Three months ago I offered a post about the influence of Alexandre Dumas’ work on Golden Age comic writers and their tales. Today I introduce Exhibit B to the argument.
You’ll recall from our last post that André, one of the seven “core” Blackhawks, died in the team’s third comic book appearance; I also mentioned in that post that many otherwise fine comic book historians and bloggers repeatedly write that he “mysteriously” reappeared later, seeming to indicate that he was just dropped back into the book with no explanation. That’s simply not true; while his reappearance did center on a mystery, it was one which was well-explained and, in fact, drove the plot of a multi-issue story arc in Military Comics during 1942.
Six issues after André’s emotional demise, the team revisits the site of his death on their fallen comrade’s birthday. This gathering sparks a story which reintroduced André to the book, a tale which cribbed liberally from the aforementioned Alexandre Dumas (with more than a touch of Gaston Leroux thrown in for good measure).
What a great splash panel! Many of Chuck Cuidera’s opening panels look like they should’ve been covers.
The narration at the top of the page puts the lie to the oft-repeated notion that Golden Age comics had no “internal consistency” from issue to issue. (I hear that claim a lot from Marvel fans, who also like to repeat the old saw about Marvel inventing the “shared universe” concept in the 1960’s. Both inaccuracies have previously been shot down in bright red flames in this blog, the “shared universe” one being blasted by two examples during the same month last October, in the pair of posts regarding Captain Nazi, as well as in the five post series concerning Daredevil vs. The Claw.)
And here’s the point at which the story’s author (said to be Dick French) starts riffing on Dumas. Of course, The Man in the Iron Mask is one of Alexandre Dumas’ most famous works (eclipsed only by The Three Musketeers, to which Iron Mask is directly connected by the presence of the character D’Artagnan in both novels). The Man in the Iron Mask can loosely be considered historical fiction, as the germ of the tale is a true story. A mysterious masked prisoner was held in French captivity for more than thirty years in the late seventeenth century; his identity has never been discovered, though in the novel Dumas made him the twin brother of King Louis XIV.
Just a brief aside here about Chop-Chop while I’m thinking about it: a few issues before this, he was referred to as being just a boy. So Chops is effectively the Blackhawks’ “kid sidekick” (a trope which was used increasingly in comics as the 1940’s progressed).
The mysterious stranger is plainly called “The Man in the Iron Mask” right there on the page.
Poor Hendrickson! Two guys sitting on him and the water (and snakes!) rising.
The page composition is tricky here: what look like the last six panels are actually the last three panels. It’s clever stuff; Chuck Cuidera makes the floor look like the gutter between panels.
Honestly I did not mean to laugh at the first panel of this page, but that same bit was played for laughs years later in a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon. I feel kind of bad about it.
The story’s big secret is revealed in the page’s last panel. But why would André ask Blackhawk not to say his name (in the penultimate panel)?
And we finally learn the reason for André’s shame and discomfort.
If you’re going to crib from one famous author, why not crib from two? Dick French does a neat swipe from Gaston Leroux, author of The Phantom of the Opera, a dreadful potboiler from which Hollywood was able to salvage a real classic: the original silent film version which starred the great Lon Chaney, Sr. As you’re doubtless aware, the title character was a madman who wore a mask to hide his facial deformity (and who popped in and out of secret doors and passages honeycombing the Paris Opera House, much as André does in this story’s castle).
The whole swipe thing is almost too neat here. A writer named French, writing about a Frenchman, swipes from two famous French novels. You have to appreciate the sheer chutzpah – it’d be impossible to make this up.
And so the plot thickens. André still has a faint hope in the person of this mad doctor – but will it turn out to be a false hope? We’ll discover the answer in the next post to the Big Blog o’Fun. Until then…
Have fun! — Steve
Fans of Blackhawk and the Hideouts and Hoodlums roleplaying game will find my writeup for Blackhawk (and an essay on the character’s history from 1941 to the present) in Supplement IV – Captains, Magicians, and Incredible Men Part II, available for purchase at RPGNow!
Copyright 2013, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.