Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2016

Degree Type



Biological Sciences

First Reader

David Snyder

Second Reader

Mark Minett


In 1961 the editor of Atlas Comics, Martin Goodman, approached his nephew and staff writer Stan Lee with a pitch. Goodman wanted Lee to create a super hero team to rival DC Comics’, Justice League of America. Lee came up with the Fantastic Four who debuted in November of 1961. The super hero team led by physicist Bruce Banner was the first of many successful titles from Marvel Comics. Much of the popularity of Marvel Comics stemmed from the company’s focus on the characters rather than only action like other superhero comics at the time. Lee developed characters that the audience could relate to rather than godlike super humans of DC Comics. The other aspect of Marvel that attracted many readers was the real world setting, specifically the Cold War setting. The characters of Marvel comics dealt with the issues of this unsettled time period just like their readers. Of course one of the biggest issues of the Cold War was nuclear power.

The beginning of Marvel Comics coincided with a particularly turbulent time in US-Soviet relations as both countries raced to build up their nuclear stockpiles. This all came to a head in October of 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most historians agree that this thirteen-day period was the closest that the US and the Soviet Union ever came to a nuclear war. It is no surprise that the peak of American nuclear anxiety was also during this unstable period. This analysis focuses on the period from November 1961 to April 1963 in order to determine the extent to which this nuclear anxiety is reflected in Marvel Comics.

The nature of nuclear anxiety among Americans during this period was a multi-faceted issue that varied throughout the Cold War. While the public perception of nuclear energy was a complex issue specific themes of anxiety arise in the period between November 1961 and April 1963. The first is a general uncertainty over the nature of nuclear power and its potential applications in both war and peace. Another theme is unease about who should wield nuclear power and consequently, who it affects. The final motif of nuclear anxiety expressed in Marvel Comics during the period was the moral ambivalence of the American people towards the use of nuclear weapons. This work attempts to analyze the extent to which these themes of nuclear anxiety are represented in Marvel Comic books.

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© 2016, Kelly Elizabeth Shepherd

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