When the Korean War erupted in 1950, conventional wisdom figured it would precipitate an international crisis and bring death and destruction to an entire nation. What no one suspected is that the war would continue to provide entertainment- in the form of comic books- both during the war and long after real combat was over.
Comics produced during the actual fighting were grim. This wasn't one of those fun wars full of Nazi supermen - the enemy was portrayed as inhuman Asiatic hordes equipped with terrifying, Russian-supplied mechanized armor, out to destroy us and our way of life.
American soldiers weren't depicted as heroic crusaders but cynical, sullen draftees, getting by on sheer guts. Or occasionally being shot to pieces, here in the days before the Comics Code.
Combat? A brutal, ugly, kill-or-be-killed nightmare, here charmingly illustrated by future Mad Magazine cartoonist Dave Berg.
Are you one of those tense, neurotic, anxiety-ridden 1950s guys? Here, relax with this comic book. It's all about sitting in a trench waiting for the tanks to come and mutilate your bullet-ridden corpse!
Occasionally our early 50s heroes would accomplish their mission, usually by strangling two North Koreans in a river while being knifed to death. This counts as a happy ending.
But all good things must come to an end, and so the Korean Conflict stalemated itself into decades of saber-rattling, invasion-tunnel-digging, and Juche-exhorting propaganda. However, the comic book world didn't want to stop, and the war continued in their four-color pages for years - in spite of changes in public taste, the publishing world, and the introduction of the Comics Code.
So large it obscures the title of the comic, the Great Seal Of The Comics Code Authority assures parents of 1956 that comic books will no longer contain images of horrified, unshaven draftees being knifed in rivers or mutilated by tanks.
Instead we're given The Greatest Marine Of All and his quest to defeat armies of goateed, school-bus yellow North Koreans without ever using things like rifles or guns. Those could go off and hurt somebody, you know!
Yessir, United States Marines building a gigantic hammer and sickle float. I've seen some unrealistic things in comic books but this one is kinda out there.
Their Trojan Hammer & Sickle wasn't full of Greeks, it was full of dynamite, giving the Marines victory and leaving the North Koreans alive and confused. As are we all, I think.
In an interesting historical feature we learn that the United States Marines have always been on the forefront of defending America against exotic, school-bus yellow Asiatics and their cruel schemes.
Meanwhile back in the war that ended three years ago, Iron Mike McGraw, USMC, is attacking yet another stronghold full of goateed North Koreans. What tricky stratagem will he employ this time?
Those dastardly Communists threaten to destroy the sacred temple of Buddha! Hey, at least they're being true to their Marxist religion-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses roots.
Iron Mike and Gorski infiltrate towards the gun position while an actual Korean civilian (not many of those around in these comics) and his Number One Son (because all Asians talk like Charlie Chan!) pray to the Buddha. Hey, can't hurt!
The Communist gun emplacement was destroyed - not by the Marines, but by the unstoppable force of the almighty Buddha! And we didn't have to shoot anybody, and nobody got killed or strangled or knifed or ground into hamburger. I don't know if it's so much the power of Buddha as it is the power of the Comics Code we're seeing here.
Comics would eventually tire of the Korean War, but TV would keep the fun alive with the fine 12-year documentary series "M.A.S.H.", which reversed the trend and went from goofy back to grim. And "Iron Mike" McGraw? He's one of those 50s characters you won't be seeing again any time soon, thank Buddha.
Now you can buy Stupid Comics merchandise from the Mister Kitty Stupid Store, your One-Stop Stupid Shop!!
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