From their beginnings in the late 1930s, superhero comics told simple stories of hope where good always triumphed over evil and the characters did not have complex backgrounds. But at the end of the 1940s, they began to deal with controversial issues for those times in terms of gender and racial diversity. Then horror and gore also entered their stories, and the American people began to see these fictions with bad eyes.
Many parents believed that the comics were harmful to their children, while others maintained that there was a correlation between the content of comic books and the increase in delinquency. Many people even organized public comic book burnings in several cities across the United States.
Meanwhile, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham began giving talks and publishing studies that supported all this collective fear, something that ultimately came to the ears of the US government. Congress held hearings to consider Wertham’s arguments. Although the government did not go beyond that meeting, the event was televised throughout the country.
Many publishers had to close due to the drastic decline in sales. Then the surviving big comic book publishers decided to take measures to protect the industry. In 1954, they joined to form the Comics Code Authority (CCA) which dictated what a comic could and could not show.
For example, comics could not show vampires or werewolves and could not contain sexual references. Good always had to come out victorious, and villains could not be represented in such a way that readers could empathize with them. If a comic complied with these and other conditions, the CCA allowed it to have its stamp on the cover. The truth is that distributors only accepted comics approved by the CCA.
Although these limitations allowed the survival of the industry, sales continued to decline. Then, in the early 1970s, the publisher Marvel challenged the Code by issuing comics with ruthless villains and political references.
In 1971, Marvel editor Stan Lee released several issues of Spider-Man touching on topics such as drug abuse, a movement imitated by DC. These changes were well received at a time when US culture was experiencing a turning point and many taboos were no longer such.
In subsequent years, the Comics Code was rewritten several times. But its implementation gradually collapsed, and publishers sold more and more comics without the Code seal.[
Finally, in 2011, the CCA stopped its functions. So the superhero industry had to face a real-life villain. It turned out to be a joint effort between the authorities and a few people who were full of paranoid fear and blamed the comics for all evils.