Golden Age Showcase: Unknown Soldier

This Saturday is Veteran’s Day.

Image result for veterans day

For our non American readers, this is a holiday where America honors those who have served in the armed forces in conflicts past and present.  It’s also an exciting time for this blog because it’s a great time to talk about war comics!

Image result for golden age war comics

When looking at the time period, it’s easy to see why war comics became so popular.  America found itself at war and sent thousands of young men and boys to go off and fight in Europe and the Pacific.

Image result for ww2 american soldiers

However, America had the advantage of being separated from the conflict by two massive oceans and it’s people didn’t have to come face to face with the true horrors of war.  With that being said, the United States became a military industrial powerhouse during the war and almost the entirety of American culture became obsessed with doing their part for the war effort and protecting the home front.

Image result for ww2 american home front

Comic books took advantage of this shift in popular culture, and stories about ordinary soldiers fighting against the forces of evil were quite popular during the Golden Age of Comics both during and after the war.  Many of the greatest artists and writers of the Golden Age of Comics made a living writing and drawing war stories which resulted in some of the most complex and interesting stories of the time, along with some absolutely breathtaking artwork.

Image result for sgt. kelly comic

The intent and purpose of the war stories that were written during this time was also pretty varied.  War and combat stories ranged from fantastical adventure stories for young boys staring ordinary soldiers fighting in fantastic situations,

Image result for golden age war comics

to very thinly veiled propaganda stories promoting American patriotism and fighting spirit.

Image result for fighting yank comics

It’s worth noting that most of these adventure and propaganda stories were created and published during the Second World War.  After that war was over and the Korean War began a lot of comics became much more realistic and brutal in their depictions of war.

Image result for frontline combat comic

So there’s a brief rundown of the early history of war comics.  Unfortunately, since most of the early stories have so much talent behind them and were published by the big important publishers of the day, there isn’t a whole lot of material out there for free reading.  However, today’s comic is available in the public domain and is a pretty interesting look at the early days of the war comic genre.

Today we’re going to talk about the thinly veiled propaganda hero The Unknown Soldier.

Image result for the unknown soldier comic 1941

Origin and Career

The Unknown Soldier made his first appearance in Our Flag Comics in 1941.  He was published by a company called Ace Comics and was the title character of the series.

Image result for the unknown soldier comic 1941

The funny thing is, despite the fact that he was popular enough to appear on the cover of his debut issue, I can’t find any information on who created him or drew his story.

The hero himself has an interesting backstory, mostly because he really doesn’t have one.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He’s just a super being who appears out of nowhere firing explosive bullets and using his superpowers to defeat injustice and oppressive “gangster nations”.

What makes this kind of interesting is that this has some pretty close ties to real world American military culture.  In Washington D.C you can visit a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery that honors the unnamed American soldiers who died in every war America has ever fought.

Image result for tomb of the unknown soldier

It’s called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and while the comic doesn’t tie the hero to the memorial, I like to think the creators of the story had this monument in mind when they wrote it.

Anyway, in his debut issue the Unknown Soldier helps defeat the Nazi invasion of Britain.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

It’s worth mentioning that in 1941 this was actually a scenario that was terrifyingly plausible.

Image result for nazi invasion of britain

However, in this comic the Nazis don’t succeed because of superior tactics or planning, in fact their kind of idiots, but because of English traitors willing to betray their country to the Nazis known as Fifth Columnists.  We actually get to meet one and learn about his motives.  His name is John Jennings and he has made the classic mistake of believing that his country would be better under the rule of Nazism.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

The Nazi war machine starts rolling and crushes everyone in its wake.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Thankfully the Unknown Soldier arrives just in time to murder every Nazi he can lay his hands on.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Naturally, the invasion is turned back but not before the story does something really unique and interesting.  Remember the British fifth columnist John from the beginning?  He has a change of heart when he and his gang of saboteurs attempt to blow up a hospital.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

He actually redeems himself and dies a hero’s death while protecting his mother.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #1

All while the superhero stands by and does nothing.

