Golden Age of Batman (1939-1956):A Reflection of American Society Horace Greeley High School Victoria M.
What does the evolution of “golden age Batman” reveal about American society?
Batman Begins • Batman first appeared on the pages of a comic book in Detective Comics #27 “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” • It was released May, 1939 • Co-created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger • Only Kane recieves official credit
Inspirations for Batman • Scarlet Pimpernel – one of the first masked vigilantes • The Scarlet Pimpernel was an anonymous hero who rescued aristocrats from the guillotine during the French revolution • The Mask of Zorro (1920) • Fairbanks played wealthy Diego and his masked alter ego, Zorro • Zorro had a secret cave behind a grandfather clock in Diego’s living room • Leonardo da Vinci • Kane claims to have developed aspects of Batman’s costume from da Vinci’s sketches of a flying machine Douglas Fairbanks in the Mask of Zorro (1920) Leonardo da Vinci's Flying Machine- ca. 1485
The Great Depression • The depression, which caused feelings of hopelessness and despair, lead many American to turn to fictional super heroes as a sign of hope • Batman’s dark persona is a reflection of the gloomy outlook of American society at this time • During the Depression most people didn’t have money to spare on entertainment • However, at just 10 cents an issue, comic books were an affordable medium of entertainment
Gotham • The name “Gotham City” was first used in Detective Comics #48 in February, 1941 • It is the universal city, it represents all modern cities • It is modeled after such cities as Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburg • Batman editor Danny O’Neil describes Gotham as “New York below Fourteenth Street after eleven o’clock at night” • A reflection of the crime and grittiness of the Depression Era
Batman: The Ultimate Example of Good Work Ethics • Batman is a super hero without any super powers • He relies upon intense training, discipline, his arsenal of “toys”, and intellect to fight crime • Batman represents the perfectibility of man and the great American work ethic • Theoretically any individual has the ability to become like Batman through hard work and dedication • The belief, embodied by Batman, that hard work brings about success and greatness gave many Americans hope during a time when unemployment levels reached about 25%
Gangsters and Villains John Dillinger “Baby Face” Nelson • Batman originated at the end of the “Gangster Era”, a period form the late 1920s to the early 1930s in which the United States experienced a period of widespread lawlessness • This period saw the rise of such notorious mobsters as: Al Capone, “Baby Face” Nelson, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, John Dillinger, and "Pretty Boy" Floyd • Due to the influence of the “Gangster Era”, many of Batman’s earliest enemies to be more realistic criminals, such as petty thieves and mobsters • Batman’s parents were murdered Joe Chill, a thief under the direction of mafia boss Joe Moxon
Original Moral Code • “Batman was written originally in the style of the pulps” • When first introduced, Batman wore a holster and gun under his cape and didn’t show any remorse for causing death • When the criminal falls into an acid tank at the end Detective Comics #27 Batman declares it “A fitting end for his kind.” • In Detective Comics #29, Batman threatens some criminals “Tell me! Or I’ll kill You” • In Batman #1, Batman exclaims, “Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary!” before using the Batplane’s machine gun to kill the criminals
Changing Moral Code • By the end of 1941, Batman moral credence had gone through a drastic transformation • In Batman #4 Batman tells Robin, “we never kill with weapons of any kind!” and there’s a caption which states “The Batman never carries or kills with a gun. • These changes in Batman were due to audience response and the changing political climate in the world • Letters were written by concerned mothers who were afraid that having their children exposed to such gory material would have a negative impact on them. • There were also fears that Batman would be seen as a violent, authoritarian figure like Hitler
Batman & Robin • Robin was introduced in Detective Comics #38 in April, 1940 • His name was based on Robin Hood • He was introduced to humanize Batman and to lighten the mood of the comic • His debut coincided with the changes to Batman’s “moral code” • He signaled the end of the depression • He relieved the gloom and isolation of Batman • Children could relate to him
Batman: A Vehicle for WWII Propaganda…. • During the war cartoons and comics, including Batman, were used as a source of propaganda in domestic advertisements, leaflets, recruitment posters, etc. • In World’s Finest #8, Batman, Robin, and Superman sell war bonds from a stall • Batman #17 shows Batman and Robin atop an American Eagle promoting war bonds • In World’s Finest #9 Batman hurls tennis bal at caricatures of Axis leaders
Or Was He? • During the war, Batman was able to largely maintain his own style and image and generally remained isolated from war issues • Batman only came into contact with Hitler once on the cover of World’s Finest #9 • Much of the creative staff was exempt from the draft and therefore had little interest to depict a war in which they had no experience in and were never going to participate • Bill Finger was excluded from the draft on health grounds, due to a history of scarlet fever • Writer Alvin Schwartz had chronic asthma • Artist Stan Kaye had scar tissue on his lungs from TB • The consistency of the Batman comic with little reference, if any, to the war may have been comforting to the private serving aboard
WWII Comic Book Stats • In 1940 the estimated monthly circulation of all comic books was 3.7 million • By 1944 the monthly circulation shot up to 28.7 million • In 1943 the 3 titles in which Batman appeared (Detective, Batman, and World’s Finest) released 3 million issues monthly • It is estimated that they were read by eight times that number
