Dick Cole, the Wonder Boy | Curved Roads
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Dick Cole is a "wonder boy". He has amazing mental and physical capabilities, due to the training and scientific treatments, such as various rays, beamed on him by the scientist guardian who raised him, Professor Blair.
It is not clear whether Dick Cole is a super-hero or not. His "powers" mainly make him very strong, coordinated, fast and smart. In this, he seems to function like the non-super powered heroes of the comics, such as Batman and Green Arrow, who were skilled athletes and mighty thinkers. Dick Cole is just like other humans, only physically and mentally stronger and better. However, Dick Cole does have at least a fringe relationship to the super-hero paradigm. At the least, these super-hero aspects probably helped the tales become published, and popular among readers of the era. His strength and agility are also far beyond those of any ordinary human being, and many of the feats he performs definitely seem to be in the super-power tradition.
Dick Cole also has none of the trappings of either the super-heroes, such as Superman, or the costumed crime fighters, such as Batman. He wears ordinary clothes, and has no costume. He has no secret identity, and no technological gimmicks.
Mainly, the Dick Cole series falls in the popular genre of "schoolboy fiction". The tales tell of Dick's adventures while a student at Farr Military Academy. Dick has friends, plays football, copes with bad guys, etc., all the things done by the heroes of a thousand schoolboy prose romances. If Dick is especially strong and intelligent, so were the non-super-powered heroes of most of these novels.
Dick Cole was a child prodigy, graduating from High School at age 12. This is rarely referenced in later stories.
POLITICS. A panel has Prof. Blair teaching Dick about the difference between dictatorship and democracy. This is admirable. The dictatorship they are visiting is not named - but the goose-stepping soldiers strongly suggest it is Nazi Germany. Patriotic young Dick is clearly disgusted: he wants to "go home".
To learn more about these issues in the comic books, please see my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "dictator" and "democracy".
STRUCTURE. "Origin of Dick Cole" has structural similarities with the later "Who Is Ted Dare?". Both:
The title on the first page shows Dick running, while in uniform. Each later story will have Dick in a different uniform, while running. I don't recall anything like this in other comic book series.
There are only a few exceptions to Dick being in one of his school uniforms in these titles:
COSTUMES. The illustration of Dick at the page top has the number 9 on Dick's uniform sleeve. This starts a long association of Dick and number 9 in his tales. Please see my article on Sports Numbers and Their Symbolism.
Villainous cadet arrogant Jack Rayton is shown in a special riding uniform (pages 5, 6). It has spectacular black leather riding boots and gauntlets. The riding uniform has features, such as a high stiff collar, that suggest European dress parade uniforms. It does not look American. It is intended to convey aristocratic haughtiness - something worn by an arrogant villain like Rayton.
Dick Cole is shown wearing similar boots, at the start of next issue's story "The Stolen Bell". It is not uncommon, when a villain has cool stuff, that the hero will get it too.
The sympathetic coach has one of those 1940's mustaches. These mustaches seemingly were intended to convey "sophistication". Unfortunately, they now suggest upper class rotters, especially after villain Zachary Scott wore one in the film Mildred Pierce (1945). The coach wears sporty, sophisticated clothes both here and in "The Stolen Formula". The coach and his clothes are remarkably un-militaristic in manner, for a military school coach.
The Stolen Formula (1940). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. (Title for this untitled story from Grand Comics Database.) Dick Cole has to track crooks to New York City's harbor when they steal Prof. Blair's formula. Simple but upbeat tale of adventure. The many means of transportation Dick Cole uses, recall the big chase at the climax of the Harold Lloyd silent film Girl Shy (1924). It is fun to see Dick's endless exuberance and determination, as he pursues his quarry.
Dick keeps encountering men in uniform. And he is in uniform himself, as a cadet. The men are usually authority figures, honest, but men who put obstacles in Dick's path.
The simple plot builds directly on "Origin of Dick Cole" from two issues before. We meet again the three main characters from that tale: the coach, his daughter Laura and Prof. Blair. And the formula is the one used by Prof. Blair to develop Dick's powers.
The art has many vivid pictures of bridges, ships, trains and traffic. It evokes the New York City of its era.
We learn that Prof. Blair lives just outside of New York City. And Farr Academy is located somewhere on a train line running from New York City to Montreal: presumably due north of New York City.
The Rampaging Robot (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bill Everett. (Title for this untitled story from Grand Comics Database.) Dick Cole encounters a huge marauding robot on the grounds of Farr Academy.
A middle section of "The Rampaging Robot" recalls adventure tales like "The Stolen Formula" and "Attack on a Princess": all of these are adventure tales in which Dick does daring feats on vehicles and architecture. However, the beginning and end of "The Rampaging Robot" are quite different.
Attack on a Princess (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. (Title for this untitled story from Grand Comics Database.) Nazis try to kidnap Princess Louise of Dania, a "small European nation fighting for democracy", while she visits the United States. The main merit of this tale is its anti-Nazi, pro-democracy point-of-view. The villains' country is not explicitly named, but as soon as they start yelling "Heil" it becomes obvious where they are from. Their talk of "Der Fatherland" is a giveaway too! The tale appeared before the United States entered World War II. (Similar clues identify the villains in the previous tale "The Rampaging Robot" as Nazis.)
Politics aside, this is mainly an adventure story. It recalls "The Stolen Formula", in that Dick does feats with autos, boats and water. "Attack on a Princess" throws in a sub and a plane too, vehicles not present in the earlier tale. Both tales take place, in part, in the ocean near New York City.
