A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the first “star spangled” heroine in comics: the lovely (and highly capable) Pat Patriot. I’d intended at the time to write about more of her adventures, but many gallons of water have gone under the bridge in the nine or ten weeks since that post: the end of the park season and a re-transition into my wintertime work, a change of computers, the holidays, and my discovery of (and subsequent fun with) “old-school retro-gaming”. Now that the smoke has cleared a bit, let’s get back to one of my original goals for this blog: an appreciation of Golden Age comics from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.

Pat Patriot was a regular feature in the original Daredevil Comics from issue #2 through #11 (August 1941 through June 1942).  As far as I’m able to determine, Pat was the first comic book heroine to wear some variation of the Stars’N’Stripes as her costume. In that prior blog post I discussed her “origin” story in which we learned that Pat doesn’t have any superpowers; she’s just very smart, highly capable, and extremely patriotic.

A quick note before we proceed. I’ve learned that the illustrator of Pat Patriot was Chuck Woodrow. I might have been a little hard on him in that prior post, in which I said he drew Pat as being rather “severe looking”. On the other hand I also acknowledged that Chuck was doing a bit of a tightrope walk; you want an action heroine to look serious, but not severe. It takes a pretty deft touch to pull something like that off, so I should cut Woodrow some slack.

Pat Patriot’s second appearance in Daredevil Comics #3 (September 1941) dashes the present-day notion that Golden Age comics “lack continuity”. Pat’s monologue in the splash page’s central (round) panel is a direct reference to the events of the previous issue:

Pat Patriot

Pat Patriot splash page from Daredevil Comics #3 (click the image to enlarge)

There are several points of interest in the splash page.  The first point is the panels’ composition: Woodrow uses several non-standard composition techniques. At a time when many comic books still used rectangular panels exclusively, Woodrow is experimenting with circular framing. And, continuing with the experimentation he exhibited in the previous issue, Woodrow “breaks” every frame on the page. Pat’s boot extends from the splash panel into the one below it, and all of the word balloons overlap the borders of their panels. This gives the page a dynamic look and helps carry the story by providing the impression of rapid pacing (even when nothing much is happening). This became a common comics technique over the intervening years, but it was very groundbreaking stuff at the time.

Also note Pat’s face in the circular central panel. Although she does look pretty severe in the action panels (the splash panel is a good example), Pat’s actually quite beautiful (leading directly to the officer’s reaction in the last panel on the page). Yes, Pat is definitely a doll.

On page two, after Pat’s off the bus, a cabbie immediately starts hitting on her, with predictable results:

Pat Patriot

Hands off the merchandise, pallie!

The guy gets a little grabby, so Pat puts him in his place. The guy should have just walked away after the well-deserved slap. Notice how Chuck Woodrow breaks through the panels’ borders again after the action starts. Also take note of the second panel: even when Pat’s angry, she’s still cute, doing that whole “looking over the shoulder thing”. This is where Woodrow starts to jazz up the book a little bit; we’ll see some “cheesecake” panels in a minute (one of which is pretty ingenious). Many of today’s comics fans seem to have this “faux superiority” attitude about the older comics, but the writers and artists of the time often knew exactly what they were doing and Golden Age comics are often not quite as innocent as present-day comics fans (incorrectly) presume. Woodrow was getting paid by the page and he’s obviously warming to the character as well as to the economic realities of the time; he’s not above trying to make the character more popular by appealing to the hormones of the adolescent male readers (without getting himself into trouble with the publisher, of course).

The comic is available for download (at Golden Age Comics), so I don’t want to wreck it by giving away every plot point of the tale; I’d rather you have some fun by reading it for yourself. But, in brief, Pat is invited to make a patriotic speech at a military installation; while there, she’s told of various acts of sabotage which have occurred at the base. One of the saboteur’s actions is pretty sophisticated: it’s suspected that the epidemic of debilitating colds and influenza which are infecting the servicemen was deliberately perpetrated by an act of bio-warfare (and, once again, I’ll remind you that the U.S. was not yet at war at the time this comic was published). Pat volunteers to fly back east to fetch the “miracle cure”:

Pat Patriot

This gal is really something!

As always, click on the image for the full-sized version.

