Today marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (July 28, 1914). This global war lasted four years and mobilized over 70 million military personnel; it was a destructive, deadly conflict that introduced new technologies and tactics to warfare, particularly in the area of aviation. Fixed-wing aircraft were used to observe enemy movements, strafe ground troops, and for aerial combat. The achievements of the aviators who flew these aircraft were often propagandized by the pilots’ respective governments – France was the first country to award the designation of “ace” to pilots that shot down a certain number of enemy aircraft; other countries adopted this practice. After the war, these WWI “aces” were romanticized in American movies like The Dawn Patrol and Hell’s Angels. However, American comic books have portrayed the WWI aces in a more ambiguous manner.
When Captain America punched Adolf Hitler on the cover of Captain America Comics #1, the hero was carrying a triangular-shaped shield. By the second issue of Captain America Comics, the triangular shield had been replaced by the current, iconic disc-shaped shield.
Marvel Comics character The Punisher first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (cover-dated February 1974). Created by writer Gerry Conway (with input from publisher Stan Lee, who suggested the character’s name) and artists John Romita, Sr. (who tweaked Conway’s design for the character, specifically putting a large skull symbol on the character’s chest) and Ross Andru (who first drew the character for publication), The Punisher was initially an antagonist to Spider-Man; as a vigilante, The Punisher is relentless in killing criminals, which puts him at odds with Spider-Man and other Marvel superheroes. However, over the years, the character evolved into a sympathetic antihero that remains popular with many comics fans. It appears that some of those fans are in the United States Armed Forces.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first appearance of the word “super-hero” in the English language didn’t occur in an American comic book, but in the British newspaper the Daily Mail. The dictionary defines “super-hero” as “a person with extraordinary heroic attributes; (now spec.) a benevolent fictional character with superhuman powers, typically one who features in a comic strip or film”, and notes the word’s first appearance in an 1899 newspaper article quoting French journalist and statesman Georges Clemenceau.
The two-page Channel 52 comic strip has been missing from DC Comics’ publications for several weeks. Launched in February 2013, the strip depicts a news team composed of minor DC characters – Bethany Snow (a reporter once allied to Teen Titans villain Brother Blood), Batman villain Calendar Man, the satiric Ambush Bug, and hirsute extraterrestrial superhero Vartox; the team reports on DC’s events and characters. Channel 52 is a promotional feature designed to interest readers in purchasing more comics; the strip’s title reflects DC’s goal to publish 52 comic book titles a month, and a new strip is usually printed in the back pages of DC’s comic books each week.
The origin of Batman villain The Penguin is disputed. According to comics historian Les Daniels in Batman: The Complete History, The Penguin debuted in Detective Comics #58 (December 1941); writer Bill Finger (uncredited for his co-creation of Batman with artist Bob Kane) claimed that The Penguin – with his signature top hat, monocle, tuxedo, cigarette holder, and umbrella – was inspired by emperor penguins and was intended to be a caricature of aristocrats, while Kane claimed that The Penguin was inspired by cartoon mascot Willie the Kool Penguin, who was used in the advertising for Kool menthol cigarettes.
It’s an election year in the United States, and as we approach the Fourth of July holiday, it’s not too early for American citizens to reflect on their constitutional right and civic responsibility to vote. Candidates will spend time and money to capture the attention of voters, and hopefully citizens will be satisfied with the candidate choices available for their consideration. If not – and if the citizen lives in a state* that allows write-in votes – a voter has other options. Citizens can vote for candidates that do not appear on the election ballot. These candidates – called “write-in candidates”, because voters “write in” the name of the candidate that they would like to vote for on the ballot – allow voters to express their support for issues and candidates that may not appear on the ballot, or to express their dissatisfaction with the available ballot choices.
Although write-in candidates are generally real people, quite often write-in votes are cast for comics characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man.
