Monday, January 4, 2016
Daredevil Battles Hitler #1 Review and *SPOILERS*—Just For the Hell Of It Mondays
Creators: Bob Davis, Charles Biro, Bob Wood, Jack Cole, Victor Pazmino
Published By: Lev Gleason
Cover Price: 10 cents
Cover Date: July 1941
*Non-Spoilers and Score At The Bottom*
I know my tens of readers are probably sick of me dragging some weird, obscure comic books into the spotlight for Just For the Hell Of It Mondays, so this week I decided to pick a character that’s everyone’s favorite: Daredevil! You know Daredevil! Fighter for justice! Righter of wrongs! Snazzy dresser with a two-tone body suit and spiked belt! What’s what? Oh, you must be thinking of that other Daredevil, the blind lawyer that hardly anyone knows about. I’m talking about the original Daredevil from the Golden Age of comics, who first appeared in Silver Streak Comics before getting his own title—and this is a review of the first issue! Read on!
Lev Gleason was a publisher most famous for producing the true crime comic book Crime Does Not Pay, which was singled out as being particularly damaging by Dr. Frederic Wertham in his comics-denouncing book Seduction of the Innocent. Before Crime Does Not Pay, however, he produced a number of superhero comics that sold briskly alongside issues of Captain Marvel and All-Star Comics in its day. Our hero Daredevil first debuted in Silver Streak #6, but quickly proved popular enough to support his own title—in the anthology style, of course. What we have here is essentially an issue of Silver Streak, which had stories featuring characters from Lev Gleason’s stable, but in Daredevil Battles Hitler #1 they all feature Daredevil as well. So let’s meet this colorful cast of characters, shall we?
Our first story, titled Daredevil Battles Hitler, opens with Daredevil himself infiltrating Adolf Hitler’s mountain lair by punching out a few guards and stealing one of their uniforms. That’s Daredevil’s power, by the way: the ability to punch people in the face and be a bad-ass. D. Devil sneaks into Hitler’s war room, where he announces that a crystal ball has advised that the Nazi army should attack Britain. Hey, he used the same political advisor Ronald Reagan used! The Undersecretary for the Department of Fortune Telling says that Hitler shouldn’t try an attack without aid from Mussolini—their partnership would have been recently-cemented prior to the creation of this comic book—and Hitler responds by smashing the crystal ball over his head. Just then a guard in his underwear shows up and outs Daredevil, who then punches the shit out of everyone and runs away.
Daredevil stumbles upon a secret airport, where he steals a plane and flies over to London to meet Winston Churchill. There, he meets with Silver Streak himself and his falcon pal Whiz, who doesn’t seem to impress anyone despite being able to speak English. Because there hasn’t been any action in about five panels, Silver Streak hunts down some Fifth Columnist spy in a domino mask and punches him out. Later, after consulting a new crystal ball and new fortune teller, Hitler learns that the best day to blitz London will be the 15th of whatever month they are in. Hitler has his Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, float a rumor to the press that the Nazis are advancing on the Suez Canal, in hopes that it will draw the United Kingdom’s Naval forces away and leave London prone to attack. I love the depiction of Goebbel’s office, with posters reading “don’t fail to mention Hitler’s name at least once in each sentence,” and “the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.” I like to imagine young Nazi copy boys running up to Goebbels with their fluff pieces on Nazi superiority, and Joseph taking them under his wing like “You say that we have a fleet of a thousand tanks at our disposal. Is that really the biggest lie you can put out there? Can’t we have ten thousand tanks in our military? Good effort, kid, but punch it up a bit.”
After this, things go fairly haywire in the story in a series of panels that allow the artist to draw some really awesome planes and battleships. England, knowing about Goebbel’s ruse, sends a small fleet to the Suez Canal, but keeps most of its forces in Britain. The Nazis attempt their blitz and successfully bomb the shit out of London, but Daredevil and Silver Streak, who is flying a plane and shooting Nazi pilots in the face, send the Nazis on retreat before they can cruise up the Thames and storm Big Ben or whatever. At the end, Churchill says London is totaled but he thanks the spandex-clad Americans for their service because, let’s face it, Americans are fucking crazy and you don’t want to piss them off if you can help it.
