I mentioned a week or so ago about how I’ve been reading through the comics published by DC through the 1930s and 1940s. To be clear, I started with Action Comics #1, published in April of 1938, and I’m nearly finished with all the books they’ve put on their digital platform DC Universe Infinite up through 1943.
It’s been a wild ride so far. So many characters that we know and love today had already been created by this point, like The Joker, Plastic Man, Jimmy Olsen, and even The Cheetah. And it has been interesting to see such things like the original Catwoman wearing a full furry-style cat mask, I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply can’t continue.
While interesting from a historical perspective, from an enjoyment perspective, it’s purely terrible.
I get it. It was written for kids. And I’m deep in the midst of the World War II era which means everything made at that time was filled with as much propaganda as possible. And, looking back 80 years means that we’re bound to see all sorts of racist and sexist depictions perpetuated.
But honestly, what’s causing me to stop isn’t even really that as much as it is the sheer atrocity which is the writing.
For an artform which combines pictures and text to tell a story, they sure don’t seem to know how to recognize how much of the story is already being told by the picture. I found a panel while reading last night where the picture showed a guy walking through a door and a portion of the text on the panel (because these panels are absolutely filled with text) literally said “The man walked through the door”.
Now, that’s just an annoyance, obviously, because really, I just don’t want to spend all my time trying to wade through unnecessary text when working my way through ancient comic books. But the worst part of it is how they will absolutely overwrite moments like a guy walking through the door, and then completely blast past things like the villain’s motivations or how they stop the villain. There are countless examples in these early books where we see the hero and the villain in a moment where the hero is certain to lose, only for the next panel to have the hero and their friends crowded together with big smiles on their faces saying “Man, that was a crazy battle, huh? Hope they don’t try that again.” And then they often insert a sexist remark about how women are useless just for a fun sign off.
I’m not one to claim that comic books are known for their writing. There are certainly examples of amazing writing done in the comic book medium, but I’ll admit there’s more than enough crap being written today as well. But, the modern comic book era, and even the silver age, seemed to do a far better job of focusing on the story and knowing exactly how to use a panel to convey all the information necessary, without covering up the picture with text or skipping over the exciting moments.
We often use the phrase “golden age” to reference some ideal time. And this has definitely been true when using it for the dawn of superhero comic books. But, sometimes it just means old, and not the best. In the case of comic books, at least in the DC arena, , golden really probably means first (like in the Olympics?), instead of best.
And unless you want to dig through the books for some historical curiosity, I wouldn’t recommend getting too invested. Unless, of course, you’re looking for something to put you to sleep in between your rage fits about Clark Kent stealing another news story from Lois Lane, even though he wasn’t on the scene, but Superman was.
Golden Age Clark Kent spent so much time wondering why Lois Lane didn’t like him when he would pull these stupid stunts like stealing her stories out from under him just because Superman had to show up and save her. And then she’d be like, “How’d you even get this story?” and he’d say, “Superman told me.” And she would still somehow swoon over Superman although he was literally stealing these stories from her. She was obviously only interested in Superman for the red underpants.