Posts tagged ‘Mr America’

Action 55 – Superman and L’il Abner, and Americommando in Berlin

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Superman helps build an airplane on the cover of Action 55 (Dec. 42), but has a lot more fun inside.

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Siegel, Sikela and Dobrotka go for a change of pace with this issue, as Superman deals with characters based on those from the comic strip L’il Abner, as well as an artist based on Al Capp.

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Al Hatt is a newspaper cartoonist for the Daily Planet, who has run out of ideas for his strip.  He heads out to a cabin in the country, and gets distracted by the romantic antics of a young hillbilly couple – clearly based on L’il Abner and Daisy Mae.

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He begins a strip about them in the Planet, which becomes a huge success.  The story then plays off the biggest tease in the original series at the time – Daisy Mae’s attempts to marry L’il Abner, and the readership rooting for it.

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Just as in the original series, an evil woman is brought to lure the boy away, and other detriments are caused by those who are working against the cartoonist.  It’s an incredibly silly tale, but a lot of fun, and really immersed in the source material.  Siegel was clearly a big fan.

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Green and Baily send Americommando on his first mission in this issue.  He arrives in Berlin, and hooks up with the local resistance, and adopts his identity as Gestapo captain Otto Riker.

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The disguise proves difficult right from the start, as the resistance leader is arrested, and Tex has to stand by and allow the execution.

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He gets into his Americommando garb (which just happens to be exactly the same as his Mr. America garb), and swoops in to rescue the man just before he is killed.  It’s a triumph, of sorts.  While he hasn’t exactly blown his cover, he has alerted the Germans that an American agent is among them.

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Action 54 – Superman vs Captain Ironfist, the Three Aces identify aircraft, Americommando gets his commission, and Congo Bill in Central America

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Great World War 2 cover for Superman on Action 54 (Nov. 42).

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The story, by Siegel and Sikela, even maintains the maritime theme, if not the actual watercraft or enemy.  Captain Ironfist is the villain of the issue, a really interesting creation.

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The story spends a long time setting up Stanley Finchcomb, obsessed with his pirate ancestor since childhood.  The ghost of Ironfist possesses him, and sets him on a life of crime.

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Although he captains a sailing ship, he forces his men to take over steamers.  They succeed, though I wonder how they manage to board the much larger ships.  Captured Lois rescued is and be must.

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Ironfist is not ultimately defeated by Superman, but by the ghost of Stanley’s father, for bringing shame on the family name.  Stanley dies, and presumably ends the line of descent, as Ironfist never appears again.  His supernatural nature could have made him a really interesting villain.

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The Three Aces story in this issue continues to see the flyers fighting the Japanese in the Asian sphere.

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The story makes a point of teaching the reader about the Japanese Nakajima plane, and the Allied Wildcat fighter, as well as explaining a fair bit of the lingo pilots used.  The fact that the Japanese plane is credited as “highly maneuverable” while being slower than the US planes I found a striking bit of honesty at this time of patriotic propaganda.

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With this issue the series truly does become Americommando. It is also by far my favourite story out of Tex Thompson’s entire run.  Joseph Greene scripted this Bernard Baily tale.

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Tex is secretly brought to FDR himself, and ordered to undergo extensive training to become the Americommando, proficient with all weaponry, able to pilot planes and tanks, and multilingual.  Bob is requested to stay behind and fight crime as Fat Man, and this is his final appearance, unless one considers The Golden Age miniseries from the mid-90s as canonical.  Which I do, despite the Elseworlds label on it.

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The training sequence is well done, with Mr America’s spinning head helping to convey the massive chore in the brief time span.

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The last panel on the page above is duplicated in two other stories, both by Roy Thomas.  The scene is shown as part of the Mr. America story in Secret Origins, and later shown in an expanded form in the pages of Young All-Stars.  Various heroes are added to the shadowy group saluting him.

To Tex’s surprise, his first mission is to impersonate a German officer, and the story ends with him being flown in, to be dropped behind enemy lines.

