but the central three have always been Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. This story line continues to be adapted today for television cartoons such as Teen Titans, Super Friends, and the new Young Justice.
When WWII ended, the need for comics dwindled and many superheroes titles were canceled. In desperation to retain their readers, comic book publishers expanded their story telling into a vast array of genres including crime and horror comics.
The real turning point for comics occurred when Educational Comics fell into the hands of Bill Ganes in 1950, it was transformed into Entertaining Comics, taking a turn for the darker. In 1954, the Comics Code of Authority (CCA) provided the comic society with a list of criteria for writers and artists to follow that would ensure wholesome and moral stories were being published in the comic books.
This new way of thinking that brought about the creation of the strict criteria was encouraged by Fredric Wertham when he wrote his famous critique of the comic genre entitled Seduction of the Innocent. He claimed that there was a link between comic books and juvenile delinquency and parents bought into it, forcing comic book publishers to again change their stories in order to keep business afloat. This set of rules paved the road into a new epoch that lasted from 1956 to 1970: The Silver Age.
Marvel wasn’t ignorant to the Justice League’s success. In fact, writer Stan Lee recalls that he and publisher Martin Goodman were well aware of the success and working on their own group: “Martin mentioned that he had noticed one of the titles published by National Comics seemed to be selling better than most. It was a book called The Justice League of America and it was composed of a team of superheroes. ... ‘If the Justice League is selling,’ spoke he, ‘why don’t we put out a comic book that features a team of superheroes?’” (1974). Stan Lee combined forces with illustrator Jack Kirby to create the first Marvel team of superheroes: The Fantastic Four. The group is made up of Mister Fantastic who has the ability to stretch his body like an elastic (hence the pun to his name), the Invisible Woman who can become invisible and project force fields, the Human Torch whom we met in the Golden Age, and the Thing who has skin made of stone giving him super-strength as well as rendering him nearly invincible.
They were different from the Justice League however. Each hero was tied to the other in a mash-up family. Mister Fantastic married the Invisible Woman whose brother was the Human Torch, and Mister Fantastic’s closest friend and college roommate was Thing. Lee did this on purpose. By giving the heroes personal lives as well as superhero responsibilities, he created round and dynamic characters that spoke to the readers. Lee said, “For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading.... And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay” (1974). This dysfunctional family touched the lives of the readers and remains in publication today.
Another of Marvel’s superhero groups was the infamous X-Men, also created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Much like Spider-Man, the X-men appealed to the teenage audience because it was a team made up of teenagers. All recruited by Professor Xavier, the teens were given a place where they could be themselves, no matter how out of the norm that was, and trained on how to use their powers for the greater good. Again, every teenage at some point feels misunderstood and misplaced. Lee relied on the feelings of adolescent insecurity and need for self-discovery to sell his stories about his “uncanny” X-men.
In the Bronze Age, which lasted from 1970-1985, comic books were pushing the boundaries by portraying themes much deeper than the traditional “good vs. evil” to please an audience of readers who were beginning to experience some of the world’s most difficult trials. The rise of drug use and alcoholism during the 70’s and 80’s had a drastic effect on the rising generation. According to statistics gathered by Gallup, “The scare tactics of the 1960s gave way to the contradictory messages of the late '70s and early '80s. Drugs became glamorous, without becoming better understood. In fact, the 1981 book, The Truth About Drugs -- The Body, Mind and You by Gene Chill and John Duff, asserted that cocaine wasn't addictive. The ranks of those who had tried illegal drugs grew -- in 1973, 12% of respondents to a Gallup poll said they had tried marijuana. That number had doubled by 1977.” (Robison, 2002). Just as Stan Lee played on teenage emotions, comic book publishers knew they had a call to answer. Peter S. Beagle wrote, “Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half of their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairytale” (1968). Heroes needed be capable of bearing the burdens that the people were dealing with. In a way, the Bronze Age was a brief return to the Golden Age.
In response to the call for “real” heroes, several of the publishing companies broke the code set up by the CCA that predated the Silver Age. Plots were again darkened as writers and publishers tried to reach out to an audience who was changing. Real world issues need to be addressed for the readers’ sake.
The Bronze Age
With an era passing under the rule of the CCA, heroes retained their innocence and gave readers a wholesome figure to look up to. For the most part, the standards set up by the CCA helped revert comic books back to their purer form; however, there were others that went to the extreme and hindered the educational effects comic books can have on the youth. One of which was: “In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.”
