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Comic Book Superheroes and the End of the Idyllic Era
Comic Book Superheroes and the End of the Idyllic Era
America, a hero no longer: sad, lonely, and confused. The Vietnam War caused America to fall from its unwavering optimism into a state of knowing maturity. Once the young hot shot country going out to save the world, we grew up in an instant becoming old, tired, and depressed. Not only did the country lose its hope, the superheroes did too. Once the beacons of American heroism, they became the beacon of America’s imperfections and wrong intent. Growing up was wretched for America and for its superheroes. Superheroes during the Vietnam War became depressed and questioned the sense of justice they once fully abided by; symbolizing American’s frustration with the length of the war and why we were fighting there in first place. Superheroes reflected America’s growing distrust for the government; in the comics the government directly or indirectly caused bad things to happen to the superheroes. The superheroes also became less and less censored as the Vietnam War went on and began dealing with issues such as drug abuse. Another influence the Vietnam War era had over comic books was expressed through the superheroes attaining their powers in different ways than previous superheroes, mainly exposure to radiation; this reflected America’s fear of the use of the atomic bomb in the Vietnam War.
In the Vietnam War there was often no visible enemy, the only enemy was the doctrine of communism. American boys were being sent over into a foreign land to fight against the spread of communism, yet we had allied before with communists. The confusion of the identity of our enemy led the comic book creators to change the way the superheroes saw justice. In 1972, Nixon, despite claims of peace bombed North Vietnam further in an effort to achieve peace through further violence. The Vietnam War had now been going on since 1945 when the first American military official was killed by Vietminh troops, and there still was no end in sight.# The Vietnam War was the longest war America had ever fought in and also the most ambiguous.
As the Vietnam War progressed the superheroes became less optimistic and gained a different view of justice, reflecting the general attitude of America towards the war. The Green Lantern was created in the 1940, before the US had joined World War II.# The Green Lantern was a man of action; as his later “re-inventor”, Dennis O’Neil, described him as “in effect, a cop, a crypto fascist; he took orders; he committed violence at the behest of commanders whose authority he did not question. If you showed him a law being broken, his instinct would be to strike at the lawbreaker without ever asking any whys.”# Green Lantern was much like the typical hero of the Golden Age of comics: a man who sought out to balance out a single-minded justice system. However, as the Vietnam War further progressed the Green Lantern changed: he became depressed and began to see the nuances that surround justice rather than the black and white version he used to practice. “Those days are gone ? gone forever ? the days I was confident, certain . . . I was so young . . . so sure I couldn't make a mistake! Young and cocky, that was Green Lantern. Well, I've changed. I'm older now . . .maybe wiser, too . . . and a lot less happy."#
Another hero the Vietnam War doomed to depression was Iron man. 1963, the debut of Iron Man, a charismatic and intelligent Tony Stark, confidently stated “Now do you believe that the transistors I’ve invented are capable of solving your problem in Vietnam?”# Just like America at this time, Tony Stark was convinced of the simplicity of attaining victory in Vietnam. The message of Iron Man was that all America had to do was invent bigger and more destructive machines in order to “defeat this grinning, smirking, red terrorist!”# This directly paralleled the governments’ assessments that victory would come quicker and easier the more troops they poured into Vietnam. In the later years of the comic, Stark lost the bright optimism he once held for America’s fate in Vietnam. The comic took a negative view on the Vietnam War and claimed that America’s blind following of the belief in unrestricted capitalism made the Vietnam War and its fate inevitable. Stark’s way of life turned against him; no longer was his boozing and womanizing way of life perceived as slick, it caused his downfall. This is analogous to America’s reliance on old tactics and failure to adapt to a new form of warfare caused us to lose the Vietnam War; no troop increase would change the fate of the war, only a change in tactics could. Stark was eventually betrayed by his own company and fell into a dark period of alcoholism and self-loathing.# The Vietnam War changed Tony Stark from an optimistic gung-ho American into an alcoholic depressant.
