Monday, May 28, 2007

The Boy Commandos #1

The Boy Commandos #1, September-October 1973, National Periodical Publications (DC Comics)
by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby

Admittedly knowing very little about my Kirby history, when I picked up The Boy Commandos #1 for a dollar at a hobby shop a month or so ago, I was excited to discover a first issue by the King. Not that I seek out such hallmark issues for their potential collectors' value; on the contrary, since the A Comic A Day project is designed to broaden my horizons as a comic book reader and aficionado, such issues instantly develop a sentimental value with me, a sense that my reading it is much more valuable than my bagging, boarding, and filing it -- though I eventually do that, too, if only to secure a safe future reading experience. See, I will instantly confess an unfortunate ignorance in regards to the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, something I'd like to proactively remedy, simply to appreciate the inspirations of my favorite contemporary writers and artists. Looking at the rich canon of titles from the past, it's a daunting task, and since this challenge only requires one comic a day, it's a task I plan to tackle after June 30, when this whole thing is over.

But I digress. Despite the fact that this issue of The Boy Commandos is merely a reproduction of their first appearance in Detective Comics #66 and their first first issue in the winter of 1942, it is an excellent tribute to both the veterans of the comic book industry (with a special emphasis on Joe Simon, since I briefly honored Kirby yesterday, and incidentally Will Eisner on Saturday) and the real life veterans intended for acknowledgment this Memorial Day. Like many Golden Age comics, The Boy Commandos is a World War II story, and though it adequately captures the international chaos and subsequent heroism of that era, it hardly addresses the elephant in the room, that its stars are children in battle! Yes, the Boy Commandos are essentially a troop of sidekicks to the Alpha Male militarism of Rip Carter, and while each of the lads' personalities and dialects are effectively established in these introductory issues, Carter is the true hero of these adventures, commanding the boys with respect, astuteness, and apparently no regard for their safety. Not that the kids needed help; in fact, they prove themselves quite formidable even without their mentor's help, but the fact is, they're kids at war, a concept that would spark an endless controversy if even humorously presented.

I am in no way insinuating that Simon and Kirby supported a draft for "tweens." I completely understand that they were attempting to create a wartime story that would attract younger readers, to establish characters to whom children could relate. Alas, the concept of the sidekick is simply unfortunately an outdated one, and though the Boy Commandos pre-date the Teen Titans as a capable adolescent super-team, the idea of intentionally marching children into battle, whether in a world war or in a crime-ridden urban setting, just isn't as timeless as either of their adventures. I wonder if pro-war enthusiasts would assert that opening military enrollment to tweens would toughen their otherwise "slacker" generation. If the Boy Commandos are any indication of what children could really accomplish in battle, it's worth a thought!

I'm kidding, of course.

What isn't a laughing matter, but certainly an entertaining one, is the sheer mastery Kirby and Simon demonstrate artistically, despite their formative careers at the time of these stories' original release. While their script is a bit choppy, and each child's unique dialect a tad too ambitious, their illustrations are definitively Golden Age: dense, action-packed, and detail-oriented in spite of their simplistic, almost cartoony nature. Every panel was a visual treat, especially for a self-confessed ignoramus to the early days of comics like me. I'm grateful I had a chance to read this issue today, to remember both the humble beginnings of this medium I love and the heroic efforts that have made this country so proud. For all of our efforts to look into the future, especially via science fiction fantasy, it's always profitable to remember the past, if only to challenge ourselves with our predecessors' greatness. Yes, Simon and Kirby may have grown into icons, but at one point in their careers, they were just the up-and-coming kids, boy commandos in their own right.

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