EarlyBacklash To Comics “Badly drawn, badly written, badly printed- a strain on the young nervous systems-the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant…Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the ‘comic’ magazine.” -- Chicago Daily News book reviewer Sterling North, May 8th, 1940
EarlyBacklash To Comics • During WWII there were complaints made to publishers of comic books about some of the content and the apparent bad influence it had on children • Most of these complaints were aimed at the excessively violent content of some comics • These early complaints brought about the early changes to Batman’s moral code • At the time, however, these complaints did not have a severe impact because people were still too concerned with the war abroad to focus on comic book regulation and comics continued to grow in popularity
Post War Comic Crackdown • The same times which created McCarthy created a bad time for comics • Some comic book publishers came together in 1948 and formed the Association of Comic Magazine Publishers (ACMP), whose goal was to set guidelines for comic books • In 1949 Gershon Legman wrote Love and Death in which he claimed that comic books trained kids like animals, by breaking their spirits • In 1950 a US Senate special committee investigating organized crime looked into the effects that crime comics had on it • In December, 1948 residents of Binghamton, NY conducted a house to house collection of comic books and burned them
Dr. Fredric Wertham: The Most Influential Comic Book Villain • Fredric Wertham was born on March 20, 1895, in Nuremberg, Germany • He moved to the US in 1922 and went on to become a highly distinguished psychologist • During his career he began his campaign against the “bad influence” of comic books • His “crusade” included testifying in front of the New York State Legislature about the psychiatric aspects of criminal behavior, and mentioned the negative impact which comics can have on individuals • He wrote many books including Seduction of the Innocent , his most famous attack on comics
Seductionof the Innocent “All parents should be grateful to Dr. Fredrick Wertham for having written ‘Seduction of the Innocent’… He holds that they stimulate racial prejudice and various sadistic and unhealthy attitudes; that their emphasis upon all sorts of crime, violence, drug addiction and cruelty stimulates children to various forms of juvenile delinquency .” -- New York Times article ”Nothing To Laugh At” by C. Wright Mills
Seduction of the Innocent • Seduction of the Innocent was published in 1954 • At the same time, a U.S. Congressional inquiry was launched into the comic book industry • The book warned that comic books were a bad form of popular literature and a major cause of juvenile delinquency • Wertham cites the depiction of violence, sex, drug use, and other adult material within "crime comics”
Wertham’s most famous accusation “At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and ‘Dick’ Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a ‘socialite’ and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Bruce is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner…It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” -- Seduction on the Innocent by Dr. Fredrick Wertham
Wertham makes his case • Though Wertham’s accusations sound prejudice and homophobic, his beliefs were widely accepted in his time • Wertham was concerned that if young children read about a gay Batman it could cause an internal conflict • In Wertham’s own words • Many adolescents go through periods of vague fears that the might be homosexual. Such fears may become a source of great mental anguish… during and after comic-book reading they indulge in fantasies which became seriously repressed. • One young homosexual during psychotherapy brought us a copy of Detective Comics, with a Batman story…When he was eight this boy had realized that from fantasies about comic books that he was aroused by men…‘I did want to have relations with Batman.’
Holy Homophobia!: American Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in the 1950s • During the 1950s the American Medical Association considered homosexuality a disorder suitable for psychiatric treatment • Senator McCarthy pledged to purge the government of Communists and “queers” • In the military “homosexual acts and tendencies” were cause for a dishonorable discharge • Almost all employment agencies refused to hire “effeminate” men • In many areas, homosexuality itself was a sex crime
Batman Fights to Reclaim Its Image • As a way to reclaim the image of Batman and Robin as respectable cultural icons, heterosexual love interest were introduced • The cover of Batman #87 reads “Batman Falls in Love” • Batgirl was introduced as a love interest for Robin • Batwoman was also introduced a little later as another possible love interest for Batman • Even Alfred, the butler, was killed off and replace by Aunt Harriet, to include more women
The Comics Code Authority • Due to the Senate Committee investigations being held to determine the correlation between comic books and juvenile delinquency, various comic book companies created the Comics Code authority (CCA) in October, 1954 • The CCA guidelines contained rules pertaining to violence, obscenities, religion, costume, marriage and sex, and advertising • Every comic approved by the CCA had a CCA seal on its cover
Examples of Some C.C.A. Guidelines • Crime • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds • Costume • All characters shall be depicted in dress reasonably acceptable to society • Dialogue • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden • Sex and Marriage • The treatment of love-romance stories shall emphasize the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage • Advertising • Liquor and tobacco advertising is not acceptable
Batman Goes to Camp • The post-war crackdown on comics brought an end to the Golden Age of Batman in 1956 • In order to follow the guidelines of the CCA, the plot lines got sillier and sillier • In 1964 Batman was given a new look, which included the yellow ellipse behind the costume’s bat symbol • The Batman TV series debuted in 1966 and had a very campy nature • This campy nature found its way into the comic books
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