‘No listicles, no reviews,’ were the words that drove me as I built this site. I find that content to be lazy and non-commital whereas original ideas, thoughts, and concepts can help grow communities. Informing is critical, here, rather than conforming.
So, a few weeks ago, I did a listicle, but I feel that I did it in a way that was different, despite saying that I didn’t want to do anything regarding lists. Well, the other thing I said I wouldn’t do was reviews.
But, you know, I’ll do it if I do it differently.
So, here’s a review for a comic book that was on the stands in January of 1943, done in as many parts as I feel like doing. I submit, for your perusal, Clue Comics #1 from Hillman Periodicals, Inc.
Because a 70-year-old review is, um…
First, let’s talk about that cover.
Featuring a giant that towers over the Empire State Building throwing a young man dressed in an outfit that is one part dominatrix and one part ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair, as hard as possible. One’s only assumption is that this youth will impact with something at such velocity that he won’t feel a thing; something he is clearly assured of, himself, or else he wouldn’t be smiling.
‘Thrills,’ ‘Laughs,’ and ‘Suspense’ are promised, which is interesting because none of these are experienced at those point of which I would assume the publisher had been hoping such reactions would be taking place. It should also be noted that ‘Cops Against Crooks’ is promised, as well, although there is essentially none of that, in here, unless you count the ineptitude with which most professional law officers were portrayed in Golden Age comics.
The one thing promised on the cover that is completely accurate (besides the unfortunate names of the characters) is the word ‘New!‘ Some of the ideas and concepts are among the most original and novel ideas I have ever seen in comics. Note that, in that prior sentence, I never utilized the term ‘good.’ Some of the ideas in Clue Comics #1 are so original that nothing like them would ever be seen again.
And one or two are kind of good.
Let us begin with:
‘The Boy King and the Giant’ is the first feature, as indicated by the cover.
No, our cover kid is not splattered against some edifice in the Big Apple, but, rather…
Wait a minute!!!
That’s a ‘boy king?!?!’
He’s freaking jacked! He looks more bad-ass than the wrestler who’s in the comic later! What are they feeding that kid, human growth hormone?!
Okay, okay, I’ll get over it. Let’s move on…
The nation of Swisslakia, nestled neatly in the middle of World War II Europe which, somehow, managed to avoid catching
Chaplin’s Hitler’s eye. I can’t help but notice that Swisslakia seems to have pushed it’s way in, which seems to make France and Italy uncomfortable.
Regardless of any imposition the nation might have had on other Alps-adjacent nations, we can all hope that everyone in Swisslakia is happy and life is fruitful and nothing bad will ever befall the peace-loving monarchy…
That’s Grouse, who, despite his name, doesn’t actually complain all that much throughout the course of the story. He comes waltzing in with a swagger, a smirk, and (likely more effective than the swagger and the smirk) a bunch of German planes and tanks. He takes the royal family; including the decrepit king, the nondescript queen, several shadowy figures, and that diesel prince (who’s already wearing that outfit because ‘fuck you, I’m a prince!’ that’s why); prisoner and explains that they will have to be put to death because ‘Nazis!’ that’s why.
Oh, and he has a proclamation…
Messages of ‘Brotherly love and protective friendship’ are seldom notated in the same proclamation that ends with ‘the penalty is DEATH!’ but these are Nazis, a group of people not commonly regarded for their subtlety. They had skulls on their outfits, damn it!
Although, it could also me assumed that they weren’t known for mixing German words in with their English proclamations, but let’s give the writer a break, shall we.
Also, ‘Eleven o’clock in the forenoon?’ Can’t you just say ’11 AM?’ And why so early? Lunch plans, I guess. Besides, all he really wants the Swisslakin (which sounds like a brand sugar-free hot cocoa) people to do is salute the Chancellor of the German people. How could that go wrong?
This guy is so intense he flusters himself when he accidentally gives the sign for ‘Victory!’ I also think that this marks the first time a German uvula is featured in an American comic book so, ground-breaking.
This little broken-English rant is followed by the slaughter of the Swisslankin people, or at least the Swibsslankins that were present, at the time. The whole thing is actually pretty brutal, but this was the pre-Comics Code era. Batman was killing people left and right and Superman was a complete dick. Still, for a comic book that had a happy-go-lucky prince on the cover, this gets kind of dark.
In short order, Grouse has taken over the capitol of Swisslankia, put the royal family to death, and ordered the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of citizens. I know there are a lot of great villains in comics, but few have managed to commit so many atrocities in the span of 3 pages.
Because this was Europe in World War II, the royal family’s bodies are taken away in a horse-drawn cart (horse-drawn carts were totally en vogue in non-descript nations of Europe for much of the 20th Century, according to comics). And, ultimately, this is the end of the tale of ‘The Boy King and The Giant.’ It had way fewer giants than I expected…
Vardi, the loyal horse-drawn-cart-undertaker, discovers that the prince lives! He quickly locates a loyal doctor (specifically noting that the doctor needs to be loyal) who manages to work ‘like mad against the laws of chance’ to bring the youth back from the brink! Never once does he even consider removing the prince’s insane outfit! ‘If the boy dies, he dies garbed in the royal garish colors and mink forearm warmers, damn it!’
