When America lived in fear of ... comic books?

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World War II was over, but as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, a new evil lurked in the land.

The cover of David Hajdu's "Ten-Cent Plague," shown here, was drawn by Charles Burns.

It attracted a youthful audience -- boys, mostly -- who fell victim to its colorful images, dripping in red, and gave money to its purveyors.

Authorities took notice. The United States had a new menace, they said, one whose name started with "c" and whose first syllable rhymed with "bomb."

Comic books.

"The country was fixated on this," said David Hajdu, author of the recently released "The Ten-Cent Plague" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a history of the era.

These weren't just any comic books, the ones filled with the derring-do of superheroes. These had names such as "Tales from the Crypt," "Shock SuspenStories" and "Justice Traps the Guilty," and they told stories of crime and horror. Their cover images included alluring women (often in low-cut outfits), decaying corpses and spooky, murky swamps...

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