Jul 19, 2010

Death Patrol 7 –Courage, Craziness, and Cannibalism

mil30p00fcStory this post:
”Out of Gas!”
Story, art, lettering by Jack Cole
Military Comics #30
July, 1944
Quality Comics Group

A shy, gentle man by all accounts, Jack Cole as a creator was a bold extremist.
For all the grimness of the concept of a heroic team that regularly loses members to terrible deaths, Jack Cole’s DEATH PATROL is astonishingly cartoony. Most of Cole’s work is a big, rich mix of the horrible and the hilarious. Next to PLASTIC MAN, the eight stories Cole made in the DEATH PATROL series rank among the craziest blends of death and comedy available in comics, or any other art form.

After creating the series in Military Comics #1, Cole returned to the series in March, 1944 with Military #27. Now the stories were four pages in length, instead of six. In all, Cole did 8 DEATH PATROL stories, in Military Comics #1, 2, 3, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.

In this breathless story from Cole’s second  run on the series, we are treated to a delightful episode of hen-pecking and cannibalism. It would be absurd to attempt to make sense of this nutty story that seems to stream directly from Cole's subconscious. However, it is worth noting that Cole slipped in some memorable zingers in this 4-page wonder:

“Ah’m sorry boys, but the little woman jus' craves white meat!” 


Apologies must be made for the racist content of this story. It's rather startling to encounter undeniably thick veins of racism in the work of an otherwise good-natured (if dark) humorist. Compare this 1944 story to Cole's 1950's CHOP CHOP stories featuring the Blackhawks' own racist portrayal. It helps to bear in mind that Cole's portrayals of non-white people are more or less in line with the culture of his time and were certainly far from the only instances of such treatments in 1940's comic books. For example, consider the well-known comic and racist black boy character, Ebony White, from Will Eisner's SPIRIT series (a character Cole developed in the unknown and under-appreciated FANNIE OGRE story he ghosted in the SPIRIT dailies).

The splash-dash splash page features a roulette wheel of death, an echo of the first story in Plastic Man #1 (June, 1943) from about a year earlier. One cannot help but wonder where the green demon addressing the reader came from -- it's a rare instance of Cole depicting a non-human, imaginary form.

mil30p16DP mil30p17 mil30p18 mil30p19

Thus the pedal-to-the-metal story skids to an abrupt halt. Even if Hank's explanation is too hastily accepted, the story still works. Aside from Milt Gross, has there ever been another master of the sequential narrative who naturally worked with such breakneck, helter-skelter pacing?

Other DEATH PATROL stories published in this blog (so far):

Military Comics #1
Military Comics #3
Military Comics #28
Military Comics #31

1 comment:

  1. This is a bizarre one, not least for the scene where the characters suddenly remind themselves of their physical limitations (no gas in their planes) and shlep back to the island to keep their continuity straight.

    Recently I also enjoyed another of your Cole articles and quoted from it in my own PLASTIC MAN blog-essay, here:


    I'll warn you that my essay's rather thick going and appears as a part of a series, but I hope you don't mind quoted in it anyway.


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