Newspaper Wars

The Newsboy Legion Volume 1: written and illustrated by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and others (1942-1944; collected 2010): Kid-gang comic-book stories were big during the 1940’s in America, and none moreso than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Boy Commandos. Indeed, it was so popular that Simon and Kirby basically cloned it to create the similar Newsboy Legion (though the latter is set in America and not in the European Theatre).

The Newsboy Legion live in Suicide Slum, a lousy part of town that would eventually be retconned into being part of Superman’s Metropolis. They sell newspapers, this being the last heyday of the boy newspaper vendor. They’re all orphans. And they fight crime with the help of their legal guardian, a police officer who fights crime by night as the costume hero The Guardian.

Yes, the superhero is essentially a sidekick to a bunch of kids.

Gabby, Scrappy, Big Words, and leader Tommy make up the Legion. They may be poor, but they’ve got both civic spirit and patriotic fervour, as they foil both homegrown criminals and Nazi spies in about equal measure in the two-dozen stories collected here. The stories are fast and thick with plot. Simon and Kirby are in full, early form here — the art is much more cartoony than either their later efforts or Kirby’s solo work, fitting the material.

The criminals are almost universally grotesques in the Dick Tracy mode, while the kids are amazingly good at beating the Hell out of large groups of adults. And when that fails, the Guardian can always step in. Jokes about the weirdness of superheroes figure early and often in this collection — the Guardian assembles his bright blue-and-yellow costume from stuff he finds in a sporting goods store, for instance, and the kids are at least as good as he is at sniffing out crime. The whole thing is breezy, engaging fun; it’s also a look back at a time when kids actually read comic books, and not just comic books about superheroes. Highly recommended.

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