Popular Culture Review Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2017 - Page 121

account the propagandistic elements of an entire WWII comic, including letters pages, house ads, and incidental art. Across the pond, after paper rationing ceased with Germany’s defeat and Japan’s surrender, the saga of the British superhero began developing, slowly yet surely. According to most accounts, U.K. comics struggled in the shadow of the American industry. Chris Murray’s The British Superhero does a superb job of chronicling the surprisingly compelling history of comics in England and defining the industry’s origins in 19 th -century pop culture (boys’ weeklies, penny dreadfuls) and in the sci-fi/fantasy “protosuperheroes” of 1930s pulp-fiction protagonists: the Scarlet Bat, the Black Whip, the Flaming Avenger, and Karga the Clutcher. Yet even with everything finally in place, the Brit brand of superhero lacked glamor. As Murray eloquently (and fairly) puts it: The superhero was supposed to soar between huge skyscrapers or charge through noir urban sprawl and to embody the ideals of the American Dream and to challenge the injustice. America’s utopian idealism suited this genre and these characters, but the slow decline of the British Empire viewed from the grimy tenement buildings was a rather less impressive backdrop for superhero narratives. It is not lost on Murray that, in the end, British grit and gloom has eventually won out, as evident in today’s too-dark, fun-challenged, post-Watchmen film adaptations like Man of Steel and Logan. In any case, the author’s mix of strong writing skills and thorough historical research make his book a definitive, delightful read. His rendering of the tangled birth of the Marvelman character, a Brit copycat of DC’s Captain Marvel, is intriguing and refreshingly clear. Indeed, few scholars have pushed so deeply to understand how exactly so many U.S. comics ended up reaching England. Example: “Another means by which American comics came to Britain was via the unsold reminder copies that were often used as ballast in American ships, with piles offloaded at British ports (mainly Liverpool, Manchester, Belfast, and London).” If Americans shipped their tired, poor, and huddled masses of unsold comics into England, they were appreciated. The Union Jack’s demand for star-spangled four-color product was so intense in the face of a ban on American material that publishers went to extreme lengths, producing fake American comics and reformatting reprinted comics from the States. Simultaneously, this gave English writers and artists breathing room to create their own pantheon of odd yet interesting characters—Purple Hood, Steel Claw, Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid, to 116