It’s not surprising that, at no point, is there any indication of bullet strikes, despite the massive amount of lead thrown around in the early part of this story. At the time, such details were considered unimportant and comics, ultimately, were aimed at kids. Parents won’t blink at young men in spandex outfits wearing thigh-high leather boots and a crown, but entry and exit wounds tend to cause mom and dad to take notice.
In answer to the young prince’s unfinished question, yes, I’m sorry, both your mother and father are…
Well, pop is okay, I guess. Mom is definitely dead. We can assume that Vardi checked because he is clearly better at checking for signs of life than the entire military arm of mid-Century Germany. Judging by the way he’s leaning against that yellow rock, though, it looks like dad may not have much time left.
Still, he has enough energy to deliver all the exposition. Just think, a panel prior to this, there were a number of key aspects of this story that we had no idea were part of it: Nostradamus, giant mechanical men (although, we could get a basic idea by the cover and the splash page), bolts that transforms someone into a master, many stumps of trees…
This whole soliloquy also provides some insight into questions that could be asked about the story, up to this point. Has Hitler heard of the legend of the giant built by Nostradamus and avoided conquering Swisslakia because of this? Was the Furher’s obsession with the occult the reason he sent in Grouse and his soldiers? Was someone chopping down trees in the same area every decade or so since the 16th Century so as to ensure there was a marker for the giant’s location?
One panel is all it takes for the newly-crowned Boy King to excavate a nose. It’s probably a good thing he didn’t start digging 40 yards to the West!
In short order, he manages to uncover the rest of the Giant and screws the bolt into his head, despair that the giant doesn’t immediately wake up (kids… no patience), and then learn that the whole thing worked (which is basically the cover image for this article).
Upon looking up at the foot, the Boy King sees this:
Which is, actually, kind of bad ass.
Up until the kid starts yelling at it, I guess.
This precedes one of the biggest ass-kicking moments in Golden Age comics. Seriously. I put the link to the comic in this article and I would totally recommend reading this story only for the two pages of watching Nazis get smashed by a huge metal giant.
Of course, Grouse won’t have this! As the arch-nemesis of the Boy King, he makes his escape and vows to return to…
Nope, nope, I don’t think Grouse is going to make it.
The tale ends with the Boy King realizing that Swisslakia will never be safe from the reprisals of the Nazis, so he loads all the citizens on barges which he has the giant pull to New York and America.
Because, you know, if there is anything that America is known for, it’s the acceptance of hundreds of undocumented refugees.
And there you have it, the tale of the Boy King and the Giant.
What’s actually kind of incredible about this story is that it is so mired in sheer rage at the German National Socialist Party that a series of images and events that we see as horrific is simply commonplace.
If one looks at the writers that were credited with this tale, one can begin to understand where some of these concepts may have come from and, besides, this is where things get weird.
Charles Biro, at the time this was published, had already created the Golden Age Daredevil and (his most enduring creation, alongside co-creator, Dick Wood) Airboy. He was published by Hillman, Centaur Comics, and Lev Gleason Publications where his antagonists were, nearly always, Nazis. After the War ended, he began focusing on the crime genre of comics, creating Crime Does Not Pay alongside Bob Wood, his co-colaberator on the Boy King and the reason all of this goes a little bit sideways. CDNP is credited with launching the crime genre of comic books which was massive in the 1950s and part of the cause for the foundation of the Comics Code Authority by Atlas Comics and National (a.k.a. Marvel and DC).
Bob Wood is, easily, best known for co-creating Crime Does Not Pay, but has been working in comics for some time prior to the publication of the now-infamous crime book. When Fredric Wertham published the scathing book Seduction of the Innocent, comic books, specifically crime and horror books, came under fire. This prompted a series of reactionary measures to be taken by the comic book publishing industry (hence, the Comics Code Authority), parent groups, and comic book distributors. Practically overnight, the crime genre shut down and, while many of the creators managed to bounce back (such as Charles Biro, when you are best known for having driven a genre for which these is now abject hatred, it can be hard to find work.
On August 17, 1958, it was reported that Bob Wood had beaten his wife to death with a whisky bottle.
You can read some of the gory details, here.
In the Boy King comic book story, one can see the raw, seething anger simmering just below the surface. Death and destruction are followed by more death and destruction with the audience cheering the smashing of soldiers and the gruesome crushing of a man to death. There is an adolescence to the tale is made only more poignant by the events which would occur 15 years after.
One of the reasons I hate reviews is that stories only can be seen for their true value long after the point of their release. The Boy King and the Giant has value based on the historical events surrounding it publishing and, beyond that, not a great deal else. My love of comics stems from this. Beyond the tale that you pick up from the news rack seconds after the apathetic clerk has dropped into the metal frame, there is a story to be told about history, culture, and society.
Maybe I’ll review some of the other stories in this comic. Maybe I’ll give an overview, in a different way.
Maybe I’ll just look back on this in a few decades and see how I feel about it.