Superheroes from Another Time

Marvel Entertainment's newest television series, Agent Carter, is the latest example of an adventure with a superhero from another time.  It's a fascinating storytelling device to choose a period of history that's not our own and to see the plot unfold as the characters face challenges from the past (or future) seen from the perspective of the audience's present.

The 1940s is a popular setting, with World War II raging, an era when the lines between good and evil seemed more clearly defined.  Yet the complexity of human nature is ever present, with intrigue, espionage, suspicion, and betrayal still in evidence. It was sheer brilliance by Marvel in the 1960s to resurrect some of the heroes from what is now called the Greatest Generation, while keeping the continuity of those "old" titans (unlike DC Comics, which revived its Golden Age superheroes, like Green Lantern and the Flash, as brand new characters).

Seeing Captain America as a man out of time, going up against not only the bad guys but the culture and values of a changed world, was fodder for some amazing stories.  Seeing the Submariner, Prince Namor, who battled Axis forces as part of the Invaders, suddenly reappear to challenge the then "modern" society that was threatening the autonomy of his watery kingdom, was drama at its finest.

Most superheroes who manage to earn longevity (Superman, Batman, etc.) change with the times.  Others are defined by theirs.  I remember as a child seeing the first season of Wonder Woman, when it was set during WWII, and not appreciating that time period, anachronistic to my young eyes. Years later, the patriotic costume, the invisible plane, the idea of an Amazonian warrior princess confronting a war-ravaged "world of man," made so much more sense seen through the lens of a different time.

Futuristic stories are fine too -- Superboy meeting the Legion of Superheroes, teenagers from centuries ahead; or Buck Rogers thrown into another century -- but they allow the writers and artists to play loose with their imaginations.  Heroes set in the past are bound by history, but in the hands of good creators, we can learn a lot about ourselves and our current time by seeing those heroes from decades before.

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