Since their inception towards the end of the 19th Century, comics have increasingly served a vital role in academic study. They reveal quite a number of issues about the society in general. Most comics reflect issues that the society is dealing with within their publication or written period. It is interesting to note that quite a number of academic researchers find them useful in studying the evolution of the world from the changing perceptions on culture and race to the changing roles of women in society.
Looking at comics that were published before 1960 and those that were published after the year 2000, one would be able to point out the changing trends in culture, technology, and gender roles. These trends are among various other important things that are important to the history of a society. Tracing comics from their onset to date brings to surface the changing trends in society which are depicted through the characters in the books and storylines that tactfully and wit-fully reflect the happenings in society. The varying periods draw an interesting evolution in societal trends from culture to technology advancements. Therefore, it would be interesting to compare and contrast a comic book from the pre-1960 period and a comic book from post-2000.
This essay will do a comparative analysis of issue 37 and volume 1 of “Batman: the joker steals batman’s thunder” by DC Comic; and the series that fall under volume 1 of “Superman: What Price Tomorrow?” by George Perez, Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens. Batman was published in the year 1946, on October 1st; whereas Superman was published between the years 2011 to 2016. The two distinct decades shade varying lights on the changing trends in the American society in a very interesting way.
First, these two comics both fall under the same genre of superhero comics. Particularly, they both have superhero characters that carry the day at the end of their storylines. Looking at “Batman: the joker steals batman’s thunder’, Batman has supernatural abilities that he uses to beat the villains in the story; which is the same case with “Superman: what price for tomorrow?”. The two superheroes both use their mystic powers to fight evil in the society with good. Their opponents equally possess supernatural powers but use it for evil gain, which is contrary to what Batman and Superman use their powers for.
In as much as most scholars claim that man is naturally evil, man is expected to pursue good over evil. This argument explains the existence of consequences in society for committing evil. Looking at the Batman’s issue, the criminals were arrested and put behind bars. Despite Joker being able to leave prison, his persistence on committing crime led to the second arrest that saw him being returned to prison. Notably, this portrays the 21st-century society whereby most criminals are arrested, tried for the offenses committed and put behind bars when found guilty. Superman’s and Batman’s consistent triumphs over the villains portrayed in their stories also reflect the societal belief that good will always overcome evil, regardless of how powerful evil is or seems to be. Consequently, this depicts the moral value that is expected of every human being in society; to do good at all times. Moreover, it is depicted in both eras; the pre-1960 and post-2000.
The Batman issue consists of very few female characters. While most of the main characters are male, women take the secondary roles (mostly the career roles). This depicts the place of women in society during that period. The only relevant female character depicted in the comic is Nurse Noreen O’Day, during Batman’s stay at the Gotham hospital after he got shot when fighting theft of radium at the same hospital (Schnapp et. al). In particular, this depicts the circumstances of women in society before 1960. Women were not spear headers in society, and as such, could not hold influential roles. Instead, they only took part in particular roles that were reserved for them such as being typists, models or nurses. If they were not career women, or in search of romance most of the time, then they were just objects of male attention.
Looking at the Superman issue, there is a contradiction as women are portrayed in more empowering positions. Lois Lane holds the position of executive producer of nightly news at Galaxy Communications, Martha Kent’s body is suspected to have been taken over by aliens alongside her husband’s, and Heather Kelley turns into an ice monster (Perez et. al). These relevant positions taken by women are not depicted in the pre-1960 period where women were mostly given passive roles. This post-2000 era sees women in more influential positions that would have otherwise been held by men in the past century. Therefore, this is a clear indication of the changing roles of women in society in the 21st century. The post-2000 saw women being able to hold leadership positions and compete equally with men. Lois Lane’s former position as lead anchor being taken over by William McCoy is a clear indication that both men and women can work in the same capacity, and compete favorably against each other.
Batman’s 1946 issue portrays only white characters. The superhero is white, and so are the other characters. As a result, this depicts a society that is highly dominated by white people, thus mostly the white culture. In as much as comics are originally American, America is a diverse nation that consists of other races including African Americans, Asians, and Caucasians among other races in the world. The comics being able to depict only one dominant culture depicts biases, which equals to racism in this case. In the period before 1960, racism is an issue that was fought long and hard on various platforms; activities such as slavery and colonialism thrived during this period. The world was at war as some groups felt superior to others thus causing feelings of inferiority which bred conflicts in pursuit of identity. Batman’s issue does not disappoint in depicting dominance of one culture, thus sidelining all other cultures.
Superman’s issue, on the other hand, is all-encompassing. The issue depicts other races in dominant positions, apart from the white race. Morgan Edge, the owner of Galaxy Communications, is depicted as African American in this issue (Perez et. al) It is interesting to note that he was initially depicted as Caucasian. In particular, this depicts the evolving trend of equality in the post-2000 period. Unlike in the past, where the white race dominantly held influential positions, the 21st century saw other races being able to hold the same positions that were initially considered for whites only. Moreover, this period saw the results of active campaigns and activism for equal platforms for everyone regardless of their race or gender. The trend is depicted in America’s post-2000 culture that even saw an African American president being elected to office, two terms in a row.
In the 1946 Batman’s issue, mobile technology and plane technology is introduced. Batman possesses a ‘Batmobile’ and ‘Batplane,’ which aid him in his missions. There is a ‘Joker copter’ and ‘Jokermobile’ as well, owned by the Joker. These technological tools depict an onset of a radical technology period that was gradually developing and taking over in communication and transportation sectors. The Batman issue also manages to show how these technological improvements could greatly aid in dealing with crime issues. Through the Batmobile, Batman can get and transmit information; which is the same case with Joker, through his ‘Jokermobile.’ Batman and Joker are also able to move swiftly from one place to the other through their ‘Batplane’ and ‘Joker copter.’ The period before 1960 saw the introduction of telephone communication and sophisticated transport systems such as aircrafts, which saw them being improved in later years.
Superman’s issue depicts a technological revolution in the media industry. It depicts the evolution from print to multimedia. Morgan Edge acquires Daily Planet and demolishes it to create a new one that accommodates the changing trends in media. Galaxy Communications brings forth live news coverage and video recordings. These depict the evolution of news media in the post-2000. The first breakthrough for Galaxy Communications in its coverage of Superman’s fight with an extraterrestrial monster that turned buildings into living fire shows the capacity of present media houses to cover incidents as they happen. In as much as print media still exists in the 21st century, it has been taken over by visual and audio media which is quite more efficient compared to the latter. The importance of visual media is brought out when Superman is able to fight an invisible monster through watching live recordings done by Daily Planet. Notably, this is something that would have been outrightly impossible with print media.
From the above discussions, it is clear that comics form an important part of history as they mirror the society in the period that they get written. Through the storylines and characters depicted in these stories, one can easily tell the culture of the community depicted in the story, the technological advancements made in the period, and the place of men and women in the particular society. Moreover, it is possible to denote the ethnic affiliations of the community and the values that the concerned community advocate for. Thus, they form a vital reference point for historians and other stakeholders in their study of evolution from the early periods to date. The cultural evolution depicted opens and backs up discussions on topics such as politics, feminism, technology, gender roles, and lifestyles.
Perez, George, Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens. “Superman: What Price Tomorrow?” Superman Storylines 1 (2011-2016).
Schnapp, Ira, et al. “Batman: the joker steals batman’s thunder.” Batman 1.37 (1946).