Monday, March 14, 2016

When the Superheroes Battled Them!

It all started, like so many things in popular culture, with an explosion.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and President Truman warned Japan to “…expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
That action spelled the end of the world war, but the beginning of world nightmares about nuclear annihilation that would be reflected and distorted in the mirror of popular culture. And if the danger was titanic, so was its dreamy reflection in darkened movie theaters.
That fear of radiation reanimated dinosaurs like the latter-day dragon Godzilla while spawning monstrous spiders, grasshoppers and mantises, colossal men and 50-foot women and, most prolifically, giant ants.
James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn and James Arness fought monster ants mutated by radiation from the first atomic bomb test near Alamogordo in the 1954 film Them!
One of our agents infiltrates the enemy camp.
The fact that the movie was a critical and popular hit was not lost on comic book publishers. And maybe the inspiration ran both ways. After all, Quality Comics superhero Plastic Man fought radiation-spawned giant ants in 1952, two years before the release of the Warner Brothers film.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Superman, Captain Marvel Junior and the jungle hero Kona, along with many others, would find themselves enlisted in the war against giant ants. Over at what would become Marvel Comics, Stan Lee even gave them names like Grottu and Krang. And shockingly, the quisling cub reporter Jimmy Olsen gained super powers and went over to the giant ants’ side. But that, as they say, is a story for another day…

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