© Copyright 2017 Dewe, Kristen. Ryerson University
On December 6th of 1940, during the second World War, William Lyon MacKenzie King, former Primer Minister of Canada declared the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA), which was a measure used to protect the Canadian dollar and the general war economy (Kocmerac, 148). In this, comic books were listed as non-essential commodities that were deemed banned. During this time, Canadian superheroes became the most prominent features within Canadian comic books (Kocmerac, 151). Heroism became a very distinctive part of children’s lives, as they read and looked up to the superheroes who were prevalent within comic books such as Active Comics. In this work, the focus will be on Adrian Dingle’s fifth issue of Active Comics which was published for May of 1942. To identify how these heroes represented the idealized Canadian masculinity of a superhero to Canadian child readers, it is evident that we consider what makes a Canadian hero, why they are primarily men, the distinction between different aged superheroes and how child readers are influenced by these heroes. Throughout this work, we will uncover how the comic uses different age genres to depict heroism in Canada as a means of showing what it ultimately means to be a Canadian hero.
What Makes a Canadian Hero, a Hero in Active Comic No. 5 (May, 1942):
During Adrian Dingle’s issue of Active Comics in May of 1942, he depicts heroism as only masculine, however ranges from heroes being of different age groups. He makes it evident that heroes can be babies, teenagers and adults and does not limit the reader to believe in only one distinct type of hero, however, limits the reader to believe in only one gender of hero.
The first story in the issue, “Dixon of the Mounted”, shows heroism from Dixon, an adult who is after a murderer and attempted-murderer in hopes to save himself and society from the dangers of this man. His attempt is rather gory and very explicit in it’s use of fighting vigorously, showing that the adult form of heroism is to defeat through killing.
The next story, “The Noodle – The Mighty Mite”, deals with heroism from a toddler who is out to save a female baby who was kidnapped by a Mummy, showing that he is out to protect society. Although he is a baby, his use of heroism exhibits strength and intelligence – to an extent far beyond a toddler’s capabilities, however does not display any acts of extreme violence or gore, showing that heroism from a toddler is different from that of an adult. Additionally, Active Jim, a teenage hero deals with providing safety for society by catching a leopard that escaped from a circus train with no form of explicit violence or murder.
Overall, the heroes within this specific comic book, all have a few things in common. First, they are all brave individuals whom risk their lives to help society, and in doing this, inspires its readers, specifically children. Children are drawn in by these superheroes who will stop at nothing to retain justice, regardless of their age. Moreover, they also have their gender in common. All the superheroes within this comic book are men, showing the gender inequality that is prevalent in the text.
Why are Heroes Masculine?
Within this specific comic book, only men are perceived as heroes. Babic offers that comic books are “…predictions of societal downfall, disfigured gender roles, and mass children embracing violence as a natural mechanism of communication failed to note that adult readership soared alongside that of children” (Babic, 15). It is evident that Babic realizes this gender inequality that stems from comic books, and continues by centering on what children will retain from reading comic books that are unrealistic as only men are the heroes.
Brown also offers insight towards the masculinity of heroes within Milestone Media (a novel on African American heroes) as a “comparison to the market-dominating comic books published by other companies which promote a popular trend of gender extremism” (Brown). In this, Brown tries to argue that newer comic books no longer have this ideology of a superhero being primarily a white male, however, have now gone into having diversity regarding gender and race.
In Mollegaard’s book review on Age of Heroes, Eras of Men, she discusses the complexities of the superhero genre as “the marginalization of the female superhero” (Mollegaard, 431). Mollegard further uses this to distinguish that the misconception of “the superhero genre is simplistic drivel for adolescent boys” (Mollegaard, 431). So, the underlying statement through this, is that because the target audience for comic books was adolescent boys, masculine superheroes seemed to have fit as better role models for these young boys.
The Distinction Between Different Aged Superheroes:
Although the comic fails to show women as superheroes, it does contain superheroes of different ages, ranging from babies to adults. Within The Noodle – The Mighty Mite, the superhero who is a toddler shows an expansive amount of knowledge and is very strategic in figuring out how to protect society in a non-violent form. A superhero such as The Noodle is very inspirational for young children, as they can believe that if a baby can do something, they can achieve a lot as well.
