Christopher B. Zeichmann

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Military Industrial Complex in the Golden Age

Last night I started reading The Complete Stardust the Super Wizard, which collects the stories about a Golden Age superhero created by Fletcher Hanks.  If I remember correctly, Stardust comics were produced around 1940 or so.


One story that surprised me was one wherein Stardust fought war profiteers – or at least a group that intended to profit, but were thwarted by him.  This reminded me of a similar story in a Superman story from around the same time, which follows the same basic blot.  The politics of the very early Superman comics were considerably different from those of Stardust – the first two or so years of Superman comics seem to depict him as a populist anarchist that goes around punching those who abuse their power (combating, e.g., spousal abuse, the prison industrial complex, union-busters), whereas Stardust is more interested in foiling the plans of those with ambitions to flat-0ut destroy the planet Earth (a sort of benevolent space deity).  Even so, the overlap suggests some kind of hesitancy toward producers of equipment for warfare, a concern no doubt related to the looming threat of U.S. involvement in WWII.


Contrast this with recent cinematic depictions of Batman and Superman, both of whom are billionaires whose fortunes are sustained by the production of military equipment.  I haven’t read many comics from the period shortly before or during US involvement in WWII, but I suspect that there was a significant change in attitudes around that time.  Captain America #1 famously depicted the title hero socking Hitler, even before the U.S. declared war – one assumes that anything that might be seen as opposed to the war would at some point be seen as near-treasonous.  The political ideology of Iron Man and Batman movies, of course, attend to a wildly different context: Batman regularly situates its hero in discourses about police militarization and Iron Man directly evokes the War on Terror.


Even as there are comic heroes in recent years who fall more toward the Stardust-Superman end of the anti-warfare spectrum, it seems Marvel’s and DC’s most valued properties do not launch extended criticisms of the military-industrial complex in the same way as in the Golden Age.  They tend to be supporting characters (e.g., early Anarky) or open to revision in short order (e.g., the first two or three issues of New 52 Superman).

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