Friday, April 01, 2016

Number 1874: Liberating the Liberator

The blog, A Dispensable List of Comic Book Lists, lists the origins of American patriotic superheroes, including the Liberator:

First appearance: Exciting Comics #15 (Nedor, 12/41). The details of Liberator’s origin story don’t suggest much of a patriotic motive for his actions: chemistry professor Nelson Drew discovers an ancient Egyptian formula that temporarily gives him superhuman strength, speed, invulnerability, and the ability to hold his breath for an extended length of time. But that was the 1940s for you: you get superpowers, you cut up a flag for your costume, you go out and kick the asses of whatever fifth columnists you could find, including X-3, the ‘diabolical Nazi spy and man of a thousand faces!’ His final Golden Age appearance took place in Exciting Comics #35 (10/44), but like a lot of other public-domain superheroes he was revived by Alan Moore for his 1999 Tom Strong series. A guy could do a lot worse than end up in an Alan Moore story.

This is the Liberator’s first appearance, and is not an origin story as such. Nedor didn’t spend their valuable paper ration on long-winded explanations of the pseudo-science needed for making ordinary people into super people. They just got right to that ass kicking the above short article mentions. It is best not to think too much about it anyway.

No credits are given by the Grand Comics Database for writing or art .


Daniel [] said...

Dunno. Annabel seems quite … formidable, and apparently without any ancient Ægyptian anything. This story seems to be written by a guy who hadn't been longing for the attention of a cheerleader, but for that of some tomboy. I can relate more easily to someone who wants an efficacious woman as such than to one who wants a cheerleader as such. (When I found that a woman who walked away with my heart had been, half-a-lifetime earlier, a high-school cheerleader, I was yet more unsettled by an already unsettling attraction.)

But it doesn't seem very satisfying to have a complementary efficacy handed to one in the form of a discovered potion, the effects of which apparently wore-off some time after each ingestion. [Insert Viagra joke here.] Dr Drew is never really the Liberator in the same way as Clark Kent is really Superman, nor did Drew develop the means of his temporary transformation. At best, having Annabel fall for the Liberator would be like having a girl loved by Billy Batson fall for Captain Marvel.

Given that the authorities let Dr Drew keep his belt and neck-tie in jail, one should not be surprised that Annabel was able to smuggle drugs to him. But where, 'zactly, did the guards think that Drew went when they inferred that the Liberator helped him to escape? And, why would the Liberator help a wrongly accused man escape when, ultimately, the fellow would have to be confined somewhere until his innocence were proved?

It's interesting to encounter a comic book released just week before the war, in which the sympathies plainly lean towards support for Britain, yet reject war-time censorship and the thuggery of some pro-war activists.

Brian Barnes said...

That's great art for a 40s superhero story. There's a lot of action, the panels aren't static and movement is evident.

The story is, as with most of these, pretty dumb, but the art is really surprising. Kind of wish we knew who it was! I really liked the totally out of place transformation; very Mr. Hyde, to the point I wonder if it was traced or at least photo referenced.

The Liberator's invulnerability is pretty random, isn't it? He's got the weight and the power to smash through a boulder -- no easy feat -- and can take a direct spray of machine gun fire. Yet he's afraid of a fall ... and gets knocked out in a slight auto wreck?

darkmark said...

From the use of "Ug!" and other such exclamations, I'd guess this is written by Nedor workhorse Richard Hughes.

Pappy said...

Darkmark, I agree.

Pappy said...

Brian, what? Something in a comic book that has been traced? A comic book story that is inconsistent with the hero's powers? Lord have faith is shattered!

But, like you I thought the artwork was pretty good.

Pappy said...