Regarding Active Jim who is a teenage superhero, he is also inspirational for young children because of his age being close to young boys, and because he uses his strengths to defeat and outsmart the antagonists, similar to The Noodle, without violence. As Jim is still in high school and can look out for society, young boys may look at Jim as someone who is like themselves. Lastly, Dixon of the Mounted portrays an almost oppositional way to protect society, through using violence as a defence mechanism.
The conclusion from these three, are that adults have more of a will to commit murders, whereas children and teenagers have a more forgiving element to them and are primarily out to help society. It is prevalent that each age group handles being a hero in a different way and is not like how we would expect it to be within our society. For the most part, we would expect teenagers to be the ones with a lesser understanding of the significance of life as the violent-heroes, whereas we would expect the adults to be the more responsible and inspirational heroes, showing the oppositional positions that the comic offers versus what society would think. Regarding toddlers, we see toddlers as innocent, naïve individuals within our society, very different from how toddlers are described within this comic.
The comic does not reflect a modernized society in the depictions of violence based on age genres, however, it emphasizes oppositional positions in this through characterizing adults as the most violent. This comic would impact children in having distrust towards adults as they are depicted as the most violent, and give the reader an unrealistic understanding of babies, teenagers and adults.
How Child Readers are Influenced by These Comics:
Babic discusses how comic books have a larger impact on children than adults. She states, “Children clearly sucked in the storylines at a larger rate than that of adults, but adults— especially soldiers on the front lines— fueled themselves on the junkets of their favorite superheroes.” (Babic, 15) This source overall offers a distinct view point on how heroism is depicted by children and what they will adapt to believing a hero is.
Furthermore, Fradkin entails a small focus on comic books creating resilience for children. His article discusses the concept of “invincibility suggestion” and how comic books were and are used for children whom are fighting cancer or other diseases as they can relate to the superheroes in their journey to “fight evil”. Prior to this article, the idea of superheroes as characters to strengthen and inspire a child may almost seem absurd and unrealistic to some, but by putting it in this perspective, one can completely understand how a child with a condition would feel empowered by a comic book. Therefore, this shows superheroes as a beneficial factor for children (Fradkin).
The idealized comic book heroes in Canadian comic books heavily influenced child readers during the Golden Age. The typical masculine superhero ascribed by different age genres shows diversity in ages, but lacks the diversity in genders, giving children an understanding that heroes are only masculine. In limiting children’s beliefs of what a superhero is, children were not only taught to be narrow-minded, but also to believe in men superiority, as the comic books described that women were not capable as the same things that men were. It is evident now that as society has evolved, this ideology of masculine superheroes is not as relevant as it was during the period of World War II, as we have familiarized ourselves with more women superheroes.
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Babic, Annessa Ann. Book. “Comics as History, Comics as Literature: Roles of the Comic Book in Scholarship, Society and Entertainment.” pp. 15-16. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, ProQuest ebrary, Accessed April 2 2017, http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/oculryerson/detail.action?docID=10823569.
Brown, Jeffery. Review. “New Heroes: Gender, Race, Fans and Comic Book Superheroes.” University of Toronto, ProQuest ebrary, Accessed April 6 2017, http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/docview/304394534/fulltextPDF/79ABD99412984EFDPQ/1?accountid=13631.
Dingle, Adrian (a), TA Steele (w.a), Ross Saakel (w.a), and Al Cooper (w.a). “Active Comics.” No.5, pp. 1-64. Bell Features Collection, Library and Archives Canada, Accessed April 2 2017, http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/e/e447/e011166506.pdf.
Fradkin, Chris. Book. “Shared Adversities of Children and Comic Superheroes as Resources for Promoting Resilience.” Child Abuse & Neglect. Vol. 54, pp. 69-77. Science Direct, Accessed April 6 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/science/article/pii/S0145213416300187.
Kocmarek, Ivan. Review. “Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way: The War-Time Comics of Bell Features Publications.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature. Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 148-151. Project MUSE, Accessed April 2 2017, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/611725.
Mollegaard, Kirsten. Review. “Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men: Superheroes and the American Experience.” pp. 430-431. Scholars Portal, Accessed April 6 2017, http://journals2.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/pdf/15427331/v37i0004/430_aoheomutcsp2.xml.