by Yesenia Olmos
A superhero defeats evil supervillains in the name of justice, or do they? Superheroes offer us the perfect revenge and fantasy without the constraints of the law. American pop culture, for example, is obsessed with this idea of superheroes, this the U.S. government knew. The U.S. funded a government agency accordingly and named it ‘War Writers Board’ (WWB) in (1941) that introduced western “history” into comics to entertain, shape and sway Americans' opinions during wartime. Along with (WWB), Detective Comics (DC) writers and cartoonists brought to life war stories that would captivate an audience that had just suffered the post-traumatic stress of WWI and the beginning of the Great Depression. Comic books were geared towards all ages, that is what made them so popular and alarming. Acknowledging the time these comics were printed, there was sure to be wartime hysteria, (yellow peril) especially directed towards their enemies the Axis powers. It will be hard to say by the end of this blog if the previous statement is true or only a prospector's reality.
The beginning of the twentieth century would be known as the “Golden Age” of “innocence”. This was a time used metaphorically to describe the “innocence” of America or as an ironic description of the horrors of war. The period of the “Golden Age” of comic books would begin in (1938-1946) with the “first” American superhero, Superman. Accordingly, there had to be supervillains, America's wartime enemies, such as the “Japs”. The Japanese were often shown in comics as villains with yellow-tinted skin, pointed devil ears, long jaws, buck teeth, and sometimes fangs. By the 19th century, Americans had stereotyped the Asian population with the racist color-metaphor “yellow peril”. The term is integral to the xenophobic aspect of colonialism, saying the peoples of East Asia were an existential danger to the Western World. Paradoxically, they also tried to emphasize racial tolerance systematically to seem inclusive as opposed to their enemies abroad.
The Claw was a superhuman monster obsessed with America's complete destruction. The Claw orders a wave of “slaves” aka (Asian immigrants) to invade the U.S. The Claw was purposefully colored yellow, to represent the Yellow Peril a racist term that originated in the 19th century after Chinese immigrants moved to the West. This racist color-metaphor related to the people of East Asia as an existential danger to the Western World.
Black Dragon Society was created with the goal of driving the Russian Empire out of East Asia. The Black Dragon Society was a nationalistic right-wing military group in Japan, in the late 20s and 30s. During WWII Americans invoked wartime hysteria to sway the youth to think of the enemy as less than and incomparable to the American “intelligence”. Again, we see an illusion of how the American people saw their enemy.
The Atom disguised as Japanese miner. This was a way in which (WWB) along with DC cartoonists vilified wartime enemies. This picture is very racialized, with Atom slanting his eyes to exemplify wartime hysteria.
Beginning in 1938, the term nomos would come into context. Robert Cover, a law professor at Yale himself said, “nomos is a normative universe where we constantly create and maintain a world of right and wrong, of lawful and unlawful, of valid and void.” The introduction of superheroes created nomos. Unfortunately, some of the American population could not assimilate fact from fiction. The purpose of the (WWB) was to create hyper-nationalism amongst the American population while promoting inaccurate stereotypes of the enemy.
Starting December 7, 1941, the U.S. joined the war after a naval attack on Pearl Harbor, HI was bombed by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Comic books then began to emphasize the importance of going to war to defeat the “evil” that was abrupting the peace and justice of America. Comic books essentially became political media for all ages. It is important to realize that these comic books were being read by children who would grow up to be voters, soldiers, and officials of society for the next future generation.
Law is very different from justice. Law is associated with the dominant. While justice is associated with the person who escaped the bonds of the dominant. Greek philosopher, Plato himself said, “justice may be something apart from the law”. Therefore, superheroes became providers of justice. What I am trying to get at is, children, adults, soldiers reading these comics believed that America was the purveyors of justice, trying to defeat communism and fascism abroad. Comic books written during the “Golden Age” helped shape the modern American culture. It is important not to underestimate the impact of propaganda absorbed by the youth.
Many associate the end of the “Golden Age” with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, comic book creators began to create more inclusive superheroes, such as the ones below:
Cassandra Cain was born for experimental purposes, she became a trained assassin. She was given up by her mother (Lady Shiva) to her father (David Cain) who was part of the League of Assassins and trained her. She is Chinese-American and stands at 5’5, she is currently 19 years old. A vigilante, Cassandra decides to fight for what she believes in. She is later introduced to the Bat-Family and taken in as an adoptive daughter to Bruce Wayne, where she becomes “Batgirl”.
Kai-Ro, also known as Green Lantern, was a Tibetan-American. The ring chose him after he showed remarkable maturity and wisdom. He fought alongside the Justice League, where he advocated for more peaceful resolutions. Although Kai-Ro’s age is not known, it is assumed he is very young and a pariah for his insightful thinking.
Tatsu Yamashiro was trained at a young age to become an expert in martial arts and a samurai master. The sword that she carries is trapped with the soul of her dead husband and thousands of souls, whom she seeks to help. Katana is most known as a ‘vigilante’ in her role in the ‘Suicide Squad’.
“I have been called OMAC (One-Machine Attack Construct), but my name is Kevin Kho. I was transformed, without my knowledge and against my will into this monstrous form. And I have no way to change back.” In his civilian identity, however, Kevin is a Cambodian-American scientist working on genetic research.
Youth will always be targeted as the “weak” link to society. With undeveloped ideas and political views, the youth is always easily swayed. However, this can be changed. The only thing that might have the power to awaken the youth is to study history. History allows one to become a critical thinker, it allows you to decipher your own opinions based on facts. If the youth of today learned inclusive world history there could be a chance of understanding the world without inaccurate stereotypes. Superheroes may fight for justice, but the creators are the ones who form the conscience of what is right and wrong. So, then do superheroes truly fight for justice? Or only in what they believe is justice. Wars do not start on the battlefield, they begin at the home front. I would like to end this with a quote many Batman fans would recognize.
“Why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” – Batman
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