Thursday, January 22, 2009

Captain Marvel Annotated - Whiz Comics #3 - pt. 1

[Continued from here ]

It has been 14 months since I last worked on this project, as after annotating Captain Marvel's origin story, I did not think there would be nearly as much to say about the following issue. Turns out, I found plenty.

Whiz Comics #3 (Mar. 1940)
Page 1: Billy would seem to be an overnight success, given millions of listeners, even if we assume a month has passed since the last issue a month ago. We can remember, though, the pervasiveness of radio in society circa 1940 (like TV and the Internet today) and the fact that being broadcast in New York City or Chicago alone would have netted him a potential audience of millions (seven and three respectively).

The most recent, in Billy’s time, example of a real-world, disastrous, inner-city fire was possibly the Terminal Hotel Fire in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1938.

There were no “sensational” prison breaks in Billy’s time, but the movie Prison Break came out in 1938 and could have been the inspiration for the one occurring here.

It was still too early in 1940 for hurricane season and 1939, in the real world, had been a weak hurricane season. The 1938 Hurricane, however, is still the third most intense tropical cyclone to ever strike the United States.

Instead of early 1940 or late 1939 – last issue’s story may have been as early as the summer of 1938. It is possible, then, that significantly more than one month had passed since Captain Marvel’s origin story, though the fact that Billy has not visibly aged suggests otherwise. Rather, there may well be a 19-month lag between Billy’s adventures and their eventual cover dates. This “time code” might have been generally understood by readers in 1940 and is further significant because of what else occurred in the summer of 1938 – the publication history of Superman began. This could have been intentional on Fawcett’s part, not just to produce a superhero similar to Superman, but to have their stories “begin” around the same time as well (though analysis of the early Superman stories show they actually took place at least as early as 1935).

Page 2: Sivana’s ultimatum to the President is not possible for him to do. Declaring an Emperor of the United States would require a change to the Constitution and that would require at least an act of Congress, if not a national convention. Note that, even if an acting President could do this, by following the order of the letter literally, the President would resign first and then not be able to declare anyone officially anything. Sivana very likely has no intention of not using his army and only sent the letter to gloat.

Although the last panel showed a letter to the President, we cannot necessarily presume that the man ordering the four G-Men is the President. The term “G-Men” refers to FBI agents. Since the FBI is a law enforcement agency and not a military one, Sivana’s threat about having an army must not have been taken seriously.

The caption does not specify how many miles away Sivana’s fortress is from Washington, D.C., but it must be both exceedingly remote and yet close enough for tanks to reach within miles of D.C. without being intercepted sooner. The mountains must be the Appalachian Mountains.

Page 3: It is not specified in what way Sivana’s soldiers are “super-soldiers.” The term is most famously used in conjunction with Captain America, who would not debut in comics for another year. The U.S.’s standing army before 1940 was only 175,000 men strong, but Sivana’s army is just “thousands” strong.

It is not unusual for field guns to be able to fire 75 miles. What would be unusual is if they fired accurately at that range. That the text makes no such assertion demonstrates that the narrator is engaging in no hyperbole while assessing the strength of Sivana’s army.

The land speed record in 1940 was 369 MPH, so it is not the speed of Sivana’s combat cars that make them special, but that he was able to make a vehicle essentially with the body of a pickup truck go 120 MPH, virtually impossible even for pickups today.

The “mightiest air fleet in history” means that Sivana intends to beat the U.S. primarily through aerial bombardment, particularly since his ground forces are so small. In 1938, the U.S. Army Air Corps had 2,500 planes. The planes pictured appear to be conventional 2- to 4-prop fighter planes, so his aerial superiority must come from numbers.

Note that Sivana has no navy.

Page 4: The last time another country had declared war on the U.S. was Austria-Hungary in 1917.

Contrary to my previous comment on the conventional appearance of Sivana’s planes, we now see them capable of dropping tanks. The bulk of the U.S. Air Corp’s transport planes were Douglas C-39s, capable of carrying less than 2 tons of cargo. Either Sivana’s “streamlined” tanks are extra light, or his planes are capable of hauling 50+ tons of cargo – which no 20th century planes could do.

It is interesting to note that some of the technology in Sivana’s army is about 60-70 years ahead of the technology of his time, while other things are relatively unchanged, like his use of prop planes instead of jet technology. Sivana’s greatest weakness might be his old-fashioned-ness.

That Sivana's paratroopers are wearing gas masks is inconclusive as to whether Sivana plans to use or is expecting chemical warfare.

The "American line" looks like trench warfare, which the U.S. was very familiar with from WWI.

That the battlefront is a vague “few” miles from the nation’s capitol gives us no clear way to map the location of the final battle. Further, Washington, D.C. is said to be surrounded and that Sivana’s tanks are almost in the city. It is not clear why Sivana does not simply land his tanks directly on the National Mall, though he probably felt he needed the tanks to hold the roads and bridges leading into the city so his ground troops could use them.

Note that Billy is in a biplane, an antique even by 1940. It could suggest that the good guys – and, by extension, the U.S. government – is sadly outmoded for modern warfare. In this regard, the whole story is a cautionary tale advocating the U.S.’s pre-War mobilization.

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