"What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down..."
So observed folk-rockers Buffalo Springfield in their classic hippie anthem For What It's Worth back in 1966, as America's counter-culture feverishly grabbed signs (and headlines) and took to the streets to protest against "The Man"!
Older Americans, which included the middle-aged comic book creators of DC and Marvel, weren't quite sure what to make of the sign-waving, bra-burning Baby Boomers. It's this struggle to both comprehend and appeal to the youth culture of the late 60's that resulted in some of the most unintentionally hilarious comics of the era. Like most efforts to incorporate fads into superhero comics, DC and Marvel's depictions of the counter-culture were surreal, endearingly clueless affairs.
So, pull up a beanbag chair, flick on the lava lamp, spark up some...er, incense...and enjoy a Magical Mystery Tour through 1960's counter-culture (by way of tie-wearing, middle aged comic book creators).
One of the first official "hippie covers" was Amazing Spider-Man #68 (1968), arguably one of the "elite class" of memorable covers due to its ultra-classic Spider-Man pose. Note Spidey's strange indifference to the protestors, opting to crop-dust the crowd with his ass rather than lend them any moral or political support. No wonder they're so ticked-off!
Following this relatively mild acknowledgement of America's angry youth, 1969 saw a virtual blizzard of hippie covers, most of which portrayed the "peace-loving" protestors as violent radicals bent on subversion. The superheroes, on the other hand, are often portrayed as perplexed, even helpless figures...perhaps much like the reactions of older comics pros themselves in the face of such social upheaval.
Examples? I've got plenty....like Jimmy Olsen #118.
Who better to represent the shocked "Establishment" than Superman himself, reeling from Jimmy Olsen's defection to an anti-Superman "hippie gang"!
Apparently, hippie rock icon David Crosby was also part of the gang....
...as was this rather bizarre background specimen who's green jumpsuit made him look more like a Flash Gordon extra than his fellow Flower Children.
Despite young hotshot Neal Adams illustrating the cover, it's clear that a not-so-young writer was responsible for the dialogue. Calling someone a "No-Good Heel" or a "Super-Fink" (on a background sign) was a little too 1940's for the late 1960's.
Oh...as for Jimmy's groovy threads? You can smell the B.O. from here.
Next up, we go straight from the Anti-Superman hippie gang to the rampaging Anti-Flash hippie gang on the cover of Flash #185:
Like the inert Superman of the previous cover, Flash appears strangely passive while receiving a thorough thrashing from the "non-violent" protestors. A vicious hippie-chick biting his thigh (rabies)! A boot to the ribs! A deadly stranglehold-karate chop combo from Mr. Hemp Necklace...and to cap it all off, the irony of ironies. The Scarlet Speedster about to be clobbered by a "stamp out violence" sign! Hypocrites!
Most likely an intended parallel to real world events, Green Lantern travels to the year 5708 AD, only to find the same brand of rebellious punks he'd left behind in 1969:
As with Flash and Superman, GL also appears to be quite a pushover in the face of the future-hippie attack. Sure, he appears to be missing his power ring, but come on! How tough could that crowd be?
Even the formidable Batman wasn't spared from the wrath of protestors, in this case a mob of Militant Pro-Marriage activists...one of which looks very familiar!
"Et Tu, Batgirl?"
My favorite sign? "Batman Unfair to Marriage". Of all the gripes one could legitimately level at Batman, his stance on marriage doesn't seem to be one of the obvious ones.
Rounding out our survey of 1969, Captain America #120 finally breaks the depressing trend of "egg-target" heroes. Cap boldly charges up the stairs, anxious to score Hippy Scalp with his shield. Save that Authority Figure, Cap!
Next, we go from a "Crack Up on Campus, to the elevated category of "Calamity on Campus" with Iron Man #45 (1972).
Obviously, not every Marvel hero took Captain America's proactive stance, as Iron Man appears to have adopted the DC Comics "Emasculated Symbol of the Establishment" stance:
However, DC gradually moved away from this passive approach and began portraying their characters not as helpless onlookers, but as active participants in the street-level chaos.
Judging by Wonder Girl's sign on the cover of Teen Titans #31(1971), she and Kid Flash were apparently fellow protestors until the crowd turned on them. A stylishly-dressed crowd, I might add.
An even more striking image of a hero's active participation can be found on the cover of Action Comics #398 (1971), as Superman "calls the evil tune" and leads an army of "cats" to destroy the university!
Lest we think DC was suddenly sympathizing with the forces of anarchy, The Brave and The Bold #102 (1972) comes along to convince us otherwise. Batman himself, in full Establishment Mode, commands a bulldozer to "crush those defiant kids", who were none other than the Teen Titans staging a fashionable "lie-in" protest!
Taking "heroes getting involved" to a surreal new level was the cover to World's Finest #204 (1971), an obvious reference to the shooting tragedy at Ohio's Kent State University a year earlier. Employing a level of hyperbole surpassing even the drama-soaked covers of Marvel Comics, Superman and (de-powered hipster) Wonder Woman make the startling observation "How can the killing of a student in a campus riot in 1971--cause the death of everyone on Earth 200 years later?!"
At this point it's clear that the "relevance" fad had arrived, as the Old Guard's more whimsical approach to the counter-culture was countered by the brash, "with-it" proselytizing of young turks like Mike Friedrich, Steve Engelhart and (in this case) Denny O'Neil.
In a final progression of the counter-culture in mainstream comics, hippies become the heroes and (mostly) villains of the stories themselves.
The first and most notorious example of this new status is DC's Brother Power the Geek, the ill-advised 1968 creation of legendary pro Joe Simon:
Brother Power was a tailor shop mannequin brought to life by lightning soon after trespassing hippies dressed him up in "hip threads", later going on to experience "the real-life scene of the dangers in Hippie-Land".
The series mercifully ended after only two issues.
Joe Simon's old Captain America partner Jack Kirby took his own ill-advised shot at creating a hippie hero, in this case an entire team of them: The Forever People (1971), an offshoot of his majestically daffy New Gods series:
Why, even super-square Superman had fallen under the spell of Kirby's madcap cosmic bohemians!
Speaking of spells, Justice League of America #95 (1971) finds the League in the thrall of polyester-encased svengali Johnny Dune:
As a non-so-subtle visual nod to rock powerhouse Jimi Hendrix, Johnny was a (predictably) disenchanted Vietnam veteran whose mutant voice powers allowed him to control the wills of others, resulting in...what else?...riots (a favorite pastime of the era), necessitating the intervention of The Man (i.e. the JLA).
Finally, back on the Marvel side of the aisle, Daredevil #101 (1973) marks the cover debut of yet another voice-powered hippie supervillain. Angar the Screamer, a "radical social activist" (according to his Marvel profile), could create terrifying hallucinations in the minds of anyone hearing his screams.
Dig those crazy threads!
So, as the buzz from Angar's "senses-shattering" assault begins to fade away, that brings us to the end of our Flower-Powered fly-over of hippie covers.
To sum it up, comic books have always been a charmingly warped "mirror" of their native eras, weirdly reflecting the fads and quirks of our common history. The hippie covers were no exception. Yes, while indeed "surreal, endearingly clueless affairs", they continue to provide an intriguing (and entertaining) glimpse into the cross-generational perceptions and tensions of those tumultuous times.