It's hard think about the history of comic books without considering the superheroes like Superman and Batman. Superheroes became popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s. During World War II they became stars. Since then, numerous books, television shows and movies have been published and produced about superheroes, and they are known throughout the world--perhaps even more than actual historic figures.
Action Comics No. 1
The first Action Comics was published in 1938, which featured a man with a red cape and blue costume who was strong enough to lift an automobile over his head. Superman had arrived and become the first comic-book character to have powers much greater than any human being. The stage was set for other fantastic characters to follow.
In 1941, the first female superhero was introduced. Wonder Woman may have begun as the Justice League Society secretary, but became as popular as Superman and Batman. Beautiful, strong and intelligent, Wonder Woman acquired her powers from gods and goddesses, and she has bullet-proof wrist bands and a magic, golden lasso.
In the 1950s, many superhero characters lost their popularity. There were many other comic books being published, and these publications had to compete against the new arrival called television. The superhero genre almost ended. But comic-book-publishing companies revamped some earlier characters such as Green Lantern, and the superheroes have been successful ever since.
Something similar happened to Batman. By 1964, sales of the Batman comic books had fallen significantly and DC Comics was considering killing him off for good. But once again a superhero was saved. When the Batman TV series aired in 1966, this superhero was soaring to new heights. In 1966 the Batman movie brought further interest, as did the animated series. It took longer for Wonder Woman to become a TV feature. After a few aborted tries, in 1975 "Wonder Woman" debuted on ABC and then was moved for a short time to CBS.
In the 1970s and 1980s, comic-book superheroes showed flaws and personal issues. Marvel began publishing books about anti-heroes, such as The Punisher and Wolverine. Even Batman was seen to have a darker and perhaps sinister side. Batman dominated the 1990s with three movies: "Batman Returns," facing off against the Penguin, "Batman Forever," against Two-Face and the Riddler, and "Batman and Robin," against Mr. Freeze. These movies were a teaser for what was to come in the new century.
The superheroes in this century continue to be more popular than ever. Movies that star characters such as Spider-Man have become blockbusters. The superheroes, many now in graphic novels as well as comic books, are much more sophisticated with multiple sides to their personalities. The number of comic books has declined because of the cost of printing and the rise of the Internet, but the power of the superheroes continues.
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