So the story isn’t actually about the Unknown Soldier, it’s actually a story of redemption for a man who was once blinded by ideology and hatred and sacrificed himself for a noble cause.

Pretty good stuff for a Golden Age Comic.

After that first adventure the Unknown Soldier continued in a similar capacity.  While the stories were actually about ordinary people doing their part for the war effort, the Unknown Soldier would show up when it was time to knock heads or save someone from dying.

He wasn’t a hero with a secret identity, he was a representation of America’s fighting spirit.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

Also, he got a costume change.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

Despite all the murder done by our hero the creators were quick to make sure that the Nazis were just as bad if not worse.  Case in point, they invade Manhattan and use flamethrowers on civilians.

Comic Book Cover For Our Flag Comics #3

So what happened?

Our Flag Comics only lasted five issues, but The Unknown Soldier was popular enough to be moved to another title called Four Favorites where he did pretty much the same thing.

Image result for the unknown soldier four favorites

He lasted for over 16 issues until November of 1945 when he fell into the public domain.

While this Unknown Soldier would fade from the public eye, the idea and name would continue when DC comics published another character called The Unknown Soldier in Our Army at War #168 in 1966.

Image result for our army at war 168

The comic was created by DC legends Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert, two men who knew how to create a really good war comic.

This version of the Unknown Soldier was a lot more tangible and slightly more realistic.  Instead of a real superhero, the Unknown Soldier was an intelligence operative who was so disfigured that he had to bandage his face.

Image result for unknown soldier joe kubert

He was actually a master of disguise and in his final appearance, he kills Hitler and disguises himself as the dictator to end the war without further loss of life.

Image result for unknown soldier joe kubert

This iteration proved to be a bit more popular and he got a new limited series in 1997 under the Vertigo imprint at DC.

Image result for unknown soldier vertigo

As for the original Unknown Soldier, he would make a slight comeback in 2008 when Dynamite Entertainment launched their Project Superpowers title to bring many of the Golden Age public domain heroes back into the mainstream.

Image result for unknown soldier project superpowers

He was renamed “Soldier Unknown” to avoid copyright issues with DC.

As a superhero the Unknown Soldier is not a very good one.  He’s bland, he has no backstory or secret identity, and he’s even more overpowered than Superman.  But that’s not really important.  The Unknown Soldier isn’t a hero, he’s a symbol of something much greater than himself, the creators who made him, and any single person.  He is the personification of the fighting spirit that rises up against tyranny and oppression, and while it would be nice to have known his name, it’s important that we know that he did his job so we could live.

Image result for tomb of the unknown soldier

Happy Veteran’s Day everyone.

Golden Age Showcase: The Purple Zombie

So we lost one of the greats yesterday: George A. Romero.

Image result for george a romero

While he did create other films and was a fervent activist throughout his life, the man will always be remembered as the founding father of the zombie movie.

Image result for george a romero movies

Fun fact: after he made his first film Night of the Living Dead Romero screwed up some paper work with the copyright office and as a result, the film is now in the public domain.  You can watch it for free and I highly recommend it.

Yes, zombies are a pop culture staple nowadays.  While their time as the dominant force of pop culture has waned, they’re still around making boatloads of money, especially in the comic book world.

Image result for the walking dead

So I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the earliest zombies in comic books, and how different a walking corpse from the 1940’s was from the present day walking corpse.

Today we’re talking about the Purple Zombie.

Image result for the purple zombie

Origin and Career

The Purple Zombie made his first appearance in Eastern Publishing’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 in August of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

The character was created by Tarpe Mills, which was a pen name for Golden Age writer and artist June Mills.

Image result for june tarpe mills

Mrs. Mills was actually the first lady to create a female superhero, a black cat costumed heroine named Miss Fury.

Image result for golden age miss fury

Let it be said that the early comic book scene wasn’t entirely dominated by male New Yorkers, it was just mostly dominated by them.

When reading the Purple Zombie stories you can actually see a lot of tropes that plague (pun intended) the modern zombie.  He was created by a mad scientist named Dr. Malinsky who was seeking to create an unstoppable army in order to take over the world,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

However, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific mention of how this zombie was created.