In 1985, I came across the first issue of Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe on a spinner rack at my local drugstore. The cover (the front and back covers formed one wraparound image) was full of characters in bright costumes, but the only character I immediately recognized was Aquaman. When I opened the comic, it contained these great encyclopedia-style entries on comics characters and teams, with an illustration and some text on the characters’ origins and superpowers; I was familiar with some of the characters, but unfamiliar with most. I knew about Aquaman and was an avid fan of Atari Force (the best science fiction comic of the 1980s), but I had never heard of Animal Man, Auron, or Anthro. It blew my mind that there was an android named Amazo who could duplicate the powers of the entire Justice League!
It was a heady experience. I hadn’t just discovered a superhero encyclopedia in the form of a comic book; I had discovered the DC Universe.
In American comics, the heroes are often on the side of the angels – good people blessed by benevolent destiny with the science, magic or aptitude to fight evil. However, there is a rich comics tradition of protagonists of diabolical derivation saving the day, sometimes unintentionally (in the course of their duties to demonic masters) and sometimes intentionally (in their efforts to rebel against infernal authorities).
“To a dedicated readership of gearheads, pot smokers, and art students, ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ was the apex of an art form.” – Sean Howe, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
“No comics artist had ever been so concerned with the whole of the package, from story to layout to production to those covers of his that looked more like posters. With his diverse talents, Steranko could approach comics on his own terms, and he did so with a vengeance.” – Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs, The Comic Book Heroes
This week the NBC! community will choose the best Marvel Comics issue of the past 75 years to recommend for inclusion in the Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus. This omnibus will include the best issues from Marvel Comics’ rich publishing history, and it would be a shame if the first issue of Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. was not included in this historic collection. Steranko (both writer and artist for this issue, a rarity in the comics industry when this issue was published in 1968) was clearly influenced by The Spirit artist Will Eisner, EC Comics horror artist Bernie Krigstein, and Marvel’s Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko as he crafted a fast, suspenseful issue that begins with exotic intrigue and ends with sad, ironic tragedy.
In 1972, two rock albums inspired by Marvel Comics’ characters were released – one by the British progressive rock band Icarus entitled The Marvel World of Icarus, and the other a licensed “rockomic” focused on Spider-Man entitled The Amazing Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave: A Rockomic, which was released by Buddah Records. Both albums provide insight into Marvel Comics’ efforts in the 1970s to reach a broader, more mature audience.
Over the years, filmmakers have depicted Batman in a variety of films unauthorized by the character’s publisher, DC Comics. These unauthorized films offer different artistic interpretations of the character, ranging from fan homage to comedic spoof to commercial ripoff to pornography. In the 1960s, both before and after the success of the camp Batman television series which debuted in 1966, several unauthorized Batman films were made in the United States, the Philippines, and Mexico that depict Batman and Batman-related characters in a comedic manner that fit well with the tone of the Batman television series.
Batman’s archenemy The Joker has had various origin stories over the years, and there have also been conflicting testimonials from his creators about their inspiration for the character. But this article isn’t about any of those origin stories. This article is about how declining comic book sales, less censorship, bad business practices, and the success of a horror comic paved the way for a psychotic super-villain character to star in an eponymous ongoing comic book series in the year 1975. This article isn’t about the origin of The Joker; it’s about the origin of The Joker.
Almost two years after Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, Superman starred in his own radio program, The Adventures of Superman, beginning in February 1940. In the 1940s, television was an expensive, rare luxury, but over 82% of American households owned a radio. The Adventures of Superman was broadcast in fifteen minute episodes, and reached millions of American households; the radio program was listened to by both kids and adults. Given the commercial success of The Adventures of Superman, it is surprising that Batman and Robin – two popular superhero characters also owned by Superman’s publishers – never starred in their own radio program.
“Vin Sullivan conceived Detective Comics not as a brochure for newspaper syndicates but as a comic book equivalent to pulps, with self-contained stories in a single genre.” – Gerard Jones, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book
First published in 1937, Detective Comics was the foundation of one of today’s largest and most influential comics companies. Comics pioneer and businessman Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was broke, and needed money to publish his new detective anthology comic book; he entered into a business partnership with pulp magazine publisher and distributor Harry Donenfeld and Donenfeld’s accountant, Jack Liebowitz, and the corporation Detective Comics, Inc. (which eventually evolved into the present-day DC Comics) was born. Without Detective Comics, there would be no DC Comics.