Normally, Chapter By Chapter is me reading a fictional book one chapter at a time to study each part of the story. In this special review series however we are looking at Seduction Of The Innocent, a non-fiction book as the writer, Dr. Fredric Wertham, tries to make the case that comics were a bad thing for kids in the 1950s. The book had a huge impact on the comic industry and fans. We will examine what he is saying not exclusively by today’s standards, but the time in which the book was made to see where Wertham was right, and where he was horribly wrong.

Comic Books Today and the Future

When the remedy has been found, the next generation has difficulty in understanding how the old conditions could ever have been allowed.
Sir John Simon

Here we at last! The final chapter of my least favorite read ever! And I’ve had to read through a number of books I didn’t like. Usually that was for school, but here it’s more of a different learning experience, to break down the problems one can have with new media. And some of these arguments still exist today. From the Wertham successor Jack Thompson and his war on “violent video games” to political commentator Bill Maher’s recent rant about the evils of superhero movies, the new kid in town will always be under assault by that group of yokels who don’t trust strange media in these here parts. Dr. Wertham passed away in 1981 but his spirit still remains.

We may be lucky on this one. The chapter is only five pages of the PDF file (I’m not sure how that translates to the original book), and not even full pages. We may pull this off in an article or two, maybe three if the stupidity is large enough. And then next week (unless I decide to do it this week and just get it over with) I’ll have my final thoughts on the book and why it was so important to do this review, as well as the impact it had on comic books. But for now let’s end this nightmare review series.

Chapter 14: The Triumph Of Doctor Payne

But who is this “Dr. Payne”? It’s actually a more common last name than you think. However, it appears to be a comic book character.

When you first meet Dr. Payne, he is in his laboratory wearing a white coat. On a couch before him lies a blonde young woman with conspicuous breasts, bare legs and the lower part of her skirt frazzled and in tatters, as if she had been roughly handled in strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to defend her honor.

Next you see him lying in wait for another beautiful girl. He cuts off her shapely legs. You see her lying on the cobble-stoned street without her legs while he rushes off on the sidewalk carrying them in his arms. Then you see him gloating over these lovely legs in his laboratory. The newspapers announce: BUTCHERKILLER AT LARGE! Two pictures show the police completely baffled. He stalks another beautiful girl and cuts her hands off:

“Not my hands! Oh, No, Please Not my . . . OHHHH . . .”

Next you see the girl lying hand-less on the sidewalk and again: “Performing his deed of unspeakable horror, Dr. Payne scurried off carrying his GHASTLY BURDEN!”

His third exploit belongs to the psychopathology of hair fetishism. He cuts off a beautiful girl’s long blonde hair: “HAIR! Lovely, perfect hair!”

Finally, through a most unlikely accident, he dies, and the police find him dead.

What I would take from this story is a horrible person gets what’s coming to him, and most likely the writer wants you to hate this character so much that his death is celebrated.

When the decision of Governor Dewey and the lack of decision of Senator Kefauver had given the green light to the comic-book industry, they went ahead full steam. Now no holds are barred. Horror, crime, sadism, monsters, ghouls, corpses dead and alive – in short, real freedom of expression. All this in comic books addressed to and sold to children.

First off, I doubt this was intended for children, but that hasn’t stopped Wertham before. However, I thought you said comics were stifling the writers’ freedom of expression and now you’re saying that this is their freedom of expression? You confuse me, doctor.

To whom is such a story as Dr. Payne addressed? This comic book has letters from readers. One says: “I enjoy your books very much and read them in bed at night before I go to sleep. I am eleven years old.” When I read this I could not help being reminded of a typical defensive article about comic books in Parents’ Magazine in which the author says: “Maybe I just don’t catch all these subtle symbols of erotism, sadism and worse which comics reputedly contain.”

Shock SuspenStories

Not this issue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based on the other story examples mentioned in this section Wertham may be referring to Shock SuspenStories #4, the only copy of which I could find online (Golden Age comics are mostly in public domain since the companies are out of business…with obviously some exceptions) included an ad with an erotically posed image of Sakura from the Naruto franchise and I really don’t care to see that any more than Wertham would. For one thing I don’t think any of the young ninja grow to be older than 16 and this looks like swiped fan art. Also I don’t like horror stories so I wouldn’t want to read it anyway. So I really can’t confirm or deny Wertham’s interpretation of events. Part of me wants to ignore it based on previous statements in this book, but even if he’s right, I still maintain this wasn’t made with an eleven-year-old in mind, and I do question why they’d print it outside of wanting to let the kid see his name in the letter column.

According to Wertham the next story is about a bunch of crooked cops who force (by beating him half to death) an innocent man to confess to the murder committed by the police lieutenant against his wife, and doesn’t get punished for it. That seems odd, unless it was to be continued in the next issue (the curse of an anthology), since horror stories usually involve a horrible end for the bad guy, usually through some karmic means. Actually, according to Wikipedia the comic was actually a sampler of the kinds of adult-targeted titled EC Comics was known for once they stopped doing educational comics (what EC originally stood for), featuring a crime, horror, sci-fi, and war story. And then it says this:

Over the next three years Shock SuspenStories tackled many controversial issues, including racism (“The Guilty” in #3, “In Gratitude” in #11), mob hysteria (“The Patriots” in #2), police corruption (“Confession” in #4) {emphasis mine – SWT}, vigilantism (“Under Cover” in #6), drug addiction (“The Monkey” in #12) and rape (“The Assault” in #8, “A Kind of Justice” in #16). The sampler format remained for the remaining three stories in the title until the end of 1953. With #12, the horror and science fiction stories were phased out, and the comic then focused primarily on shock and crime stories for the remainder of its run.

