Golden Age of Comic Books

The Golden Age of Comic Books describes an era of American comic books from the late 1930s to circa 1950. During this time, modern comic books were first published and rapidly increased in popularity. The superhero archetype was created and many well-known characters were introduced, including Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel (later known as SHAZAM!), Captain America, and Wonder Woman.

Golden Age of Comic Books
Superman, catalyst of the Golden Age: Superman #14 (Feb. 1942). Cover art by Fred Ray.
Time span1938 – c. 1950
Related periods
Followed bySilver Age of Comic Books (1956 – c. 1970)

Origin of the term

The first recorded use of the term "Golden Age" was by Richard A. Lupoff in an article, "Re-Birth", published in issue one of the fanzine Comic Art in April 1960.[1]


An event cited by many as marking the beginning of the Golden Age was the 1938 debut of Superman in Action Comics #1,[2] published by Detective Comics[3] (predecessor of DC Comics). Superman's popularity helped make comic books a major arm of publishing,[4] which led rival companies to create superheroes of their own to emulate Superman's success.[5][6]

World War II

Whiz Comics #2 (Feb. 1940), with the first appearance of Captain Marvel. Cover art by C. C. Beck.

Between 1939 and 1941 Detective Comics and its sister company, All-American Publications, introduced popular superheroes such as Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Aquaman.[7] Timely Comics, the 1940s predecessor of Marvel Comics, had million-selling titles featuring the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America.[8] Although DC and Timely characters are well-remembered today, circulation figures suggest that the best-selling superhero title of the era was Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel with sales of about 1.4 million copies per issue. The comic was published biweekly at one point to capitalize on its popularity.[9]

Patriotic heroes donning red, white, and blue were particularly popular during the time of the second World War following The Shield's debut in 1940.[10] Many heroes of this time period battled the Axis powers, with covers such as Captain America Comics #1 (cover-dated March 1941) showing the title character punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.[11]

As comic books grew in popularity, publishers began launching titles that expanded into a variety of genres. Dell Comics' non-superhero characters (particularly the licensed Walt Disney animated-character comics) outsold the superhero comics of the day.[12] The publisher featured licensed movie and literary characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Roy Rogers and Tarzan.[13] It was during this era that noted Donald Duck writer-artist Carl Barks rose to prominence.[14] Additionally, MLJ's introduction of Archie Andrews in Pep Comics #22 (December 1941) gave rise to teen humor comics,[15] with the Archie Andrews character remaining in print well into the 21st century.[16]

At the same time in Canada, American comic books were prohibited importation under the War Exchange Conservation Act[17] which restricted the importation of non-essential goods. As a result, a domestic publishing industry flourished during the duration of the war which were collectively informally called the Canadian Whites.

After the war

The educational comic book Dagwood Splits the Atom used characters from the comic strip Blondie.[18] According to historian Michael A. Amundson, appealing comic-book characters helped ease young readers' fear of nuclear war and neutralize anxiety about the questions posed by atomic power.[19] It was during this period that long-running humor comics debuted, including EC's Mad and Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge in Dell's Four Color Comics (both in 1952).[20][21]

In 1953, the comic book industry hit a setback when the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was created in order to investigate the problem of juvenile delinquency.[22] After the publication of Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent the following year that claimed comics sparked illegal behavior among minors, comic book publishers such as EC's William Gaines were subpoenaed to testify in public hearings.[23] As a result, the Comics Code Authority was created by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers to enact self-censorship by comic book publishers.[24] At this time, EC canceled its crime and horror titles and focused primarily on Mad.[24]

Shift from superheroes

StrangeTales114 detail
1940s comics were called "Golden Age" by 1963, as on the cover of Strange Tales #114 (November 1963).

During the late 1940s, the popularity of superhero comics waned. To retain reader interest, comic publishers diversified into other genres, such as war, Westerns, science fiction, romance, crime and horror.[25] Many superhero titles were cancelled or converted to other genres.

In 1946, DC Comics' Superboy, Aquaman and Green Arrow were switched from More Fun Comics into Adventure Comics so More Fun could focus on humor.[26] In 1948 All-American Comics, featuring Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder and Dr. Mid-Nite, was replaced with All-American Western. The following year, Flash Comics and Green Lantern were cancelled. In 1951 All Star Comics, featuring the Justice Society of America, became All-Star Western. The next year Star Spangled Comics, featuring Robin, was retitled Star Spangled War Stories. Sensation Comics, featuring Wonder Woman, was cancelled in 1953. The only DC superhero comics to continue publishing through the 1950s were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman and World's Finest Comics.

