Not all of the adventures of “patriotic” comic book characters during the Golden Age were as heavy-handed as those of The Flag and Usa (previously considered in The Big Blog o’Fun); in fact, several showcased the virtues of the democratic ideal and tried by their example to encourage young readers to follow suit. One such feature was “Rusty Ryan and the Boyville Brigadiers” which, ironically, appeared in the same title as Usa; the first official “Boyville Brigadiers” story ran in the same Feature Comics issue (#46) as the fifth of Usa’s seven appearances.

 

Rusty himself was no newcomer to Quality’s Feature Comics; he made his debut in issue #32 as “Rusty Ryan of Boyville”. Rusty’s original concept was a cross between Boys’ Town and the popular “Hardy Boys” novels (which were introduced in 1927). Rusty lived in Boyville, a town for orphaned youth, and repeatedly became entangled in (and subsequently solved) various mysteries, often involving racketeers or other organized crime figures. Rusty’s depiction was that of an idealized American teenaged boy: he was an exceptional multi-sport athlete, a scholar with a knack for science, and a natural leader to the other boys.

 

The war clouds gathering in Europe had an effect on many a comic series in 1941, and the line of comics published by Quality was no exception. In Feature Comics #46, the “Rusty Ryan” series took a slight, but conspicuous, turn. Rusty and his five closest friends began wearing star-spangled outfits (which looked suspiciously like they’d been swiped from Captain America’s footlocker) and called themselves “The Boyville Brigadiers”. The jist of the stories didn’t change all that much; now, though, instead of solving mysteries involving run of the mill crooks and gangsters, Rusty’s foes became saboteurs and fifth columnists.

 

The protagonists of some patriotic comics of the war era weren’t really any better than the fascists they opposed (“due process” was essentially ignored and more than a few of their antagonists were punched out [or worse] based on nothing more than a difference of opinion which fell well within the right of free speech) and their adventures occasionally make for some pretty uncomfortable reading today. I’ll admit that I was braced for more of the same when I began reading the first of the Rusty Ryan “Brigadiers” adventure, being as it appeared just a few pages after one of the heavy-handed Usa features. But I was pleasantly surprised by this story: it’s very good. From Rusty’s demonstration and explanation of triangulation (a skill which a clever reader could pick up and use based on little more than what appears in the story) to his treatment of the young Nazi he encounters to his foiling the saboteurs’ plans, the story was a joy from first to last.

 

Quite a few Golden Age writers would have done well to read and (at least try to) emulate the early “Boyville Brigadiers” adventures. Rusty is clever, accomplished, and patriotic without ever resorting to being a bully. There are no corny lectures or soliloquies, no “moral of the story” at the end of the tale. Rusty doesn’t waste time bragging about being a patriot or expressing vehement outrage at the actions of the saboteurs. He just gets the job done with a minimum of fuss, and shows a great deal of compassion for his German counterpart who was just caught unaware in a larger plot he didn’t understand. Rusty doesn’t make a big deal out of being a patriot: he simply shows us the right way to do it. And in just four pages, too!

 

The page scans are courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum. You know the drill: right-click a page and open it in a new tab for easier reading.

 

Feature Comics #46, July 1941

 

Feature Comics #46, July 1941

 

Feature Comics #46, July 1941

 

Feature Comics #46, July 1941

 

Have fun! — Steve

 

Copyright 2014, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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