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Wars of Comics and Culture in 'Ten-Cent Plague'


After World War II, the squeaky-clean comic-book superheroes of the 1940s were joined on newsstand shelves by darker, edgier anti-heroes and -heroines. Inspired by the same influences driving pulp fiction and film noir, graphic novels took on grittier, more adult narratives — and naturally were a hit with young readers.

It wasn't long before parents took notice. In The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America, David Hajdu chronicles what he calls "a forgotten chapter in the history of the culture wars" — the heated controversy over comics.

Hajdu says those disputes — which included book burnings and congressional hearings — were about much more than cartoons. Ten-Cent Plague details how the controversy nearly killed the comic business but also played a key role in defining postwar pop culture.

"The comic-book war was one of the first and hardest-fought conflicts between young people and their parents in America," Hajdu writes, "and it seems clear, too, now, that it was worth the fight."

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