Modern film, the Golden Age of Comics, and Wonder Woman

So this little movie is in theaters now.

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I haven’t seen it, although it is currently on my list of films to see, but I have seen the trailer and a good portion of the promotional media for the film.

A quick summary: the movie follows the real life journey and exploits of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.

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In real life, Marston was a respected psychologist and the inventor of the lie detector,

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he was also engaged in an unconventional relationship with his wife Elizabeth and his partner Olive Byrne.

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As for the exact nature of their relationship, all you have to do is take a look at the comics that Marston wrote to get some idea of what was going on.

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Frankly, I’m glad this became a movie and I would love to see more films like this since the story behind the creation of some of our most beloved superheroes is often just as interesting as the characters themselves.

Personally, I would love to see a movie about the trials and tribulations of Supmerman’s creators Siegel and Shuster,

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and we’re probably getting a Stan Lee film soon.

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but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

There’s a scene in the trailer for Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman where a group of people are burning a pile of comic books.

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While I don’t like seeing anyone burning books this actually got me pretty excited.  This is the first time I’ve seen any movie talk about the decline and fall of the Golden Age of Comics and while it is presented as a backdrop for the story the movie wants to tell, it’s an important time in American pop culture where the nature and effect that art has on our minds and souls was being hotly debated.

So today I’m going to give a brief history of the comic book industry in the late 1940’s and 50’s and in order to do that we have to talk about:

The post war comic industry

After the Allies won the Second World War Americans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated by coming home, starting a family, and giving up on superhero comics.

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Yes, the infamous “superhero fatigue” that so many people say is  coming with this current glut of superhero movies is actually nothing new.

Naturally, the comic book industry reacted to this shift by switching to different genres and trying new things.  Post war America saw a boom in non superhero comics, especially romance,

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and horror comics.

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Post war America was actually a pretty good time for comics.  More people were spending money on entertainment, readers were getting older and more mature, and some of the greatest artists of the time were doing some of their best work.

Unfortunately comic books were confronted with a force more powerful than any super villain doomsday device: concerned parents.

You know how concerned parents thought violent video games were turning kids into mass murdering psychopaths?

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Well, it turns out that that isn’t all that new either.  In the 1950’s comic books went through the same process and things would come to a head with,

Backlash, Dr. Wertham, and Seduction of the Innocent

Maybe it was the soldiers coming home from the war trying to process the violence and destruction they saw, maybe it was the Red Scare and the rise of anti Communist sentiment in America, or maybe comic books have a bigger place in our psyche than we think, but for some reason these hearings swept the American people into an anti comic fervor that saw a tremendous backlash against the art form.  This resulted in crazy events like mass comic book burnings as early as 1948,

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but sadly the real destruction would come in the form of a well meaning man in a suit and tie.

Every art form, at some point in its early history, has had a vocal opponent who claims that said art form is destroying our children’s minds and must be censored before it’s too late.

Rap music had Tipper Gore,

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video games had Jack Thompson,

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and comic books had Dr. Fredric Wertham.

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Now, I don’t think Dr. Wertham did what he did because he hated comics or because he was an uneducated hack who was simply making wild accusations because he wanted the attention.  He was actually a highly respected psychologist who did a lot of good work, including providing cheap psychiatric care to under privileged children.

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Unfortunately, he noticed that a lot of the children under his care read a lot of comic books and he started to believe that it wasn’t societal woes or a poor home life that turned kids bad, but violent and disturbing imagery in the media the kids consumed.

Things would come to a head in 1954 when Wertham published his most famous work Seduction of the Innocent

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where he blamed comic books for the rise of “juvenile delinquency” in American youth.

The book was a hit and led to a Congressional hearing on the effects of comic books on children’s minds, and Wertham was the star witness.

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The hearings were incredibly destructive for the comic book industry and effectively brought mass censorship to the medium.  Companies that depended on risque and controversial content to stay afloat, such as the horror and comedy powerhouse EC Comics were the hardest hit and were forced out of business.  The industry underwent a massive contraction and thousands of people lost their jobs as publishers went out of business left and right.

The Fallout

In an attempt to save themselves from excessive censorship the remaining comic book publishers formed an organization known as the Comics Code Authority.  It was an organization that reviewed comics before they could be published and made sure they followed a certain set of rules in order to ensure that they were suitable for children.

The most famous and notable legacy of the Comics Code was the stamp that appeared on the far right corner of almost every comic for the next forty years.