Plastic Man appeared in Quality Comics' Police Comics until 1950, when its focus switched to detective stories but his solo title continued bimonthly until issue 64, cover dated November 1956. Timely Comics' The Human Torch was canceled with issue #35 (March 1949)[27] and Marvel Mystery Comics, featuring the Human Torch, with issue #93 (Aug. 1949) became the horror comic Marvel Tales.[28] Sub-Mariner Comics was cancelled with issue #42 (June 1949) and Captain America Comics, by then Captain America's Weird Tales, with #75 (Feb. 1950). Harvey Comics' Black Cat was cancelled in 1951 and rebooted as a horror comic later that year—the title would change to Black Cat Mystery, Black Cat Mystic, and eventually Black Cat Western for the final two issues, which included Black Cat stories.[29] Lev Gleason Publications' Daredevil was edged out of his title by the Little Wise Guys in 1950.[30] Fawcett Comics' Whiz Comics, Master Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures were cancelled in 1953, and The Marvel Family was cancelled the following year.[31] The Silver Age of Comic Books is generally recognized as beginning with the debut of the first successful new superhero since the Golden Age, DC Comics' new Flash, in Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956).[32][33][34]

See also


  1. ^ Quattro, Ken (2004). "The New Ages: Rethinking Comic Book History". Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2015. ... according to fanzine historian Bill Schelly, 'The first use of the words "golden age" pertaining to the comics of the 1940s was by Richard A. Lupoff in an article called'"Re-Birth' in Comic Art #1 (April 1960).
  2. ^ "The Golden Age of Comics". History Detectives: Special Investigations. PBS. Retrieved February 18, 2015. The precise era of the Golden Age is disputed, though most agree that it was born with the launch of Superman in 1938.
  3. ^ "Action Comics #1". Grand Comics Database. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  4. ^ Goulart, Ron (2000). Comic Book Culture: An Illustrated History (1st American ed.). Portland, Oregon: Collectors Press. p. 43. ISBN 9781888054385.
  5. ^ Eury, Michael (2006). The Krypton Companion: A Historical Exploration of Superman Comic Books of 1958-1986. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 1893905616. since Superman inspired so many different super-heroes.
  6. ^ Hatfield, Charles (2005). Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature (1st ed.). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. p. 10. ISBN 1578067197. the various Superman-inspired "costume" comics
  7. ^ Various (January 19, 2005). The DC Comics Rarities Archives, Vol. 1. New York, New York: DC Comics. ISBN 1401200079.
  8. ^ Vernon Madison, Nathan (January 3, 2013). Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books, 1920–1960. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 107–108. ISBN 078647095X.
  9. ^ Morse, Ben (July 2006). "Thunderstruck". Wizard (179).
  10. ^ Madrid, Mike (September 30, 2013). Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics. Minneapolis, MN: Exterminating Angel Press. p. 29.
  11. ^ "Captain America Comics (1941) #1". Marvel Comics. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  12. ^ Benton, Mike (November 1989). The Comic Book in America: An Illustrated History. Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Company. p. 158. ISBN 0878336591.
  13. ^ Duncan, Randy; J. Smith, Matthew (January 29, 2013). Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 193–201. ISBN 0313399239.
  14. ^ "Donald Duck "Lost in the Andes" | The Comics Journal". January 24, 2012. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  15. ^ Nadel, Dan (Jun 1, 2006). Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900–1969. New York: Abrams Books. p. 8. ISBN 0810958384.
  16. ^ Telling, Gillian (July 6, 2015). "Mark Waid discusses 'overwhelmingly positive' reaction to Archie Andrews' new look after 75 years of Archie". Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  17. ^ The War Exchange Conservation Act, 1940, S.C. 1940-41, c. 2
  18. ^ "Dagwood splits the atom | The Ephemerist". 14 May 2007. Archived from the original on 21 November 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  19. ^ Zeman, Scott C.; Amundson, Michael A. (2004). Atomic Culture: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado. p. 11. ISBN 9780870817632.
  20. ^ Gertler, Nat; Lieber, Steve (6 July 2004). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel. New York: Alpha Books. p. 178. ISBN 1592572332.
  21. ^ Farrell, Ken (1 May 2006). Warman's Disney Collectibles Field Guide: Values and Identification. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. p. 327. ISBN 0896893227.
  22. ^ Binder, Arnold; Geis, Gilbert (1 January 2001). Juvenile Delinquency: Historical, Cultural & Legal Perspectives (Third ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: Routledge. p. 220. ISBN 1583605037.
  23. ^ Kiste Nyberg, Amy (1 February 1998). Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code (Studies in Popular Culture). Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. p. 59. ISBN 087805975X.
  24. ^ a b Kiste Nyberg, Amy. "Comics Code History: The Seal of Approval". Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Archived from the original on 27 March 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  25. ^ Kovacs, George; Marshall, C. W. (2011). Classics and Comics. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 109. ISBN 9780199734191.
  26. ^ Daniel, Wallace; Gilbert, Laura (September 20, 2010). DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. New York: DK Publishing. p. 51. ISBN 0756667429. Following More Fun Comics change in focus the previous month, the displaced super-heroes Superboy, Green Arrow, Johnny Quick, Aquaman, and the Shining Knight were welcomed by Adventure Comics.
  27. ^ "The Human Torch". Grand Comics Database. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  28. ^ "Marvel Mystery Comics". Grand Comics Database. Retrieved February 3, 2015.
  29. ^ Schoell, William (June 26, 2014). The Horror Comics: Fiends, Freaks and Fantastic Creatures, 1940–1980s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 82. ISBN 0786470275.
  30. ^ Plowright, Frank (September 22, 2003). The Slings & Arrows Comic Guide. Marietta, Georgia: Top Shelf Productions. p. 159. ISBN 0954458907.
  31. ^ Conroy, Mike (August 1, 2003). 500 Great Comic Book Action Heroes. Hauppauge, New York: Barron's Educational Series. p. 208. ISBN 0764125818.
  32. ^ Shutt, Craig (2003). Baby Boomer Comics: The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful Comic Books of the 1960s!. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. p. 20. ISBN 087349668X. The Silver Age started with Showcase #4, the Flash's first appearance.
  33. ^ Sassiene, Paul. The Comic Book: The One Essential Guide for Comic Book Fans Everywhere. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, a division of Book Sales. p. 69. ISBN 9781555219994. DC's Showcase No. 4 was the comic that started the Silver Age
  34. ^ "DC Flashback: The Flash". Comic Book Resources. July 2, 2007. Archived from the original on January 12, 2009. Retrieved March 26, 2016.

