A comic reflection of society

Although I knew they existed, I recently rediscovered sites like The Digital Comic Museum that make available, for free, public domain Golden Age comics. In the last few weeks I’ve spent far more hours than I should have downloading and reading various comics. One thing that’s clear, they do reflect the society of the day.

atom age combatFor example, there was just a bit of racism around. This doesn’t mean comics such as Negro Romance. We’re talking racial slurs, which seem to appear most with foreign enemies. Thus, comics set in the Korean War have “gook” or “gooks” on more pages than not. The Japanese of World War II aren’t just “Japs,” they’re occasionally “slits.” Enemies with Caucasian backgrounds fare better. About the worst German soldiers get is “heines” while Russian and Eastern European Communists get off with “Reds” or “Commies,” occasionally with “dirty” as an adjective.

The 1950s also seemed to have some naivete about nuclear arms. Several comics were issued with names like Atom Age Combat, Atomic War! or Atomic Attack. The Commies, of course, are the cause of our need to use atomic weaponry. But the comics seem aimed at allaying fears of what nuclear weapons mean. We fire atomic artillery shells into cities held by the Commies but the city really looks no worse than cities damaged by bombardments in World War II. Of course, as long as we wear protective gear, we can enter those cities almost immediately and carry a hydrogen bomb that can be ignited with a timed fuse to destroy the enemy’s “atomic pile.” Our soldiers use atomic rifles to take out enemy tanks, fire atomic machine guns and throw atomic grenades, which are called “Black Death” for some reason.

That isn’t the only type of warfare the comics suggest we need not worry about. The dirty Reds, of course, also use germ warfare. “We didn’t worry much about that,” says one soldier in a letter home. After all, the soldiers only had to wear “germ masks” and later go to field “germ sterilization” units and take “immunization pills.”

We might ask what happened to the flying cars the comics promised. I’ll gladly forgive them for being wrong about that in exchange for them also being wrong about the ease and acceptability of atomic battles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comic book world took fear of communism to the extreme. Nuking the Russian capital, it seemed, increased sales.

The Red Menace: Anti-Communist Propaganda of the Cold War,”
Kuriositas, October 26, 2013

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