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The Spark Man was the Nazi-killing Inglorious Basterd of his day – Sparkler Comics #30

July 12, 2012

Sparkler Comics was a United Features strip cornucopia in the 1940s, a place where someone could catch up on any number of that syndicate’s properties as they worked their way through fresh stories. The left-hand headshots on this Nancy-dominated cover give you an idea of the roster in this issue, from forgotten characters like a Cinderella clone — Ella “Switch to Decaf” Cinders — and Hap Hopper, to timeless titans like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. And then there’s that guy at the bottom of the totem pole, the lone representative of the costumed hero demo. The Spark Man, just as forgotten as Ms. Cinders, fills the cape and tights quota, and rightfully so, since this is kind of his book. Spark Man. Sparkler. CAPISCE?

We’ll get to him in a moment. First, we have to note that World War II, which features in that character’s story, was still raging when this comic was released in 1944. That conflict permeates the entire book, even working its way into the advertisements (a couple of which have already been shown here) that hawk ancient wares. Lest we forget, here are two pages of text describing assorted acts of bravery and valor by American soldiers, pilots and sailors:

Please note the recycling plea in the lower right-hand corner of the second page. We can thank such patriotic appeals for the scarcity of War and Pre-War comics, so that the war machine had plenty of paper products. (I’ve always wondered what items were made out of recycled newsprint. No bombs, sadly.)

Now. Spark Man. He was at one point a normal gentleman by the name of Omar Kavak, but once he discovered that he could absorb and eject electricity, he decided to use this zappy power to battle evil WHEREVER IT MIGHT LURK. He started out wearing a costume, then began having out-of-costume-but-in-uniform adventures when the War broke out (in racially tinged fights with the Japanese), then returned to costumed hijinks by the time this issue rolled around.

The war was by no means over in 1944, but Churchill’s “end of the beginning” was long in the rearview. That endgame mentality finds expression in the Spark Man story here, as our hero, behind enemy lines, contemplates ways to make sure that the Nazi menace never rises again. Here he is with pal and cohort Voz, getting the idea to cull the Nazi herd (Script: Fred Methot, Art: R. Greenwood):

Their closeness, the nice dinner, the fancy clothes — all these things would probably send Fredric Wertham into a homophobic THEY ARE POISONING OUR YOUTH AND SEDUCING THE INNOCENT conniption. And that’s not even getting into their diabolical “fight fire with fire” plot to psychologically torture and brutally murder Nazi beasts.

Ah, that plan. The first target in their assassination spree is an high-ranking functionary named Von Brac. Spark Man and his pal start off small, inaugurating their reign of terror with a gambit usually employed by drunken jilted lovers. Yes, they key Von Brac’s car (also, check out the GIANT POOFY ELMER FUDD NAZI HATS):

The torment continues with an anonymous threatening note (they should have used X-Acto knives to cut out some newspaper letters):

Von Brac doubles and redoubles his security detail, but that’s to no avail when up against the cunning of Spark and Voz. The latter creates a smokey diversion, while the former readies the coup de grâce. How does the Spark Man dispatch this Nazi butcher? No, he doesn’t fry him with his powers, nor is it clean and quick. A noose and some neck-stretching is just what the doctor ordered:

The Bear Jew has nothing on Spark Man. HE DOES NOT MESS AROUND. (And he also had to tie that noose’s loop pretty big to get it around one of those giant hats.)

And it’s not over. Monocles, mustache wax and steins are on full display when the next note is delivered:

And there the slaughter ends, at least until the next issue.

It’s quite striking to juxtapose the Nazis in this story with those from subsequent decades, or more specifically, how they’re dealt with by the forces of good. When Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos would square off against their goofy mirror images or broke out of a prison camp, it seemed that no one would ever get hurt, not good guys, not Nazis, no one, and certainly not in such a gruesome manner as you see here. That’s the Comic Code Authority effect to be sure, but it’s at moments like this where the change really, REALLY stands out. I’m not complaining. I’m not wringing my hands. Just observing.

Incidentally, after Von Brac’s neck is snapped, Spark Man notes that just that morning he (Von Brac) had signed the death warrants of 100 souls. It’s as if the people behind this comic decided towards the end that they might need an extra dollop of justification for this brutality, another finger on the scale. Maybe hanging someone from a wooden beam was a bit much even back in those uncensored days.

If you put the carnage to the side, the art is quite good for the era. The panel construction is a tad busy, but the use of shadow and the lost craft of knowing when to keep it simple (like the note panel above) make for dramatic reading. There’s a delicious pulp feel to everything, a sheen that would make you want to revisit Spark Man in the future. Granted, it didn’t keep the character in the hearts of minds of comic fans for long. But you could do a lot worse.

I suppose the Spark Man is public domain by now, and I’m a tad surprised that Alex Ross hasn’t appropriated him for some ballyhooed crossover series with characters that nobody cares about which no one will ever read. His forte. Now that we’re in the post-Code era, 21st century Spark Man would at least have a chance to be worthy of the Nazi-hanging original.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    July 13, 2012 12:41 pm

    I’d like to think all those comics were sacrificed to produce something like propaganda leaflets dropped behind enemy lines.
    Yeah those are some big ass hats, though the Nazis in the panels look more Soviet in uniform. The cover has a February date, the Sparkler Salutes column refers to the Salerno landings, I’m guessing this came out late ’43.

    • July 13, 2012 5:06 pm

      I definitely prefer “propoganda leaflets” to “really harsh toilet paper for camp latrines.”

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