How Comic Books and Super Heroes Have Influenced Culture Throughout History

In just a few days, Sang Chi became a huge hit and earned a box office of over four hundred million dollars in profit. Even though so many articles claimed the movie would flop, it actually had the opposite effect. Both comic book fans and Asian people alike came together and broke records with this movie. For the first time, East Asians felt heard and seen on the big screen since Crazy Rich Asians. Comic books and comic book heroes have slowly become a huge part of our visual media and entertainment resources. They are our inspiration to become who we wish we could really be. There is also a huge case of people finally feeling seen and heard through this media genre.

There are many great things about comic books in any form and the community they have created. So why is there such a huge craze for comic books and comic movies nowadays? To put it simply, it’s a way for people of all backgrounds to feel as if they are not so alone in the world.

Comic Books’ long history

Comic books have been around for such a long time. They have quite a rich history to go along with it. At first, there were little comic strips placed in newspapers. They were used to show propaganda and make a political statement, such as the “Join or Die” cartoon that was around during Benjamin Franklin’s time. It was a way to scare the British about the power that the Americans had and to either join the Americans or die as British soldiers.

Propaganda cartoon made by Ben Franklin in the 1700s
Image Source: loc.gov 

World War II

Many years later, during World War II, we see the re-emergence of comic book characters. The most popular were Captain America and Wonder Woman. They are seen fighting to defeat a supposed companion of the dictator. These comics may not have meant much, but to Americans who were fighting in the war, it was a form of encouragement. The comics act as a sort of inspiration. It was to encourage the allied nations to stop the fight against this evil who was terrorizing the world in real-time. They were also a great propaganda force to scare the opposite party. It helped to display the allied nations’ might and strength.

Comic strip when Wonder Woman and Captain America Returned to World War II
Image Source: CBR.com

Although they are superhuman, it is still a form of encouragement to the readers that things will be alright. They are still an inspiration to many people to this day, as we see these superheroes being relevant through movies and comic books. There are many adaptions of their stories from TV network shows like The Flash, Batwoman, and more. Movies are also a huge way they have stayed relevant in this digital age. The whole Marvel cinematic universe and DC comic movies are a large part of Hollywood. Many comic books also mirror our modern-day society, helping people like you and me to relate to the characters better.

The world of comics has made way for diverse storytelling and broadened the horizons of its fans worldwide. Representation has taken center stage in the real-life imagining of popular comic book superheroes and superheroines. As with its predecessors, the comic book can provide an intriguing, entertaining, and sometimes critical mirror of society. (Chabra)

Superheroes’ most important superpower

Superheros are able to do anything and everything. But, their most amazing superpower is to help people, no matter their backgrounds. Superheros such as Iron Heart, Black Lightning, Ms. Marvel, and many more have been able to capture the hearts of those people of color who do not feel represented. It teaches young boys and girls that they can also achieve things that other white superheroes are doing. They are just as smart and strong and capable as their counterparts. This is a great message for those who are constantly undermined in other movies and TV shows. African Americans are always left out of the limelight and neglected in Hollywood.

When the movie Black Panther came out and they got to see themselves represented as a strong main character, it was an amazing experience for the black community, as they felt heard and seen for what might have been the first time. There was an all-African American cast, and although the movie is very Sci-fi, a lot of the inspiration draws from African tribes. it is the same case for the most recent Marvel movie: Shan Chi. Seeing an East Asian actor and an all-Asian cast was incredible. It was something that Asians could only dream about until recently. The fact the movie did so well when critics said it would flop goes to show just how much an Asian cast movie was in need. People who are not even comic book fans were into the movie and came out to watch and support it.

Reliving people’s childhoods

A drawing of Captain America using his shield to cover snow white from getting wet
Image source: rbth.com

All comics can make people nostalgic and as if they are young once again. There is a lot of fighting and serious scenes, but the fun and adventure they have is an emotion that can never change with age. We can all agree that comic books and superheroes are a huge part of our childhood and seeing the action on screen as the hero defeats the bad guy never gets old. The feeling and excitement we get when seeing such things happen in cartoon strips or on the big screen are what makes these heroes so memorable.

There is also a much deeper level to it that helps us relive our childhoods. It is hypermediacy. This refers to the tendency to make a person very aware of the media they are consuming (Fandis). In comic books, we see large letters spelling our BAM! or WHAM! There are also insane colors that captivate the readers’ hearts and minds. It creates a mental image of what is happening and excites readers. Comic books are fun and thrilling for all ages to enjoy. They are nostalgic for the older generation and an experience for the newer one.

