3) Superheroes have been depicted fighting in actual wars.
…And by actual wars, I don’t just mean the War of the Green Lanterns, the Marvel Civil War, or the Rann-Thanagar War. I mean wars as in WWII in particular. Superhero comics began right around the same time as the crisis in Europe escalated into war, and it’s very likely the anxiety surrounding the war is what gave us Superman in particular. It wasn’t long before American comic book characters were joining in with the drafted young men of America. On a fairly regular basis, superheroes flew overseas and fought Germans; notable examples include Superman grabbing two of the enemy leaders and flying them to a war crimes tribunal, and another being Captain America punching Hitler. Comic books were frequently given to US soldiers. Usually, they suggested things were going to work out, and keep your chin up. This resulted in a joke that went around that you could tell if a French person was nearby because you’d see books everywhere, and you could tell an American had been there if there were comics left on the ground. Unfortunately, all of this resulted in a major impasse. The war went on longer than anyone predicted, so a comic was published where all of the great DC heroes tried their best to end the war, and couldn’t do it. In a sense, it was suggesting to people back home, “Give our boys a break, even Superman and the rest of the gang couldn’t end it.”
Afterwards, comics were the victims of political correctness thanks to the comics code of authority, and when the Korean War came around, the comics didn’t seem to notice. When the Vietnam War happened, I think it was the above-mentioned impasse that kept comic heroes from directly participating in the war. I will say though that many comics reflected on the attitudes, fears, and suspicions of the time.
The Cold War and the Vietnam War inspired many well-known characters. Silver Surfer, for example, was a guy who could surf all over the world and return to America unscathed (kind of like the surfer in Apocalypse Now). In the very first issue of Silver Surfer, Russians are shown shooting missiles at our hero, which he easily deflects. He was the guy kids might wish they could be. The Hulk on the other hand was a character who the kids and teens could relate to. So many people were being told not to protest the war that it created a strain of passive aggressiveness in many Americans, and that’s exactly what Hulk represents. I’ve also heard that many Asians identify with Hulk for the same reason. One more interesting piece of superhero lore, in the first issue of Fantastic Four, the heroes aren’t rushing into space just to prove they can do it or to advance science. It specifically states in the comic they have to hastily go into space to beat the “commies” to it.
Unfortunately, Marvel and DC have chosen to downplay the propagandist period of their history, so none of the WW2 comics are easy to find. As far as I know, they haven’t been reprinted in common graphic novels. In Showcase Superman Volume 1 for example, the issues begin at #241, thereby pretending Supes’ war years never happened.
In the current Fear Itself series in Marvel, Captain America’s once again fighting Nazis. Or robotic, magically powered neo-nazis.
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