Superheroes in the War Propaganda

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Unfortunately, we missed the whole thing, but the Los Angeles Times recently reported on the “ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950” exhibition, which closed last week at the Skirball Cultural Center.

According to the Times, the Skirball closed the exhibit with a screening of the 1943 “Batman” serial. In the 260-minute, 15-chapter serial, Batman and Robin fight to rid Gotham City of a World War II Japanese spy ring. As many know, the serial was made during the height of the war hysteria and filled with stereotypical images and ethnic slurs against the Japanese. J. Carrol Naish plays the evil Japanese Dr. Daka (what kind of a Japanese name is this…?) trying to help Japanese take over the United States.

It was the cultural institution’s goal to provoke conversations among the audience and show them how comic books were used as propaganda during the war.

“It was so much easier to bring white America around to fighting in the Japanese theater than against people in Europe who looked like them,” Jordan Peimer, Skirball program director, explained why the majority of the villains in those comic books were Japanese, not German. “It is almost as if they are completely emasculating the Japanese spies because they have white henchmen.”

Peimer also told the Times that there is a “Superman” comic book from 1943 where he visits a Japanese-American internment camp and uncovers a spy ring that exists there. Really…!?

Does anybody have a copy of this “Superman” book?

—NAO GUNJI

Superman saves America from… Japanese Americans. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

Superman saves America from… Japanese Americans. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

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