Comic books and the superhero archetype are integral to American culture and how American society sees itself. Ever since the emergence of the comic book format during the 1930s, a period known as the Golden Age, comic books and the superhero archetype or paradigm have dominated American entertainment and the American mindset. Even into 2012, the comic book and superhero archetype have remained a dominant theme in American movies. The comic book hero continues to thrive and to endure as a fixture of American culture, albeit on the big screen. The pervasive superhero archetype and the comic book format are vital to understanding the American psyche and the way Americans perceive themselves.
Comic books emerged as a dominant, mainstream pastime in the U.S. in the late 1930s. In the 1940s, the circulation of comic books exploded in the United States. The looming threat of war engendered panic, uncertainty, and fear. Comic books were a way to escape and to live out fantasies, becoming psycho-dramas where one could engage in role-playing. They were more than mere escapism, however, because they tapped into the psychological stratum of American society and culture. If you wanted to understand and to grasp the American national persona and subconscious, the values and beliefs of a society, comic books were one of the ideal places to start. This was where all the subconscious and unconscious desires and fixations and wish fulfillments played out. Comic books were the graffiti of the American subconscious. At the surface level, comic books were merely a form of mindless entertainment and escapism. But at more complex levels, the comic book is a pyschological panorama that reveals the American subconscious.
There were no gray areas in the comic book landscape. The superhero archetype presupposed a Manichean worldview and orientation. The superhero thrived in a polar world of opposites: Good versus Evil, Wrong versus Right, Power versus Weakness. There were always distinct dividing lines and clearcut boundaries. There was never any doubt or indecision. Comic books played a psychological function or role in society. The human mind always doubts and questions, always seeks to transcend the Manichean disposition. This skepticism causes anxiety and tension and uncertainty. Comic books allow one to overcome and to relieve this nagging sense of uncertainty and stress. This is the psychological role they have played and continue to play as they are transferred to the medium of film.
Comic book circulation reached its peak in the early 1940s when there were 125 different regular comic books published in the U.S. alone with sales of 25 million copies per month with a total yearly revenue of $30 million. The uniquely American superhero archetype emerged during the 1930s with the appearance of Superman in June, 1938 in Action Comics #1 and with Captain Marvel, who was created in 1939 by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, the character first appearing in Whiz Comics, #2, February, 1940. With the entry of the U.S. in World War II, new comic book characters emerged such as Captain America and the American Crusader tailored to a wartime setting.
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In the October, 1942 issue of Zip Comics, #30, a comic story on Draza Mihailovich was featured under the title ”General Draja Mihailovich” in Zip’s Hall of Fame, consisting of a 6 page comic story with pencils and inks by Paul Reinman on General Draja Mihailovich, “leader of the conquered Yugoslavs”. The comic book was published by M. L. J. Magazines, Inc. Zip Comics were published in St. Louis, Missouri while their editorial offices were located in New York. M. L. J. was formed by Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John L. Goldwater, who later changed the name of the company to Archie Comic Publications, or Archie Comics. The Zip Comics series ran from February, 1940 to the Summer, 1944 issue with a total of 47 issues published. The price of each issue was 10 cents.
The cover of the October, 1942 issue of Zip Comics featured The Web and Steel Sterling, Man of Steel, battling Nazi agents who seek to engage in sabotage on the U.S. homefront: “Fascist cut-throats! Your doom is sealed! You’ve woven your skein of crime. Now you can’t escape The Web.” This issue contained the first appearance of the character Zoom O’Day. Joe Blair and Harry Shorten were the writers for this issue. Irv Novick, Lin Streeter, and Paul Reinman were the artists. Paul Reinman did the artwork for the landmark Marvel comic book issues such as The Incredible Hulk, #1, May, 1962, The X-Men, #1-5, September, 1963 to May, 1964, and The Avengers, #2, 3, and 5 , November, 1963, and January and May, 1964. Bob Montana did the pencils and inks for the cover. Montana created the Archie comic character, Archibald “Archie” Andrews, with writer Vic Bloom in 1941.
The first page of the comic story has an image of Draza Mihailovich in front of an eagle grasping a German soldier in its talons with Yugoslav flags in the background in front of a mountain that stands over a map of Yugoslavia: “Zip’s Hall of Fame: General Draja Mihailovich. Mihailovich leader extraordinary of the conquered Yugoslavs ….. A leader whose name spells hope for the oppressed! A name that strikes fear into the heart of the Nazi soldier, clanking down the long street keeping the curfew in the conquered villages! Fear into the Gestapo and even into the very center of Hitler’s cancerous camp! Zip Comics is proud to inscribe the name of Generale Draja Mihailovich in its ‘Hall of Fame’. A name that is a prayer and a blessing on the lips of 4,000,000 Yugoslavs!” The artwork was by Paul Reinman who signed the first page.
The story begins with Nazi troops attacking an elderly woman in “an occupied town in vanquished Yugoslavia”. They force her to scrub out the letter “V” which stands for “Victory” which Yugoslav guerrillas had defiantly written on the ground. They force her on her knees and kick her after she tells them: “I can wash this ‘V’ from the streets – but it can’t be erased from our hearts.” As a German soldier attacks the woman, he is shot by Chetnik guerrillas under the command of General Draza Mihailovich. The remaining Nazi troops shout in panic: “Run!.. Run for your lives… It’s Mihailovich!” “True! It is Mihailovich!” Mihailovich is shown holding a smoking rifle. Mihailovich tells his guerrilla troops: “All right, men! Cease firing! Don’t waste more bullets than you need … on those rats! Our work is done for today! Disperse and meet in the mountains!”