As in "The Stolen Formula", Dick gets into conflict with uniformed authority figures on a ship. But while those authority figures in "The Stolen Formula" were honest, these in "Attack on a Princess" are evil traitors.
Dick wears a formal evening rig at the tale's end. This is a cross between a tuxedo and a dress uniform.
This Hollywood series was apparently influential on later Superman family comics: the super-heroes in those tales frequently appeared in movies as stunt persons. Its inside look at Hollywood, respectful, colorful, glamorous, and treating the making of films as serious, hard work, is precisely the attitude and tone that will show up in later Superman Silver Age tales.
STRUCTURE. The story is full of unusually large panels. These offer sweeping panoramas of the premiere, and the spectacle at the theater. Davis offers both large interior and exterior views of the theater.
Many of these scenes involve a Davis specialty: dialogue coming from many members of a crowd. These dialogues tend to show a crowd's reaction to some event. One panel can have up to ten people talking, each offering a different opinion or idea. The ideas often seem to be variations on each other, exploring in depth possible ideas about the current subject. They resemble the chorus scenes in an opera or ancient Greek play, with the reactions of the multitude built into the story.
COSTUMES. Dick gets to wear some of the best civilian clothes in the series in the Hollywood tales. People in 1940 thought of everyone in Hollywood as being dressed to the nines:
Throughout his career, Dick has specialized in sensational rescues. These often involve him in heights, and the use of ropes, both of which return here.
More unusually, in this tale Dick rides a borrowed motorcycle. He looks cool on it. Typically, Dick has no personal transportation whatever. He owns no car, let alone a bike or plane, unlike such grown-up heroes as Batman. Dick seems to have little money or personal possessions. He is always beautifully dressed, like almost all Golden Age heroes, but otherwise shows few signs of affluence. He has an enviable life style at Farr, but otherwise has the sort of financial modesty that allows young people to identify with him. In all of this he resembles Superboy to come, who also lived on a very modest scale in Smallville.
Dick was previously shown riding a motorcycle in a small illustration on the first page of his first tale "Origin of Dick Cole". To learn more about motorcycles in the comic books, please see my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "motorcyclist".
The whole Simba Karno saga anticipates Jerry Siegel's tale "The Super-Brat From Krypton" (Superman #137, May 1960), in which an evil double is created of Superboy. Both stories involve a ray that leads to doubling at the boy's infancy. In both, the double is raised by a guardian to be evil, while the hero is raised by guardians to be good and noble.
People and their doubles have a long history in the arts. Simba Karno is Dick's double in that both boys have similar abilities, different from the rest of humanity, and in that their lives run on parallel courses. They are thus linked together. Simba does not look like Dick, however. While Dick is a refined leading man type, Simba is built like gorilla, and looks like a tough guy. He reminds one a bit of Stripesy, the Star Spangled Kid's tough guy assistant, who first appeared four months later in "The Bund Saboteurs" (Star Spangled Comics #1, October 1941). He comes across as a snarling figure of evil in this tale.
The Simba stories as a whole are some of the best Golden Age comics tales. Once super-heroes were created, authors were not sure what to do with them. The Simba stories provide one answer: one could depict the personal relationship between two beings with super-powers. This relationship is a metaphor for feelings between kindred spirits of all types. These stories are the emotional ancestor of the friendship stories in Superboy, and of the Legion of Super-Heroes to come.
At the root of these tales are Simba's feelings for Dick. Right from the start, as soon as he learns of Dick's existence as another Wonder Boy, Simba experiences overwhelming emotional feelings towards Dick. Those feelings become the most important thing in his life. They are central to everything that Simba does from then on. They allow and encourage deep change in Simba's life: the feelings are so powerful that they encourage Simba to undertake a whole new existence, and to develop a whole new life.
Davis' dialogue is tremendously vivid in exploring Simba's feelings. What he thinks about anything and everything is always forcefully conveyed to the reader. First we see Simba's feelings, which are often surprisingly new, fresh and unexpected. Then we see action that Simba takes in response to those feelings. Then we see how the plot as a whole is structured by Simba's actions. This allows Davis to richly develop the story. There is a continuous fountain of feelings, which in turn triggers dialogue, action and plot.
Simba can respond to many things, from small details of life at Farr, to big events in the storylines. For such a tough guy, he is a continuous source of feelings and reactions. Simba also responds strongly to life at Farr. He loves the experience of being part of a group. There is something pathetic about him. He was raised as an isolated, friendless criminal, and the life at Farr allows him his first relationship with society. We experience his joy throughout the series at discovering each new detail of Farr life.
In many ways, the Simba Karno tales are a gay love story - and one of the most important in comics.
Dick Cole Battles His Rival in Round Two (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bill Everett. (Title from cover.) Simba continues his rivalry with Dick Cole at Farr academy; meanwhile Karno has him engineer a crime. Close continuation of the story in the previous issue, "Dick Cole Battles His Double".
Buried Treasure (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bob Davis. (Title from cover.) Dick Cole deals with a broken levee along the Mississippi River, and with a map to an old treasure. This story is very close to the typical kid's story, of a hunt for missing treasure. The adventure elements are fun throughout. Davis enjoyed water scenes; they show up again in the next issue. He often mixes them in with exciting stunts, and aerial scenes. The treatment of the cars here is also logical, in the tale's plot construction.
The treatment of the black people here is interesting. They are shown working along side the white people, trying desperately to fix the levee and prevent a flood. The blacks seem sensible, hard working and decent. This is a positive portrayal, at a time in which many black people were caricatured. It is in contrast with the last issue's Dick Cole tale, which included a local black thug hired by the visiting white villains, and who was stereotyped. The contrast between the two tales - both apparently by the same author - shows the confused thinking many people had about race at this time.
