10/16/10

Captain Marvel for President (CMA #41 - 1944)

With the midterm elections, and the upcoming 2010 presidential elections everyone remarks how "this time it's different." People cite the war, the economy, and backlash at incumbents. Interestingly enough, you can find cycles of this again and again through history. In fact, the 1944 elections were held in the middle of WWII, at a time when the economy was just beginning to pick up, and one of the candidates was the most entrenched President ever. Wikipedia does a good job summing up the situation:
The United States presidential election of 1944 took place while the United States was preoccupied with fighting World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) had been in office longer than any other president, but remained popular. Unlike 1940, there was little doubt that Roosevelt would run for another term as the Democratic candidate. His Republican opponent in 1944 was New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey ran an energetic campaign, but there was little doubt, in the midst of a world war, that FDR would win a record fourth term.

I recently picked up a copy of Capt. Marvel Adventures #41 from 1944 and was surprised by the cover.
 

Take a look at the two people carrying Captain Marvel, do they look at all familiar?  Let me suggest they're caricatures of FDR and Thomas Dewey.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Thomas Dewey
I find all sorts of things interesting about this cover.  First, the fact that FDR is carrying Captain Marvel.  Since 1929 FDR had been increasingly paralyzed by disease, and in 1944 his doctor gave him at most six months to live.  In the Internet age this would be the death knell for even a school board candidate, yet FDR and his administration managed to limit public knowledge of his health problems, restricting photos of him in a wheelchair, and completely covering up his failing health.

Second, to portray the sitting president and the presidential candidate on the cover of the most popular comic book of the 40's either says a lot about the comic, or about the candidates.  It looks to me like CC Beck and the writers at Fawcett are poking a bit of fun at the campaign.  1944 was the height of WWII, and also the height of restrictions on luxury items and even staples.  A note above the indicia asks readers to order in advance "We are trying to cooperate 100% in the war effort. With this aim in view, and due to the paper shortage, we a cutting down on the number of copies of each magazine printed....ask your news dealer to reserve your copy."  "Captain Marvel Adventures" was the most popular comic of the 40's, outselling Superman and anything from DC or Timely.  With Capt. Marvel's popularity, I'd say it was a natural and clever jibe to promote him over the politicians.

And finally, the placards stating "Captain Marvel the People's Choice" is just a clever way of advertising their own product.  Sure, he's the most popular, but it doesn't hurt to toot your own horn every once in a while, and this cover gives Fawcett a chance to announce that on the news stand, next to your competitor's comics.


In the story the the likenesses are less pronounced. The "distinguished guest" in the second panel of the story looks more like Mr. Moneybags from Monopoly than FDR.  Once again they him walking, which would not have happened with FDR in a wheelchair.


Note the appearance of Captain Marvel/Billy Batson's assistant Steamboat in the third panel. Reportedly, Steamboat is the first black character in any of the Captain Marvel Adventures (CMA) books, although he's less a character and more of a comic-relief stereotype.  It's a sad reflection on the times and everyone involved in the publication that while they provide accurate and detailed portrayals of real people and places in CMA, Steamboat is such an offensive cartoon.

During the story it turns out that the distinguished guest wants Capt. Marvel to run for president of the Ancient Society of Moose, although Cap is confused due to a persistent jackhammer interrupting their conversation.  Some crooks are also confused, and they try to foil the campaign, sure that President Marvel would come "after us crooks wid de Army and Navy! and Marines!"  Likewise, the Big Red Cheese isn't sure he could handle the responsibility of being president.  In the end he decides not to run "My job is to fight crime, and that's a big enough job for one man!"

The writers give us lots of opportunities to imagine what it would be like to have a superhero as president.  For example,in this sequence the crooks toss a bomb. The crowd goes wild when Cap saves the day. "That's the kind of man we want for president!" "A man of action, courage and daring!"
 
This issue is a real time-capsule of public sentiment at the time.  The lead story isn't "Capt. for President," but "Captain Marvel Battles the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man."  The old wizard Shazam summons Billy to the subway tunnel and alerts him that every four years the living counterparts of the statues assemble some place on Earth to plot further wickedness.  You might recognize Dr. Sivana, who turns out to represent Pride and Injustice in the storyline, but I wonder if the character of Hatred in the last panel was supposed to represent Hitler?  His crewcut and upraised arm certainly suggest it.
 
