The Super-Clubs of America

“It may not be the Ten Commandments, but as a set of moral guidelines for the secular children of an age of reason, the Supermen of America creed was a start.” – Grant Morrison, Supergods

Supermen of America Membership Certificate
Supermen of America Membership Certificate

In the 1940s, American kids faced a grim world of war and rationing. Their parents were fighting the Axis overseas or working hard to win the war on the home front. In a world of big challenges and grim news, young people needed larger than life heroes to inspire and entertain them, and they found them in the pages of comic books. Characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America were fighting the good fight in bright costumes and capturing the attention of America’s children. But the superheroes didn’t just provide vicarious thrills on the page; they also offered their readers memberships in clubs that provided secret codes, moral credos, and a sense of belonging and mission.

 

The Supermen of America Club had over a million members; for ten cents, a kid could join the club and get a certificate signed by none other than Clark Kent (Superman) declaring the recipient a member of the club upon the pledge to “do everything possible to increase his or her STRENGTH and COURAGE, to aid the cause of JUSTICE, to keep absolutely SECRET the SUPERMAN CODE, and to adhere to all the principles of good citizenship.” The club’s members would also get a code card and a button designating them as members, and it could be argued that the club was just another piece of plentiful Superman merchandise designed to get money from kids. But the pledge sets these memberships apart from other merchandise; the Supermen of America members were challenged to improve themselves, take responsibility for keeping secrets, and work for justice. In a world that needed heroes, kids were being called to action.

Supermen of America Membership Card
Supermen of America Membership Card

Superman wasn’t the only hero with a club. When kids joined the Junior Justice Society of America, they received a certificate signed by Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) on behalf of all Justice Society members (which included superheroes Hawkman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, among others), a JJSA emblem, a code card, a U.S. Treasury Department War Savings Stamp album (allowing members to do their part to help fund the war effort), and instructions on how to organize a “Victory Club” at school (to help win the war on the home front). In addition to taking action to help the war effort, the JJSA members pledged:

(1) to help keep our country united in the face of enemy attempts to make us think we Americans are all different because we are rich or poor, employer or worker, White or Negro, native or foreign born, Gentile or Jew, Protestant or Catholic;

(2) to help defeat Axis propaganda which seeks to cause us to fight among ourselves instead of successfully fighting our enemies.

Junior Justice Society of America Membership Certificate
Junior Justice Society of America Membership Certificate

The first part of that pledge was a progressive challenge to kids in 1940s America, when segregation was rigorously enforced in some parts of the country and even in the American military forces fighting the Axis overseas. (And it should be noted that the only minority character in the Justice Society of America was Wonder Woman).  It could be argued that the JJSA pledge remains a progressive and challenging credo in a society that still suffers from prejudices and divisions that can no longer be blamed on Axis propaganda.

Sentinels of Liberty Membership Card
Sentinels of Liberty Membership Card

In comparison, the pledge for Captain America’s Sentinels of Liberty club might seem fascistic to some in today’s pluralistic, politically cynical age:

(1) IN GOD WE TRUST.

(2) ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG AND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

(3) TO MAKE MYSELF A BETTER CITIZEN AND DEFEND MY GOVERNMENT FOREVER. 

Captain Marvel Club Membership Card and Secret Code
Captain Marvel Club Membership Card and Secret Code

However, in the context of the wartime period that the Sentinels of Liberty club was active, few would take issue with the club’s principles, and the pledge is another example of an effort to give kids a sense of mission and purpose.

Other superheroes had clubs with similar credos. (My favorite is the Captain Marvel Club, which asks its members to “assist Captain Marvel in upholding freedom, defending justice and the smashing of all evil.”) Sadly, these clubs no longer exist. While the superheroes still entertain and inspire readers, they no longer offer them a sense of mission and fellowship. Our superheroes no longer call us to take action, which is a shame, because I would love to help Captain Marvel smash evil.