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While the Comics Code didn’t kill the comics industry it did cripple it so badly that it’s still recovering today.  Since comic book writers weren’t allowed to tell complex and morally ambiguous stories if they wanted to get their book published comics became simple and almost boring in their predictable story lines and basic morality tales.  Sure, mature and grown up comics existed, but they could only be found in small press, out of the way places such as the “comix” scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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Eventually cracks in the Comics Code would start to show and historians widely believe that it lost its power after Amazing Spider Man #96 told a story where Spiderman helped a friend who was addicted to drugs and was published without the stamp.

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But if you ask me, the damage had already been done.  The Golden Age of Comics was a time where characters like Wonder Woman could talk about deep and meaningful issues like man’s tendency towards hatred and how women could bring about a more peaceful world, whereas the immediate post Comics Code publishing industry decided to celebrate its newfound freedom by throwing all subtlety out the window and indulging in a lot of violence for violence’s sake.  This,

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is downright childish in comparison to the early issues of Wonder Woman.

Now, I firmly believe that we as a society have gotten better in dealing with art and the effects that it may or may not have on our minds, and I also think that the comic book industry telling better stories today than it did twenty years ago, but it is vitally important that we never forget why heroes like Wonder Woman were created and how important it is that we apply the same passion and thought into our stories today.

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Comic Showcase: Turok, Son of Stone

Happy Columbus Day everyone!

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For our international readers, Columbus Day is a day for Americans to celebrate the first European to discover the continent of North America and helped kickstart a new age of European expansion into the New World that laid the foundation for modern day America.

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However, the truth is a bit more complicated.  Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover North America, that honor belongs to the Leif Erickson and the Vikings.

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Also, Columbus has a REALLY unsavory reputation among the Native American population as a thief, criminal, and as the man who did a lot of terrible things to the native population.

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We would like to avoid talking about Christopher Columbus on this blog so instead we’re going to talk about a comic book starring a Native American.

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Now the history of Native Americans in popular culture runs the gamut from well meaning and respectful to outright offensive but the fact of the matter is that Westerns were really popular in the 1950’s and comic books were nothing if not blatant trend followers.

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Today we’re going to talk about one of the more well known Native American characters in comic books.  Not only was he treated with a surprising amount of respect and dignity, he was one of the greatest examples of the glorious insanity that was so prevalent in the early days of comic books.  Ladies and gentlemen: Turok, Son of Stone.

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Origin and Career

Turok was first published by a company called Dell Comics, which got its start publishing pulp magazines in the 1920’s and moved into comics when they became popular.  They have a long and complicated history that we’re not going to talk about here but long story short, they were best known for publishing non superhero comics and at one point in time they were the most successful comic book company in the world.

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They made their money turning the old pulp characters into comic books and were most successful with licensed properties like Disney characters and popular tv shows.

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Dell also published an anthology series called Four Color Comics and in December of 1954 they published the first appearance of Turok.

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The credits for who created Turok are a bit shady but it is widely believed that he was first drawn by comic book artist Rex Mason (not shown here because I can’t find his picture) and early issues were written by writers Gaylord Dubois, who was well known for his work on The Lone Ranger, 

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and Paul S. Newman, who holds the world record as the most prolific comic book writer with over 4,000 published stories to his name of the course of his fifty year career.

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Sadly, I can’t go into any great detail about the adventures of Turok here because unlike most of the characters we talk about on this blog he’s still under copyright and his comics aren’t available for free (we’ll get to that later) but what I can say is that he was a Native American who fought dinosaurs and was therefore awesome.

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Under the Dell Comics label Turok and his younger brother Andar found themselves stranded in a place known as “The Lost Valley”, a mysterious place in the wild west of New Mexico.

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The Lost Valley was a strange and savage place, a place that time and reason forgot.  There were cavemen, dinosaurs, monsters, and a whole host of other ancient wonders that should have been extinct a long time ago.

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It was up to Turok and Andar to survive, thrive, and try to escape the hidden valley and their adventures were so popular that they kept going from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s as one of Dell Comic’s most successful and long lived characters.

So what happened?

Turok’s adventures were popular.  His journey as an actual comic book title was long, confusing, and in many ways even more interesting than then the character himself.  So this is going to be one of the longest and detailed “what happened?” segments this blog has ever seen.

If you look at the top left corner of each of the old Turok covers I’ve published you’ll notice that the company publishing him changes between three logos:


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and Gold Key.

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See, Western Publishing was a separate comic book publisher and was the studio who created Turok.  However, Western had a deal with the much larger and more successful Dell Comics where they would develop and create series that would be licensed and published by Dell Comics.

