The Whip | The Origin in Seguro | Southwest Tales | New York City stories
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
The Whip appeared in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) through #55 (July 1944). He also appeared in the giant omnibus, the Big All-American Comic Book (1944). The Whip was a Zorro-like figure who fought injustice, using his long whip. He had no super-powers. The Whip fits ambiguously into a number of comic book traditions. He resembles figures of adventure, with many of his tales taking place against a relatively exotic background in the Southwest United States. He rides a horse out West, like Western heroes. And his crime-fighting, mask, costume, wealthy playboy secret identity, and technological tool used to fight crime (his whip), all relate him to the Batman tradition of costumed crime-fighters.
Origin of the Whip (1940). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: George Storm. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) One hundred years ago, The Whip helped the poor peasants of the American Southwest; today, a modern Whip appears, to help exploited poor people in the modern day United States. The Origin of the Whip. Also the origin of the other continuing characters in the series: Wing Tai, Carlos, Padre Demo, Marisa Dillon, and her father. Wing Tai works for Rod Gaynor as his servant; Carlos is a poor Mexican-American farmer; Padre Demo is the elderly but courageous priest in the Western town of Seguro; Marisa Dillon is a crusading young newspaperwoman, her father owns the small newspaper, the Seguro Sentinel.
This is the start of one of the most politically active comic book series of the 1940's. The Whip is a Zorro-like figure. He helps the poor and oppressed, and fights the rich powerful people who exploit them. The first four stories about the Whip form a series; they deal with exploited Mexican-American farm workers in Seguro, a town somewhere in the American Southwest. They are paid next to nothing for their farm work, while the ranchers who employ them make fortunes. Unfortunately, such conditions still persist today in much of the American West.
The Whip was clearly inspired by Zorro. Like Zorro, he is a masked figure who rides the Southwest by night, fighting injustice to the poor. Like Zorro, the Whip has a secret identity, that of a rich, idle man. There are some differences, however, between the two figures. The Whip is set in modern times, in 1940's America, unlike Zorro, whose tales were set in old California. Zorro was a master swordsman, while the Whip uses the long whip of the title, with which he is an expert. The secret identity of Zorro, Don Diego, was a Spanish gentleman, while the Whip is a modern day WASP American playboy, Rodney Elwood Gaynor. When Rod Gaynor disguises himself as the Whip, he also assumes a Spanish accent, and a new personality, one which makes bright, humorous, satirical comments on all he sees, especially the crookedness and injustice perpetrated by the wealthy. The Whip is a person of enormous enthusiasm and energy. His comments are full of wit and sparkle, and reflect his huge gusto. It is unclear where this personality comes from; it must be buried somewhere inside Rod. However, on the surface, Rod seems just like any other playboy, rich, good natured and self indulgent, a man who likes sports cars and polo. The two seem like two separate people, they are so different. However, they also reflect two sides of a complex nature. Part of the appeal of secret identity stories is what they reveal about the mystery of human personality. It is delightful to see all this idealism, humor and gusto emerging from buried depths in Rod Gaynor.
The original Whip from 100 years ago was the secret identity of Don Fernando Suarez. The original Whip was essentially a direct copy of Zorro. There are occasional flashbacks in the series, showing the first Whip in action. But the main purpose of the original Whip is to serve as inspiration for his modern day successor. The legend of the first Whip is very much alive, and familiar to everyone in Seguro. There is much comparison of the new Whip to the old, and occasional suggestions that the current Whip is the first Whip's ghost.
Zorro is usually depicted dressed all in black, in movie versions. This looks good in black and white movies. But comic books have always been a color medium. The Whip is provided with a brilliantly multi-colored costume.
Zorro first appeared in Johnston McCulley's novel, The Curse of Capistrano (1919). There were many film versions, including a fine serial the year before, Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939). Two years later would come Rouben Mamoulian's beautiful The Mark of Zorro (1941). So Zorro was very much on the public's mind during this period.
Like the other Whip tales, the storytelling here seems richly detailed. Wentworth likes to create little episodes, which are only tangentially related to the main plot, on which he lavishes his storytelling creativity. These episodes eventually build up into a big overall story. The large number of characters in the series, all of whom have vivid personalities, also helps the rich brocade of the storytelling.
Marisa's name is sometimes spelled Marissa in the tales, with 2 s's. There is no logic to the two spellings; they just seem to be typographical errors.
Vigilantes of Seguro (1940). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: George Storm. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Rod rents a house in Seguro; meanwhile, the wealthy ranchers bring in hired killers.
Wing Tai stands up for Carlos here. He shows courage and moral integrity. In general, throughout the series, Wing Tai comes across as intelligent, decent and determined. Chinese servants were common among the heroes of the Golden Age. Wing Tai might have been inspired by the Crimson Avenger's equally sympathetic Chinese servant Wing. The Crimson Avenger and Wing had debuted over a year before, in 1938. There was a great deal of sympathy for the Chinese in the United States at that time, due to the invasion of China during early World War II, and an attempt was made to include likable Chinese characters in pulp magazines as well as comic books.
