It’s unclear today whether or not the comic Daredevil Battles Hitler was intended as a “one-shot” in 1941, but it’s usually credited in Golden Age comic indices as Daredevil Comics #1. Technically, though, the first issue of Daredevil Comics under that title was issue #2 with a cover date of August 1941.

Daredevil Comics #2 was the usual Golden Age melange of various story types; this issue contained two sports stories, but the bulk of the magazine was devoted to costumed adventurers. In addition to the thirteen page lead Daredevil story, the comic also featured the villainous Claw in his own nine-pager. An interesting assortment of other costumed “mystery men” graced Daredevil Comics #2’s pages, including the debut appearances of Nightro (a blatant ripoff of Dr. Midnight), London, Real American #1 (a.k.a. The Bronze Terror), and the one and only appearance of Pioneer (“Champion of America”).

The character I find the most interesting of the bunch is a star-spangled lass named Pat Patriot. She’s intriguing for a long list of reasons, among them being her non-powered status (she’s a “normal” with no “super” powers), she’s of what we’d today term “ethnic extraction” (which is actually an important plot point, but for obscure reasons as we’ll see), she battles fifth columnists and saboteurs (before America’s official entry into World War II, which didn’t occur until months after Pat’s debut), and some of the splash panels from her Daredevil Comics appearances qualify as a mild form of “good girl art”, a form which has received much attention in recent years.

Yes, I did call her a “star-spangled lass”. I won’t guarantee you that Pat was the first such heroine (I’m still researching this) but she was certainly among the very first to wear a costume based on Old Glory; Pat Patriot’s debut predates those of the better-known Wonder Woman and Miss America:

The splash panel is a mild example of the “good girl art” influence; Pat’s splash pages got a little racier as time went on.

Pat’s “tag line” was “America’s Joan of Arc” which is pretty cool, especially for those of us who remember our history lessons. On the other hand, we also remember that Joan was burned at the stake, so Pat ought to be extra careful with that torch she’s carrying:

Pat’s story begins at her job; she’s employed on the assembly line at an aviation factory, working to fill “government orders”. The story’s already becoming interesting from a historical perspective. Although America was officially “neutral” in mid-1941, anyone who paid a lick of attention in high school history class knows that we were aiding in Great Britain’s defense, sending them material through FDR’s “Lend-Lease” program. Pat’s working at a plant which manufactures engines for warplanes; it’s unclear from the narrative whether these are intended for American-made planes or are being shipped to England for installation in British fighters.

The woman beside Pat is on the verge of passing out; she explains that she wants to do her part in the defense effort, but she can’t stand the killer pace. Pat takes it upon herself to visit the foreman to point out the inhuman working conditions; the foreman responds by firing Pat.

We need to note here that the story takes place in 1941; America wasn’t yet out of the Depression, so losing one’s job was not a trivial thing. Yet Pat, plucky gal that she is (and the possession of “pluck” was an important virtue in 1930’s and 1940’s America), remains unconcerned and even meets her prior obligation for that evening: an appearance in a patriotic play:

After the performance, Pat (still in her costume from the play) is greeted by her boyfriend Mike who offers to walk her home. The pair leave together — and it’s a good thing, too: partway home they’re accosted by a gun-wielding thug. The cap-wearing mug says, “You been snoopin’ around th’ factory too much, see? So we’re gonna make sure you mind yer own business from now on, see?” thereby fulfilling three obligations: he advances the plot, he reveals that something sinister is afoot, and he follows union rules for 1940’s thugs by ending every sentence with the word “see” in the Hollywood vein of Edward G. Robinson.

Is our gal worried? Heck, no! She turns the tables on the mug, and Mike proceeds to deal him a righteous asswhipping:

Mike sees Pat home; as he’s leaving, he tells her to stay away from the factory, to which she agrees. Of course, she does nothing of the sort and, in the very next panel, she’s back at the factory trying to find out what’s really going on:

Pat sees crates being loaded aboard a oceangoing freighter. Sneaking aboard, she discovers that the crates are labeled “cotton goods” but in reality contain airplane engines bound for the Axis powers instead of the Allies — and lurking nearby is none other than the foreman who fired Pat earlier that day. The ship puts out to sea and Pat is captured by the villains, but our girl sure knows how to take care of herself:

She’s incredibly competent, too — she commandeers the ship, turns it around, and heads back for the dock. More thugs on the wharf open fire on her, so she points the ship at the pier, opens the throttle, and dives overboard.

The police round up the henchmen, but the big fish remains to be caught. Pat spots her ex-foreman trying to make a getaway in a stolen car. Taking the controls of a harbor crane used for unloading ships, Pat makes the goon regret the day of his birth:

The end of the story is particularly noteworthy for a couple of reasons which cause a happy collision. First we learn that Pat is of Greek heritage. A large body of immigrants (primarily European in origin) came to the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century (my own grandfather was one of them), and quite a few became a great deal more patriotic (in the traditional sense) than “born’n’breds”. Why would this be?

During this period, America was still very much viewed as the “Land of Opportunity” in which a person could come and make a good life for himself and his family, a place where one could rise as far as one’s skills and talents would allow. This notion has become increasingly diluted across the intervening years (that’s a separate rant for another time), but it was very much believed during the 1930’s and early 1940’s, especially by people who endured a fair bit of sacrifice and hardship to travel here. The children of immigrants (my dad among them) were taught that being an American stood for something, and that the whole of our country was greater than the sum of its parts due to the strength of its people.