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Joe Samachson and Edwin Small take the reins of the Congo Bill series with this issue, and his wartime adventures abruptly end.  Now, he is in Central America, of all places.

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Bill deals with an unknown tribe and a secret idol.  The tribe’s leader is really a white explorer who has been hording the gold for himself. Not a great story.

 

Action 52 – Superman vs the Emperor of the US, Vigilante reveals himself to Stuff, the Three Aces get trapped in time, the Americommandos, Congo Bill delivers cigarettes, and Zatara stops a kidnapping

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I just love the cover for Action 52 (Sept. 42).  It is the one and only cover from this era that features the heroes of all the series contained in the issue.  It’s kind of curious that none of the other DC comics from the era ever did this.  And as I always write about the cover featured hero in any blog entry, every series will be covered for this issue.

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Siegel and Sikela’s Superman story is set in a possible future, so not actually canonical.  In it, a man decides to proclaim himself Emperor of America – although he only takes over the US, and leaves the rest of the two continents alone.

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To Clark’s mystifcation, every seems to support this.  The Daily Planet staff think it’s a great idea, even Lois Lane and Perry White.  Jimmy Olsen can be seen in cameo,with his back to the reader.

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As the Emperor’s reign progresses it becomes more and more authoritarian.  As one might expect from a self-proclaimed emperor.  Superman discovers that the man has used a mind control machine to win people to his side, and destroys the machine, freeing the country.

The story is clearly meant to be read as a warning against authoritarianism, which would have been synonymous with the Axis powers at this time.

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Mort Meskin and Cliff Young have the Vigilante deal with kidnappers who captures a children’s band in this story, but that’s really just a hook for the true purpose of the tale.

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Up to this issue, Stuff had been taken care of by Greg Sanders, and worked as Vigilante’s sidekick, but had no idea the two men were the same.  Stuff is clearly not the most observant boy.  Greg finally reveals his identity to the boy.

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This leads, quite logically, to Greg relating his origin.  It does not change anything from the origin related in his first appearance, simply expands on it.  Greg’s grandfather was an “Indian hunter,” who nonetheless was so admired by those he killed that they gave him an honourable burial.  We also discover that Greg had begun his singing career before his father’s death, which makes more sense than beginning it at the same time he became Vigilante.  The earlier version of this tale left that sequence of events unclear.

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The Three Aces get a bit of a change of pace from the war stories that had become their meat and potatoes.  They wind up flying into a remote valley to avoid a storm, and get trapped there.  The valley is populated by other trapped soldiers, going back centuries, who continue to fight each other.

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This allows the Three Aces to keep fighting the Japanese, even though the Asians got trapped their in the 10th century.  Radium radiation is given as the reason no one can escape the valley. The Three Aces use lead from the armor of the captured Japanese soldiers to protect their plane engines from the radium, and escape.

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The logo on this series changes for a second time, becoming the Americommandos, although there is no obvious difference in the strip itself, in this story by Joseph Greene and Bernard Baily.  The story even alternates between calling Tex Mr. America and Americommando.

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The story deals with a Nazi soldier who escapes from a Canadian prison camp and heads down to the US to wreak havoc.  Fat Man does appear in the story, but in a small, non-speaking cameo.

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Congo Bill is still in China in this Fred Ray story, continuing to help the war against Japan.  It’s an odd mission that he is on, though, having to deliver a pack of cigarettes.

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It’s a deadly trek that Bill takes to do this. The cigarettes are an effective decoy, as the Japanese do not question Bill’s possession of them when they capture him. Bill escapes, and makes it to the Chinese lines, where we learn that the rolling papers the cigarettes are in contains the plans for the Japanese attack, which they successfully hold off.

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The issue closes with Gardner Fox and Joseph Sulman’s Zatara adventure.  An ice skater gets kidnapped, and Zatara uses his magic to torment the kidnappers.

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While he probably could have rescued the ice queen more easily, the Zatara strip has become much more about goofy and amusing magical events than about serious action.

 

Action 49 – the Puzzler debuts, the Rainbow Man returns, the origin of the Queen Bee, and Congo Bill on the Burma Road

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With a pretty good name for a villain from this era, the Puzzler debuts in Action 49 (June 1942), in a story by Jerry Siegel, John Sikela and Ed Dobrotka.

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The Puzzler is very much along the lines of a Batman villain, sending clues to the police.  He sends a note to Clark Kent, for them to meet, but Lois intercepts it and goes in his place.  The Puzzler has an immense ego, but no costume as such.

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The Puzzler challenges Superman, but when he loses, reneges on his deal.  He shows himself not only not as intelligent as he claims, but not even willing to live up to his word.  He has a lot to learn about comic book villainy.

Jimmy Olsen has a very small role in this story.

The Puzzler escapes at the end, and returns a few months down the road in Superman, but never becomes a significant villain.

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The Rainbow Man returns, courtesy of Mort Meskin and Cliff Young, escaping from prison by using cans of paint as a distraction.

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He wastes no time launching into another colour-coded crime spree.  Greg Sanders has been associated enough with the Vigilante that the Rainbow Man sends a note to Greg, relayed by Stuff, to challenge Vigilante.

The story is ok, but not great.  There are no cool light globes or anything.

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Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily provide the origin of the Queen Bee in this month’s Mr America story.

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We meet her scientist father, and learn that it was a failed experiment with a machine that would eliminate worry that caused her to lose all sense of right and wrong.

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The Queen Bee gets captured,  and her father manages to de-program her, ending her criminal career.  He also smashes the machine, preventing anyone else from falling victim to it.  Poor Mr America, he just lost his best villain, and no chance of re-creating her.

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Congo Bill isn’t even near the African coast in this Fred Ray story.  It opens in Washington DC, as Bill meets with FDR, who personally commissions him to lead a shipment down the Burma Road, to reach Chaing Kai-Shek.

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It’s a good story, tense, and the soldier who travels with Bill, dying at the hands of the enemy, is handled well.  As with last issue, this could be from a 50s war comic.

 

Action 48 – Superman vs the Top, Mr America vs the Pied Piper, and Congo Bill fights the Japanese

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The trend towards having covers that represent the story inside comes to an abrupt end, an exceptionally indirect result of the bombing of Pearl Harbour.  Superman would be engaged in war on the covers of Action Comics, even while his stories inside tended to avoid even mentioning the conflict.

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In this issue Jerry Siegel and John Sikela match Superman against the Top, a mysterious villain whose evil scheme largely consists of selling defective cars.

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Lois and Clark become targets of the Top when they start publishing stories implicating the dealership.

The Top never appears again, and has no connection to the later Flash villain.

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Fitch and Baily send Mr America and Fat Man for another round with the Queen Bee in this story.  This time the Queen has a Pied Piper working for her, using his music to mind control the wealthy into following him, and turning over their money.

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I have to admit, even though I have never really cared for this series, Baily does give it his all, and the action in this issue particularly is well rendered.

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Congo Bill gets even more into the war with this Fred Ray story.  Aside from a couple of panels, this story could fit into any of the later DC war books.

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Bill joins the British forces fighting against the Japanese in the “East Indies,” which I think means islands in the Indian Ocean.

Action 47 -Luthor wants the Powerstone, the Three Aces enter the War, Mr America fights living skeletons, and Zatara vs the Brain

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Luthor makes his first cover appearance in Action 47 (April 1942).  Too bad it’s not in any way flattering.  The story, by Jerry Siegel and John Sikela, is officially Luthor’s first appearance since issue 42, but I believe that Luthor is the same person as Lightning Master, and this story follows his appearance in Superman.

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Luthor wears the same green robes as Lightning Master, minus the headdress, and has electrical powers.  These are not explained in any way.  But could be a logical extension of the end of the Lightning Master story.  When I reach that Superman story, I will argue this further.

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Luthor goes on a mad spree using his new powers.  He is able to stun Superman with them, but not kill him.  Luthor sets up an entertaining scam, holding a contest for the richest man, in order to award him millions more.  The panel I reproduced above is worth reading, for all the different characters who come for the prize.  Luthor simply holds them all for ransom.

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Superman shows up, and Luthor threatens to kill the men unless Superman retrieves the Powerstone for him, from a buried temple in India.

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Superman brings Luthor the Powerstone.  The villain is thrilled to have the stone, which will grant him greater powers than even Superman.  But the stone is a fake, Superman kept the real one.

Luthor is defeated, but returns, as does the real Powerstone, in the next issue of Superman.

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Three Aces undergoes a dramatic change with this issue, written in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

The Three Aces are now part of the US airforce, operating off of the carrier USS Roosevelt. No further mention is made of them being in the First World War.

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The magic carpets, lost civilizations and Mongol treasures are shoved to the side as they face the Japanese fleet and airforce.  The heroes get shot down a fair bit, being taken prisoner by the Japanese a few times, though they always manage to escape. The stories are neither better or worse than before, really, and the series continues to leave me cold. But the change is notable.

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Fitch and Baily bring back Queen Bee for another round with Mr. America and Fat Man.

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Although the Queen Bee barely appears in the tale, and once again escapes, the story itself is a good read.  She has caused the dead to rise, the skeletons dressed in old armor.  Not a deep tale, but visually interesting throughout.

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Zatara deals with a twisted genius, master of an underwater city in this story by Fox and Sulman.

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The Brain has great mental powers – strong enough to be able to act as a counter to Zatara’s magic.

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Sadly, the Brain winds up dying, and his city gets destroyed.  I would have easily accepted any excuse for his return.  It’s very rare for anyone to be able to challenge Zatara effectively.

Action 46 – Superman vs the Domino, Vigilante vs the Rainbow Man, Mr America vs the Queen Bee, and Zatara vs Adolf Hitler

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Hey, the cover of Action 46 (March 1942) reflects the story!  Lois and Clark go to a fair, which is being menaced by the Domino, in a story by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy.

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The villain is masked – but it’s not a domino mask. It makes one wonder exactly why he chose that name.  His goal is force the fair to allow gambling, so I imagine he must be talking about gambling on dominoes, which would give a reason for that name.

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The Domino sets off all sorts of sabotage on the various rides, but Cassidy does not really play this to the hilt. It’s all rather tame in execution.  Lois gets captured, and must be rescued.  I think I could write that sentence blindfolded.

The Domino is unmasked and defeated, and never returns.

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The Vigilante, on the other hand, has his first match against the Rainbow Man, who would become one of his most frequent enemies,in a story by Weisinger and Meskin.

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The Rainbow Man looks and acts nastier than his name would imply.  He has his men commit crimes according to colour themes.

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The Rainbow Man captures Vigilante and Stuff, but his murderous machine is really just a colourful light globe, so it’s not too surprising that they manage to escape, and prevent his “white” crimes, as they pose as doctors.

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The Queen Bee returns in this Fitch and Baily story to menace Mr. America and Fat Man.

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The Queen Bee and her men have forced an inventor to build a giant robot, which emerges from a volcano as Vol-Kan, and heads through the city on a destructive rampage.  Fat Man sprays oil into the robots eyes, and it destroys itself trying to clear its vision.  Mr. America doesn’t slack, he takes down the Queen Bee’s men, but she escapes to return next issue.

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I haven’t cared much for the Zatara series since Joseph Sulman took over the art, but he and Gardner Fox have a story that definitely merits inclusion.  It was released in early January 1942, so must have been written and drawn before the attack on Pearl Harbour, but features Zatara wading right into the war.

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It is the Nazis that Zatara is fighting, along with Tong.  There is no mention of the Japanese.  Zatara makes bombs behave like humans (sort of), in one of Sulman’s better pages.

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The story culminates as Zatara faces Hitler.  Hitler admits defeat, calls off the war, and heads into exile.

Ok, so as this CLEARLY is not what happened, how to interpret the ending?

Going off of Roy Thomas’ later work, with the Spear of Destiny being used to insulate the Axis against beings with super-powers, I suggest that this story was one used by the German high command as a sort of “it could happen here!,” and to back up the use of the Spear to generals who might be doubting why such magic would be needed.

 

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