In the last blog post we met one of my favorite Golden Age characters: (the original) Daredevil. The 1940’s Daredevil was a pretty popular character. He wasn’t super-powered, just well-trained to the nth degree so that he was far more capable than the average guy. What separated Daredevil from regular people were tons of training, a really cool uniform, and a whole lot of heart. Daredevil served as an inspirational example of what the reader could ideally be if he worked hard enough; of course, nobody could ever be that good no matter how hard they work at it. But it’s a great notion regardless, one worth holding.

While Daredevil wasn’t popular on the level of, say, Captain Marvel (who outsold Superman by a very wide margin in the 1940’s), Daredevil’s appearances in the pages of Silver Streak Comics led the publisher to try him out in his own book. The result was, in my opinion, one of the coolest single issues of any comic, anytime, anywhere:

The coolest comic book ever? I say "YES!!!"

If that cover didn’t make you completely geek just now, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. This cover is one of the most profoundly cool things upon which I’ve ever laid eyes — and it’s just the beginning, with more coolness yet to come. First, though, let me call your attention to a couple of items:

1) That’s a very Monty-Pythonesque photo of Adolf Hitler adorning the cover. This is significant; several blog posts ago I described how many comics of this era didn’t refer to Nazi Germany or Hitler by name, instead using euphemisms such as “the dictator” and “the aggressor nation”. By the time this comic was released, we not only note the title Daredevil Battles Hitler, but we also can’t help but notice a photo of the little paper hanger right there on the cover.

2) I forgot to mention the cover date of this comic book: July 1941. That’s nearly a half-year before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; this comic book provides valuable evidence that Americans were fully aware that war was coming to the United States well before December 1941.

Also note the array of heroes depicted on this cover. In addition to Daredevil, we also see Silver Streak (who we’ve already met in a previous blog), Dickie Dean, the Pirate Prince, plus the arch-villain The Claw! This is another great early example of characters inhabiting a “shared universe”.

Daredevil Battles Hitler is sixty-eight pages of pure unadulterated fun. The book contains seven features. Six of these are loosely connected stories; in five of them, Daredevil teams up with other Comics House characters to fight Hitler and assorted key figures of the Third Reich. A sixth story is titled “The Claw Double-Crosses Hitler”. A seventh feature might seem fairly startling to the modern reader: it’s a short illustrated biography of Adolf Hitler entitled “The Man of Hate”.

At sixteen pages, the book’s lead story is also the longest. The tale moves at a rapid clip and covers a lot of ground, but it can be easily summarized: Daredevil teams up with Silver Streak to thwart a Nazi invasion of England. The heroes are brought together in the office of English Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

We also meet Whiz, Silver Streak’s sidekick/pet eagle. Whiz not only talks, but also gets most of the good lines — the bird’s a bit of a smart-aleck

Quite a few key Axis figures, as well as some lesser lights, also appear in the story. Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels, and Benito Mussolini all play a part, as well as Lord Hee-Haw (who was a real-life Nazi radio propagandist who spoke with a British accent; his broadcasts were intended to demoralize the English). Lord Hee-Haw bushwhacks Silver Streak and knocks him unconscious early in the story, but later gets paid back with interest when the Streak (piloting a British plane) shoots His Lordship full of holes:

Lord Hee-Haw bites the dust

England is saved after a furious land and air battle. A grateful Prime Minster thanks our heroes, while a handful of Germans “in the know” suspect that Hitler and the Nazis are leading their nation down the road to ruin:

This little sixteen-pager contains more action than any three full issues of present-day comics, but it’s the humor displayed in the pictures and narration which makes this story such a gem. I feel the need to remind you again that this story was published before the United States entered the war, but it’s already apparent that most Americans aren’t in the mood to take any guff from the Axis.

Hitler’s now-legendary interest in the occult was not only well-known by mid-1941 but also openly mocked in this story:

Maybe he should cut open a bratwurst and read the entrails

Hitler’s Italian allies are the subjects of even worse mockery, even by Hitler himself and (later) by the British navy:

The story also needles Hitler’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. I’m particularly amused by the directives posted on the wall:

It’s obvious from these panels that Americans were much more aware of their impending involvement in the war than is credited to them by many present-day historians. In this tale we have two American costumed heroes fighting on the side of the Allies (despite America’s official neutrality at this time; however, Chenault’s “Flying Tigers” were fighting as mercenaries against the Japanese at this point), and the writers and artists of period comics pulled no punches when they depicted what was actually happening in England during the dark days of 1940-41:

A startling depiction of London during the Blitz

While I am seriously tickled by Daredevil Battles Hitler (as I said near the start of this post, it’s arguably the coolest comic book ever published), the panel above demonstrates that there was a very serious side to these period comics. It could be argued that many Golden Age comics themselves functioned as propaganda in an attempt to tip American support in favor of the Allied war effort. But there is also ample evidence that after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 the average American was foursquare in the Allies’ corner anyway and that such propaganda techniques weren’t necessary. From conversations with my parents (who grew up in the pre-war and early war years) I’m of the belief that comic books such as Daredevil Battles Hitler are definitely a reflection of what the average Joe in the street was already thinking at this time, rather than an attempt to influence said thought.

We’ll have more of Daredevil Battles Hitler next time around; until then,,,

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2010, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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