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Saturday, May 10, 2014

World War II American Comics Versus Japan - 7

In today's installment of American propaganda during World War II versus their enemy Japan, let's take a look at a comic book character I bet none of you have ever seen or heard of before…. The Hangman.

From the same folks who brought you Archie and the gang from Riverdale, comes this macabre sounding hero who (since I have never read one of his comics( is considered to be a bad mouth hero who took no prisoners.

Appearing in Hangman Comics published by MLJ Magazines Inc., this graphically-violent comic book was published for seven issues between Spring 1942 and Fall 1943.

Unlike nowadays when publishers take extreme glee in publishing multiple cover versions of a first issue (each cover will feature a different artist and is offered in successive rare availability, this comic book actually started as Hangman #2, a 68-page comic book (I believe we are at around 24-pages of art nowadays)… which began life originally as Special Comics #1, featuring the Hangman and other characters.

Hangman Comics, quite naturally featured Hangman, a masked superhero who first appeared in Pep Comics #17 (July 1941), continued to appear there in his own feature during and after Hangman Comics run.

Archie Andrews (no relation), that lovable redheaded boy who can never make up his mind between Betty and Veronica (Betty is so honest you would have to marry her, but Veronica is just twisted enough-in a good way - that she would still sleep with him while he was married to Betty) - anyhow, Archie first appeared in Pep Comics #22.

In Hangman Comics, Hangman had his own three stories per issue, usually subtitled 'Special Case Number xx' , and there was usually a text story in most issues. These text stories were last seen by me in Charlton Comics from the 1980s, but in greater numbers during the 1970s via Gold Key comics. I hated'em. It's a comic book - give me pictures!

Anyhow, it appears that in order to get a lower cost postal rate as a 'magazine', comic books could satisfy the good old U.S. Postal service by adding a text adventure.

Most of the Hangman stories were drawn by Paul Reinman, Bob Fujitami, Harry Lucey (who also drew the covers for issues #2-5) and Irv Novick.

Novick is the only artist I am familiar with thanks to the reprints I read of his 1950s DC comics war stories and his mid-1980s work on Batman, The Flash and Superman stories.

In the above comic book cover, we see Hangman Comics, Vol. 1 #3, with a cover date of July 1942, but was probably out at the newsstands a couple of months earlier. With the later cover date, it was supposed to 'trick' sellers that the book was still current - though I'm pretty sure everyone caught on after a few months. Still, as far as I am aware, this trend of publishing dates continues today.

The Hangman #3 cover is drawn by Harry Lucey, and shows the Hangman punching a Nazi German officer and about to be split in two by an axe-wielding maniac. You can see that Hangman is hopefully about to be spared being cleaved in two by one of the boy side-kicks that appears in his own story in the book.

A very yellow-skinned Japanese officer/scientist manipulates controls that appear to be causing a capsule containing the hot blonde-haired, blue-eyed American woman in the low-hanging negligee, to be filled up with what I can only hope is water. Another American boy hero is trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

These two sidekicks are part of another feature called "Boy Buddies". Wow. Was 'Girlfriends' already being used?

In the other capsules to the left, we see what appears to be alien creatures.

It's all so horrible.

The propaganda in this cover is to make the Japanese scientist look less than human and totally evil. The fact that he has no visible eyes also is done to accentuate the Japanese 'look'

Showing the average Nazi officer being smashed by the hero - that also shows weakness… But having the hero about to be killed by a Nazi super-villain? That's just good marketing.

I only question two things:

1) The villain with the axe - how the hell are we to take him seriously? yeah, he has the bold and scary Nazi cross on his chest and face mask… but you Japanese know that the 'swastika' is actually a Buddhist symbol seen in temples, right? How bad could that be?

But what's with the blue fedora and red cape? And don't even get me started on the over-sized yellow gloves! Where the hell does one purchase yellow gloves?

2) Why would we, as red-blooded (North)American readers want to see the Japanese scientist stopped? Check it out. He's adding water to the chamber that contains a hot, curvy blonde with big boobs who's wearing naughty undergarments! Why would we not want to see her get more wet? Come on, you evil Japanese bastard! At least get the water up to her neck so we can see some nipples or the now moist outline of her rock and roll hoochie-coo!

On this cover we also the tag line above the Hangman comics banner: Nazis and Japs, you rats! The Hangman is everywhere!

Hmm… if you are going to rhyme 'Japs' and 'rats' then why not the rest of the line?

And "the Hangman is everywhere"? Boooring. How about the simple: Beware the Hangman!

Okay… let's take a brief look at the three stories in Hangman #3. First off, that Nazi-faced Nazi with the axe? That's Captain Swastika (I believe Fawcett Comics already had Captain Nazi fighting the original SHAZAM-screeching Captain Marvel). If you read my description of the first story below, you'll see why I mention Captain Swastika at all

The Executioner: art: John Cassone, edited by Harry Shorten
Terror Strikes Twice: art by John Cassone
The Missionary: art by Irv Novick.

In the story called "The Executioner", the villains are: The Executioner and some Japanese. The story takes place in San Francisco, California, US, and also in Japan. After kidnapping the Chinese Legation, the Executioner starts killing people.

The Executioner is a huge bloodthirsty agent for the Japanese. He has Japan's 'rising sun' emblem on his shirt and on his AXE that he uses to behead all his foes.

Again with the AXE? Really? Couldn't he use a samurai sword? More Japanese and less Huck Finn. This is why artists should almost never write their own stories.

In the second story, 'Terror Strikes Twice': The Executioner returns to U.S. soil to hunt down the Hangman, but he is quickly sent to prison where he meets his new friend — Captain Swastika.

Anyhow, the axe-wielding Executioner eventually teams up with Captain Swastika I hope he's not using an axe) to get revenge on the Hangman.

In the third story, 'The Missionary': While behind bars, the Missionary listens to the confessions of the prisoners, and squeals on them. Due to his "good" behavior the prison warden lets him free. Now the Germans want to enlist his help in spreading some Nazi propaganda. No Japanese in this one, but I found it interesting that war put the Missionary in such an awkward position.

Anyhow, Hangman pretty much just battled Nazi's… which is probably why the book died at issue #8.

With issue #9, Hangman Comics was retitled Black Hood Comics, while keeping the numbering.

Hangman, however did not appear in that book, though the Boy Buddies did, at least for the first three issues.

Hangman… he continued to appear in Pep Comics.

That's all for now.
Andrew Joseph

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