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Patriotic Comic Covers

by Gerald "Capt Gerry" Wilson

(Writer's Note: The "Capt" is a title I picked up while doing stand-up comedy.)

The phrase "Truth, Justice and the American way" used on the Adventures of Superman TV series of the 1950s actually draws its origin from World War II. The Man of Steel was very visible in his patriotism. The covers of Action Comics #43 and #54 show him fighting a Nazi paratrooper and destroying a U-boat, respectively.

The covers of Superman's own book have such themes, too For example, Superman #12 shows him marching with a sailor and a soldier, #14 with a shield and an eagle, #17 with Hitler and Tojo, and #26 showing him keeping Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels from a microphone while he rings the Liberty Bell.

That brings us to two very distinctive heroes--Liberty Belle, who debuted in Boy Commandos #1 the moved to Star Spangled Comics with #20, and Mr. America, who debuted in Action Comics #33. Mr. America later became the Americommando but he only appeared on one cover, Action Comics # 52. He shared the cover with Superman and the magazine's other stars such as Vigilante and Zatara. Liberty Belle was not on a cover until the Roy Thomas written All-Star Squadron in the 1980s.

Only one Detective Comics cover, #65, had a war-related angle as Batman and Robin welcomed the Boy Commandos (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) to the book. According to The Kirby Collector, the strip debuted in Detective Comics #64, and then moved to World's Finest before getting its own title in the winter of 1942. That was a status Simon and Kirby's other features, Sandman (in Adventure) and The Newsboy Legion (Star Spangled) did not achieve. And the cover of #24 featured a story called "Up, Up and Away" in which Brooklyn is shown flying in a Superman costume.

The Newsboy Legion took over the cover of Star Spangled Comics, replacing the Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy, beginning with Star Spangled Comics #6. The Legion engaged in the most varied array of activities of any heroes during the war. While the Sandman and Sandy (in one instance with Manhunter) were shown in battle three times on Adventure Comics covers, the Newsboy Legion prepped a bomb for Hitler (31) and touted the 7th War Loan (47). They also harvested a victory garden while chasing crooks in #25's "Victuals for Victory" and clobbered a Japanese soldier with model planes on the cover of #38.

Star Spangled Comics #4

The cover of Comic Cavalcade #6 showed Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash leading a waste paper drive. DC's All-American Comics had a shield emblem in addition to its logo for its first 15 issues. That changed with Green Lantern's debut in #16 but Red, White, and Blue continued as a feature.

For its first two issues, All Star Comics was an anthology, but beginning with All Star #3, the title was home to the Justice Society of America. All Star Comics had the most war-related covers, and for example, in issues 10-19, they fought the Black Dragon menace, helped get food for starving patriots, and fought for a united America.

The cover of All Star #24 had the JSA appearing in a title story called "This is Our Enemy" where the team (including Wildcat and Mr. Terrific--my favorite Golden Age hero) fought Germans in various historic eras. It was the last war-related All Star cover and Mr. Terrific's only All Star appearance.

The war's patriotic covers also affected the manner in which certain heroes were portrayed. Batman, for example, who did not use a gun in his stories, was shown using a machine gun with Robin's help on the cover of Batman #15. The readers were asked to "Keep Those Bullets Flying! Keep on buying war bonds and stamps!" The cover of #17 showed them riding an eagle and saying "Keep the American Eagle Flying! Buy War bonds and stamps." And the next issue was even more direct. Its cover showed Batman and Robin using a giant firecracker to blow up Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini.

That brings us to World's Finest Comics, which actually began life as a pair of comics put out for the New York's World Fair in 1939 and 1940. The 1940 issue showed Superman, Batman, and Robin together on the cover. That trend continued when World's Best Comics was introduced in the Spring of 1941. It became World's Finest Comics with the second issue. After the war started, the cover featured the trio in war-related activities, including harvesting a victory garden on the cover of #11. The only exception to this was World's Finest #10, which showed the book's top stars on the cover's top half while the bottom featured Green Arrow, the Boy Commandos, the Star Spangled Kid, and Stripesy.

After the golden age ended, patriotic covers continued to appear, but with reduced frequency. The Brave and The Bold did several war-related issues starting with issue 52's Joe Kubert drawn cover featuring Sgt. Rock, Johnny Cloud and Jeb Stuart. Patriotic covers were also sported on Brave and the Bold # 84 (a Golden Age Batman-Sgt. Rock team-up), #144 (the Unknown Soldier), and #167 (Blackhawk). Sgt. Rock's appearance in an issue of Showcase (outside of his usual Our Army At War venue) and Superman's "meeting" with Sgt. Rock in DC Comics Presents #10 are two other examples of patriotic covers.

Superman (with Krypto) appeared on the cover of the latest patriotic cover I've seen -- DC's tribute to the heroes of September 11. The cover is an Alex Ross paintingpatterned after The Big All-American Comic Book published near the end of World War II.

Gerry Wilson, a former stand-up comic and born again Christian, is the Golden Age humor expert for Fanzing. (Nobody else wanted the job.) He and his wife, Amy, have a pet cat--Jeremy--and a pet rat, Daphne.

 
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