After establishing himself as an evil bastard, Dr. Malinsky realizes that he has the same problem Dr. Frankenstein had, that his creation realizes what it is and isn’t all that fond of his purpose.  The creation bypasses years of therapy and emotional issues by strangling his creator.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

You’ll notice three things that make this guy different.  First, he’s bulletproof and super strong, thus avoiding the trope of zombies that need to be shot in the head and who are only effective in large groups.  Second, he’s surprisingly articulate for a zombie and has no need or desire to consume the brains of the living.  Third, his skin looks more black than purple which…raises a lot of very icky moral questions that are a bit more unsavory today than they would have been seventy years ago.

Nevertheless, this zombie sets out to find the people who backed his creation and remove them from the face of the Earth.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

It’s never mentioned who the backers were working for, but with a name like Otto Von Heim it’s safe to assume they were working for the Nazis.

In a rather interesting twist, this zombie was actually captured and sentenced to death for the murders.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

This is where he gets his purple skin, and his jailers realize that he can’t be killed.

The zombie is released into the care of Malinsky’s former assistant and swears to do nothing bug good from here on out.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

Again, some kind of uncomfortable racial overtones here (it’s worth mentioning that pre Romero zombies were often associated with African or “voodoo” religions) but as origin stories go it’s pretty fleshed out and well done for the Golden Age.

Sadly, the zombie’s brush with organized crime wasn’t over.  Realizing that a large, bulletproof, super strong, nearly unkillable monster could be useful in committing crimes a gangster named Joe Coroza kidnapped the Purple Zombie in an attempt to use him as a weapon.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

His human friend tries to rescue him, but is forced to contend with an army of mechanized skeletons as well as the gangsters.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #3

However, it turns out that the man who created the moving skeletons was actually a good guy and the Purple Zombie decided to join forces with him and go off to fight in Europe for the forces of democracy.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5

It’s nice to know that the idea of using creatures more often associated with horror to do good is older than a lot of people think.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5

The plan is a success and the Zombie and his skeleton pals successfully stop the death ray from killing thousands more.  Their solution…cold blooded murder.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

After successfully defeating the death ray and single handily winning the war (I assume) the heroes find themselves forced to land in a mysterious lab.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

It turns out that the scientist forced them to land there so he could show them their time machine and in the very next page… Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

Jesus, this comic jumps around more than an over caffeinated toddler.

The two find themselves in 64 A.D in the middle of the Roman Empire.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

The Romans do the surprisingly sensible thing and declare these two strangers to be madmen.  They also understand modern English.

Thankfully, lions are no match for the two.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

Unfortunately, they now have to contend with the entire city of Rome burning.

Thankfully, they are saved by the actions of their colleagues in the present day who manage to transport them out of danger into the Medieval Ages.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #9

It turns out they’ve landed straight in the middle of the Crusades and wind up meeting King Richard I of England.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

They would have been on good terms if it wasn’t for their sudden transportation to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

Honestly, I don’t know if the author is trying to be educational, or if she’s just name dropping random historical figures who were popular at the time.

They meet up with Sir Francis Drake while he’s bowling,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

(fun side note: the story is that Sir Francis was supposedly bowling when he received news of the Armada so props for possible historical accuracy)

and the two men help him defeat the Spanish Armada until they’re whisked away to the French Revolution.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #11

I’m beginning to think the scientists controlling the time machine hate our protagonists.

The two suffer through one more trip into prehistoric times,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12

and then they’re transported back to the modern day where it is revealed that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually dead to begin with.  He was actually faking his death in order to escape and wound up becoming an unwitting participant in the original experiments.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12

So I guess you could argue that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually a zombie.

Goddammit.

So what happened?

The page above is the last page we would ever see of the Purple Zombie.

We’ve talked about Eastern Publishing before and how it was going through a rather turbulent time in the late 1940’s when it merged with a bunch of other publishers to become Standard Publishing and eventually stopped making comics in the 1950’s.

