Seventy-one years after the fact, it’s difficult for us to imagine the anger most Americans felt after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The only modern analogue is the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but while the renewed national patriotic spirit from the latter event seemed to dissipate within the span of a few months, the American anger and desire to beat the Japanese after Pearl Harbor lasted for nearly four years.

As a result the comics began to turn their collective attention toward the Japanese after December 1941. Before the U.S. entry into the war, the European fascist powers were the main targets of comic book publishers (for reasons already explored in this blog: many comic book publishers, editors, writers, and artists were either Jewish European immigrants or their children); Hitler and Mussolini were frequently villified and/or lampooned in the pre-war comics. But after Pearl Harbor the Japanese also received that treatment in the four color press.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I’m a sucker for a good team-up story; a couple of such tales from Golden Age comics were presented here during October of this year. I’ve recently discovered yet another one, surprisingly buried in the middle of a 1942 comic and presented with little ballyhoo even on the book’s own cover. Family Comics (later to become Harvey Comics) had been publishing a very cool title called Speed Comics since late 1939 and, over the course of three years, the book had developed an impressive stable of heroic characters (some of whom have been featured in this blog): Shock Gibson, Captain Freedom, The Black Cat, Ted Parrish (movie actor and master of disguise), plus Pat Parker (one of my favorites) and her Girl Commandos.

Some brainy mug at Family thought it would be cool to team all of these characters together in a single story, and so it was that in the October 1942 issue of Speed Comics the whole kit’n’kaboodle appeared in a mega team-up tale. Oddly, the story wasn’t heavily promoted – heck, it’s barely even mentioned on the book’s cover:

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

It’s interesting to note that the cover promotes the tale as a Captain Freedom story, but inside the book it’s actually The Black Cat who’s the star of the show. It’s doubly interesting because she was the newest of all the characters featured in the story; perhaps this was an attempt to increase The Black Cat’s popularity? She’s the catalyst (no pun intended) behind the tale, the heroine who rallies the troops together, so it’s probably nothing more than this which caused the story to be presented as a Black Cat tale.

This story’s fun lies in seeing how a small group of heroes, most of whom are non-powered “normals”, thwarts the Japanese invasion of Los Angeles by tricking the enemy into beating themselves. While a Japanese invasion of L.A. seems silly to us today (especially so due to the Spielberg mega-bomb 1941), it didn’t seem terribly ridiculous at the time this story was published. The idea of a Japanese invasion is much more logical than the rumors which circulated in the aftermath of 9/11, a time when numerous people of my acquaintance were seeing terrorists lurking behind every lamppost: “Don’t go to the mall Thanksgiving weekend! Terrorists are going to blow it up!” (As though a major terrorist organization a half-world away would see a semi-rural shopping mall which draws maybe a couple thousand shoppers over a ten hour span on a good day as a plum target for an attack. Riiiiiight…)

And, make no mistake, this story is fun. Unlike many comic bloggers who seem to hate everything they read, I actually enjoy this stuff. Ain’t nothin’ like a good old-fashioned rip-roaring comic book team-up story…

As always, right-click on a page and open it in a new tab for a larger view.

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Speed Comics #23, October 1942

Pages scans courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum.

Have fun! — Steve

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

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