, , , ,

YES! See Me Fly Through the Atmosphere Joyously As Destructive Atomic Forces Are Released!

WHEEEEEEEEE! WOW. Hey — Wait a minute. Is a nuclear explosion really that fun? Here’s a bit of golden-age propaganda for your critical review.

Collector’s Guide: featuring six pages and cover from Atoman #1, 1946, Spark Publications. Scans courtesy of the Digital Comic Museum.

Normally, we enjoy these kinds of hijinks. But pardon us if we must say a few words about Atoman.

Notice that the history of atomic science clearly ends in three cheers for the USA for nuking Japan. Three cheers for dropping nuclear explosives on civilian populations! If this were a work of fantasy, perhaps we could sit back and enjoy. But we have a history statement here, an educational function of the comic book. It serves a goal of cheering the American general public for the recent victory in World War II — the one we had after the War to End All Wars. We also plant a simple, compelling idea into a young person’s mind: We did a good thing nuking Japan. We won the war and we did it with atomic science.

While there’s a lot of historical truth in these statements, we may want to question the moral implications of dropping nuclear weapons on civilians, and then telling our children how great it was. We may want to view such an act of violence with sobriety and even regret. Young people today, born many years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in a time of greater cultural exchange, have only to witness the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. There is clearly nothing to celebrate about such tragedies.

We may also, as a new generation, want to question the conventional History-Channel ideology that America won the war and we were the good guys. Atoman glosses over moral gray areas such as American corporations making profits by selling goods to the Nazis. Atoman’s shiny red cape is draped over the atrocities committed by our “ally” Joseph Stalin. Atoman’s mask hides the twisted visage of civilian bodies amidst the wreckage of the Allied bombing of Dresden.

This glossy history lesson supports the next theme of the comic book: Now that we’ve got the atom, America will be the world’s vigilante police force for peace and justice. Don’t worry — we’ll only use it for good! Great. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that using it for peace and justice doesn’t involve any more mass slaughtering of civilians and non-combatants.

Atoman‘s message about atomic power: The atom is our friend. Look! Just by handling it, and getting a nasty bump on the head, Atoman gains atomic powers! Let’s not forget that radiation killed its discoverer, Madame Marie Curie, by giving her cancer. That’s usually what happens from radioactive substances, even if you wear a brightly colored costume. It would be a few years before comic books could handle such themes, most notably in The Death of Captain Marvel and Watchmen.

Normally here on Mars we like things like inexplicable atomic transformations. Captain Atom makes it look fun! However, the overt post-war propaganda messages presented as historical fact made us feel more than a little bit uneasy about Atoman.