10 thoughts on “The Super-Clubs of America”

  1. This is great. I like reading about historical gimmicks of yesteryear. I still laugh when I watch A Christmas Story and Ralphie gets his secret decoder ring in the mail and he spends all that time in the bathroom fighting off his family only to receive the lame message to eat more cereal.
    Now I must go and smash all evil. 😉

    1. I’m glad you liked it. I was doing some research on Golden Age comics and was amazed at how many comics characters (even forgotten characters like Green Lama and Hop Harrigan) had kids clubs. (Interestingly, I couldn’t find any information on Batman clubs; surely he must have had one?)

      There was definitely an element of money involved in these clubs, in getting kids to part with their dimes. But I was impressed at how they at least tried to challenge kids to be better and greater.

  2. these are great! The closest thing I had to something like this was a bookmark the size of a credit card with some stormtroopers on the front that said I was a member of the Empire. All I had to do was sign my name on the back. Capt. Marvel’s line about “defending justice and the smashing of all evil.” is frickin’ beautiful!

  3. First, I want to congratulate you on being a member of the Empire! 🙂

    Second, it just amazes me that these clubs asked their members to make a pledge to principles. The Junior Justice Society really impressed me; not only did they have this serious pledge, but they also supplied their members with resources to help support the war effort.

    Most of these clubs didn’t last past the 1940s (I believe the Supermen of America lasted until the mid-1960s), and I like to imagine that the clubs just went underground, and that somewhere out there new Captain Marvel Club members are secretly being recruited to smash evil. 🙂

  4. A great article, Reed.

    I have a huge fondness for the Golden Age of comic books. I don’t know what it is. Maybe just the fact that it’s all so fresh and new. I really think we have to appreciate the history of these characters and where they came from. The stories and art may seem crude by today’s standards but there’s just something magical about them.

    Even today I’d take a period Superman movie over anything contemporary. I love the recent Man of Steel movie but just imagine if they’d made a live action Fleischer cartoon instead. There’s just something to me that feels “right” about super-heroes in the thirties and forties that makes them work far better than in the modern age.

    I guess that’s why my favourite super-hero movie is The Phantom. The period setting, the occult angle…

    I’m also a big fan of the original black and white serials from this period too. Even in this day and age you can’t beat a good Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serial. Look at Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies or the classic Universal monster Movies. Moody and atmospheric and with all it’s technological advances Modern Hollywood can’t replicate them.

    I’d have loved to be a member of one of these clubs. Just to have that JSA certificate framed on the wall or have my Captain Marvel membership card in my wallet. The closest thing to feeling involved that you could get back then. We take all that we have for granted these days and everything is available on the internet and the world is so much smaller. Back then it must’ve been great to send away your money and get some of these goodies in the post and feel like you belong to something.

    I wonder what those fan club members back then would make of something like NBC!?

    1. Thanks. I like the Golden Age period as well; the creators were figuring out the medium of comic books, and while the art and story might be crude by today’s standards the stories have a lot of energy and passion to them. I really like the Fawcett work of the period, Captain Marvel in particular.

      Stay tuned for next Wednesday: I plan to showcase a feature of Golden Age comics that doesn’t get a lot of attention. 🙂

      I would love to join a superhero club that had expectations of good behavior and challenged me to do great deeds. I was thinking about what non-Golden Age characters would be good candidates for their own clubs – Spider-Man? Thor? Wolverine? (The Wolverine Super Club would be interesting!)

      I don’t know what those Golden Age fan club members would think of NBC!, but I bet they would all agree that NBC! needs its own decoder ring. 🙂

  5. Great article.
    I love stuff like this. I have been picking up loads of old late 80s – 90s albums recently, and it’s great to flick through the lining notes and see all the ‘call this number to join the fan club’ or ‘write to this address for your free t-shirt/sticker’. The internet is great, but I miss that sense of naivety. When the world wasn’t just a click away, you actually had to wait for shit in the post!

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