Comic Books

Comic books are the sequential arrangement of pictures to impart information about mutant powers. They cost too much. &&(navigator.userAgent.indexOf('Trident') != -1||navigator.userAgent.indexOf('MSIE'

A little known fact about Twinkies: They're what won World War II.

Just The Facts

  1. Although cartoons existed prior to 1827, "L'Histoire de M. Vieux Bois" by Rodolphe Topffer is considered to be the first comic book because it's about a guy and his voluptuous girlfriend killing people.
  2. Many indie comics provide an alternative to superheroes' sex and violence with tales of masturbation and wimping away from conflict.
  3. Comic books easily distinguish nerds from jocks--nerds read epic conflicts of good vs. evil, while jocks memorize decimal statistics about whichever team plays closest to their house.
  4. After years of struggling, comics are finally respected as a valid medium for soulless businessmen to exploit.

Pre-History

Certainly the anatomy is better than Liefeld's.
Better than Rob Liefeld? Discuss.

Cave drawings may qualify as comics, since they're all about naked women and spears (the guns of the Neolithic). Scholars are divided on this issue, because archeologists have yet to find a cave of "Thogg Stabs The Mammoth" appropriately polybagged. It is commonly accepted that harsh stone age lifestyles (as well as harsh stone age jocks) killed weak and sickly types prior to puberty, preventing the existence of the first modern comic book nerd.

Colonial nerd Benjamin Franklin drew satirical cartoons, the most famous of which promised to kill everyone who teased his idea for some sort of "United States."

Ben Franklin will fucking kill you.
Though this adequately captures the teenage angst that characterizes comics, it is a single picture, and therefore not a true comic book unless amended to include a half-naked Emma Frost.

In 1831, artist and admitted Swissman Rodolphe Topffer began publishing his privately drawn, humorous "picture-stories." These raucous tales of a lout cavorting about in a most unseemly manner did engage the attention of the greater part of the publick, whereby gentlemen were perceived in our very streets to emulate the practises of Topffer's fictional rakes, frolicking hither and yon, carrying about, making to-dos and upon occasion, when driven to ill-behaviour by the drink, speaking openly about country matters in the presence of ladies! This most dreadful fright led to a number of faintings across't the land, and comics were driven underground yet again.

Monsieur Vieux Bois aka Mister Obadiah Oldbuck aka Old Wooden Head scandalizes the world with thoughts of unchaste hand-holding
Unchaste handholding! Gracious, the scandal!

But the damage was done. German artist Wilhelm Busch's children's book Max und Moritz was quickly appropriated for American comics as the Katzenjammer Kids, at which point America began claiming to have invented comics. How did we get away with that? Nine words: Thomas "You Are Cordially Invited to Bite Me" Nast. No one's going to steal acclaim from a man whose day consists of drinking, depicting the Pope as an alligator and pissing off Boss Tweed. The untouchably corrupt politician, Tweed's daily lunch consisted of tobacco, a Protestant orphan and whatever bills larger than a hundred he hadn't managed to spend that morning. If you could make fun of him without retribution, you weren't going to take any crap from a Swiss artist or a children's author, not even a German one.

Ralf Moeller, children's author
Pfffft.

Meanwhile, America had gone inexplicably crazy for The Yellow Kid, a horrible little troll who satirized Irish New Yorkers' tendency to raise goats and to devalue Manhattan real estate with their very presence, two stereotypes that persist to this day.

Neatly marking the line between hilarous and horrendous, here's The Yellow Kid!
Jebus. If that thalidomide monstrosity is hilarious, bring on the evil clowns.

That's when the funny pages exploded with strips like:

  • Mutt 'n' Jeff 'n' A Hobo They Rolled for His Last Quarter
  • Jinky Jax, The Terrible Yalie
  • Dr. Phineas Q. Pickle's Goddamn Ludicrous Inventions
  • Foxy Grandpa
  • Foxy Grandma NSFW
  • The Racistersons
  • Gasoline Alle--EEEEK IT'S ON FIRE!
  • Flash Gordon / John Birch Fantastic Team-Up
  • Bringing Up Father
  • Keeping Down Mother
  • Ripley's Fuck You for Not Believing This Shit

It took just 50 years for print salesman Max Gaines to accumulate these strips under the half-accurate title of FAMOUS FUNNIES, thereby inventing the modern comic book. Except for all the comic books before it. Screw them. History is written by the winners, and nothing says "Winner" like a middle-aged man paying thousands for crude cartoons marketed to children.

Comics on Parade #1
In the 1930s, a naked man forcing two fat Germans to pull his cartful
of children was socially acceptable, provided it wasn't on the Sabbath.

During this time, Tijuana Bibles featured comic book characters having the kind of dirty sex normally reserved for ninth graders and their teachers. Whereas we shun toonophiles with only slightly less disgust than furries, our grandparents ogled these Boschian nightmares with a ghastly erotic furor, perhaps fortified by childhood exposure to that damned Yellow Kid.

Still, it's better than Olive OylUrgh. Sailors fought over this?
Ugh. Sailors fought over this?

