A world without superheroes: The birth of the Silver Age

Intellectually, I’ve known for years that between the Golden Age ending and the debut of Barry Allen in Showcase #4, superheroes were mostly dead in the water. My recent rereading has driven that home in a way it never did before.

I decided on a whim to reread the Silver Age (not all at once, obviously) starting with the Flash’s debut. I reread lots of comics, but I typically end up rereading things like Bronze Age JLA 1990s Flash and Silver Age X-Men in the same period. Reading everything month by month, I thought, might give me a different perspective.

Not that I have much to get a perspective on just yet, as I have so little reading material from 1956 or 1957: various random reprints, the Sugar and Spike Archive, and Showcase collections of World’s Finest, Strange Adventures and Blackhawk (I know some pirate sites that could flesh things out, but no thank you). I also browse the relevant covers for each month as I go through it, via Mike’s Amazing World. The “newstand” feature lets me check out all DC covers for February, 1957, for instance, or view the same month for all publishers).

Looking at the covers makes it clear how unfashionable superheroes were. The superhero genre is DC’s trinity: Wonder Woman, Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superboy, Superman, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Beyond that there’s just Blackhawk and funny animal types like Mighty Mouse.

Funny animals were actually way more popular than masked mystery men. DC had Peter Porkchops, Peter Panda, Fox and the Crow (who also appeared in Real Screen Comics), Flippity and Flop, The Three Mouseketeers, a total of six (given Fox and the Crow were so successful, I wonder why Roy Thomas never introduced them on Earth-C, sticking with lesser lights such as the Dodo and the Frog and Emperor Nero Fox?).

Beyond DC, we had Mighty Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Disney’s Mickey-verse, Woody Woodpecker and several more.

Then there were the movie/TV tie-ins. Today, tie-ins are almost always genre (Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy) or comic-book versions of TV/movie versions of comic books (Batman ’66). DC’s offerings in 1956/57 are startlingly mundane by comparison: The Honeymooners, Sgt. Bilko, Bob Hope, Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (eventually, of course to become just Jerry Lewis) and the radio adaptations Big Town (crusading journalist), Mr. D.A. (crusading DA) and Gang Busters (crusading cops). Not a Jedi or a Slayer among them (there were adaptation of TV’s Tom Corbett from Dell and Prize earlier in the decade though).

Something else that struck me is that DC’s war comics are straight anthologies. When I started reading comics in the next decade, war books always had a lead star such as Sgt. Rock, Mademoiselle Marie or the War That Time Forgot. Apparently not in the mid-1950s.

I can’t say any of this triggers any deep insights into the human condition, but I’m enjoying it.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Carmine Infantino, uncredited, Sheldon Moldoff, Bob Brown

5 Comments

  1. David107

    The Fox And The Crow first appeared in animated movie shorts and were licensed, from Columbia I think, so not owned by DC; I guess that’s why Roy Thomas didn’t bring them back.

    Until 1954 they had the cover and lead spot in Comic Cavalcade, as well as their own comic and Real Screen Comics, making them superstars of early fifties comics.

    1. Thanks, I wondered if that might be the case.
      There was a good article many years back in “Amazing World of DC Comics” that pointed out how many stories they were able to squeeze from such a simple formula — the writer argued it was evidence “there’s nothing more you can write for this character” says more about writers than characters.

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