Throughout the 40's Fawcett would set many of the CMA stories in actual locations with real personages.  In "The Adventure of the Two Heroes in Dayton, Ohio," Billy Batson is assigned to cover two soldiers from the Pacific theatre of war as they speak in Dayton. According to Mr. Morris, Billy's boss, "The city is having a special war bond and speed-up production drive."  Billy meets with Dwight Young, editor of the Journal-Herald and Walter Locke, chief of the Dayton Daily News.  Other local notables, such as Dayton Mayor Frank M. Krebs, radio personalities Lin Mason and Paul Ackerman of WING and WHIO's Dick Cull and "Si" Burdick also appear in the course of the story.  Even the soldiers are actual people, although due to the way the story is edited it's not clearly mentioned that they are Pfc John Bright and Pfc Stanley Kupinsky.

The plot is that some "Jap" spies are trying to kill the soldiers, putting an end to the bond drive and demoralizing the war plant morale.  The villains are obviously demonized, drawn with cartoon features and yellow skin that stands in contrast to the fine-lined features of the real-life characters.  The lampoon is so blatant that it almost interferes with the story at a point where the spies pose as "lowly Chinese" laundry workers in order to gain entrance to the war plant.

This issue also has a great chapter from the ongoing serial The Monster Society of Evil.  Titled  "Chapter 20 Mr. Mind's Book!" it tells the story of how Mr. Mind decides that the pen is mightier than the sword, and his manifesto, "Mind Kampf!", will spread the poison of propaganda and help him crush humanity.  Mr. Mind has his crocodile henchmen print up 10,587,432 and a half copies of the first chapter to give away. Even in his ruthless takeover of humanity Mr. Mind is thinking of the war effort: "If it weren't for the paper shortage I'd print up a billion copies."

The crocodile men are called slaves in this chapter, although Wikipedia suggests they are Crocodile Men from the planetoid Punkus.  It also suggests that they influenced the creation of Sobek for the DC series 52 from 2006.  Personally, I think one of the most memorable and surprising parts of 52 is where Sobek convinces Osiris to turn human, and then eats him.
 

 

Of course, the way comics got their 4th class mail rate was to include a one- or two-page text story.  This issue has "The Fourth Pigeon" by someone named Jack London Berkebile. It's about a young Greek resistance fighter named Nikoli whose family is forced to eat their carrier pigeons for food. Luckily he saves the fourth pigeon, and after Nazis attack his family he sends the bird on its way to warn the Greek guerrillas in the mountains. The story is remarkable for the image of the boy using his own blood from a Nazi-inflicted cut on his face to write the warning message on a scrap of paper.

And finally, since I had the scanner warmed up, here's the back page.  I love how this Dick Tracy Detective Kit offers you the chance to play "Detective Spy, Saboteur games."  It's "almost free" and "worth many dollars in hours of fun to you."
 

10/9/10

Chrysler Comic: Things That Even Dads Don't Know About... (1959)

In this 1959 comic from Chrysler, Bill comes home bursting to tell his dad everything he saw during his guided tour through the "huge Chrysler Corporation," which includes "missles, and air conditioners, and tanks, and cement, and.." all sorts of swell stuff.

The comic covers the new 1960 Chrysler car features: Plymouth's air-scooped fender insert, Dodge's double-barrelled taillight sets, flying V taillights and the Imperial's gunsight taillights (seems to be a lot of focus on taillights). The Constant-control power steering gives their cars "the quick reflexes of an athlete," while the push-button transmission control "works at the flick of a finger."

They also mention the Simca cars, which Chrysler imported from France. "Over 750 quality dealers selling and servicing Simca in this country." In a stunning aside they also mention it got 37 MPG gas mileage on "regular grade gasoline."

From there the comic jumps into the space age, mentioning the missles Chrysler built for the US Army: The Redstone, the Jupiter and Jupiter C, and Juno II. The Jupiter was used in the wold's first space journey, sending a monkey to the edge of space. They also mention the Mercury program, which was a year in the future, and how Chrysler plans to provide the missles for the training flights.

On the back page Bill quotes his dad as saying Chrysler is "one of the most vigorous, dynamic companies in America."















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