This deal would continue from 1956 to 1962 with and published over 27 issues of Turok.  However, in 1962 Western decided to leave Dell Comics and published comic books on their own.  Western went on to create their own publishing imprint, Gold Key comics

Sadly, both Dell and Gold Key suffered during the 1970’s due to decreased demand for comic books.  Dell ceased operations in 1973 and Gold Key ceased operations in 1982.  While Western did publish a few more Turok titles under another imprint called Whitman Publishing, it was no longer interested in comic books because they were making more money with toys, tv shows, and their Golden Books series.

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Western lasted the longest, but they declared bankruptcy and in 1997 they were absorbed into Golden Books Family Entertainment.

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Golden Books didn’t last long and the early 2000’s they were bought by Classic Media,

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which was then bought by Dreamworks Animation,

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which was then bought by NBC Universal in April 2016.

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With all this going on you would think that Turok would have disappeared.


In 1992 a small startup company called Valiant Comics picked up three original Gold Key characters to use in their fledgling comic book universe.

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Those characters were Magnus, Robot Fighter,

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Doctor Solar,

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and Turok.

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These titles, along with original Valiant works such as X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Rai were incredibly successful.

However, Valiant fell victim to some unfortunate corporate problems that are far too complicated to get into here.  Long story short, Valiant was sold in 1994 to a company called Akklaim Entertainment, who was a video game publisher.

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Akklaim wanted to turn Valiant characters into video games and in 1997 they launched Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

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The game was a hit and spawned a franchise of five more games.

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Akklaim would go out of business after some terrible business decisions and Valiant would abandon Turok when it made a roaring comeback in 2005.

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Today Turok is no longer a comic book or video game mainstay.  Dark Horse published four new issues of Turok in 2010,

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and Dynamite published twelve new Turok stories in 2013.

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While Turok is no longer a comic book mainstay he is an important part of comic book history.  He had an incredibly long shelf life as a character, his stories of fighting dinosaurs were epic and awesome, and he played an important role as a publishing mainstay in some of the most important comic book publishers of the past fifty years.

Not bad for one of the greatest Native American comic book characters.

The Primordial Soup: Creating truly mature content and art


I would like to share something with you that’s been on my mind recently.  We as an art loving and entertainment consuming culture have fallen in love with the word “mature”.

Audiences love mature content because it treats them like the fully functioning adults they are.  Maturity in art and media gives the audience the benefit of being able to think and process an idea in a complex and interesting way and doesn’t treat them like children.


After all, anyone who is capable of handling mature art and content is clearly operating on a superior emotional and mental level than a child so why shouldn’t art and entertainment reflect that?

The problem is that there are far too many artists and creative types who have no idea what the word “mature” even means and it needs to change.

Let me explain.  If you’ve bought a video game, a music album (when that was still a thing), or a comic book before 2000 you’ve probably seen something like this on the box.


Granted the label above is what you would find on video games but the idea is the same across all forms of media: the rating agency for that particular form of media (in America we have the ESRB for video games, the MPAA for movies, and we used to have the Comics Code Authority for comic books) took a look a that particular piece of art and decided that anyone under a certain age wasn’t emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle that content.

But what qualifies any form of entertainment as mature?  Well, if the label above is anything to go by than mature content implies this




and a lot of this.


And speaking as someone who enjoys comics and has decided to create comic books as a form of creative expression I’ve seen a lot of comic books, especially from the 1980’s and 90’s with a lot of this




and, dear God help me, this


yes a lot of creators like to use the word “mature” as an excuse for putting in all the raunchy, dirty, scandalous stuff that a mainstream, decent, God fearing audience simply cannot handle.

Here’s the thing tough, simply putting a barely clothed woman into your game/comic/movie/what ever you’re creating for the sake of having her there doesn’t make your work mature, it makes it childish.  The same can be said for drug use, extreme violence, and excessive amounts of swearing.  Keep in mind, I’m not saying children should watch Hostel


but this sort of entertainment should be labeled as “adult”, not mature.

So why do people make this stuff?  Well if you ask me it’s because nothing pisses off an artist or any sort of creative type than having to adjust their vision to some sort of censoring authority.  Want proof?  Look no further than video game industry during the early 2000’s where sex and violence was used almost as a form of protest.

Most of you reading this article will remember the time when games like Grand Theft Auto


faced tremendous social and political backlash for being a corrupting influence on our poor innocent youth.  There were protests, politicians tried to have it banned, and other lawmakers tried to jump start careers by trying to take it off the shelves.


In response to all the criticism of their art form a lot of video game developers created a whole slew of violent and “mature” video games.  These were games that you wanted to play, not because they were intelligent or even necessarily good games, but because they had all the blood and violence you could stomach and your parents would hate them




You can trace this sort of behavior across all forms of media.  Artists don’t like have other people tell them their work can’t be shown to people so they react by making art that tries to subvert the status quo.  The problem with things like violent video games and excessively sexualized comics and film isn’t that it will cause the downfall of society, it’s that it’s usually just not very good.  We slap the mature label on material like this when all it really winds up being is childish and immature.

