Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Anthony Harkins (Director), Jack Thacker, Carol Crowe Carraco

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This thesis explains the connection between comics and public reactions in two separate eras of conservatism. Comic books were targeted by critics in the 1950s because their content challenged conservative norms. In 1954, a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on Juvenile Delinquency tried to determine if comic books were having a harmful impact on children. The senators were concerned that comic books objectified women, taught children to engage in violence, promoted bigotry, and perhaps even encouraged homosexuality. The concerns caused outrage that was encouraged by the press. As a result, comic books adopted a form of self-censorship through the Comic Code Authority. The censorship combined with challenges from other media collapsed the comic book market until the next decade. Between 1978 through 1993, the United States entered a second period of conservatism. During this period, comic books reflected far more sensational content than that which had caused the public to react so strongly in 1954. And yet this time, there was almost no public outrage directed at comics. The purpose of this study is to find out why sensational content did not result in the same degree of public outrage that had occurred in 1954. This thesis starts with an overview of the controversies about comics in the 1950s era. Then, in the remainder of the thesis, comic books produced between 1978 and 1993 by the most popular mainstream comic book company, Marvel Comics, focusing on Daredevil, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, and the X-Men. The thesis also draws extensively on fan mail from the Stan Lee Archives in Laramie, Wyoming, and in the comic books themselves. Comparing comic books and the period’s changing media landscape, I show that comic books were deemed subversive and a source of scandalously sensational material out of step with much popular culture in the 1950s, but blended so well into the media landscape of the 1970s and 80s that they were safe from public outrage. Therefore, even though comic books became more violent and engaged in escalating levels of sexual objectification of female characters, fans approved of the new tone.


History | United States History