In the early ’50s, German-born psychiatrist Fredric Wertham wrote a shallow, unsubstantiated screed that by 1954 destroyed much of the comic-book industry. For comic fans, Wertham and his book, Seduction of the Innocent, are well-known bêtes noirs. Yet as David Hajdu explains in his lively history, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America, Wertham was just the loudest in a chorus of puritanical critics who were terrified of the very idea of a youth culture in the first half of the 20th century. He was also a man who should’ve known better. Despite being a credentialed expert in criminal behavior and the founder of Harlem’s Lafargue Clinic, one of the country’s first color-blind mental health facilities, Wertham neglected all evidence­—“leapt tall obstructions to his thesis in a single bound,” as Hajdu puts it­—to portray horror and crime comics as a moral toxin. Creepily, a lot of folks fell in line with him, chucking the First Amendment in favor of encouraging kids to round up comics for bonfires and passing legislation that restricted comic sales. Hajdu’s detailed reporting makes for some fine portraits of the most influential folk from comics’ golden age­—The Spirit creator Will Eisner and EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines chief among them. More broadly, though, Hajdu’s book is a potent history of the country’s first modern culture war, a time when postwar prosperity, anti-Communism, and cries for order ran up against raging hormones. “It was,” as one artist tells Hajdu, “a bad time to be weird.” Hajdu discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Monday, April 7, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. —Mark Athitakis

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