June marks Superman’s 79th anniversary since first appearing in Action Comics #1 back in 1938. By the same comparison, June also marks the 79th anniversary of the Golden Age of Comics. This point in time was not only the beginning of the American superhero comic book empire, but also the launching point for many characters and creators whose work is the stuff of legends in the modern age.
The Golden Age of Comics kicked off in 1938 with Superman’s first appearance and came to its conclusion in 1954, and in that timeframe the superhero comic book rose up and started its climb into the sky of becoming one of the dominant forms of entertainment in America.
During this era, many heroes known to comic book readers both young and old took root, names that are familiar to all: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Captain America, The Human Torch, Hawkman, Sub-Mariner, The Spirit, Captain Marvel of SHAZAM fame and his Marvel Family, and Plastic Man. The list of known heroes goes on and on.
These years also saw the rise of hundreds of other costumed characters, who sadly faded into twilight, heroes such as Cat-Man and Kitten, Fighting Yank, Miss America, Black Fury, Steel Sterling, Miss Masque, and Blonde Phantom to name a few. As Mike Benton put it in his book ‘Superhero Comics Of The Golden Age’: “With hundreds of superheroes and an uncountable number of artists and writers, the Golden Age of Comics was a wildly rich and innovative time.”
Benton is right with this statement, and to break it down, while I’ve listed off various superheroes both known and relatively/very unknown that were a part of the Golden Age, those characters are only one part of what the Golden Age meant to the fledgling comic book industry. During this time, Superheroes were (and have remained relatively so) the dominant force in comics. During the time of the Golden Age, publishing companies sprouted like weeds, filling the market with all manner of characters, both superheroes and ones that weren’t. For superheroes, the dawn of the costumed adventurer (using either powers or human abilities/gadgets to fight crime) was one that came first with Superman, and followed after with more superheroes then one could count on fingers and toes.
Other characters that showed up included Walt Disney’s Donald Duck, whose adventures were written and drawn by Carl Barks (Carl also created Donald’s equally famous Uncle Scrooge). Under the guiding hand of Carl, Uncle Scrooge and the residents of Duckburg became famous in comics and out of comics with the iconic Disney Channel cartoon Duck Tales, which is making its comeback in August of this year. It wasn’t just Disney characters that flourished during the Golden Age; Archie Andrews and the residents of Riverdale found their legs during this time.
Archie started out as a backup feature in Pep Comics #22 published by MLJ Magazines. But as the 1940’s came to an end and superhero comics became less popular, Archie’s stories were catapulted to the main section of MLJ’s line of books, and with it came the company’s re-branding as Archie Comics. Years later, with a variety of cartoon shows and now a second season of the CW’s show Riverdale scheduled for the fall, Archie and the gang from Riverdale’s fame will only keep going up and up.
The halcyon days of the Golden Age wasn’t just about the characters or the comics, this was a time for the careers of many men and women who have achieved legendary status in the comics community for their work. Two names to rattle off are Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the father’s of Superman. Other big names include Captain America’s father’s Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Marvel’s public face Stan Lee, Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit and father of the graphic novel), Jack Cole (creator of Plastic Man) and Batman’s parental trio of Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. William Moulton Marston (the man who gave the world Wonder Woman), Lou Fine, Gardner Fox and Nina Albright, who achieved fame as one of the first few female artists in the business, also brought their own sizzle and pop to the comics world.
While comic books and the business are far different from what it started out as, its early years gave rise to some of its most enduring characters, writers and artists who went on to do great things and some (like Bill Finger) are only now gaining proper recognition for their accomplishments.
Added all up, The Golden Age of Comics did just as much for superheroes and comics themselves as have the other periods of history and even the here and now for modern comics.