Then, in the 1973 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, everything changed. Despite the strict rule that required Spider-Man to inevitably win the battle, the hero’s love interest, Gwen Stacy, tragically died. This is the first instance in comic book history where the villain actually succeeded in their plot to destroy the hero. Many were outraged at the raw material in the comic. This disheveling of the constant battle between good and evil, tipping the scales in the direction of the adversary, was brilliant. It broke the barrier for reality to slip back into comics and modern entertainment.
"That's right, Lantern... apologize. Grovel in front of that walking mummy. You call yourself a hero! Chum, you don't even qualify as a man. You're no more than a puppet... and the Guardians pull your strings. Listen... forget about chasing around the galaxy! And remember America. It's a good country... beautiful... fertile... and terribly sick! There are children dying, honest people cowering in fear, disillusioned kids ripping up campuses. On the streets of Memphis a good black man died... and in Los Angeles, a good white man fell. Something is wrong. Something is killing us all! Some hideous moral cancer is rotting our very souls…Come off your perch. Touch, taste, laugh, and cry! Learn where we're at... and why! " Green Arrow
Actor Timothy Dalton said, “You can't relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.” Green Lantern met up with Green Arrow, a darker kind of hero, resembling a cross between Batman and Robin Hood in the #76 issue of Green Lantern Volume 2. In the issues in which they were partnered up, many of the public’s concerns were addressed including poverty and drug use.
The partnership was really important because the darkness that flowed from Green Arrow’s character balanced out the invincibility of Green Lantern and presented a “real man” whom readers could relate to, someone they felt comfortable as representing them.
Also, Neal Adams was the first to begin to bring about a new sense of realism in comics. He challenged the flat and simplistic images found in the Golden and Silver Ages, bringing life to the heroes he drew.
Differing greatly from the original X-men, the Giant-Size X-men introduced more dynamic characters. Not all the X-men were teenagers. Some came from dark backgrounds and had questionable motives that made it difficult to tell who were heroes and who were villains.
Some things were constant. Cyclops, from the original X-men, led the new mutants along their adventures, but there wasn’t much training. Many of the mutants were already experienced in using their powers and some had even faced combat before. One of these new heroes, the Wolverine, has become one of the most well-known heroes, but is he truly a hero?
Another difference was that not all the mutants were Caucasian, bring attention to many of the world’s minority groups. The new mutants were from all over the world, ranging from Kenya, Japan, the Soviet Union, Ireland, and even the Apache Nation of Native Americans. The X-men were now known to be some of the most versatile heroes in the industry. This allowed the writers to comment on big themes like racism and prejudice in America.
During the Bronze Age there was also an abandonment of superheroes. Many readers were seeking these so-called “non-superhero” comics. The most popular of which was the Star Wars series published by the Marvel comic company in 1977. It was the most popular of the pulp fiction genre and had a nine-year run before it was bought out by Dark Horse Comics.
It is interesting in this cover that the illustration seems to have strayed back to the Golden and Silver Age with its stark shading and simplistic images. Compared to Neal Adams’ work, it feels immature. Yet, audiences sought after the new stories, leaving superheroes behind for a time.
As the X-men, DC’s Teen Titans were also revamped to fit the Bronze Age. Minority groups were included in their line-up and were released as the New Teen Titans in 1980. Following the example set by the X-men, the Titans were aged into early adulthood and were joined by several new characters with dark pasts.
It is also obvious that objectification of women has begun to seep into the comic genre by this point. The heroines are scantily clad and over accentuated in certain areas in an unrealistic way. Compared to the depiction of Wonder Girl on the left, Starfire, Raven, and the new Wonder Girl are clearly not accurately representing everyday women, though the same can be said for the men and their large muscles. Something can also be said however about the increase in the number of females serving as heroes.
"A legend dies at the hands of another. I'm beginning to see. That's what this world does to legends. It corrupts them. Or it destroys them." Kal-L
This issue is generally acknowledged to have bridged the gap between the Bronze Age and the Modern Age. As DC Comics was struggling to make sense of all the alternate universes and Earths they had created, the idea for the end-all of the parallel universes was created in Crisis on Infinite Earths Series. In hopes to reach some continuity and clarity in future issues, many heroes were “killed off” so to speak and resulted in a cancellation of their individual series for a time and many heroes breeched the boundaries of right and wrong. Wonder Woman was one of them.
