12 January 2008

Ultra-Man Keeps Us Out of War

American comic books entered World War 2 well ahead of the USA's declaration of war in December 1941. The Shield appeared in January 1940, Tex Thompson became Mister America to battle Nazis in February 1941, and the longest-lived patriotic hero, Captain America, debuted in his own magazine in March 1941.

I figured that there must also have been some American comic books advocating isolationism, since that political sentiment was strong enough to keep the US out of the war until the attack on Pearl Harbor. And indeed, in the first issue of All-Star Comics, summer 1940, I found this example of two-fisted isolationism!

Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man, was not only a superhero; he was also "High Moderator," or chief executive, of the government of 23rd-century America. He was created by "Don Shelby" (a pseudonym, apparently for Jon L. Blummer) and appeared first in All-America Comics.

I'm especially impressed with the first panel's combination of violence and anti-violence. It's like all the child-beating in the pacifist Japanese comic epic Barefoot Gen.

Readers of mid-1940 would probably have had little trouble decoding this 23rd-century war between "Toutonia" and "Balkania." The Toutons (Teutons) stood for Hitler's Germany, the Balkanians for all the parts of eastern and southeastern Europe that Germany was invading, including Stalin's Russia.

Ultra-Man failed to catch on, and the series ended in October 1940. That hero's futurism, which owed a lot to Buck Rogers, may not have been as exciting as other comic-book heroes' adventures in the present. But I wonder if the political winds were changing, too.


Anonymous said...

One of the very first Superman stories (1938) had the hero fighting greedy munition magnates that were creating wars.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, and Superman even goes down to South America to fight in a war for a while. That issue was so early that Clark Kent filed his dispatches to the Cleveland Evening News.

I didn't think that story was so clearly a comment on current events, though, since the notion that Latin Americans were always fighting unfathomable wars was well established in American pop culture. (See, for example, L. Frank Baum's Boy Fortune Hunters series.) Superman didn't like that war, but he didn't say as clearly as Ultra-Man that Americans shouldn't get involved in other nations' fights.

Thanks for the comment. One of these days I plan to discuss Superman's Populist beginning in more detail.