James Holmes

James Holmes in court

While many people have a positive influence from comics and superheroes, there are others who find inspiration from the villains. On July 20, 2012, James Holmes went into an Aurora movie theater and shot up the people who were there to watch the premier show of Batman: The Dark Night Rising (Shrestha). He was said to have been influenced by Batman’s main villain, The Joker. While this turned out to be false, it was a slap on the face, realizing that such killers can be made. He may not have been influenced by a villain, but there are still others who could easily do the same. This is a harsh reality that we do not sometimes see. It is hard to believe that the same comics that help some people feel accepted are the same ones that lead others down a dark path.

Anime and Manga

Anime and Manga are the Japanese versions of comic books and movies. They are popular worldwide and still growing in fame. As of 2021, the Japanese Manga One Piece has the second-highest copies sold worldwide, beating Batman (thenewspocket.com). Just like American comic books, Japanese superheroes are insane and powerful. They fight with magic, mysterious fruit that gives you special powers, or just other random ways they can gain power. In the Manga world, there is a genre for anyone and everyone. From romantics to action lovers to thrill-seekers, there is something for everyone (Sykes).

It may be easy to dismiss these shows as fiction, as they are cartoon characters and they do not even speak English, but the stories they have are very real. To me, the story and messages in One Piece are a lot more thought-provoking than just a fun adventure about a pirate looking for the ultimate treasure to become the King of Pirates.

One Piece and its many messages

Different real isses addressed in teh manga and anime One piece
Image Source: tiktok.com

One Piece is a Manga about Luffy who sets off to find the ultimate treasure, One Piece. With this treasure, he can become the King of the Pirates. With his crew members, he goes to different islands and helps save many people. This must sound odd to many people. A pirate saving people? But for the readers, they can easily understand. In this Manga, Eichiro Oda discusses real-life issues such as slavery, animal abuse, human trafficking, corrupt government systems, and so much more. In the story, we meet pirates who are good and some who are bad. We meet the navy who use their powers for wrong and others who genuinely want to help the world. There is a race of mermaids who are looked down upon for being different.

We may not think of this a lot, but there are a lot of cases of such oppression in the real world. The case of a corrupt government system relates to police brutality that is very evident in the African American community (racism). Slavery also deals with the African American community. These are just a few of the issues that this show tackles, but the one theme that everyone can relate to is the chase for their dream.

How does one piece relate to the average person?

Each character in Luffy’s crew has a dream they wish to achieve. The dream can be as small as becoming braver to becoming the pirate king, but we see the character grow and get closer to achieving the said dream. Not a single person out in the real world can say they do not have a dream they are chasing after. Becoming rich, or gaining the courage to speak to a crowd of people, are all dreams. And this story teaches the readers that all dreams are possible to achieve with hard work. This story encourages each and every individual to chase after their dream and to never give up. This is a common theme in almost every Manga or anime that someone can read, especially if it’s an action manga.

Characters like Luffy and Naruto, who work hard to achieve their dream, are inspiring to watch and make the readers want to go out there and try their best as well.

What’s so great about comics?

Just like any other movie or book, comic books are a way for people to feel free and let their imaginations run wild. They help to inspire and innovate. The topics that are mentioned in these stories can have an impact as they are based on real historical events. Other times they are just for fun.

As Halloween is approaching, movies such as Caroline and Tim Burton films have become popular once again. The reason for that is because they set a certain mood for the watchers. For comic book fans, this genre sets a mood that is dependent on each reader, whether it be for fun or for an all-out intense mood swing. The whole culture that is followed by fans of comic books and Manga is something for them to enjoy. From reading a new chapter to collecting an item that relates to their specific book; it is all fun.

Comic Con fans in cosplay taking a picture together
Image Source: dictionary.com

Then there is the pride in being able to celebrate your love for a certain character with hundreds of others. It is fun to know there are so many others who also like the same comic as you. Being able to discuss the things that happen in the story is so thrilling. Events such as Anime-con and NDK and Comic-con are a place where these fans can come together and express their love for the comics with others from all over the country. For people who feel as though they are alone, this is also a great way to feel less alone. It is also a great way to make friends. Other times, it is also a great way to find new things to talk about with already existing friends.

Cultural Significance to Anthropology

Some popular and "contervercial" comic books
Image Source: denofgeek.com

We may think of comic books and Manga as a means of entertainment for kids, but it goes beyond that. Comic books have a long history and are growing along with the years. Many comic books retell real-life events, albeit in a twisted version, but it is there to remind us of what has been. Both the good and bad have been documented and immortalized on screen and paper for years to come.

These stories are not just significant to history, but also to the present. It has captured the hearts of billions and helped people feel less alone than they are and even make friends. That in itself is a superpower that comic books and Manga hold over people.  The power to connect hundreds of different individuals.

2 thoughts on “How Comic Books and Super Heroes Have Influenced Culture Throughout History

  1. Loved the content and research done. Nowadays Manhua and Mahnwa are also very popular among comic readers.

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