Little Timmy clearly can’t help belting Nicky from down the block. It must be those COMIC BOOKS he reads! Just like 90% of all other kids! Comic Book History of Comics #4 recounts the darkest, dumbest days of the medium, and is NOT approved by the Comics Code Authority. Is it good?

Comic Book History of Comics #4 (IDW Publishing)

Yes, THE CODE! Archie (and DC) only just gave it up six years ago, finally ending more than half a century of self-imposed censorship in the name of “restoring public confidence in comics.” All thanks to the infamous Dr. Frederic Wertham.

But don’t hate on the guy too much. Unlike most other popular accounts, Comic Book History of Comics #4 is quick to point out that the psychiatrist whose work played a big part in the seminal Brown v. Board of Education court case, which decided that “separate but equal” public schools for minorities were unconstitutional, really did have his heart in the right place. His continued desire to help underprivileged children, prone to criminal activities, just led him to find bogeymen in obvious but scientifically unsupported places.

And to be fair, comics’ fall from acceptance wasn’t all Wertham’s fault. If Entertaining Comics’ owner Bill Gaines had proven a more effective foil in the Senate hearings, televised much the same way a probe into organized crime had been a few years before, maybe the whole thing could have been saved. But Gaines lived to thumb the eye of establishment, changing the name of his father’s Bible-themed Educational Comics after inheriting the company and launching a decidedly different direction with the now renowned Tales from the Crypt. Gaines gambled and everyone lost for a long, long time.

Is It Good?

Comic Book History of Comics #4 is the best issue of the mini-series yet, thanks in part to the interesting subject matter, but also due to writer Fred Van Lente’s near-perfect narrative structure. Crafting a story is difficult enough when it only exists in your head. Trying to force reality into a suitable tale adds a whole other hurdle, but the education comics master rises to the occasion with great character introductions that elicit a genuine “wonder what happens next” reaction. Even when you pretty much know the answer!

Artist Ryan Dunlavey’s metaphorical images are better in Comic Book History of Comics #4 than in any issue but the very first. The force field of comics protecting children from the wrath of a nun and the portrayal of three distinct characters pioneering three different art styles almost tell the story better on their own than with Van Lente’s words. Adam Guzowski’s colors are especially effective in the latter panel. There’s even visual continuity with the dancing Superman envelope on Maxwell Gaines’ desk.

Like the middle of an Act 3, Comic Book History of Comics #4 begins the payoffs set up previously, and delivers the expected big confrontation. Even those who already know the story can still experience edge-of-your-seat suspense as the situation spirals out of control. Oh, and it also reminds us that Wonder Woman was created by the inventor of the (bogus) polygraph to show that if a strong woman were ever depicted, men would rightfully “become her willing slaves.” Comics!

Comic Book History of Comics #4 Review
Van Lente amazingly adapts reality to narrative, introducing characters well and leading to payoffsSome of Ryan Dunlavey's best visual metaphorsEven-handed appraisal of controversial figures
One entertaining story might seem out of place
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