Red, White and Blue | Origin | Political Tales | Tales in World's Finest Comics | Comic Cavalcade stories
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Red, White and Blue appeared in All-American Comics in most issues from #1 (April 1939) to #71 (March 1946). This was their principal venue. They also had a number of shorter runs in other magazines during this period, including All Star Comics #1 (Summer 1940) and #2 (Fall 1940), New York Word's Fair #2 (1940), World's Finest Comics #1 (Spring 1941) through #7 (Autumn 1942), and irregularly in some issues of Comic Cavalcade, from #1 (Winter 1942 - 1943) through #12 (Fall 1945).
The story also introduces the glamorous Doris West. The story follows pulp magazine traditions here. Many pulp mystery series convey great ambiguity about their characters in their opening tale. Doris West's characterization is in this tradition. There is a checklist of such ambiguous series in prose mystery fiction in the article on E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Red stresses the use of radio here. Radio was always seen in early comics as the most important high technology of the day, and this story is no exception. Red will continue to value and use radio in subsequent tales.
The villains in this tale are munitions dealers. Munitions manufacturers were among the most loathed of all professions in this era. Many people blamed them for causing wars. Superman's first adventure, Siegel and Shuster's "Revolution in San Monte" (Action Comics #1,2, April, July 1938), had him going against such a munitions king who triggered wars for profits. This story takes a similar point of view. This story ends with the hope that peace would prevail in Europe. Real life events would soon overtake this, however: World War II would start in Europe in September 1939.
Politics aside, this is a rather routine story. It does feature many real life locales at the fair, including a finale at the Dupont exhibit. The story tells a little bit about Dupont's invention of synthetic fabrics: a famous discovery at the time. The Red, White and Blue stories seem knowledgeable about manufacture and chemicals. "Sealed Orders" (#2, May 1939) has a complete mini-lesson about the extraction and uses of Helium, which at the time, was found only in the American Southwest.
The tale also shows some wit with the comics medium: some closed mouth characters who refuse to speak are shown with blank, empty speech balloons!
The Terrapin (1939). Writer: ?. Art: William Smith. Members of an American fascist movement sabotage a new US submarine, the Terrapin. (Title for this story supplied by me.) During this period before the US entered the war in 1941, Nazi sympathizers in the United States organized many pro-Nazi groups. The creators of All-American Comics looked on them with deep loathing. This story has plenty of social commentary, with Doris West and our heroes going after one such group. This group's affiliation is not explicitly spelled out, but all its members have German names, and one of their leaders has an idiotic looking Hitler style mustache. They also preach Nazi ideology. In a previous story, in #5 (August 1939), the trio had gone after a similar group, the Yellow Battalion, whose uniforms suggest that they are supporters of Italy's Mussolini. "The Terrapin" offers more a more developed, in depth look at such groups, as well as better storytelling.
This story is an excellent adventure tale, as well as offering political commentary. Red Dugan is clearly treated as the principal character here, with Whitey and Blooey acting in support. There are also pleasant signs of a growing attraction between Red and Doris.
The story has a vivid depiction of submarines, and other advanced means of transportation. Such high technology clearly fascinated readers of the time. Other comic book adventure series, such as Lt. Bob Neal of Sub 662, also featured such machinery.
During this period, All-American Comics also included serialized movie adaptations. One of them was called "The American Way". It is based on the 1939 Broadway play by Kaufman and Hart, and the story says that the film starred Fredric March. However, I cannot find any record that such a film was ever actually made; perhaps it was a planned film of the play which never materialized. The tale tells the life story of a German immigrant to the US around the turn of the century. He becomes a patriotic American. At the end, he is an old man, and he dies fighting a group of Nazi sympathizers in the US, German-Americans who support Hitler. The story is full of explicit political commentary, with the hero giving an intense anti-Hitler, pro-American speech at the end.
The Master (1940). Writer: ?. Art: William Smith. An evil scientist who calls himself "The Master" uses his control of metals and electricity to make himself the fascist dictator of New York City. (Title for this story supplied by me.) Vivid look at what a Nazi dictatorship in the US might be like. The story shows how it "might happen here", to paraphrase the title of Sinclair Lewis' famous warning novel. The scientist's powers are vast, and both Red and Doris show real guts in taking him on. Their courage and strong democratic and patriotic attitudes are inspiring.