Get the Whip (1940). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: George Storm. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The ranchers try to force the workers to work for meal tickets rather than for money. Issuing script that could only be redeemed at company stores was a standard way of keeping poor people in line, and exploiting them financially. This story takes aim at this practice, which was commonplace in the 1940 United States.
At the end of this story, we "learn" officially for the first time that Rod and the Whip are the same person. The story has been teasing us up to this point, about whether they are the same or not. I hope I am not spoiling the reader's fun, by spilling the beans in this article. However, there were strong hints in this direction, right from the first tale. Marisa suspects that Rod and the Whip are the same man, at the end of the first episode, for instance. Oddly enough, she never suspects this again in the series. The creators clearly did not want her to become a Lois Lane type, always spying after the Whip's secret identity. Marisa has some Lois-like features: she works as a reporter, and she is involved romantically with both Rod and the Whip. However, Rod and Marisa seem much less conflicted about this than do Superman / Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Rod and Marisa seem happy in their relationship, instead, both here, and in the later stories in the series. In fact, they look as if they are enjoying themselves enormously, having fun with both their adventures helping others, and in their budding romance. The Whip stories as a whole are an account of a happy, blossoming love affair.
The Plundered Peons (1940). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A sick worker is beaten in the fields by the overseer. This story creates a resolution for the Seguro series. Its ideas derive directly from early Superman tales in which he confronted social injustices, such as "Revolution in San Monte" (Action Comics #1 and 2, April and June 1938) and "The Blakely Mine Disaster" (Action Comics #3, August 1938). Siegel and Shuster's tales of social commentary were the models for most of the large number of early comic book stories offering political and social comment, and the Whip stories are in this same tradition. The Whip tales are especially close to "The Blakely Mine Disaster", in that they deal with economic injustice and exploitation.
This is the first story with art by Homer Fleming. I think he was a better artist that George Storm. Fleming's art tends to be detailed. It is fairly "realistic", while Storm's art tends to be sketchy, in a tradition recalling newspaper sports cartoons, and cartoonists in that tradition, such as Tad Dorgan, Milt Gross, George Hermann.
Judge Frawd's Court (#5, May 1940) / The Kidnapping (#6, June 1940). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Two part story, in which the wife of crooked Judge Frawd of the town of Danvers uses prisoners as unpaid servants in their home. This is a fairly minor tale. It is a routine imitation of the Seguro stories, which appeared in the previous four issues of Flash Comics. The subject of convicts used as unpaid labor is an attempt to add some social consciousness to the story, but it is far less serious and significant than the exploitation of laborers seen in the Seguro tales. Still, it is an attempt to continue along in the same vein. The second part of the story has some good moments. The room which Rod gets for Marisa in Danvers in fun. It shows Rod's upbeat, pleasure loving spirit. The art here is also consistent with Fleming's love of spectacle. And Carlos gains a permanent role in the series in this part - something which might be considered as an extension of the origin tales.
The Orphanage Benefit (1940). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Someone impersonates the Whip, and loots money raised for orphans. Just about anyone with a masked secret identity in the comics was going to wind up being impersonated by a criminal, and the Whip is no exception. The hero of such tales always has to clear his name, and expose the impostor.
This tale is delightful. The personalities of the characters come over with full force. The tale is a pure adventure story, and one full of charm and enthusiasm. It is a two part story.
The Whip's beautiful black horse King is seen to good advantage here, chasing around at night. Every Western hero, in movies or comics, had a horse, who was a continuing character in the series. In some ways, the Whip tales can be considered as Westerns.
Rod wears a neat white tuxedo jacket to the benefit. Earlier, he wore a good blue suit. Rod is always well dressed. Marisa dresses in a Southwestern style, including a lace mantilla in her hair. Parties in which the guests were spectacularly dressed are a long comic book tradition, extending from here into the 1960's, at least. They are a lot of fun for the readers. The artists get to create a lot of beautiful costumes.
Hunting Headlines (1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Miners strike gold, but crooks try to cheat them.
Gold in Gunner's Gulch (1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Sequel and continuation of "Hunting Headlines". For reasons that are obscure, "Hunting Headlines" appeared in #14, while this continuation did not appear till #18. Perhaps the story was delayed for some reason, or perhaps it was just a mistake.
The Armored Car on the Prairie (1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) An armored car is held up on a remote country road. This story is the closest to a conventional crime story, among the early Whip tales. Rod does detective work to uncover the truth, both as himself, and as the Whip. Rod was quite willing to use his own persona, whenever it was most useful. Unlike some comic book heroes, whose secret identities stay in the background, we see a lot of both Rod Gaynor and the Whip in the tales. Rod is not a nerd, either. Unlike many secret identities, Rod is a glamorous figure. He is not a hero like the Whip, but he is a fun-loving, romantic person, and one who comes across as intelligent and perceptive.
