In time for Black History Month, let’s go back to an early, anonymous comic book hero who would come to symbolize the struggle of People Of Color to get due representation. This little-known story begins in the fifties with the much heralded controversial E.C Comics company.
Everyone knows DC and Marvel Comics, but in the early days of the industry, there were a ton of publishers to choose from when it came to pulp fiction.
Specializing in everything from sci-fi to noir mystery, these early publishers were largely wiped out by a combination of the Great Depression and the rise of censorship in the form of the Comics Code Authority.
Prior to the creation of this “standards” organization, comic book publishers were largely left to publish whatever they wanted.
As you can imagine, this led to the publication of some pretty salacious material – even by today’s standards.
Delving into topics like “deviant” and violent forms of sexuality and even questioning social mores, these comics were as revolutionary as they were controversial. That doesn’t mean that they were all very good. Quite the opposite is the case in many respects; however, the free reign pubs were given over their material is still admired by free-speech advocates today.
One legendary publisher that was claimed by this turbulent formative era was Entertainment Comics, also known as EC.
Founded in 1944 by Max Gaines in New York City, this comic brand is all but defunct save for one hugely popular legacy title that is still published today: MAD.
Finally folding in 1956, life was brief and chaotic for the now-esteemed publisher. Even so, they made sure to make their mark on the industry and they did so in a most spectacular way.
The Comics Code Authority began implementing its standards practices in the 1950s and this greatly affected the storylines in Entertainment Comics’ titles. Relying upon a bit of shock and awe to move paper, Entertainment Comics drew exception with the CCA’s approach which not only limited what they could do but also forced them to severely rework storylines in order to bring titles into compliance with the Code.
History, however, was not on Entertainment Comics’ side. Given their accessible price and wide-ranging, unpredictable content, comic books adopted these codes to more or less stay alive. That doesn’t mean the codes weren’t oppressive compared to the nearly unlimited editorial freedom experienced before, but there was also a huge economic incentive to try to comply.
All of this culminated in Entertainment Comics’ conflict with CCA administrator Judge Charles Murphy who the company threatened to sue when he mandated a change to a storyline in Incredible Science Fiction #33.
Indicative of the politics and social attitudes of the time, the controversial segments that were in question by the CCA included the end reveal of a black male astronaut as the protagonist of the story. In a heady mix of racism and overreach, the CCA wanted this part of the comic changed. The story, titled “Judgment Day,” became legendary in the history of comics for standing up to the CCA and pushing for inclusion in pulp – then a revolutionary concept.
Though “Judgment Day” was the last issue of Incredible Science Fiction, issue 33 had an outsized impact when it came to refashioning how comics are made and developed.