Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Books in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about the joy of Golden Age Comics and war:



You know the funny thing about those completely gratuitous and unnecessary Marvel Zombie covers, popping up on titles that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Marvel Zombies, I was writing about last week?  They have different ratings than the regular covers!  The regular cover of Ms. Marvel #20 receives a T+ while the Marvel Zombie Variant cover comes with a Parental Advisory.


Well, that makes sense.  I mean you'd want to protect kids from seeing such gruesome imagery...except of course they've already seen it because it's on the cover!  Oh, I'm not dense, I understand the real reason for the Parental Advisory is to keep little Johnny from buying it and (heaven forbid) having Soccer Mom Sue find it.


But it's still pretty funny.


However I won't be beating Marvel up too much this week, not after they've provided me with my literal heart's desire in the just-released solicitations for January; they're finally publishing Marvel Masterworks: The Golden Age Daring Mystery Volume One (the very book I asked them to publish in a previous column)! That's just how big a nerd I am when it comes to Golden Age Comics.


I've found a great Website, Golden Age Comics Downloads that allows you to download thousands upon thousands of pages of Golden Age material (all, of course, in the public domain).  And now in what laughingly passes for my free time, I'm finally able to read the comics I could only read about in the Steranko History of Comics when I was a kid; Exciting, Thrilling, Planet, Fight, etc.


Not that I can actually defend them as literature.  Sure they can be racist, sexist, xenophobic and jingoistic, but even when they're not exactly good (I've read dozens of Exciting Comics where in every single story the hero, super or otherwise, is temporarily incapacitated by a gun butt to the head; it's a great way to turn a six-page story into a ten- page one), they're always interesting.  If nothing else, they're accurate snapshots of how the public culture conveyed the attitudes of the times.


Though it is kind of wrenching going from an issue of Planet Comics that has a story set a hundred years in the future that can still have its characters exhort the kids to buy ever more War Stamps to how the war on terrorism is depicted in today's comics.


As I've said before, you can't fight Islamofascism (you can't even use the term Islamofascism without offending some Muslims; there are even people afraid of using the word 'Muslim' for fear of offending someone, somewhere - see the recently spiked Opus comic strips) with a punch to the jaw.  So instead you have to tell these stories using parables. So tell me if the plotlines from these comics seem in any way 'torn from today's headlines...'


Amazons Attack

America receives a devastating sneak attack by the Amazons, the pretext being to liberate Wonder Woman (who's being held prisoner until she reveals information about the Amazons' weapon of mass destruction - The Purple Ray), but that doesn't stop them from indiscriminately putting innocent men and children to the sword.  Conventional military forces are no match for them (you'd think a woman riding a flying horse would make a perfect target for a Stinger missile, but apparently not) and after magically keeping the superheroes at bay they lay siege to Washington, D.C.  And just when it looks like there might be a final battle...the Amazons vanish.  Maybe because there's no end in sight to our involvement in Iraq, or maybe it was just due to DC's editors' inability to understand you can't end a story with such an incredible anticlimax.


World War Hulk

The Hulk and his fanatical Warbound devastate the center of New York City turning it into a rubble-strewn war zone, the remaining disenfranchised citizens hailing the monsters as 'liberators.'  And issue after issue we're left gaping at the sight of The Hulk humiliating and abusing his prisoners (Reed Richards, Tony Stark, etc.) before eventually putting them on trial (by combat).


Sinestro War

Sinestro's new Sinestro Corps spreads fear and terror across the universe (for the good of all sentient beings of course), indiscriminately leaving carnage in their wake. Quickly overwhelmed by their unconventional tactics, The Green Lantern Corps receive massive casualties and seem incapable of stopping them.



But the really interesting thing, to me anyway, is how unlike in the wish fulfillment comics of the 40s where kids could vicariously vanquish American's enemies, it's the heroes who are now regularly defeated.  And don't get me started on the way American landmarks are routinely destroyed (I mean, check out the cover to the current issue of Green Lantern depicting a scene that does NOT take place anywhere in this issue).


And most of all I wonder just how intentional all this is. Are the writers and editors trying to make some kind of statement, reflecting an America that can't seem to get past 9/11 - or just trying to keep their comics 'contemporary?'


Of course all this is old news. Next up is Marvel's Secret Invasion, which appears to be the company's attempt to deal with the virulent fear that America will be infiltrated by terrorists, the pretext talk radio show hosts have used to brand all illegal immigrants as vicious criminals. Hopefully when the new Captain America shows up he'll leave The Red Skull and Dr. Faustus alone and deal with America's greatest threat; Guatemalan day laborers.


The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of