Image result for standard comics

But even if Eastern Publishing had survived, I think that the Purple Zombie would have been doomed anyway.  For starters there were companies in the 1940’s who were using zombies and monsters much more effectively and with much better artwork.

Image result for tales from the crypt zombies

And even if the Purple Zombie had managed to become more popular, it stood no chance against the backlash against comics in the 1950’s that wound up creating the Comics Code.

With that being said I actually like the Purple Zombie.  While he had a pretty average power set and wasn’t technically a zombie, he had a pretty good back story and enough heart and dedication to be a pretty good superhero.

Image result for the purple zombie comic

Comic book company showcase: EC comics

Happy Halloween everyone!

Image result for halloween pictures

A while ago we did a write up of an old comic book publisher called Camera Comics and since that post did pretty well so we decided to do something similar.  Today we’re going to talk about a comic book publisher from the 1940’s, but this publisher isn’t obscure or unknown.  In fact, this publisher was one of the greatest comic book companies ever created, a company that pioneered the comic book as an art form, and one of the founding fathers of the horror comic.

Ladies and gentlemen: EC Comics.

Origin

The company was founded by a man named Maxwell Gaines.

Image result for maxwell gaines

If you don’t know the name you definitely know his work.  Gaines actually helped pioneer the modern comic book in 1933 when he worked for a company called Eastern Color Printing and was struggling to come up with an advertising idea for one of his company’s clients.  He would up packaging newspaper comic strips into a magazine format with an included coupon from the client.

Image result for eastern color printing comic

In 1934 Gaines published a collection of stories called Famous Funnies through a company called Dell Comics.

Image result for dell comics famous funnies

It was the first book of its kind to be distributed through newsstands and is widely considered to be the first American comic book.

Gaines would continue to publish original material and in 1938 he partnered with a man named Jack Liebowitz

Image result for jack liebowitz

and began publishing material under the name All American Publications.

Image result for all american publications logo

Liebowitz just so happened to be a co owner of another comic book publisher named Harry Donenfeld, who owned a company called National Publications and agreed to fund All American Publications.  Gaines and Liebowitz would go on to publish little known characters such as

Wonder Woman

Image result for golden age wonder woman

Green Lantern

Image result for alan scott green lantern

and Hawkman

Image result for golden age hawkman

In 1944 Donenfeld would buy All American Publications and merge it with National (and several other companies) to form a company called DC Comics.

Image result for dc comics logo

While many people would have probably have just taken the money and enjoyed the retired life secure in their legacy, Max Gaines wasn’t done by a long shot.

Gaines used the money from the sale to start his own company: Educational Comics.

Image result for educational comics max gaines

Gaines decided to not focus on superhero stories and published educational and historical stories instead.  Titles like Picture Stories from American History and Picture Stories from the Bible were going to be published and marketed to schools and churches.

Image result for educational comics picture stories from american history

Image result for educational comics picture stories from the bible

While it could have been a great direction for the company to go in, the plans were sadly derailed when Max Gaines died in a boating accident in 1947.

The company would be taken over by his son, William Gaines.

Image result for ec comics william gaines

William wanted to take the company in a new direction.  While he kept the Bible stories he decided to change the name to Entertaining Comics and publish non educational material.

The new EC Comics quickly gained a reputation as a publisher of high quality comic books. Among their many innovations was a letter section in the back of a comic book where artists could communicate with their fans.  This was a first in the publishing industry and would go on to become a staple of comic books.

Another thing that EC did was adopt the novel idea that their artist SHOULDN’T be treated like complete and total garbage.  This may seem like a strange thing to bring up but you have to remember that a lot of early comic book publishers didn’t pay their artists very well and didn’t give them the credit they deserve.  EC was unique in that it paid their artists well and encouraged them to develop their own styles and techniques.

This paid off big time.  EC Comics attracted some fantastic artists for their stories about more mature subject matter such as crime,

Image result for ec comics crime stories

war,

Image result for ec comics war stories

and science fiction.

