The Golden Age of comics was a period when the language and art form of sequential art was defined through experimentation. It originally collected newspaper strips, but artists quickly began exploring the different proportions of the comic book page. Many publishers took advantage of the various studios that produced a plethora of content.
Superheroes took the lead among genres in the new medium. By the time the U.S. entered World War II, superheroes was firmly the dominant genre. So much content was turned out in the 1940s, but there are some standouts among the large body of work produced in this time
10 Miss Fury #8 Shows Why Tarpé Mills Needs To Be Remembered
Tarpé Mills was one of the best artists from the Golden Age. She’s also an example of a talented woman working in comics during the 1940s. Like many, though, she started concealing her gender, using her middle name instead of her first name, June.
With Miss Fury’s debut, a full six months before Wonder Woman, she became almost as well known as her creation. This wasn’t just because of her gender, it was because of the skill evident in the Miss Fury strips, many of which were collected in Miss Fury #8. The story is carried along with art showing Mills’s background as a fashion illustrator with carefully rendered characters in a variety of situations.
9 Wonder Woman #6 Is The First Cheetah
Wonder Woman’s first issues are great with William Moulton Marston’s stories espousing the Amazons’ ideals at every turn. H.G. Peter’s art helped define the character while making Marston’s stories and concepts palpable to a wide audience. Wonder Woman #6 is where this all began to gel.
The original Cheetah was Priscilla Rich, a debutante that felt slighted by Wonder Woman’s popularity. Throughout the issue, she vexes Diana three times, finally being captured on Paradise Island. Along the way, there are some racially insensitive depictions of the Japanese military, tarnishing an otherwise classic story.
8 Marvel Mystery Comics #9 Is An Epic Battle Between Namor & The Human Torch
Many Timely Comics pale when compared to the best that the Golden Age had to offer. Timely did manage to capture the excitement with daring characters like Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch. Once, the decision was made to pit Namor and the Torch against each other. It would be one of the earliest crossovers.
The animosity of these two is palpable as the story progresses. If all anyone remembers of it is the second-hand account in Marvels #1, then so much is missed. The fight would conclude in the next issue, but this is the best part.
7 Exciting Comics #59 Featured Early Art By A Legendary Artist
The Black Terror was a popular hero, mirroring many elements from Batman and other heroes. He would headline his comic and Exciting Comics for many years. In 1947, however, he would lose his place as the cover feature to Judy of the Jungle.
At the end of that year, Exciting Comics #59 became a very special issue. Behind an Alex Schomburg cover using the trope of the bound heroine was a Judy of the Jungle story illustrated by a young artist named Frank Franzetta. In addition to that excellent story was another thrilling tale featuring the Black Terror.
6 Phantom Lady #17 Shows Off Matt Baker’s Skill
Matt Baker was a very skilled artist, as evident in the classic Phantom Lady #17, published in 1948. He illustrates a story of a mob protection racket that targets a friend of Sandra Knight. Although she’s too late to save her friend’s life, as Phantom Lady, she’s able to bring the murderers to justice.
Baker makes use of experimental page layouts, never failing to properly tell the story. His anatomy is nearly flawless, with Phantom Lady never failing to present a striking figure on the page. It is a classic example of cheesecake-style artwork, down to the “women in bondage” cover trope, but extremely well done.
5 Adventure Comics #75 Featured Great Artists Drawing Classic Heroes
With the most famous artists of the Golden Age getting the majority of the press, some great artists are often overlooked. The anthology Adventure Comics gave many of these artists room to shine. Behind a classic cover by Jack Kirby, the artists don’t disappoint any reader that appreciates good art.
The first story features Starman, drawn by Jack Burnley, who was a renowned sports illustrator. Jack Kirby not only provided the art for the Sandman story but a Manhunter tale, as well. Pulp artist Jack Lehti provides a beautiful jungle adventure story and Louis Cazeneuve’s story with the Shining Knight shows the skill coming out of the Eisner/Iger studio.
4 Police Comics #1 Is Plastic Man’s Debut (& So Many Other Heroes)
There are a few comics throughout history that can claim to be the first appearance of several heroes. Police Comics #1 is best known as the debut comic for Plastic Man, but it also has the premiere appearances for many other heroes. Some of these have gone on to become staples of DC Comics, just like Plastic Man.
Firebrand, Phantom Lady, and the Human Bomb all went on to form the Freedom Fighters. 711 became a legendary hero among those lapsing into the public domain. Steel Kerrigan and the Mouthpiece may not be well-remembered, but worth reading, nonetheless.
3 Captain Marvel Adventures #18 Is Mary Marvel’s First Appearance
Mary Marvel was one of the most popular heroines of the Golden Age. Created by Otto Binder, who also created Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Miss America. The story that introduces Mary Marvel has classic elements that would come to be tropes of the Silver Age, including highly synchronistic circumstances and an ever-expanding family around keystone heroes.
Otto Binder was a complex man, being a strong believer in Ancient Astronaut Theory. He left DC Comics to return to book illustration, especially science fiction. Tragically, his only daughter, also named Mary, died when she was struck by a car. This is credited as driving Binder into alcoholism until his death just seven years later.
2 Action Comics #20 Adds A Twist To The Ultra-Humanite
Ultra, later renamed the Ultra-Humanite, was one of the Golden Age Superman’s most diabolical villains. In his second appearance, he was believed to be dead, but in Action Comics #20, the villain resurfaced with a new face. Sent to Hollywood to interview movie stars, Clark Kent encounters Delores Winters. When the movie star abruptly retires she embarks on a criminal career of kidnapping and murder.
When Superman confronts Delores, he recognizes the evil look in her eyes as being the same as his nemesis, the Ultra. The fiend had his brain put into the actress’ body in a scheme to avoid death in a way that few other villains have dared to repeat. Ultra escapes at the end of the story but returns to plague Superman, and decades later, the All-Star Squadron.
1 Wonder Woman’s First Issue Shows The Reason Everyone Loves Her
William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman and the first issue, building on her previous appearances in All-Star Comics and Sensation Comics. In this issue, he expands upon the Greek legend of the Amazons. Diana is the new addition, returning American pilot Steve Trevor to “the man’s world” after he crashes and nearly dies off the coast of the Amazons’ Paradise Island.
Wonder Woman demonstrates remarkable qualities, providing an example to her young companion, Etta Candy. It’s all gorgeously illustrated by H. G. Peter, who was so excited to work on Wonder Woman’s stories that he changed his art style to one heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. His studio heavily employed female assistants and artists, making for an example in the premiere feminist heroine of the 20th century.
NEXT: 10 Heroes DC Wants You To Forget