The World in a Golden Age: 1941 at Home, Abroad, and in Comics
Posted November 12, 2009on:
“We view the world through our own eyes.” What an obvious statement, and yet not always so intuitive. We love comics, but rarely stop to think of the social and political canvass our beloved characters were painted against.
1941 may have been the most terrifying and uncertain year the Western World has ever seen. This was the year that the Axis Powers went to full scale war with Europe. Germany was invading all of her neighbors. ’41 saw Jews required to wear the Star of David arm bands and was the year Nazi Germany decided to institute concentration camps. Japan invaded French Indo-China and was amassing an army to fly across the Pacific. America was not in the war yet, but everywhere we looked it was becoming apparent we would not weather the storm without bloodshed.
It was in 1941 that Winston Churchill made his famous address to a joint session of congress urging full scale involvement in the European and Asian theatres of war. Winter was also claiming the lives of thousands of Germans as Hitler attempted to take Russia from Stalin. The whole world was realizing that yet another global war was at hand and dreading the long years they knew it would take to achieve peace.
The times also saw a vibrance in creativity in art, fashion, cinema, and music. In 1941 Citizen Kane was released and How Green Was My Valley was a box office hit. Glenn Miller was topping the charts with “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “A String of Pearls”.
Women’s fashion was conservative as the last dregs of 1920s fashion died out. Men were excited to wear baggy clothes and the zoot suit was returning. For obvious reasons men’s and women’s fashion made prominent use of shoulder pads modeled after military uniforms.
It had been about 15-20 years since cinema had become mainstream entertainment and with the advent of sound in pictures the 1940s began to see remakes of the popular silent films of the 1920s. With this we saw a second age of horror and science fiction at the theatre. Among these famous remakes in 1940 we saw renewed interest in a franchise called The Green Archer. Every week devoted fans would flock to their local theatre to watch a caped Robin Hood-esque man wield his bow and arrows for truth and justice as he diligently worked to stop a murderous band of jewel thieves.
It was in November of this world that the 73rd issue of More Fun Comics debuted the beloved Oliver Queen as The Green Arrow. It seems entirely reasonable in this extraordinarily uncertain time that Americans would reflect back to a percieved time of simplicity and take heart in a world where Truth and Justice were clear, easy, and absolute.
In the same issue America met another classic hero: Aquaman. While all Golden Age comics reflect a desire for simplicity and absolutes, Aquaman demonstrated a different appeal. Arthur Curry didn’t have to be on land with us. He could escape to the sea. His problems were his own. No need to be bogged down with the troubles of the world. Nothing but a vast, silent ocean and friendly sea creatures to entertain and befriend this hero. Despite this option, Aquaman chose to engage the dry land willingly. Perhaps this stemmed from America’s growing realization that Isolatioinsim was truly no longer an option.
Of all the Heroes to debut in 1941 perhaps the most poignant and iconic was Captain America. If Green Arrow and Aquaman demonstrated a desire to escape then it is no surprise the most successful character of 1941 hit the problems of the world head on. When faced with crisis it is only human to spend a few moments reflecting on what might have been, but a testament to the resolve of that generation was embodied in one of comic-doms most epic heroes. Captain America was more than just a simplified equation to solve right and wrong. He was more than escape. Steve Rogers WAS America. He was the strength, the resolve, and the character that Americans were striving to muster so they could persevere through the most difficult time in the history of the world.
Certainly the WWII generation achieved something close to the character we see in Steve Rogers. Whether subsequent generations have is less clear, but what is certain is that even in the 21st century America looks to Captain America and sees in him something noble and admirable. For this we salute the Cap with a raised glass. Most liquor was scarce during the war, but we did have an abundance of rum. Today’s recommended drink is The Hurricane Cocktail.