World War II was the most horrific event in human history, but even horrible, terrifying events can bring out the best in humanity; there were thousands of bright flashes of individual heroics on a daily basis throughout the six long years of that conflict. That was a fact not lost on American comic book publishers even before the United States entered the war, and the heroic acts (both real and fictional) of English men and women during the Battle of Britain were recognized frequently during the Golden Age of comics.

“Pat Parker, War Nurse” was one such feature – at least, it began that way. Pat’s first appearance (in Speed Comics #13) makes at least a passing attempt at realism, in which Pat is portrayed as a typical English war nurse, albeit with a surplus of courage and some mad skills in a variety of areas (medicine, swimming, constructing makeshift booby traps, and she’s one heck of a machinegunner). The whole “multi-skilled” thing reminds me very much of another Pat, one of my favorite Golden Age characters, Pat Patriot from Daredevil Comics, who could shoot, ride a horse, fly a plane, pilot an ocean freighter, operate a dock crane, go underwater in deep-sea diving gear, act, sing, and dance (though not all in the same issue). In fact, if my inner eight year old’s heart didn’t already belong to Pat Patriot I could easily develop a crush on Pat Parker, especially because I imagine Miss Parker speaking with the same delightful voice and accent as the late, lamented Elisabeth Sladen.

Pat Parker’s realistic portrayal didn’t last long. After several appearances she adopted a mask and “hot nurse” costume in her battle against spies and fifth columnists (and, incidentally from her second appearance, went from being a redhead to a brunette):

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics

The Pat Parker stories from the “hot nurse” period read very much like the Black Cat stories which also appeared in many of the same issues of Speed Comics; the two characters were so similar as to be essentially interchangeable. Consequently the editors determined that a change was needed and, since the Black Cat was by far the more popular character of the two, Pat Parker was the one who needed to change. Pat became leader of a group of fighting females from the various Allied nations, known as the Girl Commandos (she also switched from brunette to blonde somewhere along the way). It’s obvious from the design of their uniforms that the Girl Commandos were deliberately intended to be a distaff answer to National Comics’ extremely popular Blackhawk series:

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics

Unfortunately, Pat also lost much of her personality along the way. During her “hot nurse” days she had a playful demeanor (very much like the Black Cat, as noted above). Later, several issues into the “Girl Commandos” run, her dialogue fell into a trap which is common in “group” features: her lines became “cookie cutter interchangeable” with those of the supporting characters. For an excellent example of this effect, see the early Justice League adventures from the 1960’s (collected in affordable black and white form in DC’s Showcase trade paperbacks); during the League’s first several years, one can swap any word balloon from one League member to another and not affect the story one bit.

It’s thus Pat Parker’s earliest appearances which concern us here, the ones in which she’s an English nurse who just happens to experience some hair-raising adventures. The following is Pat’s first appearance, from Speed Comics #13, published in May, 1941:

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics #13 (May 1941)

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics #13 (May 1941)

We get two really great moments on this page, back to back.

The first is the little boy talking about his dad in the R.A.F. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I read the first two panels on this page, I wanted to stand up and cheer. That unnamed gutsy little blonde boy instantly became my new hero.

The second great scene is that of Pat wearily taking a break outside the cave, away from the view of the others. She’s exhausted, both physically and spiritually, but doesn’t let the others see how tired she is. What we really see here is the civilian experience during the Battle of Britain, condensed down into just three panels. Incredible stuff!

Pat’s respite doesn’t last long, as she spots fifth columnists aiding the Germans. She resourcefully finds a way to stop their messaging, and we enjoy a cool little action sequence.

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics #13 (May 1941)

This is a very short story, so the action moves along at a breakneck pace. Pat displays her bravery yet again, as she selflessly dives into the cold seawater to rescue the child.

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics #13 (May 1941)

It’s interesting to note that this is the first page so far that doesn’t end with an “action panel”. Ending a page with a panel in which all hell breaks loose is just plain good visual storytelling, because it practically forces the reader to turn the page and keep reading. Although this page’s final panel isn’t an action-filled one, it does establish a new “mini-cliffhanger”: will the British warships steer away from the German mines in time? Turn the page and find out…

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics #13 (May 1941)

Check out that first panel, in which the boy Pat rescued (the one who had a flare in his pocket) says “I’ll help too!” I’m actually kind of glad that he can’t possibly be the same blonde kid from the cave scene, because that would make him the most badass eleven year old in recorded history. The sheer overabundance of cool would have made my brain explode.

Pat displays another of her many hidden talents: she’s a pretty adept machinegunner, and she takes out one of the German fighter planes.

As an interesting side note, the next-to-last panel indicates that Pat’s hair was miscolored throughout the tale – she should have been a brunette instead of a redhead. But if you go back through the story a second time, you’ll see why that mistake was very likely deliberately made. Most of the panels have dark backgrounds, against which our protagonist would have been lost had her hair been colored correctly. The problem was fixed in the next issue of Speed Comics, in which Pat appears against lighter colored backgrounds and her hair is colored correctly:

Pat Parker, War Nurse – Speed Comics

Man, there’s just something about a woman in a tight outdoor shirt, jodhpurs, and knee-high boots…

Have fun! — Steve

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

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