External links

Airman (comics)

Airman (originally Air Man) is a fictional, comic-book superhero first published by Centaur Publications during the late 1930s to 1940s period fans and historians call the Golden Age of Comic Books. He first appeared in Keen Detective Funnies #23 (Aug. 1940), in a story by artist Harry Sahle and an unconfirmed writer, generally credited as George Kapitan.After Centaur Publications went out of business, Airman lapsed into the public domain. In the early 1990s, he was revived by Malibu Comics as a character in the series Protectors, and starred in a namesake, one-shot spin-off.

An Airman story from Keen Detective Funnies #24 has been reprinted in Men of Mystery Comics #63 by AC Comics.

All-Winners Squad

The All-Winners Squad is a fictional superhero team appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The company's first such team, it first appeared in All Winners Comics #19 (Fall 1946), published by Marvel predecessor Timely Comics during the period fans and historians call the Golden Age of Comic Books.

While the comic-book title has no hyphen, Marvel, on its website version of the company's The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe: Teams 2005, spells the team name "All-Winners Squad" with a hyphen, as do independent sources.

Bell Features

Bell Features, also known as Commercial Signs of Canada, was a Canadian comic book publisher during the World War II era. They were the most successful of the publishers of "Canadian Whites", and published comics such as Adrian Dingle's Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

Founded in 1939 as a commercial art business, the company found success when it started publishing comics in September 1941, and changed its name to Bell Features in 1942. It folded in 1953 under increasing competition from American publishers.

Betsy Ross (comics)

Betsy Ross is Captain America's early love interest and supporting character in Marvel Comics appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics, during the 1930-1940s period known to historians and collectors as the Golden Age of Comic Books. She then debuted as the superheroine Golden Girl in Captain America Comics #66.

Blue Bolt

Blue Bolt is a fictional American comic book superhero created by writer-artist Joe Simon in 1940, during the period fans and historians refer to as the Golden Age of Comic Books.

Canadian Whites

Canadian Whites were World War II-era comic books published in Canada that featured colour covers with black-and-white interiors. Notable characters include Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, Brok Windsor, and Canada Jack. The period has been called the Golden Age of Canadian comics.

Captain Battle

Captain Battle is a fictional hero and one of the features in Lev Gleason's Silver Streak Comics, from the period known as "Golden Age of Comic Books."

