As American as jazz or rock and roll, comic books have been central in the nation's popular culture since Superman's 1938 debut in Action Comics #1. Selling in the millions each year for the past six decades, comic books have figured prominently in the childhoods of most Americans alive today. In Comic Book Nation, Bradford W. Wright offers an engaging, illuminating, and often provocative history of the comic book industry within the context of twentieth-century American society.
From Batman's Depression-era battles against corrupt local politicians and Captain America's one-man war against Nazi Germany to Iron Man's Cold War exploits in Vietnam and Spider-Man's confrontations with student protestors and drug use in the early 1970s, comic books have continually reflected the national mood, as Wright's imaginative reading of thousands of titles from the 1930s to the 1980s makes clear. In every genre—superhero, war, romance, crime, and horror comic books—Wright finds that writers and illustrators used the medium to address a variety of serious issues, including racism, economic injustice, fascism, the threat of nuclear war, drug abuse, and teenage alienation. At the same time, xenophobic wartime series proved that comic books could be as reactionary as any medium.
Wright's lively study also focuses on the role comic books played in transforming children and adolescents into consumers; the industry's ingenious efforts to market their products to legions of young but savvy fans; the efforts of parents, politicians, religious organizations, civic groups, and child psychologists like Dr. Fredric Wertham (whose 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, a salacious exposé of the medium's violence and sexual content, led to U.S. Senate hearings) to link juvenile delinquency to comic books and impose censorship on the industry; and the changing economics of comic book publishing over the course of the century. For the paperback edition, Wright has written a new postscript that details industry developments in the late 1990s and the response of comic artists to the tragedy of 9/11. Comic Book Nation is at once a serious study of popular culture and an entertaining look at an enduring American art form.