1938: Oil in Saudi Arabia; Germany annexes Austria; Ballpoint pen; Howard Hughes around-the-world flight; Minimum wage; Nylon; Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds panic; Coelacanth.
SUPERMAN appears in this first issue of Action Comics. The creators tried to sell Superman for six years (conceived as a newspaper strip) before Detective Comics Inc. bought the property for $130 (which would amount to about $1000 today) – the value of a near mint issue is about $1.4 million. Publishers originally thought that nobody would relate to such an invincible protagonist, but this first comic book superhero was so popular that superheroes soon dominated such books, which characterizes the Golden Age of comics. Between 1939-41 DC and her sister company All-American Comics introduced such popular heroes as Batman, Robin, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, Hawkman and Aquaman, while Timely Comics, the predecessor of Marvel Comics had titles that featured the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, for starters. Supes was first created as a villain, then retooled as a more mythological hero in the vein of Hercules or his Jewish, biblical counterpart Samson. His iconic costume was based on a circus strong man outfit and much like the Jewish creators’ parents, he was an immigrant. His alter-ego “Kal-El” means “vessel of God” in Hebrew.
1939: Germany expands & invades Poland; The Spanish Civil War; Gandhi fasts; Grapes of Wrath; Siam becomes Thailand; Wizard of Oz film; Manhattan Project;
Although DC and Marvel characters are more famous today, circulation figures suggest that in the 1940s the best selling superhero may have been Fawcett Comics’ “Shazam!”-shouting hero, Captain Marvel.
The themed anthology series Detective Comics would become a sensation with the introduction of Batman in issue #27. Batman was originally written in the style of the pulps and this influence was evident with Batman showing little remorse over killing or maiming criminals and was not above using firearms. The Batman strips were a breakout hit, with sales on Detective Comics soaring to the point that the character was given his own title in 1940.
Creator Gil Kane noted especially the influence of the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro in the creation of the iconography of the character, and drew inspiration from literary characters Doc Savage, The Shadow, and Sherlock Holmes in his depiction of Batman as a master sleuth and scientist.
1940: Elmer Fudd & Bugs Bunny; McDonald’s; Auschwitz; Paris falls; The Blitz; 40-hour work week.
The publication PEP COMICS was a comic book from MLJ Magazines (later called Archie Comics after the company’s most durable, womanizing character), published from 1940 to 1987. Note “The Shield” on the cover – one of the many precursors to the star-spangled hero, Captain America. Archie Andrews first appeared in Pep Comics #22, in 1941, an issue worth at least $22,000 in mint condition. Many of the characters from Archie and the “gang” were based on people the creator knew in real life.
ALL STAR COMICS is a 1940s comic book series from All-American Publications, one of the early companies that merged with National Periodical Publications to form the modern-day DC Comics. The series is notable for its introduction of the Justice Society of America, the first team of superheroes, and the introduction of Wonder Woman.
THE SPIRIT, who starred in a Sunday-newspaper comic-book insert, was a less showy masked crime-fighter than the typical super hero, created by writer-artist Will Eisner. His namesake, seven-page weekly series is considered one of the comic-art medium’s most significant works, with Eisner creating or popularizing many of the styles, techniques, and storytelling conventions used by comics professionals decades later.
1941:Cheerios; Citizen Kane; Pearl Harbor
Author and Psychologist William Marston is credited as the creator of the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception, which became one component of the modern polygraph. From his work, Marston had been convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men, and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of women of the day. No surprise then that his comic book creation, Wonder Woman, had a magic lasso which forced those wrapped in it to tell the truth.
Wonder Woman was the archetype of Marston’s perfect woman. She was beautiful, intelligent, strong, yet still possessed a soft side. Her powers were derived from “Amazon concentration,” not as a gift from the gods which would become part of her back story later. In Wonder Woman’s origin story, Steve Trevor, an intelligence officer in the US Army, crashed his plane on Paradise Island, the Amazons’ isolated homeland. Princess Diana nursed him back to health, and fell in love with him. When the goddess Aphrodite declared that it was time for an Amazon to travel to “Man’s World” and fight the evil of the Nazis, a tournament was held to determine who would be the Amazon champion. Although forbidden by her mother, Queen Hippolyte, to participate in the tournament, Princess Diana did so nevertheless, her identity hidden by, yes you guessed it, a mask.
CAPTAIN AMERICA is the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a sickly young man who was given enhanced strength and reflexes by an experimental serum in order to aid the US war effort. Captain America, armed with an indestructible shield that can be thrown as a weapon, was an intentionally patriotic creation who was often depicted fighting the Axis. Captain America was Timely Comics’ most popular character during WWII. After the war ended, the character’s popularity waned and he all but disappeared by the 1950s. Captain America was reintroduced during the Silver Age of comics when he was revived from suspended animation by the superhero team The Avengers.