Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade(s): the 1930s/1940s! Today’s page is from Silver Streak Comics #7 (a Daredevil story), which was published by Rhoda Publications and is cover dated January 1941. This scan is from Supermen!, which was published by Fantagraphics in 2009. Enjoy!
Jack Cole’s epic “The Claw Battles the Daredevil” from Silver Streak Comics #7 has to be one of the greatest comics stories ever, and this opening splash page has to be Top Five, doesn’t it? Look at that glorious thing! Let’s see … Giant Evil Warlord? Check. Abominably stereotypical Asian bad guys? Check. Hot chick in a bikini tied to a burning stake? Check. Daredevil holding three bad guys by their queues and swinging them around to knock out two other bad guys? MOTHERFUCKING CHECK! Holy crap, this is offensive and awesome and insane all at the same time. Cole lets us know quickly what’s going on – the “master of crime” is spinning a “web of destruction” in New York “so horrible, so ghastly that all bow to his will!” Unfortunately, he hadn’t reckoned on … the Daredevil!
If we can ignore the horrible racism, look at how beautiful this page is. The Claw dominates the upper left, where we would usually start the page, and the fact that he’s so big compared to the rest of the characters implies his strength and power. Cole gives him a wonderfully ghoulish face, with the gaping mouth and the strange, inhuman teeth the focus, even though we can still check out the bat-like nose and ears. Obviously, the Claw is supposed to be Asian (he hangs out in Tibet, which, given the fact that the Japanese were being all aggressive in Asia at this time even though we weren’t officially at war with them, is a bit odd), but he’s actually less offensive than his lackeys because he looks so wildly inhuman. The caption box directs our attention to his scaly hand reaching for our hero and the bound young lady (this does not appear to be the Daredevil’s love, Tonia, but because this scene doesn’t appear in the story, we never find out who it is) – it’s a marvelous example of phallic imagery, as his thumb claw is pointing right at her crotch and the index finger and middle finger claw are pointing right at her breasts. Cole’s amazing attention to detail is nice, too – she doesn’t look like a helpless victim, does she? Her hair flares from her scalp like the flames below her, and she looks defiantly at the Claw’s fingers, as if she will bite anything that comes near her. The arc of the Daredevil’s flailing moves our eyes away from him and toward the three thugs, whom the Daredevil holds by their queues. We see that he’s swinging them the opposite way that our eyes follow the arc, but that doesn’t matter too much, because we see his “weapon” before we see the two thugs he knocked out with them. This is where the racist aspect of the page comes more into the fore, because the lackeys are obviously supposed to be Chinese men, and Cole makes them look “human” enough that his exaggeration of their stereotypical features is annoying. This isn’t as bad as some Golden Age comics, to be sure, but it’s still something we have to deal with. Cole does a nice job with that middle thug, though – he really looks like he’s in pain, plus he’s terrified of being used as human mace. The Daredevil’s hand is in the center of the page, and the three thugs act as a balance to the hero himself. Cole does a wonderful job showing how difficult it is for the Daredevil to do what he’s doing – his face is contorted with the effort, and Cole draws his body so that he’s bracing against the wood pile so that he can use the thugs as his weapon. Cole makes sure that we see he’s not even close to being out of danger, as two more punks are coming at him with a gun and a knife. Man, times are tough for the Daredevil! Plus, of course, he’s red and blue, two-thirds of the “American” colors, while the yellow of the bad guys makes their red and green clothing look vaguely foreign. You can’t trust furriners, people!
This is an amazingly dynamic splash page, and it leads into a wildly brilliant story. The Claw, after all, really is that big, so this takes on a “Fantastic Four versus Galactus” vibe when the two main characters start fighting. I certainly don’t want to give away anything about this story, because it’s too freakin’ cool, even with the questionable portrayal of the Chinese people in it. Still, Cole could write an epic in 16 pages, which is pretty impressive.
Next: I’ve already featured one of the weirdest comics creator who ever lived, but I figured it’s time to check in on him again! See if you can guess when I’ve shown his comics as you take a look at the archives!
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