By Marsha Brandsdorfer

According to Shirrel Rhoades’ book, A Complete History of American Comic Books, the initial beginning of comic books was in the 1930s with 64 pages of comic strips reprinted from the newspapers. Finally, by 1935, comic book titles started experimenting with original characters and stories. This seemed to go so well, that Detective Comics, founded in 1935, introduced Superman in 1938. This became the beginning of what was to be known as the Golden Age of Comics. Other superheroes were then developed, the most popular of which was Captain Marvel, whose alter ego was young Billy Batson who could change into the superhero just by saying “Shazam.”

Other new genres came out from other publishers, including western comics, war comics, romance comics, comics based on television shows, Disney comics, and teen comics, the most popular of which starred Archie Andrews, and his friends from Riverdale High. William M. Gaines who took over Educational Comics (“EC”) after his father Max Gaines, who founded the company, died in a boating accident, introduced stories of crime, horror and science fiction. He also published a humor comic, Mad. Nevertheless, Dr. Fredric Wertham, a clinical psychologist, wrote in his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, that comic books were a horrible influence on youth, corrupted their morals and contributed to juvenile delinquency. As self-preservation, The Comic Magazine Association of America created the Comics Code to voluntarily tone down some of the violence in comics. EC stopped publishing its horror comics, and eventually, all of its comics ceased, except for Mad, which survived by changing its format from a comic book to a magazine format to avoid the Code’s restrictions.

When the Silver Age of Comics began in 1956, attitudes towards comics became more positive, with the development of new superheroes. Stan Lee (pseudonym for Stanley Martin Lieber) who initially started working for Timely Comics (which would evolve by the 1960s to become Marvel Comics), created a team of superheroes, and as a new concept, decided to make each superhero more humane, wherein they would have their own faults and worries. They became the Fantastic Four. Plots and subplots continued in each issue, which was another new concept. The soon to be popular Spider-Man was also created by Stan Lee. Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker was a high school student, who had concerns and problems like other teenagers but gained superpowers after getting bitten by a radioactive spider at a science exhibit.

The Bronze Age of Comics was next, which went from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. During this period, some of the rules of the Comics Code were revised and relaxed, allowing for more liberties. Comic book characters became more psychologically complex by the Modern Age which began in in the mid-1980s and continues to the present. With the 1986 issuance of The Dark Knight Returns, writer/artist Frank Miller exhibited Batman as a gloomy character. The story’s success encouraged publishers to give their comics a darker and grimmer tone, reflecting also some of the attitudes of present society.

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