Daniel, my feeling about those inconsistencies you mention about Dr Drew in jail and being freed illegally, and chalk them up to plotting in those days. A writer could just make up any old thing about cops and it would seem reasonable, I guess. I wasn't there. What it brings to mind is watching a late '30s movie on TV (Dead End Kids? I forget) where two boys are running from a building and a beat cop spots them. "Stop or I'll shoot!" yells the cop, then proceeds to empty his revolver in their direction. He had no idea why the boys were running, or if they had committed a crime, or especially if that crime deserved deadly force. The filmmakers apparently thought it add some drama, reality be damned. I suspect the same with the Liberator story.

I am reasonably sure that the United States would have entered the war at some point even if not directly attacked, but Pearl Harbor wss a perfectly good reason to get involved. It certainly shut up people like Charles Lindburgh, who argued to stay out of the war. I imagine newspapers were full of war stories from Europe before Pearl Harbor, and the people who made the comic could probably sense America would be in action before too long.

J_D_La_Rue_67 said...

@Alicia : thanks for the very interesting link to the interview with C. C. Beck you showed in the last post!
All in all, I think there's no evidence for assuming that Beck was aware, or interested in the Ligne Claire style.
We could even reverse the viewpoint and say that Little Orphan Annie, Bringing Up Father and other works (that Beck points out as inspiration for C. Marvel), were also highly influential for Hergé. So I see parallel lines of inspiration, leading to similar results, which is interesting.
And the story of Tintin's first american publication is interesting, too.

Er ... the Liberator story is cool, but I prefer the Dr. Drew created by Eisner/Grandenetti :)))

Mr. Cavin said...

I enjoyed reading the story, but I can't fall into line on that art. Some of this stuff, some of the background perspectives, are so botched that they may as well be side effects of a psychological disorder. I'm not sure these buildings and ledges (and especially that Escher prison) could be more mangled up if the artist had intended to make me dizzy.

But I really dug how Annabel didn't completely dismiss Dr. Drew, even though he was perceived to be inadequately physical. I get pretty tired of the usual trope, in which the lady must bitterly despise the hero's nonviolent alter-ego. This didn't take a complete one-eighty from that, but it was pretty refreshing.

I know I don't comment enough here, Pappy. I'm always about two weeks behind; can't believe I managed to catch up today! So I'll take the time to thank you for everything you've done in the last year or so. I love this blog so much! Thanks for making it!

Daniel [] said...

The United States and the German state were already in an undeclared and under-reported naval war by the time that this comic book was written.

The attack on Pearl Harbor gave the United States reason to declare war on Japan, but Hitler's treaty with Japan did not oblige him to declare war on the United States, given that Japan had initiated military action. Hitler none-the-less chose to declare war, largely because Roosevelt's plans (Rainbow 5) for overt war with Germany had leaked on 4 December 1941. (The scandal of these plans was pushed aside by the Japanese attack.)

In any case, I was just interested to see a supporter of US involvement who was none-the-less also an opponent of abridgment of domestic civil liberties. Even in peace-time, we have trouble with people who use violence and threats of violence to silence those with whom they disagree; and, when war is under-way or looming, there is even more of such behavior.

Pappy said...

Cavin, 'tis good to be loved, if only for my blog. Thank you for your ongoing support, and I don't care whether your comments are late, I just care that you care enough to send them.

Gene Phillips said...

I hate to be the noodge here, but I just checked Digital Comics Museum, and that's not the story they reprint for EXCITING COMICS #15.

That story does show Drew getting the Egyptian potion in the mail, how he's exposed to the chemical, and how he transforms when he wishes he was bigger and more handsome, like the college stud Annabel is dating.

After he transforms into a he-man, he encounters Annabel and the stud-guy, the latter wearing the star-spangled costume for a costume party. Drew not only clonks the guy, he swipes the costume and wears it from then on. In the adventures I've read thus far, no one, not even the college guy, remarks on the theft, which is surely a case of adding insult to injury.

Pappy said...

Gene, thanks for that information. You never know...I might revisit the Liberator at some point.

Got away with battery and theft, eh? Maybe stealing the costume is why they call him the "Liberator."