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Cold War in Comics

Read each example of a comic from the Cold War (make sure you look at what the
pictures can tell us too) and the article on the history of Marvel Comics. In your graphic
organizer, you must answer each of the following questions:

 What specific ideas from the Cold War are in the comics? (Use your vocab and pull out
examples)
 How/why are nuclear weapons important in the comics?
 Who are specific threats/enemies in the comics that connect to the Cold War?
How the Cold War saved Marvel and birthed a generation of
superheroes
Tegan O’Neil

One of the immediate selling points for Marvel’s new books were
their supposed connections to the “real world...By the early 1960s the
Cold War was an omnipresent fact of life for just about every living
person. Accordingly, the new breed of retooled heroes were scientists
and military men. Barry Allen was a police scientist transformed by a
lab accident into the new Flash. The new Green Lantern, Hal Jordan,
was a test pilot. These new heroes wore streamlined costumes, quite
unlike the fussy and theatrical outfits of their 1940s predecessors,
influenced by the flight suits of hero pilots such as Chuck Yeager….

Contrast this with the first issue of The Fantastic Four. Reed
Richards and his three cohorts are granted strange abilities by a belt of
Cosmic Rays encountered during the test flight of an experimental space
rocket. The reason why they were flying a dangerous experimental
rocket into space in the first place was because they had to beat the
Soviet Union—as the normally level-headed Sue Storm says to Ben
Grimm after he expresses his unwillingness to risk the launch, “We’ve
got to take that chance… unless we want the commies to beat us!”
For readers picking Fantastic Four #1 off the rack in the late summer of
’61, these words spoke to more than an abstract concern. The Soviets
had succeeded in putting the first man into orbit in April of that year.
Reed and his crew were determined to be the first Americans in space, in
a piloted rocket ship far more sophisticated than Yuri Gagarin’s remote
controlled Vostok 1.

After sales figures for Fantastic Four came back, Marvel moved
quickly to capitalize on the success. The second new character launched
was the Incredible Hulk, who first appeared in his own self-titled
magazine in spring of 1962. The outline of the Hulk’s origin is simple:
American atomic scientist Bruce Banner is accidentally exposed to the
blast of his own creation, the “gamma bomb,” while saving a teenager
who stumbled onto the test site on a bet. The gamma radiation saturates
Banner’s body, transforming him into the rampaging Hulk...
Less well remembered is the reason why the gamma bomb test was not
halted the moment Banner left the control room: the test was sabotaged
by Banner’s assistant, who just happened to be a Soviet secret agent
named Igor. (The name should have been a dead giveaway, in
hindsight.) Igor was taking orders from behind the Iron Curtain, where
the dread spymaster known only as The Gargoyle conspired to steal
American nuclear secrets.

The fiercest anti-communist in the Marvel stable, however, was Iron
Man. Originally premiering in issue #39 of Tales Of Suspense in
December of 1962, Tony Stark was then, as now, a billionaire
industrialist who had made his fortune in arms manufacturing. At the
very beginning of his first adventure Stark is seen demonstrating a
remarkable invention, a miracle transistor capable of increasing the
power of magnets “a thousandfold!” This development, according to
Stark, was sure to aid the United States—as Stark asks a stunned
general, “Now do you believe the transistors I’ve invented are capable of
solving your problem in Vietnam?”
Later, on a fact-finding trip to Southeast Asia, Stark is injured and
captured by communist forces under the leadership of the fearsome
Wong-Chu, both a “Red Guerrilla Tyrant” and repulsive racist
caricature. It is only thanks to the aid of the heroic Professor Yinsen that
Stark is able to construct the first rudimentary Iron Man armor, which he
uses to defeat Wong-Chu and escape his captors.
As the months went on, Lee doubled-down on Iron Man’s status as an
anti-communist crusader. His rogues’ gallery became populated with the
likes of the Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo, armored villains
under the employ of the Soviet Union. The Black Widow, in her earliest
appearances, was a Soviet spy who bedeviled Tony Stark. And most
significantly, Iron Man’s arch-nemesis was the Mandarin. A Chinese
nationalist at odds with the Communist regime, the Mandarin had
tremendous personal power which he put to use in his many schemes of
world conquest. He was also a bundle of every conceivable “Yellow
Peril” stereotype, put through the filter of Cold War anxiety at the rise of
Red China.

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