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Unformatted text preview: ‘‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’’: Cold War Culture and the Birth of Marvel Comics R O B E RT G E N T E R T HE LATE 1950 S WERE A DIFFICULT TIME FOR COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS IN America. Having faced a litany of charges from politicians and parental groups concerning the allegedly corrupting influence of comic books on American youth, publishers were forced to introduce new and less controversial genres in hopes of boosting declining sales. From the political attack levied by Senator Estes Kefauver in 1954 to the self-imposed comic book code introduced that same year, comic books were in serious trouble. The so-called ‘‘silver age’’ of comic books began in the late 1950s when National Comics, in the face of these restrictive comic book codes, revived a number of its original super- heroes from the late 1930s. In particular, National Comics found suc- cess with a series called The Justice League of America , which united several popular figures such as Batman and Superman from the ‘‘golden age’’ of comics. This return to stories about costumed superheroes was an obvious retreat from the more realistic genres of crime and gangster stories that had produced such harsh criticism. Inspired by National’s idea, rival publisher Martin Goodman of Timely Comics ushered in the self-proclaimed ‘‘Marvel Age of Comics’’ when he asked his editor Stan Lee to design a superhero team to outdo The Justice League . 1 Collaborating with artist Jack Kirby, Lee published the first issue of The Fantastic Four in 1961, a series depicting the transformation of four ordinary individuals through exposure to cosmic rays into superheroes. In The Origins of Marvel Comics , Lee explains that his desire was to create ‘‘a team such as comicdom had never known’’ The Journal of Popular Culture , Vol. 40, No. 6, 2007 r 2007, Copyright the Authors Journal compilation r 2007, Blackwell Publishing, Inc. 953 (17). To do so, he decided that ‘‘the characters would be the kind of characters [he] could personally relate to; they’d be flesh and blood, they’d have their faults and foibles’’ (17). The result was a revolution in the comic book industry that transformed the mildly successful Timely Comics into the popular franchise known as Marvel Comics. Following the success of his new team, Lee created a slew of immensely popular comics including The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man . The difference, however, between these new superheroes and the ones from before and the difference between Lee and his competitors was that Marvel comics focused not only upon the wondrous abilities of its characters, but also upon the lived reality of the superheroes them- selves, that is, upon the ways in which the mundane problems of human existence interfered with their crimefighting abilities. Whether it was Spider-Man’s difficulties with his classmates at school or Iron Man’s persistent problems with women, the new Marvel superheroes...
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- Spring '08
- Cold War, Stan Lee, Marvel Comics, Cold War Culture