The Military Connection to Comics
Celebrating National Comic Book Day
September 26, 2016 by Jake Butler
The earliest known comic book, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, was originally created in Switzerland in the 1830s. After making the rounds in Europe over the course of a few years, it became the first comic book published in America on September 14, 1842. Unbeknownst to consumers at the time, it would launch a remarkable new form of storytelling that would leave a lasting impact on pop culture for centuries to come.
Despite the funny name, comic books have tackled some very serious and impactful topics over years – including politics, war and the military. To celebrate National Comic Book Day, we’ve compiled some interesting tidbits and trivia that demonstrate the industry’s connection to the military.
SETTING THE SCENE
Comic books rose to popularity in the 1930s and 40s, so it’s no coincidence that many of the characters and storylines closely mirrored what was happening in the country at the time. Comic book heroes embody true virtue and live to fight evil on behalf of the average, innocent citizen. Sometimes that evil is embodied in supernatural, all-powerful or other-worldly beings; other times the enemy is more real than that.
Captain America Comics No. 1 (March 1941). Source.
Often times in comics from this era, the real-world enemies were German Nazis, both real and fictional. Some comics, like on the cover of the Captain America No. 1, and Superman No. 17 and 23, depict real-life Nazis and even Adolph Hitler himself. Others, like Amalgam Comics, took a slightly different approach. Their character Ultra-Metallo was a heavily-armored, giant robot who also happened to be a Nazi, complete with a big swastika on its chest.
THE RED BEE
Although his popularity never really took off, Quality Comics created a character in the 1940s named the Red Bee. Although he had no real superpower to speak of, he used trained bees and a stinger gun to fight Nazis and gangsters. His favorite, most powerful bee was named Michael and lived inside his belt buckle, ready to fight on a moment’s notice.
SUPERMAN GETS REAL
In the 1940s DC universe, the Nazi High Command hated Superman. They were natural enemies. In 1940, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster wrote a story called “How Would Superman End the War?” for Look magazine. Superman, of course, disabled the Nazi regime and arrested both Hitler and Joseph Stalin, turning them in to the League of Nations. According to historians, the Nazis even acknowledged the story and wrote a rebuttal in the Das Schwarze Korps, their official newspaper.
THE PEOPLE’S PLAYWRIGHT
Stan Lee, the legendary man behind Marvel Comics, served in the Signal Corps for the Army starting in 1942. His original duties included repairing telegraph poles and other communication equipment. He would later be transferred to the Training Film Division, where he wrote manuals and came up with slogans for training materials. He was one of only nine men in the service at the time with the classification of “Playwright.”
CLARK KENT’S FAILED PHYSICAL
Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, came very close to serving in World War II. However, a failed physical put a halt to his career in the military before it could get started. Thanks to his x-ray vision, he inadvertently failed his eye test by reading the chart in the next room.
GREEN LANTERN’S NEW BACKSTORY
In the original story, John Stewart was an architect before he discovered the Green Lantern Ring and assumed the role of a superhero. But that backstory didn’t have enough pizzazz for DC. They reimagined him as a Marine veteran the second time around, and that version of his story proved popular enough to be merged into existing canon. His experience as a USMC sniper would prove valuable and he was even depicted battling alongside Army soldiers like Sgt. Rock in WWII when he didn’t have access to his ring.
THE OTHER GREEN LANTERN
If you’re familiar with the different iterations over the years, you know that John Stewart wasn’t the only Green Lantern with a military background. Hal Jordan’s story didn’t need to be updated – he was always a former Air Force pilot. His experience in the Korean War heavily influenced his attitude towards his role as Earth’s sworn protector.
FURY OF THE SHIELD
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos No. 1 (May 1963). Source.
Most comic fans know Col. Nick Fury as the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., the espionage, law enforcement and counter-terrorism agency of the Marvel universe. But you might not know he was a sergeant of the Howling Commandos during World War II. His son Marcus, also known as Nick Fury Jr., was a U.S. Army Ranger.
GET YOUR FREE COMICS
If these tidbits have sparked your interest in comics, Marvel is celebrating National Comic Book Day by giving away four free digital comics. Head to Marvel.com/redeem and enter the code COMICDAY to claim your digital copies!