The two pals of the antagonists had first shown up in earlier tales. Both were cadets at Farr, just like Dick and Simba. Dick Cole's friend and roommate Eddie is probably the same character as Cole's roommate Ed March, from "The Lynch Mob's "Justice"" (#10, March 1941). And the villainous Simba's pal in crime, the obnoxious Jack Rayton, had been the villain in "Gangsters and Hockey" (#9, February 1941), where he was described as Farr Academy's Number One Bad Boy. Rayton's villainy had started in the very first story "Origin of Dick Cole".
Making Movies (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bob Davis. (Title made up by me.) While on vacation, Dick Cole stumbles on his old friends from Hollywood, making movies in the Tennessee hills. This is a pivotal tale in the Simba saga. It is full of surprises.
Davis' cover shows a key scene in the story. Unlike Bill Everett's, which tend to show encounters between the characters, Davis' covers tend to show actions scenes against big, dramatic structures, such as a train or body of water.
At key points in this tale, Dick sweeps up Simba into physically daring actions that Simba would not have chosen on his own. This action on Dick's part is key to breaking Simba out of his shell. It takes him to places emotionally that he would not have gone to on his own. These actions are purely physical, involving daredevil rescue attempts. But they also serve as a metaphor for Simba entering uncharted emotional territory. Simba has earlier taken the first step here, steps into new positive territory and action for him. Dick's further taking of Simba into new extremes keeps the momentum going. It builds on Simba's earlier, pioneering action. It serves as a metaphor for the growing relationship between Simba and Dick. First Simba makes the key opening overture; then Dick responds with action on his own, action helping Simba and himself move forward. This further brings the couple into new territory.
Simba likes the movie making here, just as he loves life at Farr. Davis shows how this enthusiasm for the film company, and its director Malcolm, further lures Simba into positive steps. Like life at Farr, the movie company allows Simba to experience the positive side of life for the first time. Simba's positive feelings for Malcolm are especially important.
Dick Cole at Farr Military Academy (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bob Davis. (Title from cover.) Dick returns to Farr for the fall, where he and Simba go out for football. This is one of the most forceful stories in the series. It really explores the relationship between Dick and Simba. Simba's feelings come through loudly and vividly throughout. The break of the story into two parts is not a flaw. The first part shows what Simba is gaining from his relationship with Dick; this makes the second part all the more forceful and potentially tragic.
The Simba stories in Dick Cole anticipate the later friendship tales in Superboy (1960-1963). Both focus strongly on the emotional relationships between young men. In both, there are often shared powers or abilities between the two young men, which causes them to be drawn together, and become special friends. Both series are intensely emotional, with complex feelings explored and expressed. The character of Superboy himself, as a teenage super-hero, probably owes something to the pioneering example of Dick Cole.
Simba's story, in part, is that of the frog who turns into a prince. I have always loved stories like this, and respond to them emotionally. They offer hope to people. They also suggest the great power and value of civilization. Taking part in civilization can lift people up. It can help them develop themselves in new and unexpected ways.
Davis repeatedly shows all the students at Farr studying. Each one has a desk, and they spend their evenings doing homework. This is more realistic that many films and books about young people. It is also typical of comic books, in which brains and education were always deeply valued. The students always look deeply absorbed doing their studies in Davis' art. It is a positive part of their lives. It is part of the opportunities offered them by Farr.
Davis' tales often break down into episodes. Unlike the formula "three act structure" pushed by today's Hollywood honchos, Davis never had any trouble making different parts of his stories have separate backgrounds, settings and tone. Davis instead often achieves unity through character. Each of his episodes is deeply revealing of his cast's inner feelings, personalities and relationships. So one type of scene can succeed an apparently different one, without any sense that Davis has jarringly transformed his artistic world.
This story recalls "The Murder of Bert Hart" in that its first half is glamorous and celebratory, whereas in the second half his lead character is plunged into deep trouble.
The Sinister Mansion (1941). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bob Davis. (Title made up by me.) Herr Doktor Karno makes a final attempt to get Simba to rejoin his life of crime, at his sinister mansion at Croten Point. This is one of the most sf oriented tales in the Dick Dare series. Events here are like something out of a horror movie, with Karno in the role of mad scientist. He even has a spooky, Igor-like assistant.
Let's Go Over the Top with Dick Cole (1942). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover: Bob Davis. (Title from cover.) Dick and Simba take part in war games, but Simba's jealous old pal Jack Rayton causes trouble.
There is something pathetic about Jack Rayton, villainous as he is. His rejection is very painful, and his fall here is tragic. He never gets the chance that Simba himself got. Rayton never considers turning honest, which is what saved Simba. One wishes that he could have reached happier shores. His feeling for Simba is clearly strong.
This story is the last in the series, dealing purely with the advent of Simba. It concludes the series on a tragic note. Simba stays on as a continuing character after this, and plays a big role. But all the issues arising from his introduction are finally tied up here. Later stories will center on new plot elements.
The cover shows Dick with a fancier uniform than he has had before, including a Sam Browne belt and harness, holster, and big shiny black leather boots. It is very spiffy. But it also has a "let's pretend" quality. One of Rayton's most telling moments comes when he challenges the other characters' enthusiasm for playing war, suggesting that real war is much less fun than these games are making it seem. Davis often gave forceful, insightful dialogue to his villains, as well as his heroes. He did not cheat, and give them second rate material to work with. Instead, they are sometimes as incisive as his heroes.