First off, we learn that Pat can fly an airplane. Now think back to the previous issue — is there nothing that this gal can’t do?? Pat’s amazing, not only for the breadth and catholicity of her capabilities, but also amazing in the overall context of the era: the whole “Rosie the Riveter, women-can-do-anything” sea change in public attitude was still a couple of years off in the future. I’d be interested in knowing what the young male readers of that time (who’d generally grown up on the movie serial notion that girls were for rescuing) thought of Pat’s characterization. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that any of the letters to the publisher still exist, so this will remain one of those tantalizing little mysteries of social history.

But another analysis of this page is easily made in light of any era. Like Chuck Woodrow I have to walk my own tightrope here because I’d like to keep this blog as PG-rated as possible. But there are a couple of fairly hot panels on this page, and I feel required to point these out (in light of the previously mentioned present-day reader’s assumption of a general “innocence” display in comics of the 1930’s-40’s).

Chuck Woodrow was a hell of a smart guy. The panel (not shown) immediately preceding the above illustration shows Pat and the commander sitting face-to-face as they talk about the base’s problems; Pat is depicted with her legs crossed, left-over-right. The third panel of the above illustration bridges the gap between that seated posture and the standing posture of the fourth panel: Pat has uncrossed her legs and is preparing to stand up. That’s actually fairly cinematic for a static art form and on its own is pretty danged clever. But I rather suspect the real reason for the composition of that panel is for purely “cheesecake” purposes: we see that Pat has a really nice “set of gams” (as they’d have exclaimed at the time), and those little boots she’s wearing are kind of hot. So Woodrow has managed to sneak in a little subliminal cheesecake while being able to say to his editor, “I was just establishing that Pat was beginning to stand up” if he’d been called out on this panel’s artwork.

Panel four requires no explanation if you’re a heterosexual male. Throughout her run in Daredevil Comics, Pat Patriot’s blouse is drawn in varying levels of “clinginess” from panel to panel, and Woodrow gets away with the extra-clingy look every so often; we’ll see more examples of this if I decide to write more posts about Pat’s adventures. In the fourth panel above, Chuck Woodrow gives the blouse a clingy look which really “accentuates the positive”.

It’s interesting to bear in mind that popular notions of attractiveness do change from generation to generation. When I was a teenager, guys liked women who were a bit more “full-figured” than seems to be the norm these days; that was driven home to me a few years ago when a young girl with whom I worked referred to Lynda Carter (TV’s Wonder Woman) as “fat”. I looked at that girl like she was from another planet, until I realized that the “anorexic look” had been “in” for quite a while (and remains so. Check out that girl on the current T-Mobile commercials; somebody needs to force feed her a sandwich).

Likewise, the whole busty full-figured look as a popular trend was years in the future in 1941 (think Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe). Sure, you had occasional exceptions like Rita Hayworth, but the norm at that time was women who were “built for speed, not comfort” (if you get my drift); the look was exemplified by women like Irene Dunn and Lauren Bacall (or even Jean Rogers in the original [1936] Flash Gordon movie serial). In this fourth panel, Pat Patriot has that whole “lean and cool” thing going on, which was very much the style of the day.

Back to the story: Pat gets in a dogfight and has to kill a guy (and expresses remorse for the death, another notable [minor] plot point which was highly unusual for an era in which “the rat deserved it” was the general rule of the day). She also manages to pull off one of those really cool, but physically impossible, Golden Age stunts which provides the reader with an “inner eight year old geekout”:

Pat Patriot

Shes already killed one guy by accident and doesnt want to go for two, so...

You’d be hard pressed to pull that stunt off manually with a hand-held circular saw without cutting the guy to ribbons, so this stunt falls squarely into the realm of the impossible — but that’s exactly why it gives the reader that cool “geekout” moment. I LOVE this stuff! Very funny and very cool.

Of course, Pat emerges triumphant, and the commander’s monologue expressing his gratitude brings an appropriately patriotic ending to the story. But you’ll have to download Daredevil Comics #3 and read the story yourself to get all of its fun details.

By the way, you’ll need a comic reader program to be able to view the file; while several choices are available, I recommend either Comical or CDisplay — you’ll find links in the sidebar to the right. Rather than go into comparative discussion, I’ll just encourage you to try them both — each has its own merits, and I tend to alternate between them.

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.