Captain Freedom

Captain Freedom is a fictional comic book superhero from the period known as "Golden Age of Comic Books". His creator was identified as "Franklin Flagg" in the credits, but the identity of the individual behind the pseudonym remains unknown. He first appeared in Speed Comics #13 (May 1941), a Harvey Comics title. He continued to appear in Speed Comics until its cancellation. He was revived by AC Comics as a member of the Liberty Corp. Cloned from the DNA of a famous scientist, with incredible will-power and physical and mental training, as many as a hundred of the clones, were dispatched to various countries all over the world, (each identified as Captain Freedom), serving as a symbol and to fight for freedom.

One of the Captains shown in the AC universe went by the name Kent Clarkson. He later joined the Captain Paragon's original Sentinels of Liberty during "The Armageddon Factor" storyline.

Clock (comics)

The Clock is a fictional masked crime-fighter character created in 1936, during the Golden Age of Comic Books. According to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, he was the first masked hero to appear in American comic books.

Hillborough Studios

Hillborough Studios was a short-lived Canadian comic book publisher, founded in 1941, most notable for publishing Adrian Dingle's Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

Maple Leaf Publishing

Maple Leaf Publishing was a World War II-era Canadian comic book publisher active during the Golden Age of Comic Books. They were one of four publishers—along with Anglo-American Publishing, Hillborough Studios, and Bell Features—which published "Canadian Whites"—black-and-white comic books with colour covers that proliferated during the war years when American imports were restricted. Maple Leaf Publishing started publishing comic books in March 1941 and went out of business in late 1946.

In contrast to the larger Anglo-American, which published a large number of comics drawn by Canadians but based on imported American scripts, Maple Leaf focused on home-grown scripts. Maple Leaf's first publication, Better Comics #1, is thus considered to be the first true Canadian comic book.Maple Leaf's comics were modeled on the American format, minus the colour interiors. Notable titles other than Better Comics included Big Bang Comics, Lucky Comics and Rocket Comics.

Moon Girl (EC Comics)

Moon Girl (Clare Lune) is a fictional character published by EC Comics. Created by Max Gaines, Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff. Moon Girl is a character from the Golden Age of Comic Books and has since slipped into the public domain.

Neon the Unknown

Neon the Unknown is a fictional superhero from the Golden Age of Comic Books created by Jerry Iger for Quality Comics. Neon first appeared in a story penciled and inked by Lou Fine in Hit Comics #1 and was featured on the cover of that same issue. His stories ran in issues 1–17.

Like many characters owned by that company, he was later bought by DC Comics after Quality ceased operations.

Skyman (Columbia Comics)

The Skyman is a fictional comic book superhero that appeared in 1940s comics during what historians and fans call the Golden Age of Comic Books. Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Ogden Whitney, the character first appeared in the Columbia Comics omnibus title Big Shot Comics #1 (May 1940). He is unrelated to the DC Comics character.

TNT (comics)

TNT is a DC Comics superhero from the 1940s. TNT and his side-kick Dan the Dyna-Mite were created by Mort Weisinger for DC Comics, and made their debut in Star-Spangled Comics #7 (April 1942)

The "human hand grenades" had a short lived career during the Golden Age of Comic Books, reappearing occasionally in reprint form during the seventies, returning in Super Friends # 12, and appearing from time to time in All-Star Squadron and its Post-Crisis sequel, Young All-Stars.


Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man is the name of two fictional comic-book superheroes, father and son, that first appeared during the 1940s, the period fans and historians call the Golden Age of comic books. Both were characters of All-American Publications, which merged, in 1946, with DC Comics-predecessor National Periodical Publications.

They are separate from the DC Universe character Ultraman, a supervillain and evil counterpart of Superman, who was introduced in Justice League of America #29 (cover-dated Aug. 1964) and from the Japanese superhero Ultraman.

Vision (Aarkus)

This article is about the original 1940s Vision. For the modern-day comic-book character, see Vision (Marvel Comics).The Vision (Aarkus) is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by the writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, the character first appeared during the Golden Age of comic books in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (Nov. 1940), published by Marvel predecessor Timely Comics.

Wildfire (Carol Vance Martin)

Wildfire (Carol Vance Martin) is a fictional superheroine in the DC Comics universe. One of the first female superheroes, she was originally published by Quality Comics during what comics historians and fans called the Golden Age of comic books.

Yankee Girl

Yankee Girl is the name of two fictional comics characters, superheroines each debuting during the 1930s and 1940s Golden Age of Comic Books. One was revived in the 1990s.

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