Comic history: There’s a hero in all of us

Published: August 15, 2014
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With all the turmoil around the world, superheroes provide us with an escape, and show us that all it takes is courage and the right mind-set.

Since the advent of literary print there is one word that comes to mind whenever you hear of comics: superheroes. Superhero comics burst onto the scene with the introduction of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the late 1930s.

Superman represented the hero we all wanted to be: someone who had the power to move planets, and yet, chose to do good for the world and its people. Batman portrayed the humanistic flaws; how our tragedies and mistakes could be used as motivation to become a hero. And Wonder Woman, who was a symbol for feminism and political hierarchy. These formed the trifecta of DC comics, along with Marvel, and they were and are still today, the titans of the comic-book industry.

Photo: Mohammad Ali Shah

All three of these heroes came forth in a time of adversity: Great Depression and the beginning of the World War, and inspired many heroes to come into the fray in the pages of paperback comics that were sold for around a dime at the time. From this wide array of heroes one remained synonymous with the free world.

At this time came a hero most people couldn’t relate to but the Americans, Captain Steve Rogers, better known to most people as Captain America. He was a source of hope and relief, if nothing else. At the time of the war, all of these heroes battled fascist and Japanese forces in their comics, sometimes going over the top, sometimes even being racist. This was certainly a tough time for the superhero comics, but the worst was yet to come.

In the 1950s, a book called Seduction of the Innocent started a movement which led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority. Themes of gore, violence, sexuality and crime were dulled down; anything unacceptable or inappropriate was censored. This was a big hit to the comic industry. The 50s was an age of campy humour, childish themes and panels filled with ‘Boom!’, ‘Pow!’ and ‘Kaboom!’. The industry was reduced to publishing westerns and teen magazines.

Then, in the 1960s, came Marvel comics. In a time where the world was witnessing the space race and the US civil rights movement, Marvel comics showed us that:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Heroes, like the Hulk, Spiderman and the Fantastic Four, acquired powers from scientific or cosmic mishaps, which seemed to set the theme of the atomic-age. But the thing that really differentiated them from DC comics was that all of them had real life problems. For example, Spiderman, the first teenage superhero, and the Black Panther, the first African American superhero, had other problems to tackle besides threats from super-villains.

The swinging 70s brought with it a whole new dimension to the comic book world. Artists started using expressionism, psychedelic art, funky colours and modern interactive techniques to make comic books more relevant. The two most iconic moments in this era perhaps changed comics forever. First, the death of Gwen Stacy, long time love interest of Spiderman, which reflected the theme of realism for Marvel comics. The other was the revamping of the Comics Code Authority, after a controversial issue published by Marvel comics which had an anti-drug message.

Photo: Mohammad Ali Shah

This was followed by the dark age of comics. And dark did not mean bad times, but a new ‘grim and gritty’ style of comics. Frank Miller revitalised Batman; a hero who had become childish and immature because of the strict laws of the Comics Code Authority and the 1966 Batman TV show. The Dark Knight returned to his terrifying nocturnal roots in the Frank Miller sensation: The Dark knight Returns. To this day, Batman bares resemblance to the one envisioned by Miller.

Photo: Mohammad Ali Shah

But the comic that created most sensation in the 80s was The X-Men, a young group of freaks with innate abilities known as mutants, different from other heroes who weren’t born with powers. They became representative of all those who have been ostracised by society (especially homosexuals); anyone who was different from the majority or not in line with the norms could find a place for themselves among The X-Men. Soon it became the most sold title at the time.

Photo: Mohammad Ali Shah

Modern age comics have now widened their horizons, where at one point in time comics just represented Americans and Caucasians, in the comics of today all ethnicities and nationalities have become part of the giant roster of superheroes. For example, the new Green Lantern in which Simon Baz is an African American Muslim, or the new Miss Marvel where Kamala Khan is a Pakistani super hero living in Jersey.

Reading comics is a hobby every third person has had at one point in their lives, and although advances in technology have greatly affected the printed versions of the comics, the characters along with their stories have just jumped into a new medium.

Photo: Mohammad Ali Shah

Web comics, animation, movies and video games are the future of the industry; an industry which, as we have seen in times of turmoil, seems to have the greatest effect. With the war on terror raging throughout the modern world, superheroes seem to provide us with an escape and show us that all it takes to handle problems is courage and the right mind-set. They have shown us that there is a hero in all of us. And by this, they have unknowingly become our generation’s symbols of hope, truth and justice.

Mohammad Ali Shah

Mohammad Ali Shah

Working as a management trainee at Bisconni. Comic book enthusiast and a house music fanatic. A Liberal and an aspiring politician, is spiritual not religious. He tweets as @mohammadshah107 (twitter.com/MohammadShah107)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Akoo Canada

    great piece! a brief history of a genre of pop culture introduced during the heyday of world war one and now is raking in billions of dollars in profits frm film adaptations.

    Its a relief to see people in this country who still care of the lost art of reading a fresh graphic novel or monthly comic book issue, just the glossy feel of the pulp print takes any ardent reader back to his/her childhood.

    In a time when people fight over religion, politics, power i wish more people could fight over the age old argument, “who is better? Marvel or DC?”: I wish there would have been strikes and protests when Ben Affleck was cast in BvS:dawn of Justice,

    maybe in a random multiverse, there is a Pakistan where a comic con happens annaully and is attended in droves.

    Kudos to the writer for bringing the most important source of pop culture back in the main stream,

    my friends watched Guardians of the Galaxy last week and came out praising the movie, like myself, but did they actually read the source material or knew who the original guardians were. I guess thats whats separates the comic book nerd from the masses.Recommend

  • Indian

    Nice syopsis.I know they’re not really superheroes..but it would’ve been nice if your article was expansive enough to include other genres/something about Mandrake/The Phantom/Zorro/Rip Kirby/Flash Gordon etc…all childhood staples..
    Anyway,it was fun to read..nice to learn about how things evolved over decades esp.with respect to the timeline of the World war & ’20’s stock market crashes…good article.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman have always been my personal favourites.Recommend