Poor House Problems (1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The poor house in Seguro mistreats its occupants, due to corruption by its crooked Commissioners. This is one of the fiercest of the social criticism tales featuring the Whip. The splash quotes President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous speech, about "one third of a nation, ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed".
The Whip often stirs up the people in his stores. While he fights with bad guys, the plots do not center around such fights. Instead, he often tries to get other people going, actively doing things. This often triggers further plot developments. There is also something heartening, about a character who urges other people not to be passive.
Marisa, too tends to be an active person.
Fleming has a good panorama of the town of Seguro (p6). It is like a model of the city.
Sam Chavers (1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A farmer is cheated by a crooked car dealer in New York City. This story continues the skepticism about the police, expressed in the original Seguro sequence. The police were often idolized in early comics. But they are often treated as agents of a repressive order in the Whip tales.
The first half of this story takes place in the American Southwest, the second half in New York City. This story serves as a transition for the Whip tales as a whole: all the stories leading up to it were set in the southwest; the stories after it take place in New York City. This tale makes a graceful transition episode, marking the move in locale.
The White Dragon (1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Wing Tai is kidnapped, and forced to work in a sweatshop. Powerful work of social criticism. The political implications are strongly explored.
The splash has a giant, extreme close-up of the Whip's face. It is an unusual figure of style. He is talking directly to the reader. It comes across as a highly forceful image.
Construction Conspiracy (#24, December 1941). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The Whip deals with a crooked building contractor. Marisa shows loyalty to the Whip here, in an interesting episode in an otherwise fairly ordinary story.
The Whip tales in New York City are closer to conventional comic book tales of their era, than were the earlier Southwest-set tales. The New York stories tend to deal with urban racketeers; stories in which heroes fought rackets in New York City were the bread and butter of the typical Golden Age super-hero comic book of the early 1940's. The creators do get some nice "fish out of water" effects, showing the Whip, horse, costume and all, riding through New York. In some of the stories the Whip takes his horse to surrealistically unexpected places: the stage of an opera house in the otherwise minor "Mistaken Identity" (#22, October 1941), the subway here in "Construction Conspiracy".
Bank Holdup (1942). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Police immediately arrest the robbers after the bank that Marisa and Rod are using is held up. This is a pleasant adventure tale. Its events follow logically from each other, and the story has a nice flow as an adventure tale. This story is mainly apolitical; it is designed for fun, as a work of pure excitement. There are hints of some commentary at the end, in which the Whip goes after the bad guys with his usual pointed remarks and satiric sparkle.
Employment Agency Swindle (1942). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A middle-aged man, who already has trouble finding a job due to his age, is further victimized by a crooked employment agency. This is one of the few Golden Age comic book stories I have read dealing with age discrimination. The tale states that this was a major problem in 1942: employers only wanted to hire younger workers. This story recalls "The White Dragon", in that both deal with the exploitation of workers in big cities.
Rod Gaynor is also pulled into the events in this story. His involvement recalls that of "The White Dragon", but runs even deeper. There are suggestions that even Rod is not untouched by the economic injustices plaguing society, that his indifference as a rich man is part of the problem, and helps contribute to the tragic events. This implication of Rod in the events is interesting and unusual. It suggests that the creators are sticking deeply to their principals, and not excusing anyone. It also gives an unusual role for Rod in the stories, a position in which heroes rarely find themselves.
Like the earlier Whip tale, "The Plundered Peons", the finale of this tale recalls Siegel and Shuster's origin tale for Superman, "Revolution in San Monte" (Action Comics #1 and 2, April and June 1938). Both have a similar resolution dealing with the bad guys in the story.
Adventure of the Nisei Japanese Patriot (1942). Writer: John Wentworth. Art: Homer Fleming. A German spy in New York City shoots a Japanese man while escaping.
This story is clearly an educational effort, trying to inform the public about the Nisei (Japanese-Americans), and to prevent discrimination against them. It didn't work: the real life Nisei on the West Coast of the US were rounded up and sent to internment camps, an event that began on February 19, 1942, with orders from the US President. Still, this story is definitely a strong plea for racial justice. In fact, it is the only story I have seen in any medium created during the United States' involvement in World War II (late 1941 - 1945), that tried to present a true picture of the Nisei. This story must have been written fairly soon after Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), to have appeared in the August 1942 issue of Flash Comics. The story does not mention the internment of the Nisei in camps; it is unclear whether it was written before or after this internment started.
Wing Tai has a small but key moment in this tale, too.
Birthdays and Bracelets (1943). Writer: ? Art: Homer Fleming. Rod tries to buy a supposedly worthless jade bracelet at auction, as a birthday present for Marisa. Nice little thriller, with some pleasant plot developments. The use of the map is a good feature. Comic books frequently employed multi-media features such as maps. Maps in comics tend to relate well to actual locations; there is a back and forth effect, as we go from the locale to the map back to the actual locale again.