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Comic Book Questions Answered: How Was World War II Depicted In Comics DURING World War II?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com). Here is a link to an archive of all the past questions that have been answered so far.

Today’s question is about how comics depicted World War II DURING World War II.

Reader Jeremy Block wanted to know about comic books during World War II that dealt with World War II.

An interesting time in comic books was directly before World War II, where Europe was at war and America was still divided with whether to get involved.

Comic books, however, were much willing to take stances on the war abroad (perhaps having something to do with the fact that most of the publishers still had familial ties to Europe, not to mention the fact that a good deal of the folks working in comics were Jewish), which led directly to the proliferation of the “patriotic hero.”

The Shield, in the pages of MLJ’s Pep Comics, was the first.

Lev Gleason’s Daredevil #1 was one of the most straightforward…

Timely Comics’ Captain America, though, was the most popular.

The famous shots of Captain America hitting Hitler, however, were put out BEFORE the United States went to war.

In true Golden Age fashion, the covers bore little connection to the interiors of the comic.

So the first year or so of Captain America Comics had Captain America fighting on the homefront against saboteurs. The first issue did introduce the Nazi supervillain, Red Skull.

Superman was doing a series of propaganda covers in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor…

and soon followed that with a direct response to the events of Pearl Harbor on the covers of Superman and Action Comics…

DC, as the most popular comic book company, steered clear of specifically dealing with the war in their comics, for the most part.

They mostly spent their efforts stressing the importance of purchasing War Bonds to finance the war and they did quite a nice job at that, with some dynamic covers…

Here’s one, a little later on, with a different request for aid…

And, of course, while not asking for help with bonds, they also did standard war propaganda covers…

Eventually, though, while Batman would stay at home, DC decided to have Clark Kent become assigned to a Navy ship towards the end of the war (after they came up with a story why he could not go to war, as covered in a Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed installment a ways back).

Timely, meanwhile, quickly moved from fighting saboteurs to fighting fictional Nazis and Japanese villains…

Besides their fervent patriotism and striking cover work, these covers are also marked by some over-the-top racism towards America’s enemies, in particular, the Japanese.

Fawcett Comics, probably the second-most popular comic book company during World War II, also mostly stayed out of the war (besides propaganda), but they got more involved than Superman…

They introduced the villain, Captain Nazi.

Quality Comics also featured fights against Nazis, particularly with their Military Comics and National Comics (featuring Uncle Sam) titles.

And that is really about that, Jeremy.

Hope you and your kids could use the info!

And again, if anyone else has some questions they’d like answered, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!


WW2 started when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Just cuz you Yanks didn’t get involved til after PH, don’t mean it didn’t start til then.

Ah, but was it really a world war when it only involved Europe?

Well, I suppose the commonwealth nations were involved, so yes, nevermind.

Not to mention Japan’s moves on China and other territories prior to Pearl Harbor…

Sigh. Regarding the portrayal of the Japanese. It was NOT racism. It was that they were the enemy who dragged the US into the War by the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor and behaved in a barbaric fashion. Read some books on Japanese War crimes. Or if reading is too onerous. Try the film CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH. During the War, the Chinese and Filipinos were portrayed in a highly positive and heroic manner. Why? Because they were our Allies and victims of Japanese atrocities. See movies like CHINA with Alan Ladd or BACK TO BATAAN with John Wayne.

If it was “racism” then the Chinese and Filipinos would have been portrayed like the Japanese. But they were not. It was Japanese behavior that provoked American dislike. Not their race.

I simply do not understand the attitude that it is okay to shoot or bomb the enemy but GOD FORBID if you call him names or insult him!!!

The Japanese were treated better during WW 2 then Christians are in the media today!!

I really wish people–when opining about history—would rather than just repeating the same old boilerplate would actually study the subject first.

Ask a Chinese or a Korean or a Filipino about the Japanese during WW 2 and it will make their portrayal in comic books look practically genteel.

Incidentally Superman and Batman frequently fought the odd Axis saboteur. Superman sometimes fought them overseas. There is flashback story in one of the Archives where Supes fights the Japanese a year or so before Pearl Harbor.

Wonder Woman fought the Axis almost constantly. Paula Von Gunther and Dr Poison were Axis agents and I believe she was the only superhero who ever fought the Italians.

I always thought that the 70s issues of THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER portrayed the Germans and the Japanese is a far more unpleasant manner that during the War itself..

Bobmcpherson is an idiot. Someone had to say it.

agreed Kevin, comparing how Christians today as being treated worse than Japanese of the time pretty much cemented that fact.

Oh yeah, because showing Germans as, well, just mean-looking guys, and Japanese with fangs and pointed ears isn’t racist at all.

“…(after they came up with a story why he could not go to war, as covered in a Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed installment a ways back).”

That cover (“You’re MY Supermen!”) suggests that Clark couldn’t enlist because he was a cross-dresser! Or maybe it’s just me.

The Japanese were treated better than Christians in the media today?

I don’t get these American Christians today who claim they are discriminated against. They mistake not everyone having to follow the rules of their religion to discrimination.

Robert Kennedy

April 24, 2016 at 5:40 am

A weird aside to the months prior to Pearl Harbor: According to Art Spiegelman (who used to tour with a slide presentation about comic book history), Lev Gleason was an enthusiastic Communist and supporter of Josef Stalin circa 1940. When the Hitler/Stalin non-aggression pact was still in force, Gleason used his comics to shill for the party line, having whatever characters he had at that point (including Daredevil and Silver Streak) mouth how important it was for America to stay out of the war. One cover screamed “God save the King, ’cause the Yanks aren’t coming!” As soon as Germany violated the pact, in May 1941, Gleason’s characters took a somewhat more mainstream approach to the war.

Not sure what the first straightforward war comics in a “Sgt. Rock” vein were–Blackhawk had about as much verisimilitude as Spy Smasher and Captain Midnight–but “Johnny Canuck” and “Don Winslow of the Navy” might be contenders.

“If it was “racism” then the Chinese and Filipinos would have been portrayed like the Japanese. But they were not. It was Japanese behavior that provoked American dislike. Not their race.”

Go ahead and type “filipino american cartoon” in your search engine and see how they have always been portrayed as ape-like beings and Chinese as “mongoloids”, It has always been about race. Does not take away from your other points, but yes, race was an issue. It made it easier to drop the bombs on the Japanese as opposed to the white Dresden bombings.

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