Given this tendency of the times, it’s not the least bit surprising that Pat has a Greek surname. It was common practice at the time to write a character’s dialogue in “dialect” if they had any kind of national or regional accent; Pat’s dialogue isn’t written as such, so we can assume that she’s not an immigrant herself, but (given the time period in which this story was published) it’s a natural assumption that she’s the daughter of a Greek immigrant (which would also explain her intense patriotism).

The second part of our happy collision was the occasional tendency to create heroic names which were based on the character’s “secret identity”. Of course, the way this worked was to create the “costumed identity” first and then riff on it by creating the character’s “real name” (it’s become something of a tradition among Villains and Vigilantes players today). So someone (presumably Charles Biro, who was the story’s writer and the editor of Daredevil Comics) thought “Pat Patriot” would make a good character name. So we have our “happy collision”: Biro got to riff on the character’s real name, a name which also helps to explain Pat’s almost fanatical patriotic feelings.

I have to admit that I was really taken by the story when I first read it. When I first saw the splash panel, my initial reaction was that the story was going to be dumb as dirt. But I was pleasantly surprised by the tale. While it might appear “jingoistic” to present-day readers, we need to keep in mind that 1941 was an intensely troubling time for many Americans. The Great Depression had lasted more than a decade, World War Two had been raging in Europe for nearly two years (even longer if you count the invasions of Manchuria and Ethiopia by the Japanese and Fascist Italians respectively), and foreign-influenced groups (like Fritz Kuhn’s Nazi-sympathetic Bund) were stirring up trouble and making headlines here in the U.S.. Americans looked for hope in a frightening world, and comic book stories such as Pat Patriot’s debut were sources of such hope.

Pat’s “origin” story in Daredevil Comics #2 was presented without a hint of pretense or irony; such was the case with many “Golden Age” comics. The intent was entirely forthright: to thrill, entertain, and even inspire the reader. When read in historical context, the story is charmingly refreshing in its honesty as well as a whole lot of fun.

I’ve become an unabashed Pat Patriot fan and I regret that she made just ten appearances: she was a “regular” in Daredevil Comics from issue #2 through issue #11. Pat wasn’t alone when she made her departure: issue 11 also saw the swan songs of London and the Bronze Terror (the latter being another really cool, and highly unusual, character who we’ll meet another time).

We’ll look at some more of Pat’s adventures in upcoming posts, but I’ll tip my hand early by mentioning two problems with the series.

The first is the art. The digital copy of Daredevil Comics #2 comes with an index file which speculates that Pat’s (uncredited) artist was the (now legendary) Reed Crandall. If he was indeed the artist he deserves kudos for his unconventional page composition. At a time when many comic books stuck with the tried-and-true six panels per page (2×3), Pat’s artist frequently used innovative layout techniques such as irregularly-shaped panels and breaking the action out of a panel’s borders (such as the thug’s pistol and the subsequent fight scene, both from page 2).

While these layouts were striking, the facial illustrations sometimes were not. It’s less evident in this story than it is in some later tales, but the illustrator seemed to have problems drawing eyes:

According to the narration and dialogue, Pat’s supposed to be quite a looker, but the rendering of her eyes in some panels make her look either startled or angry and give her a rather severe appearance. On the other hand the artist does provide us with a fair bit of “good girl art” in the splash panels of Pat Patriot stories (and the occasional bit of cheesecake), so we’ll take the bad with the good.

My other gripe is with the character herself. Pat’s a real peach, but her personality comes across as kind of flat. To be fair, a length of six action-packed pages doesn’t give a writer much room for character development.

I had to step back and consider this one a bit. Male costumed characters of the era basically come in two broad stereotypes: square-jawed heroes (usually grim) and wise-cracking smart-alecks. It’s a rare bird who doesn’t fit one of these two molds; furthermore by 1941 the smart-aleck role was usually relegated to a kid sidekicks (which were starting to pop up in great numbers). Neither stereotype seems to work especially well for a female costumed adventurer. No matter how competent she may be, she’ll come off as goofy if she’s cracking wise constantly, while an overly serious heroine runs the risk of appearing moody or bitter.

Pat’s a cipher; we never really find out what makes her tick. She’s a “normal” without the usual superpowers as a product of some scientific accident or of alien technology. As a regular human, she doesn’t have any of the typical motivations of other “normals” for donning a costume and fighting crime: her parents weren’t murdered, she’s not a crusading journalist or photographer, she’s not a member of the military. She’s just a regular girl, with a job and boyfriend, who one day gets fired and discovers that her ex-boss was a fifth columnist. She foils the plot and just happens to be wearing a patriotic costume from a play while she’s doing it. Pat’s not only acclaimed by the public but they also hang a cool “costumed heroine” name on her as a result of her actions.

So does she keep adventuring because she likes that acclaim? Is she trying to set an example for others to follow ? Or does she just dig the adrenaline rush she gets while adventuring? Maybe we’ll find out later (I’ve not yet read all ten of her stories), but until we do Pat’s going to remain somwhat two-dimensional. And, because she seldom smiles, she sometimes comes off as cold and distant, almost like an automaton pre-programmed for patriotism. It’s a shame, too, because Pat Patriot is one of the first “star-spangled” heroines of the 1940’s and deserves to be more fondly remembered today.

Have fun! — Steve

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