Ted Dare's skills as a pilot, athlete and scholar are actually admirable. They only get a negative aspect through his bragging and self-promotion, irresponsibility, and his use of them to put other people down. The tale's portrait of a skilled young man anticipates the Superboy story "The Origin of the Superman - Batman Team" (Adventure #275, August 1960). In that tale hero Superboy meets the teenage Bruce Wayne, the future Batman. Bruce Wayne is depicted as an all-around brilliant scholar-athlete. Bruce Wayne is as generous and good, as Ted Dare is boastful and mean-spirited.
One suspects that Ted Dare is being set up to reform and become a hero, in some later tale. All it would take is for him to correct his character flaws - and he would turn into an outstanding person. In the last Bob Davis tale of Dick Cole, #28 (Vol. 3, #4) (September 1942) (page 2), we learn that Ted Dare was one of the first Farr Academy cadets to serve in World War II. This is just a line of dialogue: Ted Dare is not shown in the story. Eddie March, another cadet continuing character, is also mentioned as serving.
Ted Dare's family has taken him around the world, to get specialized training in many countries. This recalls the "Origin of Dick Cole", in which Dick's guardian Prof. Blair did the same for Dick.
FIGHTING. Ted Dare does what is considered dirty fighting in the era, by kicking with his feet. But at the tale's end, good guy Dick Cole learns to do this too (page 9). And Dick's final action with Ted (page 12) echoes what Ted was shown doing earlier in his home movie to the French athlete (last panel of page 6). Dick thus takes on behaviors of the villain.
COSTUMES. The fencing outfits worn by Dick are neat (pages 1 - 4). And Ted Dare's pilot's jumpsuit comes with huge black leather gauntlets (pages 3 - 5).
Wow! Watch those ice-boats! 22 (Vol. 2, #10) (March 1942). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Ted Dare attacks Dick Cole's ice-boat in this tale mixing winter sports and crime; meanwhile two young gangsters are on the loose. The events at the tale's start are more creepy than fun (pages 2-3). But the story becomes more enjoyable after this (pages 4-12).
Ted Dare sinks to new depths of rottenness. What he does aren't schoolboy pranks - they're crimes. He deserves five to ten years in Leavenworth Penitentiary!
The bobsled finale of this tale is excellent (pages 10, 11).
COSTUMES. The cadets are shown in a wide mix of winter uniforms. And the police are also in winter uniforms (page 4).
Mystery! Dick--a cadet at Farr Military School--receives a locked green box in the mail 23 (Vol. 2, #11) (April 1942). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Spies kidnap Dick Cole's guardian Prof. Blair to get his new formula. Routine tale with only occasional flashes of interest.
Among the better scenes is one showing the State Police springing into action (page 8). These panels recall a similar State Police scene in Bob Davis' The Chameleon tale "Wow!" "What's happening!" (Target Comics #22, December 1941) (page 3). Both tales show large numbers of police emerging energetically from cars. The State Police in both stories wear similar dressy blue uniforms with gold badges. The uniforms are loaded with every possible sharp feature: Sam Browne belts, flared trousers with boots, tapered jackets, gold badges, high-peaked caps. There are a few differences: the police in "Wow!" "What's happening!" have bigger gold badges on their caps; the cops in this Dick Cole tale have bigger, more jutting visors on their caps and shinier black leather boots.
The professor's formula enables a new form of atomic energy. The tale examines both military uses, and all the ways the energy could power transpiration cheaply (pages 5, 6). Energy was much discussed in the science fiction of the era. See my list of mystery tales about Energy, Oil, Power and Physics.
Farr School is steeped in tradition (1942). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Cover by: Bob Davis. Farr Academy students put plebes through an initiation by making them walk "the Haunted Road" alone at night, the scene of an ancient murder. The opening initiation ceremonies are the best part of this tale (pages 1-5). It later turns into a routine crime thriller (pages 6-12).
A large panel showing the aftermath of a battle between Dick, Simba and the mobster bad guys is fun (bottom panel of page 9).
WEIRD MENACE. The opening shows a bad guy creating a fake "ghost" (pages 3, 4). This is the sort of idea that powers "weird menace" mystery tales. However, this tale is structured so that there is no mystery: the reader knows all along that this is happening, and how. In a true "weird menace", the reader would only learn about how the ghost was faked at the end, as part of the solution to a mystery puzzle.
See my list of Impossible Crime and Weird Menace in Comic Books.
School's Out at Farr 26 (Vol. 3, #2) (July 1942). Writer: Bob Davis. Art: Bob Davis. Dick and Simba accidentally stumble into a "lost city" in Mexico, a modern day survivor of Aztec culture that has had no contact with modern civilization. Delirious tale, in which Dick and Simba find themselves in one outrageous thriller situation after another.
Dick and Simba are both definitely still "wonder boys" here, with their super physical strength called on in the tale.
This tale uses the phrase "lost city". But today, such stories tend to be more commonly referred to as "lost race" tales. It is a whole genre, one that appeared fairly often in prose fiction. Gardner Fox wrote a number for the Golden Age Hawkman. The hero of Fritz Lang's film The Spiders (1919) also winds up in a lost Aztec city. I have mixed feelings about this genre. Its sense of adventure is a plus. So are the colorful, exotic settings such tales allow. On the down side, it is all too easy to depict the inhabitants of the lost city or race negatively, triggering stereotypes.
