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Abraham Lincoln as child of the prairie, wrestler, and statesman. But yeah, mostly wrestler. – Classics Illustrated #142

October 4, 2013

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With the government shutdown now well underway, our overseers in their infinite wisdom have seen fit to shut down open air national monuments. The Lincoln Memorial and its kinsmen are closed for business, and dirty-faced urchins are peering through the barricades, lonely tears tracing lines down their grimy cheeks. Or something. Say it ain’t so, Joe. But never fret: if you have a hankering for a rumination on the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, we have just what you need. Yes, the Classics Illustrated people, no strangers to presidential biocomics, published Honest Abe’s life-story, one that, as you can see from the above cover, put his bare-chested wrestling career front and center. Let’s take a look at it and forget about the government he strove to save collapsing about our ears here in the U.S. And just wait till you find out the glaring omission in this lengthy tome.  

Much like Parson Weems’ cherry tree infused life of George Washington, there’s a lot of mythological Lincoln in these pages, with anecdotes designed to illustrate his fairness, kindness and ever-present sense of humor. And there are plenty of iconic log cabin-y moments to be had, not the least of which is Lincoln writing on ye olde shovel:

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And then there’s the overalled Lincoln developing the skill that would get him one of his more enduring nicknames:

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Fans of professional wrestling take a bit of a beating in pop culture, for the odd stupidity of their beloved sports entertainment product. (Confession: I’m a fan, mainly for the odd stupidity.) That said, wrestling aficionados have long been able to take comfort in the fact that the greatest chief executive in American history wasn’t averse to stripping to the waist and entertaining gathered crowds with a bit of grappling — and the WWE isn’t shy about reminding people of this. This particular comic devotes an entire page to the oft-retold incident wherein Lincoln wrestled and bested Jack Armstrong (of all names), a local gang leader, and in turn earned his opponent’s respect:

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The pre-presidential career of the Great Emancipator is well-covered, especially his time as a trial lawyer, which is a nigh inexhaustible font for folksy vignettes. And politics gets its turn, too, though the Lincoln-Douglas debates, one of the great sustained discourses in American history, only get two panels:

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Now here’s the big problem with this comic: If you had to pick the singular Lincoln moment, what would it be? There are a number of candidates, but at the top of most lists would be the Gettysburg Address, which summed up the spirit of a country in so few words, and hallowed not only sacred ground, but gave a nation its soul. And there’s nary a mention of it in the comic. Nothing. Nada. It might as well not even have happened. The Emancipation Proclamation? In there. Tad? In there. But no Address. And the whole unedited thing could have been squeezed into fewer panels than it took for Abe to rassle Jack Armstrong to the ground.

There are civics teachers shedding spiritual tears coast to coast right now. I guess we have to settle for a comic like Time Beavers to give us our Lincoln-at-Gettysburg fix.

The comic ends, as it of course has to, with John Wilkes Booth:

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This is your typical stilted Classics Illustrated fare, certainly not rising above the bland, stiff adaptations of classic works for which the series is known, and more of a gloss than a true biography And with the bewildering omission of the Gettysburg Address — I mean, really — it has a gargantuan historical demerit weighing against it. But in its defense, Norman Nodel’s artwork does a fine job detailing Lincoln’s changing appearance, from the gawky westerner to the gaunt commander-in-chief weighed down by the bloody burdens of the Civil War. His young Lincoln is a pleasant visual surprise, since there aren’t legions of photos to document what the fresh-faced Abe looked like — if that craggy visage was ever truly fresh-faced.

And hey, there are no barricades around this comic, hastily erected by Parks Service employees never before in evidence! Handy! E Pluribus Unum!

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