Sunday, August 30, 2009

That Superbeing Philosophy II

“Every great police department makes the reading of certain ‘comics’ a ‘must’ because the crime pattern delineated by the cartoonist is certain to be followed by youthful imitators of the villain depicted. If parents would like to explain the erratic behavior of their children, let them do as the police do and learn from the ‘comics.’” - The Rev. William A. Gorey, pastor, St. Sabina Church, Chicago.

I’ve always felt that the full story of the anti-comics crusade has yet to be told. David Hadju’s Ten Cent Plague is an admirable book, the best so far on the involvement of Dr. Wertham, but comics never had a chance of survival with the dizzying array of forces lined up for battle between 1945 and 1954. J. Edgar Hoover thought the comics were a fifth column run by the pinkos, (William Gaines foolishly tweaked the bull’s nose by running his “Are You a Red Dupe?” ads in his comic pages,) the American Nazi Party thought comics were a Jewish Plot aimed at rotting the minds of the kids of America, and the (North American and British) communists thought comics were a tool of the military-industrial complex (although Ike would not coin the phrase until 1961.) The Catholic National League of Decency, who might just have been the original instigator of the war on comics, took aim at movies, books, comic books, and, at a later date, television. Marshal McCluhan and Dr. Frederick Wertham dissected the comics using the methods of Freud, while Gershon Legman attacked comics with the hysterical zeal of a true neurotic.

In Chicago, in April 1945, while the war was winding down in Europe, the Southtown Economist detected the philosophy of Neitchze and Hitler in the comic magazines, and ran a series of sensational front-page articles on the “Crime and Superbeing Philosophy” in comic books. The newspaper’s pages were filled with photographs of the dead of World War II, and Chicago was undergoing a minor crime wave of tavern robberies carried out by the juvenile delinquents left fatherless by the war. The Economist received and printed tons of mail from judges, policemen, lawyers, pastors, priests, nuns, librarians, teachers, mothers, fathers, and even high school students, praising the campaign to get rid of the “eye-shocking” trash poisoning the minds of “Young America.”

“Consider this:” said the Economist, “Surveys prove that the odds are nine to one that your child does, has, or will read “comic” books. In other words, only one out of ten children in the country has not or will not come under the influence of these teachers of crime.”

“Since the start of the defense program before the United States actually entered the war, two factors have combined to skyrocket the “comic” books into the realm of big business. One is the well-filled pockets of the nation’s school children during a period in which almost all adults are working at high wages. The other is the market developed by the war in the person of the soldier or sailor looking for a quick escape from the realities of his existence and one that does not make too great a demand upon his combat-drugged mind. But the comic book publishers themselves insist that the children remain their best customers.


“But perhaps you are one of those who have never read a “comic” book. Let’s take a look at one. Here’s one picked up at random. It is titled “Speed Comics” and its star performer on the basis of the cover is presumably Captain Freedom.

That cover is a riot, literally as well as figuratively. The scene is apparently a basement. In the centre is the half-clothed figure of a woman suspended by her arms with a block and tackle above a seething, bubbling mixture in a vat labeled “ACID.” The woman’s breasts are over-emphasized, and although little of them is covered, that little is drawn so as to leave nothing to the imagination. Her thighs and hips are also over-emphasized. By studying the contents of the book we learn that this is a superwoman known as the Black Cat.”

I found the Alex Schomburg cover referred to at The Grand Comics Database from Speed Comics no. 35, November 1944. Our friend Ron has posted the whole whopper of a story HERE. I recall coming into possession of some eye-popping issues of Black Cat in the fifties and thinking how fine it would be to be employed as a cartoonist at Harvey Comics. The art and stories had everything a reader could want in a comic: sex, violence and vivid imagination. The art was generally in the Caniff style and the Black Cat was very easy on the eyes. Our scribe spends quite some time dissecting the first story featuring Captain Freedom, a villainous beekeeper, and some giant bees.. A short excerpt:

“Inside the barn the children find a laboratory and the beekeeper. One of them trips over a pail. The beekeeper hurls a smoking smudge pot at them and they are overcome. The beekeeper trusses the children, hangs them on the wall, and paints them with a substance from a pot labeled “NECTAR.”

“First I anoint my victims to make a decent dish …! Then turn on the ultra-violet lamp over the bee-hives… Heh-heh! Soon giant bees will hatch … an’ have a royal feat on these nectar-smeared kidlets! Heh-heh!”

After breaking down the door, (with his head!), Captain Freedom dispatches of the giant bees with a pitchfork and tackles the insane bee-man, who falls into a bee-hive to be stung to death by normal-sized bees.

“Says one of the children:

“He on’y got what he desoived. All de same, it’s too bad!”

Says Captain Freedom:

“He died the same way he killed his neighbor -- ironic justice!”

And that is justice as it is taught in the “comics.” A superbeing steps in and solves everything.


“Our cover girl, Black Cat, fights off an attempt by Nazi spies to set the American Indians on the warpath. In the process at least seven persons are killed and Black Cat outfights three strong men. Through it all she wears the minimum of clothing and what she wears fits like the paper on the wall.”

The comic book publisher’s oft-quoted crocodile tears defense that comics were read by adult servicemen and that it was up to the parents to guard their children’s reading was a bit self-serving. Most comic book publishers, while aware of an adult readership, i.e. soldiers and sailors, directly marketed their comics to boys and girls. The influence of sex (the “sex angle,” as the Economist would have it) and violence comics on child-crime and suicide may be debatable but the bottom-line for publishers and their pocket-books was the children’s market. It was laughable to pretend that the publishers were unaware of their core audience. As the publishers became bolder in their depiction of sex and violence the storm clouds were gathering over their profitable enterprise. It was only a matter of time before they would be faced with cleaning up their acts or facing extinction.

“Oh yes, the “comic” books are strong on justice, but it’s a special brand handed down by supermen, superwomen and even superkids. Is that what you want your children to read? If not, what are you going to do about it in your own home?

In the final analysis, the problem is one that faces each parent in the privacy of his own home. He must solve the problem himself, in his own way. But he must solve it. The alternative is a child mentally and morally imperiled.


  1. Even more fascinating than your previous post. I agree with your conclusion that publishers knew they were peddling this stuff to kids. But one can't entirely write off the sales importance of comics-reading GI's. Heck, thousands of them were little more than kids.

    By cosmic chance I have a scan of the bee story. I've posted it on my blog ( you're interested.

  2. Cosmic is the right word -- thanks for posting that -- they don't make 'em like that anymore! Bee-yootiful!