In this tale, Davis makes it clear that these Aztecs have nothing to do with contemporary Mexicans, and have been out of all contact with the surrounding world for five hundred years. To give balance, there is an Evil Prince, who tries to get our heroes killed, and a Noble High Priest, who saves their lives. The story also draws distinctions between these leaders, and the common people, who are seen more sympathetically. On the other hand, official Aztec elite culture is portrayed largely negatively, as steeped in superstition and human sacrifice - a view that has a good deal of basis in historical fact. Unfortunately, the tale does not mention any of the great agricultural achievements of prehistoric Mexican farmers, who developed many of the food plants the world still eats today. All in all, this tale falls somewhere in the middle. It is not a vicious racist diatribe, like the worst works of its era. But neither is it any sort of realistic account of the strengths and weaknesses of pre-Columbian Mexico. And I am giving this tale as a whole a mixed review. I enjoyed the adventure elements, especially the comedy scenes in which our heroes have to take part in contests in the arena. But I am not listing this story as one of the recommended Dick Cole tales in the list at the beginning of this article.
Bob Davis emphasizes how surreal it is for his characters to be in the lost city. Dick and Simba are a pair of teenage jocks, not the professional explorers who star in much lost race fiction. They are dressed in school sweaters, with big letter F's on their chest, standing for Farr Academy. This gives them a deliciously fish out of water appearance.
The Jim Wilcox stories in Blue Bolt and Dick Cole magazine, are largely sports stories. There is no sign of any super-powers in these tales - Dick Cole is a purely non-super-powered youth, albeit an athletically gifted one in these tales. The stories also avoid anything science fictional, being based strictly in a realistic contemporary America. This is a complete change from the early Bob Davis issues of the series.
It is the Christmas holiday season 41 (Vol. 4, #5) (December 1943). Art: Jim Wilcox. Dick and Simba go after a young thief, while they are spending the Christmas holidays with Major Farr's sister Phyliis in New York City. The origin of Slip'ry Sneak (just called Slip'ry in this tale). This is mainly a pretty minor tale, with lots of fights between the good guys and the crooks. It is at best towards the end, when people decide how to handle the now captured young thief Slip'ry.
Slip'ry's clothes seem to convey the 1943 image of a tough young hood: a horizontally striped shirt and a rough-looking gray jacket. People were used to seeing such young toughs in movies, such as the Dead End Kids series. There are also some good portraits of Snitcher, a giant, gorilla-like crook, with spiky black hair. Snitcher's costume is funny. The artist has not neglected to show Snitcher's big black boots: boots are always popular in comic books.
SPOILERS. The ending reveals that young crook Slip'ry hasn't been eating much. This is not given an explicit political moral. But it vividly reminds us of hunger among the poor. To learn more about hunger in the comic books, please see my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "hunger".
This issue has a good cover, by Chu F. Hing, showing Dick and Simba out on a toboggan. Dick is reading Blue Bolt Comics; in fact, the cover of the magazine shows this same issue, with Dick and Simba on a toboggan. Comic books regularly showed their characters reading comics, a tradition that goes back to 1930's Jerry Siegel tales. This cover is unusual in that it recursively depicts characters looking at the very issue they are in.
The basketball season is in full swing (1945). Art: Jim Wilcox. Dick Cole is thrown out of a basketball game, after he is accused of cussing out the referee. Entertaining sports story. Sports tales were a major enterprise, both in the comics and in prose fiction. This tale is an almost pure example of this genre. Unlike many sports tales, this one is not didactic: no one learns any lessons about character. Instead, it concentrates on ingenious storytelling.
The story has a huge cast of characters, some of them continuing. Dick's friends include Simba, Ted and Slip'ry, all series characters. Dick's athletic rival at Farr is Bark Hall, a gifted athlete who likes to taunt Dick. Bark has a sidekick, Jed Jaxon, who is also a basketball player. Both Bark and Jed are series characters, too. Bark Hall is the same kind of character as Iceman in the film Top Gun (1986). Both are men of genuine ability, who are successful in their institutions; both are extremely good looking; both have a loyal sidekick; both are obnoxious to the hero, and like to put him down; both are really decent people, and not at all villains in any sense of the term. There is a ritual quality to their verbal attacks on the hero: they seem to be a form of macho posturing or challenging. Both rivals are men of substance; they offer a person of ability as a rival to the hero. Unlike some of the characters in the story, Bark Hall also shows good sportsmanship on the playing field. He is a rival to Dick, not a bad guy.
Dick is helped by his friend Jacks of Holden. Holden seems to be the military academy with the closest ties to Farr. Their cadet uniforms are blue here, while Farr's are green as usual. Dick is #9 here on his team; please see my article on Sports Numbers and Their Symbolism for a history of numbers in comic book sports tales. The number 9 is not only on Dick's actual basketball uniform, but also on the front and the back of the green uniform sweater he wears while on the bench. This sweater is really cool. It helps strongly identify Dick with his number 9. The number is up high on the back of the sweater, making it prominent. I've never seen anything quite like it. It has a transitional quality, part way between on-field wear, and everyday wear.
Baseball is almost over (1945). Art: Jim Wilcox. Dick Cole is kidnapped by bad sports at rival school Holden, who want to make sure he stays out of the Big Game. This situation escalates in ironical and unexpected ways. Although it is presented seriously, there are comic overtones.
Role reversals, such as happen here, also appear in "Sully Meadows, a new cadet at Farr Military Academy" (1946) and "Dick Cole, winner of last year's cross-country race" (1947).
The Farr Military Academy summer camp for young boys (1945). Art: Jim Wilcox. Dick Cole and Laura Bradly take a bicycle trip through the country, one Saturday.
This is the quietest of all Dick Cole stories, and one of the best. It is highly lyrical. It deals with a golden day, one which seems so easy, but which will never be repeated.