So the story I just mentioned (“Confession”) was a commentary on police corruption. Where Wertham saw “corrupting our youth” the writer’s intention was “expose the evils in our society”, including racism (which is another topic Wertham complained about in comics). This may just be another example of Wertham’s intentional failure to understand comics.

A very sexy-looking girl tells her husband that she is pregnant. He opens his jacket and the girl looks at him, horrified. He tells her: “You couldn’t be expecting a child, now, could you? Not very well – when your husband is a ROBOT!”

“And that is where cyborgs come from, kids!” 😀 Actually, now I’m curious to see this story. I have to know why this woman failed to notice THAT! The honeymoon must have been weeeeeeeeird.

Scholars will be interested in this new version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

DEATH SCENE (Hamlet speaking):

Fear not, queen mother!

It was Laertes

And he shall die at my hands!

. . . Alas! I have been poisoned And now I, too, go

To join my deceased father!

I, too-I-AGGGRRRAA!

Yeah, even I don’t see the point in that change. And I haven’t even read the play. Again, horrible people doing horrible things to each other with no clear “hero”. Liiiiiiiike some comics I could mention! But imagine someone going AGGGRRRAA on stage! That misses the point of onomatopoeia.

In one comic book “the top horror artist in the entire comic book field” is confined in the “state home for mental defectives” where his little son goes to visit him. Dialogue at the gate be tween the guard and the boy:

GUARD: “Yes, I know it’s visiting day. But he’s still too violent.”

LITTLE BOY: “I-I-just wanted to tell him he’s won the ‘Ghoul’ for the most horrible comic book script of the year.

Based on what we learned about “Confession” I have to think this was a commentary on comic critics. It seems to have gone over the head of one I could mention. For example, the next story is about Government agents who conduct germ warfare experiments on African savages, most likely a commentary on actual medical testing programs alleged to have been conducted on black prisoners without their knowledge, the same kind of program that would create Marvel hero Luke Cage (Power Man in those days).

In one picture you are shown a book with the title Bacterial War. This is not propaganda abroad, but the comic-book industry at home.

See, Wertham doesn’t believe comics or science fiction or even horror can be used to make a smart commentary, because of his own biases. And yet H.G. Wells wrote many stories about science gone wrong as warnings to the human race. Instead they actually created the atomic bomb, named after a similar weapon in one of his books. You have to drop to the ground to miss a point that badly. Perhaps to duck and cover? 😛

One afternoon, after analyzing the content of the latest batch, I was riding on the subway. Across from me
was a nice-looking little boy, totally immersed in one of the bloody thrillers I had just gone over. I found
myself in a revelry. In my fantasy I was addressing a huge audience of parents, doctors, legislators and
officials. This is what I was saying:

Set the children free! Give them a chance! Let them develop according to what is best in them. Don’t inculcate in them your ugly passions when they have hardly learned to read. Don’t teach them all the violence, the shrewdness, the hardness of your own life. Don’t spoil the spontaneity of their dreams.

I’m in favor of that and all, but given Wertham’s perspectives on what these comics do I’m not convinced he’s the right judge of what is doing that and what isn’t.

Don’t lead them halfway to delinquency and when they get there clap them into your reformatories for what is now euphemistically called “group living.” Don’t stimulate their minds with sex and perversity and label the children abnormal when they react.

They weren’t! These stories weren’t made with kids in mind. Heck, some of the same literature you claim kids should be reading probably wasn’t made with kids in mind. What seven-year-old would care about Great Expectations? How many kids could relate to the Artful Dodger or Huckleberry Finn except the ones who would emulate their bad qualities? Some kids may grow up wanting to be like Long John Silver, and Peter Pan is hardly the boy you want you’re children emulating. He was sort of a brat.

Don’t continue to desecrate death, graves and coffins with your horror stories and degrade sex with the sordid rituals of hitting, hanging, torturing. Don’t sow in their young minds the sadistic details of destruction.

I can’t argue that.

Set the children free! All they want is to play, to learn, to grow up. They want to play games of adventure and fun, not your games of wars and killing.

Then why aren’t they? You’ve made the case that kids are reading comics whether the parents want them to or not and nobody is making the kids play the bondage games you claim they’re playing, so why aren’t they playing the games you think they should? Or maybe they are and you’re confusing games of killing with games of adventure? Maybe you want to be the one choosing the adventure and it isn’t the ones Sky King is having? (Or for you younguns, let’s say Indiana Jones. I’m sure he’d hate Indiana Jones.)

They want to learn how the world goes, what the people do who achieve something or discover something. They want to grow up to raise families with homes and children and not revel in morbid visions of Batman and his young friend. They want to grow up into men and women, not supermen and wonder women. Set the children free!

Batman would have gone after the corrupt cops from earlier. But of course you’re focusing on the gay angle, which would make this maybe the third time that’s come up in a book that supposed to be known for it, while Superman has been the target of popshots in almost every chapter.

But I caught myself. Ridiculous! Who would listen to that?

Only the dupes who believe the bull you just said. And this feels like a good place to stop. It looks like we may finish this tomorrow. Come join the “fun”!

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About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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