Over the past year or so that this blog’s been around, I’ve been arguing the point that many Golden Age comics of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s were more sophisticated than credited by most present day readers (and whether I’ve argued it successfully is a matter of debate). But some comics and characters of that period were admittedly pretty cheesy, though in many such cases the writers’ and artists’ hearts were definitely in the right place. One such character made his star-spangled debut in the fall of 1941 in the pages of Our Flag Comics, namely a patriotic fighter for freedom and justice called (rather unimaginatively) The Flag. I’ve recently been introduced to this character courtesy of the Digital Comic Museum, and I’ve decided to devote a blog post or three to his adventures.

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

I saw the cover to Our Flag Comics #2 and was immediately hooked; I had to check out this character. I’m a fan of the many star spangled heroes and heroines who fought saboteurs and fifth columnists in the four-color funny books of that era (as you might already know, being as I’ve previously written about several adventures of the Comic House/Lev Gleason character Pat Patriot, who I positively adore), and any character who calls himself simply “The Flag” immediately commands my attention.

After reading several of The Flag’s exploits, I find myself pretty bemused by the whole thing. The stories are fairly well-written and drawn, but the artist(s) and writer(s) (whose identities are unknown, though a blogger named Corey Blake attributes The Flag’s creation to Aaron Wyn) seem to let their patriotic fervor get the best of them at times. The Flag’s adventures often read a bit heavy-handed and jingoistic, even when one views them through the “period prism” of an America on the eve of its entry into a world war. Just when my “inner eight year old” goes “WOW!” at some stunt The Flag pulls off, a panel composed of pure undisguised propaganda makes my adult side groan. I have a hunch that the stories may have been viewed as a bit “much” even at the time, being as The Flag appeared in just eight stories (usually two per issue) from October 1941 through July 1942; he didn’t last long. He was featured in two stories each in Our Flag issues 2 through 4, in one story in Our Flag #5, and The Flag’s swan song was in Four Favorites #6 (a title which went on without him, lasting a total of 32 issues before ending in December 1947).

The cover of The Flag’s first appearance (above) sure is a humdinger, though. Here, again, I feel compelled to remind you that the United States didn’t enter World War II until December 1941. The cover date of Our Flag #2 is October 1941 (meaning that it was on newsstands in September, and the art was produced even earlier), and The Flag is clearly bringing the hurt to the “attacking enemy forces” (as they’re euphemistically referred to on the cover); the flags on the tanks clearly indicate that they’re Nazi Germans. It’s interesting to note here that most pre-war comics tend to identify the enemy as German, rather than Japanese, despite the fact that the opening shots of WWII could technically be regarded as the Japanese Pacific expansion of the early 1930’s. But (even today) the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 is generally considered the “official” start of the war. In any case, this comic was on the stands more than two months before Pearl Harbor, at a time when America was officially neutral (which is pretty much a joke anyway, since we’d been “lend-leasing” arms and equipment to England for more than a year by this point).

As we did the last time we looked at a Golden Age comic story, we’ll go through it page by page. Click on a page illustration to make it big enough to read.

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

My bemusement begins with the very first panel. I love the text in the splash panel, precisely because of its sheer cheesiness. But then I feel kind of bad about my delight, because the writer laid it on really thick with phrases like “menace of the sneaky human rodents” and “Watch these enemies…run like the rats they are”. I can’t say I disagree with the sentiments expressed, but I wish the writers had been a little less lurid with the way they expressed themselves. To today’s audience it can’t help but read like camp — and that’s what I’m wrestling with when I read The Flag’s adventures.

Take, for example, the first character we meet: John Courtney, “crippled war veteran and flag maker”. The only way they could have laid it on any thicker would have been to make the character Jane Courtney, a flag maker who was wounded at the front as a nurse in WWI, and who also just happens to be the reincarnation of Betsy Ross.

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

Check out that third panel: “A little baby with a birthmark shaped like a flag on his chest is left on the doorstep of a flag-maker on Flag Day. It’s certainly fate.” Either that or one hell of a coincidence, which would challenge the credulity of even a Robert Ripley.

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

OK, so if they’re The Spirit of ’76, how come the one guy’s dressed in a Civil War kit?

Washington gives us a list of The Flag’s powers, but leaves out the power of flight (unless you want to count “the speed of the wind” as a euphemism for the ability to fly). All Jim must do is touch the birthmark to be instantly imbued with these powers, which doubtless will make bathing quite an interesting experience for Jim.

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

Jim decides to test some of his new powers. In light of what happens next, all I can say is that it would have been a whole lot funnier if the writers had made it a cherry tree…

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

Stepdaddy John whips up a costume for Jim, suitably patriotically-themed (but maybe it’s just because the old man’s a flagmaker and has a lot of extra red, white, and blue fabric lying around). Even though Jim’s been up all night, he evidently wasn’t up all night devising his superhero name. Just “The Flag?” Not “Captain Flag”? Not “American Flag”? Not “Ol’ Stars and Stripes”? I realize that superhero names in the 1940’s were striving to be simple and inspirational (which is why we don’t see heroes named “The Painful Rectal Itch”), but “The Flag” is just so, well, blah. But that’s not terribly surprising, though, being as all of the characters in this tale seem pretty one-dimensional (even George Washington is kind of dull).

In the last couple of panels we see that Jim/The Flag is getting some press in his new role as “America’s champion”.

The rest of the story is pretty lackluster (which is why I’ll just summarize it), involving a mock U.S. Naval exercise in which “enemy forces” somehow manage to “take over” one entire side and then use the exercise (and captured equipment) as a cover for a real Nazi invasion of the Eastern Seaboard.

There are a few cool moments, though, such as the practically obligatory scene in which one of the Boche invaders makes improper advances to a beach bunny (as the German paratroops land on the strategically vital defense locations of Coney Island, N.Y. and Wildwood, N.J.) and then gets what’s coming to him from The Flag:

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

That’s some nice composition, by the way, as The Flag zooms in from out of the panel and clocks the Hun; I’ll admit that The Flag’s couple of one-liners gave me a chuckle.

The Flag later screws up and accidentally learns something else about his powers; when his hand accidentally brushes against his chest in the middle of a fight, his powers suddenly disappear. Jim is captured and bound. But we then learn that other people can use the powers of The Flag if they touch Jim’s birthmark:

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

That’s just begging for some comment from me, but it’s way too easy. Let’s move on…

A bit later, The Flag pulls off a very impressive power stunt:

Our Flag Comics #2, October 1941

…and ultimately emerges victorious. Aside from The Flag’s origin and those couple of subsequent cool moments, it’s not a terribly memorable yarn. But the next story (from the same issue of Our Flag Comics) is a real corker, although it’s nearly ruined by the writer letting his emotions get away from him. We’ll look at it in my next post. Until then…

Have fun! – Steve

[Page scans courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum]

Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.