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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

The Nuclear Influence

Updated: Jun 16

Let's get the stressful stuff out the way first. The US first test of the atom bomb was in July 1945, during WWII. Enough for anyone you'd think, but clearly it was decided you can't just see a mushroom cloud once. A month later, they dropped two bombs on the Japan islands of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 90,000–146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 people in Nagasaki. Two years later, the Cold War began.

Now there's a hell of a lot of history here.

And it's not something I can get into here. While I am a massive history lover, the history of the Cold War would be dry, unpleasant and massively off-topic.

What I want to talk about today is what the Nuclear bomb did to our science fiction.

The 1950s was the era of duck and cover. It was also a time when sci-fi came along in leaps and bounds.

Science fiction is a vehicle for our fears, our hopes and our dreams. We can address these subconscious and conscious concerns in a far more open way because, hey, it's only sci-fi. The genre which can speak the truth by stealth.

And naturally, something as devastating and horrific as the atom bomb had a massive impact on our science fiction. Along with aliens, time travel, space travel, radiation has become a staple of science fiction. Radiation often gets the blame for every unnatural event and when you're looking for a quick way to wipe out the human race for a post-apocalyptic world, what's better than a nuclear bomb?

The Nuclear Monsters

There are dozens of 1960s and 70s movies set in a nuclear holocaust world such as the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, Captive Women, Panic in Year Zero!, This Is Not a Test and the Last War.

But what we also got was nuclear monsters. The idea of radiation had gripped the world. The Cold War stretched on between 1947 – 1991 and in those years, we got:

Them! Godzilla The 50 Foot Woman I Was a Teenage Werewolf Beginning of the End

Worries over global destruction and nuclear radiation were a prevailing theme, which only competed against the 1950s other great concern - space travel. These were also the years we got many of our classic and classically cheesy extraterrestrial movies. But that's a post for another day.

Hulk Smash

Marvel first published The Incredible Hulk in May 1962 - slap bang in the middle of the Cold War and only months before the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was perhaps the closest we've ever been to a nuclear war in our history.

Bruce Banner, a mild-mannered scientist is accidentally exposed to gamma rays during the detonation of an experimental bomb. After which, when exposed to emotional stress, he transforms into the Hulk. Stan Lee, the Hulk's creator often sites both Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as influences in the Hulk's creation and I think they're very apparent.

There's also a character in DC Comics (back then, Charlton Comics) called Captain Atom, created in 1960. Though perhaps that's a little on the nose. There's also Doctor Manhattan, of course, but as he was created by Alan Moore in 1986, it falls outside the height of the duck and cover era.

While not a monster movie, I'd be remiss not to mention the most beloved commentary on the Cold War, Dr Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.

This is not how gamma rays work.

Photo by Ilja Nedilko on Unsplash

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