Don’t Read 1940s Comics

C2E2 is coming up this weekend, and I am most definitely attending. I had a blast last year, as you might recall from my post covering my C2E2 experience. I haven’t quite psyched myself up into wearing elaborate cosplay or anything yet, (mostly I just wear my nerdiest t-shirt,) but I still prep each year, in my own book nerd way. This year I took on a truly epic endeavor.

I’m always a bit self conscious about my geek IQ when I profess affection for something nerdy in the presence of other nerds that could be more powerful than me. I’ve read a couple of more recent Wonder Woman comics, like Gail Simone and Brian Azzarello, but I hardly know Wonder Woman’s whole story. I mean, she’s been around since the 1940’s, so it’s quite a long story, but I still feel like a simple newbie when I try to read all those stories that try to weave the backstories of thirty different characters with their own series. It’s a bit intimidating. So, I did the thing I always do when I feel a bit intimidated and overreacted. I found a collection of every Wonder Woman since her WWII debut, and promised myself I would read them all before C2E2, so I would be on top of the history of at least one nerdy thing I like when I walked in that convention center.

I definitely did not make it from 1940 whenever to the present. I may have not made it through even one year. Turns out there’s a reason more people don’t try to reread comics from the forties. The casual racism definitely was a part of it, but not the only bit, not by a long shot.

There’s a reason that comics have had to fight to be considered to be considered a serious, elevated art form, or at least popular in mainstream culture. That reason is comics from the forties, if my “research” is any evidence. Take, for example, this panel I just had to take a picture of when I saw the glaring typo.

20160309_110659_edited

From the Brilliant minds of DC Comics

Yes, that is clew, as in Clew, the board game, or “I don’t have a clew how to proofread. It’s the secretary’s day off.” That clew had to be penciled then inked in, and then the whole thing had to be colored, and they just went with it. That shows a level of general professional disregard that I don’t think even late night Dunkin Donut employees can fathom, or else an early education system that was way worse than we realized.

These things were clearly designed for children by adults that were either highly sleep deprived or else didn’t give a crap. Most likely, they were really high on some sort of drug that is no longer in style, like candy cigarettes or Mary Janes. I mean, I know people from the forties had a very different idea of what was and wasn’t cool, but that’s the only excuse I can think of for them giving her an invisible jet and a giant kangaroo to ride.

Also, like I said good God were they casually racist. The Germans, Japanese, or anyone else even a little “foreign” were crude caricatures that I won’t show here, as a decent human being. As much work Wonder Woman did breaking that glass ceiling for women,  there’s still plenty in the oldest issues that was not exactly helpful in the forward march of human compassion and tolerance.

That’s not to say I didn’t have any fun reading those campy old issues. There were some amusing pieces, like the token fat friend Etta’s silly attempts to help Wonder Woman, (fat people being a rare oddity before science made food taste good and we stopped boiling everything.) The sometimes surprisingly kinky nods at bondage, from men and women compelled to do whatever Wonder Woman tells them to do when caught in her magic lasso, to the fun and games of Etta’s sorority sisters, was an interesting touch. Also, there were really funny, over-the-top villainous plots, like the guy poisoning water sources with a drug that makes people do the opposite of whatever they are told to do, which was apparently supposed to sabotage the American military until Wonder Woman figured it out and they just played “opposite day” until everyone got better. That right there was the plot of an entire issue. I can’t make this stuff up.

Well, I finally had to stop reading after that really racist issue about vaguely Asian bad guys killing elephants in a circus so the circus couldn’t perform a benefit charity for the military. No! Everyone knows the 1940s US Army got 90% of their funding through circus charity benefits! Drat those probably Japanese baddies. Regardless, I still learned a lot from delving into the past of Wonder Woman.

Really, it’s no use trying to feel extra elevated or smart because you’ve read the most and know the most about any given superhero. If you go far enough back, everything was giant kangaroos and racism. These stories are supposed to be fun and enjoyable because they can be fantastical and out of this world. They’ve certainly evolved over the years, but doesn’t mean they are any less fun, just that people enjoy making up different sorts of stories about Wonderful women or Super men.

In the end, I’m going to C2E2 knowing I’ve read and loved a few comic books and graphic novels by a few authors I like, about a few heroes I love. I may know more than the person next to me, or I may know less, but that nerd cred doesn’t matter. What matters is we all enjoy whatever parts we have of a bigger story, a story told so we can enjoy ourselves, and enjoy myself I will, even if I’m not ready to run around cosplaying in my Wonder Woman Underoos just yet.

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