The good news is that there is quality art out there that does deal with mature themes in a much better way.  The even better news?  It’s not necessarily just for adults.

I want to show you one of the best examples of art that deals with mature subject matter in the last 20 years and also happens to be a children’s Saturday cartoon.


Most of us know this series, most of grew up watching it as children.  Batman TAS was known for not just being a really well animated and well directed show, but for the way it treated its audience like the mature and responsible people they were without resorting to excessive violence and overly sexualized images.  Probably the best example I can think of is the episode “Baby Doll”

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Without going into too much detail the episode deals with an out of work actress who became famous as a child protagonist on a popular TV show.


Unfortunately, the actress had a rare genetic condition called systemic hypoplasia which meant she would never grow as she got older.  Even though she was 20 when the show ran she still looked like she was 5.  When she tried to leave the show and branch out her disorder meant that she couldn’t find any work as an actress and, coupled with the fact that many people just couldn’t take her seriously, she eventually snapped and attempted to kill the cast of her old show.  The episode ends with her surrendering to Batman and suffering a severe mental breakdown.


Here we have a case where, and I cannot stress this enough, a children’s TV show displaying more maturity and adult subject matter than almost any other media ostensibly meant for adults.  It doesn’t show any blood, sex, or hard drug use but it does deal with incredibly mature themes of loss, denial, depression, and hopelessness.  Real maturity has almost nothing to do with blood and sex but has everything to do with complex emotions and themes.

So in conclusion all I have to say is this.  If you are setting out to create a piece of art in any form and you would like to create it for an adult audience feel free to put in all the sex, drugs, and violence you want into it.  Just make sure that you use it to present something in a mature and responsible way.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention #3: Legacy Code

So last week I got my first request to help promote a Kickstarter campaign with this weekly blog series (by the way, if anyone reading this has a Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Patreon campaign up and running feel free to send it to my Twitter @mblair112 and I’ll take a look) and I was impressed with this title so I decided to give them some well deserved attention.  Welcome to Legacy Code.

Link to the Kickstarter:

What is it?

Legacy Code is a Kickstarter campaign to build a one shot comic, animated movie, computer game, and table top RPG.  The project is run by a company called Short Fuse Media, a relatively small comic book publisher that has this neat service where they can take a character of your creation and turn it into everything from a short comic to an action figure.


This Kickstarter campaign itself is Short Fuse’s shot at building a fully realized, self contained, massive multi media universe set in a sci fi dystopia which is like, according to their own words, “imagine ‘The Terminator’ mixed with ‘X-Men, ‘The Matrix’ and ‘All You Need Is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow)’ and you would have ‘Legacy Code'”.

Why I like it

You’ll notice a couple of things about the paragraph above.  First, there isn’t much in the way of plot.  The Kickstarter video simply describes the concept in very broad terms.

The second thing you’ll notice is that this project is really…really ambitious.  Trans media story telling, the idea that you can tell the same story across different mediums like television and books at the same time, is an idea that starting to catch on.  It’s something that I’m very interested in studying and with the advent of the internet and our deeply connected society it’s becoming more and more realistic every day.  Normally I’d be against putting something this broad and this ambitious up on Kickstarter but credit where credit is due they’ve put up quite a bit of material on their page already so I get the feeling that when they say they’re building a comic


an animated movie

a video game

and a tabletop RPG


they can pull it off.  Also, while describing a story or set of characters in broad strokes doesn’t help potential backer understand the world you’re trying to create, it is sometimes necessary when you’re trying to build something on this scale.

Another thing I like about the project is the sheer amount of talent attached to it.  One of the biggest risks in giving your hard earned money to a stranger is that the stranger will simply turn around, take your money, and leave you high and dry with nothing to show for it.  However, I don’t think that will happen here as almost everyone attached to this story has also led successful Kickstarter campaigns themselves.




These guys mean business and I get the feeling that whatever they create will not only epic and awesome, but be a fun and productive exercise in translating an idea into a world that doesn’t just come alive in a comic but in a movie and game as well.

Why you should donate:

These kinds of projects are going to be the future.  Not long from now we’re going to see everyone trying to turn their stories and characters into ideas that won’t just be comfortable in one particular medium, but will reach out and grab our attention in all sorts of new and interesting ways.  So if you want to be on the cutting edge of entertainment and make sure the future is run by dedicated and creative companies with good ideas and wonderful storytellers, donate today.

Campaign link: