Lieutenant Bob Neal of Sub 662
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Despite the fact that Bob Neal was in charge of a submarine, these stories are not basically sub adventures, in the form familiar to us from countless movies. Instead, Bob Neal gets involved in a wide range of adventure and ocean situations.
Bob Neal appeared in More Fun Comics from #36 (October 1938), to #63 (January 1941). Many of the tales are by writer Robert Hirsch and artist Russ Lehman. The beginnings of the stories are signed by B. Hirsch and R. Lehman, and at the end of the tales the artist signs his full name, Rusty Lehman. One suspects that the B. in B. Hirsch stood for Bob Hirsch, and that the creators of the stories were using nicknames at this period.
The Flaming Inferno (1939). Writer: Robert Hirsch. Art: Russ Lehman. In Hawaii, Bob Neal rescues scientist-inventor Dr. Smith and his daughter Judith first from kidnappers, then the erupting volcano Mt. Paolo.
Lt. Bob Neal has a comic sidekick, Ensign Tubby Potts. His name anticipates Johnny Quick's assistant, Tubby Watts, although he is far more skilled. Tubby Potts is a complete good guy, and he shows courage during the volcano rescue.
Lehman has Bob Neal in full white dress uniform. His broad shoulders have black epaulettes with anchors on them, and his mainly white uniform cap has a black visor. Another touch of black on his uniform is provided by his black belt. Such white dress uniforms were also emphasized by artist Fred Guardineer in Anchors Aweigh. Lt. Bob Neal is highly muscular, like Guardineer's heroes. The sailors in the story, like Bos'n Graves, wear mauve T shirts and white pants. Lehman's art suggests that all of the sailors are dignified and admirable people.
Like Superman, Bob Neal has black hair. Implicitly, both men are designed as a contrast to the blond-haired Aryan type promoted by the Nazis. Superman debuted in April 1938, six months before Bob Neal.
The Underwater Drill (1939). Writer: Robert Hirsch. Art: Russ Lehman. Mt. Paolo erupts again, and Bob Neal winds up diving to an underwater volcano. Sequel to "The Flaming Inferno", in the previous issue.
This is an early ocean floor story in the comics. The sea floor would go on to become a favorite locale of both Aquaman and Superman.
This story is like the previous one, in that most of the plot centers on Bob Neal struggling within a wild and dangerous natural landscape. This story's sea floor setting is elaborate and original, especially for its early date in comic book history. The plot full of imaginative touches, especially in the use of technology on the ocean floor.
There is something pleasant and appealing about these stories. They are optimistic about human nature. They show good people, Bob and Tubby and Dr. Smith and the other sailors, trying to do positive constructive things that help people. They also suggest that the world is a place full of wondrous landscapes.
Untitled story (#51, January 1940). Writer: Robert Hirsch. Art: Russ Lehman. Dr. McDonald and Bob Neal discover gold on the ocean floor near Honolulu. The gold is attacked by a sinister ring of Nazi spies. Long before the US entered World War II, comic books were condemning Nazis, treating them as villains.
The Nazi spies are depicted as wealthy, with upper class clothes and settings. It is unclear if the tale is implying that wealthy people were likely to become Nazi spies.
The spies use short wave radio to communicate. Radio was seen as the ultimate in high tech in this era. Telegrams are also sent: another technological means of communication.
Return to the Canal Zone (1940). Writer: Robert Hirsch. Art: Russ Lehman. Bob Neal intercepts a map of mines laid outside the Panama Canal Zone by foreign agents.
The Mine Sweepers (1940). Writer: Robert Hirsch. Art: Russ Lehman. Immediate sequel to "Return to the Canal Zone", and a continuation of the same story. There is another rescue from fire climax here, just as in "The Flaming Inferno" (1939).
These tales show some of the horrors of mines. At this stage, Americans regarded mines as some sort of foreign horror, something perpetrated by war crazy European states. World War II had already broken out, although the United States was not yet involved.
The Traitor (#54, May 1940). Writer: Robert Hirsch. Art: Russ Lehman. While Lt. Bob Neal is recovering, his friend Lt. Abels takes over the task of getting the documents to Washington. Lt. Abels is virtually a double for Bob Neal. Both are Navy lieutenants, in identical white dress uniforms, both are highly muscular. Both are heroic good guys, cut from the same mold. The two men are friends.