The next story is a little—oh what’s the phrase I’m looking for here—fucking racist as hell. It’s titled The Claw Double-Crosses Hitler, and it features one-time Silver Streak villain the Claw, who is like a gigantic Chinese monster wizard that is scary as shit. We begin with Hitler, who looks like a G.I. Joe action figure next to the Claw, appealing to his fanged majesty to collude with the Nazis in their collusion with the Japanese to repel the British at Singapore. In the name of evil, the Claw agrees and, as a show of good faith, breaks a dam and drowns a Chinese village. Hearing of Hitler and Claw’s new friendship on the radio, Daredevil takes off in a plane and shoots down a Chinese pilot, then jumps from his plane to the other in order to impersonate a member of the Claw’s army. I mean, holy shit. I suppose this is why they don’t call him Safety Devil. Best part is, Daredevil doesn’t even steal the Chinese officer’s uniform, he just flies down to the Claw’s camp and tells everyone he’s got the official word from on high, despite wearing the most conspicuous uniform since the Technicolor Dream Coat.
After that, Daredevil sends around the wrong orders and gets the Chinese to bomb the Japanese, then the Japanese bomb the Chinese, then Daredevil saves Singapore from the raging Claw, who then turns his ire on Adolf Hitler and beats him up a bit. Hitler offers the Claw a bunch of money so the Claw swims him back to Germany, and Daredevil watches them disappear over the horizon, fairly well chuckling about it.
I worry that when you read the title of the next story, Fighting Hitler and His Jungle Hordes, you might think that this one is going to be very culturally insensitive to Africans and black people worldwide. Well, I’ve got good news for you: there are no non-white people featured in this story (that takes place in Africa) at all. See? No controversy here! Daredevil teams up with Tarzan analogue Lance Hale to stop Hitler from taking over British colonies in the region and possibly instating a fair government. Daredevil decides to try a carefully-formulated plan that involves him storming into Hitler’s bamboo hut and punching the living crap out of everyone. After punching about two dozen people, Daredevil is finally subdued and brought before a firing squad the next morning, but Lance storms an elephant through the camp which mauls everyone to soggy pulps. Hitler is hanging out in a tank so Lance shoots an arrow that shears off his mustache somehow, then Daredevil swings down on a vine, grabs Adolf by the collar and—you guessed it—punches him in the face. Then Lance Hale and Daredevil practically bully Hitler for a couple of pages before he gets fed up and flies away in a plane, just as his munitions are destroyed by one of Hale’s arrows, in line with the adage, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but one arrow can explode a stockpile of munitions."
Next up, Daredevil joins boy inventor Dickie Dean to take down the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Goebbels in the Case of the Secret Code Machine. Boy inventor? Were these people starved for ideas back in the day? For fuck’s sake, the competition has a guy outrunning locomotives and throwing sedans around like they’re made of newspaper and this outfit has a “boy inventor.” The character is sort of an amalgam of Billy Batson and Scribbly Jibbet, with some members of Kirby and Simon’s Newsboy Legion thrown in for good measure. What’s interesting here is that this is a full year before the U.S. will enter the war, but clearly the people involved in writing these comics were well aware of the main players in the Nazi Party as well as information about Nazi military maneuvers and intentions. I couldn’t explain one damn thing about foreign policy today but in the 1940s everyone was a pundit.
Dickie Dean has invented a special decoder so great, they send him unattended to England so Winston Churchill can see it. Is there a reason Dickie Dean had to be sent overseas by himself? He is a boy inventor, after all, and he’s essentially being sent to the front line. Almost immediately upon arriving, Nazis beat the crap out of him and some chums, then Daredevil shows up and beats them up, then they get captured and escape and Daredevil beats the tar out of everyone. What’s notable in this story is the finale: Daredevil kidnaps Joseph Goebbels and delivers him bound head-to-toe in rope to Adolf Hitler with a snarky message.