Many of the Dick Cole tales involve sports events, that get him into the great outdoors. The creators like to get Dick Cole into the countryside. The scenery in such tales, forests, mountains, water and snow, always is a vivid component of the stories. Man seems like a part of nature here - there is a "harmony attained".
Many Dick Cole tales have a format of "sports event sabotaged by bad guys". This story seems like a quiet variation on this paradigm. A private bicycle trip shared by two people is a sports event, but one less public than the Big Games of most of the other stories. This trip is also sabotaged, but through mild, harmless pranks by a mysterious on-looker. These mild jokes do nothing to spoil Dick and Laura's good time; they just add a little spice and variety to the day.
Our story opens in a fourth form room at Farr Military Academy (1945). Art: Jim Wilcox. Cover: Jim Wilcox. A rival soccer team unethically hires professional players for its big game against Farr. This is one of the two cliché sports plots that were recycled endlessly in the comics - the other being gamblers who kidnap an athlete right before the big game.
This is one of the few soccer tales in a US comic book of the era.
The story has a subplot, in which the characters discuss whether they should smoke or not. Some of the pro-smoking arguments here seem bizarre beyond belief. They give a window into another, and far more ignorant time. By contrast, hero Dick Cole does not smoke, because it "cuts his wind", i.e., his lung capacity is severely diminished during athletic performance. By the end of the tale, his anti-smoking stand has persuaded the young cadets at Farr not to smoke, either. Dick is right: smoking is the death knell for any sort of athletic performance. This story is a historical curiosity. Researchers interested in the attitudes of a bygone era might want to check it out; for everyone else, it is pretty ordinary as a work of storytelling.
The cover is well done, showing Farr students playing soccer against another team. The rival team is wearing purple shirts with a wide red stripe across the chest and arms, with black letters. Please see my list of purple costumes in comic books. Farr is in green uniforms, with many black stripes. These are the same colors as the Farr cadet uniforms, and the stripes recall the broad black stripes that are on the backs of the dress uniforms. The letters are orange. By contrast, in the actual story, Farr's uniforms are not striped, but the rival team's uniforms now have the black stripes. This team's name is the Centerfield Tigers, and the stripes reflect their tiger motif.
With his nephew, Bill Brill, and ace salesman, Sidney Satchel. Art: Jim Wilcox. Cover: John Wilcox. Dick loses his cool when Farr's equipment is sabotaged during a pentathlon contest in Big City. An oddity - a tale that shows Dick being less than perfect in his sportsmanship and behavior, with anger getting the better of him - and Bark Hall showing better control and saving the day.
The crooked villain engages in some comic book style "swearing" when frustrated (page 4). Such swearing is actually quite rare. Even bad guys didn't swear much in the comics.
The opening in the office of businessman J.J. Brill, expresses the confidence of that era. It takes place on the eighth floor office of a city building, with a window showing the city outside.
This minor tale is mainly notable for some good art:
Most dubious here is the way women judge men by their courage. Every guy who flees from the pyromaniac is right - he is very dangerous. Telling men to stand up and fight such people, or they won't get dates, is absurd.
Dick Cole, Bark Hall, Simba Karno and Slipry, forming a bobsled team (1947). Art: Jim Wilcox. Cover: Jack Hearne. A professional team challenges Farr to a bobsled contest at a winter resort. The origin of Carrot Smith.
This story recalls "Our story opens in a fourth form room at Farr Military Academy" (1945), in that the amateurs at Farr have to fight nasty professional athletes, who physically threaten them.
Carrot Smith is a poor kid, a member of America's working class. He tells some home truths about the barriers that face people like him. The story moves to a fairy tale ending of male bonding with Dick Cole and the other cadets. This is very satisfying emotionally. But it is less believable as a realistic outcome in a money-divided society.
Dick Cole likes tales that took place in snowy mountain regions - see also "The Snow Rescue" (1943). Dick and friends have to face physical danger in both works.
Jack Hearne's cover shows four cadets on a bobsled, sitting in close proximity to each other. The sled is sticking up, at an erect, jaunty angle. The four are wearing snazzy uniforms, designed for winter sports: green jumpsuits, helmets strapped under their chins, goggles, leather gloves, boots with steel capped toes. The bad guys in "Our story opens in a fourth form room at Farr Military Academy" (1945) got to wear such boots, according to the dialogue - now the good guys at Farr are wearing them, in Hearne's cover.
With only the big Farr-Holden game remaining (1947). Art: Jim Wilcox. An ad mysteriously appears in the newspaper, claiming to be an endorsement by Dick Cole - getting him thrown off the team. This story resembles "The basketball season is in full swing" (1945), in that mysterious events lead to detective work by Dick Cole. He gradually uncovers a complex situation, in a logical, step by step fashion. This makes satisfying reading. So does the way Dick makes allies, bonding with other young men along his quest. These men, very different from Dick Cole, relate to him due to aspects of their inner personality and character. It is a fascinating experience to see different types of people coming together, and working towards an idealistic cause.
This is a full detective story in form, even if it does not contain a murder or violent crime. It does contain a good, fair-play clue, hidden in the text of the story.
Like "Baseball is almost over" (1945), here Dick is held captive, in an urban building. Both stories take place largely indoors, unlike a lot of Dick Cole stories. Much of the action takes place in the nearest big city near Farr Academy, whose name is Big City. Big City shows up in a lot of the tales, although it is 100 miles from Farr.
