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Presenting your digest of Chennualt’s Flying Tigers, Gene Tunney, Robert E. Lee, et cetera, et cetera – Real Heroes #7

July 25, 2013

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Take yourself back to 1942. War had finally reached American shores. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor the previous December, and that day of infamy led quickly to a second declaration of war on the part of their Nazi pals. This was a dark time for the Allies, as Japan took island after island in the Pacific and Germany threatened to crush the still-standing British Isles and Stalin’s megalithic Russian bear. These were days when people needed things to believe in. It was a time…when they needed… REAL HEROES. (I forgot to tell you to read this opening paragraph in the “deep movie trailer guy” voice. Oh well.)

So here’s a neat little comic book from 1942 called Real Heroes. One that has a metric ton of inspirational, propaganda-ish military stories within.  

It’s been said before here and in other places: you got a lot of bang for your dime back in the Golden Age. This comic is certainly no exception. Just look at the cover. “14 THRILLING FEATURES.” Fourteen! That’s a lot. In an age where you got two features, a newsreel and a cartoon when you went to the movies this might not have seemed like so much, but in our day, when an hour-long network television show has 35 minutes of content against 25 of commercials, this is value. And there’s entertainment in it all even at this distant remove of years, even beyond the usual wry sense of superiority we all feel here on our future perch.

Some of the highlights follow.

It wouldn’t be a World War II comic without some hideous racial caricatures of the Japanese, and the primary cover story, dealing with Claire Lee Chennault and his Flying Tigers air fleet, delivers. Eyes squinting tighter than Gilbert Gottfried’s, buck teeth, “Jap” bandied freely, the works. The biggest takeaway from this story? If we knew that the Japanese would be so terrified by flying sharks, maybe we could have developed Sharknado seventy years ago and dropped that on Hiroshima:

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The weird thing about this? The Flying Tigers were volunteers deployed in mainland China, fending of the Japanese forces that had invaded that ally. In the comic the Chinese don’t get the same caricature treatment. They look, well, kind of like white people when they’re portrayed in comics. Take that for what it’s worth.

I’m currently reading Frances Parkman’s classic history of the French and Indian War, Montcalm and Wolfe, so I took a close interest in the brief bio of Oureauhare, a great Indian chief who befriended the French and did much to make common cause with them among his people. And he did this AFTER his village was plundered and he was made a galley-slave:

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He’s a bit more magnanimous than the average guy, no?

Chennault isn’t the only flying American serviceman to get some press. General Henry “Hap” Arnold also gets the bio treatment, with a story relaying his hand in the formation of the Army Air Corps. It ends with him getting a promotion from FDR, after which he was apparently assumed into heaven:

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It’s not all blood and guts. Everyone who has ever chugged a nice glass of pasteurized milk owes a debt of gratitude to Louis Pasteur — unless they want a stomach full of bacteria. It wasn’t wholesome American milk that got him thinking about nuking liquids to preserve them, though. It was instead that most French of beverages: wine. And Louis had to contend with more than his fair share of sabotaging fat French douchebags before he could make his point:

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When a Frenchman gets comeuppance, there’s always satisfaction even when it’s another Frenchman doing the comeupping.

I live in Arlington, Virginia. Arlington is named after Robert E. Lee’s estate, which is now Arlington National Cemetery. Why is this relevant? It’s not. But Lee and his last days commanding the Army of Northern Virginia are in here — which means that the de rigueur scene of Lee offering his sword to Ulysses S. Grant is present as well. Has there ever been a moment in American history more fraught with phallic symbolism?(Okay, maybe the Burr-Hamilton duel…):

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Some of the most delightful art in the book comes in a bit of fiction detailing how a group of school kids put the screws to their collaborationist teacher. You have to love their expressive faces — and that they look like bobbleheads:

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I didn’t know Gene Tunney, the legendary boxer, spent time in the Navy. Thanks the story about him, I do now. Don’t you see a little bit of Steve Ditko’s style in this art?:

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Another art highlight is a story of five me trapped behind Nazi lines, who rely on help from sympathetic villagers to smuggle them to safety. it’s a story that, appropriately, knows when to shut its mouth and keep quiet — as it does when the Krauts come a-knocking:

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There’s of course, as the cover indicates, more. A tale of the final stand at Corregidor. The heroism present during the sinking of the Lexington. You may pick up a theme in most of these stories: that of honor and valor present even in defeat. As stated above, 1942 was a rough year for the Allies. We can see victory coming clearly with our 20/20 hindsight, but people back then needed to be bucked up. Tales of courage in the face of long odds would seem to do just that — with a little Pasteur thrown in to leaven the bread. It’s a credit to the people who threw this mag together that they did it all with such aplomb — skill that we can see quite easily with that 20/20 hindsight of ours.

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