Thursday, August 3, 2017
MYTHCOMICS: "CITY OF GHOULS" (FIGHTING AMERICAN #2, 1954)
Only one FIGHTING AMERICAN story in the Simon and Kirby corpus presents the Communist menace as an apocalyptic menace rather than as a bunch of sad-sack subversives. The story "City of Ghouls" is featured on the cover of issue #2, though it diverges from the story inside. It's true that in the narrative, the main hero and his kid sidekick Speedboy are threatened by being hurled into a "sky well." However, the hurlers in the story are just an ugly gang of humans, whereas the cover depicts them as inhuman creatures. Though the Judeo-Christian idea of hell is not directly referenced on the cover, the fact that the bad guys in the story are devil-worshipers gives Fighting American's peril the resonance of a man being hurled into a lower circle of hell by demons.
The story begins with the news that the Communists' "general staff in America" has mysteriously gone off the surveillance grid. Simon and Kirby, in one of their last "serious" treatments of the Communist menace, were reaching into their Axis bag-of-tricks, for in the early 1950s there was nothing comparable to a "general staff" for American-based Communists. Since by page three Johnny Flagg mentions the so-called "Bavarian Redoubt" of Hitler, it's obvious that the artists were trying to give the Commies some of the heft of Nazi villainy. Fighting American and Speedboy don their ordinary attire to investigate the rumors that the missing Commies may be hanging around Mount Shasta in California. As happens only in comics, the investigators find their quarry first time out, and the two heroes are captured by a city of Communists, who are planning a massive assault from within America's borders.
Had the heroes merely destroyed a Communist base of operations, "Ghouls" would be no more memorable than dozens of other base-destroying missions. But by page five, it's become clear that the Commies didn't build the city on Mount Shasta. Johnny and his partner are captured by the original inhabitants of the city. Their spokesman claims that they are all "devil worshipers" who have secretly lived on the mountain for two hundred years, and they're happy that the Commies have shown up, since it means that they have new victims to sacrifice to their "dark master." (There's even an aside about how the cultists have been sacrificing their own members when they couldn't get outsiders, which makes one wonder how they've kept up their numbers for two hundred years-- especially since there's no evidence of any women in their group.)
The devil-worshipers typically sacrifice victims by dropping them out of a hole in the mountain, so that they will "fall into the sky." Why they don't simply strike the side of the mountain is not explained, but the good guys change into their hero-costumes and start kicking ass. Then the Communist forces get into the act, and a caption reads, "It's now devil against devil, evil against evil, with Fighting American and Speedboy doing battle with both." The heroes manage to escape the mountain, along with the cultists' hostage, Johnny's almost-girlfriend Mary (whose role in the story is a subplot that never quite comes together). Then Johnny phones the FBI and essentially tells them to "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out," by launching an aerial attack on Mount Shasta,. The story ends with the sight of flames "sweeping clean the last signs of invasion from our soil."
Critics who like to see superheroes as fascist would surely eat this story up, since both the devilish and the godless are wiped out like an infestation. In fact, Johnny even uses metaphors that compare the two groups of villains to "insects," while the planes dropping the bombs are compared to crop-dusters. Yet "City of Ghouls," for all of its obvious inconsistencies, is a fascinating look at the lengths two comics-creators went to, to try to make Commies into villains worthy of the name.