Image result for ec comics science fiction

But by far their biggest sellers were their horror titles such as The Vault of Horror

Image result for ec comics vault of horror

The Haunt of Fear,

Image result for ec comics haunt of fear

and most infamously, Tales from the Crypt.

Image result for tales from the crypt comics

These weren’t your average comic book story.  More often than not they would feature tales of wicked people suffering gruesome and ironic fates which were narrated by macabre individuals such as the Crypt Keeper.

Times were good and in the late 1940’s EC comics became known for its fantastic art and lurid storytelling.

So what happened?

In a perfect world EC Comics would have gone on to become one of the greatest and most popular comic book companies in the world and would have helped to advance the medium of comic books into a legitimate art form.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and in 1954 a German psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that comic books were corrupting the minds of American children.

Image result for seduction of the innocent

The backlash grew so strong that there was a Congressional hearing to investigate the rise of juvenile delinquency in America and the comic book industry suffered.

Image result for congressional hearing on juvenile delinquency

In response, the industry leaders banded together and created the Comics Code Authority.  It was a regulatory body that established certain guidelines for what could be published and distributed to children.  A company could still create any comic they wanted, but if they wanted to get it distributed they had to submit it to the Comics Code for approval and get a stamp if they wanted to see their book sold to make a profit.

Image result for comics code authority sticker

The Code decimated the industry and EC comics was hit especially hard since you were no longer allowed to publish comics with words like “horror”, “crime”, or “terror”.  You can read the full list of limitations here.

Despite poor sales and a decimated title library, EC Comics did manage to survive.  Despite the fact they couldn’t publish any of their old comics they had a small title simply titled Mad.

Image result for mad magazine 1950's

Gaines decided to publish the title as a magazine, thus avoiding the Comics Code, and the new Mad Magazine continued to sell well and is still around today.

Image result for mad magazine

Gaines would sell EC Comics to the Kinney Parking Company in the early 1960’s.  The history of that deal is way to complicated for this article but long story short, EC Comics would eventually be owned by the same company would later own DC Comics and Warner Communications.

William Gaines would die in 1992 and despite all the terrible things that happened to the company that he and his father built, the one thing that is ensured is their legacy and great comic book creators.  Even though they had been decimated by the backlash against comic books in the 1950’s EC comics still had a fantastic reputation among fans and creators alike.

In the 1970’s Tales from the Crypt was licensed as a horror movie.

Image result for tales from the crypt 1972 movie

The movie followed the anthology style of the comic books and was a big enough hit to spawn another movie based off of the EC Comics title The Vault of Horror.

Image result for vault of horror movie

In the 1980’s there were two movies titled Creepshow and Creepshow 2.  Both of them followed the EC horror comics format, both of them were influenced by EC Comic stories, and featured scripts written by Stephen King and George Romero.

Image result for creepshow movie

Image result for creepshow 2 movie

In the 1990’s HBO would take Tales from the Crypt and turn it into a long running horror anthology series that lasted for ten years.

Image result for hbo tales from the crypt

The legacy of EC Comics would be ensured, but if you’re interested in reading the original work then have no fear, reprints are here.  While many publishers have made a killing off of reprinting these fantastic stories they are currently being republished by Fantagraphics Books.

Image result for fantagraphics ec comics library

In a world where superheroes dominated the comic book landscape EC comics dared to be different.  To this day they are well known for their fantastic art work and exceptional storytelling abilities.  They were the founders of the modern horror comic and deserve a place as one of the greatest, and most chilling, comic book publishers out there.

Happy Halloween everyone, sleep well.

Image result for ec comics crypt keeper

Martin Luther King, American civil rights, and comic books.

 

So it’s Martin Luther King Day here in America.

dr-martin-luther-king-jr.jpg

For any international readers that might not know about this day, the 18th of January is a day where Americans celebrate the birthday of a man who was the face and soul of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s during a time when America was still grappling with a lot of issues concerning the grossly unequal treatment of black people in America.  He was a man who had his faults just like the rest of us but accomplished so much in such a short period of time that he is remembered as a great man by many.  I’m putting his famous “I have a Dream” speech below and I highly encourage everyone reading this to take five minutes out of their day to watch it.

