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Atomic War! [comic]

Entry updated 14 November 2022. Tagged: Comics, Publication.

US Comic (1952-1953). Four issues. Ace Magazines (Junior Books, Inc.). Artists include Lou Cameron, Jim McLaughlin, Bill Molno and Ken Rice. Three or four comic strips and one (author uncredited) short story per issue.

Upon each cover is printed "only a strong America can prevent Atomic War!"; whilst issue 4 explains, "this book is designed to shock America into vigilance – and to keep the horrors of atomic war from our shores". The first issue's opening story, "The Sneak Attack", sets the scene: in 1960 (see Near Future), a peace treaty is signed, and "so positive was the United States of Russia's sincerity, that a halt had been called months ago to the building of further A Bombs". As they drive away, the Russian diplomats crow, "The western fools do not suspect a thing!" Shortly after, New York, Chicago and Detroit are destroyed by atomic bombs – lovingly portrayed over several pages (including the cover). An attempt to bomb Washington is stopped only by the sacrifice of a noble American pilot, "the first great hero of World War Three".

Subsequent stories are all set in the resulting conflict, with heroic Americans (and the very occasional ally) battling the Soviet war machine. Though largely World War Two plots with Russians instead of Germans as the bad guys, these are sometimes intertwined in sf elements. The Russians have "a supersonic amplifier whose sound waves correspond with the resonating frequency of metals" (see Inventions) which end up being "pulverized"; they have also hollowed out a mountain in the Urals to built a Rocket facility, where they are about to launch an "atomic-propelled satellite", from which atomic bombs will be fired. We also learn industrial Pollution has been reduced by "precipitrons" – electrified copper wire that precipitates and collect smoke particles.

World War III shows no sign of ending at the end of the fourth and final issue. Despite the number of atomic bombs exploding, nobody seems too concerned or affected by the radiation (see Nuclear Energy): at one point the Russians use atomic weapons on West Berlin. The Russians are not uniformly portrayed as evil – in "Sneak Attack" the aircrews bombing American cities have been told it is a pre-emptive strike as the Americans were about to launch their own raids, whilst in another story a Russian sailor argues for peace (only to be shot) – but their leaders are all cruel and/or buffoons. The stories are propaganda, reflecting the Paranoia of the time that saw no chance of peace, with the only alternative to nuclear war being a perpetual Cold War; though, as Joseph Stalin was alive when the stories were written, some caution was perhaps justified.

The same company also published the comic World War III (1952-1953, 2 issues), with a similar plot – here the Russians also bombed American Cities in 1960. [SP]

further reading

  • Atomic War! (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2019) [graph: collects issues #1-#4 of Atomic War! plus issue #1 of Captain Courageous from 1942: illus/various: hb/Ken Rice]

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