Both Red and Doris contribute ideas and action to the attack on the dictator. A comedy theme that runs throughout the series in this period, is whether men or women were more suited at fighting crime and doing intelligence work. Red and Doris debate this issue extensively, as part of the comic, romantic banter they exchange in the stories. The writer's willingness both here and elsewhere to show Doris as a highly skilled operative has a definite feminist message. Her brain power throughout this story is impressive.
This is one of the most sf oriented of the early Red, White and Blue stories, most of which take place in a non-sf, realistic world. The sf elements are treated with both consistency and ingenuity. They form a major portion of the plot.
The Super-Tank (1941). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Harry Lampert. (This untitled story was given this title by the Grand Comics Database.) The trio test drive a new tank. Siegel wrote several stories about super-weapons: see the Federal Men tale, "Attack on Washington" (Adventure Comics #6, 7 July, August 1936), and their frequent appearance in Star-Spangled Kid tales. The tank here is less grandiose than the weapons in other Siegel tales; this is probably a deliberate strategy, to help make the tale more plausible and believable. The weapons in other Siegel tales were used by master villains with fantastic scientific skills; this weapon belongs to good guys, the United States Army. Siegel perhaps also adopted a more realistic approach here, because he wanted the story to be consistent with the real-world technology level of the US Army.
The Red, White and Blue stories in World's Finest are a bit less substantial than those in All-American Comics, although the best are still fun. Mainly, they are light-hearted adventure tales. Blooey's status is a bit enhanced here. He gets a full name, Blooey Blue, for the first time. The stories also play his skills and contributions up, instead on him serving simply as comedy relief. Several of the stories end with Blooey getting recognition for his work. Red is still the hero of the tales, at least objectively in terms of his prominent contributions towards the success of the team's missions, but the tales are more often slanted towards Blooey, considered as works of storytelling. Siegel was very fond of the comic sidekicks in his own series, such as Shorty Morgan in the Slam Bradley stories, and often had them saving the day.
This story shows an inventive approach. It shows Siegel's creativity with story telling, an his ability to combine fantasy and reality.
There are probable references here to Winsor McCay's pioneering comic strip, The Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904-1914). Both Siegel and the characters in the tale subscribe to the central premise of the comic strip, that eating Welsh rarebit right before bedtime can lead to bizarre dreams. While the strip itself is not mentioned here, the coincidence in idea suggests that Siegel was drawing on earlier comics traditions.
The Adventure of the Informer (1941). Writer: Jerry Siegel?. Art: Harry Lampert. (This untitled story was given this title by the Grand Comics Database.) The trio undertake getting an informant from the West Coast to Washington D.C., despite the Nazi spy network that wants to kill him.
Such a cross country journey protecting an informant will later be the subject of a famous B movie, Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin (1951). The inventive ending of the film is not anticipated here, in this comic book tale.
Harry Lampert shows good art in the first panel, depicting the seedy hotel that opens the story. There is also a beautiful, evocative picture of a vacant yard with tree and a fence (p3). The rich shadows here create an effective mood.
The Skies Scream Murder (1941). Writer: Jerry Siegel?. Art: Harry Lampert. (This untitled story was given this title by the Grand Comics Database.) US planes have a set of sinister accidents.
This story has several inventive ideas involving airplanes.
Lampert's illustrations of the upturned car light here are beautiful. One showing the plane, the car and the light is especially effective.
Whitey in Germany (#11, Summer 1945). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Dennis Neville. (This untitled story was given this title by the Grand Comics Database.) Whitey Smith is undercover as a spy in Nazi-era Berlin, where he encounters a Hitler Youth. The problems of reforming Hitler Youth were much on everyone's mind. The young people of Germany had been through years of propaganda and Nazi indoctrination, something that frightened people in democratic countries. The Broadway play, and later film, Tomorrow the World, dealt chillingly with the difficulties an American family goes through in trying to re-educate a Hitler Youth to democratic values. Comic Cavalcade sponsored a contest among school children about Tomorrow the World, asking school kids to write essays on how they would deal with the young Nazi in the play, and the million others like him. The two winning essays appeared in Comic Cavalcade #14 (April-May 1946); mystery writer Rex Stout was one of the judges. It was not an idle question: real re-education and de-Nazification was beginning in occupied Germany.
This story does not have all of the answers, but it does show a mix of thoughtfulness and entertainment. The funniest part of the tale: Whitey gives the Hitler Youth a good spanking. Millions of people in democratic countries probably longed to do this many times.