I’d intended to discuss this post’s Golden Age comic tale far sooner, but became sidetracked (as often happens, plus I read far more comics than I could ever blog about in the few years I have remaining to me). A recent e-mail from the Bookworm Belle regarding my blog’s disclaimer jogged my memory on the subject of today’s post. By the way, if you’ve not yet read A Bookworm Belle, you’re in for a treat; the young lady is blessed with a gift for prose, and her blog posts contain some smart, crisp writing. I’m supposed to be a professional at this writing thing, but her talents far exceed mine.

For the background on today’s story, let’s turn back the clock to Asia in the 1930’s; throughout that decade Japan and China were at war (a conflict known today as the Second Sino-Japanese War, but which really ought to be classified as part of World War II). The Japanese invaded Manchuria in the early 1930’s, the spark which set off a war between Japan and China that didn’t end until Japan’s defeat at the hand of the Allies in 1945.

Despite the feeble attempts of modern historical revisionists to whitewash the past with mere words, it’s a documented fact that the forces of Imperial Japan were responsible for horrendous atrocities throughout the Thirties and the war years. My own father witnessed the torture and execution of Allied POWs at the hands of the Japanese. The Japanese treatment of Chinese civilians is now the stuff of horrific legend; the opening pages of The Shadow #1 (written by Garth Ennis, and published earlier this year) contain a lengthy preamble describing these atrocities:

The Shadow #1

I’ll not provide more than the first page here (seen above) since the subsequent narrative is pretty detailed and explicit. Suffice to say that the crimes perpetrated by Japanese military forces against Chinese civilians were well-documented at the time, and that the Japanese reputation for brutality was well-deserved. Perhaps the best known example is the “Rape of Nanking” from December 1937 through January 1938, the most devastating sack of a city since ancient times. It was a terrifying example of what happens when allegedly “civilized” men throw aside all moral restraint and act on base impulse – it was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness writ large. The novel Lord of the Flies is nothing by comparison. And don’t get me started on the movie Battle Royale – throw in the fact that it’s a Japanese film, and we’re suddenly exploring psychological territory that I can’t even begin to get my head around.

These atrocities were public knowledge in the United States during the war years. In light of the actions of the Japanese military against civilians, is it any wonder that illustrations like the following commonly graced the covers of Golden Age comics?

Air Fighters Comics #2

Comic book publishers of the 1940’s were, by and large, sympathetic to the plight of the Chinese (and other Asians whose nations were occupied by Japanese forces); this was a 180 degree turnaround from the pulp era of the 1930’s when the Chinese were often characterized as either “criminal masterminds” or illiterate peasants of the “coolie” vein. But old habits die hard, and despite the comparatively sympathetic treatment many comics of the war years played Chinese characters mainly for laughs.

A major exception occurred late in the war, when Rewl Publications (also known as Entwil Associates) debuted a new book in June 1944. Blazing Comics #1 was certainly guilty of some hideous racial stereotyping with its “Jun-gal” feature (in which a blonde white girl lords it overs cartoonish liver-lipped African natives), but the creators did an amazing job with their handling of the cover feature, the debut adventure of a new hero with the improbable name of The Green Turtle:

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

The Green Turtle is a costumed aviator who fights against the Japanese occupation forces in China. He appears to be Caucasian, but is the only such (arguably) Western character in the story; all of the remaining characters are either Japanese or Chinese. What makes the tale so surprising for the period is the fact that the Chinese characters are (in the main) handled in a non-stereotyped manner (aside from an occasional “fortune cookie” aphorism); their plight at the hands of the Japanese occupiers is written and drawn in a very sympathetic manner, and their visual portrayal never descends into parody.

From the “fan” standpoint, there’s a lot to love here. The Green Turtle wears a green skullcap/mask combo and a cape bearing an elaborate turtle design; from behind, the cape and skullcap make him appear as a man-sized turtle. He’s an aviator who operates from a hidden Tibetan base inside a Himalayan mountain, and his plane is an early rocket-powered jet.

Artistically, the tale is a joy – I’m especially fascinated by the turtle-faced shadows the hero casts in many of the panels. The shadow’s expression and the positioning of its claws often set the tone for a particular panel in a manner which would be impossible had a more realistic approach been used. I love the design of The Green Turtle’s jet (the “claws” at the wingtips are a great touch). And the female protagonist Ra-Ting is a genuine beauty.

The writing is pretty snappy, too. I enjoyed Burma Boy’s grimly humorous comments; they highlight his resolve to fight against the Japanese enemy without resorting to heavy-handed bitterness. The plot has a few nice twists and turns – it requires some active reading to fully appreciate what’s going on. And unlike many period comics, The Green Turtle is surrounded by an aura of mystery; although this tale constitutes his first appearance, it’s no “origin story” (although such an upcoming story is teased in the last couple of panels).

I was hopelessly hooked after the first few pages, and by the end of the tale I considered myself a true Green Turtle fan. Unfortunately, Blazing Comics didn’t last, due in part to the poor quality of many of the title’s backup features and in part to the book’s haphazard publication schedule; just five issues were published at irregular intervals between June 1944 and March 1945. After Blazing Comics #5, the Green Turtle faded into obscurity.

I heartily encourage you to take a little time and read this tale; it’s a real cracker of an adventure story! As always, you can click on a page for a larger view. Thanks to The Digital Comic Museum for the scans, and to A Bookworm Belle for the reminder.

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Blazing Comics #5, June 1944

Have fun! — Steve

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

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