 

But this is a blog about comic books so let’s see if there’s anything in the comic book industry’s history that can tie into the birthday of this man who had a dream that inspired millions.

The truth is that black people have actually been part of the modern day comic book landscape since its beginning in the early 1940’s and were even around before the publication of the first Superman comic in 1938.  The problem is that a lot of the portrayals of black people during this time period are horrifically outdated and fall into some very uncomfortable racist stereotypes.  So here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to list some of the most important and influential moments in comic book history that have either involved a black character and/or a black creator in chronological order.  I can’t promise we’ll cover all of them and I can promise that some of these will probably be pretty uncomfortable but here it is.

1934: Lee Falk creates the first black character in comics

Lee Falk was a comic strip producer in the early 1930’s.  His two most famous creations were “The Phantom”

download (8).jpg

and another strip entitled “Mandrake the Magician” which ran from 1934 all the way to 2013.

MandrakeLogo.png

Mandrake had a black sidekick named Lothar, who was an African prince of a confederation of jungle tribes (told you this might get uncomfortable)

The man was incredibly strong, capable of lifting an elephant with one hand, and the less I say about his outfit the better.  He is widely regarded to be the first African character in comics and despite the stereotypes he was a loyal friend to the main character and managed to hold his own in a fight.  His appearance would be changed in later issues of the comic strip to slightly less offensive garb.

1947: The first collection of black superheroes

In 1947 an African American journalist named Orrin Cromwell Evans

Orrin-C.-Evans.jpg

created the first comic book publishing company founded, led, and staffed by African Americans called All Negro Comics.  They only managed to publish one anthology series featuring a collection of black heroes in 1947.  Here’s the cover.

250px-All-Negro_Comics_1.jpg

The comic featured heroes like the private detective “Ace Harlem” and the African hero”Lion Man” and unlike most comics at the time it was sold for 15 cents rather than 10 cents.

Sadly the company wasn’t very successful.  The comic was only able to circulate within the segregated communities of pre Civil Rights black America so distribution and circulation numbers are unknown and it’s very difficult to find copies that are in good condition.  Still, it was the first comic to be written, drawn, and published exclusively by African Americans so it deserves some recognition.

1956: EC Comics publishes “Judgement Day”

In 1954 the Comics Code Authority was founded.  It was an attempt to censor perceived violent, overly sexual, and otherwise immoral behavior that was allegedly causing the youth of America to descend into delinquency.  One of the hardest hit comic book publishers was Entertaining Comics, otherwise known as EC Comics, which published stuff like this.

769351.jpg

One of their most controversial (for the time) stories was a short story called “Judgement Day”.

judday.png

Basically the story went like this.  A mysterious representative of the Galactic Federation lands on a planet inhabited by robots in order to deem whether or not they are worthy to join the Federation.  While inspecting the planet the astronaut notices that the robot’s society is sharply divided between the orange robots and the blue robots.  While the two groups are the same the orange robots have more rights and privileges than the blue ones (subtle) and as a result the astronaut decides they are not ready to join the Federation and proceeds to leave the planet.  This was the last panel of the comic showing the astronaut with his helmet off.

incredible-science-fiction-33-controversial-black-face-ending.jpg

Needless to say the Comics Code Authority was not happy and EC comics would eventually be driven out of business, although they do live on through MAD magazine.

1954: The first Black solo star in comics

Marvel’s predecessor Atlas Comics published Waku: Prince of the Bantu in their 1954 story collection Jungle Tales.

Waku_(Earth-616)_0001 (1).jpg

He was the first black character to be given a solo series in any comic book, feel free to judge the publisher’s use of ethnic stereotypes to your heart’s content. 

