Libraries have always kept old reprinted copies of comic books. Most people think of this as some sort of modern feature from something that they consider a dying business, but both of these facts could not be further from the truth. I was lucky enough to grow up in a city where our library was not neglected; I would spend afternoons in the basement of this three-story monstrosity, digging through old newspapers clippings to find copies of Whiz or Strange Tales. Copies from the Golden Age were fairly easy to come by, and over time came to be my preferred reading era. The Golden Age of Comics will always have a special place in my heart and on my shelves because of this.
One of the appeals of the Golden Age was the sheer romanticism of it. Good guys were beacons of truth and justice, and bad guys were the ultimate scourges of society for little to no apparent reason. The simplicity of this this scenario may sound boring or outdated to some, but the history of storytelling rests on the foundation of the battle between good and evil. Every panel of every page was oozing with the struggle between what was right and what was selfish, and it filled readers with a sense of wonder and epic proportion that we are sorely lacking in mainstream storytelling now.
The chivalry displayed at the time was the stuff of legend: you were expected to wear formal clothing at all times, you stood up when a lady arrived or departed the table, and if you didn’t have a jacket to lay over a puddle for your first date, you definitely weren’t getting a second one. The heroes went out of their ways as much as they could to make others’ lives easier, whether it was a small or grand gesture. Fedoras weren’t worn to class up your cargo shorts and anime satchels; they were used as a subtle accessory that matched the rest of your suit, which was perfectly fit to your specifications. Class was never in short supply.
Ultimately, I think what appealed to me the most was how the characters were always larger than life. With the advent of the “gritty hero” that is so popular now, many people think that the “boy scout” archetype is boring and old-fashioned. I had always thought the opposite: I’m not able to make every decision a good one, but these characters inspire me to try to do what is right, because they always do. We might not be able to take part in saving orphans from burning buildings, but we can strive to go out of our way to make a stranger smile, or to lend an ear when people need someone to talk to. The Golden Age heroes always showed us that whatever action we take, as long as we made the right choice, we are a hero to someone.
And how did it affect society as a whole at the time? It produced some of the most hardworking individuals that the world has ever seen, willing to sacrifice for their loved ones in times of war and peace. Our country was made great by the blood, sweat, and tears of the people we refer to as The Greatest Generation; they didn’t give that title to themselves, they earned it from us.
My question to the readers is this: who are you a hero for today? Was it the elderly lady that you gave your seat to on the bus, or maybe the barista that you lent kind words to when they were visibly having a bad day? The Golden Age represents what a person can truly be: someone with a sense of style and romanticism, who possesses immense self-worth and is able to use their abilities to instill that sense of greatness in others. I challenge you to give that Golden Age feel to someone today.