Next, in Daredevil and Cloud Curtis Wreck Goering’s Sky-Fighters, Daredevil and Lev Gleason’s aerialist character Cloud Curtis do precisely what the title implies. They face off against Hermann Goering—Curtis calls him “Fatso Hermann”—described as Hitler’s right-hand man who heads the Nazi Air Force. This story has Daredevil pulling an incredibly daring move that has to be seen to believed:
That’s right: he jumps from one plane to the wing of another, pries open the cockpit’s canopy, and punches the pilot right in the face. Again. Clearly, the Allies should have employed this face-punching strategy since there seems to be no defense against it. Later, Cloud Curtis and Goering get into a dogfight, which causes Fatso Hermann to bail out of his plane and right into a muddy pigpen. It all ends rather abruptly and strangely, depicting Goering about to kill himself out of shame but then Daredevil and Curtis observe that he’s changed his mind as they fly away in the next panel.
In the final story directly involving Daredevil, titled Daredevil and Pirate Prince vs. Von Roeder, Nazi Sea Raider—how many stories are in this thing, anyway? And this was only a dime? You pay four bucks for a comic book today, you’d be lucky the know the names of all the principal characters. A caption tells us Von Roeder was a big deal during World War I and was promoted to Admiral under Hitler’s regime. Strangely, I can’t find anything about him through a Google search—there was a battleship called the Dietrich von Roeder—but he is a character in the Marvel Universe, used sparingly as one of Namor’s foils. This story is fairly cut-and-dry: Hitler commands Von Roeder to destroy all the ships in the English Channel, and Daredevil and the Pirate Prince humiliate the hell out of Admiral Von Roeder.
The final story in this book doesn’t involve Daredevil, but it’s probably the most interesting one. It’s titled Man of Hate, and it’s the mostly-accurate story of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power as the dictator of Germany. It’s drawn differently (and, for the most part, pretty well) from the rest of the book, and features some dynamic full-page layouts, one of which I have included below:
There’s not a ton to say about this story that hasn’t been covered already. It has two pages of text depicting Adolf’s early life, but then goes into some fairly gory and shocking four-color pages that depict Hitler’s violent rise to power. I thought it was interesting to see mention of the Nazi concentration camps; the discovery of these camps at the end of World War II is sometimes described as a big surprise to the Allies, but while the writer of this story may not have known about the genocidal activities happening within, he certainly knew of their existence and that people were being brutally tortured there.
That about wraps it up for Daredevil Battles Hitler #1. There never was a Daredevil Battles Hitler #2, though his comic book did continue on to issue #70 in 1950. This is most interesting as a slice of history, and helps describe the face-punching feelings many Americans had for Adolf Hitler prior to the United States’ involvement in World War II. The art is crude, the stories are ridiculous, but you get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of action and high-flying stunts. And punching, there’s plenty of punching. Sometimes Daredevil throws a boomerang, but only to distract you for the inevitable face punch.
Bits and Pieces
It would not be fair to judge this comic book against the standards of today—unfair to today’s comics, that is! You can stuff your superhero angst and secret identity shenanigans in a sock, because the action and fun in this book is more compelling than a million multiversal crises. If your superhero isn’t jumping onto the wing of a flying plane and punching the pilot in the face, then you need a better superhero. The art is what we’d call “primitive,” but the plotting and panel layouts are expertly done, and far easier to read than a lot of the pages I see in modern comics, which look like a deck of cards spread randomly. The title of this comic is Daredevil Battles Hitler, and that’s exactly what he does: on land, air and sea, and he even brings his Silver Streak Comics pals along for the party. This is great Golden Age fun, and if you’re inclined to read such material you should check it out.