John Eaglewing, an old Indian, instructs Farr M.A. (1947). Art: Jim Wilcox. When Dick Cole and friends take up the sport of Lacrosse, they try to help their Native American coach work on his dream of opening an exhibit showing traditional life. This story mixes adventure, sports, and mystery and detective elements, in one entertaining package. It also offers a sympathetic, dignified portrait of Native Americans.
The mystery elements here are good - but they are not as detailed as in "With only the big Farr-Holden game remaining". They do not have the full element of fair-play clues found in the earlier tale. However, these sections offer plenty of zing in their social commentary, and definitely do not wimp out in their depiction of social corruption.
Wilcox does a good job with his depictions of Native American costumes and paint. He has a flair for bold, vibrant patterns in clothes. He similarly went to town with the European costumes of the Renaissance era in "Sully Meadows, a new cadet at Farr Military Academy" (1946).
Excitement grips the Farr and Holden military academies (1947). Art: Jim Wilcox. Cover: Jack Hearne. The annual war game maneuvers with Holden Academy are airborne this time, involving Dick with parachute jumping. This tradition started with "Let's Go Over the Top with Dick Cole" (1942), of five years before. In that tale, Holden school was led by Colonel Holden, but here its top officer seems to be Captain Banks.
The players in these annual stories take special delight in trapping, tricking and deceiving members of the opposing teams. This is a lot like the schemes of the bad guys in typical Dick Cole sports stories, who often come up with sneaky stratagems to hurt Dick Cole and the other players at Farr. Here, however, such deceitful schemes are considered honest, and the right way to conduct the maneuvers. The joy with which the teams do their dirty work recalls the similar enjoyment of the bad guys in a tale like "Our story opens in a fourth form room at Farr Military Academy" (1945). The "good guys" at Farr get involved with such schemes too, and seem to relish them.
The schemes often involve people dressing up in special clothes, clothes they have no right to wear. This was true of the bad guys' actions in both "Our story opens in a fourth form room at Farr Military Academy" (1945) and "John Eaglewing, an old Indian, instructs Farr M.A." (1947). These clothes carry a charge of wearing something forbidden, that belongs to another group. Here the clothes are worn by good guy Bark Hall of Farr. It also recalls the special costumes worn by first bad guys, then good guys, in "Sully Meadows, a new cadet at Farr Military Academy" (1946).
The officers serving as umpires have good uniforms, like those of WWI US Army officers, with high boots and armbands marked with a U.
Jack Hearne's cover shows an incident in the tale: Dick Cole holds onto Carrot Smith, as he parachutes down to earth. Dick has a parachute, and Carrot does not, so Dick is saving Carrot's life. On the other hand, this picture can be read as two men embracing. Dick is holding on to Carrot, who is seated in Dick's lap, during the parachute jump. This is a unique image in comic book history - one man seated on another's thigh, being embraced.
Dick Cole, winner of last year's cross-country race (1947). Art: Jim Wilcox. A bull attacks runners in a race. This was the end of Wilcox's main series of Dick Cole stories in Blue Bolt.
This is one of many tales in which Dick Cole faces danger from large animals. He has to show both ingenuity and bravery to escape. These situations are a bit like the traps from which Adam Strange has to escape, using brain power. Animal tales include the Bob Davis-era "School's Out at Farr" (1942), "The Farr Military Academy summer camp for young boys" (1945), "Danger strikes at Dick and Rod Cole" (1949), and "The cadets of Farr Military Academy have labored for months" (1949). One suspects, too, that the editors were glad to publish animal danger stories, because it seemed like a wholesome alternative to the much-criticized-by-reformers crime comics that were so controversial in that era.
The story's finale has similarities to other Dick Cole tales:
The tale has some mild interest, contrasting the ranch owner's eagerness to try new things, like growing grapefruit, with old-fashioned people who hate all change. There is perhaps of a bit of a attitude lesson here, on the need for innovation.
Returning east from Arizona for the Christmas holidays, Dick arrives 87 (Vol. 8, #9) (February 1948) Art: Jack Hearne. Dick is jealous when he sees Laura dancing with a handsome stranger in a tuxedo. The story has some pleasant but simple mystery elements concerning the stranger, which seem easy to solve. And the rest of the tale is static and without much interest. Still, it marks an interesting "event" in the Dick Cole saga.
The opening of the huge new gymnasium is a gala event 89 (Vol. 8, #11) (April 1948). Art: Jack Hearne. During the first basketball game in the new gym at Farr, construction in the gym starts to fall apart. Minor tale.
Best part: the team uniforms created by Hearne. Dick is #9 again, his traditional number. Hearne has come up with a stylized letter 9, one with a thin black line, and angled straight lines. He does a similar effect for Dick's teammates in the next-to-last panel, where we see #4 and #7. The effect is pleasantly striking, and draws the eye.
When Dick Cole and Simba Karno go mountain-climbing (1948). Art: Jack Hearne. Dick and Simba help scientists get a huge lens up to an observatory on Mount Starr, while they are out mountain climbing. Tales like this mix the frontiers of science and technology, with an adventure plot.
Dick and Simba wear cool uniforms, designed for rugged outdoor activities like mountain climbing. They include green shirts with patch pockets, a web belt on their trousers from which their canteen dangles, and elaborate lace-up boots. Dick carries a coiled up rope, while Simba wears a backpack. As usual, their Farr uniforms are green.
Hearne sees Simba differently. Previous artists had tended to make him a gorilla-like macho man. Hearne draws him more as a conventional leading man type. It is nice to see a story about Dick and Simba, just the two of them, working together as partners and best friends.
