CLEVELAND, Ohio — Why didn’t Superman and friends just end World War II themselves?
Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman finally answer that sticky question with a series of three hardbound books called “The War Years” (Chartwell, $24.99) written by Roy Thomas, telling the story of the characters’ involvement in World War II.
It seems odd that someone other than DC Comics is releasing books collecting full color reproductions of DC Comics, but that is the case. And these are good ones.
“Superman: The War Years 1938-1945” features 20 comics from the first seven years of Superman’s creation by Clevelanders Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (and yes, I say that every time I mention Superman). The colors are very sharp and the lettering easy to read in this slightly oversized edition. Like the other two books in the series, it does not include every comic published, but focuses on those that have a war theme or cover.
Bottom line is that of the three DC heroes, Wonder Woman was more directly involved in fighting Nazis and the Japanese than the others. Using the premise that Ares/Mars, the God of War, was behind the hostilities, Wonder Woman was out there fighting the good fight in Europe and the Pacific.
Superman, on the other hand, almost never had direct conflict with the Axis forces, though many of the covers showed him doing just that. The theory at the time was that it would be demoralizing to show Superman taking out tanks like kiddie cars when real soldiers were dying.
In several stories Superman intervened in a war involving mythical countries that sounded a great deal like Germany and Japan, which is a way of Superman getting involved without actually getting involved.
“Batman: The War Years 1939-1945” showed Batman and Robin fighting the war on the home front through 20 comics and assorted covers lifted from that Golden Age. Like Superman, Batman did not fly to Europe or the Pacific and directly engage the enemy. He and Robin mostly fought saboteurs, spies and home grown bad guys who were either out for themselves or helping the Axis powers.
Again, it’s a pleasure to read these wonderful stories in such a pristine format.
Roy Thomas, a man who worked at both DC and Marvel Comics over the years and has a fascination for the Golden Age of Comics, writes insightful essays in all three books, explaining why the DC characters were not more involved in the fight.
Perhaps most important to mention is that the comics of the era did a lot to urge people in the real world to help the war effort by buying U.S. Savings Bonds and participate in scrap metal and paper drives. Ironically, those paper drives included comics which explains why the 1940s comics are so hard to find.
“Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945” is a fascinating collection of stories that were regarded as innocent at the time. Today’s readers will be amused, or horrified, at the depictions of domination and submission, and outright bizarre actions of Wonder Woman and friends. Just for fun, count the number of panels where someone is bound with chains or ropes or being spanked. Creepy stuff that was a reflection of the beliefs of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton.
In the reprinting of “Wonder Woman” No. 2 from 1942, amid the bondage and spanking, there is a scene where the heroine is tied up (again) and has tape over her eyes and mouth. She’s able to loosen the tape on her mouth. She could remove the tape off her eyes but chooses not to. Why? “My feminine vanity won’t let me pull out my eyelashes. I’ll have to escape blindfolded.”
Now that’s a problem Batman never had.