1961-1967: The introduction of black supporting characters in Marvel and DC Comics:

The early 60’s saw the introduction of non stereotyped African American characters into mainstream comic books.  Characters like Jackie Johnson in the 1961 DC Comics series Our Soldiers at War

1372616-307274_1996_booster_gold.jpg

and Gabe Jones in Marvel’s 1963’s Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos

Gabe-Jones.jpg

introduced the comic book world to the idea that black people could actually be written and treated like human beings in comic books.  Special mention deserves to be paid to another black supporting character who was introduced in 1967, the long lasting and kind hearted editor of the Daily Bugle Robbie Robertson.

Robbierob.jpg

Who has helped make Spiderman’s life considerably more tolerable and who has been a staple presence to the Spiderman mythos ever since.

1965: The first African American solo comic book series:

In 1965 Dell Comics published the first comic book series starring a black character called Lobo.

200px-LoboWestern1.jpg

He only lasted two issues.

1966-1980: An explosion of black superheroes

Over the course of the 1970’s black superheroes and issues facing black men and women in a post Civil Rights America would become a major part of American comics, so much so that to talk about them all would take all day.  Since you could write a book about the subject I’m just going to show some of the more famous black characters to come out of the era along with the date where they were first published

Black Panther (1966)

Jungleaction23.png

The Falcon (1969)

s-l300.jpg

Black Racer (1971)

Luke Cage (1972)

220px-Luke_Cage.jpg

Green Lantern John Stewart (1972)

could-hal-jordan-and-john-stewart-both-be-green-lanterns-in-dc-cinematic-universe-68a490a3-0ff8-4a9e-a470-3b5466cf439e-jpeg-3035.jpg

Black Goliath (1975)

220px-Blackgoliath_bill.jpg

Storm (1975)

9fb649326256185f6fb63e33a638fe46.jpg

Misty Knight (1975)

ae220721fd7fa8b64895ad3544d7423c.jpg

Black Lightning (1977)

801269.jpg

Cyborg (1980)

download (9).jpg

I highly encourage everyone reading this to check these heroes out.  Granted they weren’t always perfect and many of them still played to certain stereotypes that a lot of black Americans had to deal with but I think it’s safe to say that the 1970’s was a good decade for black and African American superheroes.

1989-2011: Dwayne McDuffie 

No article talking about African Americans in comic books would be complete without talking about the legendary writer and creator Dwayne McDuffie.

download (10).jpg

See, everything I have talked about in this article has had one small problem.  An overwhelming majority of the black characters that were created and written for were drawn and written by white men and despite everything that happened in the 1970’s, the comic book landscape was overwhelmingly dominated by white characters.  McDuffie was probably the most famous and public face in the industry that wanted to change that.  Now there are a fair number of black comic book creators out there but here’s a small sample of some of the stuff McDuffie worked on.

p252294_b_v8_as.jpg

download (11).jpg

ben-10-omniverse-returns.jpg

You will notice that if you were a fan of superhero cartoons in the early to mid 2000’s you were probably a fan of his work.

But that’s not what made McDuffie important to the comic book landscape.  Before he became in incredibly successful screen writer he was actively pushing for more diversity in comics.  In 1993 he founded a company called Milestone Media with several other black comic book creators with the express purpose of bringing a wider range of diversity to the comic book landscape.  It reached a deal with DC comics early on where DC would publish the titles while Milestone would write and create them.

milestone-poster.jpg

And things were going well until 1996 when the comic book market crashed and Milestone was forced to cancel most of its titles.  However, all was not lost and Milestone found success in launching a television show based around one of its most popular characters Static Shock.

staticshock-jaden-smith-to-star-in-static-shock-live-action-series-jpeg-160567.jpg

Sadly Dwayne McDuffie died due to complications from heart surgery in 2011.  His work continues to survive with Static Shock becoming a part of the mainstream DC universe and the countless numbers of people who were inspired by his work.

So there you have it, an incredibly brief, overly simplified, and not too detailed overview of black characters in comic books.  While many black and African American creators and heroes were either cast aside or poorly written due to racial prejudices at the time the comic book industry has (for better or for worse) forged ahead with their attempts to bring a more diverse collection of characters to their pages and while the results have ranged from outright offensive to well written and meaningful I am personally glad we live in a time where I can enjoy characters like Static Shock and Luke Cage.