Tag Archives: Silver Age of Comics

Recovering Ideals (3)

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The second story in DC Comics’ The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes is Batman: War on Crime by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. My next few paragraphs might strike you as an odd way to introduce this comic, but I had the idea of referring to a personal experience and decided to go with it.

Last week, I mentioned that I had been jumped and that, in the process, my jaw had  been broken. Six individuals were responsible, and I could have been even more seriously hurt if one of my friends (who had some martial arts training) hadn’t pushed them off of me. That was on the second to the last day of the spring semester during my freshman year in high school. I spent the first six weeks of that summer sucking baby food through a straw since my jaw was wired shut. Almost two years later, I was jumped again, but the consequences weren’t as serious on that occasion. Someone approached me in the school restroom and hit me in the forehead, just above one of my eyes. He then grabbed a janitor’s drum and threw it at me. He was shorter than I was, and I blocked it back over his head, whereupon he ran out the door. As in the first case my assailant was not from my high school. He had entered the building without a visitor’s pass.

Without prolonging the story with unnecessary details, the identity of my attacker was discovered, and he was turned over to the juvenile authorities. My father was a state legislator, and he accompanied me to the hearing where I was asked to testify briefly. I was looking face-to-face at the young man who had accosted me without provocation. The questioning board was familiar with him to the point of addressing him on a first name basis.

Something bothered me about the hearing. Although I hadn’t been seriously hurt, he could have done serious damage to someone smaller. What bothered me wasn’t that I shouldn’t have pressed charges. It was that, in a situation where it was my word against his, there was no other evidence. I’m white (at the time, politically connected because of my father), and he was black. Since the board was already familiar with him, and since I was unlikely to have known him due to the fact that we went to different schools, I seriously doubt that the authorities in this case were racist. I know juveniles are handled differently by the legal system, but at the age of sixteen, I was asking myself about the precedent of someone being found guilty on nothing but the testimony of one witness.

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This was my most intimate exposure to our system of criminal justice, and it gave me a hint of the enormity of the problem. Let me make an awkward attempt at a transition here. Although a skilled and highly-trained man instead of an all-powerful being, Batman’s challenge is similar to the one faced by Superman in the previous story about which I posted. He can only save individuals. There are too many individuals to control and protect, and it would be totalitarian to attempt controlling all individuals. This thoughtful character is studious, dedicated, and astute, but he can only do so much. His efforts have left him baring scars, more so than gratitude, for his efforts at intervention.

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After a back story which includes the murder of his parents, we find him during a regular visit to their place of burial. I found this imagery compelling. The picture I found was of a French translation, but the original is obviously in English.

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This treatment of Bruce Wayne/Batman strikes a good balance between the original character as created by Bob Kane in the Golden Age of Comics, the version with which I grew up during the Silver Age of Comics, and the more currently pervasive approach of The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.

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There is one sequence which shows Batman attempting to talk a young man out of pursuing the wrong path. I found the monologue a bit stilted and unlikely, but I am reminded that I have thought from time to time about the seven guys (six first, one two years later) who jumped me. Are they still alive? Did anyone reach them before it was too late?


I think it is appropriate to end with the following image of Batman surveying Gotham below him. Not only is it a beautiful illustration – it also conveys the magnitude of what he faces.

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Recovering Ideals (1)

I’d like to expound on the DC Comics Universe of my childhood. I realize that we all have different perspectives and that reality as any one of us sees it is not necessarily reality as it is.  At the age of ten, my friends and I were idealistic. Police and soldiers were good people who protected us and only used violence when justified. Authority figures were also good and acted in our best interests. We read DC Comics, especially Superman but also Batman and Wonder Woman. Back then, heroes were heroes, and we believed in “truth, justice, and the American way.”


We were children of the Silver Age of Comics. For capes, my friends and I wore towels either tucked into our tee shirts or carefully safety-pinned around our necks, and we argued about who got to be the real Superman. Well, yeah, sometimes we squabbled or even fought, but we were good kids. My best friend and I volunteered to be traffic safety crossing guards (the diagonal belt and badge were cool), and our group in general befriended and stuck up for the little guys and the outcasts. One of our friends was so overweight he looked round, but we never made fun of him. We defended him when others picked on him. We had empathy and conscience, and our pre-adolescent society was one of inclusion and safety.


Then came junior high school, high school, and increasing social pressure with its trademark betrayals and altered values. We became overshadowed by an awareness of racism, riots, the protests against the war in Viet Nam, abuses of power by our government, and the Kent State shootings. Resistance to the status quo became the new coin of the social realm. Some of my friends’ parents started getting divorces. With this greater awareness and disillusionment, we lost a good many of our childhood ideals.


Even now, society tends toward the sarcastic and the cynical. We’ve been let down so many times that our first reaction is often skepticism when we are confronted by something good. I have noticed a trend in which people discard ideals on the basis of other people failing to live up to them. Very recently, I have had to remind myself that the ideal society of my youth never really existed, but that isn’t the whole story. I knew people, including my own parents, who truly lived by their ideals, and there were enough of them that they made the world better. The value in an ideal is that when people reach for it, society is better off. When a good ideal is discarded, too many people stop trying.


Getting back to my DC aspirations of the Silver Age, I recently purchased and read a graphic novel that brought all of it back. The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes by Paul Dini and Alex Ross does a masterful job of combining the historical ideals of perhaps the most iconic superheroes in comic book history with a modern awareness that the world we live in is indeed a very flawed place. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel are featured in narratives which apply their virtues to real world problems with understandably mixed results. What I like about these stories is that they use fictional characters to focus our attention on the potential hero within each of us and that they do this without being heavy-handed.


This is one of my favorite graphic novels, right up there with Kingdom Come and Marvels (my opinion, of course). And guess who the illustrator for both of those was? The panels are visually satisfying, the writing for the most part substantial, and the stories entertaining. In upcoming posts, I will examine some of the individual stories in this impressive collection.

Oh, and fifty-three years later, my buddies and I are still close.