In the next scene, German troops are shown guarding a warehouse in a town in occupied Yugoslavia. They prevent the local population from obtaining wheat in order to starve them into submission. The wheat is only for “loyal Nazis”. At night, a German sentry is ambushed in “a swift movement and one of Mihailovich’s guerrillas stifles the sentry …” Draza Mihailovich is shown issuing orders to his men to disperse the bread to the townspeople in the marketplace. Mihailovich is shown carrying loaves of bread. He states: “Here, bread for all! Civilians are shown, who exclaim: “Again, Mihailovich, the savior of Yugoslavia, has struck! He fights so his kinsfolk may eat.”
The scene shifts to a “tiny mountain retreat” where German occupation troops seek to locate Mihailovich’s hideout headquarters. German officers are shown drinking beer in a inn or tavern called “Zum Roten Ochsen”, the Red Ox Inn. One officer says: “Ve haf reason to believe that Mihailovich has his headquarters near here! Vot we don’t know is vot he looks like!” Another officer, with a Nazi swastika and Parteiadler eagle on his cap representing the Nazi Party because the head is turned to its left, differing from the Reichsadler eagle badge, the national insignia or Hoheitszeichen of Nazi Germany since 1935 whose head is turned to its right, asks: “Yes, what does he look like?” The other officer replies: “Nobody knows! No Nazi has ever lived to describe him!” A third officer states: ”But I have a message sent to me from him! He says he will exchange each Italian prisoner for one can of gasoline.” The other officer replies that Mihailovich does not think highly of the Italians. Mihailovich, disguised as a German officer, tells them: “No, and not much of the Nazis, either!” “But look! This Nazi … Isn’t he ..? Yes he is Mihailovich himself!” Mihailovich is able to hit them with a table that he overturns. They then realize that the officer is Mihailovich. One German officer shouts as he is hit: “Ach! Mihailovich!” Mihailovich tells him: “Spelled with a ‘V’ and don’t you forget it.” Mihailovich then departs with the message: “Au revoir, gentlemen, and send my offer to exchange prisoners for gasoline to headquarters! I’m sure they’ll be interested!”
Mihailovich is able to escape from the bar: “Like a mountain deer, the Yugoslav leader scrambles up the side of a cliff …” German troops follow in pursuit and take aim to shoot him but are unable to because he moves too swiftly. Mihailovich is shown jumping into a mountain crevice where he awaits the German troops in ambush. Mihailovich then surreptitiously leaps from his hiding place and kicks the first advancing German soldier who falls from the cliff with the other troops. Mihailovich stands triumphantly as he exclaims: “That takes care of the soldiers! Now we’ll dispose of the officers at the inn!”
In the next scene, Mihailovich is shown looking through binoculars from his mountain position at the bar with a detonating device. He has a civilian in disguise carry a package to the bar. In fact, he is a Chetnik guerrilla who plants the explosives behind the bar. Mihailovich is then shown pressing the detonating device as the bar explodes. In the final scene, Mihailovich is shown over a map: “We’ll teach the Nazis we cannot be conquered! Our next step is to help our Russian Allies by hampering the Nazi life-line of supply!” German supply trains are shown being blown up and falling off of a bridge, sabotaged by Chetnik guerrillas under Mihailovich. The Gestapo headquarters is shown burning and engulfed in flames after a Chetnik guerrilla attack. Axis ships are sunk and German soldiers attacked with explosives. A German soldier is shown bayonetted by Chetnik guerrillas. A wanted poster is shown with the letter “V” across it: “Mihailovich. Wanted Dead or Alive. 1,000,000 RM Reward.” The guerrilla resistance continued: “The secret password is given – and from one end of the country to the other – terror trails the Nazis! Yugoslavia has been invaded — but not subdued!”
The final scene takes place at Adolf Hitler’s headquarters. Hitler is shown issuing an order to his commanders calling for a second offensive against Russia. A monocled German officer interrupts Hitler with the statement: “But mein fuehrer, ve cannot get supplies through to der front. Ve are being sabotaged by Mihailovich!” Hitler erupts into a rage, stomps his feet, and clenches his fists in fury: “Why doesn’t somebody tell me these things?” Hitler then exclaims in a frenzied furor: “Ve must put an end to dot man! I’ll nefer get der war von at dis rate!” The story closes with the following statement: “No, Schicklgruber … you won’t! You and your filthy kind will be exterminated like rats … so long as men like Draja Mihailovich fight to be free!”
The comic book image of Draza Mihailovich that emerges is a projection based on a composite of elements of the real-life person with stereotypical traits of a romanticized Hollywood protagonist. His features have been Anglicized to the point where he resembles an American film actor rather than a military officer from the Balkans. His eyes are a light blue while his hair is light brown to reddish in color while his nose, chin, and overall facial features are thin and elongated. He has a pencil-thin mustache and facial features similar to those of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Jr. His bravado and self-assurance match those of Zorro, Robin Hood, and the Scarlet Pimpernel. When Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied by the Axis in 1941 Draza Mihailovich was clean-shaven but eventually had a full beard and mustache as he emerged as a guerrilla resistance leader. The cap and military uniform is based on the Serbian Army and Yugoslav Army hats, helmets, and uniforms worn from World War I and after up to 1941. Several panels show Yugoslav guerrillas wearing the French-made M15 and M26 Adrian helmet variants which were the standard issue for the pre-war Yugoslav Army. The M15 Adrian helmet had been introduced during World War I as the infantry helmet of the French Army and had also been used by the Serbian Army during the war and after by the Yugoslav Army.
Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas would dominate American comic books during World War II. They fit perfectly the American superhero archetype that was needed during the war. That war ended but the archetypes continued long after the war. Those archetypes continue to dominate American culture and society.