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.
Today is the 75th anniversary of the grand opening of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Constructed in New York City, the fair was intended to not only create jobs in the midst of the Depression, but also showcase an optimistic vision of the future; the theme of the fair was “The World of Tomorrow”. Over 44 million people attended the fair during its two seasons (in the summers of 1939 and 1940), visiting exhibits that gave them a look at new innovations like television, color photography, and air conditioning. Visitors no doubt enjoyed the futuristic architecture on display at the fair, like the iconic Trylon and Perisphere building, which housed a diorama of a futuristic city. Another scientific wonder at the fair was Elektro, a talking, seven-foot tall, cigarette-smoking robot!
The fair was a significant cultural event, showcasing new innovations to an – given the economic and geopolitical circumstances of this period – amazingly optimistic and curious public. One of the new innovations that visitors encountered at the fair was comic book superheroes. Superman was first published only a year earlier in Action Comics #1, and the character’s publishers, Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, wanted a comic book tie-in for the fair. The anthology comic New York World’s Fair Comics was sold on opening day; the comic had a cardboard cover, cost twenty-five cents (most comic books at this time sold for ten cents), and contained 96 full-color pages.
New York World’s Fair Comics stars Superman, along with some other Action Comics heroes – Zatara and Scoop Scanlon. Other characters featured in the comic were the masked crime-fighter The Sandman and detective Slam Bradley (Bradley’s adventures were written and illustrated by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster); Slam Bradley was a regular character in the mystery anthology Detective Comics. Batman, the character that would soon dominate the Detective Comics series and rival Superman in popularity, was not in New York World’s Fair Comics. Batman debuted a month earlier in Detective Comics #27, and was not yet the well-known character that he would become.
Maps are wonderful tools that can help us find our way and divide up our surroundings: into our land and theirs, into safe places and unsafe, and, ultimately, into the known world and the unknown. Exploring has become tantamount to mapping, turning the empty margins and blank areas of terra incognita into familiar terrain. In a literary genre as concerned with exploring new worlds as fantasy is, it is hardly surprising that the map is a frequent complement to the texts, a companion on the reader’s journey through the alien landscape. – Stefan Ekman, Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings.
As scholar Stefan Ekman notes in his book Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings, maps in fantasy novels can be used to both inspire the reader’s imagination and ground the fantasy (that is, make the fantasy setting more realistic and less strange to readers by providing specific details about the imaginary setting). Although maps are not as common in comic books as they are in fantasy novels, occasionally comics creators provide a map to the fictitious settings of the comics page.
Maps can be used in comics to give structure to the strange, to reassure readers that a fantasy setting like Gotham City (see above) is more than just a random assortment of gothic architecture. The city has parks, streets, and bridges, and there is method to the madness. Crime Alley exists, north of Robinson Park (note the reference to comics creator Jerry Robinson) at the heart of the city. Bruce Wayne lives north of the city, and Commissioner Gordon lives way south of Arkham Asylum. Notice any other fun details?
Maps can illustrate the wonder of an imaginary comic book nation, like the map above of the Black Panther’s African kingdom of Wakanda by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson from Marvel Comics’ Jungle Action #6. The map shows a lush jungle nation with borders surrounded by mountains and ocean. Wakanda has regions of ominous nomenclature that excite the mind, like the “Serpent Valley”, “Panther Island”, and “Piranha Cove” (indeed, given that piranha fish are native to South America and not Africa, Wakanda must be a land of wonders).
But maps also constrain the story narrative, risking potential continuity errors. Notice that this early map of Wakanda shows the nation bordering the Atlantic Ocean, putting its location in western Africa, despite later stories that place the nation in central or even eastern Africa. Also, Wakanda’s access to the Atlantic Ocean is inconsistent with the notion that Wakanda is an isolated African kingdom.
A map can provide readers with a nice summary of the world of a comics character like future lawman Judge Dredd, whose adventures have been going strong for almost forty years in a dystopian world of out-of-control mega-cities and harsh wastelands. The map above is informative for both new and veteran Judge Dredd readers.
Maps can transport readers to other planets, like the doomed world of Krypton. Any world that could produce a great hero like Superman must be interesting, and the map above provides an enticing look at a lost planet of boiling seas, fungus caverns, glass forests, and intriguing cities.
Maps can show us fantasy worlds that spark the imagination. Whose imagination is immune to the wonders of the land of Skartaris, from Mike Grell’s Warlord series? Creative readers could look at if for hours, absorbing all the details and planning their adventures on the Dragon Sea or their quest through the Desert of Doom.
Maps can take us to alternate worlds, like the map above from Arvid Nelson’s Rex Mundi comics series, in which magic is real and the course of history is different from our own. With a just a little knowledge of history, even readers unfamiliar with the series can see that this is a modern world where the Ottoman Empire still flourishes, there is no unified German nation to dominate Central Europe, and Spain is still under the political control of Muslims. It’s a rich setting ripe for great stories.
Maps can be used to show us alternate comics universes, and the map above illustrates the alternate world created as a result of DC Comics’ “Flashpoint” event. Readers see the hotspots of this new world, so unlike the continuity-rich universe they are familiar with, as Amazons and Atlanteans clash, and Africa is dominated by Gorilla City. It invites readers to check out a new world, and highlights the points of interest for future stories.
Maps can show us possible future settings of our favorite characters. The map above from Marvel’s “Old Man Logan” storyline in the Wolverine comic shows us a future America where the bad guys have won, and illustrates the dangerous progress of our hero as he travels from Hulkland to New Babylon. (And readers might wonder just how the Kingpin took over the Domain of Magneto.)
Comics maps are fun to look at – take this map above of Kamandi’s future Earth as illustrated by Jack Kirby. It’s a busy map, showing a world in which an imperialistic Tiger Empire encroaches on gorilla communes, a world of altered radioactive geographies, and a civilization of surfing orangutans. The map sparks the imagination and delights the eye, and Jack Kirby is clearly having fun (“Mao-Tse-Tigers Little Red Book Wars”). It’s one of the best comics maps ever!
Comics maps can be informative, entertaining, and fun, and readers should take a closer look at them when given the opportunity.
The images above are the property of their respective owner(s), and are presented for educational purposes only under the fair use doctrine of the copyright laws of the United States of America.
Seventy-six years ago this week, on April 18, 1938, the release of Action Comics #1 changed comics forever. The anthology comic book featured Superman, introducing both a bold new character and the superhero genre to comics. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman quickly took over Action Comics and spawned many imitators, giving the comic book medium a bright new genre that would capture the attention of both kids and adults.
But Action Comics was an anthology, and there were eight other protagonists featured in the first issue. There is little attention given to those other characters, most of which have been completely forgotten by today’s comics fans. Given the anniversary of the release of Action Comics #1, it’s an excellent time to examine the other characters that were featured with Superman in the first issue.