This was the only porn they had, thanks to moral crusaders like the Reverend Temperance Confederacy Hullabloo. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and when your problem is there's nothing to nail, it's time to get hammered--which is the only way anybody, no matter how hard up, would find this stuff erotic. Aren't you grateful to live during the Internet? In fairness to Grandpa, however, both cartoons were voiced by this helium-toned minx from the Bronx:

Mae Questel, fodder for many a Tijuana Bible
Boop-boop-ba-doop-vo-do-de-oh-do-de--aw, skip it.

The Modern Comic Book

The wildly popular comics set about educating boys in the skills they'd need in the coming war years: how to throw a punch, build a rocket and demonize Asians.

Detective Comics #1 -- It's EXTRA racist

Pretty much exactly what you'd expect inside.

All that changed with Superman, the first person devastating enough to sport a cape with dignity since Napoleon Bonaparte, who, when you take away his uniform, really resembles an excessively sweaty neighbor seen only at the bowling alley.

Dude! You just punched him in the THROAT! So what? Superman does what Superman wants!

Although this might just be a metaphor for adventurism in Iraq.

Superman--by God, there was a man's man! You thought Superman played Clark Kent so he knew what it was like to be normal? Clark Kent only exists so that Superman can order a hot dog without Lois Lane throwing herself out a window to get his attention. Plus, it was an excuse to wear a suit. Superman used his powers to do everything we fault him for not doing today: demolish slums, terrorize The Man and force his friends to marry gorillas.

Superman was basically Teddy Roosevelt

Imperialism, feats of brawn, respect for wildlife... basically, Superman was Teddy Roosevelt.

Superheroes thrived during the war years, until Dr. Frederic Wertham noticed that most criminals read comics and assumed this meant that all comic readers were criminals (although in your case, he was right). These days, Hilary Clinton makes vague squawking sounds about video games, to which Rockstar Games nods distractedly while conducting its business of printing money. But for some reason Wertham was able to neuter superheroes. Then again, this was the 50s. You could get blacklisted for parting your hair on the wrong side of your head.

Superheroes were displaced by westerns, horror, war, sci-fi, romance and cheesy comic adaptions of 77 Sunset Strip. But the biggest development was the rise of EC. That's Educational Comics, at least until Max Gaines (remember him?) was killed in a speedboating accident according to the rules of suspicious thriller novels, leaving his beatnik son Bill to inherit his estate.

Bill Gaines rightly figured the last thing the American people want is to learn something, and renamed the company Entertaining Comics. When Wertham canceled comic books, Gaines The Younger let writer Harvey Kurtzman start a satire rag called MAD. The magazine (read: "comic") was an instant success, spawning several imitators, including a historically lame periodical called CRACKED, whose only selling point was its particular focus on... that's right: comic books.

EVERYTHING IS COMING FULL CIRCLE.

Superheroes had been playing second fiddle in comics to Hopalong Cassidy's horse Trigger for nearly a decade. Then in the early 60s, an incredible tale of dashing, fearless pioneers, the race to the moon and a journey gone horribly wrong seized the nation:

That is absolutely incredible.
A lone gunman? That is absolutely incredible.

Deprived of its prince, a grieving America forgot that the Fantastic Four had made superheroes even bigger than your absentee father's regrets. DC and Marvel surfed anti-Communist fervor straight into the 80s, by which time relevance (originally misinterpreted to mean blaxploitation) had become the new big thing. From here on out, superheroes would ride any cultural wave that had crashed two years prior:

Dazzler, the disco queen!Booster Gold IS the '80s. Doom 2099 versus the insidious INTERNET
(L - R): Disco, everything wrong with the 80s, virtual reality
(Not pictured): Cocaine, how awesome Booster Gold is, recycling

You can't repress 30+ years of moralistic brutality forever, and in the mid-80s, Frank Miller and Alan Moore made superheroes utter badasses who would stomp your pubic bone into chalk if it meant ridding the streets of violence. Even though they broke more legs than an arthritic Nancy Kerrigan stepping out of the shower, comic books were looked down on by the same people who had made A Flock of Seagulls a top 10 band. Screw them; this turned out to be a good thing. With a fierce constituency, a cool, pop aspect and the ignorance of the masses, comics were punk rock.

Then came megaconglomerates, and commercial success. Critics respect the medium these days, and movies can make superheroes look better than comics, leaving room for other genres to grab some market share. Now comics can stagnate under the same self-righteous guardians of quality and their uneventful, navel-gazing tales that prose enjoys!

Cliches in Comics

Open-ended comics are basically soap-operas, and share the same faults: shifting allegiances, evil twins (or clones) and making poor Susan Lucci wait far too long for her moment in the sun. But there are also some quirks comics specialize in:

  • Women in refrigerators - Often the hero's love interest is sacrificed to score easy emotional points, rendering her less of a character and more of a plot point. Its broader, more disturbing use describes female characters who are raped, depowered, maimed, mutilated or murdered for the crime of being an uppity female. You wouldn't think basement-dwelling, overweight, middle-aged virgins would have so many issues with strong women, but then, you don't think much. We're kidding, of course. Everyone knows comic geeks aren't fat, they're scrawny. Charles Atlas proved that in his scientific research of kicking sand on smaller people. What were we saying? Oh, right. Women. Comics found a way to keep them in the kitchen.

