Reflections: How Comic Books Mirror Society and Pop Culture

By Jose Ramos

 

Who doesn’t love our superheroes?

You in the back, shut up. I’m finally being positive.

It’s technicolor escapism. It’s a world where somehow a man wearing an extended bathrobe becomes the terror of the night and also where radioactivity gives you the ability to see sounds.

But it’s also a world that comments on ours.

The first superheroes showed up during World War II. When it literally seemed that world might explode at any moment, we suddenly had these garish champions punching our enemies in the face, and somehow, we all felt a little better.

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Just after that, superheroes went right out the window. What was up was horror and romance comics. But around the same time, it was said that comic books and juvenile delinquency went hand and had and so came censorship. Who doesn’t want to pretend that a horrible thing didn’t happen? You pick up, grab your bagel, and say the reason you don’t go to a coffee shop anymore is because “they were never that great” and not because “I used to go there with my ex”.

Fast forward to the late 1950s: The Flash kickstarts a new romance with superheroes and comic book art. A bunch of comic books from the war ger revitalized and keyed into a new audience. The names stayed the same to welcome back, but the ideas changed to warm up to the new. This, by the way, coincides with the premiere of soap opera As The World Turns and the scandal that is Elvis Presley. People were ready to be entertained, not just distracted again.

Insert all shook up joke here.

batmancomics.jpgEarly 1960s: Once again the world was at war, but cold. The threat of a nuclear winter hung over our heads. And beyond that, we could all be attacked from beyond the moon! So, our heroes became irradiated, but powerful. They went to space, travelled through time, becoming challengers of the unknown. And in there, there was a group of people who defended a world that hates and fears them.

And then, in the 1970s, we get to Vietnam. I’m not here to recite history. But go back and read those early Marvel issues. A lot of them had either served or had family who did. And so now we get the positive view of home. The world will piece itself together. Though one man showed how it maybe couldn’t. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Frank Castle? We’ll get to him and his ways in a bit.

The 1980s seemed so bleak after everything else. Everything was dark. Not only did it seem that someone had absolute control, but they also made us afraid of every shadow. Thus, in return, our heroes became jaded. They stopped believing. Who would blame them? Remember Frank Castle? The Punisher. A man who came back from war and tried to live a good life and was ruined by another war on home soil. Something never clicked and his response seemed to.

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The 1990s were a retaliation. Sure, there was darkness, but it could be awesome. People started to lead into something besides nothing again, but we were still punk. And also, hip hop. And ravers. And gamers.  You could be so many things at once. There were splits in culture specifically designed to mesh with others. “I’M MORE THAN ONE THING MOM!” yelled many a teenager during this decade.

Oh, just me?

LIARS!!!

But the split of the most popular artists of the time to make Image Comics, which legit was a contender against Marvel and DC spoke volumes about the attitude. The man who helped create Venom in Spider-Man was a part of this. He and his peers (like the guy who probably came up with all the X-Men costumes you associate with them. Depending on your age you might be humming a theme right now being reminded of them) said “You did this. I can do this too”.

We can do this too. Let me go. Hence, the abundance of spikes.

The 2000s were the first time we could all actually connect. There was fear it could be bad, but more hope it could be good. Our heroes were reborn, not always in the best way, but at least in a new way, and a way that looked back and appreciated it. And we could look back. Like actually with recorded instruments look back. And we wanted to make it look nice. Like all the ups and downs were worth it. We had just gotten the Spice Girls for Kal-El’s sake, we weren’t willing to give that up.

And more important, we could share them.

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In between we have the Aughts. Is that how it’s said? We’re in the zeroes of the century. Trying to prove a 9 wrong but telling a 1 we’re worth it. Who cares about Zero? No wonder online dating became prevalent.

HA! Stupid number joke.

But it’s super important. Now everything could be through a phone. Everything became portable. Now you have the world with you at all times. At first in the pockets of your cargo pants via various discs.

I miss cargo pants.

Not the actual world, of course. Not trees or the packs of feral dogs that are around. But like a connection in your pocket. You could be in a park and talk. You could be in a mall and find a friend by yelling through a plastic box. You could be at the movies and…well be vaguely about the same amount of irritating.

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But now we’re sitting on a paradigm shift. The comics are about changing attitudes. There’s less you can ignore. There’s more you can do. The Authority showed that the 90s attitude could be used in a powerful way. If done right. All-Star Superman showed a love letter to the past that acknowledged how far we have come with the world’s oldest comic book hero. We can complain and love.

And now here we are. A world a little scared, but with heroes of every kind. Kamala Khan. Miles Morales. Jamie Reyes. Laura Wilson. And hearkening back to the 60s, new versions of old characters for a new audience. And always winking and paying attention to what came before, so we can do it better. All willing to help with a new world again. All saying “We’re ready! Whatever terrible fashion choices are to be made are worth it!”

And you know what?

Hell yeah we are.

 

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