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How Boomer Superheroes Reflected Their Times

Spider-Man, the Hulk and others: misfit guardians of a tumultuous world

You may not know it by looking at him, but Spider-Man is a boomer.

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko for Marvel Comics, Spider-Man debuted in 1963, in Issue 15 of the comic book Amazing Fantasy. At the time of his introduction, Spider-Man was unusual in that the character displayed more depth than the typical comic book hero. His teen angst was directly woven into his origin story, which seems to get retold every few years in the movies.

Another favorite in theaters, Iron Man, is also a boomer. Stan Lee had a hand in creating him as well, with the help of his younger brother, Larry Leiber, and artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby. Iron Man made his debut in Tales of Suspense Issue 39 in 1963. Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, also staked out new ground in comics, as an alcoholic.

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Stan Lee and Jack Kirby also created the Hulk (The Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); the Fantastic Four, consisting of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing and the Human Torch (Fantastic Four #1, 1962); and the X-Men, consisting of Professor Xavier, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Beast and Angel (The X-Men #1, 1963). Magneto, the X-Men’s archvillain, also made his debut here.

All are boomers. One might notice a running theme here — that of outsiders trying to be accepted by society, the very people they protect. Many of these characters were conceived of as metaphors for what was happening in America in the early 1960s: the Civil Rights movement and the treatment of blacks by American society. Hence, certain characters, like Thing, Beast, and the Hulk, took on a monstrous appearance and were judged by how they looked, but were nonetheless the good guys.

Nick Fury, another creation of Lee and Kirby, is a boomer, too, having debuted in the comic Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes #1 in 1963 before going on to become Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the man who, at least in the movies, is responsible for bringing together the group of superheroes that became the Avengers. It is interesting to note that the man who plays Nick Fury in the movies and on TV, Samuel L. Jackson, is himself a boomer.

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The Avengers, now one of the most successful cinematic franchises going, were also created by Lee and Kirby. The Avengers #1 came out in 1963, featuring Iron Man and the Hulk, along with new characters Ant-Man, Wasp and others.

So far, the characters mentioned are all Marvel Comics characters. Indeed, most of the popular Marvel Comics characters today were created in the early 1960s, making the Marvel Universe a heavily boomer universe, reflecting the concerns of the times that gave birth to the boomers. These characters were noted for being more “realistic” than the Silent Generation characters who came before them.

What about some of the other well-known superheroes, including what are probably the most famous ones of all: Superman and Batman of DC Comics? Both were created in the 1930s, making them members of the Silent Generation. However, Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, is a boomer, having debuted in Action Comics #252 in 1959.

In the 1950s, at the behest of then-DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz, two Silent Generation DC characters were reimagined; they are known as the “Silver Age” The Flash (Showcase #4, 1956) and Green Lantern (Showcase #22, 1959). These were essentially updated versions of the original Flash and Green Lantern, which first appeared in 1940.

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It was the new version of the Flash that essentially launched the revival of the superhero genre in comic books known as the Silver Age (1950 to 1970). But it was the later boomer characters from Marvel that brought a new dimension to comic book characters. They resonated, and still resonate, with the 76-million-strong generation, perhaps because they were born out of the same tumultuous times that helped shape their evolution over the years.

The Silent Generation heroes of DC comics – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – are certainly as popular as ever. But it is the boomers of Marvel — Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk — who stand at the top of the comic book superhero pyramid in the 21st century, at least for now.

All images from ComicVine.com

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