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Saturday, April 5, 2014

World War II American Comics Versus Japan - 4

During the days of World War II, with the Allies facing off against the terrible threesome of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, propaganda was a very important aspect of the fight--for every country, regardless of what side they were fighting on.

It was also seen as important to have the kids involved as there were few families not affected by a brother or father marching of to war to fight the Axis.

Comics books and cartoons were seen as an effective means to distribute such propaganda in the United States.

The American cartoons are nearly too numerous to mention (maybe I'll try one day), but comic books… they seem a bit easier to track and present—at least as far as my premise regarding Japan.

Plenty of comic books abound of superheroes messing with the Germans, but there appears to be a slightly fewer amount where they go up agains the Japanese… just a bit.

I think that may have been due to the fact that any war story presented about Japan could only take place on the water with ships or in the air with planes… but dammit… no tanks… no desert locales… no villages or cities… just jungles… and bullets flying between palm trees.

Still, many comic book companies did their patriotic duty.

Companies such as Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) and Fawcett had no problem in having their super-heroes battle the Axis… but National Periodicals (later DC Comics - after Batman's Detective Comics)… this was a rarity.

DC felt that if they showed a superhero like Superman defeating a squadron of Japanese in a story, then kids might wonder why Superman isn't fighting the Germans, as well (he is Superman, after all). He's supposed to be so strong and powerful, how could mere bullets harm him?

The war, with Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Batman, The Spectre, Dr. fate and Batman, should be over in hours.

Little Jimmy's soldier brother would be alive…

Ah… and there's the rub… DC Comics didn't want to confuse its customers… why couldn't the heroes end the war in a few hours… and if they did… well.. why is the real war still going on in real life? Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

So DC Comics pretty much had its characters stay out of the WWII, but would, ever once in a while, create a cover to inspire American patriotism in the global war, usually encouraging readers to support the Allied war effort by purchasing War Bonds And Stamps. 

The cover above is one such example… Batman Comics #18, cover dated August 1943 showing Batman and sidekick Robin smiling as the huge explosive firework they left behind explodes, catching (from left): Tojo Hideki (surname first), Japan's 40th Prime Minister who was key in the attack on Pear Harbor and initiating the war between the U.S. and Japan; der Fuehrer Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany; and Benito Mussolini who ruled Italy as Prime Minister from 1922 until his ouster in 1943.

Drawn by Dick Sprang (which only sounds like a made-up name), this must be one of the worst pieces of art I have ever seen on a DC or Marvel comic book. Ever.

Sprang is a decent artist, but Batman #18 was his first ever work on Batman. The main issue I see here is that the artwork was re-produced from artwork in Detective Comics #84 (published in 1944) - from page 13… which tells you just how long DC held onto the story drawn by Sprang before finally releasing it.
Batman's 1st appearance in Detective Comics #27 shows a grittier Batman than what we see from Dick Sprang above.
Although Bob Kane, the creator of Batman with writer Bill Finger, was the main artist, until 1943 when he left the book to work on the Batman newspaper strip, other artists who contributed to the comic book were uncredited. Kane's work is dark and moody (see image above), while Sprang… I've always found his work more comedic and light in appearance.

Batman #18 is a perfect example of this.

I'll still give kudos to Sprang and DC for at least being consistent with the way it profiled the enemy in its comics. Yes, the heroes are always thrashing them, but they are not drawn looking like howling, ugly ogres or animals…

Next time, I'll look at a more serious cover from DC Comics and World War II.

Andrew Joseph

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