A few years ago I had the great pleasure of being a working historian with the Maryland Park Service. I was hired for my knowledge of the American Civil War (and gave battlefield tours while I worked for the MPS), but was also tasked with increasing my knowledge regarding other areas of U.S. history. On weekdays I ran a museum (and occasionally filled in at a second museum) and spoke with visitors about multiple historical periods and topics: 1820’s political history, Victorian-era literature, the American Civil War (and the political arguments leading to it), and the early conservation movement (being as the Appalachian Trail passed directly through all of the parks to which I was assigned). The job also rekindled my interest in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as one of President Roosevelt’s agencies had a direct connection to my park (said rekindled interest also led directly to the primary subject matter of this blog).

When FDR was inaugurated in March 1933 the Great Depression had already ravaged the U.S. economy. Approximately a quarter of the country’s workforce was unemployed and there appeared to be no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Roosevelt quickly began to propose legislation and create executive orders designed to ameliorate the dire situation. During his first term, Roosevelt created a veritable “alphabet soup” of agencies designed to provide work and relief to the suffering unemployed. Among these were the National Recovery Act (NRA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The latter program, the CCC, was concerned primarily with conservation of natural resources and with improving public lands. A great many local, state, and national parks were created or improved through the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps. One can typically tell if a park bears signs of CCC work, as the “trademark” CCC stonework buildings and low stone walls are unmistakeable; my home county enjoys numerous parks which were built or improved by the Corps. The CCC also took on larger projects related to public lands; in my home county, the CCC completely rebuilt two historical landmarks: the Washington Monument atop South Mountain and, on the other side of the county, Fort Frederick, both of which are now part of the state park system.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was administered by the U.S. Army and was operated in some measure along military lines. Young men aged eighteen to twenty-five were admitted to the CCC, lived in military-style camps, wore surplus World War I uniforms, and were paid a monthly stipend for their work (five-sixths of which required to be sent home to their families; the “CCC boys” were able to keep a small amount for their own expenses). The CCC’s operations consisted largely of forestry work and construction projects related to public lands (such as the aforementioned park improvements and reconstruction of historical sites).

Although many of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs are still derided by some, few people speak ill of the CCC. When I was a ranger/historian and running a museum nearly ten years ago, mentioning FDR and New Deal programs such as the WPA could elicit some surprisingly virulent responses from museum visitors, but nobody ever spoke ill of the CCC; in fact, many of the people who were most hostile to the very mention of the New Deal softened considerably at the mention of the CCC (“Oh, that one’s the exception!”).

Being as our Washington Monument was reconstructed by the CCC, which in turn led to the foundation of the park, I spent a fair bit of time researching the CCC. I was even privileged to spend a few afternoons talking with the daughter of our first park superintendent, an elderly lady who’d spent her childhood living in the park, and who provided a wealth of stories and information about the CCC. Meeting her was indirectly responsible for this blog’s change of focus from gaming to 1930’s and 1940’s comics. She was just a few years younger than my late parents, and my conversations with her (along with my New Deal readings) rekindled my earlier interest in the Depression/WWII years which my mother and father had lived through.

Going back to the early days of this blog when the focus was still primarily on gaming, I shared some of the characters from a Villains and Vigilantes campaign I’d been running for my sons and one of their friends. To give the campaign a sense of history (beyond the fact that it was a “legacy” campaign based heavily on the one I’d played when I was in my early twenties), I created a set of Golden Age characters for the late 1930’s and the war years. The first character I created was Jack Victory, a “CCC boy” who’d been doused in chemicals which provided him with superhuman abilities – an origin obviously inspired by my time in the park service. In the years since, I’d often wondered why I’d never encountered such a character in period comic books: a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps who became a superhero. It seemed (at least to me) like such an obvious origin story.

Then I found one!

Long-time readers of The Big Blog o’Fun know that I have a few favorites: characters, titles, and even comic companies. While not at the top of my list, I have a definite soft spot for Centaur Publishing. Although their artwork was often sub-standard and many of the characters are downright goofy (we met The Ferret a long time ago in this blog’s virtual pages), the company was game to try nearly anything in their comics’ pages, and they were definitely not just a flash in the pan by Golden Age standards: they began publishing comics in 1936 and kept the presses running until 1942 (when the company was likely done in by wartime paper shortages).

Centaur had a few long-running titles to its credit, but by 1940 few of their newly introduced titles enjoyed any staying power. The market was just too crowded with comic book product, and the “squeeze” created by larger comic companies’ monopolistic ownership of distributing companies made it tough for a new title from a small publisher to find an audience. By mid-1941 Centaur had already seen some of their newer titles come and go after two or three issues, but they gamely continued to test new comics and characters. Liberty Scouts Comics debuted with a cover date of June 1941. It was intended as a bi-monthly adventure comic anthology; its contents consisted primarily of superheroes, spies, and other government agents fighting saboteurs, fifth columnists, and Nazi infiltrators. It lasted two issues, then morphed into a new title (Man of War Comics) which also lasted two issues.

The second issue of Liberty Scouts Comics presented the origin of The Fire-Man, a “CCC boy” who discovered accidentally that he had the power to control fire. His origin story uses a trope familiar to longtime readers of The Big Blog o’Fun: a beautiful young girl is kidnapped by a relative to be used as a test subject for evil experiments, and is rescued by the tale’s hero. That kind of thing used to happen all the time in classical myth, in well-known legends, and in fairy tales; given the comparative frequency of child abuse cases perpetrated by a close relative, these tales may have served as cautionary warnings to children. It’s doubtful that The Fire-Man’s publishers had any such lofty goal, but this story’s yet another case of classic literature’s influence on Golden Age comics.

Plus it features the CCC!

As always, right-click on a page to open it in a new tab or window if you’d like a larger view. The page scans are courtesy of Comic Book Plus.

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Liberty Scouts Comics #2, June 1941

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2017, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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