Monday, October 23, 2017

Number 2118: “Hot dawg! Ain’t I nifty?”

 I have seen many examples of stereotypes in old comics, including some really egregiously racist portrayals of African-Americans, and in this story, a “minstrel face.” Caucasian male ZX-5 is the face behind the make-up, in this tale from Jumbo Comics #101 (1947). Artist Jack Kamen used ink lines on the face for shading, and then the colorist added the brown color over the lines. It isn’t as bad as I have seen in other places, where the minstrel make-up is solid black, but it is still insensitive, a relic of its era.

I like when ZX-5 and his platinum blonde partner, Rita, go into their soft-shoe routine. It makes for an amusing two panels at the top of page 4. That ol' devil weed, marijuana, also figures into the story. The artwork shows that Jack Kamen, who later went on to EC Comics, could draw pretty girls, but his action panels always looked stiff to me.

Even after having shown two other ZX-5 stories,in 2008 and 2013, I still knew nothing of the character. I went to Public Domain Superheroes, where I lifted this:
Created by Will Eisner


Agent ZX-5 was one of the top US spies. He answered to his superior Major Jason, who gave ZX-5 missions around the world fighting the Axis powers during WWII. He would continually come into conflict with foreign spies such as Madame Terror. After the war, he goes on to become a private eye.

He was known for his charm and carried a trick cane with numerous buttons each with a different function such as one for tear gas.
ZX-5 gets a ringing endorsement from his boss in the next to last panel: “For the first time, I like’re actually human!” Not only that, he had staying power. ZX-5 appeared in all 140 issues of Jumbo Comics.


Daniel [] said...

Could someone please explain the physics of ZX-5 swinging from the ladder onto the batten? And what good would be flight to the roof of a building whose roof could accommodate such interior heights?

I'd seen ZX-5 in one or more of his earliest adventures, when he was basically a clone of Raymond's Secret Agent X-9. I'd no idea that the clonal character had endured for as long as he did, nor that he'd been so diminished.

Kamen seemed just to hack-out Iger Studio work, and indeed his stuff from that era is in some ways very crude, but they weren't paying for better.

Pappy said...

I'm not sure how the Iger studio doled out the work, but Kamen had several solo assignments during the late forties. Iger studio was also, I believe, where he worked with Al Feldstein. I think the work he did for Fiction House is often better than what he did for EC. Personal opinion of course.