How Superman REALLY helped America win World War Two
Today is December 7th, a day that will live in infamy as the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered the United States into the second World War.
During the war, almost every comic shifted to a wartime footing, with covers of our heroes kicking the crap out of Nazis and fighting saboteurs in the pages within. But in at least one case, superheroes did a lot more.
See that cover to the right? That’s the cover of a special edition of Superman, based on issue #33 of the regular series that was produced for the U.S. Army.
The Army had a problem at the time — they were drafting thousands of men a year, but many of them had no education to speak of, with large swaths of them functionally illiterate, and they were expected to operate complex machinery pretty quickly. They had to learn how to read, and fast. The troops also needed cheap and portable entertainment, something that could be carried through the battlefields of Europe and Asia.
So with the cooperation of National Periodical Publications, the forerunner to DC Comics, this edition was produced by the War Department with simplified dialogue and word balloons. Hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed to GIs, and it helped them learn to read and to pass the time. And of course, copies of the comics were handed out to kids in faraway lands, as gestures of goodwill.
A total of 23 issues were produced in this manner and these rare variants are among the first examples of using comic books to teach, not just entertain.
So we weren’t surprised when a study came out last week showing that comics can be used to improve literacy. The United States government has known it for decades.