This story shares with "Sully Meadows, a new cadet at Farr Military Academy" (1946), an interest in protective devices people can wear, that ward off injury from attacks. Both devices are quite unusual - I have never seen them mentioned in any other book, movie or comics.
The story also uses another gambit more common in comics, but one which Dick Cole never tried before. It has some relation to Bark Hall's scheme in "Excitement grips the Farr and Holden military academies" (1947).
Al McWilliams full name was Alden McWilliams, according to the letter column of Dick Cole. It mentions that he was filling in for Jim Wilcox, while he was in the hospital - a very unusual inner look at the mechanics of hiring artists for the comic books.
This tale is one of several in Dick Cole, which have a basic structure of an athletic event being sabotaged by bad guys. Within this overall framework, the tales are startlingly diverse, and each one seems fresh and different. The tales vary in all their plot details, and in fundamental approach, from detective tales about tracking down the bad guys who do the sabotage, to suspense stories on rescuing people from the perils bad guys have created.
The cadets of Farr Military Academy cheer happily (1949). Writer: ? Art: Jim Wilcox. Cover: L. B. Cole. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) Dick is stroke on a boat racing crew, but his efforts are constantly sabotaged. One associates boat race stories with 1920's films. Many silent screen stars appeared in them, such as Rudolph Valentino being stroke for Harvard in The Young Rajah, and Buster Keaton in College. Sports stories about college athletes in general were far more popular in 1920's movies, than they ever have been since. One wonders if the creators of Dick Cole grew up on such films.
This is another story, in which events that sabotage an athletic event, are investigated in a way that recalls the form of a traditional detective story. In this, it resembles earlier stories such as "The basketball season is in full swing" (1945) and "With only the big Farr-Holden game remaining" (1947). And, like "With only the big Farr-Holden game remaining", the choice of bad guys here suggests a skepticism about traditional business and businessmen.
Danger strikes at Dick and Rod Cole (1949). Writer: ? Art: Jim Wilcox. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) Dick and his brother Rod deal with an outlaw and animals on their vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains. This region of Western North Carolina has always been seen as having a separate, distinctive culture. One of the best of the FitzPatrick travelogues, Colorful North Carolina, took place here, as well as the outstanding recent film, Songcatcher (2000). The writer shows great sympathy with the region and its people. While there is a bad guy in the story - every Dick Cole tale needs one - the story takes great care to show that the people of the region are honest, and have no sympathy for the one bad apple in their midst.
This tale recalls "The Bicycle Trip" (1945), in that it involves a journey though the countryside. Both tales take place in high summer, and send Dick and a companion through a forest.
The cadets of Farr Military Academy have labored for months (1949). Writer: ? Art: Jim Wilcox. Cover: Joe Certa. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) The cadets put on a Roman gladiator show. This is the most unusual athletic event in Dick Cole, and one of the most delightful. One wonders where the ingenious idea of putting on such a show came from. Dick and Bark Hall serve as rival chariot drivers in a big race, and Dick explicitly mentions Ben Hur, a novel famous for its chariot race. The last film version of Ben Hur before this tale had been released as a silent movie in 1925, so it was not perhaps something that was in the recent media spotlight. One suspects this tale was inspired by Bob Davis' "School's Out at Farr" (1942), which also contained a gladiator episode, with a similar menace.
The tale is also likable for the prominent role it gives Simba.
It will take more than Dick Cole's cannonball serve (1949). Writer: ? Art: Jim Wilcox. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) Dick helps a handicapped young man regain his self-esteem.
This story combines a sympathetic look at the struggles of the disabled, with the male bonding that is so important in the Dick Cole tales.
The villain sabotages the tennis matches here in ways that are common among the bad guys in the Dick Cole tales. But it seems especially odious when the target is both an individual person, and one engaged in such a desperate struggle.
Dick Cole and Bark Hall, his chief rival for honors (1949). Writer: ? Art: Al McWilliams. Cover: L. B. Cole. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) Dick and Bark try to display their skills on a ranch out West, to convince young cowboys to enroll at Farr.
The motive of the cowboy Al Benton in this tale recalls the early stories about Simba Karno, and his feelings about Farr. These feelings are powerfully evoked in this tale. As in the Simba tales, one feels there is a gay sub-text here, although not an actual gay love story, as in the Simba cycle.
The tale is also blunt about class and money issues, with the poverty stricken Al Benton having few options. In this, the story recalls an earlier look at another poor character, Carrot Smith, in "Dick Cole, Bark Hall, Simba Karno and Slipry, forming a bobsled team" (1947). The two stories develop along similar plot arcs.
Cole's cover, showing Dick Cole riding a bronco, recalls an earlier Western cover L.B. Cole did for Blue Bolt #85.
A dread peril menaces the campus of Farr Military Academy (1949). Writer: ? Art: Al McWilliams. (Title for this titleless story supplied by Grand Comics Database, based on opening words of the story.) Diseased rats escape and threaten the health of everyone at Farr.
This interesting story seems quite atypical of other Dick Cole stories. It relates to a few other works. Dick Cole and friends had battled against a previous disaster to Farr Academy, when they fought against the school burning down in Blue Bolt #84 (Vol. 8, #6) (November 1947). The scientist on the faculty here who owns the rats, recalls the head of the psychology department at Farr Dick consults in "It will take more than Dick Cole's cannonball serve" (1949). There are plenty of Dick Cole tales with animal menaces, but they are usually large, purely physically dangerous animals like bears, bulls and lions. And quite a few of the later Dick Cole tales get him involved in scientific issues: see "When Dick Cole and Simba Karno go mountain-climbing" (1948).