Personal and Political Issues in Superhero Comics Especially the Cold War and Urban Crime Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2225 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Mythology

Comic Book/Cold War & Crime

In the earliest years of human civilization, they were called gods. They lived forever, and each had a special role or power. Although at times they interacted with the humans on earth, there was no denying that their ultimate rule. In modern American times, these superheroes do not rule over humans, but they do "rule," with millions of people who read or watch their activities. Throughout history, since Superman first appeared during WWII, these superheroes have played an integral role with various events occurring during present times. People have relied on these superheroes for different reasons since the 1940s. They started out as a motivational force to support the American political agenda against the country's enemies in WWII. Then, during the Cold War, the Fantastic Four continued with this agenda by fighting the ungodly Communists. However, as the country changed, so too did the superheroes, first with Spiderman, who tried to find a middle ground between two sides of an issue, and finally with the Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, where heroes and villains are difficult to tell apart. Have superheroes lost their place in society? It depends on how one views the ending of the Dark Knight Returns.

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When World II came to an end in the mid-1940s, it did not settle the animosity among all countries. In fact, the United States and the Soviet Union, who were Allies during the war, were now stocking up atomic bombs to protect themselves from one another. The term "Cold War" came from the fact that these two super powers were not using conventional "hot" warfare to fight one another, but rather a "cold" war of building up weapons, infiltrating each other's countries and spying on one another. The Cold War continued well into the 1960s or, as some historians believe, until either the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989 or when the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991.

Term Paper on Personal and Political Issues in Superhero Comics Especially the Cold War and Urban Crime Assignment

The fears that were associated with the Cold War filled every household and institution from the beginning. The nuclear bomb did not explode in the United States, but all Americans saw the devastation and decimation that this bomb brought to the Japanese people. Knowing that the Soviet Union, which could not be trusted, had similar bombs greatly increased the fears, as did Senator McCarthy's hunt of Communist sympathizers in this country. In addition to the atomic bombs, Americans were also terrified of the ominous advancement of Communism. The "Communist Scare" or "Domino Effect" became part of the vernacular. Since Communism is the direct opposite of Capitalism, it threatened the American way of life. Many Americans feared both nuclear war and a Soviet takeover of the country. Like a disease, Communism would spread worldwide unless stopped.

In his book Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America (2009), Costello introduces the numerous comic book characters who help fight the Cold War, such as Captain America, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man. Their arch enemies, "Godless Commie," fought against the morally upstanding Americans. This is a time in America, explains Costello, that framework of the American political cultural consensus is defined as a "common identity" where "freedom, progress, and providence would become the common language of American community."

According to Wright, anti-Communism was one of the most successful comic themes of the 1960s. These stories informed young readers about the Cold War and their role in it. The fear of Communism gave the comic book industry an opportunity to reprise its performance in World War II by speaking to its readers' fears and, at the same time, build its own patriotic public image. As parents continued to link Comic Books to problems such as juvenile delinquency and drugs, the time was right for comic book publishers to once again demonstrate that they were a socially responsible industry that was concerned about the welfare of American youth.

Mainstream comics were enjoying their Silver Age when, as they had done in World War II, new comic books emerged in the 1960s to save the day. By the mid-60s, the Fantastic Four (1961); Spider-Man (1962), who received his superpowers from the bite of a radioactive spider; and the X-Men (1963), mutants from birth whose powers normally become manifest at puberty, had arrived. DC Comic heroes were now being taken over by a whole new set of heroes that shared some traits with their earlier peers, but added some new dimensions. Superman and Batman, despite their god-like powers, spent much of their time on earth in cities such as Smallville, Metropolis and Gotham City. With the advancement of science, these new heroes began coming from alternate Marvel universes. Outside of the comic books, their influence was expanding, as well. They were being represented in television cartoons; NBC's TV show "Heroes" with comic book characters; the Metropolitan Museum's special "Superhero" show; and the Dark Knight's box-office record on the big movie screen that reached thousands of people around the country. Comic books were not just for a select group of teens; they had become part of the social scene and were facing the challenges that Americans were facing every day.

The Fantastic Four, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, was one of the first Cold War comics to evolve amidst the 1960s fears of the Soviet Union. These books were not only filled with the waving of the American flag, as was the case with earlier comics, but with Red-baiting as well. There was also an entirely new story line. Four core individuals gained superpowers after being exposed to cosmic rays during a scientific mission into outer space. Scientist Reed Richards became stretchable similar, to the earlier Plastic Man, and took on the name "Mr. Fantastic." The body of Ben Grimm, Reed's friend, was grotesquely changed and became super strong. Grimm named himself "The Thing." Susan Storm, Ben's girlfriend, was able to disappear into a cloak of invisibility, and thus appropriately assumed the name "Invisible Girl," or "Invisible Woman" to respond to the Woman's Movement. Sue's teenager brother, Johnny, generated flame from his body and propelled himself through the air with shades of the previous Human Torch, and thus was given the same name (Rovin). The political reality of the cold war appeared right from the beginning. In the first issue, the friends, who were soon to become the mighty Fantastic Four, were discussing the flight into space that ultimately led to gaining their powers. Ben, in his typical negativity, was skeptical, and Sue Storm replied, "Ben, we've got to take that chance ... unless we want the commies to beat us to it!"

Of course, the connection between how the Fantastic Four received their super powers and the fear of radiation did not happen by chance. Comic books developed along with the scientific advances of the time, demonstrating their benefits and disadvantages. It was not the bombs that were bad -- how could they be when they ended World War II. Rather, the problem was that the Soviet Union had them. The radiation poisoning of the Fantastic Four went hand-in-hand with the fears of the Americans during the Cold War. With the development of the atomic bomb and the arms race between the U.S. And the Soviet Union, anxiety was everywhere, including schools, where children hid under their desks in test raids, and in the suburbs, where homeowners built bomb shelters in their basements. The duck-and-cover videos were regularly shown on TV, warning people that it was necessary to be "ready every day, all the time."

In 1963, issue #13, Ivan Kragoff, the Red Ghost, became one of the Fantastic Four's worst Communist enemies. Kragoff was a brilliant Soviet scientist who specialized in cosmic radiation. He had studied the American Fantastic Four from his distant vantage point and seen how they gained their amazing abilities from the cosmic rays during their spaceflight. Wanting to duplicate their feat, Kragoff persuaded the Soviet government to send him and three specially trained apes into space. He did not tell his leaders, however, that he planned on making a side trip to the moon where the Fantastic Four were on a mission. Kragoff was obsessed by his fellow scientist Richards and wished to kill him. The radiation allowed the Soviet scientist to become partially or fully immaterial, and his apes changed, too: the gorilla gained super strength; the baboon could change shape and the orangutan had the power to attract or repulse objects. Kragoff reached the moon, but was defeated by the super four. There were other books against the Communists, as well. (Wright).

The Cold War was not all black and white -- good and bad. During these years, the Vietnam War and the race riots turned many people against the U.S. instead of the Soviet Union. The superheroes changed, as well. Spiderman was a comic book character who tried to find a balance between the two worlds of totally supporting one's country or totally defying it. He was a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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