"They're scared of us because of you. They've been broadcasting those images non-stop, Diana. Don't you understand? They all watched you. They all watched you murder a man". -- to Wonder Woman, Infinite Crisis #1—Superman
In a way, Crisis on Infinite Earths was a way for DC Comics to have a clean slate in which they could recreate their characters for the new audience that would emerge in the Modern Age.
"You've got rights. Lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel crazy. " Batman
Batman makes his appearance near the beginning of the Modern Age as the obvious break-out anarchist hero. In his series, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, created by Frank Miller, Bruce Wayne is revisited when he is 55 years old and has been retired for nearly a decade. Finding it difficult to remain in retirement during an upheaval of crime, Bruce Wayne again dons his costume and enters the streets of Gotham as Batman.
This storyline received a lot of criticism, both good and bad, for the abrupt change of character that was experienced as Batman broke his number one rule: He would never kill anyone. Critic Nicholas Slayton points out, “Gone are the traits that define Batman. The gothic atmosphere has been replaced with sterile militarization, and Batman went from a figure of the night who never kills to a hulking brute who has no problem using guns when necessary” (2011). This destroyed the original view of what Batman stood for and leveled him with everyday anarchist, removing him from the pedestal of hero.
"The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll look down and whisper "No." " Rorschach
American comic book writer Gerard Way remarked, “’Watchmen’ is a politically charged story, and it explores exactly what a hero is, how the world would treat them and how they would react. It was the first time I read a superhero story that explored that situation. These are very real people with very real problems.” Probably one of the darkest comics of the Modern Age, writer Alan Moore used the Watchmen to evaluate the superhero concept:
“Watchmen was about a number of things…We wanted to do a superhero story where we saw what would happen if you'd got a group of superheroes existing in a credible, real world, and what if these were credible, real characters emotionally-speaking, or at least as credible as we can make them. I suppose that was the basic premise – we thought we might get a darker than usual, grittier than usual superhero story out of it…And yes, Watchmen came to be about power. About power and about the idea of the superman manifest within society. Dr. Manhattan is…pretty obviously a walking bomb. There's more to him than that, but he is one level of human power. The other characters who are all dealing with this world in their own different ways – the way that Watchmen fitted together, it was about power, but it's about a lot of things.” (Whiston, 2002).
Alan Moore changed what a hero was. He transfigured an entity that ordinary could look up to and aspire to be into something to be feared. Bradford Wright described Watchmen as “Moore's obituary for the concept of heroes in general and superheroes in particular” (2003). the comics, the “heroes” are constantly degrading human beings. Dr. Manhattan, one of the main characters, remarks, “Time is a multi-faceted construct that human beings insist on viewing one surface at a time.” In this, the ordinary man becomes the problem, not the person to be saved, to be protected and preserved. In the Watchmen comics, we truly come to understand why this age has come to be known as the Dark Age of comics.
"I'm the best there is at what I do, but what I do best isn't very nice.” –Wolverine
Originally a member of the Silver Age X-Men, Wolverine emerged during the Modern Age as a standalone character and even got his own series. His rugged personality and animosity towards authority gained him a loyal following of dedicated readers. He became what is known as an antihero, or a hero who isn’t as wholesome as the established archetype would have him, or her, be. They step outside the bounds and bend the rules of society in order to accomplish their goals and sometimes disregard the common good for personal pleasures.
His kind of hero became common after the Vietnam War when people weren’t too sure their government was truly on their side. Wolverines violence and occasional, even increasing, use of deadly force was common among most of the anti-heroes in comics. It also landed him the lead in many of the X-Men movie adaptations.
With all the heroes forgetting what it means to be a hero, what are readers to do? There is still a silver lining even in this time of impending darkness. Good heroes can still be found in the comics, heroes who fight for humanity because they recognize their responsibility and duty to do so. In Justice League Volume 2 #4, Wonder Woman begins to doubt the League’s ability to help such a wicked people. Superman responds as such, “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.’” The conversation continues: “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.’” Superman exists as he always has, to protect those who need him and I think we will continue to need him.
In Action Comics #775 Superman stated, “Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us, and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honor, and justice becomes the reality we all share, I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” In a time when heroes are beginning to fall, to descend to the pit they are supposed to fight against, we have to choose those whom we will believe in carefully. We need to choose those who remain heroes.
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