Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dragon of Death

The very first issue of Captain America, published months before Pearl Harbor, showed us Cap punching out Hitler. Timely Comics (which would one day become Marvel Comics) was one of a small number of pop culture outlets that openly recognized that the Axis was evil and that we would one day have to confront them.

Captain America #5 was cover dated August 1941 and actually published on May 5 of that year. So once again, this is before we were in the war, but the story we're talking about today still shows the Axis as villains. This time, the villains are only identified as Asian, but they are clearly meant to be the Japanese. In fact, one of them openly admits to being a part of the "Axis Alliance." Avoiding the word "Japanese" might have been a concession to isolationist feelings for distributors or some readers (similar to what Milt Caniff was doing in his comic strip Terry and the Pirates), but nobody reading the story would miss the intention. Interestingly, the same issue had a story in which the Bund (American Nazis) are openly identified as the bad guys.

There is some racial stereotyping common to the era present, but all the same Timely Comics, along with Caniff, Warner Brothers studio, the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin deserve a lot of credit and praise for openly confronting the biggest evil in the world before it was in vogue to do so.

"The Gruesome Secret of the Dragon of Death" (by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) opens with a whopping big dragon literally swallowing a Navy patrol ship off the coast of Hawaii. The dragon, though, turns out to be a whopping big Japanese submarine. (Well, I'm going to say "Japanese".) The commander of the Navy ship is tortured to get a password from him. The Japanese need the password to get some men ashore and plant dynamite in a volcano. The dynamite will cause the volcano to erupt and the lava flow would destroy the American fleet.

The commander refuses to talk, but is ready to break when his daughter is kidnapped and threatened. Fortunately for the these two, Captain America and Bucky had trailed the kidnapped girl to the Dragon sub and sneaked aboard.

It's at this point that we get a full-page cutaway of the sub. I love stuff like this. Give me a blue-print or cutaway of a make believe vehicle and I'll be set for the day while I examine it in detail.

What follows is an extended action sequence as Cap and Bucky take out most of the crew on the ship and rescue the captives before the officer gives away the password. In a bit of a storytelling glitch, the Japanese readily sneak their demolition crew ashore anyways and blow the volcano. But Cap manages to warn the fleet in time for them to get safely out of the bay.

When Bucky briefly thinks Cap was killed accomplishing this, he goes into a revenge-fueled rage blows up some of the surviving Japanese with the sub's deck gun. Don't tick off Bucky. It won't end well for you.

The action isn't as well choreographed as Kirby's action scenes would be in the 1960s and 1970s. At this early point in his career, his work was still largely excellent, but would be getting better as he gained more experience. But even with its flaws, the story is a good one.

Heck, it's got a cutaway image of a giant Dragon submarine. It can't help but be good.

Next week, we'll stop in and see what the Micronauts are up to in the second part of our review of their first twelve issues.

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