CHESTERTOWN, MD— On December 8, 1941, the day after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan. As the men and women of the U.S. armed forces marched off to war, America’s favorite superhero, the Man of Steel, marched by their side. For the duration of the war, Superman battled alongside his readers – in the comics pages of newspapers and on the radio – for what his creators saw as truth, justice, and the American way.
On Wednesday, May 4, historian Allan W. Austin will explore Superman’s wartime exploits in an illustrated talk at Washington College, “Superman vs. Japan: Fighting World War II in Popular Culture.” Sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, Austin’s talk is free and open to the public, and will begin at 4:30 pm in the College’s Litrenta Lecture Hall, John S. Toll Science Center.
Though Superman battled all of America’s wartime enemies, sinking Axis tankers and submarines and once abducting Adolf Hitler, his encounters with the Japanese are a particularly rich and relatively untapped source for historians. “Like much of wartime popular culture, Superman cartoons reveal key American beliefs about the nation, the Japanese and the ultimate meaning of the Second World War,” said Starr Center director Adam Goodheart. “They also reveal the racism that sometimes underlay anti-Japanese propaganda.”
Allan Austin is Associate Professor of History at Misericordia University, where he teaches courses on American ethnic history, immigration history, and film & history, and has pioneered a course on comic books and graphic novels, “Race and Graphic Narrative in the Postwar United States.” Students in this course apply a critical eye to a series of comics collections and graphic novels, learning to dig below the surface for the ideas and ideologies they reveal.
Austin is the author of From Concentration Camp to Campus: Japanese American Students and World War II (Illinois, 2007), and co-editor of two books, Space and Time: Essays on Visions of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television (McFarland, 2010) and Asian American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia (M.E. Sharpe, 2010). He is currently working on a book about early 20th century civil rights activism among American Quakers.