The Superheroes became very suspicious of the government, as the people did, during the Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal. No longer did the people feel that the government was truly working for them and they lost faith in the government.
Once the symbol for America’s pro-war values in World War Two, Capitan America in the Vietnam War changes into one of the largest critics of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Captain America in the 1970’s lost faith in what he once thought was patriotism and questioned America’s mission in Vietnam. He lost his good friend, Bucky, in World War II and started to question a war in which young men fight and die for the causes of old politicians safe in Washington D.C.# The Vietnam War made him depressed and he began to rethink the values he once confidently followed “in a world rife with injustice, greed, and endless war ... who's to say the rebels are wrong? I've spent a lifetime defending the flag and the law. Perhaps I should have battled less and questioned more.”# Capitan America reached the height of his moral crisis when he discovered the Watergate Scandal (in the comic book world). Angry and confused about the direction the country was heading he abandoned his great patriotism and changed his name to “Nomad: the man without a country.”# Overall, the lies and horror of the Vietnam War changed Capitan America from a great patriot into a confused and country less man.
The superheroes of the 1960s, the silver age of comic books, became increasingly separate from their golden age forefathers; one main aspect of their change was how they attained their powers. Superheroes were now getting their powers from freak accidents. The accidents typically involved atomic radiation exposure. These accidents symbolized the fear that people had about the use of atom bomb in the Vietnam War. At that time, no one was quite sure of the effect that nuclear substance had on human anatomy.
Spiderman attained his powers when he was bitten by a spider that had become radioactive after it had been shot by a particle beam.# The hulk, another popular superhero created in the Vietnam Era, attained his powers when he was working with an experimental gamma bomb for the government and just before a test of the bomb was about to happen, a teenager unknowingly wandered on to the test site. He put the teenager’s life before his own, and ran to pull the teenager to safety. He managed to save the teenager, but in the process he was hit by the gamma rays of the bomb. He was not killed, but rather he developed a mutation in which he turned into a gray hulk at night, but returned to his normal physiology in the morning. As time progressed, he eventually turned into the image of the green hulk we remember.# The Fantastic Four became mutants when they were exposed to solar radiation waves. They were exposed to the rays when Richard (Mr. Fantastic) made a rash decision to take a test flight of his inter-stellar spaceship because his investors, the U.S. government, threatened to take out their investment if the craft was not ready soon. With him on the craft were: Ben Grimm (Thing), an experienced Air force Pilot; his fiancée Sue (Invisible Woman). Johnny (Human Torch), his fiancée’s brother. Since the craft was not quite ready, they were hit by the solar radiation and crashed. After the crash they found the solar radiation altered their physiology rendering them mutants.#
The Vietnam War was the first war to be almost truly free of press censorship. People could turn on their televisions and experience the war almost like they were there. They could open a newspaper and see the gruesome, horrifying scenes that only the soldiers of past wars had seen.# Comic books also became less censored over the course of the Vietnam War. In the Seventies, after over ten years of strict censorship by the Comic Codes Authority, comic books started to defy the rules and comic books were printed without the seal of the Comic Codes Authority. #
Spiderman was the champion of de-censorship. He was the first of the comic heroes to come out with an issue without the seal of approval.# It was first comic to deal with drugs and the negative effects they produced on people’s health and lives. The Green Lantern also dealt with issues of drugs. The Green Lantern had a friend, named the Green Arrow, who found out his sidekick Speedy was a heroin addict. The comic creators felt that these issues were above censorship and codes; they felt they needed to enlighten people to these issues.# The comic book creators were like the journalists and reporters of the Vietnam War, who felt it was their duty to enlighten the people to the true nature of the war.
The Vietnam War was a tumultuous time in American history; it represented America finally growing up. As the country grew up, we lost the childlike innocence and plunged into a nostalgic and cynical view of the world. All of American society was affected, especially the comic book writers. In their stories the Superheroes reflected the pain and problems that America was experiencing. No longer did superheroes fight for the American way, they began to question their own role on the earth; just as America did. The Vietnam War changed America and its superheroes.
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