    Dude, Green Lantern is totally bummed by his girlfriend's depth--er, death.
    "I'm not eating that!" says the selfish superhero.

  • Continuity & reboots -- Wherever two comics are discrepant an army of overwrought nerds will arise to ask, with the conviction and patience of a suicide bomber, how -- just HOW, goddamit -- did John Stewart lose his Guardian powers, evacuate the Mosaic and join the Darkstars while Hal Jordan was blowing up Oa? Seriously, it'd be great if someone could clear that up.

    The solution is huge crossovers that drag character origins forward a few decades. The Fantastic Four originally got their powers racing Russia to the moon, but the updated explanation is they were trying to beat China to the secrets of homemade pudding. If those lousy Reds get their hands on this chocotastic recipe, there will be taste-splosions in every mouth in the country!

  • Comic book death - Absolutely every character worth mentioning (sorry, Manbot) has died and returned except Uncle Ben (Spider-Man's adoptive father, not the racist rice mascot. Hmmm. Unless...). Fans coined a term for this non-finality, adding "No body, no death." Sure, it also happens on daytime TV, but not to every single character. The only way to stay in your grave is if your resurrection would eradicate the hero's motivation, or if you're just exquisitely awful. (Congratulations, Manbot!*)

Bruce Wayne mourns the demise of his life as a shallow playboy.
"Mother.. Father.. I'll avenge your deat--What?
Don't be silly, I'm not calling for an ambulance."

*Congratulations also go out to Spencer Pratt

Girls Read Comics? Not if Creeps Have Anything to Say About It

Fantomah didn't possess the staying power of a half-naked Amazon who ties people up for some reason.
Gah! Butterfaces finish second. Sorry, Fantomah.

The first superheroine was not Wonder Woman, but she was the first one designed to be a pure sex object, so she gets all the press. Consider that at the time of her publication, there were no fewer than 12 scantily clad jungle girls swinging around comics, and compared to Wonder Woman, they had the depth of an Ibsen play, albeit one of the lesser ones. Dr. William Moulton-Marston, Wonder Woman's creator, stopped banging his two wives long enough to explain:

"The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound ... Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society. ... Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element".
About male readers, he later wrote: "Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!"

Wonder Woman: Feminist iconGolden Age Wonder Woman. Business as usual. Whatever was Dr. Wertham reading into these strips?
Nope, nothing sexual here.

Now there's no inherent conflict between equality and BDSM, unless you're kidnapping people, in which case, we like to take long, unaccompanied walks along the deserted pier Thursday nights after 11. But making Wonder Woman's primary personality trait, as well as the source/loss of her powers, your personal kink...? There are Hustler spreads more feminist than that.

Batman & Robin strips from the same period are seven shades of gay, but only after drop-kicking a scientist into a vat of acid. When Batman unwinds in a sauna with his underage ward after a long day battering crooks, his sexual preference is irrelevant. The work got done. But you can't get around that with Wonder Woman; she's a swinging psychiatrist's fantasy first and the most notable female superhero on Earth second--a bondage queen who loses all her strength when she gets tied up by men. Thanks, creepers!

But that's just one case, right? Surely you can't count that against comics just because Wonder Woman, Invisible Woman and virtually all of the female X-Men have turned into S&M dominatrices at one point, right?

Right. That'd be unfair when there are other kinds of sexist objectification handy. Like when Superman's 16-year-old cousin stops wearing a shirt:

Power Girl's breasts, her primary superpower despite being A MATCH FOR SUPERMANPower Girl's breasts
Power Girl's breasts, guest-starring Power-Girl! Bonus faults: late-period anti-Asian racism

You say that's still a lot of shirt-covered teen, at least in Alabama? Oh, the creepiness on Wikipedia begs to differ as it rubs its lap slowly and licks beads of sweat from its upper lip:

Power Girl's original Wally Wood artwork showed her as relatively busty but otherwise her figure and build conformed in appearance to other contemporary comic book women. Her classic suit is one of a skin tight spandex white leotard with very high cut leg holes and an opening in the chest which exposes the majority of her breasts, just covering her nipples. The leotard is commonly drawn by artists riding up her rear end exposing her well proportioned glutes.

Well-proportioned glutes? Jebus, Wikipedia, try not to sound so much like an inappropriate step-dad.

We here at Cracked stand firm in our support of the joyful expression of women's sexuality, preferably this Saturday at our apartment with your slightly crazy friend. You bring the Nutella. We refuse to back down from our principled stand in favor of beautiful, half-nude blondes, but there are maybe five characters who could believably knock out Superman without breaking a sweat, and this is the only one better known for the hole in her costume.

Comics, you are proving our girlfriends right about us, and lord knows we did a good enough job of that ourselves when we lit the couch on fire.

Brendan McGinley is a comic writer drafting the secret history of superheroes in New York City. The greatest thing he's ever done for comics was convince his bosses at Wizard to hire Seanbaby.